Interview: Virginia Beach songwriter Shaolinn dishes on her debut EP, working with Pusha T and much more

You may not have heard about Shaolinn, but it seems safe to say that’s all about to change. The young singer recently released her (excellent) debut EP, Blackstone, via none other than Pusha T’s imprint, Heir Wave Music Group.

In conversation she proved open, laid back, and endlessly affable. Together, we properly dug into Blackstone, combing through its lyrical content and background. She also illuminated her process, gave big ups to her favorite artists, and discussed what it’s like to work alongside big boss Pusha T. Read up.

Just to start things off simple, how does it feel to have the project out?

Oh my God, it feels so good, and just, reassuring. Because I’ve just been waiting to put this project out for, like, two years. It was funny, because it was supposed to come out like a year ago, but when Push heard it, he was like, ‘No, I wanna be on board with this. I wanna be behind this.’ So, when he joined in and helped out with everything, it just made it so much better, even though the wait was much longer, it was so much better. But, I’m just so excited that it’s out and that people are just loving it. You know, loving the shows, loving the videos, just all of it. I’m just so happy that it’s finally out.

I hadn’t realized it’d taken so long to get it out there! I was going to get to this later, but since it came out, how has it been working so closely with Pusha? How did you link up originally, for that matter?

So, we met through word of mouth. Basically, I had did the Revolt Summit back in, like, 2019, and I had performed in front of The-Dream, and, you know, The-Dream and Push they’re buddies. So I recorded in front of The-Dream, and basically he talked to him about me, and things kind of settled down for a while after that.

I was continuing to do my local shows after the whole Revolt performance, but people were talking to him about me, saying, ‘Oh, this local artist’, because he had just come back to Norfolk trying to find artists for his label. So, he said it really hit the nail when his wife came up to him about me, she really loved my music and said that he should really check me out. So he set up a meeting with me, we went to a studio, had our meeting, and I showed him Blackstone, and he completely fell in love with it, particularly fell in love with “Heavy Heart”, and he just 100% wanted to get on board with it.

That’s awesome, I could tell just how genuinely behind the project he was, which is just awesome. It’s always refreshing, it’s not truly that often you see someone in charge of a label this excited about one of their artists. So it’s great you had that energy behind you.

Man, for sure. And I’m grateful, I’m very, very grateful that I got to meet, you know, people outside of that. I’m just very grateful for it all.

So your music, obviously, often feels very personal, can it be intimidating sharing those private parts of your life with your audience? Or is it more freeing?

I never feel afraid about being personal, it’s more just reassurance for myself, and for everyone that listens, that we all go through everything. We all go through things, we’ve all felt certain things before, even if we haven’t felt the same thing, we can relate to it through other people, or other experiences. So I never really shied away from talking about really personal things, because I know that a lot of people can relate to how I feel.

Especially nowadays, with the internet and everything, a lot of people have such access to so many things and experiences and feelings and everything, I feel like a lot of people can relate to a lot of personal things and experiences. So, I was never afraid to talk about that, or perform it, or share it. I’m still doing that. And, then, when I have people backing me up, telling me, ‘This is amazing’, having supporters texting me telling me how much they relate to something, that makes me wanna do it even more. I’ve never felt any negative way about it. If anything I wanna keep talking about personal things, you know?

In your process, do you usually start with the music, and form ideas around it, or do you usually come in with the words and let the music fall in around them?

It’s anything, man. Sometimes I’ll just do the melody and I’ll write the words. Sometimes I’ll write the words and try to find the melody. Sometimes I’ll just freestyle! And, actually, I do that most of the time – I freestyle most of my songs. Especially when I’m really feeling it. I don’t like to brag or anything, but I’m a really good freestyler. For me, I feel like freestyling is easier than writing. So, that’s just my process. When I sit down, I listen to the beat, and I just freestyle on it, it just comes out. I record it, listen back to it, and tweak a few things, and then it’s done.

That’s wild. Do you ever lay something down and then play it back and go, ‘Damn, I can’t believe I just said that’?

Oh, yeah. For sure. So the songs on Blackstone, they are almost all one take freestyle songs, “Frank”, “Flowers”, “Head Down”, and “Vivian”, those four songs, I literally played the beat and I just sang with the beat, and that was the song. That’s most of my process.

