Calling all music lovers! If you are looking for an eccentric sound among the wave of alternative pop and R&B in the Muncie area, look no further than May’s Artist of the Month: Imani. On April 26, I had the chance to interview this Ball State University student. His potential was palpable through the screen of our Zoom call. He wore a pink hoodie and much like the color; he exuded a vibrant and chill demeanor. As a first-generation American, born to Jamaican immigrants, he reflects on music's important role in his life. He grew up listening to reggae, dancehall, R&B, and gospel. He traded in his old stomping ground of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, full of palm trees and balmy weather, for the four-season state of Indiana to study musical theater.
Imani has been singing for as long as he can remember. His mother said he would hum to himself as a baby even before learning to speak. He shared the vivid memory and “life-changing experience” of hearing Usher’s “Yeah!” for the first time from the backseat of a car. He cites this moment as the igniting point that pushed him to begin writing and making music. His passion bleeds through the computer screen, describing what it is like to find that “one” song. “It’s cathartic, the way music can make you feel…there’s no other feeling than that,” Imani said. As a multi-instrumentalist playing piano, drums, bass guitar, and lead guitar he views music as another language, analyzing and dissecting each phrase, down to the specific melody lines.
“The piano is not going to judge,” he said. It gives him full reign to be authentic and honest. This was clear in his song, “Do You Really Wanna” where the listener can hear the prevalent piano chords in the background of the track. Imani’s cover art for each track only accentuates the music. The cover art for “Wait A Minute” was hand-drawn by his friend, Serena Rubin.
When asked to describe his sound he settled on the genre—alternative. “Summer Lovin’” is my personal favorite. It is reminiscent of early PartyNextDoor with its sultry production and smooth lyrics to match. The “954 remix” is even better, an ode to Southeast Florida’s rap sub-genre of fast-paced music, similar to Go-Go in Washington D.C. and Houston’s Chopped and Screwed. The change in timbre and rhythm of Imani’s “954 remix” is heavily influenced by the sub-genre, adding a stamp of his city’s musical and cultural identity similar to garnish placed on a finished meal.
This upcoming artist has an array of musical influences that include the likes of Frank Ocean, Rex Orange County, Michael Jackson, The Dream, Drake, and Marvin Gaye. For Imani, Gaye’s influence stretched beyond his voice to his socially conscious lyrics. “I always told myself I don't want to be an activist. I just want to be an artist,” he said. His life and livelihood are politicized by simply existing as a Black man in America. He explained that expressing this experience in his music is almost inevitable.
As confident as this 6’3” college junior comes across, he mentions his past experience with performance anxiety. Beginning in fourth grade he auditioned and participated in multiple school productions. It was his mother’s talk of perseverance and being a “man of his word” that helped the nervousness subside. He recently performed “Gomb (Get Off My Back) ” live at a friend’s birthday party upon request. “Hearing them singing all of the words was very fulfilling,” he said.
When talking about the future of his burgeoning independent career, Imani wants to do less of sitting on his music until it is “perfect”. An album in the vault is set to be released in the near future once he plans a proper rollout. It will include a couple of new singles and an EP. “I wanna make sure my music is a service to my fans,” he said.
Featured Image: Serena Rubin
Contact Mesgana Waiss with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or @theganarhea on Twitter.