It isn’t every day that the universe grants someone an opportunity to speak with and spend actual time with an individual they grew up admiring.
I mean, it’s common in the entertainment media world to meet prominent individuals all the time. It goes hand-in-hand with the gig. But sometimes, that rare moment presents itself that kind of, well, can take breath itself away for a second in time. That moment when one is reduced back to their seven-year-old self and composure is a struggle to maintain. This is the sentiment I recently experienced when a very special woman and I crossed paths in life. First and foremost, before anything else, I’d be remiss to not articulate what an honor it was to speak with the legend herself, Ms. Mya! It is with the utmost respect and reverence that I brought to my line of questioning for our interview. As a huge fan since the beginning of her career, I’m not ashamed to admit I had posters and memorabilia, in addition to the albums! Insanely talented, beautiful, and blessed, and as was confirmed to me through our time together, she also has a heart of gold! (pay attention for a funny childhood, autograph story between Mya and myself). It was such a major moment to connect with Mya on such a historic occasion! In between various lighthearted, fun moments, like discussing how her longtime love of rottweiler dogs had inspired my own admiration for them as a child, we are able to explore her inner artistic workings. 2018 marked a major milestone in the career of one of R&B and pop music’s preeminent, leading songstresses, Mya. Not only was a new project released April 20th, TKO (The Knock Out), but a two-decade-long solo career was cemented in music history.
1998’s double platinum debut album release of Mya turned the young, at the time, teenage, Mya, into a music sensation and household name.
Featuring the classic hits “Movin’ On,” “It’s All About Me,” and “My First Night With You,” Mya’s self-titled debut was a huge success critically and commercially, and saw her collaborate with the likes of Missy Elliott, Sisqo, and No Limit’s Silkk The Shocker. Released April 21, 1998, Mya was released exactly one day apart, 20 years ago, from the current TKO (The Knock Out) project! Introducing Mya to the masses, with label backing by Haqq Islam’s University Music, via Interscope Records, the Mya album release established her within the ranks of fellow peers, like, Aaliyah, Brandy, Usher, Monica, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Destiny’s Child, ‘NSYNC, and the other stars to break major ground in the late 1990s, a generation following the likes of Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Toni Braxton, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Prince and others.
The Mya era also saw her collaborate on the massive soundtrack features “Take Me There,” from The Rugrats Movie, and the Bulworth classic, “Ghetto Superstar.”
Fun fact: Mya has recently spoken about still being able to fit into the iconic, red midriff-baring outfit from the “It’s All About Me” video! Her very first video!
In a recent interview with Hot 97 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=On4dLuJeS60), Mya talked about how this year, on the very same day, Valentine’s Day, she tried on the iconic outfit. She had sketched and designed herself (her mom had sent via FedEx the day prior), in the exact same Los Angeles studio where Sisqo and she had rehearsed twenty years earlier! Mya credits her stunning beauty and physique today, as she recently shared with a blogger, Melzy J (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkP6aFecw04), to taking care of herself, prayer, meditation, removal of toxic people and things, energy, vegan lifestyle, sleep, water, abstaining from soda and alcohol, self-love, and making yourself the top priority in your own life! The woman is breathtakingly gorgeous. I tell her how incredible she looks, better than ever, really. She is aware of how her hard work has paid off. “Thank you. I think so, too. I feel better now too.” As we discuss her vegan diet, I inquire if she has always practiced such clean eating throughout her years. Starting with vegetarianism in 2008, and then transitioning to veganism in 2014, Mya then shared with me the true power of healing oneself through nutrition. “I ate in a pretty healthy way, but I was a vegetarian and then I went back to eating meat when I was in a relationship in 2012/2013, and then I completely lost myself. I became overweight and was also suffering from anemia. After leaving that relationship, I decided I would go back to vegetarianism at the top of 2014, and then push myself even further and go vegan from there. So, I did, and it was an accomplishment. I saw so many benefits. I lost that weight, reversed my anemia, as well osteopenia, which is the earliest signs of osteoporosis, just by removing dairy from my diet.”
