Published Jan 06, 2020In many respects, Madison McFerrin is American music royalty. The Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter is the daughter of Grammy-winning jazz legend Bobby McFerrin, of "Don't Worry, Be Happy" fame. Her grandfather, Robert McFerrin, Sr., was the first black man to sing with the Metropolitan Opera.
It's impossible to separate the influence of the music that came before her, McFerrin tells Exclaim! As a child, Madison, along with producer/DJ brother Taylor, listening to their father sing, on record or in person, was something that was unavoidable. It's something that she embraces at this point in her career; with the recent launch of her You + I EP, McFerrin is forging her own legacy, on her own terms.
"We come from the same DNA, so we are going to inherently have similar styles and influences," she says. "We all are a collection of things we've seen and heard. I think that if you couldn't hear his influence, that would be the bigger surprise."
The six-track You + I follows the buzz of her a capella projects, such as the Finding Foundations EP. The project veers from the personal to the universal, speaking to everyday concerns of personal love and relationships, to the macro level social and political tensions facing humanity today.
According to McFerrin, the goal of the EP was to provide a reintroduction of sorts. "This is actually getting back to how I wanted to introduce myself. I was working with Taylor on production, but he was putting his stuff out at the time. While I was waiting, I decided to put my a capella songs out and get a little buzz before this bigger project comes out," she says. "That's exactly what happened."
The writing process, she notes, involved working with Taylor for the instrumentals and writing the lyrics and melodies to them. Themes are inherently socially conscious, something she regards as an intentional act, particularly being a woman of mixed-race and identifying as Black in these interesting times.
"I'm at a particular place in my life where being a Black woman in America is very important to me. Particularly as someone who grew up in predominantly white spaces, it's important for me to really dive deeper into my identity in my country."
She admits that, while the definition of Blackness can often depend on where in the diaspora one finds themselves, there's a unifying and connective tissue that she wanted to explore.
"There's a hardship that comes with being a Black woman anywhere. But I really want to express that side of me in a much more intentional and grounded way as I grow. It's about making sure the aesthetic represents that — even down to the fact I've been hair natural for the last couple of years. That's important to me."
This is represented in tracks like the jazz-bop of "No Room," which speaks to feelings of isolation in a modern world, or the power of unspoken and universal truths in a track like "Unwise."
Despite advantages that her bloodline offers her, McFerrin is still finding her way in the music industry — but that's how she likes and lives her chosen artistic path.
"Being intentional with that identity is important especially in our era when Black people are really being afforded more space to be themselves and not just whatever the construct of white America has put on them."