On the first of June, I sat on a Zoom call with New Jersey-bred songstress and Apple Music’s Up Next Artist Fousheé. It was midday, hours before the private screening she was having at The BrainDead Theater in LA. The screening was for the visual accompanying her second single “my slime” from her debut nine-track project Time Machine. Fousheé had giddy yet anxious energy as this moment felt like a bit of a culmination. She blew up during the world’s shutdown, so this would be one of her first in-person premieres. Yet, at the same time, it’s also something that’s been in the making since she was 5 years old.
During our call, Fousheé sang for me pieces of her first two songs she ever wrote, which she jokingly calls her first “smash hits.” The first was titled “You’re in My Way” and was a song about someone being in the way of her going to the bathroom with the captivating hook lyrics, “You’re in my way, please set me free.”
“That’s all I remember,” she says about the song. “It’s so dramatic. I was and still am a very dramatic person.” Her second hit, “Why’d You Do It to Me?” was written to a piano stock sound with a similarly moving chorus: “Why? Why did you do it to me? You lied! You left me down on one knee!” She sang it to me then further explains, “I think it was about cheating. I was like 5 (when I wrote it). Who cheated on me?” When I expressed that the tone of the melody and topic were Billie Holiday-esque and quite mature sounding for a 5-year-old, she responds, “That’s a big influence for me. Maybe I was just channeling that type of energy. That type of heartbreak.”
Fousheé, for the entirety of her life, has been a sonic sponge. Along with Billie Holiday tonalities, she picked up her rhythmic sensibility from her mother who was a drummer for a reggae band during her youth. “She had a big influence on my love for music,” Fousheé expresses about her. “She was a drummer and she always played Bob Marley. I think I unintentionally followed that blueprint because Bob was a singer-songwriter-guitarist who spoke up about what was going on in the world.”
Fousheé also soaked up her mother’s passion and drive. “She used to tell us we can’t say, ‘I can’t,’” Fousheé says. “She was a single mom and she worked as an immigrant in this country to put us in a good neighborhood. If she can do that on her own, I can stand on my own too.”
Jump ahead 15 to 20 years and this woman with her guitar is singing all over New York City trying to craft a career in music. “Alternative rock was a big inspiration for me at that time,” Fousheé says. “It made me want to include more electric guitars in my music. It made me drawn to certain chord combinations.”
Thus, with jazz, singer-songwriter, reggae, and alt-rock all in her arsenal, Fousheé just needed to craft the perfect tone in her voice that would organically connect all of her influences. “I had to develop a sense of my voice because people wanted me to sound a certain way, or I used to be frustrated that I couldn’t sound like certain singers. But that ended up being an advantage,” Fousheé recalls about this crucial stage in her development. “I used to try to sound like Beyoncé or try to belt, but I was shy, so I would practice quietly, and I ended up with a very strong falsetto voice. I realized I could play with those textures and try to create my own sound.” Though she was still developing, this discovery would prove to act as a sort of glue for her artistry overall.
During this period, Fousheé not only drew more musical inspiration but also garnered a thick skin attached to her unwillingness to fail. She performed at a plethora of live music venues in The Village to new crowds each evening as the area drew everyone from locals to tourists to industry people. “It was interesting because you could sing the same song (repeatedly), but every night is unique,” she explains. “You have to go in and win people over. It was tough, but helped a lot with how I perform now.”
One of the toughest gigs she ever had, though, was at Harlem’s legendary venue The Apollo Theater. The success of that show would fuel her self-confidence in an everlasting way. “Some people come to The Apollo just to boo,” Fousheé proclaims. “The day I went, two people got booed in front of me so I was very nervous. New York is the toughest crowd you can find. If you can perform and impress a crowd in New York, you can do it anywhere.”
As for many artists, though, talent, sense of a musical self, and relentless pursuit alone were not enough. Fousheé’s life flipped when a sample hook she’d made for the website Splice was used in a beat for a track by Brooklyn drill rapper Sleepy Hallow. The song “Deep End Freestyle” went viral on TikTok and sent fans on a search for the mystery vocalist on the ruminating loop in the instrumental. Eventually, this made its way to Fousheé, who was met with a bit of a conundrum. The samples one submits and sells on Splice, according to Fousheé, are known as “royalty-free sample packs.” This means if someone purchases the sound they don’t need to credit the artist who sold them the sample.
