Rye Rye understands that fans have wondered where she has been in recent years.
The East Baltimore-native born Ryeisha Berrain was discovered by M.I.A. as a teenager, released her 2012 debut album on Interscope Records and was celebrated by national publications as an artist to watch. Today, however, the newly independent artist is trying to figure out her next direction on her own. It’s an exciting, if uncertain time.
“I don’t feel like I’m 100 percent where I need to be,” Rye Rye, 25, who now lives in Towson, said on the phone recently. “I know for sure I can be further and be greater, and that’s my plan this year.”
Rye Rye has accomplished plenty professionally in less than a decade, but there’s a sense she underachieved as well, if only because her talent and potential have not diminished. Now, as she learns to juggle new and old musical interests, Rye Rye says she’s determined, for once, to put her career above personal relationships. (When asked to elaborate, Rye Rye would not give specifics on the personal situations, but added, “A lot of people been holding me back.”)
“That’s how it’s been over the last few years — me just having to take care of other people around me, and holding back myself,” said Rye Rye, who performs at Creative Alliance on Saturday. “It’s time for me to put the focus on myself.”
As a teenager, Rye Rye quickly launched her career when the Baltimore club veteran Blaqstarr introduced her to a collaborator, the fascinating English songwriter/singer/rapper M.I.A. Subsequent tours and guest appearances led Rye Rye to become M.I.A.’s first signing to her N.E.E.T. Recordings, an imprint of Interscope.
After several delays, Rye Rye released her debut album “Go! Pop! Bang!“ in May 2012. It featured major artists (Akon, Robyn, M.I.A.) and producers (The Neptunes, RedOne). The uptempo album felt like a slicker extension of her 2011 mixtape, “RYEot PowRR,” but with more stars and a larger budget. The album was well received critically, but failed to catapult M.I.A.’s protege into her mentor’s stratosphere of cool.
Much has changed since. For one, Rye Rye no longer has ties to N.E.E.T. or Interscope, and said she became an independent artist last year. She said she also rarely speaks to M.I.A. (Representatives for M.I.A. did not immediately respond to requests for comment. An Interscope representative confirmed Rye Rye “is no longer signed to Interscope Records.”)
“She moved back to the U.K. and stuff, so I haven’t really seen her in a minute,” Rye Rye said. “We email each other here and there, but as far as talking in person, I haven’t seen her in ages.” (When later asked to clarify what happened with the label, Rye Rye replied via text message, “[N.E.E.T.] kinda just [folded]. [M.I.A.] was focusing on her own stuff[,] never really put that much time into the label[.]”)
Emboldened by her lack of label, Rye Rye now wants to expand her sound. She said fans constantly reach out to her on social media for “some booty-shaking music,” like the Baltimore club-influenced tracks she was first known for, but Rye Rye has been working on slower R&B music. She plans to release the first song reflecting this new direction in the next couple months.
“It’s not typical love songs. It’s more sexy. It reminds me of a Janet Jackson feel,” Rye Rye said of the new material. “As an artist, I’m very creative in different departments, and I wasn’t able to show that at first. I’m still doing my uptempo music, but I just feel like it’s time for me to show everything I can do.”
She has not abandoned the hyperkinetic dance music she’s known for, but refers to releasing it as getting it “out of the way.” Still, Rye Rye plans to release a mixtape of new, uptempo music called “Queen of the Scene“ next month through mixtape websites and her own social-media platforms.
Rye Rye also worked recently with Bassnectar, the popular festival-headlining DJ. In 2014, Bassnectar released their first collaboration, the aggressively energized “Now.” She said he reached out as a fan (“I didn’t even know he was that huge,” she said).
Even though Rye Rye has been out of the spotlight, she has positioned herself to take her career in several directions. She wants to keep her initial, dance-heavy fanbase satisfied, while branching out with her take on ’90s R&B.
Then there’s acting, which fell into Rye Rye’s lap after her career took off. She made her movie debut in “21 Jump Street,” with a small but memorable part. The acting industry intimidates her, but she’s more seriously considering the type of opportunities she’s turned away in recent years.
“They always send me stuff to read for, but I’m still nervous kind of,” she said. “I’m ready to keep going [with acting] but I don’t want to get distracted. It’s hard for me to focus on music and to focus on acting.”
She’s ready to make up for lost time, but also learning how to operate without the help of a label. There have been growing pains, and she expects there will be more, but the independence has ultimately re-energized Rye Rye.
“I have crazy ideas, but it’s still hard for me because I’m used to having my label and everybody else working for me,” she said. “But I want to be able to show who I am all around as an artist, not just be confined to one genre. That’s really what’s been the hold up: I just want to do everything right this time.”