Meet the Storyteller (Album Review): Staasia Daniels - Hidden Gems
If you’ve been sleeping on Staasia Daniels, I’m here to deliver your wake up calls. Truthfully, I can’t pretend I wasn’t late to the game too. I hadn’t heard any of Staasia’s music until I agreed to be an extra in her music video “Never Fade” as a favour to my super dope director friend, Ashley. When I showed up to the loft where we shot and met Staasia for the first time, I liked her immediately. She was friendly, and personally thanked everyone who showed up. I was already on board, because I love people with good energy, but when I heard “Never Fade” for the first time, I thought, “Ok, she’s really got it!” I’ve been a fan ever since.
In fact, I’m willing to bet money that this soulful R&B crooner is the next big thing coming out of Toronto. She’d probably kill me for saying that, not because she doesn’t believe in her talent, but because she’s not one for bragging. Humble and goofy, Staasia is the girl next door, except she’s got a voice that will stop you in your tracks and a vibe so chill you can’t help but like her. Her talent and personality are laid bare on her latest project, Hidden Gems.
I’ve been waiting (impatiently) for the release of this project since I interviewed Staasia back in early June while she was shooting the BTS (behind the song) promo videos for the EP. Between the release of singles leading up to the EP and the performances I caught at 5Ive and Canadian Music Week, the anticipation was real. So when it dropped in the early morning hours of August 4th, I grabbed it on iTunes and listened to it from beginning to end, exclaiming “Yassssssss” to nearly every track. This EP lives up to its name, delivering real musical gems.
What strikes me most about Hidden Gems is the raw honesty of it. It’s really a reflection of the woman behind the music and the story of the struggle and grind that’s inextricably intertwined in her journey. Throughout the 11 tracks, you get to see Staasia the artist, Staasia the lover, and the place where those two meet.
Any artist—music, literary, visual or otherwise—who’s been grinding and trying to carve out their space in their industry for a while is going to connect with some of the tracks on this EP on an emotional level. The opening track, Starter Kit is a raw revelation of what it took to make this project a reality. After six years in music, self-doubt, betrayal, and missed opportunities, Hidden Gems was born. “I took what I had right up off the shelf. Man it feels so good to do this by myself.” This track is the affirmation we all want and need.
We get our proper introduction to Staasia on Pronunciation, an interlude. I typically don’t like talky interludes like this, but this one was well done. It was a clever way to answer the question, “Who is Staasia Daniels?” The track is a snippet of Staasia being introduced at a performance during which the host gives a list of her accolades and past performances and follows up with a discussion of the correct pronunciation of her name and where it came from. You could probably get this information off her social media or an interview, but she’s dropped it on a track right in the (literal) middle of her EP, so if you didn’t know, now ya know.
My personal favourite, Only a Few is a moody commentary on the friends you lose along the way when you dedicate your life to a career that doesn’t fit neatly between the hours of 9-to-5. We all know that fair weather friends are the first to go when you’re grinding for your goals and that kind of loss can be tough to stomach at first. But Only a Few perfectly describes that attitude when you realize that seasonal friend’s aren’t worth tripping over, even if they’re people you’ve known all your life. This song delivered me my new morning mantra. “If you ain’t rooting for me, I ain’t tripping no, no more.”
Staasia isn’t done teaching you how to deal with haters and lost friends. Only a Few rolls right into Laid Off, the perfect track to play as your morning affirmation. The song tackles the naysayers who’ll try to tell you that you don’t have what it takes. This song comes from a very real place as Staasia had friends tell her she should sing pop instead of R&B because her voice wasn’t strong enough. She was smart enough to not buy into that bullshit as she lays out this response to that kind of negativity on this classic R&B track with solid runs and harmonies.
Cawna Pt. 2 flips the script and turns the conversation to the fake friends who had all the excuses for not supporting her. So what happens to the people who want to hop on the bandwagon at the last minute? “Said you heard my name bout a while ago. You didn’t push my links but now you wanna holla though. All because you heard that I’m bout to blow. Excuse me if I’m rude, but I gotta go.” While this is definitely the ultimate “don’t sleep on me track,” this is the one song on the EP I’m conflicted about because I preferred the simplicity of the original Cawna.
In any case, those tracks lay a solid foundation of Staasia the artist, but no singer can claim R&B without producing some good slow jams and baby-making songs, and Staasia delivers with tracks 2 through 5. WYL is the second track on Hidden Gems. It’s got all the markings of a proper R&B song: a smooth instrumental with a strong bass line and sensual lyrics and vocals. True to her goofy nature, Staasia mixes sexy with playful with lyrics like “You see, I be doing squats. 123 my legs are killing me.” It seems goofy, which she’s never been afraid to admit she is, but it totally works and this is a solid “candles and wine” kind of track.
Up next, Give Me is my favourite love song on the EP. If you don’t feel the emotion in this song, seriously go get your heart checked. This song is for every couple that’s ever hit a bit of a rough patch and had to work their way through the doubt. Romantically poetic lyrics come together with pretty harmonies and some powerful vocals to tug at your heart strings. This was definitely one the songs I was “Yasssss”ing to. Apologies to my neighbours.
I’m so glad Never Fade made it onto Hidden Gems. I’ve honestly loved this song since the first time I heard it at that video shoot (and no, my pride about being in the video has nothing to do with it. I’m not that vain!) Objectively, as a writer, I can say this is Staasia’s most poetic song. The lyrics on this song are actually everything. And she really shows off her vocal range with this one.
She follows up with Naptime. During our interview, she mentioned how a lot of modern R&B sounds good but is void of emotion. Staasia proves her commitment to producing songs that really have feeling. This track has a really chill vibe that suits the content of the song. There’s a lot of vocal play with the ad libs that gives that R&B feel you get from artists like Marsha Ambrosius and Jill Scott. Can’t go wrong with that.
W.I.S.A. (where I stay at) is the second-to-last track on the EP and departs from the lovey-dovey vibe of the other ballads. It’s the perfect commentary on our I-miss-you-but-I’ll-never-call-you generation. We’ve all had that love interest who will tell you how much they miss you on every social media account but never actually calls to make plans. Well Staasia is over it (and you should be too). Next time someone hits you with that nonsense on “Snapchat, Facebook, Whatsapp or all of the above,” drop the link to this song in your reply.
So where do Staasia the artist and Staasia the lover meet? On the final track of Hidden gems. Shell Life is beautifully arranged, vocally flawless, and lyrically solid. By all standards, it’s a love song, and a really good one at that, but it also serves at the outro for the EP. The monologue at the end of the track bookends Hidden Gems with words of positivity and encouragement to mirror Starter Kit. And in case you had your doubts, Staasia assures us, this is just the beginning.