The UK R&B scene has been producing some of this generation’s most talented R&B acts with names such as Flo, Jvck James, Mnelia and of course, Shaé Universe; a Nigerian singer-songwriter from the UK who may have just dropped one the most solid R&B projects in recent years. From start to finish, ‘Love’s Letter’ is a 10-track work of art that really embodies the unique artistry and style that Shaé brings to the table. The passion found in her lyrics and the detail weaved sonically throughout her music instantly made it a standout from a lot of the music coming out. Fans of Lauryn Hill will especially take to songs like “Oh, Wait…” and “Love Self” when paying attention to her words and vocal tone. Her roots in the church in addition to growing up on our favorites like Brandy and D’angelo made it inevitable for us to want to speak with her. After hearing her journey through life and how she expresses it with this project, she’s definitely an artist we will be keeping our eyes on for years to come. We’re happy to play a small part in pushing her name here in the U.S, and we have a feeling that it will be heard everywhere really soon.
We talked to Shaé about the meaning behind “Love’s Letter”, receiving her flowers from Lalah Hathaway, her inspirations, and more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I’m excited because this is the first time I’m talking to an artist that’s from the UK. There’s so many great artists from there like Jvck James and Flo, so how has the UK influenced your sound? What was it like growing up over there?
Shae Universe: Dare I say, I don’t know if the UK influenced my sound honestly … okay, you know what? I feel like the element of the UK that did influence my sound at one point in time, as random as this may sound, was actually the Grind era when I was in school. Not many people know this, but before I was going under Shaé Universe, I had a phase where I primarily rapped. I didn’t even sing at all. This is probably secondary school or something. From that point there, I was definitely very heavily influenced by the Grind scene like Jme, Skepta- all those kinds of guys. In terms of my singing honestly, I really haven’t been influenced by any UK people really. The only person that comes to mind is Sadé. Outside of that, most of my influences have been from the US: the Brandys, the Erykah Badus, the D’Angelos. I just grew up on a lot of American soul music. Also I started singing in the church, so Gospel has always been a big part of me as well, but I would say my influences came from America actually.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Yeah, I was actually gonna hop in to that because you obviously hear it in the music, was that sound readily available over there?
Shaé Universe: Absolutely. I think that’s actually one of the reasons why most UK artists sing that way. I don’t [sing that way], but most of them actually sing in American accents. They will talk in their British accent but as soon as they start to sing a song it switches into an American kind of accent. That’s really because most of the R&B that we all grew up listening to is literally American. So, yeah it was definitely readily available.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I had to ask because I love all the sounds that are coming out of the UK so thank you for being the first artist I can ask that question to. Let’s hop into this project. Tell me the meaning behind ‘Love’s Letter’.
Shaé Universe: I feel like love is a very complex thing. It has so many different layers, sides and forms. The reason why I chose to name it ‘Love’s Letter’ as opposed to ‘Love Letter’ or ‘Love Letters’, which is what probably most people would have opted for, is because I really delve into the complexities of going through the journey of love itself. Whether it is self love, whether it’s romantic love with your partner, whether it’s God’s love, whether it’s familial love between you and your family or your friends. They all have their different forms, they all bring out different sides of you and teach you different things about yourself. With this journey there’s honestly so much to it, but just to summarize it we start from a place of self-love and wholeness. I personally was born into the most loving two parent household. They just poured into me every day, they’re still pouring into me daily. They were just such a beautiful and wholesome example of love so I carried that with me. The intro of the project kind of represents that starting point. Then you go through a journey of growing older and finding love for yourself. Usually that point when you’re grown and when you are able to make decisions for yourself is when you start to encounter issues and heartbreaks. It’s not as straightforward. Then you get to a point where maybe you’ve been heartbroken, or maybe something happened where you are now anti-love. You’re not as open to it as you were, then you delve inward and you start to figure out your boundaries. You start to figure out what you need to do to protect and preserve your peace. That comes with self-love. From that for me finding self-love kind of went hand in hand with encountering God’s love or returning back to God’s love. Then after that point, your back and you’re better and you do better for yourself. It’s kind of like a full circle moment because you started from a place of wholeness and you went through all of this stuff, then you turn back to that place of wholeness but just an elevated version. So yeah, that’s it summarized.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I love that, I definitely think every song can be applied to different forms of love. Were you referencing any artist when you made the project? Or were you trying to be yourself?
Shaé Universe: So the thing with me is, of course I do listen to music but I consciously really try not to take into too much of what’s going on. With throwback music like 90s R&B, that is always my go-to because it’s just kind of what I grew up on. It has this nostalgic feel and it makes me feel good. But whilst I was creating the project and generally while creating, I try to really listen to my innermost voice because that’s where the innovation comes from. I guess nothing is 100% new under the sun right? But we all have our own unique little groove. With this project. I wasn’t necessarily taking reference from anyone specific honestly, but I think I’m the kind of artist where my influences, for example Lauryn Hill and all the people that I grew up listening to and still frequently listen to, they kind of effortlessly show up in some of my musical decisions. It’s not something I premeditated. So I would definitely say now looking back at the full body of work, Lauryn Hill is someone I can see. It gives me modern day Lauryn Hill, but it wasn’t necessarily intentional. It was just like we have this piece of work and wow, this feels very Lauryn Hill. So, I would say Lauryn Hill is the one that comes to mind first when I think of the whole completed project.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Absolutely, I agree with you in terms of when you really listen to your inner self with music people connect more. I usually like to name the song and let you tell me about it, but all the songs are mad good *laughs* so it’s kind of hard for me to pick one. So why don’t you tell me one that you have to talk about. One of the tracks that’s just on your heart, on your mind.
