It’s not often during TV binge-watching sessions that I pause the DVR and scramble to find out what song is playing during an intense prison-shanking moment; however, Kat Dahlia’s song “Gangsta,” featured in the season-opening episode of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” forced me to leave my blanket cocoon in search of answers. From there, it was no longer about Sgt. Olivia Benson, her newly adopted son Noah and the drama intertwined with “Law & Order: SVU”; it was all about Dahlia’s poignant, powerful music.
Dahlia, a 24-year-old hailing from Miami, Florida, allows the powerful experiences of her upbringing, a toxic relationship and her individuality to contribute to her musical persona. After bussing and waiting enough tables in Miami to save up and move to New York, she earned a recording contract with Epic Records — and her career began to take off. As an up-and-coming artist, she gets swept into a lot of different genres — R&B, pop, etc. — but Dahlia denies anything that specific.
“I’m a storyteller,” she says. “I’m always telling a story, from who I am, where I’m from, and just relating with audiences. That’s what I do.”
Those stories are introspective commentaries on her own life but end up being incredibly relatable. They’re straightforward and sharp — and they certainly don’t need to hide behind over-the-top stage production.
“People get thrown off with the big shows and the sparkly clothes and the big productions, but at the end of the day, they’re not very different,” Dahlia says.
Artists and fans share common experiences, which Dahlia exemplifies in the lyrics from her most widely known song, “Gangsta,” singing, “No, I ain’t stuntin’ like my daddy/He’s living with my grammy/Used to be a big baller/He’s surviving off of gambling/But I love him, he’s my daddy/Yeah, I love him, he’s my daddy/Put him in a big house before I ever see a Grammy.”
Arguably also Dahlia’s most revealing song, “Gangsta” paints a vivid picture of the struggles and obstacles she has faced thus far, though her music isn’t all heavy and about deep struggles. A more lighthearted approach to the insanity of love is found within the song “Crazy”: “Is it crazy that I told my ex don’t call no more, ‘cause I’m in love?/Is it crazy that I keep your shirt right here, just to smell your cologne?/Damn that sounds crazy/Tell me it isn’t crazy.”
And because of her candid nature, fans have been sharing stories of their own.
“It’s every night,” Dahlia says. “People are coming up, letting me know they went through something similar or I helped them break up with their boyfriend. And this is when it really comes full circle.”
When Dahlia says “every night,” she means it. For her first tour, named after her debut album, “My Garden,” which will be released via Epic Records on Jan. 13, 2015 — and is currently available for preorder on iTunes — she is in a different city every night.
“It’s the commitment that keeps me going, the fact that there are fans waiting every night for me,” Dahlia says. “It’s not a drag at all; it’s the happiest times for me, beyond the fact that I share a tour bus with five dudes and have to deal with their smelly asses.”
Dahlia’s infectious, upbeat attitude and excitement about what’s to come is definitely worth investing time into, although her sound is difficult to identify in a few words — similar to her taste in music, which, when I asked about it, flowed from 2Chainz to Frank Sinatra in two minutes, somehow hitting Bob Marley, Jessie J and Kendrick Lamar in between.
Overall, Dahlia’s music goes everywhere, and she explores each avenue well, carrying a certain confidence, yet a humility that is incredibly attractive in today’s overzealous pop industry. While Dahlia doesn’t feel as though she’s made it yet, her career is not defined by some lustrous goal.
“I don’t know,” she says. “It’s kind of one of those things where you’re rounding the corner and don’t know what to expect down the hall. I’ll know when I know when I’ve made it, ya know?”