Fousheé Made One of 2022’s Biggest Hits. Next, She Wants to Transcend Time
Whether you’re a New York City native, a transplant, or just a two-day visitor to the sprawling metropolis, you’ve probably seen a struggling artist performing on the subway or a station platform. “Showtime, showtime, showtime!” street dancers often shout before flipping off the ceilings of the train cars and maneuvering around their poles. Going from “Showtime!” to stardom is rare, but Britanny Fousheé did give busking a shot, well before her 2022 breakout as the co-writer to one of the world’s biggest pop songs — Steve Lacy’s “Bad Habit.”
“One time I tried to sing on the train,” Fousheé says over Zoom. “And it just did not work out for me.” Her tone is sharp and yet blasé, making it hard to imagine her clamoring for attention in a crowd of commuters.
“You see how low I speak,” she continues. Her speaking voice is indeed hushed. Her singing voice is even more distinct, as showcased on “Sunshine,” a standout on the same album that’s home to “Bad Habit,” Lacy’s Gemini Rights. It’s beautifully faint and a little creaky, like Billie Eilish on “Bad Guy” meets Norah Jones on “Don’t Know Why.”
“They were like, ‘What?’” she recalls of the subway passengers she subjected to her show. “I’m trying to sing a whisper song over the bustle of the train. Didn’t work out for me.” Fousheé — whose surname is also her stage name — gigged around New York before her recent ascent, hitting the scene at rite-of-passage places like Piano’s and S.O.B.’s in Lower Manhattan. “It’s like training for war,” she says.
When we talk, Fousheé is gearing up for her first spin at the Grammy Awards, where she attended due to her contributions to Gemini Rights, which went on to win Best Progressive R&B Album. (“Bad Habit” earned even bigger nods, for Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Pop Solo Performance, but lost to Bonnie Raitt, Lizzo, and Adele, respectively.)
While the range of immensely talented musicians Fousheé has collaborated with is wide — Lil Wayne, Lil Yachty, and Lil Uzi Vert are just a few — she is a force on her own. Just five days before Grammy nominations were announced last November, she dropped her own project, softCORE, a witty and elegant 27-minute mashup of folk, punk, metal, and electronica — sometimes in a single song. Before all of this, she may have been best known for an originally-uncredited vocal sample of hers throughout Brooklyn drill rapper Sleepy Hallow’s “Deep End Freestyle.”
In 2020, Hallow’s song became a hit, no small thanks to Fousheé’s haunting lilt and TikTok’s response to it. Today, the freestyle has been played more than 250 million times on Spotify alone. In 2021, Fousheé expanded on the sample, which she had originally submitted two years prior as a part of an entire pack of song fragments to Splice, a royalty-free music platform for artists that typically pays contributors a little bit of cash depending on how popular their uploads get.
As “Deep End Freestyle” took off on TikTok, Fousheé pushed for public and professional recognition for her work, eventually releasing a new song written around her refrain “I don’t think you want to go off the deep end/I don’t think you want to give me a reason.” Fousheé’s own “Deep End” now has near 250 million plays itself, she got a featured artist credit on Sleepy Hallow’s freestyle, and she signed to RCA — label home to Sleepy, Steve Lacy, Tems, SZA, and a shit ton of your other favorite artists.
Next, to assert her place among the most elite musicians, Fousheé is going for timeless. For now, timelessness is the principle guiding her as she’s begun to record her debut album, considering softCORE and the project before it, 2021’s time machine, EPs of sorts. Timelessness was the goal of her Grammy look, a sheer, slim, off-shoulder Givenchy gown in black that swept the thick, triangular closed toe of her silvery, ankle-strapped heels.
When I casually ask Fousheé how old she is — I’m 29, and she looks my age or younger — she coolly responds, “I don’t have an age.” First time I’ve heard that one. She looks at it like this: “When you read a book, those characters just kind of live forever and in the same form that you remember them in. I would like my art to live the same way — not be standing around age or personal things, just the stories and experiences.”
