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Performers in all fields—music, sport, fashion, art—will always attest great pride in receiving accolades from their peers as the truest mark of respect, and seal of approval. Having recently seen Asif Kapdia's moving documentary Amy, it was covered in this pride that British singer-songwriter Terri Walker beamed of a young Amy Winehouse running up to her, "Yooo Terri! I think you're sick. I loved your first album."
With her brand of jazzy soul laying a foundation for not only the late Amy Winehouse, but countless others, the regard in which Terri Walker is held by true aficionados of black British music cannot be overstated. What becomes apparent in conversation with Terri, though, is that where others would grow cynical—embittered by a music industry, contradictory and selfish in nature—she has simply responded by growing in character with the game. This is story of a real survivor.
Being in the music biz for over a decade, what one piece of advice would you give new artists who want to attract label interest but are maybe unsure of their next move?
Before you get that deal, make the label understand what they're getting. You also have to understand what kind of artist you are; try and focus on yourself and be the best that you can be. Another piece of advice would be to not listen to other artists' music when creating your own. It's so, so easy to get influenced, which is why need to lock away and hone your sound and craft before stepping out. Once you've finished recording, there'll be plenty time to check what everyone's been up to.
Tell me about the BluRoc situation you were previously involved in; it looked like such a cool setup over there with Dame Dash, Ski Beatz, and a bunch of other artists.
I was out in New York for a bit and I was invited by a friend to Dame's gallery in Tribeca, New York. It's like the bougie part—kinda like Chelsea over here—and if you can imagine it, there's all these cool, black, ghetto but artsy people all over the place. The yuppies around are all having heart attacks seeing everyone smoking weed, having parties every day. Floyd Mayweather comes through just to talk to Dame, Raekwon comes through, starts giving people advice. It was so nuts! What was so dope about it was that everyone was so humble—you wouldn't know all of these people are famous because they were were so real, so down to earth. We'd regularly go on BluRoc tours—me, Curren$y, Smoke Dza, Stalley—all over America and all over Canada.
Why do you think it eventually all broke down?
I think it was because too many people started coming in. Dame, as we know, has a bit of a hot head and doesn't know how to speak to people at times. People started getting into little situations with him and it got to where he lost a lot of good relationships. Then, Curren$y left, and he was the main person holding everything up. I was there for Pilot Talk I & II and 24hr Karate School... Do you remember the video for "S.T.A.L.L.E.Y"? At the beginning, that's me coming out of the subway with a beard. We all had to wear beards for the video [laughs].
Did they have any knowledge of you and your previous stuff?
When I was out there, at first, a lot of them didn't know who I was. But then, one day, everyone was just acting different around me [laughs]. They'd be like: "Yooo! You famous in London?" I wasn't on there on that tip though—I just wanted to make music—but once Dame found out, he went around telling everyone I was famous in London [laughs]. I'm glad I experienced all of that, though.
If you don't believe in you, then what is the point?
The music you guys made around that time, can we expect to hear it one day?
Me and Ski actually made a whole 12-track album together. Dame's nephew, Da$h, he features on there, as well as Rugz D, Bewler, and a few other artists. The record is so sick and I really do hope we can put it out one day. Even if it's just as a mixtape download. To release it back then would've been a lot of drama, so we just left it. But it's good music so when it comes it out, it comes out.
Although both have reputations as being really tough crowds, how do audiences in London differ to those in New York?
When I'm on-stage, if I don't see you joining in, I'll just call you out [laughs]. I go to shows sometimes and I see the crowd looking all morbid and shit. It should never be like that! New York, now—especially black crowds—you have to put in thatt work. You can't go out there thinking just because you can sing or look good, that's enough. No. You have to get them turned up. All the way up! And that's what showmanship is all about.
Over the years, what other experiences stand out to you?
You know what? When I look back, I realise I've done a lot, worked with loads of people and sometimes I forget. For me, I'm a big Jools Holland fan. I remember when I first did his show and, I thought I was only gonna do like two songs. But then he done an unscheduled interview with me, right there in the middle of the show, and later invited me to work on his album and also do a few more shows. I couldn't believe this pioneer was just here embracing me; I had just started out, and that really touched me. Getting nominated for a Mercury was a big deal, too. But for me, having my peers, like Amy, showing respect to my work—that means so much more than all the other stuff.
Who out of the new crop of UK artists are you feeling right now?
I love the whole Boy Better Know thing. We don't make the same music, but their whole movement is really inspiring me. I'm also loving Akelle Charles at the moment. He's Angel's younger brother... You know that song? [Hums tune]
That's the one! Their older brother was on my first album so I've known that whole family for years. They look exactly the same, all of them, and they're all so talented. I love Cherri V, Jermaine Riley, Shakka as well. Loads, loads.
How was it working with Frisco on the album? I wouldn't easily place you with a grime MC.
It's interesting because, on my album, it just worked perfectly. When it's right, it's right and when it isn't, it isn't—you can't force it. Ultimately, I want him to be him and he wants me to be me and whoever I work with, we have to make sure it just makes sense. When I listen to my album, no disrespect to anyone else, I'm talking about all sorts of things. It's very true and it is very, very honest. I'm trying to tell you stories, but I'm also trying to educate you about music.
If you knew then what you know now, would you have done anything differently?
I never would've signed to Def Jam UK, that's for sure [laughs]. Instead, I would've signed to Island. At the time it was Island, Def Jam and Elektra and I wanted to go with Def Jam. I was just hyped because of the prestige and the history. But it wasn't so much Def Jam over here, it was the UK office: Mercury. Island, on the other hand, they would have let me develop. Def Jam just didn't know what to do with me; black female, quite voluptuous—having a booty back then just wasn't the one! I had a big batty and I was hearing I needed to lose weight or was "too ghetto." Island offered me money and really wanted me but I was impressionable and stuck on the idea of Def Jam and hip-hop. And that was the reason behind my debut album title, Untitled. I was still kind of finding myself; it was mixed up, different influences, and I wanted you to make up your own mind about it.
And I'm guessing this now links back to the latest LP, Entitled?
Yes! One night I woke up and it just came to me. I felt like it had to be right and people need to hear me on my terms. 100 per cent. No compromising. No gassing, but there's people I know who respect me a lot in this; I'm entitled to be here! At one point, there was a lot of self-doubt. I went through some really weird times, but this album was my rehab. My current single, "Open Your Mind", that's me talking to myself; it's all about self-reflection and having faith in your abilities. If you don't believe in you, then what is the point?