“So going about getting credit is not only rare, but it usually ends up as a lost cause,” Fousheé explains. “I felt like my scenario was different because it wasn’t a discreet addition to the song. People were gravitating towards the voice and seeking the person singing but didn’t know where to find me.” Fousheé mustered up her now-learned success drive (with still a little extra push from her mother) and made a TikTok video discussing it and coming forward as the singer. “I was hoping that [Sleepy Hallow] would hear me out, but I ended up just doing it on my own terms,” she says. Then once her TikTok video also went viral, she ended up with credit as well as high demand for her own full version of the song. “I was surprised that a lot of people cared so much,” Fousheé says. “A lot of people were just happy to have found the singer and were surprised it wasn’t some old ancient sample. It was the perfect storm of events to build suspense. That’s what made people excited to hear my version.”
It was crunch time. She’d gone from 5-year-old Fousheé singing about a bathroom line with only her family as the audience, to now having a huge chunk of the digital sphere waiting for her to deliver. She had to craft verses that matched the impact her hook loop had created. “I felt like people were gonna expect something similar. But I wanted to do that while still staying true to myself,” Fousheé explains. “So I knew it had to be a mix of both. It was a lot of pressure ‘cause the song that ended up going viral from the sample was a lot different from my music. But I like Brooklyn drill and I knew it had to have a little of that in there.”
Yet again, Fousheé was a sponge to sonic influence, but this time she adopted the sounds that propelled her into the spotlight. She also had the self-awareness to realize that if she brought along the rest of the tones she’d already grasped, it could really elevate the song. “I brought my original self to it with the guitar,” she says. “I think that gave it a more alt singer-songwriter feel. Then the drums made it more hip-hop, uptempo, and something you could dance to. That’s what the music is anyway, blending things you wouldn’t normally mix. I think that was a big appeal to the record.”
The finishing touch was bringing not just the plethora of sounds she’d garnered, but the Bob Marley-like sentiment she learned from her mom early on. She opens the track with the lyrics, “I been trying not to go off the deep end / I don’t think you wanna give me a reason / Had to come and flip the script / Had a big bone to pick / Got the short end of sticks, so we made a fire with it.”
“I wanted it to reflect what was going on in the world. It was a heavy time,” Fousheé explains. “But I didn’t want people to feel sad when they listened. I wanted them to feel empowered. I wanted it to be like an anthem. It was a lot of pressure. I was walking around my house in circles. I wrote like seven different versions. I was living with a roommate at the time and she was hearing me creating throughout the week, and this particular version stuck in her head and she was singing it back to me. That’s when I knew this might be the one.”
“Deep End” was in fact “the one,” and it propelled Fousheé to this moment prepping for her first project’s release atop an Apple Music-certified stage. The track has amassed over 100 million worldwide streams to date. The song’s success also cemented the reach of her musical mentality. “I would’ve never released a song like ‘Deep End’ (before). It made me more open to trying different sound mixtures and playing with textures,” she explains. “When I made it, I was scared that people wouldn’t get to hear me as who I felt I was as an artist and just hear a specific version of me. But I think it made me realize I’m still gonna be in the song regardless of the genre. There’s still ways to bring me to it.”
Adding this final hip-hop element blossomed into a whole new world of possibilities, one being multiple collaborations with rap legend Lil Wayne. On her track with him “Gold Fronts,” Fousheé sings over minimal guitar about how shimmering teeth jewelry is a symbol for putting expression and culture on display unapologetically. Wayne fused with her in a way we haven’t heard him. Over just acoustic plucks and other sparse sounds, he smoothly ties his perspective to her concept. On “Deep End,” Fousheé brought her world to hip-hop, then with “Gold Fronts” brought hip-hop to her world.
