Adina Howard Talks Women Empowerment, The Music Business and Her New Project, “Resurrection”.
Words + Interview By: D’annie Grandison
Wikipedia describes her as “an American singer and songwriter who rose to fame during the mid 90s.” Those who are fans, know her as such but those who know her, know her to be more than that.
Who is Adina Howard?
Adina Howard is complex and multi-layered. I am a child of the Divine, a creation of the Divine. I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am a mother. I am a friend. I am a wife, a lover. I am every woman. I am not limited to just being an American singer-songwriter.
Do you find that people try to limit you within the context that you stepped on to the world stage?
They definitely try. I mean, one thing about human beings is they love to categorize you and put you in a box so that they can wrap their heads around you to relate and be able to figure you out. That right there is just the given.
How do you continue to resist that? Unfortunately for a lot of women, once the boxes are placed around them they just become that. What are some things you do in your daily life to expand those boundaries that people try to put around you?
I don’t pay attention to the boxes they try to put me in. My life is not theirs’ to live. Their perception of me is not my truth. At the end of the day I don’t live my life trying to circumvent boxes, labels and titles that people put on me. I just live my life, focusing on me. I have to stay in the present moment and do what it is I’ve been called to do.
Your first album, 1995’s “Do You Wanna Ride?” was hailed as a celebration of sexual expression, liberation and owning your mojo. How did that message change your life and what did you think about it’s impact on women?
It just made people more aware of who I was and my music. It gave me instant notoriety, fame and celebrity status but it didn’t change my life. That was my life. I was a sexually liberated young woman. I didn’t care about what other people thought about me. I was just living my life and I didn’t know that what I did and how I did what I was doing at the time would make or have such a great impact on individuals. I was just living my life and the song, “Freak Like Me” just happened to tell my story not knowing that this would free other women to say, “Oh my God, I can just be me now! Yes!” I figured if guys can do it, I could do it too. But, I’m going to do it better and that’s just how I maneuvered wherever I was at the time. If I saw a guy and I wanted him, I got him. It was like easy as shit to get a dude. It wasn’t rocket science. I didn’t even understand what the big “to-do” was and I didn’t know that this was an issue for others. This is coming from a young woman who was raised Baptized in the gospel, went to church every Sunday and attended Bible study even if my mother wasn’t around. The church would come and get us. I’ve always been in my own world.
And what a world it is. I’m reminded of this quote by Miriam Williamson where she says, “When we let our light shine we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” You were just being yourself and by you expressing yourself it gave so many other women the voice to express themselves. You gave them the confidence of feeling like it’s okay to be that, not be ashamed and own their sexual power instead, which men had been doing forever. You were so on the forefront of that movement because you said what so many women felt and thought but had a stigma or shame of expressing without being judged. I think that changed the world.
I’ve done many interviews and I’ve heard that sentiment on multiple occasions. To this day it just blows my mind. It really does. We’re women and we give birth to nations. How do we not know that we have the power to be, do, and have as we choose as well as speak our minds? We (women) raise these men so how is it that they can dictate to us how to live, how to speak, how to dress, how to do whatever it is? No, you don’t dictate to me what I do and how I do it. I am a life bearer. I bring life into this world. How dare you look at me and tell me how to do me?
Who are some of the people that you’ve worked and enjoyed collaborating with throughout your career?
I have worked with Warren G, DJ Quik, Jamie Foxx, Missy Elliott and more. Those are just some of the people that are well known. I’ve worked with so many individuals who most (fans) wouldn’t even know. It has been a privilege to work with the talent that I’ve had the opportunity to work with. Did I get along with all of them? No, not at all. At the end of the day it’s really not only about getting along. It’s about respect as well as getting the job done. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, although I’ve had people look at me sideways and say, “Oh, you think you’re Mary J. Blige? You ain’t no Mary J. Blige.” Regardless of the ups and downs, it was a blessing to say the least and I’m so humbled and grateful that in spite of the obstacles and the adversity we still move forward, we made magic and created classics.
On my new project “Resurrection”, I had the honor and privilege of working with a young man by the name of Tyler Gaston. He goes by “King Gas” and working with this young man has been the greatest experience out of everyone that I’ve ever worked with, by far. This 25-year old, young king has been mind-blowing to work with.
On the business side of the music industry, what have you learned and what can you share with those who are wanting to have a career in the business, especially now having platforms such as the internet?
I’ve learned to know when to listen and know when to speak up. I’ve learned both the music industry and the entertainment industry. Learning the business is vital because if you don’t know the business, you will get played in this industry. They will take you for everything that you have. They love the ignorant and the naive because they’re easy prey. I tell people all the time if you’re going to be in this industry, study it. Get some books that will help you understand the terms and conditions that tend to come along with this industry.
Know what royalties are and understand that it’s important to have an entertainment attorney. That’s crucial because any other attorney is not going to understand the terms and conditions of this industry. You need to make sure that your manager is someone that has knowledge of the industry, has viable relationships and is financially able to take you to the next level, wherever that level may be. If that means putting you in the studio, getting you a photoshoot, taking you to different talent shows, etc. Have someone that has the ability to make moves and has knowledge of the business. Make sure you do your taxes. That’s important because most of the people that get into the industry come from quote-unquote “nothing” so when they get something, especially if they make it in this industry even just a little bit, they blow it and then they’re back at ground zero.
