In a state where R&B is questioned for its lyrical content and the missing element of 1990s nostalgia, Kenya Vaun taps into paying homage to a genre that made her pursue music. The 22-year-old rides the pulse of timeless harmonics that captivate the heart and bring in listeners looking for songs about love with her new single “Used To.” The track bounces off a “Sitting In The Park” sample by Billy Stewart, where she showcases vocal adaptability by weaving in the reminiscent sounds of her musical heroes like Lauryn Hill and India Arie.
Growing up, Vaun’s career began in her Philadelphia home, practicing songs and dances with her siblings, mimicking the Jackson 5. She soon discovered her passion for making people feel a sonic embrace through soulful tones and heartfelt lyrics. “I want to implement healthy love overall,” Vaun tells GU. “That’s what’s missing in the world, whether in friendships, relationships or within yourself throughout this journey I’m embarking on. I want to touch people through those three main things.”
Regarding R&B, the conversation surrounding the beloved genre is at a crossroads on the timeline, from the state of the sounds to the lyrical content. With social media gravitating toward the trend of toxicity, Vaun saw the movement take a life of its own and wanted to change the narrative around what it means to evoke emotion through love songs.
Her simplistic hook showcases the reflective mood she had for herself and her listeners to enter a world of timeless passion, whether it’s platonic or romantic. “You remind me of that old-school loving baby. No, I’m not bluffing,” she sings. As a Zillennial, the songbird approaches her songs with a fresh perspective but remembers the foundation of her storytelling: love.
As a new artist on the grind, she has to touch listeners through each hook and verse with a combination of freedom and pressure. Still, she’s hungry and eager to garner a larger community who are looking to feel reminiscent of the 1990s vibe of adoration and unity. Vaun opened up about her journey toward self-love, new music, dream collaborations and more.
Photo Credit: Joe Chong
Girls United: When did you know music was the path you wanted to take?
Kenya Vaun: One way my mom would communicate with me was through music. I was getting picked on at school because of my hairstyle and felt bad about myself. I came home really upset, and I told her. She first turned on India Arie’s “I Am Not My Hair,” which touched me. That’s when I knew music could inspire and teach me to love myself and feel beautiful in my skin. Having that experience, I knew I wanted to continue and do that through my story, make people relate, and get them through something.
GU: What were the things on your agenda regarding inspiring future listeners who come across your music like India Arie did for you?
KV: I have a lot of songs that talk about self-love, and although I’m talking about love in general, I want to implement healthy love. I feel like everything embraces toxic behavior, and I want to bring back real love. “Used To” talks about having that old-school love, and that’s something we aren’t used to, which is how the title came to life.
GU: How would you say your music and listening to other music has freshened your perspective on what it means to have healthy love?
KV: I step back and listen to the throwback music that still inspires me. All music is recycled history, and many of these songs coming out today are samples. Healthily, I try to recycle that old-school love. Storytelling starts with giving you a feeling, and that’s what I want to do give that real feeling of unity and real music.
GU: The video for “Used To” was nostalgic. What was going through your mind when bringing the visual to life?
KV: Many people, when they see the video, would expect couples on couples, but I also wanted to highlight a plethora of things like friendship. I wanted to bring different things to life besides romantic love. Socially, people don’t go out anymore, and everything is done through social media. I wanted to give people the feeling we aren’t used to anymore.
GU: How do you think we can get back to centering the conversation of love and R&B around more than just romance and toxicity?
KV: It all starts with acceptance. People aren’t loving themselves as they should be, so if we could come together and through music that makes people feel good about themselves, then maybe that’s a start.
GU: As you’re maneuvering the industry at such a young age, how are you keeping yourself grounded and not falling victim to people who may want to change your look and sound?
KV: If you don’t have a plan, it can be altered, but if you know what you want and stand on it, then the right things will come. Many people go for the quick and fast things, but if you go for the authentic route, people will get to know you more, and you’ll be someone people can come to.
GU: How do you feel like you are being a disruptor in music?
KV: I’m trying to create my own lane, and in doing that, I’m not changing myself. People may think I should have a certain look, but it’s about learning more about myself and applying what I want. Being able to tell my story musically, personally, and my way is the goal for all 2024.
About the Author: Kenyatta Victoria is the lead writer for Essence GU, working on all things pop culture, politics, entertainment and business. Throughout her time at GU, she’s garnered devoted readers and specializes in the Zillennial point of view.