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R&B Singer Shanté Vocalizes a Relatable Blues

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East Oakland R&B singer, Shanté, poses for a photo while wearing an olive dress.
East Oakland R&B singer, Shanté. (Sydney Welch)

With painfully beautiful lyrics strewn over dark and sultry keys and a coarse drum pattern, the song “Trials,” off of East Oakland R&B singer Shanté’s new album Smile is a blues song. It’s not a juke joint blues song. It’s more like the blues someone might sing while doing their hair in the bathroom mirror, smoking a joint and reflecting on life.

“That’s exactly what I was doing when I wrote it, too,” Shanté tells me during a recent video phone call. Laughter erupts as she continues, “I swear, the crazy thing is, some of those songs on Smile were written maybe a month or two before I actually recorded them.” She pauses as her son, a one-and-a-half-year-old named Noel, shoves a children’s book in her face.

“And when I did record them,” Shanté continues, “the lyrics hit harder because I was actually going through it.”

Shanté looks off to the viewers right as she poses for a photo while wearing a dress, hoop earrings and an afro.
‘What I feel is what I write,’ says R&B singer Shanté. (Sydney Welch)

Smile, a seven-track project, produced by Hokage Simon with a feature from East Oakland’s OVRKAST. and her cover version of LaRussell’s “I Wont Leave,” dropped last week. It’s Shanté’s second full album, and the project gives listeners a window into more than the trials she’s faced; it speaks on how she’s overcome them as well.

The album starts with “IM Ngl,” a soulfully brash song that shows that artist at her wits end. “Niggas got me fucked up, bitches got me fucked up,” she sings from the precipice of crashing out over stress. “Hold up, let me smoke this blunt,” she bellows, hitting a note so intimate it makes the listener feel like they’re sitting shotgun in the car, passing Shanté the lighter as she vents.


The next song, “Blur” provides a taste of the other end of the melodic spectrum, allowing Shanté to float over a brighter uptempo track. In “Chosen,” she shares optimistic lessons passed on to her by Tupac. And on the track “Idk,” she harmonizes, almost scatting as she shows love to the soil raised her: “Go on and on / from the Bay where we do our thang, it go like ya-did-da.”

The daughter of a Kenyan mother and an African American father from Berkeley, Shanté was raised by her grandmother. “I learned a lot from her, especially through music,” she says, reflecting on how her grandmother would dance and sing with her. “She’d always just let me be free.”

Although her grandmother passed in 2022, Shanté still feels her presence, especially when making music. “I pray before I record,” she says. “And every time I’m in the studio, I feel like she’s there to encourage me and motivate me.”

Spirituality is Shanté’s chosen method to dealing with the madness. In this project she traverses trauma by retaining a clear connection to the higher power, and through her music she allows audiences to ear hustle on her spiritual downloads. “When I do write about the higher power,” says Shanté, “it comes from my higher self.” Her intention isn’t to teach, but to remind herself of her own potential. “So, most of the time I’m talking to myself,” she says.

On cue, her son knocks something over in the distance and Shanté lets out an “ay-yi-yi” of exhaustion. At 20, she’s juggling being a young parent with a burgeoning career that has gained her thousands of fans across platforms and allowed her to work with some highly notable artists. And still, when asked about the intention of her work, she’s clear on who this is for.

“First of all,” says Shanté, refocusing on the conversation, “it’s really for me. Because I love music, that’s how I express myself.”

Singing is something she’s done since she was a kid at grandma’s house. It was something she did as a teen, hitting open mics and performing at venues around the Bay. And now as a young adult she uses the art as a valve, sometimes connecting with the higher power and other times singing about the lows of the blues.

Melodically vocalizing the ups and downs of the human experience, her music becomes as relatable as the process of doing your hair, looking in the mirror and reflecting on life.

Shanté’s album ‘Smile’ is available on all streaming services. Click here for more information.

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