Billboard has released four covers celebrating four R&B songstress standouts.
Teyana Taylor, Kehlani, Jhené Aiko, and Summer Walker are the four cover stars of Billboard’s annual R&B/Hip-Hop Power Players issue. The resplendent R&Baddies sat down for what was described as a “lively” virtual roundtable where they dished on the state of R&B, social media, negative female stereotypes, and more.
Billboard noted that the ladies are the perfect stars for the Power Players issue based on their chart-topping accolades.
“Among them are the four cover stars of Billboard’s annual R&B/Hip-Hop Power Players issue. With her confessional relationship anthems, the casually cool Kehlani, 25, scored a career-high No. 2 debut on the Billboard 200 in May with It Was Good Until It Wasn’t. The introspective Jhené Aiko, 32, pushed her atmospheric sound to experimental places on Chilombo, which in March also had a career-best No. 2 debut. Triple threat Teyana Taylor, 29, showcased her straight-shooting modern soul on this year’s statement-making Juneteenth release The Album, which marked her first top 10 entry on the Billboard 200. And reserved newcomer Summer Walker, 24, set records with her debut LP, Over It, which scored the biggest streaming week for an R&B album by a woman last fall.
See more excerpts below.
Teyana Taylor on the state of R&B:
We’ll always be here. When a n—a is in the prime of his life, he wants to deal with everyone. But there’s always that one girl that’s going to be there for him. When he’s really ready to get it together and settle down, that’s who he’ll go looking for. That’s what I feel R&B is. R&B is always going to be the realest b**** in the world.
Kehlani: I really love that. “R&B is the realest b***” — that’s a bar.
On social media:
Walker: “I don’t think anything is too much as long as you’re comfortable with whatever you’re sharing,” said Summer about the constant scrutiny from social media. “I have a work page and a spam page. I like to use my spam page because it’s fun to debate social issues. It’s a hobby of mine. I learn hella shit about documentaries and all types of things from debating with people.”
Aiko: “When I look back at old tweets where I was high or drunk, people took those words and thought that’s who I am. Now I give everyone about 30% and keep the rest to myself,” said Jhené. “I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. So much can get misconstrued when you’re reading words or watching a video clip.”
Taylor: “It’s a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation. If you don’t address something, then it’s, “Why is she quiet?” But what’s the point of explaining myself if you’re not going to believe me? It’s annoying how social media is one big jury saying who’s guilty and who’s not. I’ll say my baby turned 1 today, and they’ll be like, “No, she did not!”
Kehlani: “I used to struggle with social media a lot. I felt I had a responsibility to share. And I was excited that I might learn something as well. We’re highly visible people who want to grow in this normal way. Sometimes we want to go on a date and share the date. But these experiences get tainted, so you feel you have to close yourself off. Since Jhené and Teyana have been giving me advice, there’s beauty in the relationship I have now with social media. It’s about keeping things sacred that you want to keep sacred. I also had to stop taking things so personally. Thousands of people calling me ugly. Thousands telling me they hoped I’d die. I was carrying around the weight of all these opinions from strangers who weren’t even thinking twice about me.”
On being women of color who began their careers at young ages:
Aiko: I started in this industry when I was 13, going through puberty and my own identity crisis. I’d show up to photo shoots and be told, “You’re going to get your hair bone straight, and we’re going to put this kind of [bronzer] on you.” Only in the last couple of years have I become comfortable with my natural hair texture. And dealing with men — my mom was always around to keep that in check. But looking back, I definitely saw the potential predators and inappropriate things, like how producers and writers would want to collaborate with you but never talk about music. Would you do that to the Migos or Lil Wayne? That kept me from being super friendly with anyone.
Kehlani: There’s also a certain respect level that men uphold for each other in this industry that they don’t do with us. Why is the respect level knocked down just because I’m a woman? Why do men feel able to talk to me any type of way when I’m handling business?
Taylor: If we’re too soft, people feel like they can treat us any type of way. But if we’re too hard, then it’s, “Oh, she’s too much.” Sometimes you have to be like that — especially with me being a Black woman in the industry since I was 15. Like Jhené said, producers might think you’re vulnerable. When I walk in the room, I’m like, “What’s up, my n—a? What we doing?” Then they tell you it’s not ladylike. I don’t care what’s ladylike to you. Sometimes you have to be like that so n—s don’t bother you.
Walker: As far as dealing with guys at the studio, I don’t put myself in that situation. I don’t really talk much or go to the studio that often. I really stay at home. But as a woman who likes to speak her mind, I do think it’s kind of weird that if I show my ass or post a half-naked picture, it’s totally fine. But if I want to speak on systematic racism, religion or politics, then it’s like, “Wait a minute, you’re doing too much.” They kind of want you to just shut up and sing, which is an issue for me.
You can see more of these songstress’ cover stories for Billboard HERE.