Fresh off of a 2012 BET nomination for best female hip-hop artist – among the likes of Nicki Minaj, Diamond and Trina – Brianna Perry is ready to assassinate the industry with the March release of her latest mixtape, “Symphony No. 9.” From making it to 8 a.m. classes on time to surviving late-night studio sessions, she shares the secrets to musical success.
BRIANNA PERRY, the 21-year-old rapper and self-proclaimed “young rich bandit” is an hour and forty-five minutes late to her Distraction cover shoot. It’s almost 2 o’clock in the afternoon and I’ve been anxiously glancing at my iPhone, opening and reopening my text messages, hoping Brianna says she’s near. Our photographer, stylist, assistants and I are all beginning to think this cover shoot is more of a miss and less of a hit.
But when Brianna arrives, when she’s finally ready, she pulls up in a sexy and sleek silver Benz and has come to work. “So sorry. We were in glam mode,” says Kiki, Brianna’s mom, manager and as I learn, backbone. Her hair is perfectly curled and her make up accentuates her best features. The 5-foot-9 Miami-bred diva walks into the studio wearing Gucci flip-flops and nondescript gray sweats. She flashes a warm smile at everyone on set, gently drops down her bags and starts to sift through the black and white outfit choices our fashion editors have selected.
For someone who calls herself arrogant and a diva in her own songs, Brianna’s demeanor is far from cold or aloof. In fact, the in your face, all about glamour woman I studied in music videos on YouTube wasn’t the one who arrived. Instead, I was graced with a quiet, polite and almost shy persona who was more interested in the job at hand than small talk.
A pin-drop quiet has set inside the room we’re shooting in. Perhaps we’re all nervous, waiting for Brianna to demand what only celebrities and artists can think of – blue and not red M&M’s; Fiji water; 8, not 7 cans of Red Bull; three full-time assistants; an on-site yoga instructor; a devoted posse. To my surprise, this never happens. She’s much more humble and only has one request: to use a pair of sky-high black/red/white bootie heels and loud cross-striped pants. The first look is set and Brianna steps in front of the camera. There’s no fuss. No attitude. No screaming.
Brianna is every photographer’s dream. She doesn’t ask many questions. She doesn’t pose awkwardly. She commands the lenses’ attention and makes the camera follow her. She – not anyone else – is in control. Her latest track, “Red Cup,” featuring Pusha T, plays from a laptop and her shyness is immediately replaced by a badass bravado.
It’s as if she can tap in an out of an alter ego at a moment’s notice.
HER LEVEL OF PROFESSIONALISM and ability to help make fabulous photos isn’t a surprise. Before becoming the young rich bandit a.k.a. YRB, a moniker she and her fans have made trend on Twitter, she was your Miami girl next door with a love for hip hop and rap. This girl next door, though, didn’t have a “Little House on the Prairie”-type of upbringing.
In 2002, Brianna made her official rap debut as Lil’ Brianna in “Kandi” on Trina’s second album, “Diamond Princess.” This same album also brought the world “B R Right,” featuring Ludacris, which soared to the top of the charts and secured Trina’s place in rap royalty. Trina’s “Kandi” proved that Brianna was ready to go:“Watch out now, it’s Lil’ Brianna. No, I’m not Bow Wow…10 years old, the baby diva, all the kids at school call me baby Trina.”
“I got in the booth for the first time at age 7, at Poe Boy,” says Brianna, referring to Poe Boy Music Group, one of the labels she’s currently signed to and the home of Flo Rida, Brisco, Billy Blue, J Rand and Kulture Shock. She credits the discovery of her talent to an uncle that recently passed away, but always encouraged her. It was after school, inside of Poe Boy’s studios, that Brianna learned the art of making music and writing from beats.
Following “Kandi,” Brianna caught the attention of not only local musicians, but also national ones. She’s seen dancing in the background of Missy Elliott’s famous “Pass That Dutch” music video and in others by Trick Daddy. Since then, her songs feature collaborations with hip-hop and rap heavyweights like Rick Ross, Pretty Ricky and Flo-Rida. And we can only expect more. Last year, Brianna was officially signed to Atlantic Records. “Atlantic presented me with the best plan, the best opportunity, so I went along with that,” she says.