Followed-up by 2000’s also double platinum-selling sophomore effort, Fear of Flying, Mya reached even further heights with the success of the hits “Case of the Ex,” “The Best of Me” (ft. Jadakiss), and “Free.” The hit song “The Best of Me” was famously re-done for Roc-A-Fella Records and Def Jam Records in 2000 for Mya’s remix version, “The Best of Me, Part II” (ft. Jay-Z).
To support the massive success of this project, 2001 would see Mya embark on her first headlining tour, the Fear of Flying tour, in addition to participating in the Grammy Award-winning, and MTV Video Music Award, iconic, pop cultural moment that was the “Lady Marmalade” remake from the Moulin Rouge! soundtrack, alongside Christina Aguilera, Pink, Lil’ Kim, and Missy Elliott, and lending her voice to Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire soundtrack on “Where the Dream Takes You.”
Having recently made headlines for saying in an interview that she would be happy to team-up again with the women of “Lady Marmalade,” I ask her about this very- necessary pop culture reunion possibility.
“I mean, that would be a wonderful thing. I think we are actually approaching our 20th-anniversary mark really soon in 2001, so I think it would be called for in the next few years.” To follow up this question, I ask Mya what the fans can do to ensure this happens! “Well now, you need a budget to accommodate four females, and that’s expensive. You’ve got flights, hotels, per diems, managers, road managers, wardrobe, hair, makeup, nails, it’s crazy, you know. It’s always possible, but I think it could possibly happen for an award show or some kind of festival.”
2003 saw Mya continue her stellar winning streak with Moodring, an album that should be included in any “best of” list ever, which included the hit records “My Love is Like…Wo,”and “Fallen,” in addition to the LGBT fan favorite “Whatever Bitch.” The US edition of the album also includes a very special track for fans: Mya’s version of “Real Compared to What,” popularized in Coca-Cola commercials during this time.
Once again, headlining a tour in support of the project, and receiving critical acclaim, Moodring truly was a magnificent showcase of musical transcendence into womanhood for this young diva.
It was also around this time that Mya would begin her foray into acting with appearances in Chicago, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, Shall We Dance?, and Cursed. Most recently, Bob Johnson’s new channel UMC (Urban Movie Channel) aired 5th Ward, the series, in 2018, which starred Mya in a raw, dramatic role as a single mother in the Houston, Texas 5th Ward inner-city. UMC.tv is where you can catch the show, and the free soundtrack, featuring new Mya material, is now available on Spotify.
Speaking about the experience on 5th Ward, Mya said “Yeah, I read the script for 5th Ward and immediately connected to the arc of the story. I read it in one sitting and it was very intense. I connected to the character, Mina. Very similar journey as far as my independent music journey goes, being a hustler, and doing whatever it takes to take care of family. Also, I’ve spent time in 5th Ward recording [my] Beauty & the Streets mixtape and have extended family out there.
So, there’s a personal and business connection there. There are so many similarities between Washington, DC and 5th Ward as far as gentrification and gun violence and all of the things young black men and women encounter in inner cities. So, it’s just a part of where I grew up and that allowed me to further the role, which is a very meaty role. I’m not a mother yet, so I had to pull from being the oldest in my family watching over my two brothers and apply that to motherhood for Mina. It was awesome and I had a great time working on the music for the soundtrack, which is just now out on Spotify. I was able to write some gospel songs, produce a couple of other songs, as well, for the TV series. And it’s available now on Bob Johnson’s new network. 6 episode series on UMC, Urban Movie Channel, which is also on an app, friendly to ios iPhone and android. $4.99/mo subscription.”
The following years after Moodring’s release would find Mya staying busy with acting, signing with Ford Models, her foundation/other philanthropic, charity efforts, performances, but also the music creation process while dealing with the adversity of the harsh, but part-of-the-game, behind-the-scenes nature of the major label industry. In a truly inspiring fashion, brilliantly overcoming setbacks with the delayed release/leak of Liberation, her intended fourth project, Mya would soon take her life and career into her own hands, and transition even more so, into the fabulous, boss-lady she is today!
