Hotstar: Rebel Rae Ready For A Little Bit Of ‘Respect’

YEAR OF THE REBEL: After supporting shows for Ari Lennox and Leela James, Washington, D.C. native Rebel Rae is ready to make 2024 her year. She’s releasing a new EP as well as an album and will hit the road later this year. (Photo by Jada Imani M.)

So much goes into the growth and ascension of an artist — such as vocal training, recording music and performing live to develop a stage presence — and while it certainly can help to know someone with experience when it comes to navigating the industry, sometimes the success of an artist comes to one thing: timing.

With female artists dominating the spotlight in the past year and R&B in the limelight following SZA’s remarkable 2023 and Usher’s Super Bowl halftime performance (the Big Game was the most watched telecast of all time with 123.7 million viewers), manager Elliot Osagie believes the world is ready for Rebel Rae.

“This year, she’s releasing her album, she’s introducing her sound to the world,” says Osagie, a software engineer and CEO of Benin City Entertainment who has worked with Rae for eight years. “She’s ready; she gets it; she’s literally walking on her own and sees the beauty of the time that it takes to develop. If you get the right artists and develop them properly, they can do amazing things with the art.”

Rae is a singer-songwriter whose vocal talent allows her to seamlessly weave in and out of soul, R&B and pop, and her versatility is what gives Osagie confidence in her. Having such range doesn’t solely come from talent but also hard work, and Rae was willing to do her part.

“I think very early in my journey, I got very interested in vocal health and how that can lead to greater range and versatility, which also led me to study all different types of singing styles from classic blues to rock ’n’ roll,” she says. “Though I didn’t realize at the time, all these small interests were shaping who I was going to be as an artist, and the kind of music I’d be interested in exploring and making. I’d say who I am today is definitely a well-defined amalgamation of all these different little pieces, journeys and interests from my past.”

A native of the Washington metropolitan area, Rae grew up in a household that constantly played music. She gravitated toward pop and R&B while her sister was into hip-hop and classic R&B and her dad was a fan of oldies and classic jazz. Living in such a home gave her a well-rounded music education, which is what Osagie noticed when working with Rae.

“She was studying all the greats like Nina Simone,” says Osagie, who also manages the estate of the late Notorious B.I.G. “She’s a real musician, a real artist. We really invested in developing her to a point where she could compete.”

Osagie met Rae when she sang the hook on a track he worked on. He was immediately drawn to her raw talent as a vocalist, and so he had her work in the studio with J. Cole to learn about the record-making process. Rae, 27, dropped her first record, “Good Vibes,” in 2015 and kept releasing music showcasing her range and eclectic taste.

As Rae learned more about the music industry, she also wanted to know more about her heritage. Osagie had developed a Black history media platform with nearly a million followers, and she became passionate about the subject. It’s one of the reasons she chose to call herself Rebel instead of going by her first name, Shelbie. It inspired her to collaborate with Deante’ Hitchcock for the track “We the People,” a song that calls out American institutions that have failed Black communities. It was her first real music video, and not long after that, she was asked to open for Ari Lennox, an experience that helped her connect with fans on a different level.

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“[Performing live] is the chance you have to lead people into this almost euphoric energy, where they forget the outside world and they’re just locked in,” Rae says. “All that matters is you, the music and how you’re making them feel. You can feel that energy from up on stage; you can feel when you’ve won the audience.”

Rae certainly won over more audiences at the King of Soul Music Festival — a show put on by the Otis Redding Foundation in Macon, Georgia — last September with a rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” Her stellar performance was shared by Franklin’s estate on social media. Rae’s magnetism on stage was on full display, a trait Osagie noticed when he saw her open for Bilal at Sony Hall in New York City in 2022.

“You could tell that fans there were just intrigued by the uniqueness of the experience of her performance,” Osagie said of the night at Sony Hall. “It’s not to say they gave her a standing ovation, but you could feel the intrigue. You knew that they weren’t ready for what she is. We’re going to have a lot of fun over the next 16-18 months finding the box that we put [Rae] in and watching the different segments of fans attempt to define who she is.”

Rae is simply a music scholar who happens to have a remarkable voice and wants to share her stories. She released a new song, “Georgia,” in January and has a music video coming out this month. Rae will be sharing even more stories when her album, From D.C. With Love, drops later this year.

“I want to convey relatability through common narratives,” she says. “I’m writing songs while I’m sitting next to people at dinner because I want people to have my songs play during these same moments. I want to take you back to moments and times and situations. Please let me narrate your journey!”

Having people relate to Rae’s narratives is what Osagie is betting on this year, and he is going all in by getting her to work the urban theater circuit as well as having her join a tour for a major (yet to be announced) artist.

“I’ve been around long enough to see artists that don’t get as far as Rae, and Rae’s had some pivotal moments in her career,” Osagie says. “She stepped up like Michael Jordan. She’s had some bumps in the road, but when I’ve told her she needed to make a shot, she goes up there and shoots that shot – nothing but net. I’m excited to see where she goes from here.”