A refreshing voice and a personality to match, rising vocalist and performer Keeyen Martin, is just getting starter. The relentless North Carolina native, is definitely one to watch and add to your playlist. His performance track record is even more impressive. Having performed at The Grammys, BET Music Matters, Essence Festival, Billboard Atlanta plus many more!Disrupshion got a chance to speak to the emerging indie artist and get to know the man behind the sound.
Interview by Angel Neal
So coming from North Carolina and as you say, a musical family tree, how has that influenced your personal style and sound in music?
Well, definitely, I would say North Carolina has a big church scene. And Growing up in church, I just remember being inspired by big choirs and singing soloists. I would be exposed to a lot of bands and R&B performers. I was introduced to a fair variety of just really amazing experts in their craft. I remember in school, I learned that, K-Ci and JoJo, Fantasia and Anthony Hamilton were all from the Carolinas. These talents have become hometown heroes that are killing it. Knowing they could do it, gave me confidence and encouragement, as a performer to kind of follow in the trail that they were already blazing.
So what was it like touring in Europe. Is there like a big fan base for R&B out there?
Yes, Euoropeans love our music, TV , style just our culture in general. I loved touring out there, it was really cool in a very real way of how they celebrated black musicians. It’s fascinating to do performances where they knew the music, they would sing along with you, even though it was oftentimes a language barrier. I spent a lot of time in Italy, and the Italians knew the lyrics to my songs, that was a very special feeling, you know, to experience that in real time.
You sing , write and play the piano. Your music feels very inspiring and raw, it’s kind of a natural blend of melodic Pop. Is that an intentional projection that you put on your music?
I would say so. I just try to be authentic as possible through my music. I just really use everything that I’ve experienced in put it into the music. I remember growing up my mom would always just play a variety of music in the house and in the car. I would always find a way to say, the things that I like and add my personal style in my writing. So I think naturally for me, I just wanted to make feel good music and I didn’t want it to be limited to, you know, a specific genre style. I wanted to have fun combining them and telling great stories through songs.
You’ve gotten a chance to share a stage with powerhouses like Stevie Wonder Aretha Franklin, Kanye West and Ce Ce Winans, what moment so far has felt surreal for you?
For me, it was definitely the Grammy’s. I think just being in Los Angeles, walking the red carpet and actually being around people I’ve admired for so long. I remember growing up watching 106, and Park and MTV music videos and just seeing the life and journey of artists and people in entertainment. And so to be in this space, seeing so many people I’ve seen on TV, in interviews, their music videos, that was very surreal and it was empowering. I’m just thankful to have made it this far and I want to continue to grow.
those different entities that don't collide and I'm able to pursue my passions all at once.
"The word NEUTRAL is a synonym for relaxing or yielding to the person you are meant to be. It’s perfectly okay to be who you are, the world awaits our authenticity, and being yourself will lead you to living your wildest dreams.”
What inspired your anticipated EP release Neutral? How did you come up with that title?
It was during the pandemic when I decided I wanted to finally release my first EP that consisted of original music. I wanted the process of it to be highlighted, and what I mean by that is I wanted to tell my story from start to where I am presently. And so that culminated you know, being a church kid, growing up in Charlotte, loving all types of music styles and genres. I just simply wanted the full EP to represent every personal experience I’ve had and from the start of it. So even with the intro its a Gospel Church with a choir and a background, because that was my beginning. And then it takes you on a journey song by song theres R&B vibes, happy vibes, chill vibes and heartbreak. I just want Neutral to represent every part of what I’ve been through thus far.
What do you hope listeners take away from the project?
Ultimately, that if you tell your story, and tell it from a authentic place you really can connect with people, and that was my goal with the music. I didn’t want to write or sing from a space that was unreal to me. And by doing what’s from the heart, it reaches the heart. Spirit can read the spirit energy reaches energy. I hope that when people listen, they recognize that, you know, just focus on your experience and living that in its truth from the most sincerest space. And you really will surprise yourself of how it connects with people and how it inspires people.
So in a field with so much competition, how do you stay uplifted and even motivated to push through yet still cultivate necessary relationships?
For me, it is it is simply knowing that it’s a purpose far more than even myself at times, like I think that was very pivotal, when I would have low moments, where I recognized, okay, I’m not just doing music, because I like to do it. I’m doing it because I genuinely know it’s what I’m called to do, I’m chosen to do. And when you recognize that purpose is larger than you, it helps you keep going. Like for me, I do a lot of teaching with a lot of youth in the arts and teach them voice and piano and I teach songwriting all those things. I recognize even on my lowest days, there’s a student that I will have a lesson with, and they will share. You know, the way that you explain this, to me, it really impacted me, it changed my life. It made me want to study and work a little harder. That becomes a whole degree of fulfillment, that for me, it supersedes even somebody saying, Oh, hey, I like this song, or I liked the videos, wow, I’m actually putting a seed into a younger person’s life, where they’re encouraged and inspired to keep going. And, and I think that, especially even in music, but even in a bigger picture, I think, specifically for us as black people, when we see how our careers can change our lives, change our community, change our family, we start to recognize, hey, I’m suppose to do this beyond just Oh, I like to do this. Oh, it’s cool to do this. It’s like no, there, I have a gift that is reaching people, and it’s changing people’s lives. So if I keep doing that, I’m now inspiring them to do the same thing and they’re reaching another person.
