Fousheé: “Black women have been the workhorses of the music industry since time began”
When Brittany Fousheé wrote the opening lyrics to her song ‘Deep End’ in 2018, little did she know how prescient her message would be: “I been trying not to go off the deep end / I don’t think you wanna give me a reason”. Then in 2020, you may well have heard its melancholy, compelling melody bouncing around your social media or Spotify recommendations. There’s just something about Fousheé’s vulnerable but fearless vocal that has captured the mood of our current times, and sent it straight to the Number One spot on TikTok and Shazam’s most-played charts.
Fousheé has previously described ‘Deep End’ as being about “the fight and struggle one goes through to get what’s deserved”. Ironically, the sleeper hit reflects her own difficulties to get recognition for her artistry. ‘Deep End’ first went viral as an uncredited sample on a freestyle track by the Brooklyn drill rapper Sleepy Hallow, and it was only when Fousheé revealed her identity as the songwriter on TikTok and released a full-length version of the song that millions of people started to recognise her remarkable talent. The 2020 version of ‘Deep End’ dropped just as countless people took to the streets in protest against systemic racism and police brutality after the death of George Floyd. Its defiant sentiment in the face of injustice felt more necessary than ever.
Now, despite the initial hurdles, Fousheé is taking back the narrative when it comes to her music. Born and raised in New Jersey, the singer-songwriter spent years playing legendary venues on the New York gig circuit before relocating to Los Angeles, all while releasing a steady stream of celestial alt-soul compositions akin to Solange and early Frank Ocean. On her latest release, ‘Single af’, Fousheé’s style is ever-evolving, empowering and entertaining – a long way from going off the deep end, it would seem.
Speaking to NME, Fousheé reflects on TikTok success, collaborating with James Blake and championing black women through her music.
Your latest song, ‘Single af’, sees you going in a new direction and celebrating being a single woman. How did that come about?
“I wrote ‘Single af’ following an amicable break-up. It made me realise that the end of a relationship doesn’t always have to be this explosive, heartbreak scenario. Sometimes it can just be for the best for both of you. So I wanted to embrace this new single stage of my life as something positive, and channel that with the falsetto chorus on that song.”
Who inspired you musically growing up?
“It was a real mix for me growing up – my mum was the drummer in a Jamaican all-female reggae band called PEP, so she definitely had a big influence on me. At home I remember it was often either Bob Marley or big voices like Celine Dion playing, and then I listened to a lot of R&B and hip-hop as well. Frank Ocean has really inspired me but I think Bob Marley had the biggest impact on me subconsciously, and made me want to create really soulful music just with my guitar.”
You recently signed a deal with RCA records, home to Brockhampton and Normani. Why did now feel like the right time to join a major label?
“When I was a kid, I dreamt about signing a big deal like this. It just felt like the right moment for me in my creative journey and the RCA roster is so inspirational. I’ve spent years performing to tough crowds in New York, doing countless shows, and all of that hard work as an independent artist is paying off now. I’ve learned a lot about myself and finally I know who I am as a musician and what I want to achieve.”
And what is it that you want to achieve?
“Essentially, I want to change peoples’ lives – reach out to others and make them feel heard. When I’m songwriting, I try to be as authentic as possible and speak the truth. I guess I’m all about the emotion of a song – but that doesn’t always have to be a negative thing, sometimes we have to embrace sadness. Music can be so powerful, you know. I’ve heard stories of songs helping people through depression or being the only thing that someone remembers when they’re in a coma. I truly believe that artists can be healers but also, when I write, it’s healing for me too.”
Your song ‘Deep End’ has certainly connected emotionally with people on a massive scale. How has that experience been for you?
“It’s incredible, I never thought ‘Deep End’ would get so big. It started out as one of a collection of royalty-free samples that I had made in 2018, and then Sleepy Hallow picked it up. When I wasn’t credited and people didn’t know that I was responsible for that sample, I decided to put it out as a full song – and that happened just as the protests were starting in Minnesota after the death of George Floyd. It was a very emotional time – people were literally going off the deep end after everything that has happened in 2020, and I wanted to create something that acknowledged the pain but also gave people strength. It’s strange to think that the original 2018 sample spoke to the future, in a way.”
“I truly believe that artists can be healers but also when I write, it’s healing for me too”
Stylistically, you changed things up on ‘Deep End’ and slip into powerful, lyrical rap. How did you find that transition after starting out as a singer?
“It was a fairly organic transition. I was at a point where I wanted to open up my sound, and I’ve been a rap fan forever – I love the metaphors, the shut-up punchlines, and used to watch a lot of battle rap. I mean, I don’t think I fit the mould of a ‘traditional rapper’, but I guess I’ve shown that rap doesn’t always have to be about a specific lifestyle.”
The lyrics on ‘Deep End’ particularly focus on empowering Black women, and you’ve said on Twitter that “black women deserve more than the scraps in the music industry”. What, in your opinion, can be done to improve how Black women are treated in music?
“I feel like Black women have been the workhorses of the music industry since time began. Our style and writing have been so fundamental to the history of music, but it’s rarely acknowledged. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, for example, was a queer black woman who invented rock’n’roll, way before Elvis, but not many people know that. We’re constantly expected to be so much for so little in return; we’re over-sexualised or told we’re too sexy, our hair-styles are ridiculed and then next week it’s being appropriated as a fashion trend. I just want black women to be respected and to get their credit where it’s due in the music industry. That’s exactly what I say in ‘Deep End’: “pardon my tits and make up, pay her”. It’s a sentiment all women can relate to: don’t let my outward appearance fool you, I still intend on handling my business.”
Given how TikTok has been fundamental to the evolution of ‘Deep End’, how do you feel about the platform’s role in music these days?
“I’m a fan! I love doing funny videos and connecting with a wider audience on TikTok. Some people don’t understand it or complain about the algorithm, but there are always positives and negatives with social media. During the protests this year, for example, a lot of useful information was shared on there. And when I put out the video of me saying that I was the writer of the Sleepy Hallow sample on TikTok, it got such a response – way more than on any of my other social accounts. Honestly, I’m not sure where I’d be without it. I think it’s a representation of our world today.”
So, what’s next for Fousheé?
“I’ve got a new project coming out early next year, which I’ve been working very hard on and can’t wait to share. Sound wise, it’s a real alternative mixture: there’s some jazz in there, a lot of textured airy vocals, and re-imagined hip hop drums. I also collaborated with James Blake, who produced a song about my grandfather. It’s going to be dynamic.”
Fousheé’s ‘single af’ is out now