Growing up in Berkeley, California is no small feat, which of all people, artist Netta Brielle can relate to. Dreaming of being a musician since she can remember, Netta B is ready for the demands a career, in today’s industry, requires, while rebelliously sticking to her own path.
Her dedication has paid off through her three music releases with 2007′s self-produced Meet Me On the Stage mix-tape, 2009′s Elektrik Rebel Sounds EP and 2010′s Love, Pain and Music mix-tape, among which several songs have also received airplay, including her new track, Insane.
From just a half hour conversation, Netta B’s devotion to her community, and helping those within it, is apparent. Striving to be a positive influence for Berkeley’s youth, she’s driven by the desire to defy expectations and achieve her lifelong dream.
Self-identified as rebel, singer, songwriter, dancer and actress, Netta B is also a business woman daring to take what she wants backed by the right reasons and the work ethic to see to it that she succeeds.
So just who is Netta Brielle and where exactly is her artistic passion carrying her? Musefy’s Musebox set out to answer this question in its latest interview, covering Netta’s origins, the importance of community and what her future holds, all the while painting a portrait of an empowered woman young girls will one day hope to emulate.
Musebox: Who is Netta B, and how was she invented?
Netta Brielle: A lot of people don’t know this, but I started off rapping and writing poetry. Netta B was a name I gave to myself when I was five or six. I wrote it on my bedroom wall and got in trouble with my parents for it. It’s a name that I’ve always played around with, and it just stuck. I added the Brielle at the end to give it a more girly feel since when I came up with the name at the time, it was more a hip hop-poetry type deal.
MB: What initially prompted your interest in music?
Netta Brielle: I’ve been interested in arts since the day I can remember. My grandmother was a classical pianist and my father was into jazz so music was always an outlet. We had no money growing up and lived in a very urban area. Music was what I had to make me feel happy about myself, about my life. Music always stuck to me and turned into this career like a dream. I feel like I was born a musician, as cliché as it sounds. Music has always been who I am.
MB: How would you describe your sound?
Netta Brielle: I would call it urban pop. My sister is 13-years older than me so she was inspired by a lot of eighties music, and I would always watch her dancing. If you listen to a lot of my music, you will definitely hear that eighties inspiration: Prince, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson. I like to give off that pop feel but without losing sight of hip hop.
MB: Any opinions on today’s mainstream music industry?
Netta Brielle: Oh man. I feel like mainstream music has been oversaturated with this big pop sound, and we’re losing sight of real R&B, from the lyrical content to the melodies. Don’t get me wrong; I love pop music and listen to it on the regular, but it’s getting to the point where we’ve lost what R&B used to be.
That’s something I’ve been working toward lately, bringing back that R&B feel, that nineties R&B. Think R. Kelly and Aaliyah.
MB: How important is it for artists to be positive role models in the community?
Netta Brielle: That to me, is one of the most important things.
I grew up in a single parent home. My mom didn’t have any money, yet she knew that music was something I wanted to do and did everything in her power to help me get to that next step. In my neighborhood, kids are getting killed, there’s lots of teen mothers, my sister was murdered before she reached 21 – that’s where I come from. We don’t have a lot of positive role models, especially female ones.
I put myself through college and after that, I put myself 100 percent into music – these are things I want my neighborhood to know. Yeah, I always wanted to be a singer and to be famous, but I always kept education first. I never really let the negative influences in my community affect my life, which I could have done easily.
Now I do a lot of gigs throughout the community. I do a lot of Stop the Violence events, and I perform at high schools throughout the area, no pay. All of this is important to me. I want young kids to know my voice, to know my struggle, to know that I grew up with nothing and ended up with something. That, to me, is just as important as making good music.
I’m really for the community, especially the girls in my community. I would have to say it’s one of the most important things pushing my career, proving that you can come out of obstacles and bad environments to make something positive of yourself.
MB: Does that tie into your music video “Screaming” at all?
Netta Brielle: It is 100 percent tied to that video. Today is actually the fourth anniversary of my sister’s death. She was murdered in North Oakland, Calif Jul 21, 2007. It was a tough time in my life and for the people in my neighborhood. I wanted to dedicate that video to her and the people of my community because of how tough it is out there. When I shot that video, I felt it was important to shoot it in my neighborhood, to get a shot of the place where my sister was murdered and to have young kids in the video.
One of the things coming out of Oakland as a musician is that nobody of late has come out of the Bay Area and done something positive on a mainstream level. Keyshia Cole was maybe the last. I feel like I’m ready to step up to be that next person. I started my career here, lived here my entire life, been through devastating things and was able to pull through. That video really symbolizes that.
MB: What has been your toughest challenge as an artist?
Netta Brielle: There’s actually a few – let me see: being taken seriously as a woman in the industry.
