The transition from any niche genre into the mainstream isn’t always a smooth one. Artists can find themselves battling against a broader audience of listeners who struggle to relate or dedicated fanbases who feel as if they’re neglected. It takes a certain type of talent, along with an unrelenting team, to make such a significant change in one's career, but Shenseea is making it look like a walk in the park.

The Dancehall Queen has been stealing spotlights since she first began peeking into the music industry in 2015. It was at this time that Shenseea welcomed a son, and for the last seven years, the singer has carefully balanced motherhood with a flourishing career that has broken through one ceiling after the next.

Image via HNHH

From remixing Vybz Kartel’s track to nabbing a feature on Kanye West’s Donda to being crowned MTV’s Global Push Artist for the month of March, Shenseea is an international star looking for the next opportunity to level up. She made waves with her explicit single "Lick" which hosted an appearance by Megan Thee Stallion, and while it left some listeners clutching their pearls, the Jamaican singer told us during our interview with her for our Ladies First series that she embraces the criticism, whole-heartedly.

"I like the negative comments, only because you know negativity reaches farther," Shenseea admitted. "So, the more bad [reactions] I get on my song, the further people get to see it, the longer it's in people's eyes because they just won't forget it. But, at the end of the day, who's name is being commented on? Shenseea. You feel me? I feel like that's what I will always want. And also, the bad comments make me know what’s up and what I should do next in the future. So, certain things in my music video, and the whole song, actually were a bit risky."

Shenseea has gone on record saying that she is her greatest critic, so executing a career of excellence, regardless of the prying eyes looking for a misstep, is of the utmost importance. She's received co-signs from collaborators including Young Thug, Swae Lee, Masego, Sean Paul, Tyga, and more recently, 21 Savage who appeared on "R U That." Tomorrow (March 11), Shenseea will release her highly-anticipated debut studio album Alpha, and ahead of its reveal, she sat down to speak with us about her about stepping outside of her comfort zone to create a well-rounded project, as well as discussing her experiences in the industry as she makes the leap into the mainstream.

To rack up a level of global popularity—including an Instagram reach of over 5 million followers—prior to officially introducing yourself sonically is a near-impossible feat. Shenseea has been hard at work mapping her placement in the burgeoning industry where women are leading the pack, and her new single "Deserve It" proves she's well-poised for a Pop-R&B takeover.

Read our interview with Shenseea where she talks with us about feeling a camaraderie with women in the industry, the vision she has for her legacy, the obstacles she's faced as a woman in music, Megan Thee Stallion showing her the most love, and why she won't quit until all eyes are on her.

This interview has been slightly edited for clarity.


HNHH: Thank you so much for speaking with us for Ladies First! To begin, tell us all about what you have going on and your new album.

Shenseea: Yeah, I mean my album as you know is coming on March 11. I'm releasing two singles, they are coming soon, as well one with Megan the Stallion. I wanted that one to go out first because I wanted to grab the attention first, you know, because nowadays, the music is like...when you make good music, it's all cool, but it's like, you got so many talented people in the world but nobody is tuned into it just because they don't have a certain hype that’s surrounded by them. I feel like the music world right now is a bit backwards. Music changes and society changes so sometimes as artists you do have to conform. That's what I felt like I did with Megan and my collab. I wanted it to draw eyes first, and then put them on and keep them interested for other great things to come.

Speaking of the racy Megan track "Lick" that was pearl-clutching, how did you deal with that balance of some people absolutely loving it and others that had to speak negatively about it? How did you navigate that as an artist?

I like the negative comments, only because you know negativity reaches farther. So, the more bad I get on my song, the further people get to see it, the longer it's in people's eyes because they just won't forget it. But, at the end of the day, who's name is being commented on? Shenseea. You feel me? I feel like that's what I will always want. And also, the bad comments make me know what’s up and what next to do in the future. So, certain things in my music video, and the whole song actually, was a bit risky.

"I like the negative comments, only because you know negativity reaches farther. So, the more bad I get on my song, the further people get to see it, the longer it's in people's eyes because they just won't forget it. But, at the end of the day, who's name is being commented on? Shenseea."

If there's way more bad than good, then you know, “Okay, we need to go back to the drawing board, it was a little bit overdone.” Because you do want good and bad. Always. The bad is going to let you know how to do better, and the good is just always going to cheer you on to motivate you to do better. I didn't really mind it, really, at the end of the day—they still tuned in, and people are still looking forward to my album, so I felt like I hit the nail right on the head.

