When I get on the phone with singer/songwriter and dancer Adanna Duru in December, it’s about a week after she’s released her single, ‘Quinn.’ Stating that she was pretty much singing before she could even talk and dancing since the age of four, she took charge in feeding into her passion for the arts very quickly. Hailing from Southern California, when we discuss her music, her interests, and what she hopes to come, she speaks not only with a poise and maturity but with that very same passion.
Adanna first got her name out there joining Team Adam Levine in the third season of The Voice in 2012 before placing Top 10 in the final season of American Idol. “I just learned a lot of growth a lot of who I was as a musician better,” she says about what, as an artist, she took away from both experiences. “At the beginning, it was just an, ‘I like to sing’ type of thing and over time, I kind of learned more about the industry, how to develop my sound, and how to develop a look and branding.”
In early 2016, she released her first body of work, Exhibit A, a 4-track pop/R&B mixtape ranging from talking about love to talking about confidence. Her latest single, “Quinn,” which gives listeners a taste of her upcoming music, came to her around the same time, although Adanna says the song wasn’t recorded until the summer. “Originally, I think I wanted ‘Quinn’ to be on Exhibit A, but then I wanted to give myself some room to peep growing and give myself a chance to see where my sound takes me so I’m really happy I waited until after Exhibit A to show how much I could grow.”
The song came to her in one swoop in an airport on her way to New York a year ago. Taking on the role of producer, composer, singer, and songwriter for the song was not only a new but exciting experience for Adanna, ”When I create my songs, sometimes it’s with the help of a producer who comes up with the melody, comes with the structure, and we’ll bounce off each other’s ideas, but for “Quinn,” it was pretty much entirely off the top of my head. Everything that you hear when you press play, that was in my head before we even laid it down in the studio.”
“So, I remember I beatboxed the beat to my producer and I was like, I want the beat to be exactly like this and I want the bass exactly like this and I want all the pauses to sound exactly like this, everything to sound exactly like this,” she continued. “I wanted something that was quirky, something that was unique, and something that was very throwback-y because I’m a big fan of 90s R&B, but I’m also a big fan of like modern music so I wanted to have something that’s like a marriage between old school and new school.”
With ‘Quinn,’ her love for the 90s is felt through the sound of the song while still being its own thing that is entirely Adanna. “A lot of people are responding really well Quinn, like ‘Oh my goodness, that’s so unique.’ And a lot of people are saying Aaliyah. It’s funny, I wasn’t even thinking of Aaliyah like at all so a lot of people are saying Aaliyah and I mean, that’s flattering because I’m obsessed with Timbaland,” she says about the feedback that she’s been receiving. “A lot of people are loving the risks I took with Quinn in terms of lyrical content [where I'm] calling out this douchebag and literally just the production value, like the way it’s made,” Thinking outside the box with her work as opposed to trying to put herself in a box that others think may sell, listeners have fallen more in love with her ability to create her own path.
Talking about the growth in her music, Adanna says, “I definitely take more risks nowadays, like with my sound, I’m a lot more open to taking risks. Before, I was very adamant on ‘Okay I have to do what’s popular now, what’s mainstream almost.’”
Working as an independent artist, she has learned that what’s most important about making her music is looking at what unique and personal qualities she can bring to it by doing what her heart desires, “I’m a lot more liberal when it comes to the different sounds I choose to adapt to and I’m also a lot more, in terms of the concepts in which I write about. Like, my lyrical content—I mean you’ve only heard ‘Quinn’—but the other songs that are coming I take lots of risks. I talk about not just love, but to be completely honest, a lot of the album is not even about love, but I talk about so many different things, myself, my space, humanity, friends, failed friendships, and everything. I talk about everything whereas with Exhibit A, I was kind of a lot more scared to take risks, I wanted to stay safe. So I’m excited for these new songs that are going to come.”
“Sometimes I write songs based off of nothing, it’s just completely fictionalized,” Adanna says about her writing process and how she comes up with the stories her songs tell. “Like ‘Transparent Soul,’ [for example was] completely fake. Like it’s just all fiction. I’ve never been cheated on. But, a lot of writing is just storytelling so although it might’ve not been a true story for me, it was a true story for someone else, and I was able to tap into that pain and tap into those emotions so that it felt very true and genuine.”
Citing ‘The Ride’ and ‘Quinn’ as autobiographical compared to a lot of her past music Adanna says her upcoming music offers a more personal look into her world. “Pretty much everything I’m writing with this new project is past experiences and it is kinda scary to put myself out there but, you know, it’s for the art,” she lets out a little laugh. “So that’s what art is.”
