Baby Rose Doesn’t Mind Being the Weird Girl

In the 45 minutes Baby Rose and I spend on Zoom, she refers to herself as “weird” 11 times. “I like the word weird,” she says. “I probably should think of a different synonym, but to be ‘weird’ is to not be understood by a majority of people.” She’s absolutely right—Baby Rose isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

Compared to the sultry, soft coos and sex-heavy themes of R&B in recent years, Rose’s songs—a buffet of emotions laced with romantic vulnerability—come with a voice you’re not supposed to like immediately. Her low-register rasp, seductive and smoky, husky and emotive, makes you feel like you’re sitting under the hazy lights of a hole-in-the-wall 1960s nightclub. Cigar smoke permeates the atmosphere, and vocals as affecting and intense as Nina Simone’s envelop your ears. The only thing is, it’s 2020, so you’re probably burning incense or a candle. But the allure is still the same.

If we must settle on one synonym, Rose suggests “rare.” Before she understood the uniqueness of her voice’s tone and texture, the singer (born Jasmine Rose Wilson) was only aware of how different it sounded compared to her peers, who subjected her to years of bullying. Her catharsis came from tears. “I remember running home from school every day and crying my eyes out,” she says. Then she channeled her pain into consuming art, finding solace in singers who were known for their arresting, unmistakable vocals: Simone, Billie Holiday, and Janis Joplin. “I started to delve into their catalogs, Rose remembers. “It became a thing of well, I’m not cookie-cutter in my personality. I don’t want to be the cookie-cutter artist anyway. I’m very nuanced. I’m not the coolest girl in school, and I’m okay with that.”

Rose transitioned from “weird girl” to earning cool points when she signed up to sing an original song she wrote, an ode to Billie Holiday titled “Summer Days,” during a talent segment on BET’s 106 and Park. She was 14, but the experience helped her “tap into my purpose and adopt this unashamed, nonconformist-type attitude and approach.” Her pain-to-passion creative formula, coupled with this new perspective, cultivated a confidence that pushed her to release her debut offering, From Dusk to Dawn, on Soundcloud in 2017. Split into A and B sides, the mixtapes introduced Rose’s emotive, belly-deep voice and soon garnered praise from SZA, Ari Lennox (with whom Rose would tour on Lennox’s North American Shea Butter Baby tour), and fellow North Carolina native J. Cole, who recruited her for the Dreamville Revenge of the Dreamers III compilation album. But as she notched career highs—including her now-viral Colors performance last year—Rose was nursing a heartbreak behind the scenes. Leaning on her signature formula, this time with the help of a bottle of tequila, Rose returned to the booth to give her ex a final kiss-off.

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The result, Rose’s 2019 debut album To Myself, is introspective and soul-baring, grounded in heartbreak and draped in delicate, grandiose melodies that carry the weight of the emotions held in Rose’s runs and riffs. Album opener “Sold Out” finds the singer watching the white picket fence she envisioned with her former lover dissolving before her eyes. By the time we reach “All to Myself,” her most recognizable single, pouring out her heart becomes easier than ever. She dramatizes her woes with a deep sigh at the beginning of the song, then unleashes three-and-a-half minutes of anguish that sounds like a voicemail recorded several times before it’s deleted altogether. “That song was a true pouring out of emotion,” she says. “It was beyond me. There’s no way I could redo that.”

Rose’s intimate sonic journeys aren’t all heartbreak and agony, though. On her newest song “Marmot,” released today, July 8, she’s welcomed a new love into her life. But the intoxicating new romance comes with its fair share of doubts, and Rose has no issue spilling her deepest thoughts over a mesmerizing arrangement—no tequila in hand this time. Ahead, Baby Rose opens up about her creative upbringing, becoming her true self, and this new chapter of music.

Your new song “Marmot” is hauntingly beautiful. What inspired it?

I’m currently in a very passionate relationship, so the song is about the doubt speaking to the fears that come with a new relationship. Like, what if we’re better apart? It’s more vulnerable for me than anything because I’m singing softer than ever. I love it because it’s me drowning in feelings. These days, you realize how human you are more than ever. You have to say how you feel. You have to embody it and not wait.

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When was the lightbulb moment you realized you could pursue a singing career?

I’ve always been drawn to the piano and different instruments because my family loves music. They love gathering together and partying. That’s what made me who I am: art and music and church. I realized I wanted to be a singer professionally when I was 12 and just moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina. Going into my teens and being the new girl in town, I had to realize my identity outside of my family for the first time. So I turned to the piano, music, all those things I used to entertain my family or get attention—I’m a Leo so I love that—and found my voice. But it wasn’t until a few years ago, when I released the J Dilla x Baby Rose and From Dusk Till Dawn EPs, when I realized what I had to say. I wasn’t afraid to sing.

