Have you ever seen someone working in an industry, career, or business and wondered how they got there? When a new trend of pop-up installations became popular in Instagram culture, I wondered who created them. Going down several rabbit holes later, I was led to set design and all the ways you could exist in the world of interior design. From designing activations at a music festival to designing a set for a music video or a TV show, set design can look a variety of ways. My first taste of the magic of set design came during a visit to an Atlanta staple, T.I.'s Trap Music Museum. The sorceress behind some of that magic?
Meet Marina Skye, owner of Set By Skye.
Skye's business specializes in both set design and creative direction. Her passion and undeniable eye has led her in quite a few rooms and has caused her to be a name that's dominant in conversation surrounding the set design world. In addition to being a collaborator for the Trap Music Museum, she has designed projects like the interactive art exhibit Motel 21 with rapper 21 Savage. The Atlanta-based visionary also serves as the art director for Epic Records artist Jidenna.
After hearing Skye speak at the Trap Music Museum, I had to find out how she carved her space into some of the most recognizable and creative set design projects out there right now. Here's what she had to say.
xoNecole: How did you get started in set design?
Marina Skye: When I graduated from college, I was doing marketing and working at IKEA. [While] I was working at IKEA, my brother was shot and killed. He went to Morehouse while I was at Clark University and he was actually shot and killed at Morehouse a week after his graduation and a week before his birthday. Needless to say, that was heart-wrenching. When intense situations happen to people, it kind of slaps them in the face. It made me figure out life literally is too short. If I'm not doing what I want to do right now, I've got to figure out what that is.
So I started a clothing line. I started a vintage online store and things were going well. I was a new business owner trying to figure things out, but it was bringing money in and that was a blessing. A year into the fashion business, I realized at trade shows, I was paying more attention to the spaces I would make for my clothes to be presented, as opposed to actually paying attention to the clothing I'm supposed to be selling. Once I realized that was really what I was spending most of my time on, I started to research what that job was and it was creative direction and then set design. I never really looked back after that.
Courtesy of Marina Skye
"When intense situations happen to people, it kind of slaps them in the face. It made me figure out life literally is too short. If I'm not doing what I want to do right now, I've got to figure out what that is."
How did you build your current set design company?
I did a lot of photoshoots with my best friend who is a photographer just to create my portfolio. And from that, I started doing sets for parties in Atlanta and that's kind of how people started to hear about me. I became the set designer for an escape room in Atlanta and the business was literally me and the owner. Now I know God put me in that position so I could figure out how to be a small business owner. That job really helped me figure out how to be my own boss because I was working so closely with the boss of the company.
After that, I started my own business and it was probably a year and a half of trying to just figure out where money was going to come from. There was a lot of figuring out stuff but every project I had, I just made sure it was a little bit bigger than the previous project so I could work my way up.
How does your background in fashion play a part in your design aesthetic?
Honestly, unless I'm doing a set specifically for a fashion line, fashion doesn't really play a big role in what I do. However, I personally tend to wear extreme outfits, so people have kind of come to know that about me. It added to the brand because it was also an element of surprise, if that makes sense.
I have realized that I'm almost like a method artist when I'm into a specific job. I live my life in themes. I wake up in a different theme every day. I then have to categorize my projects by themes. If they don't have themes, I give them themes because that's how my mind works. I feel that my project reflects my fashion as opposed to my fashion reflecting the projects.
Courtesy of Marina Skye
"I live my life in themes. I wake up in a different theme every day. I then have to categorize my projects by themes. If they don't have themes, I give them themes because that's how my mind works. I feel that my project reflects my fashion as opposed to my fashion reflecting the projects."
What is a typical day or workweek like for a set designer?
Every day is very different because the projects that I have are so different from each other. That is because I do a few different things, like stage design and music videos. But everything starts out with a general concept that we have a conversation about with the client. If the project that we're doing is in the city, I meet them in person at the venue. We do a walk-through and I talk to them again in person about what they want. We bounce ideas off each other and then I go back home or to my office and I create a visual for them.
