Imani Pressley aspired to play in the WNBA.
But one Halloween night, she got up in front of her teammates at Ragsdale High School, and announced she would no longer be playing basketball.
“Something in my spirit said, ‘I don’t want to play basketball anymore. I want to do music full time,’” she said. “And I quit in front of my teammates. When I was about 18 was when I signed my first production deal.”
At 19, she earned a Grammy nomination for helping produce a song on an album by Gospel group Trin-I-Tee 5:7. She later got a production assist from Prince. And she has continued turning out Gospel, funk and hip-hop music.
In a recent interview she spoke about getting her music heard by Prince, about wanting people to feel a connection with the almighty, and about what happened when the lights went out at one of her shows.
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How did you get interested in music?
I started getting into music when I was 6 years old, and I started on drums. When I was 9 years old, I started getting into production. That became something I really enjoyed. Then I started learning other instruments, as far as the keyboard, the guitar, the bass. I learned all those during my teenage years.
And I taught myself to play by ear. I honestly can’t read music very well, so I play everything by ear.
Who are some of your musical inspirations?
I absolutely love Prince. He’s at the top of my list. Following him would have to be Queen. And following Queen, would be Dr. Dre.
Prince is for the performance. I studied Prince like crazy. Queen is for the uniqueness. Freddy Mercury was a genius. And Dr. Dre would be for production.
What kind of guidance did Prince give you?
It was actually a song I did with one of his background singers who was from Greensboro. We met through family, one of my cousins went to school with her. Her name is Shelby J. We connected, became really tight. We did a song called “Eruption,” and when we finished it, she said, “I want to show this song to Prince.” And I was like, “Wait, what?”
But he heard the song, was like “Wow, who is this girl? Does she have a website? Does she have a Soundcloud?” And he actually rearranged the song ... We sent it to his engineer, and he and Prince together rearranged it, and he said, “Hey, you guys should share this.” And that was it. And he didn’t want his name attached. He said, “This is her song. I just wanted to touch it.”
How would you describe your music?
It’s very mysterious, as well as energetic and funky. Genre-wise, I would probably categorize it as R&B, funk with hip-hop undertones. So it’s almost like the best of all the worlds, but it also has a weird little electric touch to it. The underlying foundation, though, would definitely be R&B.
What’s your creative process like?
I actually produce, write, engineer. I went to school for audio engineering, got my degree in that.
I generally make the tracks first, get a feel for the music, and then come up with a concept. I’m very, very picky as far as themes and conversational points in my music. In “Eruption” I talk about society, how America is at the moment. I’m also about women’s empowerment.
What do you hope people take away from your faith-based songs?
I do want people to know that side of me. I am a Christian. I was born and raised in church, and I do want to keep my music clean. And I want people to feel that connection I have to the almighty and be able to express myself through a way that’s universal. And I want to grab people through positivity, and be inspiring.
If you could open a show for any artist, who would it be and why?
It would have to be Prince. That would be my first choice without a doubt. My parents raised me on Parliament-Funkadelic, Cameo, old-school bands like that, so I absolutely love funk, and with Prince, that’s all you’re going to get. You’re going to get emotional songs, like “Purple Rain,” but he’s a funky guy. So opening for him, would have been the most dynamic duo.
I probably wouldn’t have been able to open, though, because I would have fainted.
Do you ever sing karaoke or sing in the shower, and, if so, what do you sing?
I don’t think I’ve ever sung in the shower.
I sing karaoke maybe once every blue moon, like if we’re on a cruise, because I’ll be with family, and they’ll be like, “Hey, do you want to sing our favorite song.” And, I’m like, “Yeah, let’s try it.” It doesn’t typically go too well, though, because we don’t remember all the words.
What’s the funniest or weirdest thing that has ever happened at one of your shows?
The funniest thing, and I think only my mom knows this, but it was in 2017 at a show at Guilford Technical Community College. Me and my mom were trying to transition from a shirt that I was wearing to another shirt, and the lights cut out, and there were stairs behind the stage. I didn’t see the stairs, so I fell down those stairs in the dark. And I think I had my shirt on backwards when I came out to perform, but no one knew.
Do you have a favorite song you like to perform?
A song of mine that I love is “Tell Me What?!” One, it gets the people going, but two, at my shows, I actually do some covers during the latter part of the song to extend it, and combine it all together so it makes sense with the funkiness. It makes everything hop and come to life. It really brings the fun out.
What’s next for you?
I’m also producing on the side, trying to work with local artists, with indie artists and with major artists.
I have been preparing an EP. I haven’t released anything in a minute, only because I’ve been very picky and technical in making sure this next project is pretty amazing. Just a different feel and approach. I’ve given people what they want to hear so far, but I’m going to give them what they’re not really expecting.
— As told to Robert C. Lopez,