Keke Palmer has made the transition from child star to adult artist pretty seamlessly. In the midst of all her success, she even had time to become an author in the process, releasing her 2017 book, I Don’t Belong to You: Quiet the Noise and Find Your Voice. The Chicago native has already lined up numerous television projects for 2018 and will be releasing her third studio album, The Boss, at some point during the year. The multifaceted creative even launched her own label, Big Boss Entertainment, to empower herself and help blaze a path for fellow artists to follow.
Seeking newfound inspiration, the 24-year-old immersed herself in the southern Atlanta culture, making the move after transplanting to Los Angeles to help expedite her acting career at 10 years old. Palmer has always seen the allure of Georgia’s capital, when she would spend short stints filming in the ATL. At this point in life, Keke believes the city has much to offer musically, as well as culturally, to support her ascending career.
Billboard caught up with the Lauren artist to get some insight into her next album and upcoming acting roles, her reaction to Chief Keef naming a song after her, working with the Migos, and her friendship with the late Fredo Santana.
How has moving to Atlanta influenced your artistry?
I did a lot of films growing [up] in Atlanta, so it’s always been like a second home to me. Over the years, it was something I thought about. Not only do I want to be inspired by different things that Atlanta has the opportunity to offer, but musically and culturally, there’s so much more that inspire me. At this point in my life, it was just the move I wanted to make, so I’m here.
How do you feel about Atlanta’s sound dominating hip-hop this decade?
Atlanta’s music has always influenced the world. I think back to TLC, about how they dressed and being iconic in the way they shaped the music industry. Not even just music, but the way they went about music and inspiring the youth. Atlanta is very innovative. It comes from a place young people can really be inspired.
Talk to me about how your latest single, “Bossy,” came together.
I was working on my project and “Bossy” was one of the records I ended up working with Tasha Catour and her writing team. They came to me with this record. I initially thought it was dope. When you start recording stuff, it comes out very different from the demo version. I’m like, “Put this there and put that there.”
For me, I didn’t really think about how dope the record was going to sound because I recorded it very quickly. It’s kind of a raspy song. Once we finished it, I listened and as soon as I heard that, “Gucci on my booty/ Poppin like a toolie,” I was like, “That’s something crazy, we got to bring that back.”
What do you hope to create with your Big Boss Entertainment label moving over from Island Records?
For me, I’ve been in and out of the music system since I was 12, when I signed my first record deal. It’s about empowering myself. I always felt exploited. It really depressed me for a while as an artist.
I feel like we could build something new. I’ve always been the kind of person to find a new way of doing things. Big Boss Entertainment and my label is just another part of me trying something new. I want to empower my peers, so they also feel they’re not a part of the old way of doing things and be a part of the big bosses. Big Boss is about me helping expand and using what I know. I’m not always going to be Keke Palmer the entertainer, but it’s meant for me to get outside and move to the forefront. That’s what I’m building towards.
I feel like people today — talking in terms of ownership for our people — are always wondering how do we make [ownership] happen for us? As young people, we’re the creators and innovators of the culture as we build things up, but then we sell it off for some change, but it’s never going to amount to what it could in the long run. That’s really what I noticed.
I want to be able to be an example to others and have ownership over your things — become a partner. It’s about patience. This costs a lot of money to invest in yourself. I took all my money I’ve made with acting and put it toward my music.
What are your thoughts on Chief Keef naming a song after you on Dedication?
I definitely [took it as a compliment]. I met Chief Keef once or twice. Ee actually never talked, but I was really close with his cousin, [Fredo Santana]. For me, when I saw that Fredo had passed — I was really hurt about that. Just knowing Fredo and us all being from Chicago, I saw [the song] as a sign of respect and love.
What impact did Fredo Santana have on the Chicago music culture?
I think a lot of people don’t understand what’s going on in Chicago, as far as the changes that are being made. They also don’t understand what Black American men have endured. Illinois is a very segregated place and when you think about the gentrification going on, a lot of people don’t know how to express the pain and suffering they’re going through. Some may call the actions desperation or anger, but it’s all in need of help. I feel their music created a voice. Fredo was a good dude, a young OG and super young cat that was trying to do better.
The last conversation I had with [Fredo] was him saying,”He was trying to do better and get his money back up.” To hear that he passed a few days later killed me. The lean and all that shit wasn’t good for him. That’s honestly what rehab is about. They give you increments of the drugs to help your body get off it. This stuff is a major part of our community. It’s not about me being preachy. A lot of these cats were doing the paper-cup shit and that inspired the youth. To see him go, we definitely lost a good one.
What projects are you going to be involved within your acting career coming up?
I’m hella excited to be in Scream, which is a horror project. I love horror and it’s really a lot of fun. I’m very excited. My character, Kym, is pretty dope. She doesn’t take any shit. It comes out in March [on MTV]. I’m also doing Berlin Station season two. We’re just figuring out when that’s starting up again. I have a movie that’s getting ready to go to the Tribeca Film Festival, Pimp, which is about me playing a female pimp. It has a love-story as well.
