A broken home is singularly understood as one which physically lacks the presence of one parent or the other. So what’s to be considered when both of those guardians are within physical reach but emotionally removed? While we may not have a definitive term for such a common happening just yet, we do have 22-year-old Reyna Biddy: the intricate prose artist whose stirring vocals opened up Kehlani’s SweetSexySavage studio project.
Inspiring the poetry-sequenced narrative of her first book of prose, I Love My Love, Reyna’s childhood — which was caught between the dysfunctional relationship of her two parents — breathes substance into her poetry. Reyna’s conditioning to her parents’ wounded coupledom carried throughout her own intimate relationships, beginning in her teenage years and spreading into young adulthood. Despite her father starting another family on the side, being available only two to three times a week in her household, and her mother’s selfless decision to endure the relationship for the sake of a young Reyna, the poetess is now able to reflect, reconstruct and renew a fresh approach on love, life and decisions. As her heart penned its innermost feelings into her poetry, Reyna’s self-actualization prompted her to share her story for other young women and men who come from similar circumstances. Even her mother, whose connection to her father founded Reyna’s poetry’s inspiration, was able to reach a point of realization from the soft, subtle prose.
But paralleling the debut of her poetic talent to the debut of the R&B singer’s first studio album, Reyna is sharply keen in the “Intro” opening to Kehlani’s 18-track project. “My condolences to anyone who has ever lost me and to anyone who got lost in me,” she recites. “Or to anyone who ever felt they took a loss with me. My apologies for the misunderstanding or the lack therof.” Her next line, retweeted over a thousand times on Twitter and quickly forming into a quote accessory for women’s Instagram and Twitter bios alike, is perhaps the most resonating: “I’m sorry you missed the God in me.”
And that he did, as the L.A. native, whose writing interest was piqued at 11 years old, pens her poetry in the same fashion that a churchgoer may speak in tongues: completely guided and involuntarily prompted by God himself.
BET.com pulled up a chair with Reyna to discuss the God-given poetic talent, its beginnings, her connection to Kehlani and her fittingly-titled book, I Love My Love.
“Dear You From We” — is it “we” the women?
“Dear You From We” was something I created and didn’t realize the meaning behind it when I first made it. Now, I definitely believe I’m a very spiritual person and that I have a unique relationship with God. As for the “we” in that name, it’s me and God. I think He speaks through me more than anything, and sometimes I write things on Twitter, in my books or in my poetry and don’t even realize what I’m saying up until I reread it days later. Sometimes, it’s weeks or months later where I get a second to reflect on what I wrote. I realize that God is speaking to me through me. “Dear You From We” is a way of speaking to myself and others through me, but from God.
Was that sort of spiritual connection similar to the human connection you had with Kehlani?
Her and I have very, very similar stories. We didn’t realize that up until we got a second to sit down and talk. I was pitching her this movie idea that I had just been thinking about writing. It was very much about my life, and I was pitching it to her. She was like getting chills. She said, ‘Yo, this is literally my life.’ And through that conversation, we both realized that our life is probably so many other women’s lives. After that conversation, that’s when she realized that we both have something to say to women and young girls, and even older women. Even for guys — to help them realize and learn more about us women. We’re very unique all in our own ways. But we are very special as well.
And that was channeled through the intro.
When Kehlani reached out to me to do the intro, it was very quick. It was more of a ‘I’m in a rush and I don’t have an intro. Do you think you can do this within the next hour?’ And I was just like, ‘Sure. Let me figure something out.’ I started writing and I sent her three poems, and that was the one that stuck out to her. She said she felt like everyone was going to feel that one on a crazy level. So I said let’s go with it.
So you didn’t get a chance to listen to her words through the album first to kind of help develop the poem.
No, not at all. I didn’t hear the album until after it was already turned in and I was already on "Intro." Once I did get to hear it, we both were just like, "It makes so much sense."
What originally drew you to writing? Did you always have a way with words?
