After years in the industry, YawnyBlew has made a name for himself as a successful singer, rapper, podcast host, and songwriter. Grammy-nominated as a backing vocalist for H.E.R. and NME-nominated for his writing with Pyra, Yawny continues to build his impressive resume with a blossoming solo career. Much of his music is dedicated to representing queer and plus-sized individuals, and those themes are prevalent on the artist’s upcoming album DreamBIIG, a collaboration with photographer and rapper-producer amir.
YawnyBlew touched on his genre-fusing style of pop music before getting into the new project. He said: “My artist work has been heavily about exploration and self-discovery, so I think I've painted some pretty broad strokes as far as who I am and my sound. At its core it’s always R&B and rap just because of my voice, but I really love it all … I am a product of the music video/TRL era. No matter what genre, the music always felt pop because of how bright and animated everything was. I think this created a lens for me through which I interpret all music. I remember seeing a Björk video followed by a Biggie video followed by a Britney Spears video and thinking all those worlds made sense together. So when I began making music, I pulled from all of them. No matter how subversive I go, it's always through the shiny pop lens of the MTV heyday. I learned how to sing mimicking Aladdin and Simba as a kid, so I feel like that also has an impact on why my music always feels bright and accessible.”
DreamBIIG, like much of Yawny’s music, touches on themes of sexuality, queerness, and body positivity. He spoke on why such themes have become crucial to his musical career. He said:
“My experience with representation in the music industry is informed by my time as a songwriter. After my first few years writing professionally, I realised I was writing for the same two or three archetypes. It's like the labels kept copy and pasting the same artists. Then I realised the issue was the same at the label level; the same looking executives signing the same looking artists. Even with the queer representation in mainstream culture right now, it seemed very limited and niche. But again, when I looked at the people at the executive level signing and pushing these acts, they either were of those niche communities as well or just trying to cash in on a fad. Meanwhile the people writing and creating the music behind these artists looked nothing like them and came from marginalised and underrepresented worlds.
“I decided the only way to push back and open people’s eyes was to be the most unabashed version of myself possible and make music that reflected that. Doing music with amir. made the most sense to me because he had already forged a career in fashion/photography highlighting marginalised bodies, so he understood my mission and experience with it in that world. The entertainment world has such a narrow perspective on who should be in the forefront and who should be uplifted so it's a constant battle making sure there is enough space for everyone.”
He went on to discuss DreamBIIG, the upcoming collaborative album between Yawny and amir. The two met online last year, and have since developed a close musical relationship. Yawny touched on how the collaboration came to be:
“I create playlists for every release as a way to connect with other artists and promote my music. I had featured a song by an artist that amir. produced, so when the artist reposted the playlist and tagged me, that’s when amir. followed me and we began chatting. Ironically enough, I was already following his photography page and had shortlisted him as someone I wanted to collaborate with because I loved how he photographed big bodies. I had no idea he did music as well …
“We started the project off with ‘Can’t Compete’. I was inspired by amir.’s work on The Every Man Project and wanted to create a song that I could imagine playing at a photoshoot of plus-sized men. From there, I found out he rapped and encouraged him to do a verse on the song. When I heard his verse, I got inspired by Method Man and Redman and thought it would be cool if we pieced our parts together like a duo. We eventually recorded it and it came out so good that amir. began flooding me with other song ideas. Eventually we picked a few to record and realized we had an EP’s worth of stuff. Eventually that grew into an album. He works really well on his own at home so he usually shoots me ideas and I add verses and vocal elements in the studio. We creative direct together, and amir. usually puts together our creative teams for shoots, while I handle a lot of the road-mapping for releases and press. We work well together because our skillsets complement each other and we compromise well.”
Yawny touched on the meaning of the title, DreamBIIG. “DreamBIIG is inspired by us being two big boys making an album together. The two II’s represent us. It is a reminder to literally dream big and know you can have whatever you want. It is also a reminder to take up space in the world. We bonded a ton over the fact that our size and sexuality sometimes caused us to shrink in life because we did not want to stand out too much or be made fun of. Our project was created with the intention to encourage ourselves to always show up as our biggest boldest and most honest versions. Everyone should be allowed to feel big and be seen.”
Along his musical journey, Yawny has been mentored by music legends such as Rodney Jerkins and Pharrell Williams. “I met Rodney through producer Sean Hamilton. Rodney let us work out of his home studio for almost two years and helped me score my first placement on the television series Empire. Honestly, most of what I learned there was from Sean, but Rodney would pop in and out of sessions and drop nuggets of wisdom. I learned more from watching him work than anything else. He did give us a masterclass on writing hooks that I still quote till this day.
