There are very few artists that are equal parts nostalgic and refreshingly good, although singer-songwriter Bahja Rodriguez balances both seemingly without effort. Formally a part of the girl group OMG Girlz, she has been redefining R&B and soul since her debut as a solo artist in late-2015. Raised on 80s and 90s music as well as being influenced by musical greats such as Michael Jackson and Aaliyah, Bahja’s soul-bearing emotion flows over her vocal cords as she flawlessly delivers honey-drenched melodies with perfect pitch.
Since cementing herself as an independent solo artist, Bahja has put out a plethora of records such as “Jealous Type” and “Next One” amongst others. She hasn’t shied away from putting out full-length projects such as 2015’s It Gets Better, 2018’s Take 3, and 2019’s Is This Love?, the former featuring Jacob Latimore and the latter containing a guest appearance from Kamaiyah. Towards the tail-end of 2020, Bahja released her Hold You Over EP, a curation of five songs that vividly showcase her growth as both a musician and young woman entering a new stage in adulthood. Now, Bahja is gearing up for the release of her formal debut album while simultaneously re-inventing herself as both an R&B star and influence on music.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Bahja Rodriguez in regards to songwriting, her eagerly-awaited new album, and advice for women in R&B to name a few topics! Check it out below.
What has been keeping you inspired and motivated these days?
Honestly, I really feel like I have something to say now. I think with my upcoming album, I’ve been through some things so I’m speaking from the most vulnerable space I’ve been at and I think my fans can relate to what I’m going through as well.
You recently dropped “Keep Up / Times Up” earlier this month, what’s the story behind that record?
Basically, with the whole “Keep Up / Times Up” visual, it’s kind of like a transition. With the first part, it’s very nostalgic and since I recorded it three years ago, it’s very much where I was then. The purpose of adding “Times Up” in there was to let people know that the sound I’m creating for myself is different from what anyone has previously heard for me. The next video I have is going to have people like “what the fuck.” The story behind it is pretty simple, but we’re doing a full video for “Times Up” that’s completely different from the snippet people saw.
When it comes to songwriting, what are some topics that come naturally to you? And, what are some ways you incorporate personal experiences into your music?
I think talking about love, heartbreak, and leveling up are three things that come to me super easy. I think with putting together this album, I’m speaking from a place of vulnerability. Before, it would be from a place of power like “it’s whatever, I don’t need you.” It was kind of hard for me in the studio to translate that through the music and not sound pathetic. I think I definitely found a balance and I think this new music is just so true to where I’m at now and I put everything I had into it.
Have you been in a lot of relationships since reaching superstardom?
I was actually in my first serious relationship in 2018, that was my first real-deal boyfriend. So it’s like now, I have to speak from a place where I actually fell in love for real for the first time in my life. That’s a realistic feeling but that wasn’t how I felt all the time so I wanted to really translate that through my album. We got interludes, skits, all of that.
What has the creative process been like putting together the album so far?
I sit with Kyren and Valley, my engineer and producer but they both write with me. I have talks with them about how I’m feeling and where I’m at. We get the beat and I start thinking of melodies, and then we just cut the melodies and start writing. It seems like a quick process to me but it takes us about two hours if not more to get one song done.
What are some messages you hope to deliver through the project when it drops?
That it’s okay to be hurt and it’s okay to be vulnerable about that. You don’t always have to put on this tough face or this tough act. I think my brand and even since I was a child, my music has been just on the up and where the boys at, and I don’t need you. As I’m getting older, that content has been the same but I want people to see me as a true artist now. I want people to see me as more than just this girl in a power position.
Your EP, Hold You Over, dropped towards the end of 2020—what was going on in your life at the time of making that?
That was really just the truest expression of me I feel like. All of those songs I recorded during quarantine when I got my set up in my house. For a lot of those songs I was in a room by myself and I had never done anything like that before. That’s me without any cut, nobody in the room giving me suggestions, it was really empowering because I cut an EP by myself. It was me really learning how to engineer and record by myself and ask someone what they think of it.
How would you describe your style and aesthetic? I know it’s obviously changed a few times over the past couple of years.
I would describe it as high-fashion with an early 2000’s vibe. I remember watching my mom get dressed for parties and I remember saying “when I get older, I want to dress like that.” That’s pretty much my vibe and if I’m not doing that, it’s cozy and chill. Pink will always be a part of my aesthetic but I’m in the process of re-inventing that but in a way that’s not kiddy and girly. Right now, I really want to dye my hair pink again. I’m super girly, but don’t get it fucked up, I’m definitely with all of that!
Being someone who has been in music for a bit now, what advice would you give to young women in R&B?
Don’t allow people to gatekeep your talent. In this industry, we get so caught up with who we’re around. You see this person and that person and think aw man, maybe I should kick it with them. Sometimes people only want to give you the opportunity that they give you. Always listen to yourself and if something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Always do what you want to do because if you do what somebody else wants you to do, when the consequences come down, now you’re kind of going to be like “I should’ve done what I felt.” I feel like those are the ain’t things and have fun with it! This industry is crazy so those would be my tips.
If you enjoyed our chat with Bahja Rodriguez, check out our interview with Toronto’s Amaal!