Songwriter and vocalist Arielle Jackson (known professionally as Ariee) releases her debut EP, 8, today (June 25), with a sequel project being released shortly thereafter. On July 6, she will appear at Essence Fest, one of the few local performers on the massive event’s bill.
Like many celebrated vocalists, Ariee grew up singing in the church choir. Raised in the St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church in New Orleans East, Ariee says the church served as both an educator for life and an incubator for her talent.
“The church is where you get all of your information, all of your style,” Ariee said.
It was there Ariee first started taking private vocal lessons from her choir director. Between lessons and practice, the church became inseparable from her early interest in music. In fact, Ariee says that singing in the choir was her first exposure to performing in front of an audience.
“When I was eight, I was never doing stuff solo. I was shy,” Ariee said. “So when they put me in the spotlight, it kind of opened up my eyes and everybody else’s eyes that ‘oh, she really does have talent,’ and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Yet, Ariee says it was on an ordinary playdate when she truly realized that singing could be an option for her. She and a few friends sang would sing karaoke together at her house. When it was Ariee’s turn, she sang Aaliyah’s “I Care 4 U,” and the warm response from friends and family prompted her passion for singing.
Since then, Ariee says her passion has been guided by three essential artists: Anita Baker, Mariah Carey and Prince. It’s Baker’s timelessness, Carey’s range and Prince’s aesthetic that she tries to incorporate into her own artistry.
“One summer I just dove into all of Prince’s music. I just love how he put music together, the compositions, the funk, the sexiness,” Ariee said. “He kind of played with the audience like you played at this music.” She also cites Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and Amy Winehouse as crucial influences.
Beyond anything else, Ariee seeks to serve as this kind of inspiration to young girls. She wants to lead in a time when women have made remarkable strides in the entertainment industry, and she sees music as an indispensable vehicle for change.
“Music has the ability and power to transform you. It puts you in a different mindframe,” Ariee said. “So if me putting empowering messages in my music makes you feel ‘I got this and I can do it and I’m the boss,’ I’m going to do that.”
Even without the release a full-length project, Ariee’s music has generated a significant online presence. Since its debut in 2017, the music video for “Still In Love” has been viewed over 100,000 times on YouTube. As well, her newest video for “Killing Me” has over 12,000 views in its first month.
The imagery in the “Killing Me” video especially rejects the misogyny and abusive power dynamics that have plagued the music industry for decades. In it, she plays the role of a masked vigilante defending against a malicious love interest.
“Girls need that kind of leadership, and we need to know that we can do it,” Ariee said. “It’s a man’s world, especially in the music industry. I kind of just want women and little girls to know that they can do it.”
Currently, Ariee is looking to pursue tangible change in the form of High School Nation’s Fall 2018 Tour. Here, High School Nation will provide software and recording equipment to metro-area schools in Chicago and the DMV. She’s created a Kickstarter page to help fund her two weeks of the tour, which will help fund her stage time, the schools’ equipment and travel fees.
“Music is powerful,” Ariee said. “So by doing the High School Nation Tour, giving teens the ability to create their own music, it just gives them the ability to focus their emotions or focus their time on something that’s creative and powerful.”
Ariee asserts that she is determined not to be pigeonholed or limited to any one genre with the release of 8, as she understands that it will be most listeners’ first experience with her as an artist. According to her, the EP is a collection of all the formative sounds she fell in love with growing up.
“It’s my first real project, fully, since I decided to step out on my own. I kind of just want people to understand me as an artist,” Ariee said. “I just want them to see I’m not fully engrossed in one genre; I can do it all.”
With regards to the music on 8, Ariee says she wants to give listeners a bit of everything , incorporating elements of pop, rock and R&B. The project’s strongest element, in her opinion, lies in the abundance of live instrumentation, particularly on tracks like “Still In Love.” Rapper- producer Dappa served as executive producer, with jazz-funk collective CoolNasty playing the role of in-house band for the project.
“It was a labor of love,” Ariee chuckled.