The visual includes a color theme board, basically a general mood board. All of my thoughts are put in something for them to see. Then I send that over to them and they let me know whether or not this is the kind of direction that they want to take. From there, I create a budget for them and my budget is extremely itemized. I'm very big on my clients knowing exactly where their money's going. I am very upfront with every single thing that's going into the project. Once I buy, my team and I come in and then we just get to work.
How did you combat imposter syndrome as you began to work on bigger projects?
I think I deal with imposter syndrome all the time. There's always a level of quick self-doubt. I feel like if my dreams don't scare me, they're not big enough. So I'm comfortable with it, and I'm getting more comfortable as time goes by. As my dreams get bigger and my accomplishments get bigger, I am getting more comfortable with the sense of being uncomfortable. The combination of not knowing what I'm supposed to be doing, mixed with the general, yearning to figure it out slapped any doubt in the face. But as the projects got bigger and the responsibilities got bigger, the doubt definitely got bigger as well. So I think imposter syndrome now is a bit more than it was in the beginning, but I'm also growing more comfortable with that.
Courtesy of Marina Skye
"There's always a level of quick self-doubt. I feel like if my dreams don't scare me, they're not big enough. So I'm comfortable with it, and I'm getting more comfortable as time goes by. As my dreams get bigger and my accomplishments get bigger, I am getting more comfortable with the sense of being uncomfortable."
What was the toughest setback/obstacle that you overcame while pursuing your career?
Not having the funds that I would have liked to have in order to create the projects that I wanted to create. In the beginning, I was doing a lot of stuff for free just to create my own internship. It was very stressful and sometimes depressing, when I'm trying to focus on being a creative, but also trying to figure out how I'm going to pay my rent. The biggest obstacle was just having to balance being an adult while trying to pursue dreams. I literally worked my ass off for this. I had no choice but to be strong for myself and just keep moving. It built this thick skin for me and that's invaluable honestly.
What is it like being a black woman working in male-dominated environments?
I want to make a very particular, very specific note that my general personality is very bubbly. I say all that to say being a woman in a very male-dominated sector has been a very interesting journey. Sexual harassment is very real. It's something that I think a lot of my friends are also in with their specific industries. We talk about it behind closed doors, but I think it's time for us to make these things known so people really know what's happening.
I've had very difficult situations. I've been in very uncomfortable situations being the only woman in groups of men at random hours. I've been in situations where things could have gone very wrong, but the men are respectful. At times there have been difficult situations where clients clearly did not respect women. And I had to figure out how to woman up and make sure that they understood that my opinions matter just as much.
Courtesy of Marina Skye
What was your favorite project to work on to date and why?
I will definitely say that the Trap Music Museum was my most challenging project. It wasn't just because of TMM, it was because I was in a relationship that was extremely difficult. I was dealing with someone who had mental health issues, and I didn't know until after. It was a very difficult time for me because we were working so hard on TMM, 13 hours a day for three months. We were not even paying attention to the fact that T.I. would come in with C-SPAN in the middle of the day and do an entire interview, or CNN would come in and we were not even paying attention. But the culture was being created as we were literally creating the culture. So my favorite and challenging project would be the Trap Music Museum.
My other favorite would probably be working with Jidenna. He is one of my closest friends and he's so funny. Working with that team on 85 to Africa, it challenged me in different ways. It challenged my mind in different ways. I think the Trap Music Museum challenged my set design capabilities and my body but working on 85 to Africa definitely made me have to think in different ways. Jidenna was a very easy person to work with because unlike a lot of artists, he knows what he wants. He also is open to collaboration and understands that his team brings him places.
What is your dream project/set that you want to work on?
I want to experience the space of high-end fashion. I'm very interested in the creative process that happens for runway shows. I also am addicted to music festivals. I'm fascinated by Coachella and Bonnaroo. These festivals not only have the stages where you can see live music, but they also have activities. There's a lot of art and culture that goes into three-day music festivals. I would love to just be a part so there are more people that look like us being represented in these music festivals.
