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Meet Ayanis, the Rising Singer Putting a Nostalgic Spin on R&B

In the video for her latest single “Lil Boi (Big Talk),” R&B singer Ayanis lays out a list of demands for her love interest, including financial independence. “I’m off the lil boy s--t,” the 25-year-old declares.

The '90s-inspired video, which is quickly making its way to one million YouTube views following its Jan. 31 release, features Ayanis sitting in a floating chair, appearing on a grainy television and lounging in a room with furniture that shifts with a wave of her hands. Fellow R&B artist Queen Naija appears in the video and on the second verse of the song. 

Since signing a record deal with Island Prolific and Atlantic Records in 2017, Ayanis has been working hard to ensure that everything she releases showcases her progress. In 2018, she released her debut EP, Direction, and went on the Access Granted: HBCU Tour with other Atlantic signees Bri Steves, K'ron and RecoHavoc.

Ahead of her first tour, she spent two weeks in a boot camp that featured eight-hour days of vocal lessons, dance practice and exercise. The results of the experience are visible in the singer’s new releases. While she has always danced and displayed a fun energy in her videos, her latest offerings certainly reveal a new level of confidence and comfortability. 

Sitting in a studio in downtown Atlanta, Ayanis -- in a black beret and fuchsia faux fur coat -- said she’s still getting used to writing about her personal life for public consumption. Even with her busy schedule, she still finds time to date (“They fall in there,” she tells Billboard, laughing), although it can get awkward when men ask her if a song is about them. “Some guys think the song is about them, but it’s not about them,” she explains.

Blunt songs such as “Lil Boi (Big Talk)” stem from her genuine approach to dealing with men: “With guys, you have to] be up front about how you feel, what you want to say. ... I don’t know. That’s just me.”

“Lil Boi (Big Talk)” is Ayanis’ second feature and the second offering from her forthcoming EP. Last year, the Atlanta-based singer released “One Night” featuring her labelmate Wiz Khalifa. According to Ayanis, she first met the rapper at a Christmas party hosted by Atlantic. When he told her to reach out if she had any ideas for a collaboration, she pitched “One Night” to him.

“He came through. I really appreciated him for that,” she says. The song features a sample of Nicole Wray’s hit single “Make It Hot,” which peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1998. An earlier single from Ayanis, 2018’s “Wait a Minute,” features Next’s 1997 chart-topping hit “Too Close.” 

Ayanis was born into a military family in Wichita Falls, Texas, in 1994. When she was seven, they relocated to Warner Robbins, Ga., before finally settling in Atlanta. Throughout her childhood, Ayanis sang in church and became a fan of artists from gospel singer Fred Hammond to R&B groups such as 112 and TLC. By the time she was in high school, she’d started to take her love for singing seriously. She began uploading covers to YouTube and joined a singing group with mutual friends, but it disbanded about a month later. That didn’t deter her. 

Ayanis enrolled at Georgia State University, studying PR and journalism, but continued to sing at local showcases frequently. “I had a binder when I was at Georgia State around 2016," she explains of her recently rediscovered notebook from college. "There were notes] like, 'I'm going to get signed. I'm going to put out an EP, I'm going to travel to ... I don't think I'd been to New York yet.' I put all that in there and I’ve scratched out all of] that.”

In the future, she’s hoping to manifest a platinum project, collaborations with a number of artists (including Missy Elliott, Pharrell, Timbaland, Drake and SZA) and movie projects. But first, she has to finish her forthcoming as-yet-untitled EP that she hopes to release this spring. “My first project was an introduction to me,” she says. “I feel like this project is more me coming into my womanhood and evolving.”

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