Straighten your tie, comb your hair and clear your throat as you prepare to shake hands with rhythm royalty. You may not be able to make out her tiara through her wickedly cool fro of hair, but you can definitely hear the royal beat pulsing through her blue blooded veins. Having already worked with the who’s who of the hip- hop, soul, funk and r ‘n’ b elite, McKay is here to bolster herself as the rising Queen of these genres.
With a charismatic edge and indelible social conscience, Stephanie McKay’s second album, Tell It Like It Is, is embedded with the traditional sound of funk and soul. Combined with McKay’s distinctive vocals and the lyrics of a new generation dealt an unfamiliar hand in a time where terrorism and war is rearing it’s ugly head once again, and at an unprecedented level.
From her apartment in East Harlem, McKay earnestly explains to me the tonnes of inspiration she gains from her home town of New York and the resilient attitude it and it’s inhabitants have embraced. “Living here in post 9/11 is a very traumatic thing because it basically changed our lives. There are cameras everywhere and we get our bags randomly searched…. it’s very overwhelming in that sense. Being a creative person in New York is challenging at times and all of that seeped it’s way into the record.”
A key aspect of McKay’s social commentary is the war in the Middle East. Her song, This Letter that features on the new album reflects on the letters from loved ones to soldiers fighting in Iraq. “There are people who are dealing with [the war] on a very heavy level, so I guess some of that influenced me as well. Listening to my friends and reading letters in newspapers that were dedicated to soldiers from their wives – all of it has affected me.”
This once reluctant and shy girl from the Bronx took a little while to find her voice when she was younger. Always being put to the front of the choir by teachers who recognised her musical gift, McKay had originally wanted to be a professional dancer. A knee injury put a stop to that and when McKay realised her talent could make her a living when she was older, she dove head first into it.
Collaborating with Talib Kweli, Mos Def and equally outspoken and bold artist Kelis, to name but a few, McKay began to carve a name for herself as a dynamic live performer. Sassy, friendly and intrepid, McKay is a Bronx girl at heart and has always had a tenacity for being honest and telling it like it is. “Coming from the Bronx you kind of have to be that way, you have to stick up for yourself. When I was naming the album I was really asking people to tell it like it is. Asking our government – just anybody. Be honest, be truthful and find what the truth means for you.”
McKay also displays her smooth, sexy and fun side on this album with the duet Where Did Our Love Go?, alongside the contagiously high energy Jackson Avenue which has been doing the rounds on Triple J. McKay has embarked on two national tours of Australia with Katalyst, who produced Say What You Feel. The two toured the nation last year with the Good Vibrations festival, which McKay thoroughly enjoyed. “It was great, I was blown away by the whole concept that you could travel with this huge camp of people from state to state – Australians love to party!”
And you’ll love the funky sounds emanating from Stephanie McKay’s new album with it’s heart felt lyrics – finally an immeasurably talented female artist more concerned with the state of the world than her mid- rift. No doubt she will be seated at the throne of her genre for an extended and soulful dynasty.