India Shawn Is Proof R&B Is Far From Dead

Photo: courtesy of Dennis Leupold.
For lovers of R&B, singer-songwriter India Shawn’s debut album BEFORE WE GO (DEEPER) is a breath of fresh air and a welcome return to the roots of the genre. Complaints about the current state of R&B seem to be dominating our timelines (Diddy, we’re looking at you) lately. A lot of the critique has been  aimed at the new generation of “toxic kings” who tend to sing more about normalizing infidelity than traditional, monogamous love and the songs about heartbreak, sex, and begging in the rain that the genre became known for through the 90s and 2000s. For some, this indicates a death of R&B, but you only need to look to artists like Shawn to know that the genre is very much alive.
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It took one listen of BEFORE WE GO (DEEPER) to convince me that Shawn had somehow acquired a copy of my journal and turned it into her debut album. The project, produced by Grammy-winning D’Mile (Silk Sonic, Lucky Daye, The Carters) and written by Shawn and a close-knit group of talented friends, is an intimate peek inside the all-too-relatable ups and downs of dating, single womanhood and ultimately, the importance of loving yourself. An extension of Shawn’s 2021 EP, BEFORE WE GO, the album opens and closes with powerful lines recited over smooth R&B like “Baby, I'm telling you / That's what you came here to do / To gеt back to you” and “You are complete love / Already born that way” that feel like your most-aligned homegirl speaking life into you. 
The 14 tracks take you on a ride, from the frustration of looking for love, to finding it, losing it, and finding it again in yourself. It’s raw, relatable, and it’s meant to feel like a journey – one that Shawn herself navigated as she pieced the project together. She spent some time with Unbothered over Zoom to tell us all about her songwriting process, what inspires her, and why R&B (despite what Diddy says) isn’t dead.
Unbothered: Let’s start with your love for music. Where did it begin? 
India Shawn: Oh, wow. I mean, my mom tells stories about me singing in my car seat as an infant, you know, having a little vibrato in the back of the car. [Laughs]. It's definitely generational. My mom was a singer. She plays piano and it's that [common] story. I grew up in church in the choir on the praise and worship team. So I was just born into it, truly. 
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Who would you say some of your current and past music influences? 
IS: Current and past? I mean, Beyoncé, Beyoncé, Beyoncé. 
I was JUST listening to “Alien Superstar” before this! 
IS: That's the one! But yeah, also Lauryn Hill, Mariah Carey, India Arie, Aaliyah, Tamia. All those like late 90s, early 2000s R&B Queens, for sure.
On that note, there’s been some conversation recently around the idea that R&B is dead. I think artists like you are proving that wrong, but what would you say to those people who think R&B is no more?
IS: I think it is alive and well! [Laughs] I also think it's just evolving. It's changing. It always has. It's gonna continue to be influenced by the times and by new generations. So I just think this is our take on R&B and I'm not mad at it. You know, I'm listening to Tiana Major9. I'm loving Cleo Sol, Alex Isley. There's so many incredible R&B soul singers right now. So people need to wake up! 
Exactly! They’re just not looking, that's what I always tell people.
IS: And then I also think what's on the forefront maybe isn't the purest form of R&B. So like, if they're listening to the radio or just on socials, maybe that's not what's right in front of them.

[R&B] is alive and well! I also think it's just evolving... It's gonna continue to be influenced by the times and by new generations. So I just think this is our take on R&B and I'm not mad at it.