That collaboration worked so well Wayne even had Fousheé feature on his ultra-personal track “Ain’t Got Time.” The song is about the stress and anxiety surrounding Wayne as he awaited a potential prison sentence he’d eventually be pardoned from. “I was anxious, so I can’t imagine how he must’ve felt,” Fousheé says about the experience. “It was a mix of emotions ‘cause I was concerned about him, but when I’d speak to him, he’d act like he had no cares in the world. It was a cool song ‘cause I think he addressed what he needed to address. I was just glad to be a part of his moment.”
On her second single for her debut, Time Machine,Fousheé uses a classic “Weezy-ism” in its title “my slime.” She builds off those two words to make a rhyme pattern that tells a unique story in the video she is about to premiere after our conversation. “In the lyrics, I say “You’re my slime, my partner in crime,” so it’s a literal take on that and we rob a bank,” Fousheé says about the story depicted. “I wanted to make it the cutest, most adorable robbery. The balance of really cute versus very dangerous. Skipping with a 21 (Magnum Rifle) and my cute little teddy bear bookbag. It’s a balance of so many things and a love story.”
Balance is a theme and intention Fousheé uses consistently throughout this track and the rest of Time Machine. “I wanted to take a classic love-feeling indie song and add the contrast of lyrics you wouldn’t normally hear,” she says about finding sonic equilibrium. “On this project, it’s all about mixing. Hearing that term in my daily life and bringing it to a place you wouldn’t normally hear it.”
The balance of all her styles in a cohesive body of work is where Fousheé knows she can shine most brightly. She presents two covers on the album, one of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” and one of Carole King’s “It’s Too Late.” She reinterprets each of the songs with heightened soul and alt-rock textures, balancing older sentiments with her contemporary swagger. Then she also hits you with a goofy flex of a hip-pop song in “Clap For Him” featuring Lil Yachty. Not only does this differentiate in genre, but also in attitude. “Sometimes I wanna take a light-hearted approach to a song especially if (it’s just after) I did a heavy song,” Fousheé explains. “I’m serious, but I’m also playful. There’s gonna be both things.”
The factoring in of every emotion in her project’s sound also allows her the space to show all sides of herself. The concept behind the title has a few different meanings, which adds even more humanity to the body of work. “When I thought about Time Machine, I thought about traveling through memories, kind of like a mental time travel instead of physical. Things I’ve thought about in the past and things I’m thinking about for my future,” Fousheé says. “Also, my commute from LA to back home in Jersey and the three-hour (time difference). I think of that as time travel too. I feel like I’m living in the future when I go to New York.”
Even though Time Machine,in the project title’s sense, is a personal and mental one, on the album’s title track, Fousheé sings about wanting to borrow someone else’s time machine. “That song is about the transition from this year coming into the scene,” she says. “I felt a lot of pressure and eyes on me that weren’t there before. I guess I was wanting to hide in that moment or borrow someone else’s time machine. One of these artists who has it all figured out. As much as I wanted to run away, I’m grateful for what that era helped me to figure out about myself. A lot of character development happened. But that moment right there I wanted to hide and curl up in a ball.”
If there’s anything, though, that has helped Fousheé navigate the pressures of this new life, it’s the person who gave her the initial inspiration to soak up: her mother. “She’s definitely my biggest fan,” Fousheé gloats. “Once that video went viral and that situation started to take off, she was calling me, like, every second with different developments and different people using the sound. She just called me earlier excited about this screening. She loves it all.”
The screening is the beginning of the possibilities for Fousheé to go back to her performance routes and expand upon the reach she’s already gained. “There’s certain things you can’t express digitally,” she says. “You have to be present and physically there. I’m ready for people to experience the project with their own eyes and ears.”
Fousheé seems to be exactly where she is supposed to be. More specifically, she is right where a mix of influence, genetics, hard work, and a bit of chance destined her to be. She says, “I don’t feel like myself without doing music. It’s such a part of me that I really don’t know where I’d be without it. It’s an important means of communication for me. It’s all I know how to do.” With every new accomplishment, it seems to prove it’s all she needs.