Then there is a goddess by the name of Ruth Carter. She's phenomenal. There are a few women that are creatives in general that inspire me. She is in the top three. Just because of the projects that she has worked on, the fact that she is unapologetically black, and the way her mind works is fascinating. I would love to work on a couple of movies or films where I'm the set designer, the art director, or production designer for a film and she's the costume designer as well.
What can we look forward to from Set By Skye going into the future?
There are a couple of businesses that I'm thinking about bringing to life. I will say that I would love to, specifically for Atlanta, create an ongoing interactive-themed experience for the city. Something people can go to and every month it changes to a different theme. I would love to do something that is more like Candy Utopia but with my own spin.
For more of Marina and Set By Skye, follow her on Instagram.
Featured image courtesy of Marina Skye
Unapologetically, Chlöe: The R&B Star On Finding Love, Self-Acceptance & Boldly Using Her Voice
On set inside of a mid-city Los Angeles studio, it’s all eyes on Chlöe. She slightly shifts her body against a dark backdrop amidst camera clicks and whirs, giving a seductive pout here, and piercing eye contact there. Her chocolate locs are adorned with a few jewels that she requested to spice up the look, and on her shoulders rests a jeweled piece that she asked to be turned around to better showcase her neck (“I feel a bit old,” she said of the original direction). Her shapely figure is tucked into a strapless bodysuit with a deep v-neck that complements her décolletage.
Though subtle, her quiet wardrobe directives give the air of a woman who’s been here before, and certainly knows what she’s doing. At 24 years young, she’s a “Bossy” chick in training— one who’s politely unapologetic and learning the power of her own voice.
“I'm hesitant sometimes to truly speak my mind and speak up for myself and what I believe,” she later confessed to me a couple of weeks after the photoshoot. “It's always scary for me, but now I'm realizing that I have to, in order to gain respect as a Black woman— a young Black woman— who's still navigating who she is. And you know, I'm realizing that closed mouths don't get fed. And if I keep my mouth shut just because I'm afraid of what people's opinions of me will be or turn into, then that's not any way to live.”
For Chlöe, the journey into womanhood is about embracing who she is, without succumbing to the perceptions of what others think of her. From the waist up she’s everything you’d imagine. A gorgeous goddess with the kind of sex appeal that some work hard to embrace but fail to exude. But unbeknownst to anyone not on set, her bottom half is covered by a white robe, surprising coming from the girl who boasts “'Cause my booty so big, Lord, have mercy” on her first hit single “Have Mercy.”
But that’s the beauty of Chlöe. There’s more to her than meets the eye. More than what a few sensual photos sprinkled throughout an Instagram feed could ever tell you. Just like the photo-framing illusion of her portrayed from the waist up, what we know about the songstress is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more beneath the surface.
Some hours later Chlöe leans back in a high chair as her locs are transformed from a formal updo to a seemingly Basquiat-inspired one. It’s pure art, and at her request, no wigs are a part of the day’s ensemble. She’s fully embracing her natural hair, a decision that wasn’t always a socially accepted one.
In the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, (Mableton, to be exact) Chlöe began to explore the foundation of her self-image. At an early age she and her younger sister, Halle, demonstrated a vocal prowess and knack for being in front of the camera that caught their parents’ attention. Soon after, they were sent on a parade of local talent shows and auditions, and eventually broke into the digital space with song covers on YouTube.
It was during these early years that Chlöe first learned that the entertainment industry could be unforgiving to those who didn’t fit a particular beauty standard. Despite the then three-year-old snagging a role as the younger version of Beyoncé’s character, Lilly, in Fighting Temptations, casting agents requested that her natural locs be exchanged for more Eurocentric tresses. Ironic, considering that growing up Chlöe saw her hair as no different than that of her peers. “I remember specifically in pre-K we had to do self-portraits and I drew myself with a regular straight ponytail, like how I would put my locs in a ponytail,” she says. “I just never saw myself any different.”