It’s funny to do that, because I used to go on Instagram Live a lot and freestyle, but even to Push and a lot of people, my friends and my producers, when I just do that around them, it amazes people so much. It’s just like, ‘How do you that? How do you just come up with it on the spot?’ And it’s just like, ‘I don’t know! I just…do it.’

I feel like it’s just more… I wouldn’t say vulnerable, but more intimate, in a way. Because you’re not really overthinking it, you’re not really re-thinking words, you’re not taking things back, you’re not re-saying things. You’re literally just going with it. It’s a very instant thing, when you can connect something to where it’s just so genuine that you’re not even overthinking it, you’re just going with it. That’s cool. And that’s how I feel about beats. [Laughs]

So, I heard you’re a big skater, so when you’re skating do you tend to listen to music or think about ideas for your own music, some of both?

So, I longboard, I don’t skate. [Laughs] So, that’s two different things, I feel like skaters and longboarders…it’s…yeah. I longboard. I guess, in a way, I skate.

Well, I blame him for the misinformation. [Laughing]

[Laughing] Yeah, I don’t know where he got that, but I am not a skater. [Cracking up] But…no, that’s funny, though. But I do have a lot of skater friends. But I longboard, and when I do longboard, I am just blasting music in my ears, and I’m not even thinking about anything. I’m just zoning. I’m just zoning out, longboarding. Sometimes I’ll be in the middle of the street and a car is honking its horn and I’m just like, I can’t hear because the music is so loud, then ‘Ope, sorry, my bad.’

But I’m just in my own world when I longboard and listen to music. I used to go to a lot of skate parks and watch a lot of people skating and think, ‘Dang, I wanna learn how to skate so bad…’ I’m just like, I need to find the right person to teach me. Or even doing it myself. I’m more just scared to do it by myself. I don’t wanna hurt myself, ya know? [Laughs] But I do love listening to music when I longboard, it’s awesome.

What do you tend to listen to?

I listen to anything. I listen to dubstep, I listen to rock, I listen to R&B, lo fi, boom bap, it doesn’t matter, I’ll listen to anything. I really like those YouTube videos where they’ll have the longboard compilations, the lo fi boom bap beats in the back. Stuff like that is really nice and soothing, but all in all, I’ll listen to anything. I don’t have a focus. J Dilla. RIP. I love listening to his stuff, too. He’s awesome.

Let’s dive into the lyrics of Blackrock. So “Lie 4 Me”, to my ears, is almost a deceptive opener, because it has this low key, gentle back drop, but what you’re singing about over it is pretty dark. Was that something you intentionally did, setting the music up against what you were saying?

It’s funny because it wasn’t my intention to really make it, like, anything. I just listened to the beat and I also freestyled onto this one, I reworded some things, I broke down certain sections, but all in all, the hook was just a freestyle. I was just feelin’ it. I was feeling the beat, and the beat was called “Lie 4 Me”, so, I was like, ‘Lie for me, that’s a very interesting concept.’ To have someone lie for you? I was just kind of like, ‘let me talk about that in a more ‘betrayal’ way’, like, ‘you can do this for everyone else, but you can’t lie for me. You can’t die for me. But you’ll do it for somebody else’. It just kind of plays into that.

Maybe that’s just the place it took me personally – when I listen to it, it kind of digs into how when sometimes, it’s possible to want more from a partner to the point that they might not have more left to give. Not necessarily in a way that they can’t give more, but that consciously they’re like, ‘Alright, this is my limit.’


We reach these points in long term relationships where maybe things aren’t genuinely working for both people anymore… one person is still 100% in, but the other person is not feeling it or whatever, but there’s so much familiarity and history there, that you end up stuck in this cycle where the person who’s not feeling it isn’t leaving… so that’s the energy the song gave me. The person still in love wants them to lie for them, like, ‘Nah, you can’t change, we still gotta be in love’. That’s where it took me.

Wowww. That is awesome. I love that. Do not change that. That makes me see the song differently. That’s just amazing. Boiling down the views, and boiling down the lie. That’s just amazing that you guys [the listeners] can just take different things and throw it in the air with interpretations. That is awesome – I never saw it like that, and that is actually awesome. I love that. Do not change that. Don’t. I love that a lot.

