Another Sunday. Another Sample!
If you missed the first Sample Sunday from Heated Harmonies, here’s the link!
And if you’ve already read it, then get ready to meet Gabriel below. 🙂
(Note: Sample unedited, copyrighted, and subject to change.)
“Why you over there frownin’, G? What’s the matter with you?”
Grayson’s question was one I honestly had for myself, trying to make sense of the attitude I had been carrying since we made it back to my apartment after leaving The Black Market. I was happy for him; happy his performance had gone well and happy he was getting the praise he deserved according to his phone that had been buzzing ever since with people telling him how good he was. I was happy to see people rocking to my beats – my babies – even if music wasn’t something I was really interested in pursuing.
And that’s when it hit me.
While I was happy the beats had been a part of my brother’s success tonight, I wasn’t happy that they had garnered the attention of… her. So my attitude was full-fledged when I finally answered, “Not shit. Just tryna figure out why the fuck you even brought me over there to talk to ol’ girl.”
His face scrunched when he asked, “Nigga, what you mean? She’s a fuckin’ superstar. Why wouldn’t you wanna talk to her? Hell, I should be the one mad that you ran her off before I could even get a picture with her fine ass.”
“She ain’t even all that fine,” I told him, rolling my eyes as I reminded myself of what she looked like in person compared to the person from the videos. Flawless hickory brown skin that was surely covered in pounds of makeup, gorgeous almond-shaped eyes that obviously had contacts considering how perfectly their shade matched her skin, cute little nose that had probably gone through a few rounds of plastic surgery.
So, yeah. Maybe she was cute. But it was all invalid as far as I was concerned.
Still, none of that seemed to matter to Grayson as he reasoned, “G… come on now. She’s bae as fuck and you know it.”
“She’s aight,” I replied, just to get him off my neck about it.
Though that only seemed to move his focus elsewhere when he asked, “Why you trip on her like that anyway? I would’ve thought you’d be hyped to do some music with a real artist.”
I jabbed a finger his way as I told him, “You’re a real artist. Not her. She’s a fuckin’… fraud or somethin’. Hand-picked by the industry to blow up even though it’s chicks out here way more talented than her.”
While my mind instantly went to my ex-girlfriend Shy who had performed just before Grayson got on the stage, he only brushed me off with a wave of his hand. “Man, you on one. Zalayah’s vocals are crazy. And she can dance too. She’s the real deal.”
I shook my head, finding his claims just as ridiculous as he apparently found mine when I told him, “We must have different standards then cause shorty’s vocals are basic as hell.”
He looked at me like I had just insulted his mother – our mother -, his face tight as he continued to defend, “Bruh, your ears must be clogged or somethin’ cause ain’t no way we’ve listened to the same Zalayah.”
I shrugged, tapping my fingers against the keyboard Grayson had talked me into buying as I hummed a new melody. I could already hear the whole song clearly in my head, already knew what instruments to bring in, already knew what kind of voice I wanted to hear over it. And while I knew it was one that was more fitting for a singer like Zalayah than a rapper like Grayson, that didn’t stop me from telling him, “I’ve heard her songs more than I’ve ever cared to hear them. She’s basic.”
It was clear he still wasn’t as convinced as I was as he clicked around on his phone before suggesting, “Man, listen to this.”
Naturally, I rolled my eyes, shaking my head with annoyance as I tried to figure out why he was on her team so heavy. But it made sense once I heard a voice that sounded like an improved, more impressive version of the little pop princess’s. She was hitting notes that didn’t even compare to the ones on her mainstream songs while simultaneously playing a few simple chords on the guitar. Nothing too complicated, but still a tough feat considering how much heart she was singing with.
And I… I got chills.
“She doesn’t sound like that on the radio,” I told him as I took a closer look at his phone, immediately noticing that the video was uploaded to a YouTube page with a screenname that didn’t directly identify her. In fact, the whole page seemed to be a secret, each video with only a few thousand views compared to the millions of views on her artist page ran by the record label.
“That’s cause they probably play with her voice in production. Do too much mixing and mastering to try and fit that popstar trend, which is exactly why you need to take the offer. Showcase your talent, and shit on all them niggas making the big bucks.”
He made it sound simple, but I knew the task was a lot more complicated than that. So I had no problem turning him down the same way I had done her when I said, “Nah, I’m good on that. I already told you, I’ll do shit for you, do shit for a few of the homies. But that’s it. The industry ain’t for me.”
I expected a real response, something to try and convince me to change my mind. But instead, Grayson just clicked over to the next video, letting Zalayah’s voice fill in the silence between us as if that would prove his point better than any rebuttal he could come up with. She was singing a cover of Solange’s Cranes in the Sky as she played the drums section of the arrangement. And I would’ve been lying if I didn’t admit how impressive it was, that she was both able to sing a song with such a unique pitch and play yet another instrument.
Once the song ended, Grayson gave me a look as if to ask, “Now are you interested?” And while his presentation was a little persuading, I still managed to fight against the temptation. “So the girl can actually sing. That still doesn’t mean I wanna work with her, and it damn sure doesn’t mean I wanna be in the industry.”
