Emerging from Philadelphia with a voice that echoes both the new and the timeless, 21-year-old R&B sensation Kenya Vaun is an artist on the ascent. Her music—characterized by distinctively raspy vocals and emotionally charged lyrics—creates a safe space reminiscent of the R&B greats, deftly combining old soul with a fresh, innovative sound. Now, Vaun has graced the airwaves with her new single, “Summer,” a warm and evocative ode to a New York summer romance that promises to be the perfect prelude to the season.
Vaun’s journey in music began early, penning her first song at just seven years old and becoming a fixture at local open mic nights during her high school years. She honed her craft and captivated audiences with original tracks such as “Bout Me,” catching the attention of 300 Entertainment, who promptly signed her. Now, her single “Summer” arrives on the heels of “Overrated,” a captivating exploration of a tumultuous love story set to a glossy guitar loop.
With the imminent release of her new EP, Vaun is gearing up to usher in a new era of her musical journey. Her enchanting blend of classic and contemporary R&B has proven she’s an artist with staying power, and fans old and new are eagerly anticipating what’s next from the rising star.
Ahead, we spoke with the rising singer-songwriter about her musical upbringing, the evolution of R&B, the “Summer” music video, and many more topics. Continue scrolling to read the full conversation.
Tell me about the evolution of your music—when you started, how you started, and how exactly your vision has changed since the beginning.
Well, I come from a large family that was all about music. The primary singer in the house was my twin brother. Growing up, I couldn’t sing yet so I was more into writing. When my voice matured, I began to create my own songs. My family, specifically my oldest brother, was very supportive. He’d push me to create even when I didn’t feel like it.
For my vision, growing up in Philadelphia where music, especially soulful music, is heavily influential, played a huge role. Listening to the likes of Lauren Hill, Mary J. Blige, and hearing my mom singing India Arie’s “I Am Not My Hair” and telling me how beautiful I am, shaped me as an artist. It played a huge part in embracing my insecurities as a young girl.
Speaking of the 90s and early 2000s, R&B has changed so much to the point where some would say that it’s almost unrecognizable. How do you feel about contemporary R&B and where it stands?
I think that while the sound of R&B has drastically changed, there are still artists that are true to the genre. SZA and Summer Walker, for example, have recently released their albums and they were amazing. There are also a lot of lesser-known talents that are doing incredible things and adding to the genre in their own unique way. Despite the shifts, I do believe that the sound of R&B that we’re familiar with is making a comeback.
Your latest single, “Summer,” is a really phenomenal record. It’s a bit more uptempo with a glossy guitar loop that’s unique to the genre. How did the song come along?
Creating “Summer” was dope. I drew from different sources. Teddy Pendergrass, for one, is an amazing artist and had a big influence on the song. And working with big industry names like Carvin Haggins played a part too. The idea for “Summer” was to create a refreshing and nostalgic record.
I wanted to give people that refreshing feeling of you know, something new that you can play like at UCLA. It’s definitely homage to back in the day. It’s about summertime and just thinking about what everybody feels. You know, working a nine-to-five during the summer, really wishing and thinking like, “Dang, I want to be somewhere, I want to be doing this.” I just feel like everybody can relate to that.
And you also teased the music video, which will be out pretty soon. What inspired the visuals and most importantly, what comes to mind when you picture summer?
For the music video, I wanted to create visuals that align with the lyrics of the song. It’s more like watching a short film than a music video. I want people to see the detail and effort put into correlating each scene with the narrative of the song.
One of the topics that I wanted you to touch on was the hyper-sexualization of the Black female artist. The commodification of female sexuality and the idea that “sex sells” is nothing new, especially to genres like hip-hop, but newer artists such as yourself are shattering that stereotype completely.
Yes, that’s very true. I aim to break those stereotypes by just being true to myself and not conforming to societal norms or expectations that are often projected onto artists. It’s about the music and the emotions it evokes. My appearance or how I compare to others shouldn’t overshadow the message in my music.
I’m just really coming out here and being authentically myself. You know, I’m not feeling pressured about the societal norms of what people are normalized to looking at when they see certain music videos or certain artists. I’m definitely doing me and going with what’s comfortable for me. In general, I’m not trying to compare myself or be like the next.
I feel like all of that shouldn’t matter. It’s absolutely all about the music and how it makes people feel. we shouldn’t be like, “Oh, this person looks like this and so I like this song.” Like, no, it’s about what the song is touching on and how it makes the person feel.
How do you think your style and image contribute to expanding the representation of women in R&B and empowering a broader range of listeners?
By being true to myself, I hope to show not just women, but specifically black women from similar backgrounds that anything is possible. I want my journey to inspire others to believe in their capabilities. With self-belief, you can achieve anything, and I hope to exemplify that. With a lot of people, it’s kind of like crabs in a barrel. I really want to put out that platform of just believing in yourself and being wholeheartedly you, because when you do that you can accomplish anything and I’m living proof of that.
Back in February, you released “Overrated” which is another bop. It’s also your first record under 300 Entertainment—can you talk to me about the process of going from independent to partnering with a label?
It’s definitely been amazing. I’m learning new things every day, step by step. I’m always thinking of new ways to add onto my artistry. It’s all a growth and learning experience, but it’s been amazing. I feel completely honored to meet and connect with amazing and respected people in the game.
I was independent for a while. I’ve been doing this for over four years since 2018. And back in 2016, I dropped my first song. But even before then, I’d been into music, writing, and all that. 2016 was when I put myself out there for the first time. Believing in yourself is all it takes.
Between these two tracks, how do they set the tone for your upcoming EP?
They definitely give a nice R&B vibe. I wanted to give a throwback feel, a tribute to my mom. She put me onto a lot of old-school music. I’m trying to bring it back but in my own way.
My mom is like my biggest fan, so making her go crazy with my music is a major win. It’s amazing to touch that many people, not just older folks but also people in my age group. A lot of music nowadays, older people say, “Oh, that’s for y’all,” like they’re telling us it’s only for the younger generation. But I want my music to be for everyone.