"I think everybody has a purpose," says R&B singer Ashley DuBose. "I think I have a purpose in my music, and it needs to get out to the masses."
In 2013, the masses far beyond the Twin Cities got an introduction to DuBose during her run on the NBC singing competition The Voice. After auditioning on a whim, she performed a dazzling cover of Rihanna's "Diamonds" and earned support from all four celebrity judges. Maroon 5's Adam Levine even said her voice "cuts like a razor through this entire place."[jump]
"You don't see all the people that saw you, so all it is is numbers," she says of her stint on the show. "Oh, 14 million [viewers], yeah, that's a big number, but these are actual lives that have experienced my existence.... I just want to use it and turn it for the best."
In person, the vocalist gives off a calm and collected vibe. She's seated at Diamonds Coffee Shoppe in northeast Minneapolis with her five-year-old daughter, Camrynn.
"It is definitely a juggling act, juggling parenthood with being a performing artist," she says, with a sense of drive underneath her low-key demeanor. "Most days I wonder how I'm managing it all. It is kind of like a survival thing, it's just one of those things I have to do. I don't feel like I have an option to be a musician, it's just in me."
After meeting producer Jimmy Easy, she released her debut album, the hip-hop-tinged neo-soul collection Something More, in 2012, and a year later she added its acoustic counterpart. Amid the Voice experience, DuBose quit her job as a programmer analyst to devote herself full-time to music. Midway through last year, she began working on her anticipated follow-up, Be You. She recorded with Easy in his home studio, and everything was complete for a November release.
Her initial plans for the album changed when she got the call to Hollywood after passing auditions for American Idol -- until she realized her contract with The Voice prevented her from appearing on another reality program.
"I didn't really feel completely comfortable with the decision to do Idol, and [that] was a sign," she says. "I wouldn't completely close the door to that option, it's just, with those shows, you sign away your life for a good year, depending on how far you get in the competition. It's not always a good choice even though it may seem like a great opportunity." She decided she didn't want to be known simply as "the reality TV singing competition girl," and eventually felt the new direction was meant to be.
Soon after, Toki Wright and Big Cats invited her on tour, she started singing throwback R&B and funk in another band, and also started speaking at high schools, telling her story as an artist chasing her dreams.
"The big thing I like to highlight is [that] I had this dream when I was your age, and I stuck with it," she says, recalling speaking for the teenage parents making up the student body at Broadway High School in Longfellow. They reminded DuBose of her own experience raising a daughter at a young age.[page]
"I had these things come up that could've been roadblocks, but I didn't stop, and here's the things that come of it because I persisted," she continues. "I want you guys to do the same, no matter what situations you find yourself in, no matter what reasons you have to doubt yourself and your abilities. These accomplishments are had by regular people. I want to let you know you can do these great things and more."
At her mother's urging, DuBose began singing in front of people at age seven. Later, she recorded her own songs on cassettes, and transitioned into performing shows in high school.
Inspired by "whatever KDWB was playing at the time," DuBose absorbed lots of Lauryn Hill, Alanis Morrisette, India Arie, and other artists who fell along the spectrum of pop and R&B. "Even boy bands like Backstreet Boys, I loved them," she says. "Blackstreet, Musiq Soulchild... Jewel even."
A well-knit mixture of pop and soul is at Be You's core. Anchored by her smooth, warm alto delivery, the album maintains her past ties to hip-hop with guest appearances from Rocky Diamonds, BdotCroc, and Lexii Alijai. Production on the album comes via Easy -- who executive produced along with Wisdomatic and DuBose herself -- as well as GMo, Wade B, Ashlee Gilot, and Ralio.
"Sometimes [it's] not just R&B. Sometimes it's acoustic, sometimes hip-hop, sometimes a blend," she says. "No two songs on this album sound alike.... It's all me, it's all signature. I write about what I'm going through and what has the heaviest impact on me.... I really draw on what I'm feeling and what I'm experiencing."
Title track "Be You" is an uplifting neo-soul song about embracing your differences that sets the positive tone for the rest of the record.
"Those kind of songs, when I write those, I definitely have [Camrynn] in mind," she says. "Being a mother gives me a different perspective from most people my age who don't have kids. What would I tell my daughter, and other young people? Every song on this album is me being true to myself."
ASHLEY DUBOSE plays a Be Yourelease show on Saturday, March 7, at Bedlam Lowertown; 651-209-0597. With Maria Isa, Proper-T, Sankophoenix, and Vie Boheme.
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