Before moving to Madrid five years ago to teach English for a year, BeMyFiasco had spent the summer performing solo shows in her hometown of Dallas, and touring the country alongside Erykah Badu’s band RC & The Gritz. What could be seen as a risky career move for most didn’t faze the adventurous singer-songwriter, whose musical momentum continued as she had been lined up to sing at an intimate gig on her first night upon arrival. She spent most Wednesday nights and weekends in the Spanish capital jamming with local musicians and learning about the city’s influential flamenco sound. In turn, live audiences embraced her, entranced by her luscious vocals and heartfelt confessionals over stripped-down acoustics. Emboldened by her experiences there, she would return home rejuvenated, ready to go all in after years of putting in work on SoundCloud.
For as long as she can remember, Bianca Rodriguez was encouraged to pursue her musical goals. Perhaps a given, as her mother used to sing gospel during the ‘90s and before that, her paternal grandfather was the frontman for his Tejano band. Inspired by her diverse musical upbringing and Aaliyah’s tragic passing, she began to dabble in writing songs at just nine years old. Several years passed before she recorded Solitude while still in college. An earnest throwback to the Soulquarians’ heyday over randomly collated SoundCloud beats and James Blake’s “The Wilhelm Scream”, she released her first mixtape at the urging of her friends who were supporting her through a bad breakup.
It wasn’t until BeMyFiasco had connected with Phonte that her career as a musician really took off. She had tagged the Little Brother and Foreign Exchange rapper in a tweet which featured the ebullient “Monday Morning Blues”, a track which would later be added to her 2016 EP Layers. This ultimately convinced him to include her in the 9th Wonder-produced “Violets” off of Everything’s Beautiful, Robert Glasper’s reimagining of Miles Davis outtakes, where her levitating chorus hovers as a bridge between Glasper and Miles’ jazz aesthetic and ‘Te and 9th’s hip hop sensibilities. Around the end of the decade and into the next one, she would add some of her gloss on a couple of Little Brother tracks as well as a memorable contribution to “Talkin’ to Myself”, the euphoric lead single from Zo! and Tall Black Guy’s Abstractions. On top of that, she’s also a kindergarten teacher by day, with studious aspirations of becoming a fully qualified therapist as well.
It isn’t difficult to see why Phonte, a gifted MC renowned for his no-frills perspectives on working-class strife and troubled relationships, would be drawn to BeMyFiasco’s talent and hustle. Her honeyed voice and pensive lyricism are apt for the +FE Music ethos, and you can easily envisage her being the standout on early Foreign Exchange projects. There’s a balance of wistful nostalgia for loves lost and found while never sounding truly desolate over bouts of heartbreak. She blends neo-soul, jazz, R&B, and house with ease while retaining her authenticity. Think of someone like Jill Scott collaborating with SWV under the +FE imprint, and you can start to paint a picture of what she’s all about.
Her debut LP under the +FE Music label, Where I Left You, is one of my favourite releases of 2021 so far. It’s a soulful record which showcases BeMyFiasco’s versatility on matters of the heart. Whether she’s dismissing hasty relationships, basking in the glow of a new flame, or pining for a faraway lover, she skillfully navigates her way through a bunch of emotions with the range of someone more seasoned. The glimmering “Love Feels” is optimistic, putting a blissful twist on the old adage “love don’t feel like it used to” by proclaiming that “it feels better” afterwards. “Caramel” is jubilant, the type of joint rooted in disco, boogie, and funky house that every wedding DJ should have on their playlist. On the Little Brother-assisted “Outside the Lines”, she channels Chrisette Michelle by thanking the lover who helped her “open her heart and her mind”, never descending into melodramatic corniness. The stinging closer “Through the Middle” broods without veering into melancholy, then ascends towards uptempo funk before slowing down to end the album in a serene state. Where I Left You is the antithesis to legions of records under the R&B banner influenced by 808s & Heartbreak and House of Balloons, and is a vivacious shot of energy that calls back to classics of the genre that we grew up with.
With less than six hours to go before the album dropped, I caught up with BeMyFiasco to discuss her moniker, her musical influences, her career trajectory, being mentored by Phonte, the making of Where I Left You, and much more. – Oumar Saleh
First off, talk to us about your moniker, BeMyFiasco. Is it a homage to a certain loquacious Chicago wordsmith?
BeMyFiasco: [Laughs] It is! I’m hoping that each time someone asks me about it that he’ll figure it out at some point as we’ve never met, but that is my goal with this! So I was a huge Lupe fan coming up, and my Twitter handle was initially @LoveAndLasers. However, LASERS wasn’t doing so well at the time, and I sought to change my name while still supporting him. So I scribbled down a bunch of combinations at this convention centre in Atlanta where I was for spring break, and “BeMyFiasco” came about, which was around the time people were calling you by your Twitter name, and it’s just stuck ever since. So, the day after I released my first mixtape Solitude back in college, I changed all my socials and websites to @BeMyFiasco, and just rolled with it.