india shawn
So what was the process of making this debut album? How was it working with [producer] D’Mile, writing these songs, and where did you get the inspiration? 
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IS: Ugh, D’Mile. I just love him. It's truly such a dream to be working with him and we've decided that he's gonna just produce everything that I ever create from here on out. [Laughs]. But for me, I think the first thing was, finding a safe space because it is such a vulnerable thing to be able to make music that means something to you and that is deeper than what's maybe expected. I needed to find a safe space, and that was D’Mile. [He’s] someone who truly loves music, is so extremely skilled and gifted on every instrument and being able to go in with him and have that trust. And then bringing in a couple of friends [to write with me]. So yeah, just like friends, wine, sometimes tequila, and just telling them all my business. Cause that's how it has to happen. You gotta just, like, spill all the tea and put it down.
You can really hear that intimacy in the music. So when you made this project, who did you make it for? Who did you envision it would resonate with?
IS: That's a great question, because I'm realizing there are selfish artists and then there are selfless artists, you know? I'm not gonna lie – I made this album for myself. But I also knew that it would resonate with my homegirls who are single and beautiful and amazing, but still having a rough time finding love or finding a relationship that's worthwhile. And just from the feedback, I think that it's also just touching people who are getting in touch with themselves and are on that “self-discovery, self-love, I'm in therapy” journey. 
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“CALI LOVE” is one of my favorites on the album, because it was so relatable to me as a Black woman who lived and tried to date in LA for a few years. Did you place a song about the struggle of finding a relationship in LA specifically because it’s such an awful place to date, or just because you're an LA native? 
IS: Yes. Both. [Laughs]. I wrote it when I moved back [to LA] from Atlanta and was just navigating the dating waters and trying to find love, or even just trying to connect, trying to go on a date. And I was like, this is kind of a rough place. So yeah, [the song] was based on a true experience. 

I was involved with people who were inspiring some of these songs and I really had to go within and ask myself, ‘why am I making these choices? Why am I attracting this type of person? Why am I here at this point in my life?

india shawn
Let’s talk about the features on your album. Unknown Mortal Orchestra, which I know you were super excited about, was such a unique feature for an R&B album and it worked so beautifully. You also had 6LACK, Anderson .Paak and more on the album. How did you go about determining who you wanted on this project? 
IS: Thank you! I mean, these are just my dream collaborations and by the grace of God, these people were kind enough to actually do me that solid and get on the project. Unknown [Mortal Orchestra], I mean – I listen to a lot of alternative music, and it was just my way of kind of dipping my toe in that water and just seeing what it would sound like. I flipped their song on the production and, and that's how “TOO SWEET” came about. Then later on, I was like, ‘can you hop on the bridge?’ And he so kindly did. So, that was a dream come true. And then I was touring with Anderson .paak in 2019 singing background for him. Wow. And I was like, can you get on this? And he gave me a really amazing verse on [MOVIN’ ON]. Ambré is on the “CALI LOVE” remix. My boy, Cory Henry is on “PATIENCE.” 6LACK and I go way back. These are really like all my friends in real life so I was literally just able to text them and ask them to get on. 
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6LACK has a line on NOT TOO DEEP that made me laugh a little bit. It was like: “I know you're scared to check my chart.” Are you talking about astrology?
IS:Yes! [Laughs] He’s so in tune. 
Are you into astrology or was that him? How did that line come about? 
IS: That was totally him and his woke self. But I'm super into astrology, as well. 
What's your big three? 
IS: I'm in Aries sun, Cancer moon, Virgo rising.
Very well distributed, I love that! Are there any signs that you would not date? 
IS: Yes, it's a very balanced chart. Let me see, who do I avoid? [Laughs]. It's funny because the person who I am, like, head-over-heels [in love] with right now, he's a Capricorn, but I'm like Capricorns get on my nerves! They're just so fixed and like, you know, rigid in some ways. And I'm the complete opposite being in Aries. 
The biggest takeaway of this album was that romantic partners will come and go, but at the end of the day, who you always come back to is yourself. What inspired you specifically to make an album about that journey? 
IS: The theme, funny enough, came after I had written all these songs. I wasn't like I'm gonna make a self love album and piece it together. I was really on the journey and I was in situationships and I was involved with people who were inspiring some of these songs and I really had to go within and ask myself, ‘why am I making these choices? Why am I attracting this type of person? Why am I here at this point in my life?’ And then songs like “MOVIN’ ON” and “PATIENCE” and “JUST YOU” started to come. The album really just came together in such a magical way. 
So what can your fans expect from you in the future? 
IS: I am planning a tour right now so I can sing these songs live. That will probably be in the fall, so I'm very excited about that. And I'm just back in the studio and really excited about the new music! It's just feeling so cinematic, like [James Bond] 007 big. Lots of instruments, big vocals. I'm excited about what the next next project is going to sound like.

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