You could say Polly A possesses more than one musical personality. The Milwaukee-bred and Harlem-based songstress zig-zags between R&B, reggae, alternative, and hip-hop with equal parts grace and gusto on her debut EP, Ghetto Gold Dream [222 Records/Interscope].
“When I sing, I approach the vocals like a soul singer,” she says. “When I write, I approach the lyrics like a rapper. When I’m thinking about music, I collaborate with others who draw from a large sonic palette. I spend a lot of time with my songs, and I really live with them. These are my words and thoughts.”
Growing up to the sounds of Bob Marley and Yellowman on mom’s stereo, Polly A—aka Meleni Smith—discovered her voice in a third grade music class. She’d spend high school performing in local productions and even with the Florentine Opera Company. Moving to New York City, the budding artist enrolled in Columbia University and began seriously recording (and hustling).
“I literally started selling the demo I recorded for class in Times Square,” she laughs. “I’d sing on the train. It was that story of a real New York artist struggling to have anyone listen!”
Columbia Records, her “second Columbia,” offered a record deal. Even though her project never saw the light of day, Polly A began placing songs with some of music’s biggest names after amicably splitting with the label. Alicia Keys, Selena Gomez, Natasha Bedingfield, and more would record her music, and she co-wrote the gold-certified “Crooked Smile” with J. Cole, earning a nomination for “Record of the Year” at the 2013 Soul Train Music Awards. However, she still felt a void.
“I love songwriting, but I don’t want to do it forever,” she admits. “I need to focus on my artistry.”
Immersing herself in music, she began to craft a hybridization of her inspirations over the course of penning countless songs. Soon, Polly A emerged with an unpredictable and undeniable style of her own reflecting everything from punchy lyrical poetry to an island swagger. Fierce, fiery, and fearless, this musical voodoo caught the attention of Adam Levine’s 222 Records with whom she signed in 2015.
Now, her first single and EP title track, “Ghetto Gold Dream,” builds from a swell of cinematic strings into artfully articulated verses that culminate on a robust refrain. Produced by frequent collaborator Synematik [Kat Dahlia, Boyz II Men], it ushers her into the spotlight.
“It came from a frustrating place,” she reveals. “I had a lot of people in my life that I didn’t realize were fake. I’ve been on this mission for so long. ‘Ghetto Gold’ might be fake gold, but you use what you have. No matter what background you have or where you come from, you can still feel like a queen. The verses quiet the doubters and naysayers. I didn’t come from a place where it was set up for me to succeed. At the end of the day, I’m working with what I’ve been given and pursuing that dream. Your success is yours to define.”
The EP volleys between the snappy declaration, “Just give me your sex, love, and happiness” on “The Brooklyn Sun” to the sunny, simmering reggae bounce of “Like We Used To.” It’s every facet of this dynamic persona.
“Music is a very spiritual thing for me,” she continues. “I’m not chasing a style or anything. My main goal is to be real. People can smell falsehood a mile away. They know when something’s not true. They also know when something is honest.”
She’s honest to the core. This is Polly A’s vision—from the words on the paper, verses on tape, and presence on stage. That’s codified in her name as another symbol of these multiple facets.
“It’s short for ‘Polyamorous,’” she explains. “You’re not just seeking one type of love; you’re seeking different types of love. Love drives everybody first and foremost. Whether you’re working so hard for the love of your children, spouse, colleagues, or listeners, it’s how we overcome all that ails us. I hope people take that away from the music, and the love inspires them to go after their own goals and dreams. It’s rooted from the reverence I have for music and art. I want to share that.”