All That Jazz | A Conversation with Lili K

Chicago is known for birthing some of the biggest and most influential names in rap and R&B. Kanye West, Common, Lupe Fiasco, R. Kelly, and Jeremih just to name a few. Amongst the rappers and singers from the Windy City comes Lili K, a jazz singer with the voice of an angel. Getting her first breakthrough on a Vic Mensa track, Lili has been building her musical roster with grace and determination. The New York-based songstress is demonstrating that nothing is stopping her from getting to the top. We caught up with Lili, who's getting ready to release her new album Planet of Flowers. Check out the full interview below.

I first heard your voice on Chance The Rapper's "Hey Ma", and your life has changed a lot since being featured on that record. Can you tell us how your journey in the music industry has been to date?
It's been an awesome and crazy journey filled with a lot of ups and downs. I've been able to create a career for myself with my original music and my band, which has been the most rewarding. I've learned that being a jazz/soul artist comes with a lot more roadblocks than the more mainstream genres do, but in spite of those challenges, I've been able to perform at major festivals, tour, and record the music I've always wanted to.

What was your first memory connected to music?
My parents had a Motown cover band, and I remember being a little girl (maybe 3 years old), and getting up on stage to sing along with them. But my earliest memory of me actually singing on my own was my 4th grade Christmas concert at school, where my choir teacher gave me the solo for The Christmas Song. I was so nervous! But after that, I never stopped singing.

Chicago is known for its continuous contributions to hip-hop culture. How does it feel being one of the females on the rise, as well as being a jazz artist? Do you feel both genres intersect for you?
Well it was awesome to be an integral part of the rise of Chicago's current state of hip-hop. I've always loved hip-hop, so it was beautiful to be a part of it. However, my passion has always been rooted in jazz and soul. It's been admittedly challenging, but also empowering, to pursue my musical dreams. I don't incorporate much hip-hop into my music anymore, but the door is always open for future collaborations.

Can you tell us a little bit about the title of your upcoming album Planet of Flowers?
Well, this is a multifaceted story. We were having a bit of a hard time coming up with a title at first. The album touches on tons of genres and themes, and the moods and tones shift throughout the project, so it was kind of hard to narrow it down to a title.

We have one song on the project that was initially called "Planted a Flower," but my engineer accidentally named it "Planet of Flowers" when we were recording it in the studio. Even though it was a mistake, we ended up loving it and keeping it as the name of the song. This song is a journey within itself; it travels through different sounds, genres, and moods. We realized that was reminiscent of the entire album, and decided to make it the title track. We kind of view the album as a planet, and each song is its own little flower.

What is your creative process like when you're working on a song?
It changes from song to song. When I'm writing for myself, I like to wait for inspiration and ideas to come to me, instead of sitting down with the "I'm gonna write a song today" mindset. Sometimes I'll be in the shower, I'll be on the train, I'll be making dinner, etc. Sometimes I'll write a whole song in 15 minutes, sometime it takes me months to come up with a bridge.

I usually bring my melodic and lyrical ideas to my band, and we'll morph the ideas into songs. Other times, a bandmate will have an awesome idea for a song, and I'll create something to go with it.

Where do you draw musical inspiration from?
My musical inspirations are all over the place! From my jazz queens Ella Fitzgerald and Rachelle Ferrell, to pretty much all of Motown, to the neo-soul movement (D'Angelo, India.Arie, Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild, etc.). I've been inspired by so much music. Steely Dan is a huge inspiration as well. And Stevie. I'm just gonna keep going if I don't stop myself.

“I've been told I'm not pretty enough, not skinny enough, etc. to make it in this industry, and it hurts. I want to do everything in my power to encourage and embrace and empower other women."

What has been your favorite collaboration to date? What is your dream collaboration?
To date, my favorite collaborations have been with the Jeff Gibbs Quartet and Sidewalk Chalk. Both are phenomenal bands out of Chicago, and I'm honored to have worked with them. The Jeff Gibbs Quartet and I did a jazz rework of "Latch" by Sam Smith and Disclosure; it was SO much fun. Sidewalk Chalk became my favorite band when I first moved to Chicago in 2009. I saw them perform and became an instant fan-girl. Fast forward to 2015, and we're doing shows and writing songs together. Such a cool experience. Both songs are available on my SoundCloud!

How important is it for you to portray a positive body image?
VERY important! Like most women, I've struggled with loving my body and my appearance. It's easy to feel insecure with all the societal pressures and beauty standards that women face every day. Being in the entertainment industry just exacerbates those pressures and insecurities. I've been told I'm not pretty enough, not skinny enough, etc. to make it in this industry, and it hurts. I want to do everything in my power to encourage and embrace and empower other women.

Name 3 hidden gems in Chicago.
1. The Chicken Shop at Soho House (it's open to the public) has AMAZING food!

2. The Broadway Antique Mall is awesome. We've gotten furniture and art and clothing from there. They have the best stuff. Sometimes we just go there to walk around and get inspired.

3. Spifster! She's the BEST nail artist. Gorgeous work, unique design, phenomenal personality. She works out of Shervan Salon in Pilsen. Book your appointment on StyleSeat!

What advice do you have for young women who aspire to be singers?
Really understand yourself and know what you want before you start pursuing it. It's so easy to get wrapped up in the industry and lose your sense of self, and you can end up chasing a dream that you don't even love anymore. Stay true to yourself, don't base your art on trends, and stay strong in the face of negativity.

What's next for you? What's your dream?
My dream is to be able to travel the world and share my music with those who love it. I've had fans reach out to me and let me know that music has gotten them through a hard time, has helped them leave an abusive relationship, has given them the positive vibes they need, etc. That's the craziest feeling in the world, to know that your music has actually helped someone. I hope to do that for the rest of my life.

What does MISSBISH mean to you? Who is your MISSBISH ?
To me, it basically means a woman who knows and loves herself, and celebrates herself. She lifts up those around her because she doesn't need to put anyone down to stand out. This describes all of the women I surround myself with; my mama and my best friends. These women keep me grounded, sane, confident, and happy.

Photos by: Zach Felter