If you’re not familiar with Snoh Aalegra yet, it won’t be long now. Since her track “Time” was sampled on Drake’s More Life track “Do Not Disturb,” the Swedish-born, LA-based crooner dropped her debut studio album Feels on Oct. 20 and is currently on her first North American tour with Daniel Caesar.
The album is dripping with her hypnotic vocals, over beyond-smooth production. Born in Sweden to Persian parents, the singer/songwriter works very closely with prolific producer No I.D. to bring her rhythmic tracks to life, drawing inspiration from her own experiences. Aside from Drake, she’s already collaborated with a few legendary names, including John Mayer, Common, RZA and Killer Mike.
Although she’s part of the ARTium family now, she signed to Sony at the age of 14, realizing that music is the love of her life at a very young age — which clearly shines through in her work. On Feels, Aalegra is completely vulnerable, and touches on subject matter ranging from losing her father to controlling her own destiny.
Billboard caught up with Aalegra to talk about her experience working with No I.D., getting advice from Prince and collaborating with some of the hottest rappers out right now.
The album art is so dope, and the theme is similar to the Don’t Explain EP – who did you collaborate with for it?
Yeah, it is actually the same artist that did the artwork for the Don’t Explain EP. His name is John McDermott, and he’s from New York. We had worked together before on a different project, and I knew I had to work with him again. It’s basically elements from all the songs tied together visually. For example, Feels has a rainbow on it, and that represents me having all these different emotions that come through on the record.
How did you and No I.D. first meet and what’s it like working with him?
No I.D. is actually married to my cousin, and my cousin is my manager. So I met him when she met him many years ago. I was in the studio and he hooked me up with a bunch of producers that he knew. I started working in the same studio with another producer, and [No I.D.] was trying to help out, but when he started hearing what we were doing, he was like “Yo, this is awesome.” It’s not very easy to impress No I.D., you really have to work hard.
When I first came to L.A., that’s what happened. At first, we weren’t sure that we wanted to mix family and business, but it really just happened all organically. He’s been my executive producer ever since, overseeing all the projects and working on everything with me. It’s been amazing working with him. I think he’s so unique in the way that he works to bring out the truth in every artist, that he works with to really find out what they’re about. He truly cares about what the people he works with want to say and brings it out of them. He’s been a very big part of the whole thing.
What’s one of the most valuable lessons you learned from spending time with Prince?
It was crazy getting the phone call from him that first time when he wanted to meet me. He was one of the biggest reasons why I left a major label at the time. He really pushed me to be an individual artist and to really leave a mark. It’s a big reason why I’m independent right now. He’s one of my biggest heroes in life, and is an icon to a lot of people, so just hearing from him that he believed in me was incredible. I met him before when I only had a couple of songs online, and I’ll never forget that. I feel like I have a big responsibility to really go for it.
Are there are any artists you were listening to while you were recording Feels?
My heart is always listening to the music I grew up with from the ‘70s and ‘80s to early ‘90s. I’m definitely inspired by Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, James Brown, Lauryn Hill. This album feels like everything I’m inspired by, it’s just what’s in my heart. My real life has inspired me as well. All of these lyrics are real experiences and purely what’s in my heart. I’m proud of that influence.
Is there a track on the record that feels the most personal to you?
They’re all so personal. [Laughs.] I wrote about 50 songs prior to the project and chose 13 tracks. The song that was the hardest for me to write, keep my cool while I recorded and also to perform is “Time”. That song is about my dad. I lost him in 2009 and I always knew that I needed to write a song to help my emotions along. When I wrote this one, I knew. I’ve performed it a couple of times and it’s been very emotional, I’ve come close to tears a few times.
Did you dad play a big part in your music career?
I wasn’t so close with my dad. I only started getting close to him a few years before he passed away and that’s what the song is about, I wish I had more time with him. We all have limited time and I wanted to send a message that you need to value your time with your family because life is so short. My parents got divorced when I was young and for a few reasons, my dad and I weren’t very close, I was close with my mom. When I finally got in touch with him and we started having a father/daughter relationship, he got sick. I really only had four years with him.
I knew Vic and Vince and Logic. I knew Logic before he put out his first project, because we recorded at the same studio. I really wanted someone who could really rap on “Sometime,” so that was an obvious choice for me. He killed it and I absolutely love it. With Vince, it was the same thing. I had just done stuff on his album and I really wanted him on my project so I thought “Nothing Burns Like the Cold” was perfect for him.
Vic was recording his album at the same time I was recording mine, so I’d see him a lot in the studio and we talked about working together. It was funny, I was having a meeting one day in the studio, playing music for somebody and then Vic knocked on the door in the middle of my meeting and said, “Sorry for interrupting, but what is this song you’re playing?” and said that’s the one he wanted to jump on. It was really funny. I love that he chose to jump on “You Keep Me Waiting.”
The Swedish rapper, Timbuktu, is a legend in Sweden. He’s like our Nas or JAY-Z. He’s a very deep, poetic, conscious rapper and I just reached out and asked him if he’d be interested, and he said yes. It was a dream come true for me. I need to actually ask him for a translation because his verse is so deep and poetic. I’m so proud to have him on the project.
You’re currently on tour with Daniel Caesar, who also dropped a great project this year. What has been the best part of tour so far?
We’ve only done four shows, but they’ve all been amazing. Atlanta was really lit. So much love and energy in the audience. There’s nothing that gives me more goosebumps than a loud audience, even when I go to other artists’ shows and the fans scream, it’s just goosebumps all over my body. I live for that moment. The fact that they get loud when I’m on stage is just amazing. I can’t describe the feeling. Daniel Caesar and his team have been incredible to me, I’m so happy that they asked me to join this tour, I’m a big fan of his album.
Who else do you want to work in the future as far as dream collaborations?
My only big, big, big hero left alive is Stevie Wonder. It’s a huge dream of mine to meet him, work with him, just to be able to tell him thank you for making my life. Another artist I dream of working with is Frank Ocean. I think he’s my favorite that’s come out in the past 10 years. Huge respect for him. He’s an icon to me. I also really like Damien Marley and would love to work with him some time, definitely on the dream collab list. Those are my “goal” collabs, but I love working with anyone I vibe with, really. It’s much more about the energy and who they are and less about the name but if you’re asking about dreams, those are the people.