“I Want People to Be Gentle With Themselves”: An Interview With Baby Rose

Donna-Claire speaks to Baby Rose about the writing across her new album Through and Through coming to her naturally, finding her flow state, working through analog and more.
By    May 17, 2023

Image via Allen Jiang

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Donna-Claire couldn’t wait to listen to this new Baby Rose album by the fire as the rain falls.

In a 1951 interview with Daniel Masclet, famed French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson had batted back at a question about his artistic technique, saying: “I do not ‘pose’ my subject, I observe and I press the shutter when the character surges forth.” Cartier-Bresson’s images have been categorized as “street photography,” but really they go beyond the streets of Paris and New York. His images speak to an innate sense of wonder of humankind, how truth will always be stranger than fiction. When I think of his work, I think of the split moment before a cup runs over, how abundance can be a curse and a blessing in our daily lives.

I flip through books of Henri’s black-and-white film images when I listen to Baby Rose’s newest album, Through and Through. They seem to be in conversation with each other, inadvertently, as the album is an expansive sophomore effort that has Rose shoving herself—lovingly, as I’ll come to learn when we speak—to the edges of her comfort zone. She writes from the collective consciousness, where the most enchanting character in her music is the small-but-vast array of human emotions. She captures the unpredictable mess of healing, unposed and disheveled, and makes it look beautiful through her autobiographical lens. Baby Rose writes towards an essential understanding of humanity as more alike than different. While Bresson captures a decisive moment on the street, never to be replicated again, Rose crystalizes inimitable observations of the self on wax.

The singer, a Washington DC native, broke out in 2019 with her debut album, To Myself. Described by Rose to me as a “mercy play” in the aftermath of a breakup, To Myself was Rose’s hail mary to get into the industry on her—albeit extremely emotionally pained—terms. Rose grew up on the vintage sounds of her ‘70s-obsessive father and Southern rap fundamentals like Outkast. She fused them both into something so tender and rich, it felt as though she was the second coming of early-days Ella Fitzgerald. To Myself sounded unlike anything else in the R&B and soul space, sounded like port wine-soaked SZA b-sides.

Through and Through is Baby Rose’s first full-length album in four years. For this one, Rose went analog. Dusting off unused machines in studios across the country to harness the “fire” of the music she grew up loving. “It makes me feel like a kid again! Playing with knobs, pedals, and using vintage mics,” she recalls. The intentionality and limitation of analog creativity sparks something in the singer, along with a desire to go against the algorithm-heavy norm of today’s music culture. “Everything happens in abundance, and so fast, and when you do that, it’s liable to decrease the quality of what you’re getting,” she explains.

Still, four years away in the music industry for any non-Beyoncé artist is challenging. Baby Rose has an awareness of this weight of being “late” to the draw, but it doesn’t seem to impact her. She speaks more about gratitude and acceptance than worry and fear. The music on Through and Through follows suit. At times playful, as with the Smino-featuring “I Won’t Tell,” many of the songs swell with emotional clarity. “Water” is a flowing self-love song, while “Power” unlocks a sense of agency for both Rose and the listener. The apex of the record, “Stop The Bleeding,” is all about shattering toxic cycles in ourselves. Compared to To Myself, Through and Through positions Baby Rose as a woman on a mission, conceiving songs in a matter of hours then pouring over them for months in post. Through and Through doubles down on the musicality of To Myself, with a wider range of BPMs and a newfound danceability. The album is sticky and silky at once, pulling from the acid jazz and psychedelia Rose grew up on, modernizing it, and imbuing it with key messages of self-love.

“The space I was coming from was not taking things for granted, not passing over things that are simple that are big: family, chosen family, community, taking care of yourself, your morning routine,” Rose tells me from her family home in DC. “The things you say to yourself! Those cycles. Take the blame away from every person you ever blamed in your life for where you’re at, and see you have more power than you think you do. Some of the songs are triggers to open up that dialog and open up that world. It’s also an ode to every side of me: chaotic parts, loving parts, and more dramatic parts.”

Rose brings to our conversation a childlike wonder matched by her belief that fresh eyes are the key to entering into a flow state. In early May, Baby Rose sat by the ocean and wrote down some intentions, namely organization, and a vacation for herself and her mom, who has been “killing it” lately as Rose prepares for her upcoming tour with R&B singer, Q. “I’m really ready,” she says of the tour. “I’m holding myself to a different standard now, because I’ve been away for a minute. I’m not in a space to take things for granted. I know some rooms will be super filled, and some will be more intimate. But being able to be appreciated and loved for art that is really honest and really me? That’s something I’m very grateful for.”

