Carlitta Durand: On a mission to inspire, relate & encourage

If you’ve been a fan of 9th Wonder, Phonte, Little Brother and/or Foreign Exchange or even a follower of the burgeoning music scene in North Carolina for the past three or four years, then you will not be a stranger to the unique, soulful and powerful vocals of one Carlitta Durand but just in case you are [a stranger that is] to this 25-year old singer and songwriter born in Minneapolis, Minnesota and bred in North Carolina (US), then by God, an introduction is well and truly long overdue.

Categorizing Carlitta Durand‘s music into a specific genre is something we struggle to do, with the singer also attesting to this conundrum. She boils it down to being influenced by ‘all types of genres’ and loves to try new things, working with new and different sounds and producers, and whilst her music is like a melting pot fusing Jazz, Hip Hop, R&B, Electronica and Funk, she mostly identifies with R&B because, according to her, R&B is on such a wide scale. Durand has been blessed with a powerful and captivating vocal dexterity that is very distinct and uniquely Carlitta Durand – something she describes as a classic and pretty voice, sometimes airy but yet soulful and strong.

We first heard Ms. Durand in 2007 on two records from US Hip Hop group Little Brother‘s third album, Get Back – ‘Siren’ and ‘After Party – and while these songs may have served as our introduction into the world of Carlitta Durand, the singer/songwriter is quick to point out that her introduction into the world came a year before that on the 2006 Soldier of Fortune compilation album from North Carolina Hip Hop collective Hall of Justus (Justus League) via the Nottz-produced ‘Life of the Party’ by Little Brother which she featured on.

She’s also gone on to feature on several Foreign Exchange records and heavily on Nicolay‘s 2009 album Shibuya City Lights Vol. 2 as well as co-wrote with Phonte and James Poyser on a soundtrack record (‘Get on the Floor’) for the 2009 movie FAME.

However, Durand remembers vividly how that particular first song she was ever featured on (‘Life of the Party’) came about as she describes it as the first time she met Phonte and Big Pooh of Little Brother and according to the singer/songwriter, would be her first real break as an artist; “I met Phonte and Pooh one evening at the Chopp Shop. They were recording ‘Life of the Party’ and they needed a singer for the hook. My friend who was friends with them knew I could sing and gave me a call. I was at work, rushed over soon as I got off and the rest is history.”

Little Brother ft. Carlitta Durand – “Life Of The Party”:

An equally significant (or even more so) moment in the young singer’s career is meeting and working with veteran North Carolina producer 9th Wonder, the latter of which she often says has had a huge impact on her life.

“While attending North Carolina Central University I met him. He was teaching the Hip Hop class there, I was in the very first class. It was an awesome experience and opportunity. The studio was being built on campus and we would walk over to see if it was finished every day! We, myself, other students and 9th were ready to record. It eventually was finished. Myself and and Lords of the Underground were the first to record in it. 9th gave me the opportunity to work with and meet a lot of artists, Buckshot shorty, Skyzoo, Kurtis Blow, Jean Grae, Mr. Cheeks. I learned a lot from him about the music industry and recording. I am grateful for meeting with 9th.”

Speaking about musical influences, the North Carolina Central University alumni with a bachelor’s degree in Theatre Performance remembers listening to a lot of girl groups between the ages of eight and twelve years old and mentions the likes of SWV, En Vogue, TLC and Aaliyah as definitely being big influences on her while now in her mid-twenties and showing the sharp contrast, she attests to listening to a lot of Techno, Electronic and Experimental music as well as a lot of Hip Hop music with the likes of Zero7, Little Dragon and J*Davey all serving as her inspiration to work harder and create amazing music.

You could say that it was written in the stars for Carlitta Durand to be a singer/songwriter today because while a lot of her peers boast of a certain epiphany moment where they came into the realisation that it was only going to be music for them, Durand on the other hand has always thought she’d be making music even though a degree in Massage Therapy once crossed her mind and teaching, mentoring and working with children and young adults is something she’d love to do. From a young age, she was involved in music in some way or the other – from being on stage in theatre or in the choir stand at church or in school, the singer/songwriter, who even while at university didn’t really think about doing anything else, says that she can’t see it any other way.

I suppose that when you can distinctly point to your first ever memory of music as ‘Purple Rain’ by Prince as Carlitta Durand often can, it might be just that bit harder to ignore the stars aligning. The Minneapolis native attests to having a weird connection with the R&B/Pop legend (also from Minneapolis) which only she knows about that stems from her mother being pregnant with Durand while at a Prince concert and subsequently listening to Prince records while Durand in her stomach as well as being born in the same year that ‘Purple Rain’ was released.

