For Normani, working on her debut album means getting a second chance to prove who she really is as an artist outside of Fifth Harmony.   

As a result, Spotify’s Secret Genius program wanted to curate an environment where Normani could work with her dream songwriters and producers and create something she’s proud of. Secret Genius, which aims to highlight the contribution these writers and production team members make to the music industry and artists' careers, teamed up with her label, Keep Cool/RCA Records and her management, S10 -- and the Secret Genius Songshop was born.   

The three-day workshop in Los Angeles featured four studios with a diverse set of producers and songwriters in each room. Yo Pierre, London on the Track, J White and Jude Demorest were among the "geniuses" there. Normani’s whole team and some friends were present, as well as some of her favorite foods lining a buffet table to build the most comfortable music atmosphere.    

“It’s been like being a kid in a candy store,” Normani told Bilboard on Wednesday, her last day of the songshop. “It’s so cool having everybody believe in this project so much and wanting to come out and be part of creating the magic on my behalf.”   

Why Normani for this Songshop? Tiffany Kumar, Spotify’s global head of songwriter relations, said it came down to an inspirations playlist she sent over. “Normani’s team sent over a playlist of songs that inspire her, and at that point, I knew we had to partner with her and Keep Cool for a Secret Genius Songshop to make her new music come to life,” she said.

On this playlist of inspirations, shared below exclusively with Billboard, old-school Beyoncé, Mya, Lauryn Hill and Aaliyah blend with Rihanna and H.E.R. to paint a picture of a '90s R&B dream with a modern twist. Of course, Normani’s sultry collaboration with Khalid, “Love Lies,” tops the list.

“I just want to take it back to the music I fell in love with, and what made me fall in love with music for the first time,” Normani said of the playlist. “I grew up with my grandmother driving me to school and my mother listening to '90s music.”

There’s even a hint of New Orleans jazz (“Crack House” by New Birth Brass Band) as a nod to the singer’s hometown. “We have so much culture we have and we have so much to offer,” she said. “I’m grateful being from there and I just want to incorporate that in the music. It’s authentic to who I am.”

Normani definitely recognizes the difficulty and pressure that comes along with pulling inspiration from the past, but she’s more than ready. "Sometimes it can be scary and it’s like, ‘Will it work?’ It’s the risk I’m willing to take because I believe in it so much.

“I’m fearless," she added. "I have a very clear vision of what I want this body of work to sound like and it’s just about execution. I don't care how long it takes, because that first impression is the last.”

Listen to Normani’s inspiration playlist below.

Tunji Balogun, Keep Cool co-founder and EVP RCA Records; Tiffany Kumar, Global Head of Songwriter Relations at Spotify; Normani; and Brandon Silverstein, Founder of S10 Entertainment at the Spotify Secret Genius Songshop
Matt Adam

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