“Pharrell came about through an artist I was writing for. My team had done the bulk of the writing on her initial demos and her label brought her to Pharrell to finish up the project. He was really amazing and humble. He shared a ton of wisdom, co-wrote with us and really poured into us sharing stories and techniques. I really enjoyed my time working with him and understand fully why he is where he is in his career and continues to thrive.”
In the run up to the release of DreamBIIG, several singles have been released, with ‘Curious?’ being one of the latest. Yawny said: “‘Curious?’ was an idea amir. sent me last August. It features a sample of ‘Spanish Lesson’ by Madonna, produced by Pharrell Williams. The record is just supposed to be something fun and flirty but it super stood out to me ‘cause, the week he sent it, I had just done a songwriting session with Pharrell for another artist. It was a coincidence since I had not told amir. about that session, so the song has always felt special to me for that reason. We always saw ‘Curious?’ as a strong song and single, and it felt like it needed to drop in the summer, so he held it till June of this year even though the song had been done since last fall.”
‘Curious?’ was followed up by ‘Smok3’, a single featuring producer-songwriter COLDPRESSEDPAPI. On the song, he said: “amir. and COLDPRESSEDPAPI connected on their own and have been collaborating a ton over the last year. We recently interviewed COLDPRESSEDPAPI for our podcast, BIIGGER Than Our Dreams, and he revealed the song was inspired by a playlist amir. sent him featuring songs from Cobrah. amir. sent me a rough idea of it and I was instantly inspired to get on the song because it reminded me so much of the songs featured in RuPaul’s Drag Race finales. We initially wanted to do a Fight Club themed photoshoot and visual, but ended up having to go for something simpler due to budget. I really enjoy the red pictures we decided on and the smoky eye make-up we experimented with. amir. and COLDPRESSEDPAPI have their own amazing chemistry and sound so it was an honour to step into their world.”
Aside from COLDPRESSEDPAPI, there are several other guests featured on DreamBIIG. “We choose people who energetically align with us … We have a record with Mike Brown who was someone else I connected with around the time I met amir. I had shared amir.’s production folder with Mike and he began writing ‘Damn Disconnected’, which inspired me to revisit the song. Mike introduced us to Erik Watkins who produced two songs on the project (‘Green Juice’ and ‘Runway’) as well as amir.’s solo single ‘Zoomin’’. Tahjere and She’s Ryan feature on the official ‘Can’t Compete’ remix, and we also have SadBoyMusic on a new song titled ‘Technicolor’. I am open to more collaborations. I love DDM and have been wanting to get him on something. Honestly, everyone who has touched this project has been artists we admire and feel should be more known in the world. It’s been an honour to make space for them.”
Aside from DreamBIIG, Yawny has also started work on his next solo album, following 2022’s Midnight in Brooklyn. Regarding the project, he said: “It is definitely a departure from both Midnight in Brooklyn and DreamBIIG. I’ve been doing a lot of work in my personal life after some romantic and business relationships fell apart and it’s put me in a more reflective space. Definitely excited to get back to singing and explore more stripped music and production. I’ve been listening to a lot of artists like Mac DeMarco, James Blake, and Solange. I will probably begin that roll out in 2024.”
Besides his solo work, Yawny has gained a reputation as a songwriter, though he’s more dedicated to his own career now. “I’ll probably be focussed on my own work through the end of 2023, but I always welcome a chance to create for others. Pyra gave me so much space to explore sonics and concepts through our work together, so whatever she needs, I am always available. There are already so many songs in the pipeline from my time as a writer, so I'm excited to see those continue to find themselves in the world.”
On top of collaborating for DreamBIIG, YawnyBlew and amir. work together as podcast hosts, running the BIIGGER Than Our Dreams podcast. While the podcast originally focussed on queer and plus-sized experiences, the show is undergoing a rebrand. Regarding the change, Yawny said:
“Honestly, the rebrand has just been more of a pivot towards music and art. The drawback of focussing so heavily on marginalised communities is that a lot of trauma can come up in those discussions, and we still wanted a show that felt light and celebratory. This season, we’re excited to talk to more artists and trailblazers in the body positivity and fat liberation communities about their art and projects. We already had episodes drop with SadBoyMusic and COLDPRESSEDPAPI, and are looking to spotlight our other collaborations on the album as we build up to it.”
With new podcast episodes on the way, DreamBIIG expected to arrive this autumn, and a solo album in the works, YawnyBlew has never been busier, readying himself for an exciting new chapter in his career.
Find YawnyBlew Here: