Pop & Hiss premiere: Phlo Finister's youthquaker-inspired R&B
But the 19-year-old is hoping to generate buzz for “Crown Gold,” her self-issued six-track EP of hip-hop, jazz and grunge mash-ups with R&B melodies and slick productions.
“Urban fan bases need to be revolutionized. I think it can be authentic and classic, but it can have a new spin,” she said while sipping a Thai tea at downtown L.A.’s Demitasse Café. “People are copying so much these days, it's hard to separate. What I'm doing, I want to be more innovative for my generation. I want to make a classic R&B, but the R&B that I'm making is going to be more avant garde.”
Born in Oakland and raised in L.A., Finister instantly attracts glimpses with her bone-straight hair, perfectly manicured eyebrows, vintage mod attire and sultry makeup that would make Amy Winehouse proud. Given her towering height and beauty, you could easily confuse her for a model (she did styling for Def Jam Records after dropping out of high school). Her music is driven almost wholly by her look, and she takes cues from the youthquaker movement sparked by '60s style icons Edie Sedgwick and Twiggy.
“I love that it was a movement. It was more than one female doing it. They were poster girls. When I saw the photo of Sedgwick that they took for Vogue in her house and it said youthquaker [it looked like] a whole different world. They were all dressing really mod, but they were a part of pop culture. Me being in my youth, it was important for me to embrace that,” she says. “In the '90s, TLC and Aaliyah and all those girls were dressing with the baggy pants and a look, so to me it was important to take R&B and give it a new image in a sense and put all my influences of '60s pop culture with that, because it was similar to the '90s hip-hop/R&B thing.”
The first single off “Crown Gold” is a smoldering R&B-driven take on the classic Nancy Sinatra (by way of Cher) standard “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” which Finister mashed up with Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones Pt. II.” She also threads a Dr. Dre beat (“Xxplosive”) through the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” and rides Garbage’s “#1 Crush” over 2Pac’s “Hail Mary.”
Those unlikely pairings are the result of her across-the-board influences.
“I grew up listening to classic rock like the Doors, Led Zeppelin, and Janis Joplin is one of favorite singers. I listen to a lot of Amy Winehouse. And I kind of mix that with the '90s R&B thing: 702, Xscape, Deborah Cox, Aaliyah,” Finister says. “It was sort of meeting the medium of putting hip-hop with a pop, '60s sound and embracing that. I love darker music, but I know I’m a light, and I have to exude that.”
Finister’s obsession with the youthquaker movement almost saw the aspiring singer abandoning America after taking a trip to London to explore its roots. She even plans on calling her upcoming debut full-length “Youthquaker,” which she hopes to release next summer.
“I felt like I had to get there and be in London and really live it, not just read about it. So when I got there, I didn’t want to come back. I was so tired of L.A. I should start a life for myself out there,” she says, pondering while looking at the window. “I just didn’t want to come back. The way I was being courted there was different. Here, I’m overlooked and people ignore my music. I want to go back now; I really don’t want to be here. But this is where I live, this is where I’m from. As soon as I get that gold [her slang for money], I’m bouncing.”
For those who still don’t get Finister after checking out the EP, she has a soundbite ready to go.
“OK, so I’m going to ask myself a question and then I’m going to answer it,” she says with a laugh, tossing her hair over her shoulder and leaning into the recorder. “So if people are like, ‘Who is Phlo Finister?’ Tell them, 'Phlo Finister is a youthquaker, with a gun.' ”
Listen and download "Crown Gold" below:
— Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photos: Phlo Finister. Credit: From Phlo Finister.