Kat Dahlia Talks Debut Album, My Garden:
"It's Mainly Just About Human Emotions"

Miami's Kat Dahlia.
Miami's Kat Dahlia.
Photo by Rankin

It's been a tumultuous three years for Miami singer-songwriter Kat Dahlia.

In 2012, the fledgling recording artist and former waitress signed a recording contract with Epic Records. A year later, she released her first single, the piano-laced hit "Gangsta," which ranked 47th on Billboard's Hop R&B Songs of 2013 list and has garnered more than 15 million views on YouTube so far.

That summer, Dahlia got pulled over for a DUI, but that hardly affected her career. And in 2014, Complex ranked her debut album, My Garden, as the year's 46th most anticipated album while she made plans for her first national tour.

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Then things went sideways. She couldn't hit her notes. Something was wrong with her voice. She had a cyst on her vocal cord, it turned out, and her singing career, she learned, was in jeopardy.

Her tour was canceled. Her album was put on hold. For ten days straight, she couldn't speak a word. She stopped socializing and became a hermit. She even changed her phone number. It took six months for her to recover, but by the end of 2014, she was back in the studio. She wrote some new songs. She went on tour. And most important, she finally finished her album.

My Garden has been a long time coming, and it doesn't disappoint. This full-length effort is a heartfelt portrait of Dahlia in all her manifestations and moods. Like her debut single, "Gangsta," it's raw and gritty, with a smattering of ruthless honesty and daring innuendo.

For a first album, it's an impressive feat, and Dahlia wrote or co-wrote all but one of the songs in the collection, which originally consisted of more than 100 songs that were ultimately pared to 11.

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The material on My Garden navigates a range of emotions and experiences from the young singer's life. Many of them, she says, were influenced by an abusive relationship from her past.

She sings of falling in love and falling out of love, about anger and unity. "It's mainly just about human emotions," she says.

Her ballads are introspective and candid, almost to the point of sounding confessional. But therein lies her charm: She tells it how it is, through both her words and vocal intonations.

"I wanted it to feel like you could hear exactly what I was going through at the time," Dahlia explains.

Her throaty singing voice and storytelling tendencies have garnered comparisons to Joni Mitchell and Lauryn Hill, but one could argue she's not that easy to categorize.

Growing up, Dahlia listened to a mélange of artists and genres. She was a fan of reggae and pop just as much as she was a fan of rap and soul.

"When I was younger, I would sit in my room for hours alone and play my CDs," she says. "I'd play a Led Zeppelin tape; then I'd play Jackson Five. I'd play Frank Sinatra and Elvis, then A Tribe Called Quest, and then B.B. King."

Like her musical tastes, Dahlia's sound is eclectic. "That's kind of how I wanted the album to be," she points out. "It doesn't have one theme or story."

She sings catchy love ballads, but she's not really a pop singer. She raps, but only on two songs. She's got a thing for slow melodies and emotive lyrics, but she's not solely an R&B or soul artist either.

And despite the many genres on the album -- from rap to trap, pop, soul, jazz, R&B, and salsa -- the songs mesh, because Dahlia is telling us a story about her life. She's inviting us into her world, or garden, if you will, and offering an up-close-and-personal view of who she is at her core. Once you realize this, the mercurial nature of the album and its multitude of styles, tempo changes, and mood shifts start to make sense.

My Garden is an evolutionary project, one that took three years to create. During that time, Dahlia lived and learned, matured and changed. So it makes sense that her album would too.

Kat Dahlia's My Garden is available to stream or purchase on iTunes.

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