Nineteen-year-old Rye Rye made a splash as M.I.A.'s protégée in 2007, accompanying her on tour when she was still in high school. But her music is all her own, fed as much by the Baltimore clubs where she used to dance as by the big names who helped her make it.
She was hyped as the next big thing, but then Rye Rye (real name: Ryeisha Berrain) was forced to drop off a tour with A-Trak because she was pregnant; her daughter, Kennidi Malaysia Battle, was born in September 2009. In the meantime, her mentor lost credibility -- and, subsequently, much of her tastemaker status -- in the wake of a damaging New York Times Magazine article.
Video: Rye Rye, "Sunshine" feat. M.I.A.
Despite all this, Rye Rye has persevered, and N.E.E.T./Interscope will release her long-awaited debut, "Go! Pop! Bang!," on Jan. 11.
You were a dancer before you started making your own music. How did that shape the direction you went in musically?
Me being a dancer, it gave me a taste for music. I love dancing, that's what I'm built around, so I was aiming to make music to make people dance.
M.I.A. has been a mentor to you. She signed you to her N.E.E.T. label and has supported your work. Did it help to be mentored by a woman?
Yes, because my music is different -- it's not the typical hip-hop and R&B, and M.I.A. was the same way. She stepped up out of the box to try different things. I had support from her; it was great to have her backing me.
When she brought me along, her fan base rubbed off on me as well. We weren't afraid to be different. As a brand-new artist, I knew nothing about the industry, I was just trying it out. Working with her pushed me to go forward with it.
What do you think of the way she's been treated lately?
Honestly, when all that stuff was going on, I never read it. People would ask me about it. I know she was supposed to be upset about it. But the media is the media -- sometimes they twist things up. I would tell her that it's nothing to worry about.
How has it been making music while having a baby? Is it hard to keep up the schedule?
It's easy -- sort of. My mother and her father help keep an eye on her when I'm gone. I'm still able to tour and all, and this time she's actually with me in Los Angeles. She's a handful, but it's been great since I had her. And getting back to work has been fine. I always got everything done.
You never see the same sort of reaction to male artists having kids -- that they should stop and stay home to be a parent.
That's funny. I never thought about it that way either. That's so true. It should be equal, though. The guys are just like, "Oh, I can keep going." And the girls have just always got to be there.
You have a song, "Older Man," that's about being with a guy "twice my age" -- but is that also how it is for you in the music industry?
That song came about because R. Kelly was recording in the same studio we were in, a couple of studios down. So we made a song about R. Kelly first, and then we started doing the track, and M.I.A. was like, "I wonder if R. Kelly would come be on this track," and we were making a joke about it.
Then Mos Def was there, and we asked him to be on it. We were joking that people would be looking at him weird if he asked me out on the track.
Like you said, it's about me being young and getting all this fame; me being on one level and this guy being on another level, but I'm getting all the attention, because I'm young or whatever.
You once said that female artists can make music without having to show their bodies. Can you talk about that a little?
I feel like that's a way out, to get themselves started. It's tough out here, and some people have to do what they have to do to get where they want to be. But I felt like it could be done without doing that.
The guys, they have it easy, they don't have to do it. So I think women should push to make it without having to do that, too.
It's all built around the image, the type of music you want to do, but for me it's all about respect.
Who is your audience?
I feel like it's more the hipster crowd, but I have the potential to hit the urban crowd as well. People tell me that -- people at the record label, M.I.A. told me that -- "The advantage you have is that you can go commercial and have the urban crowd."
But I feel like right now for my first album, I wanted to stick to who I was. I want to have no limit: I want to stay underground for my first album and then merge into the urban crowd as well.