Rising pop singer YONEE dominated the UK’s underground club scene since the start of his career. Now, the Orlando-born artist is aiming to make his return to the States with an R&B-tinged studio LP this year.

The songster’s recent EP For Play earned glowing praises across viral platforms. Notwithstanding, the new millennial-inspired video for his song “Make It Happen” came fully-equipped with throwback jerseys, golden Cuban links, VHS angles, and paraphernalia of the early 2000’s. With his rugged beard and honeyed vocals, YONEE’s bass-rattling melodies power up some seductive poetics.

Billboard connected with YONEE to discuss his intercontinental aesthetics, a once-in-a-lifetime vacation with fans, musical comradery among millennial artists, and how he’s evolved sonically from navigating the UK’s independent circuit. Get familiar with just why YONEE has the nuts and bolts of soon-to-be-stardom.

The “Heart is Patient” video is set in the hospital and walks you through a woman’s health complications. Who conceptualized this theme alongside the music?

I came up with the idea. The premise of the video was a tribute to my mother, a Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor. She had cancer when I was younger and, so, I wanted to dedicate this video to my mom. And, I [documented] my experience witnessing how she overcame cancer. That was what was showcased throughout the music video.

Your EP For Play achieved success in the UK, but you’re an American-born artist, can you explain the difference in the music scene across the pond?

Over there, the [indie] music I released was kind of club geared. My team did dance and EDM, so that sold really well. And, we went No. 3 on one of the UK club charts. We also did a radio tour over there in a bunch of different cities. But, yes, we’ve shifted the sound of what we were doing. The For Play EP came out last November and did well online, considerably on Facebook — we have over 3 million views on the platform combined. But the first two singles released were “Bombs of My Love” and “Paradise.” Still, those two songs, in particular, resonated well throughout the UK.

For Play features the single “Getaway.” You held the “Getaway Contest” for fans through your website. What was that like?

So, it is actually an interesting story. We did a contest where we flew out two winners. They entered to win an all-expenses-paid trip to Bali. We had everything set up, down to this amazing hotel. However, there was a volcano explosion towards the beginning of January. So, I flew out two winners, and I went with my videographer, too. We were on our Shanghai connection, and we heard about the explosion in Bali.

Meanwhile, I had these winners with me. They asked, “What the heck is going on?” My manager had already landed in Bali — he took a flight ahead of us. So, this [winner] was going to propose to his girlfriend on the trip, and the music video was going to be about that experience. Being able to provide that [moment] or the dream getaway for a couple who really could not afford it [was the goal]. Still, all these unforeseen things started happening. So, eventually, we did not make it.

Instead, we ended up spending days in Singapore and Shanghai. We had a blast, anyway. The moral of the whole trip was you have to roll with the punches. We created a song that was amazing. To, say the least… it was an experience. We are going to probably release the video in mid-June.

The last pop project fused vintage rock on the racy track “Bad” and some country-like storytelling on “Overdose.” Which genre is your preference?

I’ve been influenced by a strong mother, many different music genres, and global areas. I work with a guitarist who was based in Nashville. That song was hugely influenced by Michael Jackson in terms of the content, so I wanted this super sexy and dark feel to that. I mean both tracks are essentially metaphoric for my past sexual experiences. They are merely conveyed in different ways. The song “Bad” is more straightforward and “Overdose” is more a metaphor of me in the doctor’s office and a relationship that I had with this nurse. So, that is the background to both and how they intertwined.

You claim to bring back the early 2000s with “Make It Happen.” Why was this era, in particular, inspiring for you musically?

Musically, the early 2000s had the most significant influence on me as an artist. For example, on the song make it happen, I broke it down concerning instrumentation and songwriting. On this song instrumentation, you will hear those Carlos Santana-like electric guitars. While I was creating it, I was like, “God damn that would be dope to have this solo section, and ripping electric guitars.” But, it also needed more texture. So I referenced the old Busta Rhymes, “I Know What You Want” song. Those are the other guitars that you hear throughout the song, which are not the electric guitar solo.

On the songwriting side, I am a boyfriend — and artist — that enjoys championing the girl and taking care of her. I feel like that was a big concept in the 2000’s. It was important to show women, “Baby, you can have all this. You can have whatever you want. I am going to spoil you. I am going to take you out. I am going to show you the best. Let’s just have a good time.” So, as a songwriter that was the vibe, we were going for, and we did a good job capturing that.

It looks like you had fun shooting the video. It had a VHS feel to it.

I went home. My parents live in Orlando. I told my mother, “Mom, I need all your old gear from the early 2000’s.” She happened to have this Handycam. It was a Sony Handycam from 2004, the one that flips out. [Laughs.] And we used that to film a majority of the video. We are going to be shooting more stuff with that camera, too. I thought it was dope. It brings back all those memories. It makes viewers feel good, super nostalgic.

Your latest single is meant to be reminiscent of Carlos Santana’s hip-hop fused tracks and features another rising millennial act Mozy. What was your experience like in the studio?

We were tidying up the song. Mozy had just visited a friend of a friend in the studio. We were all sitting on a couch, and one of my boys told him, “You should record a verse to ‘Make It Happen.’” Mozy was so exhausted that day, but he went in the booth anyway and started spitting fire. We were all outside the box like, “Keep going, keep going,” and he just killed it. I was just telling a friend that there is a crew of us in LA on the come up. We are all supporting each other. They are up-and-coming and bubbling.

Comradery seems to be important to you. Who are some artists that you currently listen to and respect?

Oh, man! There are literally too many. I would like to reference the comradery thing. When I listen to Drake and what he does, you know, going to the UK and then working with producers from there, and then going to work with the whole Memphis scene. He just inspires me.

I learn so much from that as far as being able to collaborate with artists who from different cultures and have different influences. You know, I have been influenced as an artist, by so many people, areas and so forth, [it helps]. My mom is from Israel, and she made it, so we were able to travel a little bit.

So, on this project, my team and I have a bunch of tracks. We were able to work with new artists. Some are from other countries. I think that is the best way to create art. You have to be able to merge cultures. Then you come up with a truly artistic piece.

You’re gearing up for your Summer release. How will this project differentiate itself from the last?

This project has so much more of me coming into myself as an artist. Well, the whole concept of the early 2000s is not just going to be on one record. That will play throughout the entire project. Also, it will include the Caribbean and Latin-infused songs, they were inspired by the early 2000s. To me, whether it was Sean Paul, Kevin Lyttle, or even an older Nelly, or Jagged Edge song — those artists would incorporate so many eclectic sounds in music. I remember the Spanish guitar used by Craig David. The project is like that. It is a more relevant 2018 version. That is the critical element that will ultimately differentiate itself from the first effort.

By Bianca Alysse Mercado For Billboard.com

About The Author

Bianca Alysse is a creatively driven Bronx-born writer and editor. Before becoming The Knockturnal‘s music editor she served as Latina‘s creative coordinator and was a contributor at Billboard. The Boricua scribe has a lengthy resume in the music industry and has penned for Universal Music Publishing Group, Epic Records, G.O.O.D. Music, Compound Entertainment, Artistry & Récords, and Arcade Creative Group. Her work has been seen on platforms like VIBE, mitú, TIDAL, Remezcla, and behind the scenes at New York Fashion Week. As an independent contractor, she has written for Sony Music Entertainment’s global business affairs department, Warner Music Group, and currently Roc Nation.

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