Normani Talks Working With Missy Elliott & Khalid on New Solo Music: 'It's Definitely an Opportunity to Do It My Way'

Normani Kordei
Brendan Forbes

Normani Kordei

Normani is owning 2018, and she’s not afraid to bask in her newfound success as a solo artist.

Just last week, Normani was announced as the first artist signed to Keep Cool/RCA Records, a new joint venture co-founded by RCA executive vice president, A&R, Tunji Balogun. It's the first major step toward the release of Normani's upcoming debut album, and the songstress told Billboard that it was a natural fit.

“[Balogun] said that he’d been wanting to work with me and saw something in me as an artist but was waiting for the right time,” she said. “I met with the rest of RCA and they made me feel super welcome. It’s very much family vibes -- like, my mom was in the room and they made her feel very comfortable as well.”

Fifth Harmony’s hiatus announcement in March sent Harmonizers into a frenzy, expressing concern over the future of their favorite girl group. Normani was quick to note her growth over the past six years and said that being a part of the group -- which was formed on The X Factor in 2012, when she was just 15 -- helped guide her to understand what she’s truly looking for musically. “I feel like if it weren’t for the group, I probably wouldn’t have been prepared or ready mentally -- not just as a person, but also as an artist.”

She’s also excited to share her story in her own words, especially as a young African-American woman in the midst of heightened social turmoil nationwide. “It’s so amazing to see young girls and young African-American guys or people older than me being able to say, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re so proud to be able to call you our queen’ and ‘You’re such an amazing representation for all of us.’ Even the fans that I got a chance to meet tell me so many of their stories. It’s great I can take that as well and write about them.

“Some people hadn’t known who Fifth Harmony was or people only got to see a fraction of Normani in Fifth Harmony, so it’s definitely an opportunity to do it my way,” she added.

So, what does Normani doing things her way sound like? She says she’s using her role as a new artist to play with different sounds -- “a melting pot of different things I’m inspired by,” as she described it -- and even potentially channeling her New Orleans roots.

The experiment in sound was clear in her recent smash collaboration with Khalid. “Love Lies” skyrocketed onto the Billboard Hot 100 last month thanks to its sultry and smooth undertones, debuting at No. 43 with more than 155 million streams across the United States. The synthy sound mixed with R&B was a pivot from the pop-based Fifth Harmony jams, but according to Normani, it came easily.

“[Khalid] is like my spirit animal,” she laughed. “We had no idea what we wanted the song to sound like. We had no expectations going in. We knew it was going to be special because of the connection we had as friends, but we didn’t know about the sound. It all happened so organically. It was just one big jam session.”

Khalid isn’t her only collaborator on new music: In late March, she told the Beats 1 crew on Apple Music that she’s been working in the studio with hip-hop production team The Stereotypes. One person she’s particularly looking forward to teaming up with is Missy Elliott, whom she tells Billboard is one of her biggest idols.

“I’ll be working with Missy Elliott soon, and the fact that she’s even willing to take a chance on me as a new artist means a lot, considering that she’s the one I’ve looked up to since I was a little girl,” she said. “I literally remember dancing in my grandmother’s living room to all of Missy Elliott’s records. She’s such an innovator, and there’s no one else out there like her. The fact that she is willing to work with me…I’m like, ‘Who? Me?’”

While she said that a date hasn’t been officially set, she did note that she’s hoping for a late 2018 or early 2019 release.