From working with Usher as a teenager to blessing Krizz Kaliko with vocals on his latest album Son of Sam, Kortney Leveringston has had a long history of channeling her beautiful voice for the enjoyment of all.When fans heard her stunning chorus on Tech N9ne’s “Believe” on Something Else, many thought that Tech’s “surprise feature” was none other than Beyonce Knowles, the Destiny’s Child member turned international-icon. But listen closer and you’ll hear the distinct pitch of Kortney, and since then the attention on her has grown. Since Something Else she has also appeared on Krizz Kaliko’s “Send Your Love”, a charming throwback to the days of Roger Troutman and his vocoder-drenched funk.
We talked to Kortney to get her history in the music business (including that collaboration with Usher), how she hooked up with Strange and sang on “Send Your Love”, and those nagging Beyonce comparisons that almost seem unavoidable.
Tell me about your musical background, because from what I understand you started singing at a very young age and come from a musical family.
That is very true. Most artists they have musical influences. I grew up watching my mom – my whole family really, but my mom and my aunt used to be in a duo. They would travel and so I got to witness all of that. I don’t really have no musical influences, I just grew up watching them. At a very young age I was like “Gosh, I want to sing like that!” I randomly decided to belt out a Whitney Houston song and I was caught singing it by my family and that’s how all the madness started. I think around that time I was really about 6 or 7 or somewhere around there.
So they didn’t know?
No, they didn’t I could sing! (Laughs) I didn’t know I could sing really! It was just something that I thought I’d try. I was really into my my mom’s voice and was like “I want to try it.”
Looking back do you feel happy that you were sort of born into this music thing?
Yeah, absolutely. I’m not going to lie to you, in the past I was really shy. One time we discovered I could sing and from then on we’re talking about school talent shows – anything that had to do with music or performing arts – and my mom was really on top of it. I really have to give props to her. She put aside her music career that she was trying to build to start mine. I think around the age 14 through 16 is when I wanted to go full-fledged with it and actually be an artist.
What kind of history do you have in the business? I heard about the “My Boo” record you did with Usher.
Yes, that was actually a bittersweet situation there, but back in 2004 Usher was looking to sign artists to his record company that he created back then. I don’t really know the history on it now, but back then I think it was called “Us Records” or something like that. I auditioned for him and he loved my voice and he wanted to – all in one day – he wanted to cut a song! So of course I did and we actually came together on it working with the songwriter Adonis. He presented the lyrics to me and he was like “Make it your own” kind of deal and so we got together on that and hung out.
I remember flying back home and a few months later hearing it being leaked to the internet and everyone thought it was Beyonce. During that time I was young and the management that I had at the time was not present to the session, so we didn’t get the proper paperwork or anything done. So I pretty much had to not really get credited for doing that. People who had known me and they know my vocals, they were like “We know that’s you.”
That was probably one of my greatest accomplishments just in the music industry other than so far working with Tech and Krizz. That was like one of the biggest moments that I legally couldn’t get credit for. So, like I said it was a bittersweet moment in life (laughs). I think people are starting to notice. Every once in awhile, because you can YouTube the video, and every once and awhile I go on and read the comments. Some of them are kind of crazy (laughs), but a majority of the comments that you see are “This is this girl from Kansas City.” I think people are starting to kind of learn. So I do appreciate that. I was actually on Wikipedia too. Someone sent me an email with the link that it was like a rare demo that I did, so I thought that was kind of big too (laughs). I was like “Wow!” It just feels good to get credit in any kind of way. I don’t say that legally I can come out and release a statement saying “Hey, that was me!” because, like I said at the time, we didn’t do any of the proper paperwork. I was just there and happy to be in the studio with Usher. I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean for that to leak out. Back then it was playing everywhere.
You mentioned the Beyonce comparisons. We read some comments from your appearance on Tech’s “Believe” that they thought it actually was Beyonce. Do those comparisons or the confusion ever bother you?
