Ever since signing to Jive Records — the label behind a slew of successful pop, hip-hop and R&B acts since the 1980s — New Orleans-based singer Kourtney Heart has learned there's much more to being a singer than just singing. Participating in Jive's two-month artist development program, Heart got a crash course in what it takes to be a pop artist.
"I thought I could just get onstage and sing my heart out, but I learned different techniques of singing — I learned things as small as how to hold a microphone, how to put the microphone on the mic stand, how to walk away from the mic stand, about working out, and how to work out while I'm singing," she says. "Oh man, it was amazing. So many little things."
Eighteen-year-old Heart says ever since signing to Jive in September 2010 she has "been moving on a train that is non stop," and her days are filled with traveling, doing shows in local venues and working in the studio. Before the record deal, Heart had a minor hit in her bubblegum-bounce single "My Boy," which features the late Cash Money Records artist Magnolia Shorty. The song got radio play in New Orleans and across the South ("Even some people in California said they heard it," Heart says) and got the attention of Jive, but Heart says the music she's working on now has a much more grown-up sound.
"It's nothing like 'My Boy' ... I can tell you 'My Boy' was just a fun, young Kourtney trying to get her name out," she says. "I recorded 'My Boy' when I was about 16."
Heart has been performing around the city since she was 11, and at age 13 connected with local hip-hop DJ Raj Smoove — who is currently her manager — to record a 90-second demo of Heart singing the National Anthem in hopes of singing at New Orleans Hornets games. The two continued to collaborate, and during Heart's senior year at Edna Karr High School they recorded her first album Eye Dee Kay (that's "IDK," or "I don't know," in Internet parlance). The album includes the R&B-flavored unrequited high school crush anthem "Spell it Out" and the breakthrough single "My Boy" with Magnolia Shorty, who was murdered in December 2010.
"(Working with Magnolia Shorty) was amazing. She was such a sweet and humble person," Heart says. "She was so outgoing in her music, but just as a human she was just shy, cool, down to earth."
While the beat and Magnolia Shorty's verses in "My Boy" give the track its unmistakable New Orleans bounce sound, Heart's other music pulls from a wide range of influences. Heart says she doesn't really listen to the radio — though she admires R&B radio queens Beyonce, Kerry Hilson and Rihanna — and instead seeks inspiration from gospel groups like the Inspirations and the soul of the Temptations. More obvious influences include '90s singers Brandy and Aaliyah (who also was on Jive at one point), with whom Heart shares a similar sweet-but-street aesthetic. Vocally, there's hints of Destiny's Child-era Beyonce, and a recent YouTube video of Heart covering Adele's soulful "Rolling in the Deep" during a performance at the club Vaso shows her range and maturity.
"I do see my sound evolving a lot. I study so many genres of music," she says, "I was signed (to Jive) as an R&B and pop artist, but I don't see myself as just those two genres of music."
Heart has the look of her radio-pop idols: She's tall and pretty with dark, almond-shaped eyes. When she talks about singers she admires, she talks a lot about their songs' arrangements and production, demonstrating a well-rounded knowledge of music and the hands-on approach she takes with her songs (she has some co-writing and co-arranging credits on Eye Dee Kay). While she's mostly focusing on performing and promoting "My Boy" at the moment, she's also working on new music she hopes will express the more grown-up side she's ready to debut.
"The stuff that I'm working on now, I'm hands-on," she says. I've learned a lot about being in the studio — I live in the studio, I guess you could say ... and I'm actually arranging and producing my music now, and also writing like I had been before. I've been getting more hands on with how I want the sound to come out. I feel that my fans will really see the growth, because it's coming from me."