Her debut mixtape, The Carlitta’s Way (The Prelude) – with such amazing songs as the Magnedo-produced ‘Galaxy 19’ and ‘Decisions’ (Magnedo produces the bulk of the mixtape) as well as the beautifully written and well thought out ‘Her’ produced by Arafat Yates – was released early in 2009 and is to this day heavily criminally slept on in favour of her follow-up project, the Doug & Pattie EP which was released later that same year. Speaking about the record, Durand confirms that a lot of people still do not know that she has it out and attests this to poor PR work when it was first released and describes the 11-track project as, “basically a compilation of songs I was recording at the time, mostly recorded in Winston-Salem, NC with one of my favourite producers, Magnedo7.”

Her second project _ the critically acclaimed collaborative EP with producer Vaugh Garcia (M1 Platoon) titled The Doug & Patty EP was released soon after The Carlitta’s Way (as previously mentioned) to relative internet success and was lauded by numerous online taste maker blogs.

Durand describes the creative process and reasoning for the EP: “I had worked with Vaughn and M1 Platoon before. I met him in 2007 at NCCU. We always said we were gonna make a project together. We finally just came together one afternoon and said its time. The title really didn’t have a lot of thought. We were just brainstorming throwing out funny titles and I said Doug and Patty and he said, “Yes, that’s it!” I recorded one song in NC, ‘Supernova.’ He moved back to DC, so I went up there one weekend and finished the rest of the EP.”

Along with the release of a debut mixtape and a hugely successful EP, 2009 also saw Durand become the newest signee to Foreign Exchange Music _ Nicolay and Phonte’s joint independent label imprint _ along with DC-based musician/producer Z0, with announcements of a debut album from Durand to be released via the label making news and headway.

Neither of these (the label signing nor the announcement of a debut album release) materialised as Carlitta was subsequently dropped from the label and a debut album from the singer/songwriter yet to be seen. Durand however remains gracious and magnanimous about the entire situation as she explains that there were some things that they as a label expected from her which she did not live up to while making it perfectly clear that she remains ‘family’ with the Foreign Exchange camp.

Fast forward to a whole year after the release of her critically acclaimed EP and Carlitta Durand blessed us with yet another glorious offering _ the eight-track FreEP titled Nostalgic Nights – featuring production from longtime collaborators Magnedo and Vaughan Garcia as well Abjo from San Diego and New York-based producer Jay Sentine (whom she met through Diane ‘Shabazz’ Vernie). This was a totally different sound and vibe to what we had been used to from Carlitta Durand and threw quite a few listeners off.

Asked if she intended for the shift in sound Durand says, “Eh, not really. I was just writing and recording what was in my heart. I guess in the way that it was less “Hip Hop” sounding? That’s why I hate to categorize my music. If I’m in a certain mood to make a certain type of sound, I’ll do it. I hate boxes and I hate when people say, ‘That’s not your sound’ My sound is whatever sound I make (laughs).”

Four months after the release of her latest project (Nostalgic Nights) and five years (or four, depending on who you meet) after we first had the pleasure of witnessing Carlitta Durand on a record, the anticipation and clamour for a full-length album from the North Carolina songstress must be at fever pitch.

Our wait for an album release from Durand was in no small way elongated – I’m sure – by the unfortunate incident around which the singer/songwriter lost all the music for the album which was called Galaxy 19 at the time. She puts it down to ‘technical difficulties.’ “I was recording with a producer and his computer died. All of the original master files were lost. It sucks, but it okay. I just have to start over,” she explains.

Start over is exactly what Durand has done and she is working on getting out a debut album to her fans and listeners in the fourth quarter of 2011 although she remains cagey on what the new title of the album will be while adding that she’s almost 95% sure that it will not be called Galaxy 19 (a title she came up with five years ago) as she is now at a different point in her life. Whatever the case may be with her debut album, we can always bank on the quality of music that we can expect from Carlitta Durand as her previous three releases are a constant reminder of this.

Another thing that we can certainly bank on from Durand is the honesty, realness and relateability that always shine through in her music, when asked about how she achieves this time and time again, she says:

“I write about what I go through and what I know. I think being an emotional woman helps with that (laughs). I get emo sometimes and it helps for good song writing. I’m also inspired by movies and reality TV (laughs). Or, even single words can spark an idea. I try to be true to my music and self, honesty is important in music. People can relate better that way.

“I’ve had so many people say, ‘This song spoke to me,’ or, ‘You wrote this song just for me’ and I love that, that’s what make me the most happy. I feel like I’ve accomplished what I’ve set out to do and that is to inspire, relate, and encourage, and make people believe again. Music is the most powerful drug. It can change people moods and lives! I’m excited to be a part of that!”

Follow @CarlittaDurand on twitter and look out for that debut album scheduled for a fourth quarter release.

DOWNLOAD: Nostalgic Nights x The Dough & Patty EP x The Carlitta’s Way (The Prelude)

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