mBtheLight Let Intuition Guide Her Solo Debut, How to Dress Well in the Dark

Photo Credit: James Adams

Some people spend their lives trying to make music happen, while others tend to let the music happen to them. It seems that Monica Blaire exists in the realm of the blessed few that experience the latter – acting as a vessel for the words, melodies and rhythms that seems to flow freely through her like a river. That’s not to say she hasn’t spent countless days and years writing music and continually growing in her craft, but that the way she does it is led by intuition and experience rather than any forced or external motivation. Her latest record, How to Dress Well in the Dark (H2DWITD), (released via Moodymann – founded record label, Mahogani Music) proves to be no different. 

“All of the full songs you hear are one takes, three at most. Nothing was written down, they’re all improv,” explains Blaire, who is releasing the project under the moniker mBtheLight. “I’m kinda slowly getting people into the idea that I can be called whatever I wanna be called,” says Blaire. “And that, yeah, Monica Blaire is the foundation, but don’t be surprised if I put out an album and I just called it Blaire or if I put out an album and I don’t wanna be called anything.” This languid approach to her moniker reflects the shapeshifting and transformative themes in H2DWITD.  

The record – which has been three years in the making – unfolds like a sonic diary, giving the listener glimpses into the external and internal conflicts that the artist faced over the last few years. Blaire explains that, after moving back to Detroit from Atlanta in 2018, life didn’t exactly go the way that she planned. She had returned to Michigan with the intention of making a record with Andres – aka legendary DJ and producer DJ Dez (of Slum Village) – and acting as a Creative Director for one of her friends’ projects. But, as she recounts, the process was slow moving and she felt like she had things she needed to get off her chest now. So, Dez and Mahogani Music founder and house music legend, Moodymann, gave Blaire the green light to embark on her solo record. 

Blaire explains that her writing process – for these songs and most of her songs in the past – is a very quick and spiritual process. “We sat in the studio and Moody just played me the tracks,” Blaire says. “This is how it happened –  Moody would play a track and I’d be like, ‘This is dope’ and we would start recording.” She says that she relies on instinct when it comes to writing and doesn’t allow herself to overthink or ruminate on a song. “Whatever the first idea I get is gonna be the one,” Blaire muses. “They normally come fully flushed, like ‘This is the song.’ Maybe not the words, but definitely the melodies and the placement.”

This direct method of writing probably explains the vulnerable and forthright nature of Blaire’s music. H2DWITD pieces together the more produced, fleshed out tracks that Blaire worked on with Andres, Moodymann and Nick Speed, with poignantly fleeting memories, composed solely by Blaire on her iPhone. She says that after sitting with the longer tracks for a while, she started to understand the story she wanted to tell, and wrote the interludes from there. But, although she had an idea of what she wanted to say, Blaire says a lot of the songs on her record told her things that she didn’t know yet herself. “My music tends to be very predictive because of my tap in,” Blaire states. “Sometimes, I’m feeling something and I don’t know why I’m feeling it and I express it through song and later it makes sense.”

Take the album’s lead track, “samesong.” Blaire says she wrote this track on her way home from a tour that was canceled due to COVID, and was surprised by how accurate it was listening back a few years later. “It kinda predicted all the sadness that was coming… and even some of the relationship things… some of it were things I was trying to get closure from, but it also ended up being predictive in some other ways too.”

This foreboding track sets the tone for the rest of the record, leading the listener through the peaks and valleys of Blaire’s self-discovery, acceptance and growth. “This is the darkest I get generally, in terms of what I put out and the things that I do,” observes Blaire. But in that darkness are heaps of hopefulness and clarity. Like in “release,” a cathartic meditation on realizing your needs and letting go of people and things that don’t fulfill them. Blaire begins the song with a reminder of the humanity in all of us – (“Be kind/A heart is still a heart/And a mind is still a mind”) while also maintaining her strength and sending a message to anyone who wants to get close to her (“Fuck with me if you wanna/Know that I’m different, though/I don’t take shit for granted/I dive in deep toes first”). The last minute or so of the song demonstrates Blaire’s unflinching vocal talent in an outpouring of emotional vocal runs that say just as much, if not more, than the words preceding them. 

