Mashonda’s journey in the music business is not your typical one.
The Harlem singer/songwriter began her music journey professionally in 1998 at the age of 19 when she signed a publishing deal with Warner Chappell Music, writing for Full Force, Monifah and more. That deal took 50 percent of her publishing and had her stuck in it for much longer than she anticipated. Subsequently, as an artist, she signed a full record deal with Clive Davis’ J Records a year later.
After working with Jay Z on "Girl's Best Friend" for the film Blue Streak’s soundtrack, which was also a hidden song on Hov’s 1999 album Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter, and Eve’s "Gotta Man" from her debut studio album Let There Be Eve...Ruff Ryders' First Lady, Mashonda was a guest feature on Cassidy's "Get No Better", Fat Joe’s "Listen Baby", and was featured on songs with DMX, LL Cool J, Lil Kim and more. Suffice it to say, her exposure to the music business was vast.
Eventually, in 2005, Mashonda released her debut album January Joy via J Records and Swizz Beatz’ Full Surface Records. It featured Snoop Dogg, Kanye West, Nas, Jadakiss, Raphael Saadiq and more. Outside of a few mixtapes dropped in later years, it’s also her last official studio project release, until this year.
In October, Mashonda released her latest musical project Note To Self, an EP featuring eight tracks that touch on everything from sexuality and heartache to enlightenment and personal growth. It’s something she says took her a while because she let life simply inspire her creative process.
“I realized that the more I grow, the more I live, the more I experience I gather all this great content,” Mashonda told BET.com during a recent interview. “So I wanted to really take time in between the years of having different situations occur and being a mother and being in relationships, to once again gather content so that when I sat down to create this project I knew what I wanted to do.”
The EP features the single “Complicated”, the music video to which Mashonda served as producer and creative director. The song and visual (directed by Mathieu Turk and Luke Pulver) are inspired by her native Harlem and tell the tale of a captivating love story of a couple committed to making everything work.
“The night that I recorded it, I got in my car and drove from New Jersey, where the studio is, back into New York City,” Mashonda describes. “And for the whole car ride I just envisioned everything that you see in the video – it was vivid, it was exactly how I saw it. I'm from Harlem, so I knew that I wanted to represent that place and the energy there.
“I remember being younger and being on the train,” she adds. “That was a place where I sat down for 10 to 30 minutes and would reflect on my day and the emotions would stir. Sometimes I'd cry on the train because it was just a moment of like all this energy around you and motion.”
The project’s release also comes just a few years after Mashonda was able to regain control of her masters. In 2019, she was able to call all of her self-released music her own, which she admits she thought would come sooner but ultimately became a lesson about the music business.
“That was a deal I thought I would be in and out of very quickly because I recouped the money that they gave me pretty quickly. But there are different terms and stipulations in the contract, that were ways to hold me for decades pretty much, so I've been fighting to get out of that deal for a really long time,” she reveals. “It was definitely a joyful moment, so owning 100 percent of my publishing right now feels really, really good.”
Now, as an independent artist, Mashonda says that initially, she was worried about stepping into the reality that she’d be responsible for everything that comes with putting out her own music. That soon changed when she understood that it was something she already has vast experience with.
“I was like, there's no way that I can manage production, marketing, PR, creative direction, and I doubted myself highly,” she says. “Then I realized, wait a minute, you do this exact same thing for the visual artists that you represent. When that hit me, I was like, I could totally do this. So that's how I've been moving as an independent artist and I love it. I love being able to do things on my own terms. It definitely puts a battery on your back and it makes you very focused.”
Those visual artists are what Mashonda is extremely passionate about and proud of. Through her organization Art LeadHer, founded in 2016, she’s shown over 250 women visual artists worldwide over the past six years, providing equitable opportunities for emerging and underrepresented women in visual arts. It’s something she says has been one of the points of pride in her life, providing her with even more purpose.
“I've always been surrounded by art as a child. Those are interests that I wanted to explore even more. I went back to school in 2016 and studied at Christie's Education in New York City for art business and interned with different galleries in Chelsea,” Mashonda details. “With that experience, I kind of knew exactly what I wanted to do – I wanted to work primarily with women artists.”
“Even on the Note To Self EP website,” she adds. “I'm promoting a couple of women artists right now; we're doing T-shirts with their art on it and quotes from the records on the back.”
And if that wasn’t full circle enough, Mashonda says that social media has brought some of her older work back into the spotlight, if even for the moment. The source of this was a freestyle she did over the 2003 Busta Rhymes song “Baby If You Give It To Me” featuring Mariah Carey.
“My son came into my room and he was like ‘Mom, you’re viral on TikTok’. I was like what does that even mean?” she says. “It had millions and millions of interactions worldwide. I just couldn't understand how something that I consider a vintage record could resurface and create a new life. Honestly, that was my signal. This is a sign you get to take this seriously. So it's pretty amazing how the music is being rebirthed and appreciated.”
As for what’s next, Mashonda says she plans to do a tour with dates in intimate settings in 2023 as well as a new record toward the end of the year. She’ll also be at Art Basel in Miami this year, where she’ll be “curating a really beautiful space” for the visual artists she’s long supported.
Stream Note to Self EP here.