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Interview: Cassie

photographer alex nazari

Last week, with Cassie's very long in-the-works sophomore album still "nowhere near finished," the R&B singer with a mid-range voice and a cult following did what seemed impossible: she released 12 new songs. Her RockaByeBaby mixtape was just Cassie's second non-single release ever, and though it hardly reaches the dizzy highs of her 2006 debut, it's a welcome sign of movement. She spoke on the phone from her home in LA about her decision to return, being sampled in dance music and the recent fan-made compilation that helped get her ass in gear.

Why did you choose to release a mixtape now? It was just time. The mixtape idea actually first came about three years ago when one of the producers on the mixtape, Rob Holliday, he and I were like, Puff, we want to do this mixtape. We have this idea, like why don’t we just make dope music and give it to the fans. They’ve been waiting for so long. And Puff was like, It’s just not the right time. [What started me on the mixtape again] was moving to LA after living in New York for eight years, coming out here with not a lot of friends and really just kind of having to deal with myself. I was creating music that was just different from what I had made before, and I was working on my second album. I was in studio with Will.i.am. I was working toward that goal. I made records. But then I just started to develop this sound that I didn’t really think I could bring to the label. After being so focused on an album and putting so much pressure on it, it just felt like a time of, Okay, let’s try something different. Let’s switch it up a little bit and see what happens. I’ve been working on the mixtape for about almost a year, maybe like 10 months. When Puff heard what we started to make again, the newer stuff we started to make once I moved here, he was like, Man, you guys should go in. Just make these for yourselves. It's crazy, I don’t even—it’s been so many years. It’s crazy that it’s even out today.

How did you celebrate? I had never done a live stream for fans before, like a real one where I try to answer questions, so we threw one together in like 30 minutes. That’s kind of how we celebrated. We were at the studio where we recorded the whole thing and everybody just went home and celebrated with some sleep because we all had been awake for so many days. It was nice to be able to celebrate it a little bit and not have to go to a party and have all that pressure, nice to celebrate together.

How did you approach the mixtape differently you would an album? With an album you have other people to cater to: you have the label to make sure they like it, the fan base. There’s just more cooks in the kitchen. With a mixtape I really didn’t involve the same people in the creative process. I wanted to make it my sound, and I wanted to make it my hands-on project. From styling in the music videos—it was everything from my closet, or we would design something—to the production, I was very on the ground. I knew what I wanted the mixtape to sound like, and what I wanted the breaks and the changes to sound like. It’s just all really my stamp, and I think that that’s made it so much different. I finally got to deliver myself to people in the way that I want them to see me. It’s been so many years of a mystery. I felt like my career in some sense was up in the air. Where’s it going if I can’t impress the label? I’m glad that they can see that I can work hard and prepare to be an artist on their label. I’m worthy of it, I guess. In a sense the mixtape was about that too.

Now that you've done it, do you think you could have just released yearly mixtapes all along? No, I don’t think so. Over time I’ve had to build tough skin. In the past five, six years, I don’t think I would’ve been prepared to do something at this level and just put myself all the way out there. I’ve been through a lot in the past six years and it’s really gotten me to this point, but I don’t think I would have done it any sooner than right now. 

A few months ago, someone on Tumblr put together a trio of mixtapes featuring over 60 unreleased and rare songs of yours. What did you think about that? It pushed me to put the mixtape out sooner. It touched me and it made me realize it’s not about making these singles and being disconnected. I want to be connected to my fan base. I want them to understand that I’m listening to them and trying to create things that they want to hear. I want them to grow with me because obviously I’ve evolved and changed musically and my style and everything, so I want them to be a part of that as opposed to feeling disconnected, like she just keeps throwing out these singles that don’t really—they’re not resonating with everybody. They don’t even know who she is. That compilation definitely made me feel really, really, happy, and I actually reached out to that person and thanked them for it because it meant a lot. After that I really dug my feet into the ground and I just started pounding the pavement with finishing the mixtape. Like this is actually crazy that they have to put together a mixtape themselves because they haven’t heard something in so long.

Over the past five years, your voice has been a really popular sample in dance music, particularly among British producers. Do you have any idea what is it that captivates them about you? When I was in London a few years ago I met the writer of an article in The Guardian about my tone and the underground scene and everything you’re talking about. We did an interview together. He explained it to me, because I didn’t really know too much about it. I wasn't educated on the subject at all. He said, It’s your feeling, your tone, and the simplicity of your voice. And I said, You know, I’ve gotten so much flack for my voice being what it is, and it not being big enough or being boisterous that for me to hear that people loved to hear my voice was a really dope thing. I’m not trying to sing all over the place. I am who I am, and that’s me. I’ve made hundreds and hundreds of records. But I want to keep a consistent tone, and keep that simplicity that he was talking about. I don’t need to overdo it and DJs can still remix it, and they can have something else beside the original record, which I think is really, really, dope. I love it.

How do you feel about having so much unreleased music? I don’t have any weird feelings toward it. Making music is a daily process. I could put out a song that I made three years ago, but I don’t know if it makes sense right now. But there’s definitely records that I am sitting on that I feel a little bit selfish to keep, and I’m still probably going to figure out some way to get it to the fans, to get it to people. I worked with Pharrell, and we have a record together that people may have heard a clip of but they haven’t heard the whole thing, and it's like me sitting on some gold. Like really dope stuff, but it’s older. Anything that’s on my computer that is probably over three years old, it’s okay that it stays that there.

You're somewhat of a cult star, with devoted fans but not a huge group of them. Are you happy to be in that role? I think everybody has aspirations to connect to a huge crowd, but I really do like where everything is at this point, being an underdog and being more of a cult following. I think now it’s grown and now people are a little bit more understanding on a bigger scale, since the tape came out, which is alarming for me because it has been such a close knit fan base for so long. But, yeah, I like it. I prefer it. There’s always room for change and for growth. Whatever happens, happens. I’m prepared.

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Interview: Cassie