Rising R&B Star Rakiyah on K-Pop, appropriation, and building her own lane | Sunday Observer

Rising R&B Star Rakiyah on K-Pop, appropriation, and building her own lane

14 February, 2021

Dreamy and futuristic are just a couple ways to describe the sound of up-and-coming R&B singer Rakiyah, who's been using her many artistic gifts and college education to create her own lane in the music industry.

New Jersey native Rakiyah Wright first gained attention as a YouTuber, but now, the 28-year-old rocket scientist (yes, an actual rocket scientist) and business owner has set her sights on being a full time musician. As a Black woman making music, it’s easy to get pigeonholed into genre by perception; despite this, Rakiyah is determined to find success on her own terms.

Rakiyah first started releasing music in 2018 with her EP, Mango Tree, recorded in Korea alongside a Korean engineer. Since moving back to the U.S. in 2019 after several eventful study abroad excursions, her sound and artistry have progressed. While living in Korea, Rakiyah also challenged herself by auditioning for Korean labels, though she ultimately decided to create her “own narrative as an independent artist,” she tells Teen Vogue. She left the States to move to Seoul for the first time in 2017, and since then has immersed herself in the culture, music scene, and language. Rakiyah took a leap of faith to release her first official Korean-English song Like You this past October, and her new EP, Into the Cosmos, is an effort to expand her unique debut and solidify her place as an independent R&B artist bridging the gap between the Western and Korean music industries. Though she’s dealt with her fair share of naysayers, they only fuel her to try her best as she pursues her passion. The lead single off of Into the Cosmos, called The Invitation, is her second Korean-English song, and has a feature from Korean singer J. Cob.

While a fan of K-pop, Rakiyah doesn’t want to be completely tied to the K-pop industry, as her main musical inspirations are fellow Black artists who pioneered and continually dominate the R&B genre. Representation for Black women in diverse spaces, whether it’s STEM or Korean idol music, is something she’s fighting for both online and through her work.

Teen Vogue sat down with Rakiyah over Zoom to talk all things K-pop, her love for R&B, her growing music career, and more — and between the music she’s releasing and the way she talks about her passions, it’s clear there’s no one else in the industry doing it like she is.

Q: You’ve been making music in English for a while. What made you decide to try singing in Korean?

A: It wasn’t until I moved to Korea … I speak Korean. I have a long way to go to learn how to be fluent, but I was like, I’m a Black girl, so I don’t know what the general consensus is going to be. To me, it’s awesome to be a Black woman in STEM already. I’m an aerospace engineer, and now I decided to be a musician, and I’m like, OK, well now let’s add Korean [speaker] to this list.

I was really scared because I thought people would be pretty upset at the idea, which some people are because they create these assumptions of gate keeping something because it’s a fantasy and they like to keep it the way it is, when I’m just doing my culture’s music in another language. If anything, it allows people to cross bridges of cultures. So I was like, let me do it right. I hired my friend as my Korean co-writer and I was like “Listen, I wanna make sure lyrically it’s correct in Korean and I want to practice my pronunciation,” so I worked hard for like a month with the first song and now here we are, with “Like You” being my first “Korean” debut, and now I just took it to another level with this EP.

Q: What was your attraction to Korea?

A: It wasn’t until 2015 or 2016 when I had a coworker who was young as well and she was like, “You need to watch these K-dramas.” So, I decided to watch it and my first K-drama ever was Boys over Flowers. It’s very old, everyone always talks about that one, it ain’t it now, but back then, that was intriguing.

Q: What do you think is going to happen in the future with the K-pop industry?

A: There’s consumers and there is the business side of it. What Korea is noticing and doing now, especially when you have successful groups like BTS, is, “What do we need to do to become a bigger label?” If you repeat or copy America, one thing that we do with our labels is it’s very universal. It’s all different kinds of people, all different kinds of artists, under one label, and I think the Korean labels are now trying to expand globally. It’s not just because they want to be inclusive as we would hope it to be, but it’s the business aspect.

How can I get more reach, more of an audience? Oh, let’s include people from different backgrounds now, so what I think will happen in the future, or very soon, is that labels will get people who are not Asian to be a part of the scene. To catch up, now that they’re on the map, they have to shift that cultural difference.