Meet RIKI — an underground, Alternative R&B Artist signed to Gee Street Records in Jamaica. Born in Kingston, Jamaica with time as a young adult spent living in the U.S. in Cleveland's vibrant art scene, RIKI has a disciplined and sophisticated background of prep school and award-winning track running mixed with the free-spirited artistic lifestyle she's currently living out back in Jamaica. This self-described, "Soul Rebel" brings a 'new soul' sound to R&B that's a true reflection of who she is in her most natural form. Her music + artistry is described as, "Lyrically, she meditates on love’s euphoria, the legalization of herb, and her bittersweet push-and-pull romance with her Jamaican roots. The self-taught singer’s lyrics dig deep into cultural minefields such as channeling girlpower, black consciousness, and the grittier shades of love."
Upon being introduced to RIKI's music and almost instantly becoming a fan of her style and vision, I had the opportunity to link up with RIKI and Producer/Friend, Troy Baker in Midtown NYC for an interview and photoshoot. Our interview resulted in an inspiring conversation about music, love, the Jamaican culture, and what it really means to be free.
DARLA: How and when did you get started making music?
RIKI: I had a boyfriend who was an artist; we went to an urban school and at the time, nobody was really about that. That was very inspiring to me. I started writing, and wrote my first song called, "Darkest Light" (video coming soon). I put it out, and everybody in my city, which was Cleveland at the time, gave me a really good review. I really didn’t have that many followers then, so for 300 people to find it the first day and be like, ‘Yo, keep going! This is dope!’… I was like, 'Okay, I’m gonna keep doing this.' That’s when I started; I was 19 going on 20… It’s been about three years.
DARLA: What’s it like living in Jamaica?
RIKI: It’s cool because I was born in Jamaica and I grew up mostly there… So when I go back, I just chill. It’s like the opposite of being here in New York. I get to pick what I want to do for the day. It’s pretty cool and the music is good; it’s really inspiring to me. Living in Cleveland, all I got to hear was like trap music. I hear everything now because Jamaica loves music — they play everything.
DARLA: How do you feel like living in Jamaica impacts your work?
RIKI: It’s really impactful — Jamaicans love music! If you come to Jamaica and you’re leaving from the airport, you’re just going to hear other people driving past. They might be playing like, Keyshia Cole from back in the day, or Monica, or Future… Just anything. And you’re thinking, 'It’s Jamaica so you wouldn’t hear that there,' right? But it’s really worldly as far as music. It’s really inspiring; it’s just a vibe. You get to meet so many people because so many people come there to travel. The inspiration never stops.
DARLA: The latest track you’ve released on Soundcloud, is called Waterfalls (one of my favorite songs of yours, by the way) — What’s the inspiration behind that?
RIKI: At the time, I wanted to get into making more chill music again… I was making some stuff, but it was more like the afro-beat edge. We were just in the studio and Troy played this track and I liked it. It just came naturally; the first verse was a freestyle. I didn’t have a full inspiration behind it.
TROY: It was one of those tracks that was the last one we made at like 4 o’clock in the morning and she wrote it really quick.
DARLA: You have a new project that’s set to be released soon called Salience. Can you share any insight to the concept behind it?
RIKI: I’m obsessed with the universe. Frequencies, and divine timing, and trying to get to a place, within myself, of betterment. I was looking up words that had to do with the brain — like dopamine and stuff. While I was doing this research, I saw the word Salience and thought, 'This is a cool word,' and I looked it up. The meaning is basically something that’s natural... Like, whatever it is, it’s just supposed to be there. That’s where that came from because that’s what music is for me… It’s something that just naturally comes. When I hear music, it’s like I naturally hear words. It’s about just being natural and getting in tune with myself to feel that way.
DARLA: How do you think your work can impact the world? Do you feel like art can be powerful towards change?
RIKI: Yeah totally, because art is what you’re making it. It’s something for people to follow, almost. You can be a painter and you start drawing something very inspirational and people will start following that movement because they connect with it. For me, I feel like God is Love and that’s my inspiration for making music — my first song was a love song. Also, I want to be able to give back and donate proceeds from some of the shows I do to certain foundations. With creating art, I do feel like it makes change. Bob Marley and all these people are revolutionaries... And they're all artists.
DARLA: In your mini documentary on YouTube, you talked about freedom and how you love to be free. What does, 'Be free' mean to you?
RIKI: I’m that friend that’s kind of like, "the crazy friend" because I just be how I want to be. I naturally allow myself to feel how I want to. Even if I’m not evoking it, and I just feel that way... Even with just being an artist — so many people are not confident and fear is lack of confidence (that’s my definition of it)… So many people have that and don’t even do what they want to. Being free is just to be yourself. I’m still on that path to gaining natural freedom. I learned to get rid of thoughts that aren’t pushing me for betterment; learning how to be positive and going in that route rather than letting things hinder me and not allow me to be great. Being free is getting to your best self and being on that path. There’s so many trials and tribulations that put you in a mini incubator at times.
