“I always knew I wanted to be a singer, I always wanted to be an artist,” Tiana Thomas, affectionately known as Tiana Major9, tells The Root over the phone. The East London native, now 24 years old, reveals her music dreams began to manifest at age five. It was only a few years ago that she quit her job at Urban Outfitters to pursue her craft, and hasn’t stopped since. Already this year, she has been declared “one to watch” by Billboard, while VICE praised her as a “singular voice in British Black soul” in 2019.
Tiana’s sonic identity incorporates a pleasant mixture of old and new school stylings often peppered with Caribbean flavor, standing as a testament to her upbringing in versatile Newham. She cites ‘90s and early-aughts R&B mainstays D’Angelo, Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu as some of her biggest inspirations, however, the entire essence of her musical being is rooted in jazz. In fact, her stage name is derived from her favorite chord, the “uplifting” Major 9, which is frequently used in jazz compositions.
“I consider myself very free and unrestricted,” The Motown-signed singer and songwriter says of her attraction to the genre. “Jazz music is just that...it seems as though there’s no rules to it, even though there are rules.” She cites Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan as some of her muses on the jazz front.
At Sixes and Sevens, Tiana’s sophomore EP and first under a major label, is set to drop August 7. While her first project, 2019’s Rehearsal @ Nine, showcases her effortless ability to combine the modern with the timeless, her newest nine-track collection is more reserved, calming, and in many ways, cathartic. The project begins with the interlude “I Accept My Emotions,” which finds the artist performing breathing exercises and repeating affirmations. Throughout At Sixes and Sevens, Tiana muses about serious relationships (the D’Angelo-esque “...Exclusively”), taking chances on love (the snare-heavy “Lucky”), and the importance of self-confidence (the airy “What Is Mine” interlude).
“I was in a [transitional] stage of going from that young girl to a woman,” the artist explains of the space she occupied mentally and emotionally while crafting her newest body of work. She pulls much of her inspiration from personal experiences, stories from close friends and family, and her “incredibly vivid” dreams.
“I feel like I’ve been through a lot of situations in regards to love and my emotions, so I just really wanted to channel that,” she continues. “I started taking up meditation and really understanding that affirmations can really help—taking your emotions and really centering yourself.”
With the project being such a labor of love, she’s hoping the response will live up to her expectations. She admits to The Root that as a Scorpio, she can be tough on herself, and “thinks about a lot of things in depth.” However, she uses coping mechanisms like meditation, cooking and surrounding herself with positivity to ensure she’s in the right frame of mind.
“I think about my music all the time, every single day,” she acknowledges. “My fear of failure is so [strong], and sometimes it can be very crippling, and it can really take a toll on my creation. My career is like a baby [right now], so it will get easier [with time].” As to what she’s looking forward to following her EP’s latest release? Going on a full-fledged tour when it’s safe to do so. (“During quarantine, I’m putting [music] out, but I can’t really tell how people are receiving it, so I can’t wait to tour,” she explains.)
While Tiana’s newest project may be her introduction to some, others may have first heard her expressive vocals on “Collide,” which was featured in the film Queen & Slim. (And also on Michelle Obama’s 2020 Workout playlist.) The movie’s soundtrack was released under Motown Records, and Tiana was accompanied by the versatile Atlanta-based duo Earthgang on the song.
While she prides herself on being a songwriter, she notes that the tune was pre-written before she was asked to appear on it. Nevertheless, she dropped her apprehension at the door and became an integral addition to the beautiful song. (“I really, really loved the song and the movie,” Tiana explains. “I knew it was something that I wanted to be a part of.”) The Benny Cassette-produced track details an endless, earth-shaking love, which features the desirous chorus, “When we collide, it’s a beautiful disaster, when I crash into you.”
Given recent calls for equality across the board for people of color, the need for stronger Black representation in media is a campaign we’re not letting up on anytime soon. While we’re hopefully on the way to a future where everyone feels seen through an entertainment lens, Tiana hopes that the types of stories told throughout the diaspora continue to uplift.
“People are really starting to pay attention now,” she says. “I also hope that there’s a lot more Black media that comes out where we don’t only struggle...There’s a lot of amazing directors and creative writers out there that are creating stories that need to be heard that [aren’t] only centered on the Black struggle. [Black people] have fun times and good times, and we’re into a lot of different things.”
Through her future songwriting work, Tiana plans to uplift stories of marginalized voices in the Black community and to discuss what is occurring in society as a whole. But in general, she’s aiming to make her mark on the industry with her writing talents.
“I really want to be known as an iconic songwriter,” she affirms. “I really want that to be part of my legacy. I wanna write number one hits for people, but also help push the music culture forward in terms of production. I dunno—just shake it up a little bit like Diddy or like Rodney Jerkins. [They had] their own sound that people remember, and I want that for myself.” She aspires to work with the likes of both R&B and hip-hop superstars, such as Lianne La Havas, Nai Palm, H.E.R., Lucky Daye, SiR, SZA, Kendrick Lamar, Emily King and Jojo.
While the road hasn’t been easy and sacrifices had to be made, the pain was worth the payoff for Tiana Major9. She’s gone from being rejected by The BRIT School for performing arts to becoming a major label signee with an impressive collection of self-written songs under her belt. Not bad for a former retail employee with big talent and even bigger ambition.
“Sometimes I would get a last minute gig or a good opportunity, but I’d be working [at Urban Outfitters], and there wouldn’t be anyone to cover my shift,” she recalls of her former life in retail. “It just got to a point where I was like ‘You know what? Music is my thing, I’m only in Urban Outfitters to fund my music career, I can’t let it get in the way of me actually doing music.’ So I started going to gigs even if I had a shift...I wanted to really, really push myself and just help my music career take off. I think that was the best decision I made, because if I didn’t believe in it, I wouldn’t have gone so hard.”
Join the discussion! The Root is hosting its first-ever, virtual Root Institute, presented by Target, featuring several of the leading minds in our community talking about politics, culture, health, community building and social impact. Subscribe for updates today!