When it comes to music making, she has it all. Her vocals and unarguable ability to rap are evident in all her songs, but her talent as a lyricist and wordsmith deserves applause. Her songs – fast, punchy, funny, witty – have the same, if not better, polished sound than those of her contemporaries. Like most rappers, Brianna loves to boast about her lavish, work-centric lifestyle and does so from a sarcastic, it’s-all-about-me point of view. She’s a fan of glamour and she’s not afraid to say it, dropping the names of designer labels, luxury cars and what she thinks is the best in travel. In “Marilyn Monroe,” she shares the name of her favorite hotel: “Fontainebleau, we don’t do the Hilton.”
Yet if you listen to each song closely, she’s still the girl next door. Brianna reminds us that she’s young, on the rise, and in school. And she has an admirable ability to make mundane subjects – walking to class, driving around Miami, shopping for shoes – sound fascinating. “When you listen to my lyrics and my music, you get a sense of who I am,” she says. “The beat tells you what to say. It’s a feeling and a vibe that you pick up when you listen to the instrumental and track and it guides you.”
Perhaps more impressive is her fan base. On Twitter (@BriannaTheYRB), Brianna is verified and is followed by a legion of over 58,000 devotees. Her tweets jump from song lyrics to inspirational quotes, Instagram pictures to fan retweets. On YouTube, Brianna lovers and haters unite to critique every move, every word and every video released to the public. A majority of the comments, not surprisingly, are written in adoration. Team YRB, as Brianna officially calls them, love her lyrics (“she’s sick”), her beauty (“she gives me chills, don’t change”) and look forward to her future (“she could take out the whole industry”).
“You’re working so hard and you’re sharing so much of you with people you’ve never met. I talk to my fans on Twitter and Instagram and I love the feedback,” she says. “I sometimes want to know how people feel about what I’m giving them, especially the fans. Team YRB, I love them and they’ve been riding with me for a very long time.”
Her fans aren’t just anybody, either.
In March 2012, Beyonce Knowles – mother, mogul, entrepreneur and chart topper – featured Brianna’s “Marilyn Monroe” music video on her own website, BeyonceOnline.com, and simply wrote, “A hot song from a cool new artist!” If social media is any indicator of Brianna’s interests and reaction, she loved the compliment and in just the past month has posted two photos of Beyonce in admiration.
The list of accolades doesn’t stop there.
Last year, Brianna was nominated for BET’s best female hip-hop artist award, placing her in the same category as Diamond, Nicki Minaj and her still-to-this-day mentor, Trina. Minaj took home the title, but Brianna wasn’t fazed. “I was the only one in the category yet to release my debut album,” she says. “I landed in New York and as soon as I powered my phone on I saw all the tweets. My dad or brother called me and told me the good news. It was a blessing to be nominated. It was so shocking to be in the same category as people who have been in the game. It was super dope.”
It’s not uncommon for writers, editors, rappers and of course, fans, to compare Brianna to Minaj or other female rappers like Diamond and Azealia Banks. In fact, People placed Brianna in the same group as Banks when identifying top female rappers to look out for. In an article dubbed, “Nicki Minaj is the Influential Leader of Hip-Hop,” New York Times writer Jon Caramanica said of the female rap world: “a new generation, including Azealia Banks, Brianna Perry and Angel Haze, is rising quickly, working territory that [Minaj] carved out.” Other publications have followed suit with comparisons, including TIME, Billboard, Los Angeles Times, Vibe and XXL.
“You don’t really have time to focus on others,” Brianna says. “I wish them the best of luck, but I think we’re all different; different artists, different types of women. I think we represent different things, but at the end of the day we’re all fellow FeMCs, not competitors. I’m my only competition.”
But the competition within her not only lives in the music world, but on campus. Brianna, a junior studying business administration, has to balance her studio sessions and performances with homework and exams.
