As a multi-talented artist, Polly A is known for both her own music and the songs she has written for other artists, including the likes ofJ. Cole and Alicia Keys. Her latest offering The Ghetto Gold EP (out now), weaves together R&B, reggae, alternative, and hip-hop seamlessly, creating a project that everyone can enjoy.
Considering her sound is inspired by singer-songwriters like Prince, Marvin Gaye and Sade, Polly A (formerly known as Meleni Smith) is off to a great start in following their footsteps. Her four-track offering delivers some undeniable cuts including “Fire Falling” and “Ghetto Gold Deam.”
We sat down with Polly A, to discuss her latest EP, working with J. Cole, and how it all started.
You’ve written several songs for different artists including Alicia Keys and J. Cole. What made you want to start writing music for yourself?
I actually started making music on my own first. I had a record deal before I was a songwriter, and it kind of accidentally happened that I became a songwriter. The album that I did with my first deal—after I was no longer with that label, the songs were just picked up. So one song went to Natasha Bedingfield, for example, another song went to Alicia Keys. It was in that moment that I was realized this was another avenue that I could take to get my creativity out there. It kind of evolved from that.
A lot of people probably want to know what it was like working with J. Cole and Alicia Keys.
I didn’t get to actually work with Alicia. She heard the record when it was already complete and cut it separately. I wasn’t there for that, but I was in the studio with J. Cole. He’s amazing; a very kind-spirited and like-minded individual. Just very humble and positive and it was actually fate how I ended up in that situation. I was working in the same studio as him, next door, and I ran into him in the hallway. I’m not shy so I’m like, “What’s up, yo! What’s poppin?” I told him “If you need a singer, I’m your girl.”
Was that your first time meeting him?
Yeah that was my first time meeting him. It’s funny because he mentioned later on after we did the song [“Crooked Smile”] that people always tell him that they sing, but for some reason that day he was on that whole vibe of saying yes, and being open, and he was like let me see what she has. So I played him a couple of songs and he was like, “You wrote this?” He already had the track and the rap part, and he played just the beginning. As soon as the hook came on, that was the first melody I came up with. It just happened very quickly and organically.
Could you see yourself working with him again?
I would love to work with him again. He’s just so talented, and it’s almost like with somebody that big—when you’re working with them, when you’re around them—he’s just regular. It’s not even like. “Oh my God, J. Cole!” He’s just so regular and down to Earth.
What does a “Ghetto Gold Dream” mean to you? What inspired you to write the song?
“Ghetto Gold Dream” to me is overcoming—you know “ghetto gold” comes from fake gold. You know we wear ghetto gold from where I’m from, all my friends wear ghetto gold. It’s kind of like the whole concept of “Ghetto Gold Dream” came in a flash to me and it represents how we are all royalty, no matter where you come from, no matter what your beginnings are. We’re all royalty, we’re all Godly beings, and we all have the ability to reach our highest potential. It’s really just about overcoming whatever you’ve gone through and still believing in yourself and that there is no limit. The only limit you have is the one you put on yourself.
What is the story behind the music video for “Ghetto Gold Dream”?
I wanted to play on the dream aspect, it’s like a surreal dream. I wanted to use a young girl or a young person in the video—originally it was cast as a guy, but I wanted it to be a female just because I’m a female. There’s something about the innocence of a child, and when they grow up in this world it’s like maintaining that innocence. It’s like I’m following this child through the video and finding myself and searching for something. My inner child is guiding me to my own strength. That’s kind of where it evolved from, but I wanted it to kind of be like a lucid dream.
What would you say is your favorite song off the EP and why?
“Fire Falling”. Sometimes songs come in one session, and that song in particular I actually wrote a couple different revisions for and it just evolved into this. It had a whole different track; it had a whole different hook before. It’s just a very honest love song, and there’s not a lot of those out there right now, promoting love and pure love. There’s one line that says, “We don’t need no piece of paper, we’re free.” Love should just be between two people. In my opinion, it should just be about that bond. It shouldn’t be about anything external. [The song] kind of captures what I feel about the ideal love situation. I was actually in love when I wrote it—with the producer that made the song. We were living together, and it really just crystalized what we were going through in that moment. Whenever I hear it, it takes me back to that. It was just a beautiful time that I was going through, so it’s a tender thing for me. It’s a personal one.
Who are some artists that inspire your sound?
It ranges. Marvin Gaye is my favorite singer and songwriter of all time. Prince, Fiona Apple, Sade, Bob Marley, particularly singer-songwriters. People who have their own distinctive voice and bring you into their language and their personality through their music.
When did you first know you wanted to be a singer-songwriter?
I was always singing as a child. In the 3rd grade was when I was singled out like, “Oh you can sing.” Before that that I didn’t know I could sing, I mean everyone was singing. I didn’t know that it was something special. But a teacher of mine plucked me out of a group of kids and that’s when I was like, “Oh wow this is different. I’m doing something that you are recognizing as talent.” I had a solo for Black History Month and that was kind of the first time I was like, “I want to perform all the time!” You know you get that buzz from the attention and love you get. I started writing poetry in high school, and that was when I was like, “I want to be a songwriter.” Again, I love Sade. When I found out she writes all her music, I was like, “I could see myself doing that and not just being a singer. I want for you to know that I wrote these songs.” That was always very important to me.
With all that’s going with police brutality right now, we noticed that you tweeted about it by saying, “Stop f**king killing us.” Do you feel artists should use their platform to talk about issues like these, and do you see yourself using your music to bring awareness to these issues?
I don’t really like to say what people should and should not do because I think that’s a personal choice. I think ideally this is such a hot topic for our people, and I think it’s important. If you do have a platform— since not everybody does—and you know something is just insanely wrong and you don’t say something, it’s kind of like why wouldn’t you bring awareness? I think there’s a lot of people who don’t know how to feel because it’s not something that’s happening to them, but if you’re an artist that is relatable, it brings it your fans and they can see that and relate to what you’re going through when maybe they didn’t know before, since it’s not something that’s affecting them directly.
With that being said, I don’t want to say what you should or should not do, but I would encourage it if you have a voice and a platform. And I definitely do sing about it, it finds its way in my music. I feel like we’re all as much artists as storytellers and witnesses to life and society, and it’s our duty to hold up the mirror and say, “Yo this is happening and it’s not cool.”
Stay up to date on everything Polly A is doing by following her on Twitter @akaPollyA.
(Photo from top: Ben Cope courtesy of Donovan Public Relations)