How Lous and the Yakuza Approached Her Record Contract

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How the R&B-pop singer went from emailing Columbia Records looking for a deal to releasing her debut project, 'Gore,' on the label.

At the age of seven, Marie-Pierra Kakoma was writing novels, poems and lyrics. "Every family party I was singing a song [or] reciting a poem that I wrote the night before," she says. "I don’t even remember the day I decided to be a singer, because it was always so obvious."

By her early teens, the R&B-pop singer had started emailing any Columbia Records contact she could find, saying she loved that label in particular for its roster and rich history. While awaiting a reply, she uploaded a handful of genre-spanning EPs in English as Lous and the Yakuza on SoundCloud and started booking local gigs in Brussels. “I was accepting all requests,” she says. “You could ask me to perform in your bathroom, and I would be like, ‘Yeah, sure.’ I truly believe if you work hard enough, things happen in your life — no matter if you’re a woman, if you’re Black, and if those things count as a burden."

Soon enough, by her early 20s, her hard work paid off; she caught the attention of an A&R rep at Sony/ATV France. By June 2018, Kakoma signed a recording contract with Sony Music in France and her dream label, Columbia, in the United States. She says she realized "very quickly" that she had to be well-informed and strong-willed when it comes to the business side of her career, "because otherwise you don't own shit. Especially as a Black woman, people don’t respect you, they don’t think you can read a contract." Which is why, immediately after receiving hers from Columbia, she says "I hired the biggest lawyer who cost me so much money, but I have a deal that I like."

Kakoma, 24, spent her childhood moving between Africa and France. (She was born in Congo, raised in Belgium and briefly lived in Rwanda.) She believes traveling so much at a young age made her “super open-minded,” with early inspirations ranging from Mozart to Japanese folk music to the Eagles. "People hate when I control the speaker at a party," she says with a laugh. "It’s their worst nightmare."

Now her wide-ranging taste informs her unplaceable sound and has attracted an equally broad fan base, evidenced by the success of her 2019 debut single, the French-language “Dilemme.” While performing it for the first time last December in France, she realized everyone knew the words — a first. “Now, I’m being listened to by people who don’t speak French,” she says. "So there must be something else [other than my lyrics that's connecting]." Since its release, the song has raked in over 6 million views on YouTube.

For her upcoming debut full-length, Gore, out in October, she found it difficult at first to find a producer who could grasp all the genres she planned to pull from. But once she heard Rosalía’s “Malamente” and the way in which it seamlessly blends traditional flamenco with trap and hip-hop, she knew that its producer, El Guincho, would be a perfect fit for her as well. “We sent him an email, and a couple of days after he was like, ‘Come to Barcelona. I want to work with you,’” recalls Kakoma. “He told me in the beginning: ‘We’re not making this album for your ego, not for my ego. We’re making it for the culture.’”

A version of this article originally appeared in the Sept. 19, 2020, issue of Billboard.