It’s one thing to dabble in a multiple trades. To truly excel in them is another thing altogether. Detroit, Michigan native Jayla Darden proudly wears many hats. The singer, songwriter, producer and engineer could be considered an unlikely R&B savant.
Like many songbirds, the now 21-year-old started singing in the church at a young age, but even before choir days, her musical discovery felt like a fluke. Her household wasn’t full of singers and instrumentalists, but when toddler Jayla randomly decided to perform a Lion King song for her poet mother, she instantly recognized her daughter’s gift and placed her in spaces to develop it. When not at choir practice for church and school or in experimental studio sessions with her choir director, Jayla used her curiosity to figure out how to make music on her own time. She studied YouTube tutorials, GarageBand and ProTools, and taught herself how to play the guitar and keyboard her mom gifted her. “Even before deciding to do music, I would watch behind-the-scenes videos and the creative process,” she says of her early teenage years.
Motor City may have been where she identified her talents and DIY spirit, but a five-year stint in Atlanta helped Jayla buckle down and lay the groundwork for her career. After relocating at 15 and graduating from high school a year early, she attended SAE Institute, an audio engineering school. Jayla was the youngest, as well as one of the only women, in her class. “I’ve never been intimidated by being a female,” she says, noting how beneficial it was to learn in a room of so many experts. “I’ve never doubted myself or assumed that people would because I was a woman. Even if they did, it never bothered me.”
A musical diet of gospel, contemporary jazz, vocalists like Destiny’s Child, Aaliyah, Brandy, Jhene Aiko, Frank Ocean, and beatsmiths like J. Cole, Missy Elliott and Key Wane, helped shape Jayla’s understanding of her sound: heavy drums, soft melodies, and a positive slant on love and everyday life. “People need sad music, but I feel like there should be a balance where you could choose,” she says of her musical pocket. “There should be somebody out there who’s making happy R&B music. Or not even happy, but just uptempo, vibey, chill music.” Since 2015, Jayla has built up a SoundCloud fanbase with short releases—including her cover of Drake’s “Jaded— encompassing that aforementioned mood. A string of verse-and-hook “Ideas” set the foundation for Vol. 1 and 2 of her well-received 2018 EP series of the same name.
By the end of the year, she was living in Los Angeles and working closely with the Interscope family. Now, it’s just about learning, growing and putting big plans for moving music into action. “I just wanna be the best version of me possible,” she says. “Just being my best self so I can inspire other people to be their best selves and help people in any way. In anything I do, inspire people, motivate people. That’s the goal.”