Everybody has to prove themselves one way or another, but being a woman and going through certain experiences makes me feel like I’ve had to prove myself over and over. I’ve had to show people that this is what really what I want to do. I’m really a writer. I’m really a performer. I’m really a vocalist. I’m not just some scene girl who thinks she’s cute so she can get up there and sing songs based off her looks.
It’s really not like that for me, but I like the challenge. I like proving myself. I like showing people like, ‘wow, I didn’t know you performed like that’ or ‘wow, I didn’t know you sang like that’ – so it’s a reward for me. I just feel I always have to show how serious I am as a woman and that I’m not just here to be here, that all of this means something to me.
MB: I’ve heard really great things about your live performances. How do you go about performing and what is your mindset?
Netta Brielle: Thank you. I love to perform. The adrenaline, everything about it – it’s amazing. I’m much more comfortable onstage performing than having a conversation with somebody. It’s so second nature to me that I feel like I turn into another person.
It’s a way to release emotions since I’m not such a conversational person. Performing becomes a way to unleash issues I may have with people onstage. When I was a younger girl, I started off doing jerking and dance groups – so it’s always been my release.
MB: I also heard that you funded and put together your first mix-tape on your own. How did you go about doing so?
Netta Brielle: This is why my student loans are crazy right now. I don’t recommend this for anybody but I actually used my school money (my book and financial aid money) and spent it all on stuff for my music. I would then go to the library and make copies of all the pages of books I needed.
That first project I funded on my own, I did the photos on my own, I mixed and mastered on my own, along with two of my friends. It was tough. I was both performing and going to school full-time, my sister was murdered and I still put my project out a couple of weeks after. Looking back and listening to the music, it was really an amazing time in my life as I was able to prove to myself that I can do this.
That’s what got me the attention of the managers I’m working with now: putting my project together, being driven on my own, avoiding funny business and being a straight up business woman. That gave me a lot of respect throughout the Bay Area.
I’m paying for it now with my student loans, but I wouldn’t change what I did.
MB: You’ve been described as a business woman before, especially on the marketing side of things. How useful do you find social media within that?
Netta Brielle: When I first started out, Myspace was really being used. I posted on bulletins every day in addition to passing out fliers throughout my community. I really started there, at home, passing out CDs, building everything in my neighborhood. I was just walking around, putting fliers on cars, asking if I could perform without pay and really trying to get myself out there. In that time, I was able to meet a lot of great producers, such as Erk Tha Jerk and Traxamillion. Back in that time, Erk wasn’t really a rapper, but a producer and through promoting myself I was able to get free music from him and Traxamillion. This allowed me to do a lot of networking and get a lot of music done – just by promoting myself, being a cool person, approaching people the right way and being serious about it.
Then I went off to college, which is a great place to market and put yourself out there. That’s when the Internet exploded. I started leaking music and using it as a strong tool for myself.
My team and I have done such a great job building a foundation here in the Bay Area, that it’s time for me to branch out and travel to different places like Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York to do the same thing but in another environment. It’s another place to get to that next step so that’s where my current mindset is.
MB: What else do you see in your future?
Netta Brielle: I definitely want to get more involved in the arts, not just music. I went to college at San Jose State for theatre so I love acting. I want to do movies, write some screenplays and put my degree to work. I want to then come back to my community and start a theatre program as an outlet for youth. I also see family in my future.
MB: Lastly, do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
Netta Brielle: First of all, the obvious is to stick with it, stay driven, have faith, keep networking and have a positive attitude.
But I think for me…I have a lot of wonderful friends I work with. One of my best friend styles me and does my hair while the other is my choreographer. This is my team, and they uplift me, keeping my attitude positive. It is so important to be around people who are positive. They may not share the same dream you do but are driven individuals. So be around people that have your best interest and who uplift you. Chasing your dream is going to be hard, especially if you’re around people who are not motivated.
Trust your instincts. If this is something you want to do, go for it, take chances and be ready to work for it. Be ready to take risks.
The company I have, we like to call ourselves rebels. I came up with that because when I was younger and in the studio, I had a lot of producers tellng me, ‘oh you need to do this kind of music,’ or ‘you need to do that kind of music,’ or ‘you need to wear this and to do that.’
I grew up in Berkeley, California, and I wear Converse. I wear dirty Converse. I wear saggy jeans and hoodies. I can also dress it up and be a lady too. I wear what I want to wear, I do what I want to do and I make the music I want to make. I’m a rebel and nobody’s going to change that. If my heart says to do it, I am going to do it.
So my advice is to follow your heart, your instincts and try your best to stay positive. If you have those moments where you feel like you’re slipping (which I have a lot of those too), just make sure you’re around people who will help you stay on track. Stay motivated.
You have to stay motivated.