When you think of Brooklyn, New York, you think of the raw and gritty streets that reared emcees like the Notorious B.I.G, Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown and Jay-Z. Although she is from the streets, Deemi is not an emcee – and she’s definitely not your usual R&B diva. Born and raised in Bedford Stuyvesant, the 24-year-old songstress definitely has a story to tell. Deemi was drawn to the freedom of music as a child, and dominated talent competitions by the time she was seven-years-old. As a teenager, she was a part of the most prestigious high school choir in New York. Regardless of her early recognition, it hasn’t all been roses for the Brooklyn beauty.
By the time she was 21, Deemi was already a single mother of two. Working hard to make ends meet, she had countless dead-end jobs, and was forced to get on welfare to survive. She struggled for years trying to raise a family and simultaneously pursue her dreams, until a chance meeting with producer Chris Styles solidified her musical aspirations. She signed to Family Ties/Dangerous LLC, helping secure her a deal with Atlantic Records and linking her with Midi Mafia to produce her debut album. Yet another bump came into Deemi’s path when her estranged baby’s father was tragically murdered, leaving a void in her life.
After overcoming years of abuse at the hands of her ex, as well as the struggles that plague every hood in America, Deemi knew just what it was that would make her stand out in a glamorized industry. With the pain and the struggle she has endured, it’s no secret why the Hood’s Princess’ songs serve as not only a soundtrack for her life, but also to the streets. AllHipHop.com Alternatives connected with Deemi to talk about her journey, her mission and what we can expect from her debut.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: How exactly did you get started in music?
Deemi: I started singing when I was young. My parents used to make stages out of plywood and we would sing on those. Once my mom saw that I was serious about singing she entered me in competitions, and from then on I went on to sing in choirs.
AHHA: I know this question seems cliché, but how would you describe your style? You are classified as R&B, but your sound has more of a Hip-Hop feel to it.
Deemi: It’s really hard when someone asks me to describe my style, because to me my music is not a style, it’s my life. When I write or listen to my music, I see things that I have been through, things that I am going through and it’s those things that keep me hungry.
AHHA: Who are some of your influences?
Deemi: Around the house my mom always used to play the greats like Aretha Franklin, the Chi-Lites and the Delphonics, definitely Whitney [Houston]. The first talent show I won, I was singing Whitney Houston’s song “The Greatest Love of All”, so she definitely was a big influence. But honestly I listen to everybody, from Lauren Hill to Mary [J. Blige] because they opened doors for me. I also look at everybody different now that I’m doing [my thing in music] because I know it’s hard. So just to be here and do what you do, says a lot. So I listen to and respect everyone.
AHHA: Your life hasn’t been an easy journey, I know that you are a mother of two and you baby’s father was recently killed. Being a new artist, how did you cope with the pressure of your professional life, as well as the trauma that was going on in your personal?
Deemi: Growing up where I am, you don’t want to be limited to what you see… and plus I look back to when I was 12 and 13 years old, telling my friends where I was going to be when I was 25. Seeing where I am at now, it’s totally different, because it’s bigger than I ever dreamed. The main thing that kept me going and kept me sane was my kids; I look at them and know that I can’t stay in the hood forever. I deserve better and my kids damn sure do, so it was that drive to get out the hood that kept me going, because no one deserves to stay at the bottom.
AHHA: What can you say is your biggest goal to accomplish in the industry?
Deemi: I want to make a lot of money so I can help other people get out of [the hood]; because I go to my kids’ school and I see the other kids and I feel bad. I mean the situation in the hood is real crazy, there are so many people are there with a feeling of hopelessness. It’s like they have settled with the fact that they can’t go anywhere, and it affects their kids to the point where they can’t see themselves going anywhere. So I just want to help as many people out of that as I can, I want to maintain so that others can see a better way of life.
AHHA: What is the hardest thing for you about being an entertainer and a mom, because I know leaving [your kids] is hard?
Deemi: Yes! Definitely. It’s one thing when they are small and can’t voice their opinion, but when they are six and seven they start with the, ‘I miss you’ and, ‘You’re always gone’ – it gets real tough. I am glad that they are getting older, because they can understand that I am a singer and see the benefits of me being away all the time. But no matter what, it’s still hard.
AHHA: You’re first single, “Hoodz Princess”, was actually on Wendy Williams’ compilation album. How was it to be tapped by Wendy to do the compilation, and how was it working with Styles P?
Deemi: When Wendy chose “Hoodz Princess” to be on her compilation, she actually hooked up the collaboration with Styles P and that was cool with me. I love The LOX and I felt honored that she even wanted to put my single on her album, so I wasn’t choosy about anything at all. If anything I felt blessed and appreciate the fact she looked out for me.
AHHA: How was it when she called you, because she reached out to some big names for the compilation?
Deemi: I was scared at first, [laughs] especially when I did the interview with her. But I am just glad that she showed me mad love and that she really liked the song. Honestly, with my music it’s either you feel me or you won’t. I don’t like fake people and I am happy she was one of those people who felt what I am trying to do, because I have heard her interviews and she definitely lets people know how she feels. [laughs]
AHHA: Your album is due out in March, so I know it’s early but what can people expect when they pick up Soundtrack To My Life?
Deemi: They can expect some real sh*t. [laughs] I want people to relate to me because I am a normal person and with my story, I hope that I can inspire people to dream. Especially people in my hood, because they don’t have real dreams – their dreams are to become the neighborhood drug dealer, because that’s the only people we see continuously making it. I want to show them that by following your dreams and not giving up you can make it, but that you also have to fight for it.
AHHA: Do you feel that artists who allow themselves to be placed in a box are really hurting their creativity?
Deemi: Honestly, I feel that our music as a whole lacks creativity because it lacks substance. I don’t really fault the artists so much because the industry is so fake. All people are talking about is the fact that they are killing and shooting, but no one is saying I was killing and shooting but I changed my life. So now you have kids running around trying to live out a fantasy that is already a harsh reality, and, in essence, you’re not giving them anything to look forward to. I feel that in order for us to restore the creativity back into music, artists need a reality check and need someone to tell them that putting out nothing is not cool, because people need substance.
AHHA: What words of inspiration would you leave to anyone, regardless of what they are trying to do?
Deemi: I bought a post-it and it says, “If you are going through hell, keep going” – and that’s my words of inspiration. I never thought that I would make it this far, and from that alone, I learned how to dream bigger. So to anyone out there who has set goals, you can accomplish it – just believe, and you will make it through.