Fresh off the “Last Train to Paris,” one third of the group Diddy-Dirty Money is stepping out and revealing her “Chamber of Diaries” to the world.
Kalenna is now becoming the conductor of her own train without group mates Diddy and Dawn Richard, by embarking on a solo career track with the release of her new mixtape Chamber of Diaries. The singer says it’s a project that represents a mixture of music; however, ultimately “It is R&B, hip hop to the core.”
While she’s best known for being part of the trio Diddy-Dirty Money, Kalenna has been in the industry writing hits for years. She’s penned songs for artists ranging from the legendary Aretha Franklin to opera singer Charlotte Church, and earned four Russian Grammy Awards.
Soul Train: How did you make the transition from being a songwriter to an artist?
Kalenna: Contrary to belief, I was an artist first. (laughs) I was always an artist; I always wanted to be on the stage to perform my work for people. Writing was something I stumbled upon. You know when writers were working, they weren’t getting a lot of recognition for it like they are now. It was like hey, you’re a great writer; don’t you think you can write for these people while you’re pursuing your artist career? So writing became one of those things, like well, Missy Elliott’s doing it, Rodney Jerkins, and these people became the people I was looking up to. Look at their careers now! So I was like if I become a strong writer and people respect that in the industry then that will make it easier for me to become an artist. So when I was about 17 I did a remix to Usher’s “Confessions,” which took off and it was crazy. That was the first time I met Diddy, I met Andre 3000, went to the BET Awards, it was just crazy. As life progressed, I met my now husband and ended up having a baby so all of those things pushed me to be a writer and tell my stories and everything that I had gone through, but I was never just a writer, I’ve always been an artist/writer.
Soul Train: Do you think that to be successful, artists need to make music to crossover to reach other audiences? Does your music accomplish that?
Kalenna: I believe my music definitely transcends. I think to be an artist on the levels of Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Beyoncé–their music touches everyone–you have to make music that does that. Now it doesn’t necessarily have to be pop music that it crosses over into, but pop is a monster right now in the music industry and ahead of the race with any other genre. So with that being said, you have to play the game for what it’s worth to be successful.
Soul Train: What kinds of issues have you run into being a black woman in the music industry?
Kalenna: I have personally come up against some difficulties in the industry. I may have the brightest idea on the planet and there’s a room full of male executives, and they almost overlook you so they just kind of push you out of the conversation. That’s just an example of what this industry is about; it’s definitely male-dominated. There are a lot of challenges with being female and being in the industry. It’s just one of those things that we just have to keep pushing harder. Nicki Minaj is proving that it’s not about men anymore. So have Madonna and Lady Gaga. You know there’s so many women that have proven that wrong.
Soul Train: Now, there’s the rumor of the Bad Boy curse, so why sign on with Diddy? Were you ever afraid of that myth?
Kalenna: Well, I worked with him because Diddy was in the group (laughs), but he’s one of music’s biggest moguls! I’m going down in history as standing next to one of the biggest moguls in this industry. He’s such a trendsetter. He’s definitely not Walt Disney, nor a magician, or Mickey Mouse, but Diddy is a businessman and I respect that. I went into the group as a businesswoman and I didn’t go into it blindfolded. I feel like I had one of the best situations at Bad Boy ever, and I can totally be honest about that. It was one of those things where I was not signed exclusively, I was in a non-exclusive situation and I signed to the group and I proved my loyalty to that. I didn’t put out any other music–I stayed loyal to Dirty Money. The whole curse thing, I don’t put a whole lot of stock in that. Contrary to what everyone believes, Diddy and I still talk and he supports me 100%.
Soul Train: How would you describe your sound on the mixtape, Chamber of Diaries?
Kalenna: I think it’s soulful, it’s a free sound. It’s definitely R&B with elements of hip hop. Hip-hop was my first love, singing was just something that I could always do, but hip-hop has its poetic elements and so with my sound it’s just very cultured because of my traveling and the different types of music that I listen to. It’s R&B hip-hop to the core.