Chlöe would also learn the true meaning of a phrase that would later become an affirmation posted on her bedroom mirror: “Don’t Let the World Dim Your Light.” After attempting to wear wigs to fit in, the Bailey sisters instead chose to rock their locs with pride, which undoubtedly cost them casting roles. Yet they would have the last laugh when making headlines as the “Teen Dreadlocked Duo” who landed a million-dollar contract with Parkwood Entertainment, and the coveted opportunity to be groomed under the tutelage of a world-renowned superstar.
Credit: Derek Blanks
While that could be the end of a beautiful fairytale of self-empowerment, the reality is that it’s just the beginning of the story of her evolution. For most girls, the transition into womanhood takes place in the comfort of their own worlds, often limited to the number of people they allow to have access to them. But for Chlöe, it’s happening in front of millions of critiquing eyes just waiting for an opportunity to either uplift or dissect her through unwarranted commentary.
Many in her position wouldn’t be able to take that kind of pressure. But Chlöe is handling it with grace. “I feel like all of us as humans, we have the right to interpret things how we want,” she says. “I put art out into the world and it's up for interpretation. I'm learning that not everyone is going to always like me and that it's okay.”
Chlöe isn’t the first artist to receive criticism for her carnal content, and she certainly won’t be the last. In 2010, Ciara writhed and rode her way to banishment on BET when the then 24-year-old released her video for “Ride.” In 2006, 25-year-old Beyoncé received backlash for “Déjà Vu."
"I put art out into the world and it's up for interpretation. I'm learning that not everyone is going to always like me and that it's okay.”
So much so that over 5,000 fans signed an online petition demanding that her label re-shoot the video because it was “too sexual.” Even 27-year-old Janet didn’t escape critical headlines when she shed her image of innocence for a more risqué appearance with the 1993 release of janet.
It’s almost as if public reproach is a rite of passage for young Black women R&B singers on the road to stardom. Good girls seemingly “go bad” whenever they embrace the depths of their femininity, and fans only like you on top figuratively. But Chlöe has learned not to bow down to other people’s opinions, but to boss up and control the narrative. As the saying goes, well-behaved women seldom make history. If sex appeal is her weapon, she wields it well.
On set, Chlöe exudes the energy of Aphrodite in an apple red, off-shoulder dress with a sexy high split. In between shots, she mouths the lyrics to Yebba’s “Boomerang” as it echoes throughout the space in steady repetition at my recommendation. The hour grows late, yet Chlöe is heating things up as eyes stare in deep mesmerization of the girl on fire.
Credit: Derek Blanks
Through music, she explores the depths of her being, a journey that seems to be, at its foundation, rooted in self-discovery. Whereas their debut album The Kids Are Alright (2018) boasts a young Chloe x Halle empowering their generation to embrace who they are while finding their place in the world, their second album Ungodly Hour (2020) shows the Bailey sisters shedding the veil of innocence for a more unapologetic bravado.
What fans looked forward to seeing is who Chlöe shows herself to be on her debut solo album In Pieces. In an interview with PEOPLE, she confesses that releasing her first project without her sister was “scary.” "It was a moment of self-doubt where I was like, 'Can I do this without my sister?’”
Chlöe has never been shy about sharing her insecurities or her vulnerabilities, all of which are laced throughout the 14-track album. “I want people to have fun when they listen to it and to just realize that they're not alone and it's okay to be vulnerable and raw and open because none of us are perfect; we're all far from it. And I think it's healing when we all admit to that instead of putting up a facade.”
The gift of time has given the self-professed “big lover girl” more encounters with romance and heartbreak. Love songs once sung for their beautiful riffs and melodies become more than just abstract lyrics and are replaced by real-life experiences, which she tells me is definitely in the music.
In her single “Pray It Away,” for example, she contemplates going to God for healing instead of going at her ex-lover for revenge for his infidelities. “With anything dealing with art, I am completely vulnerable,” she says. “I'm completely myself, I'm completely open and transparent. So it's pretty much all of me and who I am right now.”
