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Amare Symone Is Here To Stay

The 21-year-old singer’s worldview and lineage manifest on her latest album.

by • Jake Krez photos • Timmy Risden

wardrobe • Big Hair Big City

Amare Symone introduces herself to the world by alternating between hellos and goodbyes on her latest album, Hello Heathrow. It’s fitting. She’s been doing both through her music for the most of her life. Bouncing from one coast to the next before settling in Chicago, Symoné’s family naturally instilled a sense of wanderlust in young Amare that has manifested itself into a centerpiece of the music she’s creating two decades later.

At different points in life, it was fair to wonder where you might run into Amare: hanging off Division near Young Chicago Authors, on the subway back to Brooklyn, crossing the Thames. With an array of experiences in her rearview, she’s setting up shop back here in Chicago, settling for a moment, looking determinedly forward.

“In Chicago there’s a lot of room for artists to develop themselves and figure out what their sound is and blossom,” Symoné said. “I’d never recorded before I came to Chicago. I’ve had a chance to figure out what I wanted to do.”

Combining The Coasts

It’s an open secret at this point that the creative incubator known as Young Chicago Authors is a breeding ground of well-heeled young talent. Boasting alumni of Chance The Rapper, Saba, NoName and many more, ‘YCA’ is an early, inclusive proving ground for young talent in the city. The first time Symone attended the program, her mother Mohogany L Browne performed a poem and Amare sang alongside her.

Such is the confluence of comfort and expectation that Symoné grew up with. Browne, a colleague of YCA co-founder Kevin Coval, is a respected writer and poet that has published several books, was featured on HBO’s Brave New Voices, and is perhaps best known for her work, “Black Girl Magic“. Her father, Jive Poetic, is a respected writer in his own right, a poet and DJ who was featured on FX’s Louie. With that much passion in her DNA already, Symoné has understood from a young age what it took to find success with her wordplay.

“Someone told me once that I can’t wait for people to support my art, I have to want to support own my art. “

Born in Sacramento, Symoné spent childhood between California and Brooklyn after her mother moved to New York to pursue a writing career when Amare was two. Summers spent west, and winters spent east allowed Symoné to develop an informed worldview from a young age. College beckoned her to Chicago, tying coastal experiences with a midwest sensibility. It was while she was in Chicago attending Columbia College that she began to understand how to tie together the thoughts, feelings and realizations that came along the way.

“I hope that traveling has made my music more versatile and I hope that it allows different people from different places to digest it and appreciate it and be moved by the art,” Symoné explained.

She has found a welcome home in Chicago. If her parents allowed her to share the coasts, she’s now splitting the difference.  

Everyone has that memorable break with their previous self in their early 20s. A moment when when the evolution to full form truly begins, leaving behind childhood innocence. For Amare, that was a trip overseas to London where she stayed for several months post-college, immersing and creating. The experience, had a distinct influence on the recent graduate, opening her eyes and deepening her resolve.

Afforded the ability to move about and the wisdom to look inwards for context, Amare is able to create relatable yet unique works that are inclusive without having to pander.

“I hope that traveling has made my music more versatile and I hope that it allows different people from different places to digest it and appreciate it and be moved by the art,” she said. “You need that first-hand experience. Traveling helped me understand other cultures and other artists and why their work is shaped and sounds different.”

Finding Her Voice

It was the beginning of her time in Chicago that prompted Symoné to release her first project, Glass Windows EP. The project did a lot to establish her in the local scene, the first glimpse many had gotten. Critically acclaimed at 17, she largely went quiet. Seeing greatness is different from understanding it. From a young age came to understand the difference of good and great, of manufactured and thoughtful.

It’s a tricky two way street.

On one hand, its impossible to understate the effect growing up in a home of creators had on a young artist. On the other, understanding the nuance and effort required for success can appear daunting to one on the front-end of their public-facing ability. For Symoné, it took awhile to feel confident in herself, her abilities, her writing. Having seen the way her parent’s and contemporaries work impacted others provided her with ready-made inspiration in her periphery.

“I was so nervous and shy growing up in New York and scared to embarrass myself because I wanted to be great. My parents are great writers and so many people look up to their writing. I was so scared to share my work because I didn’t want it to be anything less than good,” said Symoné.

Over time she was able to harness the power of her pen, looking inward for inspiration from her own life and crafting relatable stories by eschewing the cliches of the moment in a pursuit to create works that are long-lasting and meaningful.

“She’s very poetic when it comes to her writing style. She can sit down and write out songs. Everything from the verses to the hook stand out,” explained close friend and fellow artist, Musa Reems.

In a recent documentary, Sam Cooke touches on this somewhat when discussing “A Change Is Gonna Come,” saying that as an artist ages and evolves the story they’re trying to tell becomes more full, opinionated and nuanced to the effects of life and its experiences. He went on to say that this particular decision marked a clear realignment in the music he made.

Symoné is already proving an ability to responsibly mine her own life experiences to use as tenants of inclusive, sympathetic stories. And doing so similarly represented a turn of the page for her as an artist.

“I didn’t get really comfortable and find confidence in my songwriting and begin to tell my story until I got to Chicago at seventeen or eighteen,” said Symoné. “It definitely took me awhile to grow into myself and just believe in my own work.”

Looking Forward

From one coast to the next and beyond, Symoné has maintained an artistic balance that’s manifested itself in her work thus far. There’s plans for more travels, journeys further through Europe on the horizon, but for now she’s focusing on using what’s she learned to affect others. In turn, she’s evolving to establish her as the next young voice to emerge from Chicago.

“I want my story to reach the masses because I feel like art is what keeps people living. I think art, shapes, the way we think the way we feel I think it challenges us.”

Later this month her art will point her south to Austin, Tx., for her first SXSW, the latest chapter in her artistic journey.

“”I’m excited for what’s next. I’ve been on and off with my work to this point, but I feel ready to take those steps forward and I think people will start to see that throughout this year,” said Symoné.

One thing is for sure. No matter where life takes Symoné, Amare the Artist isn’t going anywhere.

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