The line outside S.O.B’s is a long one as fans wait to see Ambré perform on a rainy night in Manhattan. Umbrellas and coats cover the heads of the fans who line up around the block, sparking blunts outside the dimly-lit club. The vibe is calm yet charged, dark and flowy — just like the music that has made Ambré one of the most compelling new voices in R&B in recent years.
For the 26-year-old singer, songwriter, and guitarist, who released her second studio album, 3000º, through Roc Nation this past June, everything is coming together just right. “I see this as the beginning of my own little documentary,” the artist, real name India Perkins, says over Zoom the day after the show.
She describes the eight-track album as a dedication to her musical heroes, and a salute to her New Orleans hometown. “The name is a direct homage to Lil Wayne and Juvenile,” she says, citing their classic albums 400 Degreez and 500 Degreez. (It’s also a nod to another Southern rap legend, Andre 3000: “People call me Ambré 3000, because Andre and my name sound alike,” she says. “But I’m also a huge Outkast fan.”)
The album’s opening track, “3 Peat,” is a lyrical playground addressing the qualms that come with making it big out of your hometown. “I’m back in New Orleans, my people think I’m rich now/Murder my ego, made my anxiety sit down,” Perkins croons over a bass line that rattles in your chest as if it was your heartbeat.
Perkins began writing her own songs in elementary school. “I don’t remember what the song was but it was probably terrible,” she says, laughing. “I just remember writing it on a piece of paper and me trying to show the other kids, and nobody cared.”
Growing up, her grandmother bought her a karaoke machine. She played in her school band, and like many rhythm and blues artists before her, got her start singing soprano in the church choir. “I led a song probably twice because I always wanted to sing in the background,” she says. “Everyone knew I could sing but I was shy. I’m shy now!”
Though much of her childhood took place in New Orleans’ 17th ward, she recalls moving many times in her youth due to being in foster care. “That experience growing up influences how I interact with people, and then the way that I interact with people then influences me writing stories,” she says. “It contributed to me being an observant person and having to view the world from a different perspective because I lived and met so many people.”
When Perkins first began making music, she relied heavily on telling other people’s stories as opposed to her own. “I was trying to disconnect from my personal story as much as possible and try to tell stories of the world,” she says. But these days, she is focusing more inwards. After her debut album, Pulp, which was released in November 2019, she says she was able to get more introspective.
“As of lately, I’m more focused on telling my personal story,” she says. “That was what the last project was about because it’s more so me, honoring where I come from and my family. Just speaking on the way that I grew up.”
She sees family as an intricate part of her life and art. As she learns more about her origins, she is realizing some of the connections she has to her elders before her, such as meeting her grandfather for the first time and learning that he played the saxophone and was a second line stepper — a New Orleans custom that involves live horns, drums, dancing and grandiose uniforms. “He was telling me how we are Mardi Gras Indians,” she says. “It was crazy because it’s like, damn, this was right in my face the whole time and I didn’t even know.”
Ambre describes herself as “goofy, shy, and observant,” qualities that come through in her performance at S.O.B.’s. During her set, a disco ball spins above her head as she cranks out notes on a green guitar, making women in the front row seemingly fall in love as if she’s Chuck Berry. People in the crowd mumble “she sounds so good,” and one fan gets ahead of himself and screams out “Nobody knows me like my nigga” — a line from “Illusionz,” Ambré’s favorite track from her album. The room laughs. This is what Perkins does it for.
“When I make music I see entire images,” she says. “It’s like a whole movie and I see scenes. I’m a storyteller.”
And what does she see for herself in the years to come? “I see myself on big stages,” she says. “Touching millions of people and making the best music I’ve ever made.”