Alright, so “Heavy Heart” feels more direct, I assume it’s related to your high school experiences and things?

Yeah. “Heavy Heart” was high school, but also those four years in general. High school was a big part of “Heavy Heart”, how a lot of these things that I was dealing with in school, all the insecurities and everything, how I was taking all these things and putting them out on people that I loved, on relationships, and even my family sometimes. And even vice versa, how my family was putting all of their insecurities, and their problems, out on me.

The song was just close to summing up what I was experiencing through four years. Coming to the realization that I need to move on from this, and that I need to accept these things, and own up to these things. I just needed to move on from this to be a better person, not only for myself, but for the people around me. That’s what that’s song is about, owning up to all of my problems all of my mistakes, that could have been cause for problems for my family during high school, for better relationships. Trying to be better for myself. That’s just what that song was about, and I’m just so glad that a lot of people love that song – including Push – that’s his favorite song.

Oh really?

Yeah, it is. So it’s just really nice to, like, know that.

Running off that, and obviously this isn’t a cheery topic, but I know you were bullied in high school, which is obviously something a lot of people can relate to, I know music is something you used to escape with, who were the artists and bands you gravitated to at that age?

I was really influenced by a lot of rock and alternative bands. I grew up on video games, and the first video game that I ever loved was Rock Band, so a lot of my rock music influence came from that game. So I listened to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and I catch a lot of shit but [laughs] Nickelback – my mom loved Nickelback, so I was listening to that. A lot of Black Sabbath, anything like that. Weezer.

I know singles, I’m not really good with band names, to be honest. But a close band for me that I really loved were the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I really loved them a lot. Alternative rock, pop-ish-esque, like Panic! At the Disco, and 21 Pilots, listening to all of them and just growing up on that, it really influenced me a lot throughout high school. I used to listen to a lot of dubstep. I still do. I was really into that alternative, indie scene, the kind of music you listen to and get bullied for it. I would blast it, and have people screaming in my ears, and blast that, and have people saying, like, ‘What the fuck is she listening to?’ You know, all of that. Just growing up on weird shit. [Laughs]

I find that a lot of music from those years is so glued to the experiences, and the emotions of being a teenager… you end up still adoring those things, but visiting them less often, in my experience. How about you?

Oh, I still listen to stuff I listened to in middle school. I still listen a lot of the dubstep and EDM music that I found off of Vine. I still listen to that to this day. Even my old Soundcloud stuff. I have no reason to leave music in the past. Music has done nothing to me, besides help me be who I am, ya know? So there’s no reason for me to leave songs in the past. Even if a song reminds me of someone that did me wrong, or reminds me of a situation that I’ve been through that I wasn’t happy in, I still love those songs just as much as I do now with new great songs I hear. So I still listen to a lot of old stuff, I still listen to that to this day. I just vibe. Listen to old shit that I listened to in middle school, or new stuff that comes out, if I like it, if I love it, then I’m gonna listen to it.

So what music in your youth did you mom introduce you to that hooked you into music?

A lot of the music that my mom put me on; Mariah Carey, Lauryn Hill, Nickelback, Eminem, Recovery. Old stuff like, what is this band called… Journey? Them. She loved them. A lot of Janet Jackson and a lot of old stuff as well. Sade, all of that. My mom was just all over the place, too, she loved hip hop and rap and she loved the rock and heavy metal and R&B. Even my mom made music, so music influenced both of us a lot, me, my mom, my brothers, and everything. So she just put me on to loving different sounds, ya know?

Just of curiosity what kind of music did she make?

She was more into, like, poetic flow. It was kind of like sing-rapping. I’m not saying she sounded like Drake, but along the lines of that kind of rap-sing-flow. My mom was like that. She wasn’t a singer, but she wasn’t a hard ‘rapper’, she was just that poetic flow. My mom did that stuff. I wish I still had her music, because I know I would be able to understand her. Or I would go through her notebooks and read the songs she would write, I wish she still had all of that. But, yeah, she was amazing. I love my mom. Yeah, I love my mom, she’s amazing.

Are you able to pick your all time favorite artist?

