Kendra Jae finally takes centre stage

"Inspired by many, influenced by a few."

13.12.21 Words by: Maisie Goulsbra

Kendra Jae got into the entertainment industries as a dancer, touring with the likes of Drake, Gwen Stefani, Saweetie; she was the youngest to tour with Beyoncé in 2016 on the Formation World Tour. She has also choreographed for the likes of Chloe and Halle, and Dua Lipa, but she’s since ditched her dancing shoes in favour of a microphone. Her debut single ‘PER$ONA’ cemented Kendra as powerful force in R&B – it was shortly followed by ‘916’ a collaboration with Bizness Boi and then ‘YKT’ with Grammy Award-winner Camper.

Seesaw‘ featuring Saweetie came out earlier this year – it saw R&B collide with hip hop, capturing mainstream attention and gaining millions of streams. Latest single ‘BIG’ follows suit, leaning closely toward trap, it oozes infectious confidence and comes with a music video just as epic. Dummy caught up with Kendra to talk about her journey from being at the sideline of stardom and stepping into the centre.

What was it like growing up in Sacramento?

Growing up in Sac I really fell in love with dance at a young age. Sacramento is a very suburban city – we don’t have beaches, we don’t have a lot of things to do like we do in Southern California. So at a young age I fell in love with dance and I dedicated my life to it. The people are very kind, very sweet. It’s a lot slower pace than it is here in Southern California so a day in a life in Sac was kind of like: Wake up, go to school, go home, do homework, go to dance, come home, sleep and repeat. But very family orientated. Small town vibes. Movie theatres, skating rinks. And outside of dance I spent a lot of time with my family.

Who are you musically inspired by?

Inspired by many, influenced by a few. Aliyah is one of my favourite artists of all time. Her energy, her charisma, her effortless sex appeal, the tom boy swag she brought to the game – I think was really refreshing. She was soft spoken but she was a powerhouse in her own way. Janet Jackson – obviously an extreme power house and someone who really blended dance with music and took it into mega stardom. That was something that was incredible to watch as a young girl.

How did you become a dancer?

I took my first dance class at the age of 5 in Sacramento. I had two left feet at the time – my dad never fails to remind me. I just had a love for music from a young age. Even before my dance class I remember being in the car with my dad aged 2-3 – listening to Black Street 112, Tupac, Lauren Hill and just being so connected to the music and I truly truly thank my dad for instilling that in me from a young age. And I think my love for music once I discovered my love for movement in dance class, unlocked a high for me that I was addicted to, and still am addicted to now, as I am a musical artist that will forever include dance in my visuals and stage shows. Movement will forever be a part of what I do.

What did you learn being beside huge artists on tour as a dancer?

I feel like my experience as a background dancer artist developed me and prepared me for the things I’m doing now. I learnt the art of being gracious in an industry that robs you of your peace and finding ways to cope with the things that come from an industry like the music industry. Also just kinda learning little things – like how people run their camps, what works for some people might not work for other people, the importance of keeping people you trust around you. I’ve been exposed to so many things and for every great thing I was exposed to, there were some not so great things that I’m able to be like – ok never will I do something like that, or never will I let this happen, or never will I let this person run my business. So I definitely learned more than just dance when it came to being a tour dancer.

When did you decide to take your own career as a solo musician more seriously?

The pandemic. The pandemic really slowed me down. It stripped me from my day to day dance career that was paying the bills and stacking my resumé, and forced me to really think about what it was that I wanted and how I wanted to be in this industry beyond dance. I had been recording for quite some time. I was recording when I first moved to LA but didn’t quite lock in on music until I came back from tour with Drake – that was 2018 when I started getting back in the studio. I was real quiet about it though and didn’t talk too much about it. But I started getting back in the studio and that was when I really knew it was something I wanted to do. But the pandemic really forced me to stop and figure out how to transition and what song to put out – and really forced me to just bet on myself. I have everything that I felt that I needed to be successful in this music industry and it was just a matter of time before I owned my power and really allowed myself to step into the limelight.

What values do you hope to inspire in your fans?

I pride myself on being way too wifey. Way too wifey for the bullshit. Way too wifey for disrespect. Way too wifey to be second guessed. But this wifey word doesn’t necessarily even have a connotation with marriage. It’s not about a man putting a ring on your finger. It’s just about being the down ass girl. The chosen one. The untouchable one. She’s different from the rest. What she does and how she does it – can’t nobody really do it how she does it. I want to inspire my fans to be charismatic – not only own their power but wear it well. And wear it confidently. To be independent. To not need a man to make them feel of value. To be confident. I want women to know that everything they aspire to have in this world they can have. It really starts within. Nipsey Hussle once said, “it’s not on you it’s in you” – and ever since I heard that its really stuck with me. I want to inspire my fans to be wifeys – and that doesn’t mean be with a man. That just means be that one. Be the wifey. Be the chosen one. Go after everything you want. Don’t let anybody take your joy from you or take your happiness from you. Shine that light as big as you can.

Is there a different person behind Kendra Jae the artist?

I think Kendra Jae, the person, behind Kendra Jae the Artist, is who I am period. There are some artists that put on these personas, these characters. Kendra Jae the artist is Kendra Jae the woman – what you see is what you get. Now that doesn’t mean that when I get on stage I won’t click into my alter ego – you know Beyonce has Sasha Fierce. So Kendra Jae definitely is going to unlock different levels of a performer; but in terms of who Kendra Jae is and the person behind her, no. I don’t wear a mask. I try to be as reliable as I can. I’m a very private person but I try to put my experiences in my music. Who you see is who I am behind closed doors as well. I’m soft spoken but confident. Humble, very humble, and that’s Kendra Jae the artist as well.

Kendra Jae on stepping into the centre of stardom

Do you have a career highlight so far?

Definitely Saweetie jumping on the “Seesaw” record. It was just a really big moment for me to have someone that I respected and a real life friend of mine get on a record. And just seeing what the record is doing for me as a new artist has been a highlight – something you know that I’ll forever look back at. Like remember when Saweetie got on “Seesaw” and then I signed my record deal and then we charted and then we went top ten and then we went top five. You know right now I’m top twenty and it’s an incredible feeling, man. Definitely this is a highlight. The moment that I’m having right now in my career is so far a highlight for me.

I really want to create a body of work that is timeless. You know, a number one album. I want to break some records on the charts. Really just show people that there is no limit. I had a dance background and now I’m transitioning to be a successful artist and can’t anyone stop what’s meant for me. But I would definitely say to put out an incredible body of work that just gets me the respect as an artist to leave my footprints in the game. And not just have come in and had this amazing story and put out some cute records; but to really gain that respect as an artist that other dancers in generations to come can be like: “Yo I started in dance and if Kendra Jae can do it so can I.”

What’s your biggest career ambition?

A project. Some live shows. I really have some collaborations that I’d love to get off my chest. Get in the studio and work with some really amazing people. Consistency. I think 2022 is gonna be a really great year for me because I’m ending this year with so much momentum and going into the new year will just give me the opportunity to really continue to leave my footprints in the game and continue to show people who Kendra Jae is as an artist, both musically and in terms of my performances – I’m really excited to be on stage. And hopefully make some cameos and just kind of change the game! There’s no rules to this thing. I hope Kendra Jae is able to break all barriers, all rules, all notions that someone with my background can’t come in the game and really leave their footprint on the game.

 

Watch ‘BIG’ below.

Read next: “You’ll need rubber gloves, shin pads, and anti/bacterial wipes”: in conversation with Big Narstie.

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