There’s a transformative power to Dana Williams’ voice, a rare ability to bend time and turn feeling bad into something impossibly lovely. Raised on singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, the L.A.-based artist brings a jazzy nonchalance to her delivery while drawing big emotion from the subtlest vocal movement. In recent years she’s gained an ardent following by matching that graceful urgency with her disarmingly intimate songwriting—a dynamic that landed her 2017 single “Honey” on Spotify’s Fresh Finds playlist, with over 3 million streams amassed so far. On her forthcoming debut project—produced by Alex Da Kid, the multi-Grammy Award-winner known for his work with artists like Skylar Grey and Rihanna—Williams alchemizes her formerly guitar-driven sound into a hypnotically shapeshifting breed of R&B: symphonic yet raw, understated yet impactful, heavy-hearted yet transcendent.
Her first release for KIDinaKORNER/Island Records, Williams’ debut embeds its ethereal sonic palette with endlessly inventive and hard-hitting beats (an element that recalls her past collaborations with left-of-center hip-hop artists like Freddie Gibbs, Boogie, and Rejjie Snow). On lead single “Holiday,” for instance, Williams softly asserts a need for independence, her lyrics drifting between poetic and blunt against a dreamy backdrop of rumbling beats and rhapsodic string work. “‘Holiday’ is about coming to the realization that sometimes it’s better to be alone than to withstand the chaos of a tumultuous, unhealthy relationship,” Williams notes.
Growing up in L.A. and New York, Williams first began experimenting with songwriting in middle school, often in collaboration with her father: the late David Williams, a rhythm guitarist who performed on such iconic songs as Madonna’s “Like A Prayer,” Stevie Nicks’s “Stand Back,” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” “My dad also produced music, and a lot of times he’d bring home a track and tell me, ‘Write a verse here, a chorus here, another verse here,’” Williams says. “It was just a fun thing we did together, but it taught me how to write.” Along with honing her vocal skills with the help of her grandmother (a big band singer who performed with Vic Damone), Williams underwent training in classical fingerstyle guitar. “I started learning guitar mainly as a way to write songs on my own,” she says. “I saw how fulfilled my dad was when he was in the studio or onstage, and his passion inspired me to make music too.”
Within a year of booking her first show, Williams made her debut with The Lonely One—a 2013 EP whose opening track, “Keep Me Waiting,” earned the distinction of being the only original vocal composition featured in Damien Chazelle’s Oscar-winning film Whiplash. Delivering her sophomore EP Let’s Fall in 2015, she then switched her focus to releasing singles, putting out a track a month for over a year. She also appeared as a featured artist alongside Aminé on Rejjie Snow’s “Egyptian Luvr”—a January 2018 single that’s garnered over 20 million streams on Spotify to date. Later that year, Williams caught the attention of Alex Da Kid, who signed her to KIDinaKORNER and soon set the making of her debut in motion.