My favorite is xxxtentacion. My favorite artist is also me. I think I’m really good. But he… passed away. But he was my favorite artist of all time, and I think he was my favorite because he was the only artist that I genuinely felt like I had an actual connection, a relationship with. I saw him as an artist, but also a friend, so he helped me through a lot. His music helped me through a lot. When he died, that impacted me a lot, like very, very heavy. Very hard. Hurt, but… just, I loved him a lot. And he was my favorite artist of all time. So, yes, xxx.

It might be hard to talk about, but why do you think people gravitate to him so much, what is it about him?

It’s just the same as like, Eminem, Slim Shady. Him talking about real, raw shit. Like “Mockingbird”, all of that. What was it? “Cleaning Out My Closet”, Eminem was talking about real shit, even though he was, like, dissing his mom and his baby momma, a lot of people can relate to that. So it’s the same thing with x. Him talking about real, raw shit. More talking about depression and suicidal thoughts and everything. It’s the same thing.

Even Biggie. Even 2pac. All the old heads grew up on them, and it’s them talking about real, raw shit that a lot of people gravitate towards, with x as well. I love Eminem, too. I love his stuff because he talks about real shit, and everybody loves the dark shit. As much as people don’t want to admit it, a lot of people like the dark stuff, the dark, deep things that are talked about. A lot of people like hearing that. Cuz, you know, people relate to it. As much as people don’t want to admit it, they relate to it, in some way.

So, back to your music! “Vivian” is maybe my favorite song on the project, the “bought it again” line, there’s so many layers to that. Again, from the video, the literal addiction angle, and then there’s believing in someone time and time again, and being let down every time. Where were you coming from with it?

“Vivian” was obviously about drug addiction. At first when I freestyled the song, I just kind of went with it, and the beat was called “Vivian”, so I just kind of freestyled that, and when I listened back to what I was talking about, I was like, ‘This is sounding a lot like an addict’. It’s the view of someone who is battling addiction, whether it’s through drugs or material things, or, honestly, it could be anything. But I see it as about drug addiction, that’s what I wanted to interpret that as.

The whole concept of it being ‘bought again’, it’s literally like this person is just constantly using you for their needs. The perspective of an addict: ‘I wanna stop, I wanna quit, but I can’t. And I’m willing to fuck my friends over, to fuck my family over, to hurt others, to hurt myself, to get this. Because I’m so addicted to it, I’m so attached to it. I bought it again, I bought it again, I bought it again’. And these are the consequences, ‘I’m losing all my friends’, like…I’m losing people, because I keep doing this. ‘I keep saying I’m gonna change, I keep saying I’m gonna stop, but I’m not. It’s so strong, I just keep going back to it.’

Going off that lyric, another light question, has there ever been a point in your life where you felt like you were losing all your friends?

There was a point where I felt like I was losing my friends, and it was because I was a very different person a couple years ago, and I had really bad anger problems. I tended to take a lot of my anger out on either people I was dating, or just my friends, and a lot of the times I was losing friends, or losing relationships, because they couldn’t keep dealing with that. Me being angry, and all this trauma and what I was dealing with, because I couldn’t heal myself, I was taking it out on others. But me constantly being like, ‘I’ve changed, I’ve changed, I’ll fix this, I’ll do better, I’ll be better’, and then go right back to the person that I was… I was losing people because of that.

It’s that same concept. I’ll try, I’ll try, or spit it back in their face like it’s their fault, but it’s not, it really is you. It’s kinda just what I had to see it as, that it is me, and I had these problems that I needed to fix, or eventually it’s gonna be the reason why… it’s gonna be the end of me. And I didn’t want that. I was tired of losing people. I was tired of being in and out of relationships because of it. So I wanted to be better.

I think we all reach a point in our lives where we know we need a new space, or to move on, or whatever it is, but these moments of clarity can be tough. In the sense of leaving behind people or experiences, or feeling sorry for them or yourself, but as you said on “Frank” – ‘You gotta leave, you gotta go’, in what sort of situations have you found yourself in that space?

It’s funny because it always kinda boils back to relationships. You know, this one relationship I was in, I really loved this guy, I was really in love with him, he loved me, but we just didn’t work. There was always the good and the bad, and I feel like the hook of the song is, ‘I gotta leave, you know I have to go’, but then the verses are talking about how much I love this person, the way they dance, the way we can be like this, or be like that, but knowing that I have to leave.