Shaé Universe: You know what? I’m gonna talk about a song called “No Capacity” because I haven’t spoken about it yet in any of the interviews. I personally feel like “No Capacity” is gonna be like a creep-up on the project. I found this happens a lot with artists: the one that we are like “eh, whatever”, that’s the one that people tend to gravitate to. I don’t know, when it comes to “No Capacity” I have this feeling in myself that it’s gonna be one that grows on people because number one it’s really special to me since the producer of that song is called Sean Hamilton. He is Darkchild’s protegé and obviously, I love Darkchild. I grew up on him. He’s one of the most goated producers out there. I feel like music heads like producers and people that are into sonics will really take that song because he does crazy things. Secondly, I want to talk about that song because it signifies a real shift in my life. I have struggled for so long to establish boundaries for myself, to even know what my boundaries are. People know me mainly for being this humble soul. I love that and I always want to protect and preserve that, but there’s definitely a thing of being too humble where you don’t even understand your own worth. You don’t understand your power, you don’t walk in it. You kind of just tolerate everything and you people please to keep everybody happy. I’m the eldest sibling, I’m a woman and I come from a Nigerian household, so that thing of always wanting to make sure everybody else is happy before you even check in with yourself is very-very real. Even now in my 28 years of living, establishing my boundaries is still something I find difficult to do. At the time that I wrote the song, it felt like a big personal milestone for me because being able to identify “right now, I don’t have the capacity to help you. I might have all the intention of my heart to do so, but I need to actually prioritize myself, prioritize my mental health and prioritize my happiness”. It was a big deal for me in my life. I think it was like a domino effect after that. Once I really was able to be like “no, I’m honoring my boundaries”.It might feel a bit uncomfortable, but then life becomes more comfortable. After you go through that period of discomfort, life actually becomes more comfortable because you’re living in a way that you actually want to, you know?
YouKnowIGotSoul: I love how deep you get into this. I love it because it’s really reflected in the music. Darkchild is also my number one all-time producer so that’s probably why I love that production. Tell me about the intro track “Love Self”.
Shaé Universe: So, that was the only song on the project that wasn’t written over the past year. Everything else in the project was since most of all the songs stem from specific experiences I had with this particular partner. The intro was actually written in 2017. My mom talking on it and everything was an addition after the fact. At the time, I wrote it with the intention of it being an intro to a project, but in 2017 I was a very different artist to the person I am now. I just still didn’t know myself half as much as I do now, so I had the idea and the intention but I did not follow through. Honestly looking back I know why because it was meant to fit perfectly on this particular project. The driving force behind writing that song actually was starting to realize that the industry was not everything I thought it to be. I started in the industry singing covers on Twitter of songs I enjoyed. It was so innocent. It was so pure. I had no idea about the music industry, the business, nothing. I was so naive basically, and in 2017 I realized this is actually a business, people prioritize numbers and people are prejudiced against you because of how you look or when you fit a certain appeal or so many different things. That was really the stimulus behind this song. It was an appeal almost like let’s take it back to a time when it was the important things that actually mattered, and not all of this decoration. So that’s where the initial song actually came from.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I assume another important moment for you is “More Than Enough” with Lalah Hathaway? Talk about that experience, because she’s one of the legends. Tell me about the whole song, the conversation on the phone, everything.
Shaé Universe: The way that me and Lalah Hathaway even had our first interaction was I woke up one day, checked my phone and noticed that she had followed me on Twitter. I was like “Wow, ok this is crazy”. I had to double check to make sure that it was legit. I went to my Instagram and she had followed me there as well. Sh also had commented on something basically just giving me my flowers and just singing my praises. I’ve had pretty cool people cross past me or discover me in my time. Usually when it happens I’m like just take a backseat, chill. Don’t do too much because the thing is a bit of a side tangent. I think people look at me as a star, I mean I am a star, but I’m also a human being. I am very much still in touch with my inner child. So when things are happening, when I actually see my dreams unfolding in front of my eyes or somebody that I find so respectable and notable when they notice me and give me flowers, I still get excited. I won’t front. So, when that happened I jumped straight into her DMs. I basically just gave her flowers. I just said ‘Yo I’m in awe of you, thank you”. The voice note that you hear at the start of “More Than Enough” was her response to that voice note. So that was the first thing she really said directly to me. It was like an extra special touch to that song which is already so special to me.
YouKnowIGotSoul: That’s the type of song you might not play everyday, but when you need it, you’re gonna come to it. I would love to talk about each song, but when we speak with you again hopefully we will. I know you got named one of Pandora’s Artists to Watch 2024, so what are some more goals for the rest of this year?
Shaé Universe: Honestly, I’m in a place in my life where I have never felt so optimistic about the things that I want. For the first time, I really feel like my biggest wildest dreams are within reach. This year, I’m just trying to confront it. I’ll be real with you, I would love to just really break into the US space as an R&B household name. I’ve kind of laid that foundation in the UK already, but I feel like there’s a ceiling there when it comes to R&B. My main focus is really breaking into the US market, touring, just hitting all the milestones when it comes to my music career. Also, just helping and healing people. That’s really the most important thing to me actually above all the other stuff, helping and healing people. There’s certain songs, maybe Drake songs or whatever, that take me back in time to my life. I really want to create moments for people with my music. Finally, I just want to be happy in my heart. Of course I want to make money with what I’m doing and live a comfortable life, but at the base of it, I think I just want to be happy.
Photo Credit: Karis Beaumont