As I prepared for the commentary this week, my thoughts turned to my grandmother. She was a wonderful person and minister who was interested in helping young people. I could talk to her for hours even though almost sixty years were between our ages. Perhaps I inherited her interest in the young, therefore my interest in the young musician. This week I chose to feature another of the very young artists of our time, Kyndall. One of the things that stands out to me in telling her story is that she spent her teenage years in development with Atlantic Records. It is rare to see young artists given years to develop these days, but that has been the case with Kyndall. She has been provided time to grow.
Usually with young people, most lake the foresight necessary to make important decisions. For that reason you don’t see anyone asking a sixteen year old to make career decisions. Their parents must be involved in any legal choices. I am not saying that young folks lack intelligence. Absolutely not! However, there is a need for life experience when navigating through the music industry. Most young artists need some space and time to grow, but not to their own detriment.
Kyndall understood her need for guidance and the time to grow personally and musically. When Kyndall arrived to the label as an ambitious, 16 year-old she was convinced her break would arrive immediately. The Houston-bred, R&B songstress quickly learned that she wasn’t ready for the spotlight. “I wasn’t in a space where I necessarily knew who I was,” she says. “From 15 to 19, what do you know? Shoot! At 19 what do I know? I needed that time to grow into myself and live the narratives I would sing about.”
I observed situations just like Kyndall’s early in my time in the music industry. Many times I saw young artists signed to contracts as teenagers who exhibited talent and promise, but lacked the fortitude to stay and reap the benefits from their investment of youth. I sometimes wondered if the strategy of signing artists very young and molding them until ready was prudent. My reasons for questions were because I saw very, very few young musicians stay in the industry until adulthood. Record company executives understood that it took time to grow musically, but sometimes neglected the time to grow emotionally and physically.
As a child Kyndall’s mother, enrolled her at the Humphreys School of Musical Theatre for theatrical training. Kyndall landed her first of several shows at the age of seven— “‘The Wizard of Oz,’ a rite of passage for show kids,” she recalls — and continued performing and training at The High School For Performing Arts. At 14, Kyndall ventured into television roles and eventually moved into feature films, but it was her pitch perfect vocals and soulful tone on an audition tape, not even a minute long, that found its way online, nabbing the attention of Atlantic’s top brass.
Kyndall obviously showed more than just flashes of talent at a very young age. Much like many artists there was little doubt about the young singer’s musical abilities. However, the choice of music is essential toward any success. Kyndall went right to work on music that was prepared for her, but the project, an EP, didn’t resonate with Kyndall and she bravely asked Atlantic to shelve it at the last-minute. “It wasn’t me. The songs were cool, but I just knew the collection wasn’t quite the right fit. I’m sure I drove the label crazy, but they patiently hung in there with me to get it right.” she admits.
The record label was patient. It’s a quality rarely seen in the music industry, because time truly equals money. Nevertheless, the executives waited a little longer. Kyndall realized finding creative freedom meant she had to voice her opinions and trust that her label would value them; And they did.
“For so long I’d been doing what people said, when they said, how they said it,” she said. “Until now I never sat back and said hold up, I can say, ‘no.’” She decided to give herself time to mature. Kyndall traveled a did a lot of hiding, which afforded her the space to experience things like her first love and all the ‘silly emotional things’ that teenagers do, hanging out far too late. “I needed to get that out of my system and out-of-the-way. Getting into the industry young, you lose a lot of normalcy and perspective,” she says. “I needed time. I know more about myself now.” She needed time to grow.
After taking a little time away from everything, Kyndall returned to her home of Houston, Texas and found a readiness to work. The result is a heap of gritty, bass heavy R&B that she tackles with her stunning lilt and passionate (and deeply personal) lyrics detailing her first love. Kyndall gave us her début EP, “Still Down.”
“If I could package this EP in a gold case and wrap it up, I would,” she says, smiling coyly. “I’m so obsessed with my project and I feel so happy just being able to say that. I’d listen to it even if it weren’t my own.” I took some time to listen to the EP, and it is as good as advertised. Interestingly, I listened to Still Down after hearing Kyndall’s story. I couldn’t help wonder what would have been if the label insisted upon the first material. Would music fans be ready to hear that music?
Kyndall speaks of the recording process with more enthusiasm than her first effort, and she quickly points out that sheer confidence drove her to be more involved. “I’m from Texas—a bold, confident, unshakable state with a unique identity. It makes complete sense that this first body of work would be created best in my hometown, over bowls of gumbo.” Nothing was forced or unnatural. It’s all genuinely me.”
Maybe Kyndall was more mature than she believed. She possessed the foresight, and wisdom to realize she needed time to grow.