Your senior year of undergrad has the potential to be filled with as many parties as assignments. On one hand, there’s the incessant need to have as much fun as humanly possible; on the other, there are those pesky classes standing in the way between you and the real world. If that doesn’t seem like enough, let’s add making your debut album to your list of things to do. That was life for 23-year-old Bri Steves, a Philly native with the tenacity to do it all. Last year, she was wrapping up her public relations course load at Temple University, and now she’s putting the finishing on the debut she hasn’t gotten around to naming. Much like her journey to the mainstream, Steves is trying to do it all again, this time coloring her world with the R&B cadences that fill her breakthrough single “Jealousy” with the 90s flare of Jon B’s “They Don’t Know.”
The last time you saw Bri, she might have been rattling the police in an interrogation room for her last video “Late Night.” The track is grimy and high-powered as she does Joker-style donuts with a fast-paced flow to match. Today, she’s sharing the backstory to the world with the premiere of her new video “Miami.” Directed by Christopher Scholar, “Miami” is any bank robber’s dream and as cinematic as some of your favorite heist films. Think Set it Off, Takers, and Dead Presidents. “Miami” suggests that Bri Steves is ready to take what’s hers.
Noisey: You’ve said Temple University was where you grew musically, what was it about the school that you think helped your process?
Bri Steves: It was the right time. I happened to be in school when I started my music internship down in South Philly. This is around my junior year of college so this was the time I decided to spend for the three grand I saved for my car on musical equipment. I had my stereos coming in. My microphone coming in. It was the first time I had a real laptop and I was able to record myself all night while I was going to school at the same time. That’s where I started to develop how I wanted to sound. Should I sing on a track or rap on a track? I had been writing music for years but it wasn’t until my junior year of college that I made it my career path.
There’s a line in “Miami" that says, “In school full time, working on an album.” What was that workload like for you?
It wasn’t the easiest. I had six classes at the time I was recording my album. I was recording at Mean Street in Atlanta and I had to take an hour out of my schedule to turn in my homework that was due on Blackboard. It was about finding time to submit assignment while still finding time to go to sessions. I had absences I needed to finesse with my teachers so they wouldn’t fail me. Figuring out my last semester was really hard, but I made it work. My teachers were always very supportive of me pursuing music.
You graduated from Temple a year ago. How’s life different for you?
It feels kind of crazy. A year ago, I was still in school and now I’m on tour. It’s a little overwhelming at times. I’ll be on tour for the rest of the year. I’m on the Access Granted Tour with Atlantic right now and then I’ll be on the H.E.R tour from November 10 through the rest of the year. The major difference is I’m not home as much. I’m traveling so much more than I anticipated, on top of other opportunities I’ve been afforded like doing the cypher at the BET Hip Hop Awards or coming out with Kendrick Lamar at Made in America.
How did you get the connection with Kendrick?
I met Kendrick back in 2016 and he’s been a big supporter in my career since then. We got a call the day before his Made in America performance and he was like, “Yo, I think I want to bring Bri out.” I was in L.A. recording at the time and I almost dropped my phone when I heard it. I got on a flight that night and came to Philly. It was an amazing experience, I should’ve been nervous, but I wasn’t. It just felt right. I was looking at people in the crowd, people who I went to school with, people I’ve made music with before… It was just amazing. So to be on the stage with one of the biggest artists of our time, and one of my inspirations, was crazy.
That must’ve been a similar feeling when you were in the BET cypher Erykah Badu hosted. How did you prepare for that?
All that was going on in my mind was, “Do not mess up, this is real TV.” We were told what the beat was going to be a day or two before we were shooting. I didn’t know any of the other girls, I didn’t know Erykah Badu was going to be spinning for us until we showed up that day. I showed up and thought, “It’s an opportunity, I’m going to just jump at it.”
In “Miami” you say, “I ain’t lying, I ain’t lying / Three songs a day, I ain’t even trying.” What’s your recording process like? On a good day are you really churning out three songs?
When I’m in the studio, sure. But now that I’m touring I’m not in the booth as much. But when I am near a booth, that’s my process. I like to listen to a bunch of reference tracks. I’ll listen to a bunch of tracks and if I vibe to I’ll load it up in a session and lay down some melodies or I’ll write on the spot. It’s all about the track first. Funny, that’s actually what happened with “Miami” too. I was in Miami and I was recording with Supadup. I had a flight at 6 in the morning and I was in the studio at 2 am. The session was ending and they played the track by accident. When I heard the track I was like, “Don’t turn this off.” I went in the booth and “Miami” ended up being all a freestyle.
The concept for “Miami” is that it’s the prelude to bank robbery we saw in “Late Night.” How did you go about creating the concept for both of those videos?
We shot both the videos for “Late Night” and “Miami” in the same week. I think they were actually a day apart. I came up with the treatment for both videos while I was sitting in my room. I worked in partnership with Chris Scholar, who directed and shot the videos, and he was able to bring those concepts to life. “Miami” is technically the first video and “Late Night” is the sequel. Coming up with the bank robbery and the Joker scene in “Late Night” all came from sitting in my house.
“Miami” is such a good song because it’s filled with you talking shit, and you make it a point to be just as vocal in your personal life. 2018’s been such a phenomenal year for women in rap—how important is it to you that you nail your messaging?
It’s everything for me. That’s why I put so much time into the videos like “Miami,” and the videos like “Late Night.” Even just the tracks, I want people to understand what I bring to the table and that I had to work a lot to get to where I’m at now.
Was it intentional to have your crew as mostly women?
We were very selective when it came to the casting. My music is about women’s empowerment and I wanted to have some dope women around me toting some guns.
Catch Bri Steves on tour with H.E.R this fall.
Kristin Corry is a staff writer for Noisey. Follow her on Twitter.