Each song on the record packs in an equal amount of emotion, whether it’s five minutes or thirty seconds. The interludes, especially, encapsulate Blaire’s complex and genuine spirit, along with glimmers of the turmoil that she experienced while making this record. From her car breaking down and computer dying to going through a complicated breakup and delaying plans to move across the country, Blaire has been through a lot the last few years. From that came this unfiltered, vivacious body of work that yields proof of the beauty in chaos. “When that kind of chaos starts happening, I just know the universe is mixing stuff up and it’s about to be a real good time,” says Blaire.

Follow mBtheLight on Twitter for ongoing updates.

Supercoolwicked Subverts Pop Paradigm With Shakespearean Self-love Jam “Juliet”

In her new video for “Juliet,” Detroit multidisciplinary artist, singer, and songwriter Morgan Hutson (aka Supercoolwicked) creates a fantasy world of her own – an Afrocentric, baroque daydream that meshes the Shakespearian with the contemporary, the traditional with the subversive. Those who’ve given SCW’s 2019 debut LP High Gloss a spin know that this particular cocktail of familiar and foreign is what makes her music so memorable. And in “Juliet,” she perfects her brand of soliloquiel storytelling both visually and lyrically to deliver a fantasy world full of self-love and artistic actualization. 

Hutson explains that she wrote the lyrics to this song a few years back, when she was going through a breakup, dating through the all-too-familiar string of slacker suitors that seem to follow. “I was just out here swangin’ and just dealing with these men that were not shit and I knew it… but people can be beautiful Band-Aids,” she says. This transition period led her to reflect on what it means to love yourself; she realized she was looking for validation in others instead of within, like so many of us tend to do. “I started to kind of ruminate on it and be like, ‘Girl, you’re everything I need – stop trying with these people, be your own Romeo. Don’t look for romance where it’s not. Or love in general.’”

That realization blossomed into a lavish poetic love letter to the self, released last Friday, just in time for Valentine’s Day. The video for “Juliet” starts out with SCW walking into a medieval-looking church and opening a storybook; as the pages turn, we’re transported into the artist’s shimmering psyche, a romantic realm meshing two of her favorite cinematic inspirations: 1996 Baz Luhrmann classic adaptation William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet and Sam Mendes’ American Beauty. Hutson pays homage to the films throughout, singing lines like “a rose by any other name just wouldn’t be as sweet,” while gazing at herself in a royal-looking hand mirror and, later, framed lying in a bed of roses, all the while embedding her own artistic vision. With a background in musical theatre and a lifetime of acting on her resume, Hutson has a more intimate relationship than most with the Shakespearean. “Anytime I can be dramatic, I love it,” she says. 

But make no mistake – SCW’s creative choices are driven less by vanity or fandom, and more by self-worth, lived experience, and a love for her culture. By inserting herself into the Shakespearean narrative that has historically been dominated by white/European voices and faces, SCW carves out space for herself and her ancestors to be uplifted and celebrated. “It’s Black history month and I’m very proud of my heritage,” she says. “I know that we’ve been through a lot of things, but I wanted to bring the world of this Afrocentric, baroque idea to life…to meet those two [worlds] because I think that’s kind of where I dwell.”

Aside from realizing her aesthetic aspirations in the video, SCW finds a way to squeeze sophisticated couplets into a tight pop/R&B song framework. She credits trailblazers like Mariah Carey for inspiring her to incorporate her expansive vocabulary into her songwriting. “It’s like, how does she fit all that in there and make it sound so cute? I feel like that’s the ultimate flex,” she muses. “I don’t think that we have to mold ourselves into what people think things are because we create the paradigm as artists. So one of my underlying, subconscious things that I have going on is to subvert the pop paradigm.” 

Supercoolwicked does just that without removing the escapism that makes pop music so attractive to begin with – she creates an entire world for the listener to dwell in and make their own. “I feel like pretend is something we’ve forgotten as adults,” says Hutson. “We can really lean into that part of our inner child, especially during this time, because that’s the way through it.” 

Follow Supercoolwicked on Instagram for ongoing updates.