Solitude was dope. I especially dug how you were able to seamlessly glide over tracks composed and produced by the likes of Robert Glasper and James Blake. Did sampling those artists give you an indication of where you were at from an artistic standpoint?
BeMyFiasco: Like most of my projects, Solitude came about through a breakup, and my friends pressured me into releasing it. Back then, I was scouring and scavenging through SoundCloud and Bandcamp, while fiddling around on Garageband trying to figure out how to record. There wasn’t a sequence or an order to Solitude, it was just a case of feeling the instrumentals, digging the finished tracks, and putting them out there. I’m glad that it all felt very deliberate, but it wasn’t as structured as my latest work.
On the subject of SoundCloud where you’ve been grinding for years, even releasing your take on a 21 Day Song Challenge, was it a case of producers reaching out to you or vice versa?
BeMyFiasco: A little bit of both. At that point, which was a few years ago, back in 2018, I really wanted to brush up on my songwriting as I was getting really rusty and was looking for something new to work with. So my goal was to make something for 21 days, not caring what the tracks would sound like. And I would hit up producers on SoundCloud and ask if I can use their beats for whatever. We would then check each other’s pages out, dig each other’s work, and go from there. One of the most popular songs on that challenge was “SBYFU”, and it was really fun to see something I randomly made do high numbers on that platform.
One of my favourite joints off of your SoundCloud page, which came before the 21 Day Challenge, is “Secret Love Affair”, which you sang over a Mary J. Blige sample. Given that you’ve already sampled artists as varied as Glasper, Blake, and Erykah Badu on the funky “Summertime Fine”, what was the process behind putting your own spin on their work?
BeMyFiasco: OK, so I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: I had never heard that Mary J. Blige song before, which is wild to even think about [laughs]! With “Summertime Fine”, where I already knew the Erykah song (“Back in the Day”), it was hard to break the melody of what the original artist was doing and then create your own spin, which was like fighting against the waves. Whereas with Mary J.’s “All That I Can Say”, I only knew the hook, so I had no idea how the verses went and what was being said.
In fact, “Secret Love Affair” was originally gonna be titled “Olivia Pope” at the time because I based my track off of Scandal, and it was supposed to be released with the show’s seasons but I never did in the end, so we changed it. I had no structure to that song at all, but was determined not to listen to the original until I finished recording as I had an idea of what I wanted to do with it. It’s something that I like doing, where I’m challenging myself to strip down a popular song, and forcing myself to find different melodies in different fields.
It’s awesome that you’re open about not having listened to a big Mary J. Blige track, which sums up your music in that it’s very honest and vulnerable, leaving no stone unturned. It’s a throwback to what R&B should sound like, which is a wavy mix of Jill Scott’s neo-soul and Aaliyah-inspired R&B with a sprinkling of funky house. Aside from those two, who else would you count as your musical influences growing up?
BeMyFiasco: I can never give out just one name, as there’s a slew of artists that I would take things from. I love Musiq Soulchild’s harmonies and arrangements. I love Jazmine Sullivan’s feel and rhymes and how she structures her songs. I love that Chaka Khan gets to wail and really vocalize how she’s feeling. I love the way D’Angelo is able to convey a message without necessarily having to use full words and sentences and how he finds the feel in the groove. I like to take bits and pieces from lots of people, and merge that into where I already was. Growing up, it was a case of “oh, I like that!” or liking how they would harmonize and write their songs, so I feel like I’m a culmination of all of my favourite artists and what they are renowned for.
With that said, as you grew up in a pretty musical household, did you also try to infuse some Tejano and gospel into your music back then as well?
BeMyFiasco: I sang Spanish competitively in high school, so that was that. And I used to be a worship leader, so I would sing gospel in church too. As for an actual track, I think I have a gospel-esque tune somewhere in that 21 Day Challenge, and I also have a couple of Mexican Spanish songs tucked away for a later date.
As someone who’s been listening to The Listening and The Minstrel Show since high school, it’s amazing that you were able to link up with one of my favourite rappers ever in Phonte Coleman. Talk us through how your paths first crossed?
BeMyFiasco: It was around the time that the Foreign Exchange album Love in Flying Colors dropped. I had recorded “Monday Morning Blues”, one of the tracks on my Layers EP, and my producer and I patterned the song off the tracks from their album, including the hi-hats and the overall feel of the tracks from that record. I posted it on Twitter and, as we followed each other at the time, tagged Phonte, telling him that it’s FE-inspired and asked him to check it out. He then hits me up a couple of weeks later, saying that it’s fire and that he was willing to pay whatever I wanted for me to send it across to him.