Also remain humble because you’re only as good as your last song. If you do not remain humble, you’ll run into a problem because people will always remember if you’re an asshole. Being humble is very important because that will get you a lot further along than being a jerk. When you’re curious and you want to know something, ask and do your homework because your success and failure is basically put in your hands, not somebody else’s. You can’t blame somebody else for your failures or give somebody else the responsibility for your success. That’s crazy.
I was really impressed to learn about your degree at Le Cordon Bleu. Even in sharing the advice for young artists, you just mentioned the importance of educating yourself. Artists not properly educating themselves can result in catastrophic outcomes at times.
Absolutely. In the defense of most artists, we just want to be artists. That’s it. We don’t want to be anything else but the artist because we’re creative people. I’ve learned that you can’t just be the artist. Educating yourself is extremely important because it will help dictate what happens to you in the future. If you’re uneducated then you leave yourself open for people to take advantage of you and can ultimately fail. If you have an education and the knowledge, then you have the ability to protect yourself against the wolves and the snakes that are out there willing to just feed you anything. Education is the difference between life and death of a career.
The careers of musicians, especially the female artists have evolved especially with social media and the internet. What do you think of the female artists today in comparison to yourself and others from the 90s?
Lack of modesty. That’s what I’ve noticed. I’m sure that they said there was a lack of modesty when I got into the industry because I was wearing what I was wearing but these young ladies nowadays are just out there and I think that sexual liberation did not mean lowering your standards. “Oh, it’s sexual liberation. I can go ahead and do me!” Yeah, you can do you. That’s cool. I encourage you to do you but I also encourage you to have standards when you do you. I think it’s great that you know these young women have the courage to speak their minds and to live their lives unabashed, be boisterous and be the unicorn and the peacock. I think that’s all great. But, there still needs to be standards put in place.
It seems like there’s always a beef of the season between female artists, but I think that transcends a little bit more outside of music. Do you think women are as supportive of each other as they should be?
I think we could be more supportive but at the end of the day it is what it’s going to be. I think the beef that exists between women is based off insecurities. A secure woman doesn’t have time to focus on somebody else’s business. She is going to tend to her field and garden or just take care of her business, period because the seeds you sow will grow.
How is disrespecting another person, especially another female and looking down on her going to help you move forward in life? All of this is a distraction and you deflecting. It makes no sense to me. I was raised in a household full of women. My mother raised four girls. I can’t even really comprehend the discord between women. There’s no competition. Your lane is your lane. Do you. When I look at the conflict, I’m like that’s an insecure female that needs to work on herself and that ain’t got shit to do with me. I’m moving on. I can’t be their therapist. That’s not my job. I got to do me.
Most successful women who are doing their thing by society standards experience difficulties in terms of finding a compatible partner. As a woman who most women consider to be beautiful, strong and empowered, was it difficult for you to find your husband and what advice can you offer single ladies?
It was not difficult for me to find my husband at all. I just had to be ready and I think that’s one of the things that most people don’t understand. In order to have a mate and a successful relationship you have to be ready. You have to be willing to compromise. When I say compromise, I don’t mean give up who you are. It means finding a happy medium. Being able to compromise is saying, “Ok, I can give up this in order for us to be able to do that”, understanding what you’re able to give up, what you’re willing to give up and understanding why you’re willing to give those things up.
You have to understand commitment and be willing to commit. Again it’s about being ready. Are you spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally and financially ready? You attract that which you are. We are magnets. We attract like energy all the time and if your mind isn’t right, you’re going to attract somebody whose mind isn’t right. So, it’s important that women set the standard. They need to set it and stick to it but also be willing to be flexible because some of our expectations can be unrealistic. Expectations ruin relationships, especially unrealistic ones. So, prepare yourself for your husband and be ready because it takes two. It’s not a 50/50 situation. It’s a 100/100 situation.
Tell us about your new album. How is it different and what’s the inspiration behind it?
“Resurrection” is the phoenix rising from the ashes. It’s me overcoming and rising again from the ashes of my past. I’m allowing those things that were to no longer be to be gone, but not forgetting what shaped and molded me to get to this point. Resurrection is a labor of love. It is the ultimate self-expression for me. It is the middle finger to the industry. It’s so hard to explain this project. All I can really tell you is this album is like my diary, my autobiography. Each song is about my journey at some point in time while I was gone. My thoughts, my feelings, where I’ve been, what I’ve been doing and how I’ve been doing it.
It’s a really personal album that was inspired by my life experiences. The song, “Dearly Departed” came about because I had to let a manager and several people go. But, this particular individual inspired the song because we were really close and then when I had to release and let go there was tension. This is not an attack on you. Everybody can’t go with you. It’s like being on a treadmill. You’re moving forward, but not so much. You have to know when to let go. You cannot be blessed when their blessing blockers. The divine will not give you yours if someone else is going to benefit and they’re not supposed to. So, this album has personal messages, personal trials and tribulations and triumphs all throughout the project. This album is about my journey, about me rising above any and all obstacles. I’m victorious, watch me rise and keep your eyes on me.