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TONY COX, host:

We're in for a very special treat here at NPR's News & Notes. Minneapolis-born songbird Maiysha is a true blend of beauty and talent. She is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and a former model and a teacher, and now, Maiysha is a Grammy-nominated artist for her single, "Wanna Be." Her debut album, "This Much Is True," is a genre bender, mixing hip-hop rhythms with jazz and funk grooves. And she is joining us right here in studio at NPR West. Maiysha, welcome.

Ms. MAIYSHA KAI (Singer/Songwriter; 2009 Grammy Nominee): Thank you for having me.

COX: And congratulations to you.

Ms. KAI: Thank you so much.

COX: Are you nervous?

Ms. KAI: I think I'm more thrilled and excited than anything else.

COX: Yeah, this is the - because this would be your first time going to the Grammy Awards and everything, wouldn't it?

Ms. KAI: It's one of many firsts for me. This is actually my first single off of my first album that I've been nominated for. So, it's very exciting. And to be honest, I just feel like I've been invited to this amazing - like, it's like being the freshman at the big game, you know?

COX: Yeah, yeah. yeah.

Ms. KAI: So...

COX: You know, you had - your career - I mean, you've done a lot of things - you've been a model; you've been a teacher, as we said - but getting your record career going was a little bumpy.

Ms. KAI: Very bumpy. And I was a musician first. I did all the other stuff to try to fund my music career, and yeah, it took a long time. It took about seven years to get my deal off the ground for a variety of reasons. The music industry is in flux. I mean, we'd have deals on the table; they'd fall through. And in that time, we just kind of kept moving forward, which you have to do. So...

COX: Now, you're from Minneapolis, as I understand it, and...

Ms. KAI: I am.

COX: Your biography says that you are a Huxtable - you had a Huxtable-type life.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KAI: Yes.

COX: Huxtables, of course, being the Bill Cosby family on the show that sort of reinvented how black people were perceived on television.

Ms. KAI: Yeah.

COX: So, does that mean that Mom and Dad, one's a doctor, one's a lawyer?

Ms. KAI: No, it was more - I would just say that the type of upbringing I had - actually, my parents are divorced, and they have been most of my life, but everybody actually refers my mother as Clair Huxtable, because she kind of reminds everybody of that character. My dad is a little silly like Bill Cosby, and I was always Denise. I was the wild kid and kind of the wild card in the family. I'm the only artist in the family and always had the weird clothes and a wild hair. So...

COX: Now, let's talk about this song - I know you're going to sing it for us in a moment - "Wanna Be." Listening to the lyrics of it, it sounds as if it's a person who is trying to figure out who she is for herself.

Ms. KAI: Absolutely, absolutely. At the point I wrote that was very much in the middle of probably one of my darkest moments in trying to get myself off the ground as a musician, and so, I had a lot of questions running through my head about, am I doing the right thing? Is this really what I want in my life? And really coming to the conclusion that what I was doing was for me and that I am maybe not the typical black artist, but I'm a study in contrasts and...

COX: Well, you know what I found interesting? I saw the video on YouTube for this song that you're going to sing in a moment, and you're flicking away...

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: These beauty products, you know, amongst the brushes and stuff...

Ms. KAI: Yes, yes.

COX: Like, get away from me, get away from me. What was that about?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KAI: Well, you know, it was kind of exploring the careers that I have had to be honest. You know, the video, we kind of did a series of vignettes, just based on my life, actually. You know, it was, like, me in therapy; there's me in the makeup chair, you know...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KAI: And then there was kind of the real me, who's sitting there in front of my band, just kind of going for it, which is really where I'm happiest and where I feel most at home.

COX: Well, I'm so glad you're in studio because you're going to give me an opportunity to do something I have always wanted to do and never got to do, which was to be a DJ and introduce a song.

Ms. KAI: All righty then.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: So, ladies and gentleman, on News & Notes, I'm proud to bring to you Grammy-nominated artist Maiysha, with her new single, "Wanna Be."

(Soundbite of song "Wanna Be")

Ms. KAI: (Singing) I know how to love. I know how to lose. I know how to pick and how to choose. I've been adored. I have been abused. But I never seem to know what I'm worth.

I have been late. Now I'm right on time. And I make mistakes, but at least they're mine. I'd sign my life away on a dotted line Just to get the love I deserve.

'Cause I am young enough to have a lot to learn, But I'm old enough to know better. I've hard times, but as far as I'm concerned, I've come much too far to settle.

So, what will I be when I grow up? Is it only me who wants this much Where is the love that feeds my soul? When will it come, and when will I know? I'm asking...

Am I what I wanna be? All I'm gonna be? Tell me who I see Looking back at me in the mirror now, now.

I say, am I all I wanna be? All I'm gonna be? Tell me who this be, Looking back at me in the mirror now, now.

I know how to run, and I know how to hide. I can go with the flow and turn the tide. I know how to be wrong even when I'm right. I don't know how to get what I want.

I have regrets, but I've had lots of laughs. I spent all my life growing up too fast. I have the best friends you could ever have, But I don't know what I got 'til it's gone,

Because I lose every single game I play 'Cause I'm a slave to my distractions. I climb a mountain for every mess I make, But can't get no satisfaction.

If there's a chance, when will it be? Who is the man who's man enough for me? When will I have what makes me whole? What if I am and I still don't know? I'm asking...

Am I what I wanna be? All I'm gonna be? Tell me who I see Looking back at me in the mirror now, now.

I say, am I all I wanna be? All I'm gonna be? Who I see in this mirror now, now?

Know how to bend and when to break. I know how to give when I should take, And I learned long ago to leave well enough alone.