When I was doing Pimp, Lee Daniels came on to that project. I was also talking to him about how my fans would hit me up about being on Star. So he wanted to make that happen. [Lee Daniels] writes me into Star — my character is kind of the over-exaggerated version of my self. She’s a singer from midtown trying to break the label system — we’re very similar. [Lee Daniels] wanted me to do a record on the show.
When I had recorded “Bossy,” I was just trying to send it to him and see if it’s something he’s feeling for my character possibly. Immediately, he went crazy for it. My mom always raised me to follow my instinct. When something is a little unorthodox, she always taught me to go for it. Lee Daniels is definitely the kind of creator you can be straight up with. I was pretty sure about “Bossy” and [Lee] was like, “Hell yes, this is the record of the season.” So it’s going to be the first record with the season premiere.
Do you have any details you can reveal about your upcoming album?
The title is The Boss and I don’t have the exact release date, but it’s going to be  for sure. I’ve been working on it for a while. My manager and I feel like we’re just about done. I just been in the studio with TK Kravitz, and the Migos are the main [artists] on there. If anything else comes up, I’m down.
Walk me through the “Pregame” video’s creative process.
When you’re doing the pregame for a party, sometimes, the pregame becomes the party. That’s really what the video was about. It gives a look into what it’s like partying with your girl Keke. I’m definitely a workaholic, but when it’s time to turn up I definitely know how to have a good time. We have dance battles and shit, that’s pretty much a representation of that aspect in my life.
I wanted to express who I am outside of my career, who Lauren Palmer is. Keke Palmer is more of the entertainment superstar boss side of me, but there’s the foundation of who I am. People sometimes relate to Keke more, but they don’t even always acknowledge what that is. I’m still a girl from Chicago, who came and drove her family four days from Illinois to California.
I’m still somebody who is fighting for their dreams and trying to make a different way and build a different generation for her family to be proud of. The Boss — this whole record was built on the person that you see. The person from poverty that puts on this face to be a part of every world, but still remains real.
What philanthropy do you have going on right now?
I’m working with many different organizations. I’m definitely a person that’s all about community. I want people to feel like they can see me and do the things I do. When I’m not working, I’m always looking for ways to promote the fact I’m just like them. I’ve worked with Saving Our Daughters since I was about 11-years-old. It was started by Curtis Benjamin.
He started the organization because his daughter was very sick with cancer and was having a difficult time socializing and feeling confident about herself. So it started from bullying and I hoped to encourage young girls to feel proud of who they were, no matter what they were going through.
Throughout the year, we’ll do stuff and definitely visit them during the holidays. I just did a Christmas giveaway for young girls and when I did Cinderella, we actually took them to Broadway and allow them to see Broadway shows so they could see all the opportunities that are there for them. It’s always about allowing younger girls from impoverished communities to see all these things that are still possible for them.
I’ve heard you speak on therapy and mental health a lot during interviews. When did you begin to focus on the importance of your own mental health?
Probably when I was about 18. I started therapy when I was 17 years old. By 18 or 19, I began to understand where a lot of my [issues] came from. I think that people think about therapy in the wrong way. They think about going to a therapist only if you’re crazy. That’s like only going to the doctor when you’re terminally ill. You shouldn’t be going to therapy when you’ve “lost your mind.”
We all lose our minds throughout our lives in different versions of it. Our minds are instruments and sometimes, they go through a lot and what we consider to be crazy or wrong is just part of the human existence. Sadness, happiness and madness are things we’re always going to go through. So, the more we become comfortable with that and stop judging it or look at it as a crazy idea, the easier it will be to deal with.
In terms of acting and entertainment — when it comes to child stars, at a very young age you realize how easy is it to toy with your identity and emotions and to manipulate them. Sometimes, it can be good, but sometimes, it can be bad. If you have to do a crying scene or if you have to get emotional, you start training your mind to be able to manipulate your emotions and sometimes that’s not always healthy, because your emotions don’t know that you’re playing around. You’re going through the process of it — it’s really not a joke when that anger has to surface or the tears come out.
I feel like it’s important for child entertainers to get the opportunity to start talking through a lot of that, so they don’t become so detached and driven away from a foundation of who they are. I think there’s a lot of power in understanding that your identity can be flexible. You can also use it in a positive way and become the person you always wanted to be. In terms of the other side, it can also slip you down into despair or a personality disorder — you start to think, “Who am I?” I feel like that’s something a lot of child entertainers go through.
Not to mention your boundaries being invaded upon. Setting boundary lines and telling people no can be difficult when you become an adult, because you’ve been this child for so long. Sometimes it’s hard for you to snap out of it.
What do you think about the Time’s Up movement in Hollywood?
I definitely experienced stuff in the industry that was “uncomfortable,” but again, I feel like this is something that has been going on and it’s really about women supporting one another. People will speak out and sometimes, people will say that they’re lying, so it’s a very delicate situation. I feel like when people come out, they need to be supported. That’s what I’m happy about — people are coming forward with things that make them uncomfortable that a lot of us have known about or endured or mentioned it and it’s been shut down.
So to be in a place where people mention it and it’s not being shut down with people being heard — that’s the greatest thing about it. You won’t be able to stop every situation because people won’t always know how to conduct themselves, but as long as they know that when someone does something or it gets put out in the open, there will be repercussions and we’ll be on the right road.