TROY: Her music feels like that. There’s no limitations, everything’s free. People are going to pick up on that with all these new releases coming up. You mentioned moving from Afro beat to something more chill, and now we’re pushing boundaries with other genres. There’s no limitations.
RIKI: I’m very spongy. I’m one of those people who doesn’t stick to any [one] thing. If I go somewhere, I’m naturally out there. I go anywhere! I’m just a girl to go out and find anything to do on my own and soak in inspiration. If I am listening to music and it’s like, pure African music, and I don't even know what they're saying but I still just vibe with it... That comes more naturally to me than studying something.
DARLA: Right! It’s so easy for me to memorize song lyrics but when it comes to book work and studying, it’s not the same… Music is like a feeling process.
RIKI: Oh my God, I literally had a conversation with Troy the other day about how I think that sound is better than sight! It’s a vibration. You need to know how to feel vibrations more than you need to see sometimes. People look at stuff all the time, but they’re not seeing. They’re blind, you know? And that’s what I think is really important. When I say feeling free, it’s like allowing yourself to just be in tune because I’ve learned doing music that it’s a very spiritual thing if you let it take you there. I’ve learned that vibrations and sounds are very important. And it’s that hidden sight that no one knows about — vibrations and frequencies. We pick up energy way differently with sounds.
DARLA: In terms of your career, how do you stay inspired in the face of challenging times?
RIKI: I lead myself with this, artful life. If I’m depressed, it’s like all I have to do is make art to get through it. I’m really big on karma, so when people do things, instead of lashing out all the time I just transmute it and put it into something I feel is worthy of it.
DARLA: What are some essential aspects of your self-care routine?
RIKI: Eating healthy is important. I’m a trying pescatarian; I’m trying to get there. Besides that, just doing stuff that makes you happy is good self-care… Something positive. They say looking good plays a part in feeling good, so taking care of your skin too. Sometimes you wanna feel good but the outside is conflicting because you’re breaking out or whatever. So taking care of your skin and finding more natural remedies to do it. Also, listening to music… Just doing what makes you feel good! Dance in the house to music you like. The music you listen to is really important. If you listen to trap music, and people shooting people up EVERYDAY (I’m not saying it’s bad all the time).
DARLA: It lowers your vibration!
RIKI: Yes! And then you’re wondering like, “Why is everything going so chaotic??” What you’re listening to matters.
DARLA: What do you hope to achieve with your music? What message do you hope to get across?
RIKI: My biggest message is: God is Love. I wrote this lyric once that said, “In a world so corrupted, God must be love.” Because it’s just like at this point, why judge? Why not let love be the movement? I live in Jamaica right now, and things are still very, "Third World." People are still anti same-sex love and stuff like that and I just don’t get it. Because it’s like, that really doesn’t have anything to do with you — that’s someone else’s nighttime business. So [my message is] just, God is Love. Let’s move in that direction rather than thinking someone has to believe what you believe. That doesn’t make sense; there are so many people in the world and everyone’s not going to agree.
DARLA: What are some other creative outlets or forms of art that you’re passionate about outside of music?
RIKI: I paint… I’m in the process of getting better at it. With that, it’s pretty much something to do throughout the process of making music. Painting is fun for me because with making music sometimes, you have to really get in your head… Painting is you touching it and watching it come to life.
DARLA: What do you hope to manifest for 2018?
RIKI: Everything positive. As far as the music and art — more shows, meeting cool people who are on the same wave. Getting to reveal my art and showing people who I am and what it is.
DARLA: How would you spend an ideal Sunday with no rules or restrictions?
RIKI: If it was a free Sunday, I would wake up late and maybe get some food. I would chill for a minute, go back home, play some music, go to sleep. I have a TV, but it’s like in the closet… So if it’s a Sunday I might use it. Well actually, I’d probably paint because with paintings in my house now… I don’t watch TV at all. Then there’s like this rasta vibe on Sundays called, Dub Club. All the rastas go there and just chill. It has THE best view of the island. When it’s dark, the light and the city just — ahhh, it’s amazing.
TROY: The vibe there is not a party vibe or anything; it’s smoking, like smoking chalices and stuff… Hardly any drinking. Real rastas, real authentic.
RIKI: Yeah and performances… And it just looks dope! Really up high on top of the hill so the view is amazing. I would end it like that and just chill up there. Jamaicans are just on that vibe, very spiritual, and we just have great conversations.
[these things take time.] the poetry book available on amazon.com.