Where's the place and when's the time For me to live the life that's mine? I wonder if I'll ever make it home. Oh, oh, oh, ohhhh.

Tell me, baby now, Am I what I wanna be? All I'm gonna be? Tell me who I see Looking back at me in my mirror now.

COX: Maiysha, that was great.

Ms. KAI: Thank you.

COX: I wish you were singing that at the Grammy Awards. I know you know - I know you don't - not - we've talked about this already.

Ms. KAI: We do.

COX: I know you're not quite feeling doing that right now.

Ms. KAI: Well, you know, I do really want to enjoy it, and there's so much pressure going into the week, you kind of want to - I just want to have that moment where I can just be in the room, and it's so exciting. And to be honest, you know, I've been making my L.A. debut this week.

COX: Yeah.

Ms. KAI: So, I'm actually a little worse for wear.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KAI: So, I don't how it would go anyway.

COX: You sounded fine to me. But let me ask you, because - in part because Allison is still here with me, and we always talk about this on Friday, these kinds of things. Do you know what you're going to wear?

Ms. KAI: I do, I do. I'm nominated in the Urban/Alternative Performance category, and I decided to just go with that. So, I've picked a young designer who is a good friend of mine. Her name is Carmen Webber of Sistahs Harlem, and she was on "Project Runway," actually, and we've been friends for years. She has made me a fantastic jumpsuit for the Grammys. That's all I'm going to say.

COX: OK, OK.

Ms. KAI: But I did decide that...

COX: Now, do you get to walk down the red carpet? You're going to...

Ms. KAI: I will walk down the red carpet, yes, yes.

COX: Oh, man, that's exciting, huh? Tell us what it was like when you found out, and tell us you found that you had been nominated for Grammy Award, your first.

Ms. KAI: Well, it's a pretty funny story, because since I'm an indie artist and this is my first foray into the industry, let alone this part of it, I wasn't really expecting anything and I didn't even know when the Grammys were being announced. That's how far off I was. And I was sitting at home in my jammies, actually, watching "Top Chef." I might have been watching even watching it on TV, I don't know, but the phone rang and it was my producer, who also co-writes my songs with me. And he said, um, I think you've been nominated for Grammy. I was like, shut up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KAI: I was, like - I didn't even know I've been submitted. Like, nobody told me that I had been submitted. I just wasn't even thinking about it. So, it was really crazy. It took a couple of hours, actually, for me to believe him. Like, I actually hung up on him.

COX: Did you really...

Ms. KAI: I did, I did. I was like, why are you calling to screw with me in (unintelligible)? I'm tired. I'm going to bed.

COX: Well, are you prepared for what you're going to say if you win?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KAI: No, actually...

COX: You better write some notes because, you know, you might win.

Ms. KAI: Everybody keeps telling me that I - I don't know...

COX: You've got to thank your mama, right.

Ms. KAI: Well, definitely, my mom will be here, so that'll be exciting.

COX: Absolutely.

Ms. KAI: Yeah.

COX: Congratulations.

Ms. KAI: Thank you so much.

COX: You know, we forgot to introduce this gentleman on guitar.

Ms. KAI: Yes. This gentleman on guitar, who's also in my album and has played with me for years, is Tyrone Johnson, and he's amazing and such a good friend.

COX: Tyrone, welcome. You did a great job. Plus, Tyrone played us through the break. Thank you both for coming in.

Ms. KAI: Thank you, Tony.

COX: Good luck to you. It's a pleasure having you. That was singer/songwriter Maiysha. Her latest album is "This Much Is True." Her Grammy-nominated song is "Wanna Be." Joining us here in the studios at NPR West, a first time, I might add, and with guitarist, Tyrone Johnson.

(Soundbite of song "Wanna Be")

Ms. KAI: (Singing) I know how to love. I know how to lose. I know how to pick and how to choose. I've been adored. I have been abused. But I never seem to know what I'm worth.

I have been late. Now I'm right on time. And I make mistakes, but at least they're mine. I'd sign my life away on a dotted line Just to get the love I deserve...

COX: That's News & Notes. Glad you could join us. Nicole Childers, Christabel Nsiah-Buadi and Geoffrey Bennett produced the show. Sasa Woodruff is the editor. Sonata Lee Narcisse directs. The technical director is Sherene Strausberg. Marcia Caldwell and Shawn Corey Campbell are our drive engineers. The News & Notes staff includes Roy Hurst, Geoffrey Gardner, Devin Robins, Zachary Slobig, Joanne Griffith, Drew Tewkesbury, Allison Samuels and Jim Wallace. To listen to the show or subscribe to the podcast, visit our Web site, nprnewsandnotes.org. To join the conversation or sign up for the newsletter, visit our blog at nprnewsandviews.org. News & Notes was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. On Monday, short on cash these days? Well, what if your neighborhood got together and started printing its own money? It's already happening. We'll look at the spread of customized community currency.

(Soundbite of song "Wanna Be")

Ms. KAI: (Singing) Growing up too fast. I have the best friends you could ever have, But I don't know what I got 'til it's gone...

Because I lose every single game I play 'Cause I'm a slave to my distractions. I climb a mountain for every mess I make, But can't get no satisfaction.

If there's a chance, when will it be? Who is the man who's man enough for me? When will I have what makes me whole? What if I am and I still don't know? I'm asking...

Am I what I wanna be? All I'm gonna be? Tell me who I see Looking back at me in the mirror now.

I say, am I all I wanna be? All I'm gonna be? Who I see in this mirror now, now...

COX: I'm Tony Cox, and this is News & Notes.

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