July 25, 2018

An Interview With Ebhoni

Article submitted to the Polaroid Originals Magazine by Matt Williams. Photography by Felice Trinidad. Clothing by I.AM.GIA.

Ebhoni is one of Toronto’s most promising young artists. Two years after dropping her Mood Ring EP, the 18-year-old singer is currently prepping to release its excellent follow-up: a collection of vivid, pop-focused R&B numbers delivered in her smoky voice and adorned with smooth, stellar production. If you’ve heard lead single “Opps,” you know already that Ebhoni has arrived fully-formed, which should come as no surprise once you learn she’s been working on music for at least half her life. After hearing her singing around their Weston Road home, her mom entered her in a YouTube audition contest for Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition when she was only nine. That video racked up over 100,000 views. Ebhoni has been working on her own music ever since.

Fresh off of a performance at Toronto Pride and a modeling stint for Rihanna’s Fenty X Savage lingerie line earlier this year, she made some time to talk about growing up on Toronto’s Weston Road, her girl gang, and her upcoming EP. After asking if it’s okay to swear, she says her new songs are “for all the girls who’ve been dealing with f**kboys and wanna feel pretty, wanna feel like a baddie, and just wanna turn up with their friends.”

How has music changed for you since you started making it?

I’ve definitely learned a lot through the music industry. At the beginning, it’s a process. You’re finding what you love, what you don’t like. I find that now I know what I like, and I’m very much dedicated and know what I want. You’re just more aware. Also, it helps me as far as working really hard. I feel like starting out at such a young age, the discipline has helped me non-stop work to get where I am now. I feel like that was the biggest thing for me, the discipline. Because I feel like if I didn’t start out at a young age, I don’t know if I’d really have the discipline that I have now.

I know you and your mom are quite close. What has your relationship with her been like during the whole process?

My mom is literally my best friend. I do everything with her. I get really upset because my mom pushes me all the time, like, I could be so tired, and I’ll still have to rehearse. For example, I recently did Pride, and for my Pride shows, every other morning I had rehearsals. Then when she got home from work I still had to rehearse for like, four hours with her, in heels. It was so stressful because I was so tired. She always pushes me all the time. But I’m so happy to have her around. She’s always by my side and has my best interests [in mind]. I feel like that’s really important, to always have someone. My mom is my biggest supporter. I don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for my mom. Because she puts so much forward just for me to have a music career and be where I am. Even in the beginning, when I was doing YouTube covers, I know she barely had money and she bought this expensive camera just so I could put filters on it and do all this crazy stuff. Just for YouTube. No one knew what would really happen, but she did it because she believed in it. Or like when she missed work just to drive me to rehearsals, or come to my shows and help me do my hair and makeup. She’s a really big supporter of mine.

How has your Weston Road community supported you?

It’s literally like family. You walk outside, it’s a community of people, you see them all the time, every day. They knew me from when I just started out on YouTube, and it was a huge thing, like, ‘Oh, Ebhoni’s doing YouTube covers,’ and everyone would support. For my music video for “Opps,” it was crazy because when I look at the video, it’s really a family of people. I didn’t really take in how close everyone really was. We literally grew up together and they all came together just to support me, spend the whole day in the cold. I was just like, ‘Wow.’ They’re really, really supportive. When my song dropped they were pushing it. When I was doing YouTube covers they were pushing it on Facebook. It’s honestly like family. It’s amazing.

Photo: Felice Trinidad

How does Weston Road influence your music?

I feel like, growing up on Weston Road, you see a lot, and you kinda witness a lot of things at a really young age. I feel like everyone on Weston Road grows up fast. Not in a bad way, but in a good way—we see so much that we mature. It also taught me real friends and fake friends. In my music, it’s helped me speak up and say what’s on my mind, and just be very straight up and not afraid to say what I want to say. And I feel like it’s helped me a lot with that. I was very closed off before, very shy. Then I actually thought about it and it was like, ‘Okay, I just took when I learned growing up and put it toward my music.’

