Though she’s only releasing her debut album today, Sevyn Streeter is no stranger to the pop charts. Streeter’s an ace songwriter who has co-written Top 40 hits for Chris Brown (“Yeah 3x,” “Next to You,” “Strip,” “Fine China”) and Ariana Grande (joyous breakout single “My Way”). And, as a singer, her drowsy, besotted ballad “It Won’t Stop” hit Number 30 in 2013.
But working in a music business that tends to back male performers over female ones – this week female singers account for just 25% of Billboard’s Top 20 R&B Albums – Streeter’s attempts at building a solo career have been continuously put on hold. Despite a strong track record and a hit single, her debut full-length LP, Girl Disrupted, comes more than four years since she entered the popular consciousness with “It Won’t Stop.” Streeter says that over the last 18 months, the difficulty of getting music to her listeners had sent her into depression.
“[The depression] came from a place of: I dedicated my life to this work and this art, and I don’t feel like it’s having the opportunity to be heard,” she tells Rolling Stone, speaking over the phone from Los Angeles before shooting a video for album cut “Anything You Want,” which features Ty Dolla $ign, Jeremih and Wiz Khalifa.
“Being a young black woman can add so many different hurdles,” she adds. “It was almost like I had a muzzle over my mouth. Sometimes I would place it there myself; sometimes I would allow other people to place it there.”
Streeter grew up going to church, and her faith helped her battle. “If God is in control of everything, why would I be fearful to say what I want, do what I want, ask what I want?” she says. “Why are you afraid of going left when someone else wants you to go right? It really did cause me to learn how to say no, to learn how to put myself and my thoughts first.”
“Guess what,” she continues. “There is no muzzle over this mouth now.”
Girl Disrupted‘s title nods to the 1999 film Girl Interrupted with, as she says, “this crazy industry” as a stand-in for the bizarre cast of characters at the movie’s mental hospital. The album shows the extent of Streeter’s reach in R&B and hip-hop, a byproduct of goodwill built up from nearly a decade of writing and singing sessions. In addition to Jeremih, Khalifa and Ty Dolla $ign, featured guests include Dej Loaf, August Alsina and rising New York rapper Dave East. For production, Streeter calls on Bangladesh (Beyoncé, Lil Wayne), the Stereotypes (Bruno Mars) and The-Dream and Tricky Stewart (Rihanna, Justin Bieber), who contribute a rail-splitting beat to “Present Situation.” Those are airwave-focused beatmakers, but their sound doesn’t define the record. Streeter envisioned it as a statement of range.
“It pulls from the foundation of R&B, it pulls from where we are and it also pushes it a little bit forward,” she says.
In addition, she says Girl Disrupted‘s unifying purpose is to provide nourishment during the weekdays, a period sometimes neglected by the club-focused hit industry.
“There’s only two days on the weekend, and the majority of your life is during the week,” Streeter explains. “We feel real things; we go through real things; we need to have music that balances all of that out for us.”
This is exemplified by Girl Disrupted‘s winningly weak-at-the-knees single “Before I Do,” which suspends a nerve-wracking moment of romantic indecision in taut rimshots and delicate guitar. The track interpolates the Isley Brothers and brings to mind lavish, buffed Nineties ballads like Blackstreet’s “Before I Let You Go.”
“‘Before I Do’ isn’t trying to be like anything you hear today,” Streeter says. “The old me would not have wanted to go with that song. The old me would have been like, ‘Let’s go with something that feels a little more now.’
“But the Girl Disrupted version of me was just like, It hits people in the heart,” she adds. “The Girl Disrupted version of me is all the way here for ‘Before I Do.'”