Check The Credits: Sevyn Streeter Speaks On Writing For Alicia Keys, Chris Brown, and Mary J. Blige
When your approach to life is similar to Sevyn Streeter’s the possibilities can be endless. One night after a session with her then group RichGirl, she asked Chris Brown if they could write with him. He said “yes” and that was the beginning of a new chapter for the Florida native. “All somebody can say to you is ‘no,’” she says. “It never hurts to ask or to realize an opportunity and act on it.” Taking advantage of those opportunities placed in front of her led to her co-writing hits for Chris like “Yeah3x,” “Strip” and “Fine China.” Her creative chemistry with the “Forever” singer, accompanied by her undeniable talent was enough for him to sign her to his CBE imprint. Her years of grinding in girl groups like TG4 and RichGirl and writing for Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, Brandy, Kelly Rowland and Trey Songz, has more than prepared her for this next chapter. She’s currently finishing up her debut album, which is scheduled for release later this year and boasts contributions from Babyface and Diplo.
Life + Times had the chance to talk to the singer-songwriter about her album, the Biblical meaning behind her name, and what she learned from Alicia Keys and her new baby.
Life + Times: Could you explain the meaning behind the name “Sevyn Streeter?”
Sevyn: Well “Streeter” is my real last name. “Sevyn” is actually for my birthday. My birthday is July 7th. It also means perfection or completion, Biblically. In 2007, I just felt spiritually completed. Everything I asked God for, everything I prayed for – whether it was for me or for a friend – he gave it to me, so I changed my name in 2007 to “Sevyn.”
L+T: You performed on Showtime at the Apollo when you were 10 and won, so you’ve known for a very long time that you’d be a performer huh?
Sevyn: Yeah, as long as I could remember I just wanted to sing. I did do Apollo when I was 10. I ended up doing a series of talent shows in Tampa, Florida where the grand prize was to go to New York and be on the real Apollo and I won. I got to go to the Apollo and rub the log and meet Kiki Shepard and talk to Steve Harvey. Da Brat was the musical guest and I got to take a picture with her. I still got that picture by the way [laughs]. They taped a bunch of shows at the same time, so all the other musical acts were there and the Braxtons were the musical guests for the next show. I got to meet them too. That was cool, because I love me some Braxtons.
L+T: You were member of both TG4 and RichGirl, was being in a girl-group initially your goal? Or did you always know you’d be a solo artist?
Sevyn: To be honest, I just always wanted to sing. I never thought that I’d be in a group. I’m really big on making the best of the opportunities that God places in front of you and when my first opportunity came to be in a group I said “Ok God I didn’t think I wanted to be in a group, but if this is the route you want me to go. Alright, let’s rock!” So I joined TG4 and had great experiences with it. That door led to other doors which eventually led to me being in another group. I just never say never. I just trust God and go. RichGirl ended up being great. I gained three new friends and got to tour with Beyonce and make music. I really couldn’t ask for more. So no I never thought I’d be in group, but I roll with whatever God tells me to roll with. I try to make the best out of everything.
L+T: How did you get into songwriting and at what point did you realize that you were really good at it?
Sevyn: RichGirl had a session at the same studio with Chris Brown one day. We had met Chris maybe one time before, but we never worked together. Our session was about to end, so I asked Chris if we could write with him and he was like “ok cool. I’ll come and get you.” I remember telling the girls “Chris said we could write!” He came and got us and that night it was a lot of writers there. It was Kevin McCall, I think Tank was there, I think Lonny Bereal was there – that was just the beginning of everything. We did a song called “Smile & Wave.” From that point on we just kept writing together.
L+T: Some writers have been writing for a while with different artists before they build their way up to artists like Chris Brown, so with that being your first experience writing for someone else, and on top of that, with having Tank and all these other established writers in the room were you feeling the pressure?
