At last year's Made in America festival, Philly rapper Bri Steves was a recent Temple grad trying to find her way backstage to network with other musicians. This year, Steves found herself on stage when Kendrick Lamar brought her out during his triumphant headlining set.
Steves performed her first single, "Jealousy," which debuted in the spring. Her latest single, "Ain't S-," dropped Friday on streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music.
Steves met Lamar two years ago during one of her first trips to Los Angeles, shortly after signing with production company Starr Island Group. She's had the Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper's support ever since.
We spoke with Steves about her Made in America performance, her first two singles, and her experiences as a woman breaking into the rap scene.
I'm still kind of in the clouds about it, that it actually happened. I actually didn't know until the day before that I was going to be coming out for Kendrick's set.
The funny thing about me is that I get really bad anxiety before shows. I get super-nervous. [But before the Made in America set] I was so calm. I was so unruffled. We were backstage, Kendrick was sitting there talking to me about, 'OK, I'm going to bring you out after 'm.A.A.d. city' ' … and I'm just as cool as a cucumber. As calm as can be. My team was like, 'What's going on with you? Why are you so calm? This is not who you are at all, you're always so frazzled.'
That was the first time at any show ever that, wow, I just feel like I belong here. I'm not nervous. I'm not unsettled. Man, I know I'm talking to my greatest inspiration ever, Kendrick Lamar. I used to watch his shows to figure out how to perform and I'm here talking to him? It just felt crazy to feel so serene. That moment, for me, was a milestone because that was the first time I was like, man, I'm meant to do this. I'm meant to be here. And I really believed it. So when I went out in front of thousands of people, a whole sea of people at Made in America, it just felt like the most natural thing in the world.
That was super-big for me. I know other people would have peed their pants standing next to Kendrick. I held it together. The crazy part is, nobody even knows that I was totally sick. I had strep throat. My throat was on fire.
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Nope! The sickness can't stop me.
It was really dope, getting to perform at Made in America. This is my home city. Getting to represent Temple University, just being a graduate. I'm representing for Philly, for women. It's dope to have my shot.
The producers on the track are T-Minus and Hitmaka. That track came about when I was out recording in L.A. and I was going through a tough time with my ex. He was a little concerned about people watching my social media. … I just had to tell him, 'You know, don't worry about what other people have to say.'
I just heard the track and I loved it and I just started freestyling over it. It's more of a testament to, a lot of people don't know about the hard work I put in behind the scenes. I'm not really super-showy on social media. I guess the song came out of my aggressive side in terms of, 'Hey, I'm really about my craft. I'm meant to be here and whether you like it or not, I'm here to stay.'
My music style is aggression and vulnerability. I would say it goes between both. You're going to see super-vulnerable records where I get to talk about me being a girl and the personal issues that I go through, and then you're also going to get the Bri that likes to talk super-heavy and is very in your face. I have two sides.
It's super-difficult, but at the same time, it's the right time to be a woman in the game. I feel like right now, especially the way that the climate is, it's a great time to shine as a woman. It's definitely a little bit of an uphill battle because I have to really showcase that I have the talent, I have the skill and the grit to be able to do it. It's a very competitive industry. But at the same time, I'm just figuring it out like everybody else.