When you watch the “Opps” video, how does it make you feel? It must be so cool to have your entire community in a music video with you.

I feel amazing. That day was so crazy. I was so happy. Everyone’s adrenaline was running, everyone was outside laughing, everyone was turning up, everyone was having so much fun, and when I look at the video, I’m just like, ‘Wow.’ It made me feel good because there are also artists that I listen to that grew up on Weston Road with me, and I have them in my music video. I don’t think words can explain how happy I was to see how it came together and to be able to show what Weston Road really is about. I feel like when people think about Weston Road, they think about gangs or certain violence, and I found that in the music video I was showing more of Weston Road than what people are thinking or what they’re told. To be able to see that there are just kids and they’re having fun and just living. There are rappers there and everyone is getting along. It made me really happy and I’m pretty sure everyone was super happy. Because that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to show the good side and what Weston Road really is.

What made you decide to put your girl gang front and centre in that video?

I’m very much for women’s empowerment. I don’t hate men, but I’m always like… You always see guys in music videos sexting, and they’re always with their friends, and no girl and women empowerment. They’re not doing anything. That song, “Opps,” I actually wrote about this guy who cheated on me with one of my good friends. It was almost like I was telling him, ‘You’re not worth it. You’re an opp.’ And it was a bunch of girls getting together and telling these guys, ‘You’re not worth it.’ So I clearly got all the girls together and just had like, a woman force. Just to say eff you, this is what it is. And just to feel like strong and know womanhood. Just to be together. Because at the end of the day, if a guy messes up, all we have is each other. That was my biggest goal. That’s why I wanted all the girls there.

How has Toronto music influenced you?

That’s kind of a hard question. I listen to Toronto artists. I feel like Drake has definitely put Toronto on the map. I feel like it’s influenced me in a way like, definitely the way we talk. It’s crazy because I never pick up on our slang until I hear it in rappers’ music. I know I say it all the time, but then I’m like, ‘Oh my god, we actually say that? Why don’t I put that in my song?’ It’s so crazy to me, because I don’t take in the way we actually talk or the things we do, like how fun it actually is until I hear some rapper talking about it. Like, ‘Oh my god, Toronto’s actually lit.’

That new Drake album just came out today. What do you think of it?

I love it. I’m pretty sure everyone loves it. I’m obsessed with it.

Photo: Felice Trinidad

In your bio it says you’re, ‘now 18, with heartbreaks enough for a lifetime.’ Can you tell me about some of those heartbreaks that have ended up in your songs?

There’s a line in “WASTEMAN” that goes, ‘Tired of these pussy boys sucking on my weave.’ That song, that’s on my project, it was actually about my ex. I was so angry and furious and hurt, because I was like, ‘How could you cheat on me and do me wrong?’ I was so mad. I was with him for almost a year. I put all my feelings out into this song. You always hear guys say, ‘Get off my dick,’ and I’m like, I’m just gonna say, ‘Tired of these pussy boys sucking on my weave.’ I call out his friend, I call out a bunch of stuff. Honestly, that was the worst heartbreak I’ve ever had. It was really hard for me. I think what made it harder was the fact we were both in the music industry. I knew were were gonna cross paths. We knew the same people. And it was really difficult for me, because you obviously want to see them do good, but then you’re no longer with them, and it appears they’re already doing better than you. We were both in the same industry, but at that time he was way ahead, doing better than me. I was so hurt, going through depression. I was so devastated because he moved on and was doing big things. He had a record deal, he had a girlfriend, and I was really just home writing music. And I was like, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen with me.’ And then like, why am I actually hurting? What’s really going on? So honestly I just picked myself up. And then again, this is where all my girls came in for ‘Opps.’ That one heartbreak, I feel like, has to do with every single song, and my whole mindset now: ‘I just need to pick myself up and make music for women.’ Because I just feel like I can’t keep doing the whole sad s**t. I picked myself up, went out with my girls, and honestly, within months I was better and not putting up with anyone’s bulls**t. I was just happy.