The rest, one could say, could be written in “R&B/Pop Princess inspiration” history! In 2008, Mya took hold of the reigns of her career in a completely different way, embarking on a very new chapter. She launched her own record label, Planet 9, and has self-funded and produced her own projects ever since.
In the same Hot 97 interview (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=On4dLuJeS60), Mya shared how her independent journey has, actually, in fact, been way more rewarding. Thirteen studio projects later, with TKO being her 9th overall independent project, for Mya, 2018 truly is a celebration of this incomparable woman’s legacy.
TKO (The Knock Out) comes on the heels of her previous release, 2016’s Grammy Award nominated, Smoove Jones.
An incredible collection of songs sung in the most perfect of pitches, TKO (The Knockout), is not only incredible, it is representative of the solidification of all that encompasses a remarkable two-decade long career! Executive produced by Mya and MyGuyMars, TKO (The Knock Out) is classic Mya at her R&B best, and features collaborations with Goldlink, MyGuyMars and a soulful track co-written alongside Marsha Ambrosius. As overseer of her own label, Mya is involved in literally every aspect of her business.
It is fascinating to listen to a woman in full command of her career and project, share about it all in her interview with me. “The creation process of TKO started with myself and MyGuyMars partnering up musically and going into a contemporary R&B space. Knowing that I was going to release Smoove Jones in 2016, I wanted to make sure I put out a traditional R&B album first, before I went into the contemporary space, just because there are longtime fans that connect with that particular sound, which is more eclectic, classic and old school. Contemporary R&B is more current and sonic, and I just fused it with some 90s R&B, SWV, R. Kelly, Aaliyah, Mint Condition vibes along with Prince, the Isley Brothers, Teddy Pendergrass, influences from the 70’s. It was all about creating a nice experience for R&B fans, R&B lovers, and have it apply to today’s sound of music, sonically, and that’s we did. It’s an experience project, exclusively for desire, love to the bedroom. So, it’s kind of like a Smoove Jones part two, but on the slower tempo side of things.”
Executive producing, drafting all of the contracts, publishing split sheets, and generating revenue for/funding each component of a project, are some of the independent artist responsibilities that Mya executes perfectly. “Physical cd orders on MyaMya.com (http://www.myamya.com/) in the shop are actually available now for order. And I will be releasing some limited edition vinyls of Smoove Jones and TKO together because they go hand-in-hand. Two different experiences but also cohesive projects even the cover art.”
A beautifully inspiring example of a “hustler,” the descriptor “entrepreneur” can also be added to her resume, as she not only sells Planet 9 hat and hoodie merch on her official site (http://www.myamya.com/), but also a vegan, organic red wine “Planet 9 fine wine”, in addition to the music. As readers of our interview will comprehend, Mya has been a vegan for years now, so the importance of a vegan fine wine for sale on MyaMya.com is very clear. Extremely passionate about veganism, her website has a lifestyle section with a free starter guide download available, as well as information on the challenges she engages in with fans. She not only talks the talk, she walks the walk. As someone who fully embodies the vegan lifestyle, it not only impacts her nutrition choices, but the fashions she adorns her body with. She has mentioned recently (to Melzy J, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkP6aFecw04)) that she even got rid of her Louis Vuitton luggage, as it wasn’t vegan, and how her girlfriends are loving the hand me downs, as they no longer work within her lifestyle. Mya’s commitment to a vegan lifestyle, happiness, wellness, and of course, music, are clearly conveyed during our conversation. “Monthly, I engage my social media followers in these challenges. We are now in the 2nd quarter, so we’ve graduated from 7 days a month, to 14 days a month. The challenge starts tomorrow, which consists of: vegan, raw vegan, alkaline vegan, or juicing for 14 days straight. I’ve given people options, last year I included vegetarianism so that people could have a year to transition, but I don’t support the dairy industry. So, I have completely removed the vegetarian this year. It is how I started so I wanted to initially include it for people to get acclimated. I, however, no longer promote it, as it hasn’t sat well with my spirit considering the harsh truths of the dairy industry. Alkaline vegan is the actual challenge I’m taking this year, as I did raw vegan last year and accomplished my goal. As I take each challenge, I’m held accountable publicly, and grow with people in baby steps, with a reward at the end of the tunnel progressing slowly, so that by the end of year, we will have met our goal. Every quarter, I choose a winner to gift either some great appliances, books, kitchen gadgets, a trip, or an outing with me. The more days completed, the more gifts rewarded. I’ve also crafted a free vegan starter guide just so that people understand the difference between alkaline vegan, raw vegan, vegan, whole foods, plant based, or vegetarian.”
