Emerging R&B Singer Aáyanna Has Revamped The Genre To An Uncut Gen Z Sound

GU chats with the viral artist on her formula for the ultra-relatable project Don’t Look Back

Crafting a distinct identity and authentically portraying their music, brand, and visuals can be challenging for emerging artists. 22-year-old Chicago native Aáyanna Smith seems to have it all figured out, effortlessly blending her unique style with traditional R&B sounds with themes of love, loss, and empowerment, breathing life into young women in similar situations. 

Her musical journey starts at the age of 7. Aáyanna shared with us that her music runs in her family’s veins. Experiencing her mother consistently playing music by artists such as Erykah Badu, India Arie, Jill Scott, and Amerie, she was captivated by the enchanting melodies. 

“I feel like their words were very poetic, and whenever we had poetry units in school, that was always my favorite because it was so easy for me,” Aáyanna tells GU. “Especially when I found Jhene Aiko, her lyrics are very poetic and that was the first time I heard a voice that sounded like mine because hers is really soft too.” 

Her family’s musical ties did not stop with her mother; from ages 10 to 13, Aáyanna was in a group with her cousin but eventually parted ways due to not having much creative freedom. Still, she accepted that music wasn’t something she was ready to shy away from, saying it’s still difficult to escape.

“I don’t think I had a moment where I was like this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. It just felt like something I couldn’t really run from. It has always followed me and it got me a deal. So I’m like okay, obviously I am on the right track if I can’t escape it and it is how I express myself, it is how I relate to other people and other people relate to me. I feel like making connections that way just makes me feel like I am on the right path.” 

Eight years later, fresh into her 20s, the emerging artist has racked up commendable achievements pretty early in her career. This includes the release of her first project, Don’t Look Back. The debut EP delivers a powerful message: love fiercely despite past trauma and bravely walk away from anything that hinders your growth. Aáyanna uses her soft voice and sharp-cutting lyrics to deliver beautiful-sounding messages that will sting any man who’s done her wrong. All seven tracks serve as an ideal remedy for moving beyond a toxic relationship. Instead of dwelling on their actions, immerse yourself in songs like “Good Girl,” “Show Up” and “Gaslight.” Those breakout singles have transcended her to virality across social media, with listeners allowing her lyrics to channel and express their raw thoughts.

“Don’t threaten to leave me, just do it. Don’t talk tough to me, mute it. It’s hard to feel bad when you do this. If you so done, baby, prove it,” she sings from Gaslight.” Her music evokes the sense that you’ve done the things you wished you had to make a comeback against him. Cranking up this project while on a late-night drive with friends is the perfect antidote to sadness. 

 “When I wrote the hook for “Gaslight” I was in a relationship that I shouldn’t have been in and instead of cheating back like I wish I would have, I was just hoping that it would get better,” says Aáyanna. “I feel like many people relate to that because I don’t want to act out of character; that’s not who I am, but I can act that way in the music or the way in the video. It was a way for me to fantasize about what I wish I would’ve done or could have done.” 

At the top of 2023, Aáyanna was offered the opening act for the US leg of R&B duo Emotional Oranges’ Pulp Fiction tour. As a burgeoning singer, opening for the headliner can be daunting. Aáyanna overcame her fear and stepped into the role beautifully. She explains that going on tour felt “surreal” and “everything is moving so fast.” Despite going on tour being something she had always dreamt of as a child, Aáyanna was more reserved and stayed to herself. Nonetheless, she overcame the mental challenge of performing in front of thousands.

“We did the first couple of shows, and I ended up being really good at it.” she describes. “I think the biggest lesson I learned during that tour is that I am capable of more than I thought I was and not second guess myself.”

With Girls United ushering in the Era Of Disruption, we’re encouraging Gen Z to modify societal standards to forge their paths. Aáyanna explains that her way of disrupting the music industry is with her unapologetic lyrics. She uses her artistry as a vulnerable mechanism to be the voice for young women and how they maneuver through relationships, but more importantly, themselves. In 2024, Aáyanna aims to engage in additional collaborations, get back on stage, and make new music, “After releasing a project and having new songs that I want to put out this year, I am just really excited to perform them and sing to people again.” 

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