R&B Singer Benita On Her Debut EP, Toronto, and More
For singer-songwriter Benita, music is a way to channel multi-faceted emotions into accessible yet honest ballads. The artist hailing from Toronto is R&B music’s most eminent rising star—an emerging force to be reckoned with boasting a unique sense of individuality and a keen edginess leaving nothing short of intrigue. From singing backup vocals for the likes of Daniel Caesar and others to putting out her own works, Benita welcomes a new stage in her artistry.
Scarlet, as hinted by its name, is largely inspired by colours and the emotions encompassed in warm hues. The 8-song offering, which has been in the works since 2019, is joined by previously heard songs like “Out of Here,” “Pretty,” and “Toxic,” the latter two of which have garnered 50K YouTube views. Elsewhere, new records such as “RIP” and “Hallucinations” formally introduce fans to Benita’s intoxicating vocals, romantic production, and empowering lyrics. She layers and combines different genres with touches of pop, indie and jazz while placing her most vulnerable self on display.
To celebrate her new release, Benita chats with us about the Toronto music scene, her debut EP Scarlet, and much more. Read on for our conversation.
What are your earliest memories of your interest in music?
Growing up my mom would always be playing Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Madonna and all the big 80s/90s superstars. She would always have on that station 97.3 Easy Rock and I’d just be humming along in the backseat of the car. I used to ride my bike in the neighbourhood for hours back and forth just so I could have some alone time singing to myself since I was too shy to do it at home.
The 2000s era of pop music is what really built me, I would have on Much Music and MTV playing everyday learning and writing down all the lyrics to the songs since we didn’t really have the internet for that. I was also heavy on Bollywood music and used to try to mimic ways the singers would sing their riffs and runs, and this is really what probably crafted the foundation of my voice.
Prior to putting out music on your own, you had actually been singing for quite a while. What led to you wanting to make a career out of it?
Funny enough, I blame Disney channel and the camp rock movies for building my dreams. I was 13 and saw a whole vision of how I wanted my life to go. I hid my voice for so long and realized that I may actually have something that could change the world and I was inspired by the young artists at the time taking over and changing people’s lives with just their music. I remember singing for someone once and it made them cry.
That feeling of touching another humans’ heart with just my voice told me I had a gift and purpose. As I grew my music taste changed and developed even more and it made me want to create eras in music and leave an impact on younger generations the same way I had been looking up to the greats as a young kid.
Last year’s “Pretty” opened up a world of new possibilities for you—how has your sound developed in the past year? Who are some of your inspirations when it comes to music?
“Pretty” was definitely the start of a new and fresh era for me. Every session that I go to I always tell the producer “let’s be experimental, don’t be afraid to add something weird.” I love pushing the envelope and coming up with unique sounds that haven’t really been done before and I’m usually very involved in the process of crafting it. Someone that inspires me when it comes to sound is The Weeknd, I love how far left he can take his music but at the same time it still sounds like him. I’m always inspired by Drake’s writing as well as Rihanna’s fearlessness when it comes to fusing different genres of music together.
Let’s talk about your debut EP, Scarlet. What is the meaning behind the title?
Scarlet means of brilliant red colour. For the couple years, I was building this project, there were a handful of songs of which I envisioned the colour red while writing it. Kind of like having synesthesia a bit. The colour red is also a very strong colour that can represent love, passion, confidence, and even anger which are all themes that are present with all the songs on this EP. I also see Scarlet as an alter ego of mine, kind of like Beyoncé’s “Sasha Fierce.” It’s a reminder that we are that strong woman/person and are capable of anything even if we have to be a little vulnerable.
How long have you been working on this project for? How do you feel about finally being able to share it with your fans?
It’s been quite a ride! I started creating an EP in 2019 while I was in The Remix Project but had a whole list of different songs. There’s a song from that year called Bloodflower that had a different title before it made it onto this EP. I was kind of forcing different titles and concepts that never ended up sitting right but little did I realize that the concept was always there and just needed a little more time to build through.
I’m so proud of the songs that were handpicked to be on this project. It feels like the perfect tracklist, perfect team of collaborators, and perfect moment in my career to finally have a body of work out. It feels unreal that people are going to hear some real personal stuff from me, almost like writing a diary for years and handing it over to the world.
I’m curious, with Toronto currently being a hotbed for new R&B acts, how often does home influence your musical style?
As much as I try to push the envelope when creating sounds, I will always have love for that dark moody R&B vibe made popular by Drake and PARTYNEXTDOOR. I tend to fall back into those elements because it feels comfortable like home and it’s amazing how Toronto has built and carried on its own sound.
If you could share any advice now with the younger version of yourself, what would you say?
I would say that you are inspiring people without even knowing it, keep going even if it feels like you’re hitting a wall. As an artist we struggle a lot with highs and lows, it’s almost like a gamble being in this industry but taking everyone’s opinions with a grain of salt really helped me on this journey. We are all really just figuring it out as we go, no need to put so much pressure on yourself. The rules are always changing and will keep changing.