Born in Brooklyn and raised in the cosmopolitan Caribbean island of Trinidad, Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Angela Hunte has always been surrounded by music from different cultures and generations. On Trinidad’s radio stations in the ‘80s and ‘90s she heard American and British pop acts including Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Robert Palmer and Sting; Angela felt a deep connection to Sade and the legendary Shirley Bassey while her grandmother listened to The Andrew Sisters, Elvis Presley and The Beatles.
The genre-blurring soundtrack of Angela’s formative years fueled her ambition to become an artist while laying the foundation for the broad-based sonic spectrum that characterizes her professional versatility. One of contemporary music’s most celebrated and sought after songwriters, Angela’s songs range from country to jazz, alternative rock to hip-hop, reggae to EDM and include tracks for the music industry’s biggest names: Rihanna (“Tip Pon Toe”), Britney Spears (“Do Somethin’”), Nas (“I Can”), Snoop Dogg a.k.a. Snoop Lion (“Here Comes The King”) and the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes who gave Angela her first break as a vocalist: she sang the hook on Lopes’ song “True Confessions.” In 2009 Angela’s career reached dizzying heights when JAY-Z recorded a song she had co-written, “Empire State of Mind,” featuring Alicia Keys on the song’s hook. “Empire” sat atop the Billboard Hot 100 for five weeks, won two Grammys (best rap song and best rap/sung collaboration), has sold nearly 6 million copies in the U.S. and remains a beloved New York City anthem.
Within her across-the-board success as a songwriter who has helped so many music luminaries express their identities, Angela always knew that she too would become an artist. Her long held ambition became a reality in early 2015: Angela wrote lyrics to a soca rhythm created by Miami based producer DJ Buddha, recorded her vocals on it then sent the song, “Party Done,” to Trinidadian soca superstar Machel Montano and asked him to be on the track, too. Machel not only added his vocals, he invited Angela to perform the song with him at his annual carnival concert extravaganza Machel Monday. There, before 30,000 soca enthusiasts in Trinidad’s capital Port of Spain, Angela delivered her debut performance. The popularity of “Party Done” created a demand for Angela at various Trinidad style carnivals across the Caribbean and North America. Although her heritage and early strides on stage will always be associated with Trinidad’s popular music form, labeling Angela a soca artist misrepresents her category-defying career trajectory. “I said from the beginning of this journey that I am a genre-less artist, people have tried to pigeonhole me as a soca artist but I don’t want to be put in a box,” Angela told Billboard in an interview in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. “I am just an artist, and I am going to do what I feel like.”
Angela did just that on her debut album R.A.W., released on Sept. 22 as a joint venture between DJ Buddha’s Therapist Music and Angela’s The Hunted Group, both serving as executive producers. Of the many genres Angela has worked in, one-drop reggae felt appropriate for the eight songs on R.A.W., which include Jamaican star Tarrus Riley on “King and Queen” and Taranchyla and Brooklyn Rose on the bass heavy “Rub Dub.” “I named the album R.A.W., that’s war backwards, because I have gone through war my entire career, being discredited or just overlooked and everything that was stripped away that left me raw, I was building it back,” Angela reflects. “So when I decided to make this album, reggae was the sound I was hearing in my head to get my words out. I wasn’t trying to be Jamaican or something I’m not. I was just being myself.”
Throughout R.A.W., which debuted at No. 9 on the Reggae Album chart, Angela’s lyrics explore feelings she has grappled with but had never put into song. For example, the opening track “Gettin Ova U” is the story of a woman who can’t move past a previous relationship, something Angela says most people, especially women, can relate to. “I am in an wonderful marriage now but like all women, there are scars from previous wounds and some we have to let out,” she shares. “That’s why I wanted to start the album with 'Gettin Ova U'; I felt like it was overdue for me to talk about that and so many women have called and said I am going through this right now.”
Watch the video premiere below.
The “Gettin Ova U” video was shot in various locations in Miami, directed by Seeohen, an artist whom Angela had worked with on his music prior to discovering they had the same ideas about making visuals. “We are independent, we don’t have much to work with, so we tried to keep the creativity as simple as possible and let the music speak for itself; a video can have a lot of fancy things in it but it doesn’t mean anything if the song can’t tell its own story,” Angela remarks.
R.A.W. is just the first in a trilogy of albums from Angela that she says are distinct from one another yet share an important commonality. “DJ Buddha and I have done so much music that we sectioned it off into three parts, but the one thing that remained consistent is the way I wrote the songs, he really pushed me to express myself, face what I was feeling, so I went into the studio, finally, as the artist I wanted to be,” says Angela. “Not many women have their own studios so to be able to do my own productions in my own studio and in my own way is why I felt so comfortable and was able to be myself.”
by Patricia Meschino