After lighting up the Billboard Hot 100 with her debut single “Me & U” in 2006, Cassie appeared primed and ready to become one of R&B’s premier acts. With a Top 3 single, a talented producer in Ryan Leslie and a co-sign from Puff Daddy in tow, the sky was the limit for the then 19-year-old.
Though her second single, “Long Way to Go” failed to match the success of its predecessor, her self-titled debut album was well-received by music critics. Leslie’s fearless ability to tinker with the sounds of R&B and Cassie’s whispery, seductive voice helped create a cult following for the singer. Still, despite her success, Cassie struggled to successfully piece together her sophomore album.
Numerous pushbacks and delays derailed her trajectory musically. In addition, Leslie and Cassie elected to go in separate directions, further prolonging the release. With her music career at a standstill, she pursued acting and made her debut in 2008 with Step Up 2. Hungry to prove that she was still a threat musically, she crafted a myriad of singles that year including “Must Be Love” featuring Diddy and “Official Girl” featuring Lil Wayne.
Still, Cassie’s music career remained in limbo. Even after inking a deal with Interscope in 2009, she wasn’t able to release her second album. Tired of leaving her fans famished, she unleashed her mixtape RockabyeBaby in 2013. Boasting appearances from the likes of Rick Ross, Wiz Khalifa, French Montana, Fabolous and more, fans were more hopeful than ever.
Fast track to present day, and Cassie has a new deal under her belt. With Epic Records serving as her home now, the multi-faceted star deftly whipped up a somber, but catchy comeback single in “Love a Loser” featuring G-Eazy. Then, she released the Diddy-directed short film for the track and later, the visuals for the single. With PARTYNEXTDOOR, Jeremih, Khalid all sprinkling their musical flavor onto Cassie’s latest endeavor, she’s finally ready to return to music and at full-force.
Billboard caught up with Cassie at the 1 Hotel to speak on her return to R&B, her evolution as an artist and songwriter, and which artists she’s been working with for her new album.
Billboard: When did you get that itch to return back into the studio?
Cassie: Well, you know, I’ve never really stopped making music, it was just about the timing. So, like, I couldn’t explain it any better than that this timing is the best timing that I’ve ever felt in my entire life to put out music. I shot a couple of movies within a year. I did Perfect Match and I did Honey 3, but with Honey 3, I lived in South Africa for like two-and-half-months. I went on my own and kind of like just figured out a whole new life, which was really dope, but the experience there taught me a lot about music, too.
Right before I left, I was working with The Stereotypes and we were creating for me to be released, but then, I got the movies and I was like, “You know what? I’m not going to give up moving to South Africa for that.” So I did that and when I got out there, I was opened up to Black Coffee because I could hear him performing from my bedroom and I was just like, “Who is that? What is that?”
Fast forward, when I got home, I met him. So, it’s crazy how things come full circle. I would say that I never really stopped [making music], but the actual itch to do this project right now was when the music felt right. So “Love a Loser” made sense.
How did “Love a Loser” come about?
I wrote “Love a Loser” with Belly. That was really organic, as well. I was in the studio with him and I really loved the idea. He left the room for a second and I started to write. Then, he came back in and he started to write and we kind of kept going back and forth. Then, I guess G-Eazy heard it by chance. He was like, “I have to be on this record.” I didn’t know him, so I was like, “Go for it.” It came out really, really dope. And then from there, I felt like it was personally my shit.
With your success in both modeling and acting, what lessons did you take from those lanes that your brought over to the music side?
You know, I feel like there’s this ability that artists, actors and performers just in general have of being able to turn on and off. It’s like good acting and being able to establish yourself that way, but to carry it over to music, it would have to be working off a vibe. Like everything has to feel right. If the energy is not right, it’s lifeless. So I would have to say that all that got carried over to the music, so it’s a good vibe and honest vibe.
Your first record “Me and You” came out in 2006. How would you compare yourself as a woman and as an artist from that period in time to present-day Cassie?
Well, [Laughs] it’s been like a long transformation over a period of time. A lot of my friends say to me — and it makes me feel really good — even though my life has changed and things have developed, I haven’t changed. My heart is still the same, it’s still in the same place. I’m actually a very spiritual person. I take trips by myself to Sedona and I just want to keep that. I was with my parents last night and they’re still married. They’re so in love.