Soul Train: Let’s talk about a couple of the songs on the mixtape, “Pain and Alcohol.” What is that song about?
Kalenna: It was actually freestyle. I got in the booth and I was just remembering having a crush on someone so hard and they weren’t answering the phone and they wouldn’t acknowledge those feelings. One night I was out drinking with my homegirls, or drinking at home, or whatever, and I couldn’t call my mom and tell her how I felt. And I’m driving on the highway just trying to tap into that feeling. So it’s based on a true story, kind of (laughs) outside of the accident, burning and fire and stuff. That’s what it seems like–that your soul is the vehicle and all of the pain that you have outside of getting drunk and trying to escape and crashing and burning while trying to find that love again. The song just came off the top of my head.
Soul Train: What about “The Motto”? Your take on the song is very Missy Elliott inspired.
Kalenna: That one is like freestyle, too. I really don’t write, I just get in the booth and freestyle and say whatever. Chamber of Diaries was that for me. I didn’t have to think about what I’m going to say and how to say it, so I could just put the music on and just see what my soul was saying. “The Motto” was crazy. My homegirl was in the studio so I was messing with her saying, “you know you like girls,” so that’s where that came from. As far as Missy, she is definitely amazing; she is one of my heroes.
Soul Train: What is” 6000 Sistas” about?
Kalenna: It’s just nothing but money. It’s a new way to refer to money. It’s a fun song.
Soul Train: What do you hope people take away from the Chamber of Diaries?
Kalenna: I hope that they feel like they can listen to my music and be able to say how they really feel. When I listen to music from my point of view, artists keep it so political when they say “I love you, I need you, I want you”. With Chamber of Diaries, those are true feelings and not a fabrication. So I want people to take away that truth. It’s called Chamber of Diaries for a reason, and in a diary you write how you’re feeling. You don’t tell stories and you don’t try to make people feel comfortable, you just say how you feel and hope people can relate to it.
Soul Train: Who do you want to work with that you haven’t worked with yet?
Kalenna: That’s a good question. I would love to work with Ludacris, Missy Elliott–she’s at the top of the list. Lauryn Hill–that would be sickening, and me and Lauryn on one record would be hot! I also wanted to work with Michael Jackson, rest in peace to him. I think if Missy and I put out something for the summer, we would slay it, samurai swords and everything (laughs)! I hope she reads this interview! (laughs)
Soul Train: (laughs) Yes Missy, read it! Are you doing a tour to promote the mixtape?
Kalenna: I am! I put the mixtape out to kind of see people’s response first, but I have been asked a few times to start doing some shows. So I’m putting that together so sometime this summer I’ll be out performing.
Soul Train: How did you get involved with the Lupus Foundation of America?
Kalenna: They asked me to become a partner with them because my sister passed away from it 5 years ago. I was raised in a family with 6 children. My sister was diagnosed when she was 9 years old. It hit our family hard. She couldn’t go outside and play and be in the sun too much, so things changed. We always had to make sure she was okay. There were some times when you didn’t even know she was sick. She turned 18 and passed away from it and we couldn’t get her back, and we were wondering where’s the cure, is there one, and people don’t really know much about the disease. So, I want people to know that you can get tested to see if you have it. Symptoms include severe headaches, discoloration in your skin, joint pain; you should definitely go to the doctor to be tested. I have been partnered with them for about 2 years. I just want people to be aware of the disease and do what we can to help find a cure.
Follow Kalenna on Twitter @KDiddyBop and download the mixtape Chamber of Diaries from www.livemixtapes.com.
Shameika Rene’ is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and writing for various websites such as Charlotte Vibe, Creative Loafing, or her own site, www.themofochronicles.com. She’s also a special guest contributor on The Social Hour on Urban Soul Radio. Follow her on Twitter @mofochronicles.