Judith Hill has always been on the music scene — you might just not have been looking hard enough.
Her resume includes duetting with Michael Jackson, appearing in the Oscar-winning 20 Feet From Stardom (and winning a Grammy for the documentary), and a four-chair turn on The Voice. On top of that, she’s opened for the likes of Josh Groban and John Legend. But the 31-year-old singer/songwriter has only just begun.
On Friday (Oct. 23), Hill released her debut album, Back in Time. The Los Angeles native worked closely with her mentor Prince on the record. Back in Time was the result of some fast-paced and organic jam sessions between Hill and Prince at the legend’s Paisley Park Studios complex in Minnesota.
“The first time I went over there, there was no agenda or talk of a record; just jamming on stuff. A Thursday in, he asked me to play some of my songs and he would come up with these cool arrangements for these songs I had already written,” Hill told Billboard. The rest was history — or at least it’s going to be once this record reaches fans’ hands.
It’s quite the musical honor to be invited into the folds of Prince’s creativity, and it’s one Hill describes as “welcoming.” She learned a lot from the legendary Minnesotan, but mostly, it was his constant strive for excellence that he instilled in her that helped her make such a bold album. “He challenges me to be my best. I like that challenge, because with him, it’s do-or-die on that stage. I think that I’ve really been challenged to step it up, and I’m happy for that extra push.”
The album itself is an homage to the past, both personally for Hill and musically. “It’s very autobiographical in nature. ‘Jammin’ in the Basement’ is a nod to how I used to jam in the basement with my family when I was a kid. But there are also heavier messages in there like ‘As Trains Go By’; it touches upon race issues and things that happened this year with police brutality.” But Hill also celebrates the old-school funk she was exposed to as a kid. “I’ve always loved funk. That’s something that I grew up with, and it’s something I want to bring back as a young artist.”
Hill doesn’t think she’s alone in this. In fact, she recognizes several peers who are on parallel paths. “There’s been a resurgence just in this past year. It’s been exciting to see D’Angelo come out and Kendrick Lamar — and Mark Ronson has done some stuff this year. I think the people are ready to go back to that.”
Funk hasn’t always been good luck for Hill’s career: It was her funk rendition of “#thatPOWER” by will.i.am that got her voted off of season 4 of The Voice. But the singer doesn’t let that change her love of the genre or undermine the lessons she learned on the show. “I think, overall, The Voice played into that concept of ‘just imagine yourself on that stage and what needs to happen to draw people in.’ And I do picture myself sometimes on that Voice stage, like, ‘What can I do in this moment that’s just going to grab people?’ That’s how we wrote [the album].”
If her performance of “Cry, Cry, Cry” on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert is anything to go by, Hill has written an album not only filled with emotion and soul, but perfect for live performances. As Hill strides forward, she doesn’t remember what got her where she is now. With a full appreciation of all those who mentored her and a passion for challenging herself, she is ready to step into her own spotlight.
“This has just been a long time coming. This is a day I’ve dreamed for since I was 10 years old, so it’s really an exciting time.”