He smacked his teeth, wearing a look of disbelief as he took a shot straight at my gut when he said, “Man, you gotta stop lettin’ mom’s experience with the industry reign over yours. Just because she got chewed up and spit out doesn’t mean the same thing will happen to you, G.”
I couldn’t even help the anger that immediately boiled over when I snapped, “Do you know who did it to her? My father. Not yours. Mine. Got a couple hit records out of her, got her high out of her mind, and got her pregnant with me just to leave her ass in the dirt with a few pennies to rub together while his ass is sittin’ in mansions still collecting checks that should have her name on them. So yeah, I’ll never be interested in that shit.”
It was a story Grayson knew well, a story I had shared the second he started showing interest in music, secretly hoping that would deter him. And I shouldn’t have been surprised when he decided to take up rapping since our mother had always kept us immersed in the classics in spite of how her career had turned out.
Still, regardless of how I felt about the industry, regardless of how I felt about doing music in general, that didn’t stop optimistic ass Grayson from continuing, “But you have the ear, bro. You got the skills, you got the ear, and she wants you. Zalayah got to me just to get to you.”
“Well she should’ve stayed at you cause coming to me was a waste of time,” I told him with another shrug.
A shrug that only encouraged him to tease, “Yeah, with your SoundCloud ass,” laughing as he headed towards the kitchen.
I shook my head as another one of Zalayah’s videos began to play, this one a cover of Location by Khalid, though she had changed the pitch to better fit her voice. And she sounded beautiful. Like an… angel, or some shit. But I was mostly blown away by how much her voice on these little recordings completely contradicted the voice I heard on the radio day after day. This one had range, and depth, and… soul. This one was powerful, something I could actually fuck with and probably make sound even better.
“Nah, fuck that…” I thought to myself as I picked up my own phone, looking her up on Instagram to see if any of these little clips had been shared there. But the only thing I found were pictures that easily backed up Grayson’s claims that Zalayah was bae as fuck. Some of the photos were obviously taken by professional photographers at whatever event she had attended where she was all glammed up, but others were just… her; raw, and real, and fuckin’ gorgeous.
It didn’t take long for me to decide I preferred her dressed down look, though it all looked high-fashion on her. But I tried to click out of her profile as fast as I could once I felt Grayson over my shoulder. “Wow. So the one who claims he wants nothing to do with the pop princess is also stalking her Instagram? How does that work?”
While I knew he was only teasing me, I still felt the need to explain, “I was just checking to see if any of those videos you showed me were on her page.”
He laughed, easily calling my bluff. “That picture of her half-naked on vacation in The Maldives has nothing to do with those damn videos. Just face it. She’s bad.”
I shrugged as I admitted, “So she’s bad. What’s your point?”
“And she can sing too, huh?”
“She’s better than I thought, yeah,” I answered with a nod.
Grayson dusted his hands off, his smirk arrogant when he said, “Welp. I rest my case. Now get off of my bed so I can go to sleep.”
I stood up from the pull-out couch, helping him take the cushions off as I asked, “When you gonna get your own spot, man? Can’t sleep on my couch forever.”
“I’ll sleep on your couch until you get off your ass about taking that offer. If not for you, at least for me.”
My face scrunched as I repeated, “At least for you? What does me taking her offer have to do with you?”
He smacked his teeth as if I had asked a stupid question before he listed, “A way in, a foot in the door, a “hey, I think my little brother would be a great feature for this song”.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“For real?” he asked, sounding surprised by what had honestly surprised me too.
I wasn’t sure how I had gone from totally against it to even halfway considering it so fast. But I chucked it up to it being more about Gray than myself when I told him, “Yeah, for real. Only for you though.”
“That’s all I can ask for, bruh,” he said, his tired look giving way to a giddy smile that meant he probably wouldn’t be going to sleep anytime soon; too excited about the possibility to go to sleep anytime soon. And I wasn’t sure if sleep would come easy for me either as I grabbed my headphones from the coffee table before heading towards the bedroom.
The second I closed the door behind me, I plugged the headphones into my phone, going straight for my YouTube app to look up Zalayah’s secret profile once again, hoping to find something to prove my original point of her being mediocre. But the only thing I found was a video of her doing choreography to Teyana Taylor’s Broken-Hearted Girl.
I could assume she wasn’t in the dance studio by herself since someone had to be recording, but that didn’t stop her from dancing like no one was watching. In fact, it seemed like she was dancing through something, as if she related to the words in a special way. I was immediately captivated by her every move, trying to make sense of how I had so easily talked down on her talent. Then again, it made sense once I remembered this video was uploaded to the YouTube that was a secret, completely different than the PG-13 moves she usually did in her videos. While those videos lent themselves to her teenage popstar image, these were all grown-up, all woman, all… sexy. Her voice, her moves, damn… no wonder Gray had spoken so highly of her.
My face was so deep in the phone that I didn’t even realize he had came in the room until he said, “Yeah, I had to watch that one a few times myself.”
I fumbled the phone, trying to pause it as I started, “I was just…”
But he had no problem cutting me off, holding up his hand to say, “You ain’t gotta explain what’s already understood. And trust me, I get it.”