Afterwards, we FaceTimed each other to talk about music, and several months later, he reached out to me and asked if I wanted to lay down some vocals for a track he was working on which he couldn’t divulge the full details about. At that point, we still hadn’t met on a face-to-face basis, and like with Nicolay and a lot of his stuff, everything was being done via the Internet. Eventually, I realised that we were working on the Robert Glasper track, and I’m sitting in my room thinking “oh shit, he’s gonna throw that on me?” [laughs]. From there, we were periodically working with each other, in that I’d record from my house and he would just send me stuff and so on.
With “Violets”, it’s wild that so early on in your career, you managed to get on a Miles Davis track even if it was an outtake.
BeMyFiasco: There are days where I still don’t believe it. I remember sprinting towards Target to get the physical copy of Everything’s Beautiful. It hadn’t sunk in until I saw my name on the credits, which confirmed that it was real! And while I eventually got to meet Glasper in person when I was living in Madrid, we hadn’t met in the studio around that time, so the whole recording process was done via the Internet.
As your music fits like a glove within the soulful, like-minded +FE Music collective, what motivated you to take the next step in your career by signing for the label?
BeMyFiasco: Earlier this year, Phonte and I were still making records and doing feature work like we regularly do. Then one day, he asked me what I was looking to accomplish personally, and my original aim was to release a three-track house EP as I had already completed some house tracks, to which he responded by saying that I should be doing more than that. He then brought me out to North Carolina to wrap up Where I Left You, as I was juggling teaching and training to be a therapist, so nothing was getting done while I was still in Dallas and we had a deadline of August to finalise the record.
The trip solidified my signing with +FE Music, as I was already making music with them from a distance, but it was then that I truly felt like being part of the family. I wasn’t familiar with Little Brother back then, but I had grown fond of Phonte’s work thanks to Leave It All Behind, which made me want to work with him at some point in my career. So to look back, ten, eleven years ago compared to now, it’s like, “oh shit, this is really, really happening!”.
When played through, Layers essentially felt like a tale of honeymoon period hijinks and the risks of romance, beginning with hopeful candor that it doesn’t go too fast on “The Idea of Love (Possibilities)” before ending on a downer with “Lovers Gold”. Were you intending to create a five-track narrative detailing the highs and lows of love?
BeMyFiasco: That was it! So, the entire project was produced by a guy named Sir Tim, based out here in Dallas. We made “Monday Morning Blues” first, so we were structuring everything around that track. We followed it up with “Work On You”, then “Devil’s Advocate”, finally rounding it all up with the EP’s intro and outro. Sir Tim plays keys as well as producing, and he was able to sequence and fill in wherever necessary, so I was super blessed in that area. When I think about Layers nowadays, I realise that the structure was more deliberate than I had intended, as I believe that we really nailed those feelings you mentioned. And it was all based off of a true story, which was mine.
It’s funny how you mentioned Layers being very autobiographical, because it’s the same sentiment I had with Where I Left You after the first listen. Would you agree?
BeMyFiasco: I think it has some of that, but Where I Left You was played out in reverse, if that makes any sense. It was Phonte’s suggestion to intro the album with “Ask Me When I’m Done”, and as I was snowed under with teaching and going to school, he had already written that song for me to start with as a building block for the rest of the record. However, I realised that once we were done, it felt like I was living out a lot of the topics being sung after the fact. I was already familiar with those experiences being depicted on the album, but a lot of the record was being created in July. We did it in three weeks before my life was turned upside down the following month. By August, all of these different themes on the album were actually happening in real life, so it felt like I was foreshadowing these events that are actually being played out now, which is kinda backwards. It felt like a case of art imitating life, I suppose.
There’s a few tracks from Where I Left You that I wanted to discuss. First off, did you actually move to LA and get that two car garage in the end?
BeMyFiasco: [Laughs] No! That is a true story to the T that actually happened, no embellishing whatsoever! And we still don’t know where my car is, so I’m sure we’ll have to do a series on where’s BeMyFiasco’s car in LA, because I just don’t know what happened to it!
As a sucker for 808s and slow jams, my favourite joint off the album has to be “U And I”, where you’ve got this really smooth balancing act with Devin Morrison deftly crooning in the background. It’s a clear departure from the uplifting groove of most of your discography, including Where I Left You.
BeMyFiasco: It’s definitely a departure. Phonte and I actually fought on that one because the initial track was just a loop, which left me uncertain as to how I was gonna sing over it. It was one of the first instances where he had stumped me, but he was confident that once I met up with him, we’d be working on the track together. And we finally fleshed the song out to what you’re hearing now.