Allowing herself to be open in her music, both in the sound and themes that she covers, Adanna hopes that her music reaches listeners because of it, “I really want to give people something to connect to; something new, something different, something real. Because a lot of the music you listen to nowadays is kind of redundant—although it’s bomb like despite what a lot of people say about the radio, I love the radio—it is redundant and it does get annoying to hear the same songs all the time, but I am a fan of you know top 40 music. So I’m not going to be all hipster like, ‘Oh, you can’t connect to any music at all these days’ because it’s definitely not true. But, I definitely want to be the artist that takes risks in terms of lyrical content and talking about depression talking about the things that people don’t really want to talk about. I’m making it a goal to let that be the underlying message throughout the album; of healing and everything.”
Currently, in college, she originally was leaning towards being a creative writing major but has developed a love for ethnic studies which is not only influencing her as a person but her as an artist. “I’m starting to realize everyone has their own struggle, you know?” She begins. “Like even as simple as phrasing, it’s teaching me how to phrase things so that everyone who is listening feels like they relate to that issue. Like, [if] I’m speaking on black issues, I’m able to turn around and speak on Asian American issues or Latino American issues, but make it so it’s so generalized that anyone who is listening to it can be like, ‘Oh my goodness, that stuff is happening to me.’ And even in just conversations, I have to be completely honest, it’s just a lot easier to understand people when you know how they’re seen by the general public.”
Taking classes and getting a better understanding, historically, on what different groups have gone through, Adanna explains, allows her to from a distance, see where others are coming from and find a common ground.
“I’m really big on being an advocate towards women, especially, and minorities so I’m just really excited to speak about things that are not a lot of people speak about and to be a positive influence advocating self-love and expression and just things that aren’t even, like I said before, even things that might be fiction,” she explains more about what her platform aims towards. “I just want to tap into people’s emotions and make them feel like the things they don’t want to talk about are being addressed in the industry.”
One of her favorite artists, Jon Bellion, stands out to her because of his ability to do something similar especially in his ability to not deny his faith in the same way that she doesn’t and how he knows how to craft his message. “He’s very unapologetic with his music if he needs to talk about pain, he’s going to call out pain, if he’s going to call out people for betraying him, he’s going to do just that. And he’s a rapper and a singer and that has really inspired me because most of the time, it’s the rappers who are more unapologetic and more open and daring in their music, but now, I’m able to see another pop artist who is able to sing those songs and sing such beautiful melodies and talk about things that are so deep. Usually, pop artists when they are talking about deep issues, it’s usually very sugar coated and there is so much analogy and so much metaphor that it’s like is this song really as dark as it is,” she tells me.
The way that he brings his confidence to the art and his flexibility is something that she admires as well as the skills he has as a songwriter.
Being a hard worker, Adanna also talks inspiration from her parents, “My parents, especially my mom, both work very hard and my mom’s such a go-getter. She’s a single parent so she kind of just has that mentality like, ‘If my kid’s aren’t happy, then I’m not happy,’ so she’s constantly doing everything she can in her power to kind of make sure we get everything we want. So, it’s like overwhelming provision from her like she’s such a great provider so I guess that’s kind of instilled in my brain, like, no matter what happens with me and my kids in the future, I’m going to be as strong as I can be for them.”
With the New Year here, we reflected on 2016 with Adanna sharing what she learned from the year. “Man, 2016 was that year for me,” she begins. “I would say patience. I’m coming to understand patience a lot more and the way God works.” She thinks for a second before continuing, “Community is so important and I’m now realizing that secluding yourself and being on your own and limiting yourself, I mean sometimes it’s fine—and this might just be easy for me to say because I’m a very extroverted person, so I love being around other people—but I’m realizing how important it is to have community. You might not need to be around your people constantly, that’s not what I’m saying, but knowing that you have that core group of people that hold you down and care about you and keep you on track, that’s so important.”
Her favorite moment of the year she says was her upbeat, electronic song ‘Seal It With a Kiss’ from the Exhibit A mixtape charting in the UK, “My song, ‘Seal It With a Kiss’ debuted at number 20 on the music charts in the UK so that was really, really fun. In terms of my personal life, just finding that community of people that I love and that was just my friends and my new church and they’re just so good to have to excel with.”
Now in 2017, with her new music coming soon, Adanna doesn’t have any resolutions, but she does have plans and expectations that she’s looking forward to seeing in the New Year, “I’m expecting a lot of new things, a lot of new birth and by birth I mean not just with the album, but how I see my life, how I see myself, how my friends see themselves and just new. There’s a lot of new things that are going to be happening.”
(photo cred: Justin Hilleary)