Audiences can be divisive when it comes to women in Hip Hop. What artists, what women in the industry have shown you the most love or ones that you really admire in this generation of Hip Hop, R&B, and Dancehall?

I've met a lot of female artists, but I feel like Megan is the one that really showed me genuine love, just wanting to work with me on a professional level. She's really showed me that friendship-type love. When I was sick, she was always checking up on me, almost every day, trying to keep an update on me. So yeah, it's way past the music when I met Megan and she has been consistent with that love since.

What I do admire about the industry now is I feel like women are winning and they are supporting each other. Women are not there to show face, it’s a good thing to see and feel not just like, “Oh, I’m new on the scene, let me not talk to this girl.” No. It’s still showing love, regardless, if you do feel threatened, or even if you’re a competitor and be like, “Yo, I gotta go up against this person"...it's in a good way. I feel like women nowadays, they notice that. Even if you’re competitive because you want to be one of the best, you don’t have to make it look modest. You feel me? You can still boost each other up, because we do need more women in the industry.

SHENSEEA new interview

Image provided by the artist. Photo credit: Brandon Almengo

Of that encouragement that women are giving each other, what piece of advice have you received from a woman in the industry or just from a woman that’s in your personal life, that you’ve held onto that’s helped motivate you and keep you going throughout your career?

I would say Megan, you know, she’s the one that pulled me aside and was like “Yo, you gotta know how you’re moving in this industry. Yeah, you can be friends with a couple people and so forth but not everybody has good intentions and you have to be mindful of that.” Now given the fact, she’s already stamped in the industry, I’m coming from the Caribbean so with me, what’s good vibes is just good vibes, but she would let me know that yo, keep the good vibes, but always never forget that your people do have different intentions.

As far as motivation, I motivate myself because I feel like nobody knows what I have to face and what I have to go through. I know that. So for me, to get up every day, and still do what I do, I motivate myself. And God motivates me because I stay praying. I don’t think anybody can ever look up and just be like, "Yo, just keep going, keep going," because it’s easier said than done. So, once I know what I’m going through and what I’m facing, I feel like I motivate myself completely.

With that self-motivation, I know that a lot of the younger artists in the industry, the women that are just starting out, they’re trying to develop themselves on social media. Sometimes they don’t have that experience that you have or that confidence that you have. What's some advice that you would give to them as they’re starting to shape their careers and face certain struggles without a team in their corner?

First thing, I would tell them that they should breathe. Because you gotta know that first, you are not in control of your life. God is. So once you pray and you try to move in a positive vibe, it doesn’t matter what happens because even me, up until now I’m still nervous. I’m still shy with certain things, but guess what? I always pray and move in faith. And also even when I feel the worst or not the best, I still motivate myself to just keep moving because we can’t stop at every dumb feeling that we’ve got, we’ve just got to keep it moving. And once you keep it moving, you see how far you reach. Looking back, you’re going to see how far you’ve reached. Just continue moving. I can just say that because that’s what I’m doing. Honestly, I can’t give you no better advice than that, you just gotta keep going, man. Feel it in yourself, and if you really want it, then you’re gonna want to move because you’re passionate. Music is not an easy road. I feel like, even with myself, I thought it would be easier to achieve what I’ve always wanted, but here I am, still working towards it because I have the passion.

As someone on the outside, this shift in transition for you is a really huge moment. And going into mainstream from Dancehall culture, how has that been? There’s a new audience that is really focusing their attention on you. What has that been like?

Yes, I definitely feel a transition. I mean, I feel like, because as I said before, that now it’s like waiting to see what happens next, as opposed to what’s happening with my core fan base. It’s kind of a bit harder for them to accept that I’m trying to make this transition because they’ve been used to me doing one genre for so long, it’s like, "Okay, what’s happening with Shenseea?" I feel like they’re going to see the bigger picture when I get what I need to get done. So, it’s honestly risky, because I’m practically starting from zero, but I feel like this success will be sweeter because of that. I want to start from the ground coming way up.

"It’s honestly risky, because I’m practically starting from zero, but I feel like this success will be sweeter because of that. I want to start from the ground coming way up."

In R&B and in Hip Hop, there are a lot of collaborations, of course, you just had a huge one with Megan thee Stallion. Are there other women in the industry that you would like to connect with, and who are they?

Yes, my number one dream collab is Rihanna. I’m open to working with any other talented hard-working female artist who got good energy, but my dream collab is definitely Rihanna. Once I get her...[laughs] Yeah.

