By: Todd Davis
Signed to impresario Steve Rifkind’s SRC Records, Shontelle is a 23 year-old Bajan beauty who has already taken the music universe by storm with her sultry, chart-topping, premier offering, ‘T-Shirt.’
The prolific singer-songwriter’s story actually began in the West Indies, on the Island of Barbados’ capital city of Bridgetown. The eldest of three sisters, Shontelle has always been in a class of her own, continuously excelling at different sports on and across the Island.
However, it’s her true calling — Music — that has this chronic over-achiever completely ditching the playing fields altogether for the various concert stages of the world
Music, when did you first discover it was a passion of yours?
From as long I can remember being alive, I recall a musical passion and interest. Music always excited and intrigued me. One of my first toys was a Fisher-Price Drum, (and) next came a Casio Tone-Bank Keyboard. Performing in public started in kindergarten, and continued throughout my school years right up to university. It was during my first year at uni, (I was) 18 yrs old, that I started writing and recording with professional producers and artists. I always wanted to be Janet Jackson! *giggles*
You hail from Barbados, so growing up on the island who besides Miss Jackson were you a big fan of?
Beautiful Barbados is my hometown, yes. My strongest musical influences were my mom; she’s a great singer, and her musical collection which included everything Motown, especially Stevie Wonder, everything Jackson, Madonna, Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix — My aunt, Kim Derrick, a well-known local performer, and mostly all the great West Indian Soca artists and local Bajan bands. I love ALL music! Of course my influence list continues to update itself almost everyday! There’s an ALMOST full list of all of ’em on my My Space page, www.myspace.com/shontelle. It’s insane, you’ll see!
When did you decide to put sports on the back-burner for a more serious career in music?
When I wanted to be Ariel in The Little Mermaid! *smiles* But seriously, when the Fugees and Missy Elliot started to take over the game. The Fugees gave me hope as a fellow West Indian that anything is possible, and I told my mom I was going to be the Caribbean Missy because she can do anything; write, produce, rap, sing and dance! That was also another reason I really idolized Lauryn Hill.
How did you end up meeting mogul Steve Rifkind, and eventually inking with his SRC imprint?
It was kinda random actually! I was in New York after successfully auditioning for The American Musical and Dramatic Academy [AMDA] where I nabbed a scholarship. After that, I stayed with my cousin in Tribeca for the week of shows and parties leading up to Labor Day Carnival because I had written two very successful Soca songs; ‘Roll,’ (for) Alison Hinds, and ‘Colors,’ myself and Natahlee Burke. The day before my return to Barbados, I got a surprise call from Evan Rogers of SRP Records, they discovered Rihanna, saying he heard some of my songs, thanks to his wife Jackie who is also Bajan, and wanted to meet. That same day my aunt and I rushed to the Loft Recording Studios, SRP’s home-base in Bronxville, New York. After a great meeting with Evan and his partner Carl Sturken, where they broke out a guitar and put me on the spot to sing, SRP and I teamed up and put together a demo package which we then took coast to coast showcasing for every major label and a few indies as well. There was a lot of interest and excitement from most, and some not so much. Steve was the most passionate about my project, and I really just liked him and the staff and artists there. They’re dope! I remember Akon was on fire! Rifkind had a contract proposal on the table the next day! I felt at home at SRC…And, that’s where I stayed.
One thing I am hearing are comparisons to another “Islander,” multi-platinum fellow singer, Rihanna — How is your style of music different from some of your peers in this business?
I make all kinds of music. From standard R&B, Hip-Hop and Pop flavored stuff, to Reggae, Soca and Dance, Alternative, (and) even Rock. I make people feel good. I’m really excited to see what people will say about my music. It’s great music and wonderful stories. Sometimes I find it hard to define it myself, but what you will hear and what it will taste like is a sweet cocktail of worldwide rhythms and melodies. One sip can take you wherever you wanna go! Whether it’s flashing lights and bangin’ bass in the club, chillaxin’ on the islands, love and romance, friendship or maybe to that deep place in your mind where you have a lot of questions and feelings about life. Stuff you’ve never heard before. It’s just really good music. No matter what type of music people are into, I think they will appreciate my style.
Shontelligence is the name of your album — How did you come up with that title?
I owe this name to SRP and The Loft Recording Studios’ resident engineer Al Hemberger. He came up with it while we were playing a word game with my name. We all jumped on it and thought it was fitting. The definition of intelligence is the gathering of new knowledge or information, the ability to comprehend and profit from experience. I hunger for that knowledge. It feeds my life and my music. The more I learn, the more I want to learn…The more I grow as a person and as an artist.
Who did you collaborate with on Shontelligence?