MyaMya.com (http://www.myamya.com/) is the place to go for all your Mya needs. It’s got you covered. A personal favorite outlet is her beautiful Instagram. I suggest everyone follow her (https://www.instagram.com/myaplanet9). She can be found on all the other socials, like Facebook and Twitter, as well (@MyaPlanet9). Readers are able to easily keep up with Mya and shows there. I ask about which shows she is anticipating. “Yeah, I’m so excited about Pride! My life is a tour, but Pride month is in June and it’s my favorite time to perform because I really love presentation, and producing fun shows with different sets. And you know, you can really push the envelope and the limit a bit with Pride shows, so I’m looking forward to those. Those take place between June 17 – 24th, with more being added, and then my final show in June is in Amsterdam at the All My Music Fest on June 30th, so really looking forward to that because a lot of acts will be on that show, internationally.
So, just preparing for that. I’m in the middle of shooting music videos from the TKO album right now for the fans as requested, so am in rehearsal for that, so they can expect that some time in June.” Hearing the love and passion in her voice, I ask her to elaborate on the significance of the LGBT community (mentioning her LGBT anthem “Whatever Bitch”). “Yeah, absolutely. Yes, it is! I love the community and there’s no place I’ve ever felt safer, more welcomed, loved, not judged. And you know, a lot of my employees are from the LGBT community. People are people and it’s just so beautiful how creative, welcoming, warm, fun and colorful, fiery, loving & supportive the community is!”
I thank you, Mya, for your time today, your grace, brilliance, and legacy. You stand next to greats and are the ultimate legendary performer. As you, yourself, followed in the footsteps of the Janet, Whitney, and Mariah’s of the world, the generation that followed yours (mine) is so grateful for all of the memories and moments you gifted us with. And those you will continue to bring us in the future. As a child, I had a Mya moment regarding autographs in the mail. Well, let’s just say, that moment is part of what contributed to my deep love for her. I had included two dollars for postage, as I recall being instructed to do, when I wrote fan mail to her. The lovely Mya not only sent me a bunch of autographed items, but she also returned my money to me, and autographed the bills, as well! Unheard of! As Mya says, the credit is all due to her mother for helping her stay on top of all the things, such as fanmail for years. Thank you so much, Mrs. Mama Mya! “That is amazing. Oh my gosh. I hope to give some credit to my mom because she’s always helped me stay organized, attempting to respond to everyone, and get things mailed out properly on time, domestically and internationally. Responses, I’ve always thought were very important, so thank god for her!” I ask her if she has a final message she would like to convey to the fans. “Thank you guys so much for inspiring me, riding with me, encouraging me, giving feedback over the last 20 years. It’s been an incredible journey and I couldn’t have done it without you, so feel free to hit me up on social media @MyaPlanet9 for whatever you want next. And I will do my best with what I have to work with to deliver and serve!”
I had the privilege of hanging out with Mya on Cinco De Mayo. Her warm embrace of me had me feeling super confident, as I stepped into a massive club scene by myself. Once I found her inside, granted, it did take me a minute or two to maneuver through all the patrons, her bright smile that greeted me made me feel instantly secure.
The highlight of the entire affair was being able to bear witness to her performance, mere inches away. The fact that we stayed behind in our section, having the most fun, once the club closed, and all the guests left, was just the cherry on top.
I thank you, Mya, for your grace, loving spirit, and immense talent!
Love, Mo Shé (@moe2tha)