It was one of the last tracks we worked on together, and once I started singing and layering the vocals, I finally started to see ‘Te’s vision for the song. And then he surprised me sometime later with Devin’s voice in the background. I had no idea Devin was gonna be on the track, but he added that flair and smoothness to it. But yeah, “U And I” is very different because I’m front and center as opposed to ‘hiding’ my background vocals on layering. We’re just singing and crooning this one long paragraph, or whatever you wanna call it, and that was it. It was very new.
Another track I wanted to mention is “Bad Dream”. Despite the song’s theme of a love gone wrong, the video is remarkably upbeat in contrast, showcasing some of your favourite Dallas landmarks like Rudy’s Chicken and Big T Plaza, and even including an ‘80s workout video from the start. Why did you go into that direction?
BeMyFiasco: I’ve gotta credit ‘Te for being the mastermind behind the visuals. Firstly, he wanted to give a nod to UBN (the fictional TV network first introduced on The Minstrel Show) with Little Brother, so he wanted to usher me into that base by satirising those old-school workout videos, and he let me do my own comedic thing on there. We also wanted to make a video for “Caramel”, but we didn’t have enough time so we ended up using a snippet of it for the workout part of the video to combine it with “Bad Dream”. I also wanted the video to be bright and to spotlight the city where I’m from, conveying that even though it’s about a breakup, we’re still doing our thing out here. I’m with my girls, we’re getting chicken, and we’re gonna go out and have some fun. Especially with my first official video, I wanted it to be lively and fun, and that was that.
Talk us through what it’s like having someone as acclaimed and respected as Phonte as a mentor?
BeMyFiasco: ‘Incredible’ would be the first word I’d use to describe having ‘Te as a mentor. Musically, he’s like my other half. We’d be on the same page, in that I’d have a lot of different ideas and directions to go with that he’s already thought of. Even with the album, minus a couple of creative differences like with “U And I”, we were in sync about where we wanted to go with the lyrics and the vocals and everything else. He really came and took me under his wing and showed me not just the processes behind making an album, but how to be the best version of myself, musically or otherwise. On top of that, he’s also teaching me about the industry and how I can do this for myself, and maybe potentially help others do the same thing and provide that same opportunity. The time spent with him, with all the knowledge he possesses, has been invaluable.
Aside from the +FE Music family, your vocals have been featured on tracks with Lyric Jones and more recently Lute, to name a couple. You mentioned Lupe Fiasco earlier, but are there other artists you envisage yourself working with in the future?
BeMyFiasco: I’d love to work with D’Angelo and Musiq Soulchild one day, and Beyonce’s on everybody’s dream list. As for newer artists, I love Alex Isley as she understands the feel and the groove, and Lucky Daye is amazing. They’re the first names I can think of off the top of my head.
I could be wrong here, but given the popularity of acts such as Jazmine Sullivan, H.E.R., and SZA to name a few, are we now in the midst of a renaissance of reflective, empowering women’s R&B reclaiming the genre back from the cloudy, morose aesthetic it seemed to be under?
BeMyFiasco: To be honest, I think there’s a good mix. Whatever you’re looking for in R&B, someone’s already making it. If you want that alternative R&B, that new age R&B, there’s those girls doing that, and it’s the same for older R&B and neo-soul. It all depends on which door you enter through with the genre, because there are so many. And even if they aren’t the mainstream girls, there’s the girls underneath them. You have the SZAs, the Kehlanis, the Chloe Baileys.
But then you have your Alex Isleys, your Cleo Sols, who are also there even if they haven’t reached mainstream status yet. Whatever you’re looking for in R&B, you’re gonna find it. The women are out here telling stories and Taylor Swifting it up by being real open and honest, and as long as you can relate, it doesn’t really matter what I’m saying as long as you can understand the feeling of my words, as that’s more important. Women are claiming it in a space that’s really authentic to them, which is amazing to see.
Let’s fast forward, say, five or ten years from now. Where does BeMyFiasco see herself by then?
BeMyFiasco: My target is to go full throttle with this music thing, whether it be creating the sound, writing, travelling and touring as well. I also wanna be in the position where I can put on other acts, making space for them and talking to them about being able to put out their own content on their own terms. That’s a big thing that Phonte preaches out to me and the people around him, the feeling that you’re giving a thousand percent on whatever you’re working on as this could be your only chance to go all out with no distractions.
And if you fail, for whatever reason, at least you’ll never be mad betting on yourself. If I’m putting all of my eggs into one basket, then that’s what we’re gonna do. There is no plan B. In ten years, I would also love to form and expand my own business, helping out Phonte with +FE Music while also building up my own brand. Finally, on the therapy side, I want to be a therapist for artists and other creatives as a long term goal, because there’s a need for someone who understands them in that space and I want to help out as much as I possibly can.