Has Chlöe been in love? That still remains to be said. Of course, she’s been linked to a few potential baes, but dating in the digital age isn’t as easy as a double tap or drop of a heart-eyes emoji. It requires a level of trust and vulnerability that’s hard to earn, and easy to mishandle. To let her guard down means to potentially set herself up for disappointment. “It’s difficult dating right now, honestly, because you really have to kind of keep your guard up and pay attention to who's really there for you. And you know, I'm such an affectionate person and I love hard.
"So when I meet the one person that I really, really am into, it's hard for me to see any others and I get attached pretty easily. And you know, I don't know, it's…it's a scary thing.”
Credit: Derek Blanks
“With anything dealing with art, I am completely vulnerable. I'm completely myself, I'm completely open and transparent. So it's pretty much all of me and who I am right now.”
While broken hearts yield good music (queue Adele), what’s in Chlöe’s prayer is the desire to be happy. What does that look like? Well, she’s still figuring that out herself. “Honestly, I'm the type of person who I don't truly learn unless I experience it. So it's like I can view and watch my parents and watch the loving relationships that I see in my life and be like, ‘Oh, I want that. I would love to have that.’ But then I also have to experience [love] on my own and see what my flaws or my faults might be or see what my good things about myself are. I feel like it's really all about self-reflection. And even though our base is our family and that's our foundation, we are still our own individuals and we have to find out specifically the things about ourselves that may be different from what we saw from our parents when we were growing up.”
Her ideal beau, she tells me, is someone she can feel safe to be her fun, goofy self with, but who also gives her the space to be the boss chick chasing her dreams. A man who understands that just because the world compliments her doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to hear those words from his lips or feel it in his touch. A bonus if he shows up on set after a long hard day of work with vegan cinnamon rolls. You know, the basic necessities. “I like whoever I'm with to constantly tell me they love me and that I look beautiful because I do the same. I am a very mushy person, and if I see something or you look good, I will never shy away from saying it out loud. And I want whoever I'm with to do the same, be very vocal. Tell me that you love me. Tell me what you love about me because I'm doing the same for you because that's just the person I am.”
Until she meets her match she’s married to the game, and for now, that seems to be perfect matrimony.
Credit: Derek Blanks
On stage at the 2021 American Music Awards, Chlöe solidified her position as a force to be reckoned with. It was a full-circle moment. In 2012, bright-eyed and baby-faced Chloe and Halle would walk onto the set of The Ellen Degeneres Show and blow the audience away as they bellowed out their future mentor’s song. Ellen would present the sisters with tickets to attend the AMAs, assuring them that they would be back and had a promising future. Nine years later, Chlöe descends from the sky cloaked in a snow-white cape and matching midriff-baring bodysuit for her debut performance. It’s the first time she’s graced the stage of the very award show that she was once an audience member of.
As she shakes and shimmies and boom kack kacks out her eight counts, it’s clear that she’s in her element. Just like her VMA performance a couple of months prior, and the many more stages she’ll continue to grace, she brings an energy that has earned her comparisons to the beloved Queen Bey herself. An honorable statement, considering few R&B songstresses are getting accolades for their entertainment capabilities. It’s on these very stages, in front of hundreds of astonished eyes and millions more glued to their televisions at home, that she tells me she feels most sexy. Powerful, even.
But off stage, it’s a different story.
It’s more than just the commentary about her image and media-flamed rumors that get to her. Mentally, she’s in competition with herself. The desire to be the best burns at the back of her mind with every performance, every production, and every time she steps into the booth. Before, she could share the weight of this burden with her sister. Being a part of a duo meant she could turn to Halle for quiet confirmation and encouragement without a word being exchanged. But lately stepping on the stage means stepping out on her own. And despite being a breathtaking, five-time Grammy-nominated star, Chlöe doesn’t escape the reality that sometimes we can be our own worst critics.
Over the last year, she’s been coming to terms with who she is on her own while overcoming the fear of failing to become who she’s destined to be. While the world waits to see how Chlöe wins, the real triumph is in every day that she chooses herself and continues to walk in her purpose. “I don't really have anything all figured out, honestly. But what I try to do, a lot of prayer. I talk to God more and I just try to do things that calm my mind down and just breathe.”