Dream Collaboration? Missy Elliott or Stevie Wonder.
R&B Mount Rushmore?
Mary J. Blige
Describe your musical sound?
My music is a blend of pop, R&B, and soul.
So today, we look at streams, social media, and sometimes don't really focus on the beauty and music. What defines an artist to you in 2023?
I think what defines an artist is the core content of whatever it is they're doing. And I mean, very similar to what you said, I feel like, from your lyrics to your approach to it, people are going to walk away with a depiction or an impression of who you are and what you're about. And I feel like I like to think of it as when we think of legends like you think of like a Missy Elliott, a Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, or Beyonce. People are automatically connecting with people like that, like they have longevity. They have messages that apply to so many different things we've been through in life. And they're musical and creative geniuses, right? And we feel that simply by listening to a song like I know for me, Missy Elliott is one of my absolute favorite artists. And I just think about every song that I hear from her. It's like, how did you even conceptualize this type of feeling on a record? And then, you know, coupled with her music videos, you're like, how do you see this in your head and bring it to life? And for me, it's genius. It's actually the master of our craft. And I feel like that's what people take away when they listen to an artist. So that's why it's important. Your subject matter. Your approach to music, that's what connects with people, you know what I'm saying? And I feel like when when you don't really allow yourself to be true in that process, or or, or let your creativity shine. That's how people are okay, well, this sounds like something else I've heard or I'm not really feeling this record, and I feel like every artist is capable of doing it, but every artist doesn't necessarily have the same amount of I would say desire Are two, okay? Let me sit with myself and really, really, really, really fortify my talent or fortify my approach. Sometimes, you know, people just prefer a simple, easy way. And we can hear that.
So arguably, there has never been a better time for independent artists right now. Do you agree with that, with the new wave of social media, people being able to pop off without being signed?
Definitely. I feel like that, that is a special thing about social media, that so many people in a way kind of have an equal opportunity to draw awareness to what they're doing. And I think it's, it's so cool, but it's so necessary to music and culture. Because a lot of times, I think, what's frustrating, it seems like there's a narrow way to get your music out to the masses, you know, because you're like, Oh, my goodness, I don't have this big record contract. Or, if I don't have access to big radio play, I'm not going to be able to do anything. But now that's really changed, where you can really build your own platform, you can build your own fan base, your own audience. And by way of you utilizing social media, we can regularly get people to traffic, what you're doing. So social media has definitely been I think, very pivotal in helping people.
So what should we really know about you? What sets you apart from others?
I refuse to stop. I'm one of the most consistent people I know. And I like to live by praise, if you can be consistent, you can be great. I'm an artistic guy that loves people, I love making music. But also I love encouraging people because I encouraged myself, I think that it's important to wake up every day and say, Yeah, I want to be the greatest version of myself. So through music, I try to inspire people, by telling stories that they can relate to the good, the bad, the in between, but ultimately, through it all, like, we're gonna get through this together and you can definitely become the better version of yourself.
By the way you remind us of a R&B Andree 3000, have you ever heard that?
I love that and I'm gonna shout you out every time for saying it.. Like, that's perfect. Because for me, I think you know, Andre 3000 and OutKast in general are iconic. I would say, even I love the style of realm, artsy, grown man and 60's inspired eclectic thing all jumbled together. But I remember learning about Andre 3000, he is so fire from not just his rap skills and his writing but his image and and I think he was one of the earliest artists that as a black guy, you kind of see him unafraid to just want to be different.
What are you most excited for next?
For me, it's touring. I know that we're in talks with a lot of different cool situations. And hopefully, one of them will manifest in the near future. I'm looking forward to sharing Neutral' and sharing a lot of new music on the stage. That's one of my my biggest loves is being on stage performing, you know. And so I would definitely say touring and the other big thing is collaborations, there are a lot of different artists and rising artists and new artists and big name artists that I just have my eye on that I want to collaborate with. So yeah, those two things.
Keeyen Martin’s newest EP entitled “Neutral” is a collective of tracks that include live instrumentals, catchy melodies, and soulful vocals that express Keeyen’s life experiences. Check out his new EP Neutral.