Fair enough. One of the most important things about Fousheé is that, with her bold takes on rock, rap, and R&B, her bleach-blonde hair, enviable style, and measured attitude, she offers a new incarnation of a woman — a Black woman — being whoever the hell she wants in a world that so often stifles those desires and the pursuit of them. And really, what’s more timeless than that?
The breadth of Fousheé’s budding discography works because her disparate approaches are united under her hip-hop sensibilities, her melodic capacity, her technicality as a producer and instrumentalist, and her vision as the executive of her own sound. Key to bringing it all together is her writing: earnest, sarcastic, startling, even at its most gentle. On “Sunshine” with Steve Lacy, she tells a difficult lover they’re for the streets in no uncertain terms: “I took the high road/You ran through everyone/Is it still that special if the whole world had some?” On the harsher softCORE standout “die,” all distortion and drums, she screeches, “He said I’m too mean/Like I give a fuck/You better tighten up/Stop crying and light the blunt/Stop whining and throw some ones.”
“I love creating shock moments,” she tells me. “My tone as a writer, I think, shows a lot about my personality.” As an artist, and specifically, a lyricist, her role models include Bob Marley, Lauryn Hill, and Carole King. “Frank Ocean is a big someone I look up to,” she adds, but she’s really looking to artists whose work has built a legacy across generations. “Artists whose songwriting just really capture the human experience.”
On Gemini Rights, Fousheé helped Lacy build out verbiage and syntax for the ideas that would come up in their conversations and sessions. They first met at a house party sometime before Covid shut things down. She traces the origins of “Bad Habit” back to a time when she met up with Lacy at a studio where he was sorting through more than 100 songs, thinking of the album to come.
“We were talking about what the project would be about,” Fousheé says. “He’s very naive to people liking him, or sometimes he can’t tell if someone likes him or is attracted to him. We just played around that concept and went back and forth with different lines, which became ‘Bad Habit.’ It’s kind of written in parts. I went back and forth on the first part and the hook.” Fousheé credits other collaborators as well, but sums it up like this: “It just started with an observation about himself and [we] just made it a story… I was just there to help him organize those thoughts.”
Lacy and Fousheé seem to be mutual muses, so much so that they’re back recording at the same studio where Gemini Rights was made, in rooms down the hall from each other. “We’ll drop in on each other and I like to think of it as musical community,” she says.
She doesn’t think her next album will sound much like softCORE. She’s thinking of the upcoming album as her debut, one that brings together every part of her, in cohesion, succinctly, as opposed to an EP that captures a moment.
“I think softCORE was very specific. It was a very specific reaction,” she says. For her, the project was a confrontation of and rebellion against gender roles: “Maybe guys get more freedom. They can be more promiscuous, sexual and loud and negligent. There’s a certain responsibility and softness, even when it comes to sexual partners, [that’s] expected of women classically in a relationship.”
She broadens her point: “In music in the industry, I think it’s the same as relationships: Women who make it to a larger audience a lot of times aren’t making music that’s aggressive, loud. It’s the same thing, just in a different atmosphere.”
I ask if she considers herself a feminist, and she pauses. “Well, what is feminism?”
After some more consideration, she states her own perspective: “I want equal access to everything. So if that’s what feminism is, yeah.”
Fousheé grew up near the middle of New Jersey. When she was in school, the humanities — art aside — surprisingly weren’t her thing. “I’m the worst with names, dates — history obviously wasn’t my best subject,” she says. “Interestingly, literature wasn’t my favorite [or] my best subject either.” Art and math, though, spoke to her. “Which makes me think that I’m writing from a different space that’s more visual,” she adds.
Given her directness — like when she coos, “Mama says I’m a sweetheart/Grandma says ‘keep your heat tucked,’” on softCORE’s “i’m fine” — that makes sense. And that clarity may be the thing that makes her timeless in the end. “Especially in softCORE, I wasn’t trying to be metaphorical,” she tells me. “Sometimes I get more symbolic. I did that in the past and I felt like it’s hard to relate to and understand that way. I think there’s a way to make it… Even if it’s not wordy or layered, you can say a lot.”