To whom much is given, much will be required. She’s been chosen to walk this path for a reason. Once she fully embraces that everything she’s meant to be is already inside of her, she’ll be an unstoppable force. “My grandma, Elizabeth, she just passed away and my middle name is her [first] name. So I feel like I truly have a responsibility to live up to her legacy that she's left on this earth. I hope I can do that.”
There’s no doubt that she will. With a role in The Fighting Temptations at three years old, a million-dollar record deal, a main role on five seasons of Grown-ish, five Grammy nominations, a number one solo record in Urban and Rhythmic Radio, a debut solo album, and starring roles in recently released movies Praise Thisand Swarm (just to name a few), Chlöe’s certainly already made her mark, and she’s just getting started.
Photographer & Creative Director: Derek Blanks
Executive Producer: Necole Kane
Co-Executive Producer: EJ Jamele
Producer: Erica Turnbull
Digitech: Chris Keller
DP: Alex Nikishin
Gaffer: Simeon Mihaylov
Photo Assistant: Chris Paschal
2nd Photo Assistant: Tyler Umprey
Features Editor: Kiah McBride
Special Projects: Tyeal Howell
Hair: Malcolm Marquez
Makeup: Yolonda Frederick
Fashion Styling: Ashley Sean Thomas
For More: Cover Story: Issa Rae Comes Full Circle
Exclusive: Zonnique On 'The Break Up' & How Her Relationship With Tiny Shaped Her Approach To Motherhood
The last time Zonnique and I connected was two years ago, in 2021, when she was celebrating her very first Mother’s Day as Hunter’s mommy. Now, two years have passed, and so much has happened. She has released her latest EP after a five-year hiatus from the music scene, she became the host of FOX Soul’s The Mix, and I even lost my own mother. We had a lot to catch up on.
When I crossed over into the conference call after running a few minutes late, I was apologetic, but her calm, zen aura instantly calmed me down and reassured me that no apologies were necessary - just humble salutations.
With the return of Zonnique’s sultry voice to the forefront, I couldn’t go two minutes into our conversation without giving her her due flowers for her latest EP, The Break Up. “I'm happy for myself. You know it's been a long time coming, baby,” the singer shared about her work to xoNecole.
Zonnique admitted to me that her return to music was something that she’s been ready to do for quite some time, but there has been a lot of stalling in the interim. Between laying down vocals in the booth and planning around the perfect timing, there was much stop-and-start during the holding process of the project. In the end, the release and the timing of The Break Up came together as it should have when it was meant to be debuted into the world.
“Even though I was really sad about that and just mad about how long everything was taking, I think that it was worth the wait just for myself, period because I grew a lot in that time, and I got to really mold myself into the artist that I want to be,” Zonnique shared.
“One More Time” (For The Fans)
Credit: Scrill Davis
Courtesy of Zonnique
No stranger to the spotlight, Zonnique has amassed a loyal fanbase in the music industry from her time as a girl group member of the OMG Girlz all the way to her time as a reality star on Growing Up Hip-Hop: ATL and T.I. & Tiny. Now, the singer formerly known as "Miss Star" decided to put out a project specifically for her fans who have been craving to hear from her for nearly half a decade.
Because she had been teasing snippets of her music for years, the fans knew that she had something coming, but it wasn't until the last two months of 2022 that The Break Up truly came together. She completely scratched all of the music she originally created and started from the top by tapping into the feelings that she was experiencing in the moment, which included the torn mental state of a fresh heartbreak. In collaboration with a producer by the name of Valley, Zonnique created a project of five songs inspired by both her fans and the father of her child, Bandhunta Izzy.
In comparison to her 2017 EP Love Jones, Zonnique told me that her sophomore EP is "more vulnerable than the first time" and she feels more empowered and "confident to speak out." The singer also noted that because Love Jones marked the beginning of her solo career, the journey to solo stardom was a new and fresh one, and even described herself as timid.
Zonnique added, "Because [I was] coming out of a group, it can be uncomfortable at first, and I was kind of in an uncomfortable state. Even though I was proud of the things that I [made], and I'm still really happy about the Love Jones project and how it came out, I don't feel like I was as confident then, so I just was still figuring things out."
