Sevyn Streeter On How A Feminist Can Befriend Chris Brown

Photo: Jason LaVeris/Getty Images.
For all the times Sevyn Streeter's been to New York, the singer-songwriter's never been to Central Park. And, for all the times I've enjoyed a pancake breakfast at Sarabeth's near the famous green, I’ve never done it while also grilling a celebrity on why she continues to work with Chris Brown, the controversial artist responsible for assaulting Rihanna in 2009.  

It’s not easy to discuss these things — especially when Streeter's doing so much more worth talking about, like her Sevyn in the City tour, where she surprises her fans with special treats like spa days. Or, her work on the Furious 7 soundtrack, on which she is one of just two female artists. Or, the fact that she already won a Grammy for songwriting in 2011. Or her first solo album, On The Verge, which drops this summer.

But, Streeter didn't shy away from these challenging questions. Indeed, she relished them, answering them in a poised, intelligent manner — all while offering me some of her bacon.


How did you get involved with the Furious 7 soundtrack?
"I've always wanted to be a part of a soundtrack, and I've been a fan of the The Fast & the Furious franchise for so long. So, when they approached me about writing a song for it, I was overjoyed. I get approached to write songs all the time for various projects, but when they approached me I was like, I have to get this. When we were writing, I wanted to keep the movie in mind, thinking about the cars and the danger and the energy and everything that embodies Fast & Furious. You hear a lot of car references in the song. We had about five sessions for that particular song, and that's a lot. You don't really have five sessions for any song, but I really wanted to get it right for the soundtrack. The franchise is a special one, especially with the passing of Paul Walker. He had already passed when I wrote the song. You just felt the sense of...just how special this movie was to [the cast.] You can just tell they cared about getting every aspect of the movie right for Paul. You can feel that."

You've gotten some backlash lately for your "Breakfast Club" interview, during which you said someone should never say no if their partner wants to have sex. I don't really have an agenda with this question, but do you want to take this opportunity to clarify or elaborate on that?
"It's funny that people only heard one side of it. In the interview, I said — and this is just my opinion — that when you're in a relationship, even if you're tired, you have to put effort into it. If your significant other is feeling a little frisky, you should wake that ass up. Women, tend to your man. Man, tend to your woman. I said that it goes both ways, but [critics] only gravitated toward me saying women should. That perpetuates the double standard. The thing they're getting upset about is the same thing they're perpetuating. It's like you're being a stereotype. If men or women don't feel [the way I do], then don't live your life that way. Whatever works for your relationship. It's not just sex. I feel like that about dinner, about taking care of who you're with. I'm a Southern Belle, and I come from parents who've been married 30 years, and my aunt who's been with her husband since the seventh grade. These are conversations that are alive and real in my life about taking care of one another."

In that same interview, you also said people told you to stay away from Chris Brown. Who told you that and why?
"The people I was signed to with my last group [RichGirl] advised us it wouldn't be the best thing for us to be around him. They said that to my manager, Tina. I said, 'To hell with you,' because at the end of the day, I'm not gonna judge somebody by what I read in a magazine or see on TV or their circumstance. Let me gather and gain my own opinions and views according to my interaction with him. And, thank God I did [form my own relationship with him], because he's just like you and me. If people plastered all the mistakes we made over every news station — every mistake you've ever made — 24 hours a day, how would you feel about that? If people judged you by what they put on blogs and the radio station, and decided to never work with you because of it? Getting to know him was the best decision I've ever made. My friendship with Chris is amazing. He's my mentor. He's my friend. And, he's no different from me. Only difference is my mistakes aren't on every news outlet in the world. I actually have the pleasure and luxury of not having anybody know about mine."

Most people judge him for what he did to Rihanna. Has that ever crossed your mind, working with him as a woman?
"Absolutely. You think about it. It's the same with any accusation you hear about somebody. Whether they're true or not, you still have to develop your own relationship with those people, if you chose to. It's a choice, and I chose to still go around him and be a part of his life in a certain way, along with the accusations. It was a choice I made, and I'm glad I did. Everybody makes mistakes, and I think that he's made his. He's paid whatever price for those mistakes. You learn from them and you try not to have them again. In terms of me being a woman and being around him with those accusations, I chose to develop my own opinions."

And, just put the domestic violence thing aside?
"Yeah. Not that it was put aside — that whole situation was real. I just chose to develop my own relationship and my own opinions and not be swayed by anything else."
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You opened for Beyoncé during her I Am...World Tour. What was that like?
"She's amazing. I've always known that, but I see it coming from a different place now. I watched that show every single night. A lot of times when you're on the road, you see the show one or two times and you're good. I couldn't not watch the Beyoncé performance every single night. She deserves every award and accolade she's ever gotten.That was a life-changing experience for me."