I’ve always been good with writing and had always been good at English class and stuff. But I took it slightly serious at about 11 years old because my dad used to watch Def Poetry [Jam]. I just remember sitting there one day and heard a poem that made me feel so much. Ever since then, I think my purpose behind writing has just been to make people feel the way I felt in that moment when I heard it. Of course, I wasn’t good at first. I just sort of mimicked every poet I would hear. I think I just found my voice as far as poetry goes after I dropped my book. I was experimenting a lot with the book and I tried to put short pieces and spoken word pieces in it. It wasn’t until I saw the reaction on my favorite pieces — which were the longer, deeper, self-love, self-help pieces — when I realized that was my voice. That was what I should be known for and that was what I should capitalize on. The pieces that were personal to me and helped me heal might help heal others. With the Kehlani project and even with my next book, I’m focusing solely on healing with something that you’ve gone through. Whether it’s a broken heart, hating yourself, insecurity, etc.
You’re an advocate of self-love, but also an artist of prose. Do you ever find yourself doubting or criticizing your poems before releasing them to the world?
Definitely. When I write, I’m writing from my heart. So sometimes I feel people won’t understand it or relate. That’s what makes me the most nervous when I’m sitting there and actually digesting the poem. I don’t know if people have been through it. I don’t share my poems with anyone before I release them. Before we had released the one for Kehlani’s project, I hadn’t shared it with anyone. No one even knew I would be on the project other than my boyfriend. So, I’m very critical of myself and my work. I’m trying to be more loose because I know that this is art and I can’t put pressure on it at all times because that limits you from wanting to put it out and from growth. I’ve become a lot more free with releasing things and just allowing things to be as they are. I believe in myself a lot more today than what I did even a year ago when I released my book.
What makes I Love My Love stand out from other poem collection books?
There’s an actual story, and it’s consecutive. It’s thorough. It’s not just a collection — it’s me literally telling my story about how damaged I was, me realizing I was damaged because of my parents’ story, how I became my parent’s story, how I then broke from being that story and then finding myself to healing myself. Then, learning to accept and love myself. I’m not just throwing on a bunch of poems that I wrote. I actually sit there and outline a timeline between the pages.
That sort of skill is ideal for a songwriter, though. You tried it before college but decided it wasn’t for you. Why not?
Mainly, when you’re songwriting, you aren’t really telling your story. You’re storytelling. You’re trying to fit the standard of what a specific artist wants or trying to fit the standard of hitmaking. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about the artist. It just has to be something that takes the artist to the next level. I think I had a conversation with God very young and he was just like, ‘This isn’t it.’ I’m very impulsive with all of my decisions, so the moment that my instinct tells me this is not it I just walk away from it. And it was that easy for me.
Are there any other artists you would be interested in collaborating your prose talent with in the future?
I could see myself working with Chance the Rapper, Syd [from The Internet]. I love Childish Gambino — I could see myself working with him. Jhené Aiko. There’s so many different artists, and I can see myself working with them. But the main requirement is that I would really love to work with any artist that’s into uplifting not only women, but our youth in a positive light. That’s why I chose all of the names that I just listed because they’re all choosing to uplift people in different ways.
Chance speaks for a lot of young men who are normal Black kids trying to make it out. Syd has a wonderful, beautiful way of representing her community and universal love. I think that Jhené is very spiritual in her music and speaks for a lot of women in what she talks about. Childish Gambino — he’s doing something very different. And I think it took a lot of courage for him to do what he did. It’s all about positivity. If you’re an artist that speaks positivity, I’m willing to work with and for you.
As for forthcoming projects, are there any slated for 2017 that you’re looking forward to sharing with us?
I’m planning on dropping an album before the book sometime this summer. I haven’t figured out the name for it yet, but it’s going to be a very sad, soulful, bluesy, jazzy project that will be produced by my boyfriend. His name is Sounwave and he’s Kendrick Lamar’s producer. I’m trying to develop a TV talk show right now. I’m speaking that into existence even though I don’t know that it will be this year.
(Photo: Gary Biddy)