That’s kind of how it was in that relationship, constantly arguing, but then we were always laughing, but then we were always arguing, and then we were always laughing. It was that back and forth, where I have to leave, but I wanna stay. I have to leave, but I wanna stay. Just that back and forth, that just resulted in me having to leave. It just wasn’t working. It wasn’t working for me, it wasn’t working for him. That situation just relates to that song, because he was a really nice guy, he was beautiful, he made me laugh, he was loving, but we were always disagreeing, and we were always so stubborn, and we couldn’t see eye to eye on anything when there was a problem. It just became so overbearing, to the point where I was just tired of arguing and then I just… left.

You’ve already touched on it a bit, but the song does have such a duality to it, the sense of wanting to leave vs. the more beautiful moments, so much anxiety can stem from wanting something to be perfect with someone.

When I’m in relationships with people, whether that’s romantic or friendships, I don’t really go into it fearful at all, I’m not really afraid to fall in love or be in love or be heartbroken or whatever. I never really fear the concept of love. So, no, going into things I was never really scared to give things a try at all. I’m just always down for whatever. I think that’s why I love “Frank” so much, it’s that concept of falling in love but having to leave. And sometimes it’s just what it has to be. 

On “Head Down” the line that really struck me is ‘you don’t know anything’, and I feel like there can be a moment with someone, whether a friendship or relationship, where you realize, or just feel, that they’re completely clueless. Are you keeping your head down to avoid that kind of reality or… where is that coming from?

It’s just more so, when you keep your head down, you’re keeping to yourself. You’re just not trying to be as vulnerable with people. Just for me, the whole concept of “Head Down”, when I say ‘Heart on my sleeve, and heart above my shoulders’, I feel like in the concept, my brain is no longer there, it’s literally just my heart. You know when I say, the way you think and the way you feel are two different things. Logical and then emotional. Kind of in that sense, the song is more so like, ‘All of my logic is gone at this point, I’m just going off how I feel. At this point my heart is on my sleeve, my heart is now where my head is supposed to be.’ That’s just what that song’s about, so ‘You don’t know anything’, is basically that the feelings that I have, or that I have shown for you, that doesn’t mean that that’s who I am as a person, my whole. That can be a part of it, a piece of me, but that’s not all of me. That can just to apply to, ‘You really don’t know much about me.’ You might not understand that sometimes, in certain situations, it is feelings over logic. That’s just kind of what that was about, that line. [Sings it and laughs]

In some situations it can be all too easy to keep your head down to avoid something, do you think it’s a necessary defensive mechanism or are we purely just hiding and missing out?

Sometimes it’s not necessarily hiding or missing out. Sometimes for people it’s just very comforting for them to keep their head down, just for their sanity. Some people, they’re just not ready, to be vulnerable, or be open with others. Even if it’s, in a sense, keeping your head down doesn’t have to be in a negative way. Sometimes keeping your head down is just kind of knowing your place, or minding your business, or minding what you say or do, for the sake of others or even for yourself. So sometimes keeping your head down can just be keeping your sanity, or remaining comfortable, or to understand things for yourself. Sometimes you have to put your head down to really think about what’s happened, or what’s been done. It can mean a lot of things.

Ok, so “Flowers” really struck me, where did it come from?

I heard the beat on Soundcloud, and it’s funny because the beginning part of the song, that was a part of the beat, and the guy was basically just talking about how he was stealing flowers, I know the whole thing. He’s sneaking into this girl’s building, and doing graffiti just for her, and doing all these things for this girl, just for her to break his heart. So I kind of was talking about it in the sense of the girl’s perspective of, ‘I have your flowers, and now I’m explaining the reasons why you’re broken. You’re heartbroken.’ That’s what the song is about, the response to that little statement, or quote, that the guy did on that beat. I was like, ‘You know what, I’m gonna talk about that, I’m gonna continue it.’ So that’s just what I did. I was just talking about the flowers you gave me, and how they’re still dying, and how all this leads to me needing to leave, and hoping that these flowers you gave me will go away, that I can move on from them. They can die in my hands, you know what I’m saying? That’s kind of what that was about.