Let's say you had the opportunity to sit down with a woman in the industry, another artist, for an interview, and you could ask them absolutely anything—who would it be and what would you ask?

I want to sit down with Beyoncé and ask her how she do everything that she do, to be honest, I need the blueprint because [laughs] she is a whole different beast. I want to know how she does what she do. I’m talking about performing, how does she keep herself motivated while doing this for so long. I think Beyoncé would definitely have to be that person. When you see her, it’s like you see this greatness but you don’t know how it was her. Of course, she's talented and whatever, but I'd get real deep and personal like, "How? What’s been going through your head all these years?"

Speaking of Beyoncé, we’ve seen how Beyoncé keeps like all-female bands or she makes sure that women are highlighted in her team. Do you think that in the industry it’s important to keep women by your side as you navigate? Whether it’s your lawyers, your management, or your publicists...having that female circle, is that really necessary and important for women that are artists?

Well, for me, personally, I have bad experiences with females on a friendship level, but when it comes to showcasing women and showing them love, yes, I feel like it’s necessary and that’s why I make music for women. My whole career is built on me cheering on women and teaching women. You feel me? Friendship level, it’s a bit harder because when feelings are involved you don’t know what to expect. So, I honestly do have a lot of males on my team. Of course, I have one or two females that help me to move on a day-to-day as well, but when it comes to performing and doing songs for women, that’s me. It’s me. I want to instill that strength that I have, put it on certain people that don’t feel like they got it, or they don’t feel motivated enough. I want to be one of those artists that they can look up to.

SHENSEEA

Image provided by the artist. Photo credit: Brandon Almengo

"I have bad experiences with females on a friendship level, but when it comes to showcasing women and showing them love, yes, I feel like it’s necessary and that’s why I make music for women."

As they look up to you, and they look at how you manage and navigate your career, what obstacles have you run into? I think a lot of people go into the industry with these bright eyes and star dreams, but as women, we run into different obstacles than men do. What have you experienced and overcome in your journey?

I feel like one obstacle I am fighting even up until now is time. I feel like there’s so much to do and so little time. I’ve been fighting that ever since I stepped onto the scene because my career has been moving so fast, ever since I came out. So it’s like, time is my only issue to be honest. Because I can’t say I’ve been disrespected by people in the industry because I do not put myself up for that. When you see me, you see work. I don’t even give off energy like I’m trying to do something else. We have a lot of males in this industry, and I guarantee you, not one has [stepped over] their place with me, because I don’t even give you that energy to feel like you can.

There are a lot of males that, of course, they’re going to be interested. You can be interested, but it’s how you go about it. There’s no way that you can just come up to me and be like whatever, whatever. Nah. Respect is always due for me. So, it’s just really time has been my biggest issue right now. I have so much to do.

What kind of impact are you hoping to imprint on the industry when people think of Shenseea? What do you want them to have in their mind? What’s that vibe? What’s that vision?

I want them to know that they should always follow their dreams. When it comes down to making decisions, it’s all up to you. Be that level-headed person to chase what you want because, at the end of the day, I need people to realize that it’s their life. It’s their life. You gotta live it for yourself, you don’t have to be ignorant. You should always be open to other people’s opinions but you should always know who you are. I want people to move like that in this new age, I want them to take that from me because that’s exactly how I am, and I want them to know that whatever it is, maximize your full potential, don’t put yourself in a box. If you feel like you want to branch off in something else, go do it. I feel like women, not even just me but you have like other people like Rihanna, Beyoncé...they’re showing you that they don’t only have to do music, as talented as they are. You got one life to live, make the best of it.

This is my last question, I ask it to everyone I interview. The veil of celebrity often makes the world look at artists in one specific way. We can only see as much of Shenseea as you’re going to show us. If that veil of celebrity is removed, what’s something about the heart of who you are as a person that people don’t get to see because of fame? What’s something about Shenseea the world should know?

[Laughs] I love to play games. Like any form of games. Apart from work, I’m really a kid. I love to play. Like everybody on my team, they know they gotta come and sit and play some games. I know it’s crazy. When I get home from work, I gotta be playing something, playing pool with my producers, something.

That’s a first! I’ve never heard anybody say that one. Thank you so much for giving us your time. I know that everything’s really busy for you right now, so we appreciate you speaking with us about your career and giving advice to other women in the industry.

Yes, thank you.

Make sure to stream Shenseea's debut studio album Alpha when it arrives on March 11 and check out her stunning live performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! below.