Dev Hynes sits in an East Village Starbucks scribbling in a notebook with Rihanna’s Unapologetic logo imprinted on the cover. “I’m making a list of songs that I’ve written lately that: a) I like, b) I would like to finish, and c) need something done to them,” he explains. Hynes, who’s written with The Chemical Brothers, Florence and the Machine, and Sky Ferreira, says that he was brutally bullied for being an outcast while growing up in England. “I’m fucking lucky that I escaped Essex and I’m somehow living in New York,” the 27-year-old says. “If things were going well and I was older, then I’d be okay. But I feel like I still have time to severely fuck things up.”
Back in 2010, the emerging songwriter and producer met Solange in L.A. while collaborating on Theophilus London’s “Flying Overseas.” Solange had been enjoying her time away from the recording studio DJing at various parties, and found herself gravitating toward ’80s jams ranging from S.O.S. Band to Chaka Khan to Ready for the World and Control-era Janet Jackson. She was looking to develop her artistry with a producer à la Missy and Timbaland with Aaliyah or Amerie with Rich Harrison. “When you think back in history about producers and artists or writers who’ve had good synergy, a lot of times they date or they’re married or there’s a friendship and a kinship,” she says. “I was looking for it.”
Before Dev came along, I wrote all these happy, settled love songs, which was very difficult. It’s weird how, as writers, we draw more from conflict than peace.
For Solange and Hynes, the connection began when she invited him to a session at a house she’d rented in Santa Barbara, CA. “The song that was a real catalyst to it all is ‘Don’t Let Me Down,’” Hynes recalls. “It has weird vocal parts that we do back and forth, like these ‘Oh’s’ that keep happening. It was literally just us passing the mic, and it was very smooth and organic,” Hynes says. “That song was pretty much finished then. After that, she asked if I wanted to be the producer.”
“I was trying to find that chemistry with different producers, and when Dev came it was like, ‘Oh! This is it,’” Solange says over lunch at Madiba restaurant in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, where she nibbles on lobster tail and saffron rice. “‘Don’t Let Me Down’ is one of the most personal songs on the record. I’m saying, ‘This is amazing, I’m enjoying it but I’m a little scared that something fucked up is gonna happen.’ I’ve been in a relationship for four-and-a-half years now, but you still have those moments. In any relationship there’s gonna be conflict. Before Dev came along, I wrote all these happy, settled love songs, which was very difficult. It’s weird how, as writers, we draw more from conflict than peace. When Dev came onto the project, he was going through a breakup and it sparked something in me. Which is something I have to explore. I’m like, ‘Why is it so easy to draw from that?’”
The pair spent the next year living together, writing and recording songs and making what felt like magic, resulting in the seven tracks on True. “We were either staying in a rented house or he was staying with me, my boyfriend, and my son. Everything that happened on this record was literally waking up, him usually before me, going and creating the bones to the track and then me rolling over and hearing it while I’m fixing breakfast. When you’re making music like that, where it’s a natural extension of your day, it’s so much more enjoyable,” Solange says. “I remember being in writing sessions and having to put disclaimers out every time I was about to share something. You need to be in a space where you can just say, ‘All right. This is what I’m feeling.’”
A Buddhist proverb proclaims that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. Cee-Lo delivered this message to Solange a few years earlier while collaborating on “Sandcastle Disco” for her sophomore album. Solange and Cee-Lo were scheduled to work in a Miami studio. “The first day it was a chill-out zone,” Solange recalls. “The second day it was a chill-out zone. The third day I’m like, ‘Okay, when are we going to work?’
“He said, ‘I cannot work like an assembly line,’” Solange remembers. “‘We can’t put this with that and just click it in place and it’s just gonna work. We gotta talk. We gotta vibe. We gotta see what’s up with each other before we can open ourselves up to sharing these ideas and intimate moments.’”
“At that time, I didn’t get it,” Solange says. “’Cause I was like, This is costing a lot of money.” She laughs at the memory. “That has stuck with me. ‘This can’t be like a factory.’ If there’s seven days, he felt like we needed those three days first.
“For me and Dev it was different because from day one, we just kind of—” she snaps her fingers.
Cee-Lo said, ‘I cannot work like an assembly line,’ Solange remembers. ‘We can’t put this with that and just click it in place and it’s just gonna work. We gotta talk. We gotta vibe. We gotta see what’s up with each other before we can open ourselves up to sharing these ideas and intimate moments.’
Sitting by the window at Madiba, Solange is sporting clouds again, this time on a baby-blue button-up. She lives in nearby Carroll Gardens, a low-key neighborhood a few blocks from the Gowanus Canal. Sipping a Tusker beer, she says that she and Hynes were “on a clean and sober goal” after drinking and smoking too much while touring in Europe. She broke at SXSW after 21 days. Hynes is still going strong on the cleanse, aiming for 100 days.
“When I’m home, I’m just straight mommin’ it,” Solange says of life in Brooklyn, which revolves around 8-year-old Juelz. “School runs, play dates, soccer games, etc. You have to constantly fight for that balance and now I kinda got it under control.” After a hectic few weeks on tour, she’s looking forward to leaving town with Juelz later today for a two-week vacation—a week in L.A. and a week in New Orleans, where she feels very, very at home. “I go to crazy bounce clubs,” she says. “I eat crazy po’ boys, drink daiquiris. I ride my bike a lot.”
New Orleans native Jay Electronica connected Solange with one of his hometown friends to show her around and was impressed with her down-to-earth personality and overall gratitude. “Most times in the industry, a person usually won’t get that energy from an artist,” Jay says. “If they do, it’s only for as long as some service is being provided or some need is being fulfilled. And once that part is over, the other person ceases to exist in the same universe. But not with her.”
Says Solange of the friendship: “In the beginning he was shocked at how much I knew about certain Southern cultural aspects like bounce music and Southern hip-hop.
“He says I have this best-of-both-worlds, hood-and-Hollywood vibe about me. I’m assuming that’s where ‘Hollyhood’ came from,” she says, laughing. “But only he would know what he really means.”
Solange has been mapping out the plans for her “Lovers in the Parking Lot” video, which she’s determined to shoot in the actual parking lot of her childhood hangout, King’s Flea Market in Houston, despite others trying to convince her to shoot it on a set in L.A. She refuses to bend or break—not because her fourth-grade teacher told her, but because it wouldn’t be authentic.
“Someone asked me, ‘What quarter are you trying to come out?’ I was like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t heard that in so long!’” Solange cracks up at the thought. She says she’s looking forward to working on her full-length album with Hynes, but isn’t pressed. “It’s just about putting the music out when it’s ready. When I wake up in the morning, I get dressed for myself, I listen to what I wanna listen to, I make decisions for me. It’s been interesting to navigate that from such a young age so publicly. But life is short and you have to live for you. I would never wanna look back on my life and feel like I missed out on any of that.”
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