June 1, 2015
Reinvented Introduction – Charting Her Own Path
By Erik Zambrano
Images: Josh Dehonney
Miami newcomer singer and flow-er, Kat Dahlia, has a knack for making the most out of first introductions. Her Twitter is flooded with confessions of instantaneous infatuation from new fans – “So…Yeah after seeing this young lady perform on BET…Guess what I did? Went and downloaded her music on iTunes!! @KatDahlia,” writes one fan after viewing her live television debut on BET’s 106 & Park. Her prowess in capitalizing on first impressions is not limited to Twitter encounters, and dates back to before she signed with music industry titan, Sylvia Rhone’s record label, Vested in Culture – Rhone’s joint venture with L.A. Reid’s Epic Records, which already boasts a strong repository of artists: pop duo Quadron, R&B singer/songwriter Deon Young, pop singer/songwriter/musician Sebastian Mikael, and rappers Casey Veggies and Cashius Green.
Kat used to work a night shift at a New Jersey restaurant. When she wrapped up her shift, she would head over to the studio and record into the early morning. It just so happened that the head of A&R for Vested in Culture, Amanda Berkowitz, was hanging out one night with some producer friends at that same Manhattan studio. The rest, as they say, is history. Amanda met Kat, jammed out to a couple of her tracks, which included the autobiographical single, “Gangsta,” that is rapidly rising on the radio charts and has had a few million people glued to the screen on YouTube. Her ears abuzz, Amanda quickly invited the 21-year old artist to meet with Sylvia. They met the next day, and Sylvia signed Kat before the meeting was out. Two more introductions nailed.
Kat Dahlia’s story begins in Miami, Florida, where she was raised by Cuban parents in very a family-orientated household. Her first excursions into writing music came at the age of 15, when she started ripping instrumentals off YouTube and would record her own vocal tracks. Her considerable singing ability was recognized in high school, when a music instructor asked her to sing the national anthem at graduation. Like many students at inner-city public schools, Kat wasn’t particularly engaged in school, but graduated. She spent the next couple of years at Miami Dade College, but yet again, the schooling environment failed to tap into her interest in music. Eventually, she moved out of her family’s home with her brother, and began working as a cocktail waitress in Miami’s nightlife industry.
During this time, Kat’s passion for music solidified to the point where she knew that it was her calling, and that she should pursue it fulltime. However, her lifestyle in Miami and the city itself had become barriers. Instead of recording and networking with other artists and expanding her artistic acumen, she was working herself into a cyclical routine. She had been fired twice for drinking on the job, and was spending her time hanging out, beaching, and succumbing to the allure of Miami’s seductively addictive nightlife. She developed a distaste for where she was heading and felt unfulfilled because she wasn’t working towards her personal and professional goals of becoming an artist. Like most people, Kat was not immune to the very difficult, personal questions raised in the timeless battle between pursuit of a passion and paying the bills. Like many in her generation, Kat could have continued at her cocktail job, paid her bills, pursued music on the side, indulged freely in the nightlife, and faded into obscurity – another artist destined solely to aspire and never inspire. Thankfully, Katriana Hugeut knew her calling was to become Kat Dahlia, put her nose to the grindstone, and is getting it done.
Part of our process in choosing Kat Dahlia for the cover included speaking to our Miami counterparts to see how much noise she was making down in the 305. The response we received was that she could have been doing more groundwork in her city to further cement her roots and establish that unwavering hometown support. A fair assessment, considering many, if not most in the industry take a lot of time with their artists to make sure the artist’s city is their home base forever. Our viewpoint is a little different though – we applaud and encourage swift rises to positions of prominence for Latin artists. As a general rule, artists of Latin descent have grinded for too long. The grind and the hustle is what artists and their team are accustomed to in order to make an impact. So while we understood where our industry friends down in Miami were coming from, we were encouraged by the artist development investment that Sylvia Rhone and her team at Vested in Culture made in Kat Dahlia.
At times, the Latin music industry has suffered from artists not receiving the proper development required to turn them into stars. Other times, labels place Latin artists solely in the Latin bucket. Vested in Culture and Kat Dahlia are directly addressing these issues by taking an artist with a very limited buzz in her city, and investing heavily to make her stand out and stick in this new landscape of attention-deficient fans. Additionally, they are letting her explore her sound and are not positioning her solely as a Latin artist. Why not? Apart from the fact that it would be a pretty dumb strategy (in order to continue promoting and expanding Latin influence in music, artists need support from outside the Latin music community in the form of investment and directional guidance if they are going to reach a broader audience), Kat just wouldn’t classify herself that way. She prides herself in her heritage, but there is more to it than being just a Latina. Kat Dahlia represents the new reality of the Latin community in the United States. While our heritage as Latinos is unwavering, we also identify with the American experience. In the marketing world, this unique Latin consumer is labeled “the 200% individual”; 100% Latino and 100% American. Acculturation is a real process. Kat Dahlia and many other Latinos experience it as part of their upbringing. ULM is happy to see Kat’s team understands this reality.
When I asked Kat how she would respond to criticism regarding her move up north to New York City, making it the new breeding ground for her artistic development as opposed to Miami, she quickly provided a rationale that made perfect sense. First, she recalled the impact Miami had on her music: “That my hometown. So much culture. So much flavor down there when it comes to music. It was a big influence of mine. Constantly listening to Latin music, especially in a Cuban family. You have a lot of Caribbean influences, it is practically part of the Caribbean. I listened to a lot of reggae.” These influences are very present in her music, which employs a reggae bounce feel while her voice dances smoothly all over the track in her unique hybrid of singing and rapping – or as she calls it “flowing.” We’ve heard the Latina Reggaeton artists that rap, but Kat Dahlia is unique in that she sings and raps in Spanish over hip-hop and pop production that is congruous with contemporary musical trends. For examples of her huge potential to make relevant Latin-influenced music, peep two standout tracks: Gangsta en Espanol, and Tumbao. These two tracks display Kat’s versatility as a true Urban Latina artist.
Another source of Miami’s influence on Kat was its notorious party scene. “The whole party scene influenced me a lot. I started going out and hanging out and gozando very young. I got really tired of it really quickly. That was partially the reason I moved to New York – I realized that there was nothing down there for me. I had done all the partying and hanging out that I needed to do.” Her early introduction to Miami’s nightlife left her unfulfilled professionally and artistically, despite her connection to the musical culture of the city. “For me personally, it wasn’t where I needed to be. I found myself jobless again for drinking on the job. It was not about the city. It was about me and how I was living in the city. A lot of people get stuff done down there, but when it comes to music, there isn’t much opportunity. I love my city. I’m actually thinking about moving back. I love the vibe down there and the culture. Miami will always be home to me. But when it came to what I wanted to do professionally, there just wasn’t enough opportunity for me.” Coming to this realization and willfully stepping away from it all has produced great results for Kat’s music. Nobody wants to listen to a burnout, and she is not about to be one.