India.Arie is a neo-soul and R&B artist who simply does not receive enough credit for just how amazing her music is. When most people speak about the greatest music to come out of the early 2000s, India is hardly ever given her props. India is well known by many, however, she doesn’t receive as much credit as the other women who were making R&B music at the time, despite breaking down barriers with her lyrics. I believe that this could be partially due to the fact that she is a dark-skinned woman, as well as her subject matter.
India Arie Simpson was born on October 3, 1975, to Joyce and Ralph Simpson in Denver, Colorado. Talent seemed to run on both sides of the family. India’s mother–Joyce Simpson, was a singer in her teen years. She ended up being offered a spot in a musical group, and even her own record deal from Motown Records. She turned down both and became a fashion designer. India’s father was a professional basketball player, beginning his career at the young age of nineteen. Ralph was drafted by the (then) Denver Rockets. He went on to play for the Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers, and the (then) New Jersey Nets before leaving the league in 1980.
After her parents’ divorce in the ’80s, India moved with her mother and younger siblings to Atlanta. Upon her completion of high school, India returned to Colorado to attend college but came back to Georgia soon after receiving a scholarship to Savannah College Art and Design, seeming to follow in her mother’s footsteps. This is where her musical journey truly began. India eventually dropped out of SCAD and moved back to Atlanta. This is where she took part in developing an artist’s collective known as Groovement. Earthseed, an independent record label associated with Groovement, released a project consisting of multiple artists, including India. Upon the release of the project, India was given the opportunity to play some dates on the Lilith Fair concert tour, generating attention from many different record labels.
In 1998, India.Arie signed to Motown Records after speaking with Kedar Massenburg. India was not focused on the best deal in terms of money or other values. India wanted to sign to a label that wouldn’t ask her to jeopardize her musical integrity. With this promise coming from the president of the record label, India signed to Motown. Motown seemed to hold up on its promise, since India.Arie went on to work on her debut album for two years.
The Debut Album: Acoustic Soul
On March 27, 2001, India.Arie released her debut album, Acoustic Soul. This album consists of sixteen tracks, ranging from lengths of 51 seconds to five and a half minutes long. In the first year of its release, the album sold for 1.6 million copies. After that, it went double platinum in 2003, selling millions of copies in the U.S. and around the world. This record presented a new feel to neo-soul and R&B at the time. India was able to create a highly genuine album through and through. Many popular songs are produced for the purpose of being played on the radio. Instead of being forced to meet deadlines and create strictly for radio, India brought her own agenda to life–and admirably.
If we want to discuss this album’s impact in a single song, Video would be a sufficient example. Video is clearly a song meant to uplift. It starts off with the lyrics; “Sometimes I shave my legs and sometimes I don’t, Sometimes I comb my hair and sometimes I won’t”. At a time where there was pressure to maintain a certain image, a new artist saying that they would dare to let the hair on their legs grow was most likely unheard of. India.Arie had so many girls singing along to this song. She had so many girls singing to the top of their lungs that they were queens. India came out of the gate with this energy, making her impact weigh tremendously. She came to the scene and brought a sense of realness to the stormy waters that was the Video Vixen era. She was 5’7, she told an interviewer that when she revealed her body, she looked like she was going to be part of a treadmill ad. She was relatable, in an industry that favored on-camera beauty, and created an impossible standard for women off-camera. Even if you didn’t look like her, it was for you. Even her visual for video showed this. To the people who enjoy elaborate dances, flashy backgrounds, and even flashier costumes–this video may not catch their eye. But the people who feel like they stick out like a sore thumb and who are unconventional would appreciate this song and visual. Even when India is pulled into a video girl tryout, she is still herself, she never tries to imitate the sultry looks or the poses that the other girls do–she just has fun with it. With her first album and many more to come, India.Arie struck the hearts of many with her voice, talent, and realness.
The Grand Grammy Snub of '02
The same year that India.Arie released her debut album, she was nominated for seven Grammy awards. After selling around a million records, if not over a million records, India.Arie was nominated for Best New Artist. Her song Video was nominated for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best R&B Song. Acoustic Soul was nominated for Album of the Year and Best R&B album. Out of seven awards, India went home with none. Years later, in an interview with Oprah, she explained that the experience made her think that maybe she wasn’t meant to have things like this, because it wasn’t what she was doing music for. Granted, she did go on to win some Grammys–however, in my opinion, this was beyond a small snub. It made me wonder who she lost to. It turns out that she lost to Alicia Keys in multiple categories, as well as a host of different people who worked on the soundtrack of “O Brother, Where Art Thou”. What do these winners have in common?
Alicia Keys would pass a brown paper bag test with flying colors. The other artists wouldn’t even need it. This isn’t to take away from anyone’s talent. This is to highlight the fact that colorism could’ve played a role in why India.Arie isn’t always given her proper “flowers”. This, along with her refusal to follow the path that many other artists took to attract attention and the fact that her content didn’t line up with popular demand in an outright manner contributed to where India stands against other artists of that time. However, India.Arie isn’t interested in these things that supposedly come with fame. After all, she tells her listeners at the end of Little Things, “I don’t need no Hollywood.”
After the debut of Acoustic Soul, India.Arie gained popularity exponentially. India found herself on talk shows and even guest-starring on popular T.V. shows and performing. Along the way, she has had various award nominations, and much of her work has made it onto Billboard’s lists. This includes Steady Love’s peak at No. 1 in the Adult R&B Airplay. India.Arie has made six albums and eighteen singles to date. Along the way, to everyone’s surprise, she started dating Chris Tucker–and has been for almost fourteen years. Now forty-five years old, India.Arie has been ripping through the music industry on her own agenda and time. Putting herself first, she told the world “I had been on what seemed to be a hiatus to the outside world, but I was actually working very hard on my health, my emotional health, and my business.”, referring to a period of rest in 2009.
- BEST URBAN/ALTERNATIVE PERFORMANCE (2002)- Voyage To India
- BEST URBAN/ALTERNATIVE PERFORMANCE (2002)- Little Things
- BEST URBAN/ALTERNATIVE PERFORMANCE (2009)- Pearls
- BEST POP COLLABORATION WITH VOCALS (2010)- Imagine
- BEST FEMALE R&B/ POP ARTIST (2002/2003)
NAACP Image Awards
- OUTSTANDING MUSIC VIDEO (2003)- Little Things
- OUTSTANDING DUO OR GROUP (2003)
- OUTSTANDING FEMALE ARTIST (2003)
- OUTSTANDING SONG (2007)- I Am Not My Hair
India.Arie has never been afraid to speak out in the name of activism and awareness. This shows in her content; songs such as Worthy (2019) are living proof that she has never been an artist to go with the grain.
Having sold more than ten million records worldwide, India.Arie led the way in a seemingly dimly lit path for self-love for many black people everywhere. Her agenda very apparent in her songs and visuals, India has always walked in her truth: being black and loud about it, in such a way that would encourage you to sing along. Her smooth voice never boring–her loving lyrics never stale. India has been on the frontlines for self-love and black love ever since she stepped on the scene. There were never any crazy gimmicks or even a plea to be paid attention to. Whoever was touched, was touched. She wanted people to hear her work but didn’t care for fame enough to switch her plans. Thank you, Miss India Arie Simpson, for starting the self-love conversation when it seemed no one else would talk back.
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