When I listened to that little intro, skit, whatever…on the one hand you can think that it’s romantic that he’s going all this way, but on the other hand it’s pretty invasive, to be breaking into her building to give her things –


Things she didn’t necessarily even ask for. I got a level of, ‘Alright, you need to chill, dude.’

‘You need to relax! I got your flowers, and this is why I need to go, because you’re starting to intrude, you’re starting to be a part of something more that I’m not ready for.’ And sometimes it can be like that, those flowers can also mean that. ‘This is your love, but I’m willing to let it die. Because it’s not what I want.’ Stuff like that. [Laughs] It’s cool that you thought of it that way.

You already answered this a little bit, but hoping for flowers to die, in itself, if you were to remove that from the context, by itself that’s such a dark thought. Do you think that has more to do with apathy, or anger, or where do you think it comes from for her, that particular, specific thought?

I think it’s moreso just, closure. It’s more of, ‘I just hope they die in my hands, so I can just move on from this. I’m ready to go. I’m ready to leave, and these flowers, they’re not dying. They’re still here. They’re still representing you.’ Not in a sense of physically wanting flowers to die, it’s just more of a symbolic or metaphorical way of saying, ‘I’m ready to move on, I’m ready to let these go, to let these die.’ Or get new flowers, find new flowers. Being ready to move on. And flowers are always a romantic, they’re symbolic to romance, we buy flowers when we love someone, or as a gift, a celebration, flowers are always seen as this positive, romantic thing. In a sense it’s like, ‘I got these flowers, but I’m ready for them to die.’ Because you wouldn’t wanna throw away fresh flowers, I think that’s fucked up. I would let flowers wilt, I would let them, you know, die, before I’d just throw them away. So it’s just kind of in that sense of, ‘I’m willing to let this reach its end, before I let it go.’

We’ve mentioned a couple of times now throughout our conversation, and definitely in context of the EP, “Flowers”, “Frank”, and more, to my ears, moving on is an arching theme of the whole project. Was that a conscious thing, an intentional focus?

It actually was not a conscious thing, it’s actually just something that happened. It’s funny because even Blackstone, the name of it, is me also moving on from that, because Blackstone was the name of the street that I lived on for two years, but that was the peak of my depression, when I lived in Blackstone. So these songs, I was making these songs around that time, and even a little bit after. It’s funny because it wasn’t planned, my manager actually did the EP for me.

He put the songs together. I didn’t do that. I was actually a little hesitant at first, because I was like, ‘Are you sure you want “Heavy Heart” there, are you sure you want “Head Down”, are you sure they’re gonna like “Vivian”. I was very hesitant, but he was like, ‘They’re gonna love it.’He put all the songs together, and they all just fit so well together. So, moving on, it’s literally, even just saying in of itself, I’m also moving on from, just, Blackstone. Not just moving on, but healing from that, as well.

Blackstone is always going to be a part of me, all those songs are always going to be a part of me, all those feelings, so it’s also just moving forward with that. So that’s kind of all it is, man. The context of every song, it all just correlates into how I felt around that time. Having to grow and move forward.

Now that I know you’ve been waiting to release this for two years, are you savoring the moment or ready to leap into the next thing?

I’m so ready to jump into the next thing. I’ve been savoring this for two years. I’ve listened to it, I’ve already savored it. I’m working on so much now, and it’s like…I’m just ready. I’m ready for you guys to hear more from me. Different things. I’m just ready to move on from this. Even though it’s a little too late – not too late, but too early to be moving on from it, because it did just come out, like, mentally, I’m already ready. But physically, and the world around me, I’m not ready – I have to still put these songs out, to sing them, to perform them, to talk about them. In a way, I can’t be ready, but I am ready.

Are you interested in delving into hip hop and doing hooks, whether for Pusha or other artists, are you more intent on your own thing?

Both. What’s the harm in doing anything? I wanna do so many things. Hip hop hooks, my own shit, everything. I wanna do it. [Laughs] So, I’m excited.

Alright, thank you for chatting with me! Just as a final thing: tell Push we need the new album already.

Hell yeah. For sure. We are definitely working on it, and it’s gonna be a big one, for sure. So I’m very excited for it.

Shaolinn’s Blackstone is out now through Heir Wave Music. You can catch her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.