Has she impacted your relationship with feminism?
"Absolutely. I was watching her on Oprah one day, and she said something that resonated with me: 'Have your own life before you become somebody's wife.' That's always stuck with me. That's how I live my life. A lot of women want to be married and have kids one day, but before we get there, it's so important to establish who you are, find yourself, and live in that for a minute before you become somebody's wife and mother. When she said that it just empowered me as a young woman."

What about Nicki Minaj? Is there a relationship there?
"I've had the pleasure of meeting her, shaking her hand, looking her in the eye and saying, 'Hi, I'm Sevyn Streeter. Nice to meet you.' But, I can't wait to get the opportunity to work with her. She's another phenomenal woman. I have so much respect for Nicki to be dominating and be a woman in this male-dominated field. It's one of the greatest things I've ever seen. Nicki Minaj is gonna go down in history. I love that she writes her stuff. I have so much respect for that because artists that write are a bit of a lost art form. It's not easy, so I understand that. It takes a lot to put yourself out there. It's different when somebody else is writing your record, but when you're responsible for what comes out of your mouth and have your fans judge it — that's not easy. It's like writing in your diary and handing it over to the world. It's crazy."

What has your experience been transitioning from songwriter to your own solo career?
"I say all the time that I love the fact that God made me a songwriter before He gave me a solo deal, because it feels so great to not be at the mercy of other writers to give me a record, to know what type of song I want and go into the studio and create it myself. I've been on the other side of that before in my groups. To be in a group and say, 'Who's gonna give me a record? Who's gonna express how I feel?' That is so frustrating. So, I love that I have a lot of writing experience before I got my record deal. It taught me how to write all kinds of records. I wrote 'The Way' for Ariana Grande. [And, three songs] on F.A.M.E. for Chris Brown [including 'Yeah 3x']. Those are very different records. When it came time to work on my album, I didn't wanna put myself in a box, and that's a great way to not do it."

Are hip-hop and R&B becoming a boys' club?
"I don't think it's becoming a boys' club — it's always mostly been one. But, you have women throughout the years who've kept us in there. MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Janet Jackson, Chaka Khan, we can go back far. I do think it's male-dominated. But, these amazing women made their mark, and made people take notice."

You talk very openly about your sexual life, which I think can be surprising for people who have not yet accepted that women are sexual beings. Does your attitude about it ever catch people off guard?
"Women have sex. It happens. That's how babies get here. I spent so much of my life being concerned about what everyone else thought. I've been through the most traumatic, worst situations in terms of self-esteem and being around people who didn't have my best interests at heart, and being concerned with what they thought. Now, I'm in a situation where I have an amazing team who are encouraging and supportive. They're like therapists for me sometimes. I'm in a space where I don't wanna over-think things. I refuse to take my life too seriously anymore, and whatever comes along with that, comes along with that. To hear an artist be transparent is one of the greatest things they could ever do for their fans. I love that, when I see my fans on the road we have real conversations — as real as the one we're having right now — and it's not even that I do it as some big ploy to have album sales. I do it because it's important for them to understand who I am. So, whatever backlash comes along with me being transparent, there's nothing I can do about it. The fact is, if I were being cookie-cutter and fake, they would still have something to say about that, too. So I may as well just be myself. People are gonna talk regardless. Might as well be able to breathe easy."

You've already accomplished so much, but is there anything you'd like to do by the time you're 30?
"I want a Grammy. I have one for writing for Chris' album, which was incredible. It's a blessing. I thank God for that all the time. But, on my personal bucket list, I want a Grammy for my own artistry. I've dreamt about that since I was a little girl, hearing, 'And, the Grammy goes to...Sevyn Streeter.'"

Tell me about your relationship with B.o.B. You two seem really happy together.
"B.o.B is so dope. It's cool because we were friends first, and I never really had it happen like that. We hung out, and it was always a little flirty here and there. It just gradually turned into what it is now, and I think that's so cool. He's great. Aside from being super-duper talented, he has the ability to do what a lot of artists can't. He plays piano, guitar, all these instruments. He makes beats. He's such an amazing writer. I've always been a fan of his artistry, first and foremost. Then I became a fan of him as a person. We just get along and have a lot in common. I just love being around him. I really do. It's nonstop laughter. I couldn't be happier to be dating someone who doesn't mind getting on a plane for 10 hours just so we can spend those 10 hours together. For someone in my position, whose life is like mine is, that's all you can ask for."
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