ESSENCE.com's "New and Next" column spotlights the brightest new talents we think you should know. This week we meet Pharrell and Jermain Dupri's newest artist, R&B singer Leah Labelle.
Who is Leah Labelle?
As the daughter of two well-known Bulgarian pop musicians, it wouldn't be far fetched to say that Leah Labelle was born with music in her veins. After emigrating from Bulgaria, Labelle’s family landed in Seattle where she was introduced to R&B—the genre of music that ultimately defined her musical style. “My mom played all kinds of music around the house. She listened to a lot of jazz and The Beatles. But whenever there was R&B playing, I was always very into it,” Labelle tells ESSENCE.com, reminiscing on her early musical influences.
Grammy Award-winning producers Pharrell and Jermaine Dupri took notice of Labelle after she made a string of YouTube videos of herself singing covers of Etta James, Indie Arie and John Legend, from her bedroom. Years spent recording and performing with no perspective interests in sight had left her deflated. But after a night of crying herself to sleep, she woke up to a tweet from Jermaine Dupri that read: “Hey.” Those three simple characters led Labelle to a face-to-face meeting with L.A. Reid, Pharrell and JD, where she was signed immediately. “After he offered me deal, I looked at him and all I could do was cover my mouth. I was like 'wow, I don’t have any words for you right now.'”
Who she sounds like? Labelle’s sound is retro, yet funky; her voice, rich and raspy, much like her greatest influence, Lauryn Hill. “Vocally, [I’m] hugely inspired by her," she says. "I also love Kim Burrell, Brandy, Stevie Wonder and Whitney Houston.” Quiet an impressive musical palette for a girl born in Bulgaria. “Musically, my style is fun, it’s expressive, and everything has a story. But most of all it makes you feel good." The 23-year-old says she's the least bit worried about the clichés surrounding White artists singing R&B. “I just want to make good music. I’m here and I’m doing what I love and the music that I love. It’s going to reach who it’s supposed to reach.”
What’s next? Labelle's first single (and video) “Sexify” will be released this summer. When it comes to her career, she's aiming high and wide. "I hope that it [music] does reaches the world. I hope that it sets a really, really good first base for me to continue to build."