(Laughs) To be honest this is actually something that I have been dealing with since, oh my God we’re talking about the age 15. This was before I even knew who Beyonce or Destiny’s Child was. In middle school I remember singing in a school talent show and people coming to me and saying “Oh you sound just like that girl in that girl group!” and I’m like “Who are they talking about?” Even during those years, 16 to 18, trying to get a record deal – it’s different now, but back then the manager that I had, we were actually physically going to these record companies and I would audition and they’d be like “Oh, you sound great for your age, but you sound like Beyonce.” (Laughs) This is something that I want people to understand: I don’t study her. I’m actually trying to create my own sound and stuff like that and it’s just – unfortunately I get compared to her all the time. This is something that I’ve been kind of going through forever. It doesn’t bother me. In the past it did because I got turned down from a lot of labels behind that, but it doesn’t really bother me any more. I think it’s great that I – I mean look where she is now. You can’t really mad at that. It’s Beyonce! And I love her music, but nobody knows that I’m really a Brandy fan. I listen to Brandy like all day every day. So when I get compared to Beyonce, and I love her music, I listen to her music, but I don’t…it’s not like I sit down like people think I do and study her vocals. I’ve heard some of the craziest stuff. I’ve even heard that I talk like her (laughs). I’m just like “How do you talk like someone?” At first it was hard, it was a bit challenging because I want people to accept me for me not “The girl who’s trying to sound like Beyonce” or something like that. Yeah on Twitter I’ve been getting a lot of fan responses, and they’ve been great, but somewhere in there is always “Oh it sounds like Beyonce.” I was reading a review that I think VIBE did on Tech’s album and I seen the comments on “Believe”, which was said to be “the Grammy song,” and they mentioned that “Kortney, the vocalist is doing the greatest impression of Beyonce” I was just like “Oh my goodness!” It doesn’t bother me much, it really doesn’t.
Now that I think of it, there’s a lot of rappers who have gone through the same thing. It happens.
I know and that’s kind of what I had to learn, just from my teenage years on until now, just talking to different people about it. But it sucks because it’s something that I really can’t help. It’s not like I…I create songs and say that “I’m going to sound like Beyonce.” You know. So…I dunno.
Totally. You’re just like “I’m just singing!”
Exactly! But I went through it to where people wanted to work with me because I sounded like her. I think it’s crazy.
Well moving on, how did you first meet Krizz Kaliko and Tech N9ne?
I can’t remember the year. No one knows that I’ve done other features with these guys.
A majority of my features were with Krizz on Shock Treatment. We did “Stripper Dance”, we did “Get It Girl” with Irv Da Phenom. I also did “Get Around”. I think I had three features on there and then I was on Tech’s All 6’s and 7’s. I actually did the “Pornographic” song (laughs). I was the female vocalist on the hook. I don’t think anybody knows that we’ve been doing some work.
I met Krizz Kaliko first. Years and years ago, back when my mom was doing music, I believe that she was actually associated with the 57th Street Rogue Dogs and Tech N9ne. I knew about him way back in the day and I’ve always been a fan. But I met Krizz Kaliko through Irv Da Phenom. He invited me to the studio and I think that’s when we cut the “Get It Girl” song and we just kind of went from there. Once Krizz heard my voice he was like “Yeah, I want to get you on this too!” I feel like we probably cut all of those in one night. Maybe we did “Stripper Dance” separately but the rest of them, the hooks and stuff we did in one night. It was real fun working with him because I’m always looking forward to what they come up with. Everybody’s so creative. “Believe” was presented to me I think the same night I did Krizz Kaliko’s “Send Your Love” hook. I think I did “Believe” that same night. Makzilla actually wrote the hook to “Believe”. As I was recording it, during that time you don’t have the full song made, so you don’t get the full effect until you actually hear it. That’s what I did, but I’m not going to lie to you, when I heard “Believe” I teared up a little bit. I thought the song was amazing and the lyrics and everything, it was just such a positive song. To hear how I was able to do it on there, I was actually proud. I had a proud moment (laughs) where I was proud of myself.
There’s a lot of purity in that song.