They came to the club with me — to my hosting — and they always taught me to just be true. Like my mom, she sends videos to me and my brother everyday. She does like inspirational talks. She does reiki therapy. Her and my dad just embraced who we were. It wasn’t liberal, but it was more like be who you are and don’t be anybody else. Don’t change.
It’s crazy because you have this star power, but yet, you’re holding the door for people and still very well-mannered. How have you managed to maintain that kind of persona despite your level of fame?
I just feel like even though I’ve been around for a minute, people still don’t really know me and that’s ok, because now I’m being given the opportunity to teach them exactly who I am and in a way more confident space, because I am older now. It’s not like I’m 19 anymore [Laughs], but it’s ok, I’m going to pretend I am as long as possible.
I think for me to stay that way, it’s more for my sanity than anyone else’s. My head gets big all the time, just like everybody else. Everybody can get cocky, but like I said, if you just remain you, it keeps you centered for yourself. It doesn’t have to do with anyone else and I just wanna be a nice person. I don’t want anybody to leave me and feel like, “Damn. She’s a fucking bitch.” I don’t want that. I want them to feel like they got something out of the situation and they enjoyed themselves.
We spoke to Puffy a couple of months back and he’s just someone who exudes positivity. In what ways has he inspired you musically?
We’ll sit and just listen to music for hours together and just go through stuff. So I’ll get to pick his brain and he gets to pick mine, which is really nice, but he just loves music so much and it rubs off. When I listen to records now, I spend time. There’s no rush. There hasn’t been a rush ’cause obviously it’s taken me a little while to get back to here, but he just loves music so much and it makes me love music even more too being around that.
So what essentially are you going to bring on this new body of work that you didn’t bring on your debut album, Cassie?
You know, that album was great. Ryan Leslie, that was all him. That was his passion project, now I finally found mine. So that might be the difference and also, I just mean growing up. There’s a whole different level that you get to once you get to connect with yourself, especially as an artist writing music. I’ve written on every record that I’m working on. I’m part of the entire creative project. The film you watched, the passion project, was all something that I really wanted to do. If I’m going to leave this earth at any point, I wanna do something that’s going to make me happy that I did for myself and that other people enjoy, too. The main difference is is that it’s mine [Laughs].
You’re always going to want something that’s yours at the end of the day.
At the end of the day! Honestly, Ryan, he literally catapulted me into the situation, so I can’t thank him enough at the same time. He really killed that album.
Which producers have you been working with now to help hone your sound now?
I just started working with Hit-Boy. It’s a cool connection. Everything is just super natural. It was a meeting of the minds. I just really, really love his energy, his vibe and he just makes incredible music. He’s actually a really dope writer, too. He’s a monster. Kaytranada did four tracks. PARTYNEXTDOOR did two songs and Rob Holladay. He was the executive producer on my mixtape Rockabye Baby. So, the “More Yes” record with Jeremih, he produced that. And I also got Black Coffee.
How do you feel you’ve improved as a songwriter?
I feel like I’ve improved a lot [Laughs]. I think at a younger age, I was a little too scared to say how I felt and I was overthinking. I still overthink everything.
How so? Is it like with every line you write that you’re overthinking?
No, not every line [Laughs], but life in general. You wanna make sure that you’re still saying something that means something to other people and it can’t just be super personal to you. I love writing, actually. It’s therapy.
Outside of songwriting, do you keep a journal or write poetry?
I have a journal. Sometimes, I just write random things. Like if I have a conversation with somebody and they say something profound, I’ll write it down. So it’s not like journaling necessarily, it’s just words that go together well. I like to write it down.
Which song or album is the soundtrack to your life at this current moment.
Ooh, that’s a good question. I have to think. It has to be somewhere between [Andre 3000′s] The Love Below and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
You can go with both. It’s like a fusion.
Yeah, it’s like a fusion! You know what I did love for a brief fun moment, but I mean I’m still listening to it now, Erykah Badu’s “Phone Down.” It’s so fire from top to bottom.
Would you rather win a Grammy or an Oscar?
Ooh. This is a really good question. I can’t win them all? [Laughs].
You gotta pick one.
I would love to be recognized for my music. I’d go the Grammy way, but an Oscar sounds really good, too [Laughs]. That’s my answer.