I’m very involved in the process. The producers I work with are cool and not just allow but encourage me to do me. I love that. I have worked with many talented Bajan producers including Grammy Nominated Nicholas Brancker, as well as SRP, Stargate, Kwame’, Supa Dups [from Black Chiney Soundsystem], Don Corleon, Dave Kelley, Tricky Stewart and (The-)Dream, and Andrew Frampton, Wayne Wilkins, Jordan Omley [of The Runaways]. These producers collectively worked with some of my current favorite artists including; Leona Lewis, Beyonce’, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, Natasha Bedingfield, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Britney Spears, Madonna, Ne-Yo, John Legend and more — I’m still waiting for Timbo to call me! *laughs*
What are some of your favorite things on or about the record?
The highlights include getting to meet some of the established artists and producers I look up to during the course of putting together my project; Jay-Z, Wyclef, Snoop Dogg, David Banner, The RZA, Jazze Pha, among others. But, I got to work with awesome artists like Beenie Man and Collie Buddz on my album. My favorite tracks are ‘Life Is Not an Easy Road,’ ‘Cold Cold Summer’ and ‘Focus Pon Me,’ because I did a major amount of writing on those tracks and they are very personal. So, I am very attached to them. ‘T-Shirt,’ ‘Battle Cry’ and ‘Superwoman’ are also amazing — I love all my records!
What do you think it’ll be that’ll give you longevity in entertainment?
I believe I’m here to stay. That’s what I aim for. Versatility, dedication, accessibility and charm will get you ahead. Working smart, being a go-getter and keeping up with the times will get you very far, especially if you have the talent to back it up. But, it’s a good team of trustworthy and hard working people with integrity that will get you to the moon and farther. This is not a one-(wo)man show — Something to always remember! Teamwork and Knowledge is the key.
With that being said, are there any other things you are hoping to branch out and get involved in or with?
I have many. As far as music goes, I aspire towards many Grammy Awards, touring the world, working with other new and established artists, starting my own label, a long-standing career, being a part of the positive evolution of music and entertainment in the U.S., the world, and my homeland, Barbados. Ultimately, I would like to star in a major movie or Broadway play or musical, play animated characters on TV and film, and, “Hey, the sky is the limit for me!” Fashion, Makeup, Perfume, Hair, Facial and Body Care, Real Estate, Brands, Travel, Cuisine — I want it all! Whatever it is, as long as it’s legal, I’m game. Who knows, maybe I’ll even write a book! Maybe win a Nobel Peace Prize — Bring it on! *more smiles*
Many people are “feeling you,” so to speak, for and through your music, but tell me more about the woman behind Shontelligence; Shontelle Layne?
I’m a real cool, down-to-earth, boogie-boarding, food-loving beach bum with a big heart. Children and animals make my heart melt. I’m weak for clothes, shoes, handbags, perfume and clothes. I’m a movie buff. And, if you ever feed me cheesecake or chocolate…In fact, just take me out to eat and we’ll become best friends!
You sound pretty cool and laid back! So, what other things do you enjoy doing?
Hmm…Chillin’ with friends at the beach or a pool somewhere, at an adventure or theme park, or at a restaurant — Maybe shopping, which I try to keep to a limit ’cause it’s easy for me to get outta control! I love a good book, so sometimes I read. I try to get in some exercise, so sometimes I ride my bike. But honestly, I’m probably just sleeping my lazy ass away. I love to sleep, but I don’t get enough of it!
What do your future goals and plans entail?
In 5, 10 years, I see myself being very successful and helping others to achieve their goals. Label set up. Grammy’s in the case and all. No matter what I’m doing, I see myself much higher and farther than I do today. I’m building an empire!
I hear you’ve been doing quite a bit of performing lately — What’s the “live” experience been like?
Lights, camera, action! If you like hotness, sexiness, long legs, hip shakin’, winding and rolling, you’re in for a pleasure party! I work with the craziest, most hype deejay, DJ Shortman, from the Heavy Hitters, and my dancers. Depending on the circumstances, you can see me with my awesome band, too! Lots of color, energy and versatility — You’ll experience Hip-Hop, R&B, Dance, Pop and Reggae Vibes and much more! A full package! We’ll party and get wild and crazy together, then I’ll bring you down and mellow you out and make you think a little and I’ll play with your emotions. Then, we’ll end off with an even bigger party than we started with!
Now that’s what I’m talking ’bout! So, do you have any message for the readers of Rap Industry Dot Com?
This is such a cool site! Thank you Rap Industry Dot Com for doing this interview with me. I’m looking forward to the next one. To you reading this interview here on Rap Industry Dot Com, thank you for taking the time out to check us out! Thanks to all my fans and supporters. I would never have made it this far without you guys. (Everyone), check out www.myspace.com/shontelle. Much respect and love to every aspiring artist and songwriter out there — Never quit! Bless.