One of the most admirable traits about Zonnique is that while she's grown up on television since her days on Tiny & Toya with her mother and Xscape member Tiny, she managed to stay out of the drama and in her own lane. On The Break Up, Zonnique gets more vulnerable than she ever has about life, love, and relationships as she lets her guard down between each and every song, including the accompanying visuals featuring the father of her child.
"They might get to know my soft side or maybe even my weak side," Zonnique shared about what fans should expect from her latest project. "I feel like I'm always keeping up this positive, 'everything's good' type image. I think that they'll be able to learn [that] I go through it too, just like anybody else, and I go through heartbreak, and you'll see how I pretty much deal with that on the project."
Zonnique’s Love Song ‘23
Credit: Scrill Davis
Courtesy of Zonnique
Over the past five years, we've only been allowed as much access into Zonnique Pullins' world as she would allow, meaning that what we see on Instagram, on WeTV, or even on social media live streams are limited. When it comes to her dating life, the "Nun For Free" singer has always been relatively private and never given too much detail into the ins and outs of her love life beyond a few cute selfies that would suddenly disappear after the relationship had run its course.
Now, as a mother to almost three-year-old Hunter, who she co-parents with rapper Bandhunta Izzy, Zonnique was able to get real with me about the status of her dating life since her Love Jones days. While she says that much hasn't changed, Zonnique shared with me that she's always been a person who gives 100% to any and every relationship that she's ever been in, but like most of us, she has her boundaries and knows how to prioritize herself.
"I may mess up there a little bit, but I would say that I've always been a person that's like, 'okay, well if you mess with my peace, I'm pretty much out of here,'" she admitted. Contrary to her original thoughts, she believed that having a child would make her dating life much more difficult because she would feel "stuck here forever," but she soon realized that she was the novelist of her own romantic storybook, and it could go any which way she pleases. Zonnique powerfully and boastfully knows that she is not required to stay anywhere that may compromise her mental and emotional wellness.
"I try to still stay in the same mind frame that I was before I had a child, and I'm like, if it messes up my peace, I'll take my child, and we'll be up out of here," she added. "I feel like my happiness has always been the most important to me. I would feel like I've pretty much stayed the same in love."
Specifically, when it comes to her and the father of her child (who she also collaborated with on "One More Time" on The Break Up), Zonnique admits that they're still figuring out the boundaries of their relationship - co-parenting, platonically, and romantically. "We are still figuring that out," she shared. She doesn't deny the feeling of having love for - or even being in love with - her child's father but acknowledges that there's a weird sort of in-between limbo because of their past relationship pre-Hunter.
"It still can be difficult to be around each other and not be like, 'Okay. It's giving, what is this?'," she laughed. Zonnique shared that she and Bandhunta Izzy have come to an understanding to put their romantic feelings on the back burner and let things ebb and flow as time takes its course. "If it works out, it works out, but if not, at least we still can build our friendship. I think that building a friendship is really the most important thing, and I feel like with my child's father, we kind of got into a relationship before we even built the friendship."
"If it works out, it works out, but if not, at least we still can build our friendship. I think that building a friendship is really the most important thing, and I feel like with my child's father, we kind of got into a relationship before we even built the friendship."
Zonnique continued, "I don't know, we have a really great bond period. I think that it takes boundaries and just really figuring out what works for the two of you to be able to keep your kid happy. You both have to be happy, and you have to really figure it out as you go. It's not an easy thing."
In an effort to be happy and be the best mother she could be for Hunter, as well as being the best version of Zonnique for herself, she takes the time she needs to pour into herself so she can perform at the highest level. Between being in a relationship and cohabitating with your partner, Zonnique can sometimes feel a little burnout, especially when you add a baby into the mix.
However, Zonnique knows that sometimes it’s important to take a step back from everything that’s making you unhappy to stay in tune with your emotions, even if it means putting a relationship you really value in the backseat. "It can be a little challenging when you are being a mom and just focused on what your child needs and what's best for the family instead of what's best for you. It can kind of be a hard balance.”