On a typical day, Brianna wakes up early after only having slept for two or three hours. She heads to an 8 or 9 a.m. class, leaves school and then arrives at the studio to write and record. There’s often a late-night performance that same day followed by another 8 a.m. the following morning. It’s grueling.
“You’re constantly on the move. You rarely sleep. It is glamorous because of photo shoots and shows, but it’s really a lot of traveling, airplane clothes and rehearsals. Sometimes I don’t leave the studio ‘til 4 in the morning,” she says. “I love every aspect of it and I try not to complain. I know I’m very blessed and I’m getting to live out my dream and do what I love and have a passion for.”
Brianna’s biggest fans are in her inner circle. A tight, close group of mostly family, friends and industry insiders give her feedback and keep her grounded. In this group there’s Kiki, Brianna’s mom and manager, her dad and her brother Bryson and then, of course, her Poe Boy family, which includes E-Class, the label’s CEO. She says Trina, Teyana Taylor, Rick Ross, Flo-Rida and other local Miami-raised rappers are her mentors. “I have a great group of friends and a great family and they inspire my music,” she says. “Most of my music is just my outlook on life. It’s everything I observe.”
In 2011, Brianna told Distraction that her greatest accomplishment to date was receiving her UM acceptance letter in the mail. That still holds true today. “All my other accomplishments have been music based, but getting into UM was solely on me and nothing else. I’m very proud of that. Getting signed to a major record label was amazing, but being a Hurricane is core.”
Brianna still wants to add more to her to-do list. “I’m pretty social around campus and I have a small group of friends, but I want to go to more sporting events,” she says. “I walk around and I see posters for events and I just feel like I’m not too engaged. I want to do everything.”
And though she may feel disconnected from the campus community, she’s certainly imbedded into Miami’s hip-hop club and performance scene. She regularly opens the shows of other rappers throughout the year, and on her free time, enjoys heading to Room Service, Bamboo and LIV. “I have fun,” she says. For her 21st birthday in January, Brianna celebrated by performing. “I was at a party in Tallahassee and I got surprised with a cake,” she says. That cake was of course fit for Brianna’s standards and was modeled after a Chanel and Prada handbag. “I also performed, Trina performed, Future performed, Trinidad James performed – I turned up that night.”
Of her hot songs and projects in the works, Brianna says, “I’m on a roller coaster right now. It’s a crazy ride and I’m chasing my dream.” These dreams have been realized with the debut of a new mix tape, “Symphony No. 9,” set to drop March 8. With its 11 tracks, she’s bringing fans new music with an entirely new list of collaborators – Trey Songz, Teyana Taylor, Pusha T, Trina, French Montana and Future, to name a few. “It feels like an album. Everyone at the label is saying this is an album,” she says. “You’re going to see so much growth from the little girl who was in the booth with Trina, spitting about candy.”
BACK IN THE PHOTO STUDIO, Brianna’s mom, Kandi, is giving Brianna a reality check. As our photographer snaps the first round of photos for her second look, Kandi, like any mother, walks over to Brianna and repositions her hair, adjusts her jewelry, and reminds her to push that skirt down lower: “Not too sexy, more lady like.” Four looks later, the photo shoot wraps and Brianna’s camera-ready facade turns off. Which brings us back to alter egos.
I mention to Brianna that despite her striking, dramatic on-stage presence, she’s reserved in person. “I’m very laid back, passive and chill, but when I hit the stage it’s something else,” she tells me. “My other side comes out. I’ve given her a name. She’s Milan. She’s very sassy and it’s all about her.” The biggest different between Brianna and Milan? “Everything. Milan is more outspoken and she’s very outgoing and in your face, whereas Brianna is just chill.” Bullshit. With a major record deal and BET nominations, it’s hard to categorize Brianna as simply ‘chill’. I think we’ve already seen more of Milan, and less of Brianna. And that won’t be changing anytime soon.
words_jonathan borge. photo_raquel zaldivar. style_ana calderone. fashion assistant_gabrielle mottaz.