Absolutely, yeah. Just the message alone is just great. It’s something different for Tech so I was really happy. The reviews – despite the “Beyonce sound alike” – I’ve actually been getting some really great responses on the reviews from this song so I’m actually happy that I was able to do something like this. The same thing with Krizz Kaliko “Send Your Love”. I love that song. It takes me back to Roger Troutman and Zapp days, “Computer Love”. Actually my mom, in the past she toured with them, so I was really excited to do that and let her listen to it.
What did your mom think of it?
Oh she loved it. She loves my work, even when I don’t like my music. (Laughs) Yeah, we always go through this thing where she listens to my music and I’m like “Mom, be honest!” and she’s like “Nah, I love it!” But yeah she was really excited to hear what I did on Tech and Krizz’s albums. We were looking forward to it coming out, so absolutely I’m very excited. I was talking to Krizz and telling him how blessed I felt to be a part of their work, throughout the years really. My mom always got excited when they would talk to me and want to do work.
How did it come to be that Krizz wanted you to be on “Send Your Love” and approached you about it? Did he just call you and say “Hey, I have this song”?
Yeah, that’s normally how it goes. Sometimes he’ll hit me during touring and he’s like “Yeah, when I get back I gotta get you in the studio.” I think that he had already had his ideas and that all comes into what I meant about them being creative like that. For them to have an idea and want me to be a part of it is just great. So yeah, usually I’ll get the call like “Hey yeah, I want you to be on this song.” I never know over the phone what the song is going to consist of so (laughs), so it’s only when I get to the studio that I get to hear the idea for it. We get there and vibe out and it just works out.
What do you think about Krizz Kaliko as an artist?
I think he’s great! All around. He’s a great songwriter even, which I just found out in the past couple of years, he’s into the writing deal too. As an artist he’s different. He can do it all, I think, and that’s what I like about him. He can rap, he can sing. I’ll never forget when I heard “Why Me?” He actually released a visual to that and I watched it, I went crazy! I had to reach out to him: I was like “Oh my God that was amazing man! Like, incredible!” I just love that he’s able to touch on every level of music, like rapping and singing live. I actually heard the country song on the album too (laughs). I’m a huge fan of this album though. Nobody knows but I think i listen to “Kill For Your Lovin'” more than I do “Send Your Love”. Oh my God, that song is incredible.
What kind of direction did he give you for “Send Your Love”?
We come together on it. The piece already has the lyrics and everything presented to me and he’s just like “Jazz it up. Do what you do!” kind of deal. We do work together though but he kind of let’s me do my thing too and I appreciate that.
He lets you feel it.
Absolutely. I also thinks he likes it that when I’m in the studio I’m really quick. I’m a quick learner and I get it done. I think Krizz appreciates that.
What kind of responses have you gotten to this song and other contributions that you’ve made towards Strange Music this year with “Believe” and “Send Your Love”?
I’ve been getting some amazing responses, “Believe” being the biggest. I get the most response from that because it’s said to be a really big song for Tech and you know, I said I’m really happy to be a part of that. I’ve gotten a lot of responses from “Send Your Love” too. I’ve actually been seeing some really great responses. Like I said I’m happy to be a part of it. These are like two of the hottest albums out right now, you know? To be a part of that is a really big deal. Right now for myself I am still currently just working on music for myself. I am planning on getting into the studio with an amazing producer, arranger and songwriter. His name is Anthony Saunders. He is actually from Kansas City and he’s done some really qreat work with the likes of Justin Bieber and Joe so he’s kind of getting into the game too. I’m looking forward to working on a project with him.
Do you have any solo material out there?
I dont actually at this time. I’ve been slacking. I don’t even have a YouTube account, right? Everybody’s like “Are you on SoundCloud?” You know, so yeah, we’re going to get together and create. I’ve worked with this Anthony guy for years so I think it’s time.
Anything you want to say before we wrap this up?
I just really appreciate working with these guys and them allowing me to be a part of everything and the response from the fans, I really appreciate it. I’m excited.
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