Credit: Scrill Davis
Courtesy of Zonnique
Work-life balance requires patience, especially for a new mother like Zonnique. Music serves as a form of self-care for the "Ghost" singer, but she loves to share those moments with her baby girl even if her personality is larger than the songs that she's singing.
"My child is really attached to me, and she has a big personality, and she's very distracting," Zonnique laughed. "I bring her to the studio a lot, but she wants to be in the booth, and she wants to be on the mic and put the headphones on. She wants to do her own thing."
She knows that Hunter has a love for music, just like her mother, and she wants to expose her daughter early to all of the incredible things that music has to offer one's soul but knows that she has to set clearer boundaries for herself when having that time to herself. "I do like to take that time to just go in there alone and really get out my thoughts, and music is a diary for me. I'm not really an open person. I'm really private, so I enjoy being able to go in the studio and have that time to myself to just really say how I feel."
In addition to laying it all on the track, Zonnique uses working out and being alone as primary forms of self-care. "My real self-care is being at home by myself, getting rid of my child, having no company, and literally just laying in my bed, listening to music. I would lay in the bed all day, put no TV on, and just listen to my favorite songs, and I will be healed after. I don't know why that is," she admitted to me.
In times of need and support, Zonnique's first call is to none other than one of her best friends, her own mother. As a young mom herself, Tiny was able to navigate the ins and outs of being in the center of the music industry while being responsible for her mini-me, meaning she would have much advice to share with her firstborn. "I feel like my mom has never second-guessed me. She's always been in my corner. She calls me and is making sure that I'm good, other than music or anything, she's just always very supportive in every way," she said kindly about her mother.
In a previous interview on Mr. Jay Hill's podcast, Zonnique explained how her strained relationship with the Xscape vocalist when she was younger manifested itself into her self-care practices today. Admitting that Tiny's relationship with her stepfather and rapper T.I. always seemed like a priority during the interview, Zonnique told me that it impacted the way that she approaches motherhood with her own mini-me. "I feel like it affects me a lot in my motherhood. It's definitely made me a certain type of way with my child," she admitted.
Tiny had never heard her daughter express sentiments of neglect or abandonment, according to Zonnique, but knows that the adversity in their relationship would only make Zonnique the incredible mother that she is today. "I was telling her (Tiny) it really molded me into the mom that I am. It's okay, I'm older, and I'm fine. I'm not hurt about that stuff anymore, but I'm glad that I went through those things because now I'm like, 'I'm going to take my child.' Even when I know it's probably going to be a lot harder that I take her, I still take her, and I just push myself to go over and beyond for her, which I enjoy."
"I feel like it affects me a lot in my motherhood. It's definitely made me a certain type of way with my child. I was telling her it really molded me into the mom that I am. It's okay, I'm older, and I'm fine. I'm not hurt about that stuff anymore, but I'm glad I went through those things because now I'm like, 'I'm going to take my child.'"
Zonnique Is Great
Credit: Scrill Davis
Courtesy of Zonnique
This time around for Mother's Day, Zonnique has expectations that are a bit different than when we connected two years ago. "What excites me the most is just knowing that I'm not going to say a real mother, but I would say I'm really flourishing in motherhood," she said as she acknowledged herself proudly.
"Not to toot my own horn, I'm in motherhood, and I feel like I'm starting to get to a point where I'm comfortable, and this is my life, and I'm good at this. I'm not second-guessing myself. My child will be okay, and I'm not stressed and worried about what's next or things like that. I feel like I'm just really settling into motherhood this year."
In retrospect, Zonnique has come a long way in her parenting journey throughout the past two years, and it shows. Confidence, resilience, and patience are not only pieces of her character that Zonnique has already possessed, but they've been amplified through her responsibility as a mother.
From the ups of teaching her daughter her passion for music and dance to the lows of achieving balance, Zonnique says that she's ready for it all - and we love to see it.
The Break Up is available on all streaming platforms.
Featured image by Scrill Davis