How does making music help you deal with those feelings?

It helps me get things off my chest. I’m very much someone who holds things in. I don’t talk much. And I think it’s really hard for people around me, like my mom or my sister, to really know what I’m thinking, because I’m always so quiet and to myself. So when I’m writing, I always have so much to say because I hold so much in. I feel like if I didn’t have music, I would just go crazy, because I would bottle everything up.

How did you end up modeling for Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty lingerie line?

I was at home, a few months before Valentine’s Day, and I got an email about how there was a casting in New York and they wanted me to come out with a portfolio. First of all, I’m not a model, so I didn’t know anything about that. And I’m like, ‘Okay, this is obviously fake, I’m not going.’ I thought it was spam. So I left it alone. Then I got a second email a few months after that and they said, ‘Okay we want to fly you to London.’ And I’m like, ‘Okay, this is fake, I’m not going.’ I don’t remember how they worded it but it was something like, ‘We’re shooting in London,’ and it was very vague. It didn’t say what it was for, it was just like, ‘For Rihanna,’ that was it. Then the third time they messaged me in February, and they were like, ‘We’ve been looking at you for a long time, we really want you, it’s gonna be for Rihanna’s new Fenty line.’ A bunch of stuff, but still very vague. And I saw it was Tyrone Lebon, he was the photographer, he did the whole #MyCalvins campaign. I was like, ‘This can’t be real, because he’s super huge.’ I guess my management messaged them back to be like, ‘What’s up?’ and get more details, and then they came back to me and were like, ‘Well, Rihanna wants to fly you out.’ Then the day after Valentine’s Day, when I was super depressed because I did not have a valentine, and I was alone and all my friends were out, I got flown out to LA. It was crazy.

What was the experience like?

It was amazing. I came off the plane and then they took me to Rihanna’s hairdresser, and I got my hair done, then I had fittings. It was honestly crazy. At that moment, my adrenaline was rushing, I couldn’t really take in what was happening. Then I went to go get a Brazilian wax, which is horrible. The pain was crazy. I think that was the craziest part of that whole experience, to be honest. And then I went on set, and it was amazing. Her whole crew was so beautiful, they were so nice. They treated me really well, it was so much fun. It was on a really nice beach, really nice out, really beautiful. No complaints.

Why is supporting the LGBTQ community important to you?

Being West Indian—my background is Jamaican and Antiguan—I have a lot of West Indian friends. And a lot of my friends are bisexual, gay, lesbian. I know by seeing and witnessing it, the hurt they go through not being able to go and tell their parents, ‘Hey, this is it, I’m bisexual.’ It hurts, because they should be able to be who they are. So I wanted to do something. There was this thing called SOY (Supporting Our Youth), and it’s for the LGBTQ teens to go there and dress up and dance and do all these things they’re not able to do at home. Last summer I did a bunch of stuff with them, and my friends were able to come out and everyone was so happy that day. We went to the bowlathon. It was so fun. And honestly, to be able to see how happy and comfortable everyone was, it made me so happy. And I thought this is something I can’t stop doing, because to be able to put my friends in a situation and position where they feel comfortable and they’re able to be themselves, to be able to be a part of something where everyone feels that way, it’s amazing. So to open for Kehlani at Pride, where everyone is literally just being themselves and no one cares? It was amazing. It was my favorite performance because of that.

What do you want from a life in music?

I love performing. I love being on stage, I love singing, I love dancing, I love acting out my songs. What I’m really wanting, and I know it sounds so crazy, is I just want to be everywhere. It sounds so unrealistic, to be everywhere. I wanna perform, I wanna make music that people can listen to and laugh and dance. Just music that will actually touch people. That’s my biggest goal overall. I wanna be able to touch people in every way possible.

Photo: Felice Trinidad

Get your ears on Ebhoni’s music, tour dates and news on her website and Instagram feed.