January 15, 2010

An Interview with Tomeka Williams

With a rock edge and live instrumentation, thought-provoking narratives, and vocals as commanding as they are convincing, singer/songwriter Tomeka Williams summons a powerful debut with The Black Hood, released on Rhyme Cartel Records. It's the work of a mature artist and the culmination of years of diligence and dedication toward her craft.

As a child, Williams soaked up the sounds of the records her parents played around the house — soul and gospel for the most part — all the while cultivating her own desire to sing. Upon moving to Washington with her parents as a teenager, Williams explored the local talent-show circuit, eventually landing a spot in a national competition on BET. She caught the attention of Seattle-based rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot, who encouraged and, in time, helped facilitate her artistry. The two formed a friendship, with Mix inviting Williams on the road as a featured performer and eventually producing The Black Hood.

In speaking with Donald Gibson of Blogcritics Magazine, Tomeka Williams gives insight to making of her debut album, the messages she hopes listeners gain from her music, and how she's appreciated the experience to this point.

Did you write all the lyrics on the album? How did that work?

We both co-wrote a lot of the songs, but “What She Gave” and “Think About Me,” [Mix] wrote a couple years prior to ever meeting me and [they] just matched what I was going through. The process — as far as writing — everything came through conversation. We would go to dinner and just talk about real life. Like, what’s going on, not necessarily [in] my life, but maybe [about] a friend or someone that I know… I was sick of hearing everything be the same in music — it’s either ‘I love you’ or ‘how could you leave me’ — just so pretty. At that point in my life, I was like, ‘I’m not like this every day.’ There’s no way. There’s real life that’s going on and people have things that they talk about. That’s what I grew up on; the music that I listened to was in your face. You had your good moments, but at the same time they talked about real things. That’s what I wanted to do.

How did the song “Ho” come about?

I took two experiences [for the song]. I was in a relationship and things were good for a couple of years. Then he stopped working; he just started doing his own thing. A woman has her intuition if something’s going on, but I was young and I was in love and didn’t believe it. Then one day I just really got tired of it... You can only take so much before you finally say, ‘I’m fed up.’

Also, when women go out, and let’s say you go out with a group of your friends and a guy is interested in you and approaching you. And maybe you’re just there to have a good time with your girlfriends or you’re not interested. You let them down nicely — ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ — and the first thing that comes out of their mouth is either ‘Ho’ or ‘Bitch,’ one of those two, if they don’t have any sense.

A lot of the songs on the album have a wake-up message in them. You’re not wallowing in sad situations; you’re pushing to overcome those situations.

Yes, and that’s what I wanted to do with the album. It wasn’t about being sorry for myself or sorry for anybody. These are real-life things that people deal with every day. I did “What She Gave,” [for example] because there are too many young girls out here having sex. I’m not saying I’m here to tell you ‘Don’t do it,’ but at the same time you need to know there are consequences to all of this. When I grew up, my parents were very strict; they told me what it was, but at the same time I knew what not to do… Having sex is very emotional. I don’t think everybody realizes that. And I wanted to talk about that. Hopefully it would help men, too, to listen to it, to be, like, ‘If I do this, this could be a consequence.’ I’m hoping as a writer and as an artist that would come about.

In reading the ‘thank-you’ portion of the CD booklet, it’s clear that this album is a dream that’s been a long time coming for you. What does it mean to you to have reached this point?

To finish this album and to see what I’ve done, it’s meant so much to me. People say ‘When I was a kid I dreamed of this,’ but I truly, truly thought of this from the age of seven — I knew what I wanted to do; I knew that I wanted to sing. And when I got older, I met someone in my life who was very, very important to me; she was my voice teacher… She started to teach me things about my voice, like, ‘If you really love music and this is really what you want to do, you’ve got to hone into your craft.’ And she told me, ‘Singing is telling a story. You’ve got to be able to tell the story to someone to where, if they don’t know anything about it, now they feel like they do.’ You’ve got to have a connection.

And you’ve got to have conviction.

Exactly. I love to tell stories in this way. Because that was how I could relate to things. Whenever I was happy or sad or indifferent, I always went to music. No matter where I went in life, music and singing was always there. If I tried not to chase it, it was still chasing me.

Because it’s a part of you.

It’s a part of me. And there was a time where I told myself I have to concentrate on real life. And real life does get you, but [music] was always there. And when I met Mix and he had such a conviction in believing in me — more than I believed in myself at the time — and was so supportive and said ‘You can do this. I’m going to do whatever I can to make this happen for you.’ Throughout the years, he has always been there for me. And just having all of the support I’ve had, whether it’s Mix or my parents or my friends, just knowing that they see something in me just as well as I feel it…You can want this dream on your own, but when you have other people who see it in you, it’s awesome. So for me, it’s not just my album, but it’s my family’s album, it’s my friends’ album. And I’m proud of this. I’m proud of what I stood for when I did the project. I believe the sky’s the limit.

For more information on Tomeka Williams, please visit her official website.