Burley expects to release her as-yet-untitled EP by June, which will include the swagger-filled "Double Pedigree" and dreamy "Changed Things" (the latter produced by recent Rihanna collaborator James Fauntleroy). "They're mostly first-person experiences," says Burley of her no-holds-barred verses. "I hope people think, 'There's no gimmick here.' "
Growing up in Houston, were you more of an introvert or extrovert?
I was great at doing both. I lost my mom when I was six so I grew up in an interesting situation. Her best friend took me in. Once I got into high school, I lived with my dad and my grandmother early on. Not having my mom, I always felt out of place but at the same time, I've always been creative and confident in my creative talent so that part made me an extrovert. I guess the part about me not being necessarily comfortable all the way inside made me an introvert to a certain extent because I wasn't as open as the other kids.
Which artists made you fall in love with rap?
I'm gonna give credit to DJ Screw because growing up in Houston, the first rap I was exposed to was Southern rap. That's mostly what I listened to for years. The first artists outside of Houston that really had me enamored [with rap] was honestly and equally, Eminem and Jay Z. Obviously the culture I directly identified with was DJ Screw and all the artists that he exposed people to. He put a lot of the artists that became Houston legends on. He created a culture. For Eminem, [I loved] the fact that he was always funny, always himself, always able to make fun of himself in the midst of making fun of other people at the same time. His sense of humor, his wittiness, and his honesty. The song that really made me love him was ["Cleanin' Out My Closet"] just because I couldn't believe anyone would make a song talking to their mother like that. It really cut deep and resonated with me. And then for Jay, I'm also a Sagittarius so I think that his sarcasm, swagger, personality, the way he delivers a story and the way he paints pictures really, really made me fall in love [with rap].
At a young age, you were in a girl group called Trio. What did you learn from having Mathew Knowles as your manager?
I always call my time at Music World, his company, my undergrad [career] because I didn't go to school. I dropped out [after high school] and chose to have a career. I learned everything I know about shows [from him]. Mathew molded Beyoncé and Destiny's Child and who they were and who they became. He's gonna make sure you're working. He's the person that taught me to never cup the microphone when you're performing. He's the person that taught me to articulate what you’re saying. He's the person that made me question every last thing that I put down on the record before I let anybody hear it because the number one thing that he wants you to be is the best version of yourself.
Describe your history with Beyoncé. You both grew up in Houston together. How close were you two growing up?
It was cool. My mother and [Beyoncé's mom] Tina were best friends. We lived one street over from one another. I've always known Bey but Solange and I were close. We still are close. I was probably moreso like the annoying little sister growing up 'cause I was always with her sister. [Bey] sometimes babysat us, Kelly [Rowland] would sometimes babysit us. Even as a kid, when we were in our little group, she would help. Like I said, I used to be kind of shy and she's always been very patient, kind and helpful.
When was the first time you and Beyoncé worked together professionally?
It was in the Hamptons in August 2012, when she first began working on her first visual album, Beyoncé.
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Did that session parlay into the Parkwood deal?
Actually it did. The conversation happened early on but Parkwood, at the time, wasn't even really structured or ready to sign a new artist per se. Her assistant, at the time, told me, "Listen, everybody here is really loving your work. You're doing great writing. Stay out here with us and keep creating. She's thinking about signing you." At the time, I was so excited about just being there and being able to write that I just focused on that. I worked with Bey almost every day and she put me with other writers, other producers. I didn't realize what she was doing but she's so smart. She was essentially helping develop me as a writer and as an artist because every song that I wrote for her, she gave me feedback on. She critiqued them. There were some 30 songs I had to rewrite 10 times, 15 times so I had to restate, re-demo, everything. No one is going to make that type of investment and not do something later so I'm glad she ended up signing me.
How did working on that project help evolve your music writing style?
It just helped open up my mind. I hadn't been challenged by anyone directly like that ever, especially not someone of the stature like Beyoncé. My main focus was making sure that with all the direction she gave me, I never took personal. I just listened to her critiques and did my best to apply the direction she was giving me. And some of the stuff is simple, just as simple as "the line is too typical." That's something that always plays in my head so now when I'm writing, even if it's for other people, I'm always going to ask myself how typical is this [line]? Is this witty enough? I'm always checking myself.
What's the overall concept for your forthcoming EP?
It's honesty. I feel like the thing that makes every song fit and stay true is that the fact that they are all coming directly from me. They're all pretty much first person experiences.
You worked with James Fauntleroy for this project. Describe your collaboration with him.
James is my favorite singer in the world. Put it on record. [Our song is] called “Changed Things.” It's crazy because I know James is a producer as well and he is so amazing. He doesn’t even send out records to people like that. His manager is one of my best friends actually and she sent me like 47 beats. I'm like, "James be a beast but who sends me 47 beats?" Like he's working on the Justin Timberlake record so I was like when do you have time? I was tripping because a lot of the beats he gave me are like five years old but still so, so good. Working with him is like working with everybody's wannabe best friend, in my opinion. He'll go smoke and do his thing, and make you feel like you're the focal point. He always comes in and makes me feel comfortable so I'm super grateful to be able to work with James.
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Who's on your collaborator wish list?
I would love to work with Bryson Tiller -- he's super ill, and one of my homies Ro James is buzzing right now. We actually spoke about working together several times over the years and now, we are getting our shot and our music is getting heard so maybe he and I will finally do some stuff together. Honestly, I would love to work with my labelmates as well. I really really would love to get in with Chloe and Halle as well as Sophie Beem.
Speaking of your label mates, you were all featured in Beyonce's Lemonade project. What was it like filming with Chloe, Halle, Zendaya and Amandla Stenberg among others?
It was incredible. No one knew what we were filming for. We shot the day after my birthday [on Dec. 19] so I was just really happy I was doing something so cool and with so many excellent women, who are all so gracious. No one knew who I was and they were all so kind to me and everyone else. It was just a humbling experience and a testament to how much [Beyoncé] really believes in me. I appreciate her for that because she definitely didn't have to include me in that lineup so it was awesome.
You also worked on "Love Drought" with Mike Dean and Beyoncé.
That was awesome. Mike’s from Houston so the fact that "Love Drought" [is made by] three people who are all from Houston, Texas, is just amazing. Mike is somebody who I always looked up to. I'm huge fan of his. He is one of my favorite producers of all time. I mean he played in Selena’s band for god’s sake. It's a dream come true.
A version of this article was originally featured in the May 28 issue of Billboard.