How did you discover you had a unique voice?

I never thought I could sing traditionally. I thought I had a voice that was special. I was made fun of for it, especially my speaking voice, but when I looked at other artists who had unique tones—Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, Frank Sinatra—and were celebrated for that, I started to embrace my own. If I celebrate this part of me and really be authentic with it—like vulnerable as hell—they don’t have to like it, but they have to respect it, because this is my art.

When you think of Amy Winehouse or Nina Simone’s music, what sticks out most?

They all have a common thread of being unashamed and very honest in where they’re at—not trying to pretend they’re anything they’re not. They taught me to be really colorful with my language in the way of a poet.

You moved around as a child, but now you’re based in Atlanta. How has the city shaped your sound?

Atlanta is a trendsetting city; they made trap music pop. What I bring to Atlanta is a different, unexpected vibe because it’s not trap [and] it’s not truly the R&B sound of today. It’s psychedelic pop and R&B, blues, jazz and hip-hop—all this shit I love mixed into this gumbo with my voice that marries it all together.

Also, [Atlanta] has Outkast, studio hubs that are Black-owned—it’s the Black Renaissance, the Black mecca, which means a lot to me as a Black woman. The south is very unforgiving and very relentless. Everywhere outside of Atlanta, boy, I don’t know, it’s whack.

baby rose

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Did you experience a lot of racism growing up?

As my family migrated further south, I got to see more and more blatant racism and injustice and I feared for my brother every day. Georgia and the city of Atlanta are completely different because we lived in Buford, Georgia, and then when I got old enough, I moved into my own spot in Atlanta, which was way more lit.

I love that I’m embraced by Atlanta. Atlanta was the first show I sold out of—on my birthday! I have friends in Atlanta who have held me up. I’ve had favors called to even make the album in Atlanta when I could not afford a studio session. It’s the sense of community—even if you’re the odd one, that’s what makes you celebrated.

Your debut album To Myself is as raw and emotional as they come. What space were you in when you recorded it?

I was in a wild place. I was reliving all the emotions I felt after the breakup. It’s about letting go of a relationship that doesn’t serve you. You’re holding to [it] and you have to learn how to rebuild yourself up again, even when you’re lonely. Even at your lowest point, not making that phone call is like weaning yourself off an addiction. To Myself was fueled by the breakup with my ex and then it became my own independence story.

“If I celebrate this part of me and really be authentic with it, like—vulnerable as hell—they don’t have to like it, but they have to respect it.”

What did you learn about yourself during that period?

I’ve evolved exponentially because I remember to own how I feel. I have to remind myself that I’m on this journey to surrender; I don’t need to be in control of all things because then you don’t leave any room for God. I’ve never been the type of person who attributes any of this to me alone, because if it was up to my own devices, I would probably be stagnant and complacent. And because of God, I can truly call myself an artist. I am aligned with everything I ever wanted and dreamed of. It’s way bigger than me.

How did “Pressure” and “Show You” end up on Insecure?

I found out about that last minute as hell, man. Lacey Duke, who’s directed videos for me and is creative director for To Myself, directed that episode and told me, “They’re going to put the song at the end.” Insecure has always been one of my favorite shows since season 1. There’s so much Black excellence compiled into one show, and then the love for Atlanta artists—not only me but Yung Baby Tate, Bosco. For me to close out the episode was unreal.

Team Issa or Molly?

Molly needs to relax. She’s doing a lot. But I identify more with Issa because she’s trying to get her own thing off the ground; she’s trying to do something for herself outside of her long career with We Got Y’all. She started a new chapter outside of her ex. It’s messy, of course, but she’s doing the damn thing. For Molly to be such a freaking hater on her day of the Block Party is unforgivable. It may be time to end their friendship, honestly, which sucks because I know losing a friend hits even more different than losing a lover.

Would you say quarantine has helped you rethink your new music?

Absolutely. Quarantine has slowed me down. It’s gotten me into this introspective place where I can grow. I can take my time and do as many edits [as I need], hone my craft, record out of my bedroom—no bells and whistles. This time in lockdown helps shape the story. I’m having a lot of candid conversations. I’d rather take this time to learn to be comfortable with myself.

What have you learned about yourself?

I’m gradually starting to come out of my shell. I’m learning to be very patient with myself. A lot is happening in the world and I’m digesting all of this information, worried about my mom and dad, worried about everybody in D.C. Quarantine taught me to reach out to everyone to let them know I’m thinking about them.

I want to encourage people more than ever to be in tune with themselves. Take notes of this, take photos, document it all, because once this all is over, I don’t think there will ever be a time like this again. It feels very odd and really rare to stomach, but I hope people find peace in my music and gain a new perspective and be still.

Assistant Editor Nerisha is the assistant editor at ELLE.com, covering all things beauty and fashion.

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