“Paranoid” is the one.

Baby Rose: It stemmed from higher thoughts—taking an edible and really going… Skipping all the fun and going into scenarios brought on by high thoughts. When I listen back, it makes me laugh, because of the juxtaposition of what I’m saying and how the song is so fire. Shining a light on all these fears, putting them in a fire-ass song, to make them lose their power.

Through and Through is your first album in four years. With the demands of the music industry—the pace being so intense—was there any fear the album would be “late?”

Baby Rose: We’re in a generation where everything is fast. There’s an agenda, lowkey, to decrease our attention spans. It’s just trying to fit into an algorithm. It can be discouraging as an artist who loves to take their time and formulate a thought that means something to me, and is very intentional and human.

With this album, I took my time and we had time during the pandemic. With that said, I didn’t want to take that time for granted, and I wanted to push myself to the outer corners of my comfort zone. To be able to receive all the love I have been receiving, it’s been, “Oh, my God!” My heart swells—this is more than enough. I know that I’m being challenged more to put myself out there, and instead of loathing it, I’m accepting it. It makes me a little uncomfortable, but I can create things in ways that are really impactful.

In putting yourself out there, who do you hope this album inspires?

Baby Rose: It’s going to help those that are at crossroads in their journeys. People that haven’t released something that doesn’t serve them anymore, or maybe they have been in a space of… I’m looking at what you said earlier about the album feeling like a mirror, and for me, To Myself was very specific and a mercy play. It was back-against-the-wall, this is my only shot. It was an outpouring of emotion because of heartbreak. With this album, Through and Through, there are nods to that, but it’s expansive. I’m going into the collective consciousness. We are more alike than we think we are. Yes, culturally, there are differences, but talking about the human array of emotions? There may be different scenarios, but fear and anxiety are real things. Love. Heartbreak. Paranoia.

Is it easier to write from the place of a collective consciousness?

Baby Rose: I don’t know if it’s easier, but it felt necessary. The way it came felt easy. When I made “Power,” I knew that was the finale. It was the light at the end of the tunnel. It gives hope. I don’t want people to feel hopeless, even if they’re lost. I could be lost every other day—I don’t know what the f*ck is going on!—but I want people to be gentle with themselves. Even people you look up to, we all have… When you start to love yourself, like “Water,” it’s a very healing thing. I know it’s cliche, and it’s simple, but we often overlook it. We can water ourselves, and you’re able to empathize even deeper with others. You’re not looking at life with anger, but with love. That’s why love is so powerful: by helping yourself you’re able to help others more deeply.

Softness is so important.

Baby Rose: Absolutely, it’s soft power. Soft power is what I like to exude. How powerful it can be, just to be more gentle.

What does your flow state look like?

Baby Rose: It’s really about being on-it, and having my little planner. Knowing what the f*ck is going on! Having music playing, going outside, feeling the breeze, and saying gentle things to myself. “I am more than enough, I have everything that I need.” I smile slightly when I talk, and that feels like a flow state. In the midst of chaos, having this gratitude of, “I’m here, so it can’t be all that crazy.”

Having new eyes when I look at things. I’ve toured before, but this is a new tour. We’re going to new places I’ve never been. It’s here at my family’s crib, and every time I come back, everyone’s grown a bit more… So, being more in awe of things. Awe brings a sense of presentness more than anything else. Like, damn! We’re gonna be open to everything we can learn. And it counters that sense of—and I don’t think it ever goes away—doubt and anxiety. That never goes away, but being present and disciplined, and being very grateful, those are the ways to get your flow.

What does working through analog unlock for you? How does it help you to connect to yourself creatively?

Baby Rose: It makes every word and detail a little deeper. When I’m at the studio, we’re dusting off all these things people don’t use. When I come in there, I’m using all the shit. I go back to the music I grew up on. My dad had an affinity with the ‘70s. It brings me back to an older time where a whole string section was just casually in music. It would make music melt into your body. Nowadays, things feel super contrived at times. It feels plastic, when it could feel like crystals and gold.

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