Sevyn: Yeah, but really all somebody can say is “no or nah not that line.” It ain’t gonna kill you to throw out a line. I’ll tell you I threw out a gang of lines in that session that got batted down and did not get used. You know what I mean? That was my first real experience going in with a bunch of writers, but you can’t be afraid. I tell this story all the time, but for Chris’ Graffiti album I was around for the entire recording process of that album. I was in there as much as I could be trying to write and get placements. I did not get one placement on Graffiti, but the experience was priceless and I got to be around other great writers and was able to watch how Chris worked, so when it came around time for F.A.M.E. I was ready. You just can’t be afraid. All they can say is “no” and if they say “no” then you move passed it and try again.
L+T: Has writing for major artists like Alicia Keys, Brandy, Trey Songz, etc influenced you as an artist?
Sevyn: Absolutely. The one thing that I took from Alicia that I will carry with me for the rest of my life – she just has this spirit about her. It’s just the feeling that I wish she would just bottle up and sell. It’s this amazing thing. When she writes she just cares so much about what she writes. She’s just very passionate, but even though she cares it doesn’t come off like she’s stressing. You know what I mean? A lot of us will over-think a line and I just never get that vibe from her. It’s very pure. We’re just creating music. If you don’t like that line you can just erase it and make up another one. Just like the vibe she carries with her I wish she would just bottle it up and just sell it, because I took some of that while I was with her and it has helped me in many sessions. I just try to keep that with me as much as I can.
L+T: How deep are you into recording for your album?
Sevyn: I’d like to say that we’re getting towards the end. We got a lot of really great records. I’ve had fun sessions with B. Cox, The Runners, Da Internz, Pop + Oak, Harmony and just so many great writers and producers. It’s going really well. I love writing with Eric Bellinger. That’s my boy. I had a session with Babyface. It’s just been going really well.
L+T: So what was the session with Babyface like?
Sevyn: That wasn’t even supposed to be a session, which was crazy. It was a session with me, Pop and Oak, but it was at Babyface’s studio. I’ve known him since I was like 17 years old, so I saw him and asked if I could play him some stuff and get his opinion on some things. He came over and heard what we were working on and had a suggestion – he doesn’t know this but I never wanted him to leave the room once he came in [laughs] – so he gave a suggestion and I thought it was really great. He said “can I lay that down, cus I’ll forget,” so he laid it down and it went from there. Next think you know we did a song together and it’s beautiful. He is still Babyface. That’s what everybody needs to know. He never will lose it.
L+T: Do you have a favorite record so far?
Sevyn: I just got excited when you asked that question [laughs]. I just love a lot of the records. They’re like my babies, but right now I do have a favorite. It’s “It Won’t Stop” and I’m not just saying that because it’s my second single. I really do love that record. I really feel like it’s so me. It’s just real chill and if anybody knows me they know I use the word “vibe-y” a lot and it’s such a vibe-y record. It just gives me this feeling of optimism and belief in love. I can’t really explain it, but that’s my baby of the moment. I can’t wait to shoot a video for it. I can’t wait to perform it live.
L+T: Are you pulling from your personal experiences throughout the entire album?
Sevyn: On a lot of it, yeah. If it’s not one of my experiences it’s one of my girlfriends’ or something that I’ve read. I get really inspired by movies. I’m pulling from a lot of different types of experiences. I don’t know who hasn’t been heartbroken, but if you haven’t been trust me it is sure to come [laughs]. So I sing about heartbreak, I sing about the romantic place of just being in love, I sing about being with your girlfriends and just going out, I sing about having one of those nights with your dude or your girl and just some candles and that’s just what it is. You know what I’m saying? I have a little bit of everything on the album.
L+T: How did your deal with CBE come happen?
Sevyn: Tina Davis managed Chris and she managed RichGirl. That’s how we all met Chris. It was through Tina. Once RichGirl ended I was still writing records with Chris. A lot of the times I’m the only female in the room when we’re writing and I’d demo the records. After a while we were just listening back to the demos and we were like “these kind of sound like something. Let’s shop for a deal.” Chris was like “Ok. You’re gonna be my artist” so I became his artist and we shopped for a deal and we ended up at Atlantic. It’s been really great. He’s been extremely supportive. I’ve learned so much from him studio wise, video wise, dancing. It’s just been great.