As her photo shoot came to a close, 20-year-old Maxine Ashley finally had a moment of down time inside the Queens Bridge photo studio. She took a seat on a raggedy wooden stool inside the cold and unheated room, and produced a small glass vile filled with cannabis. She examined the buds delicately, unscrewed the cap of the container with her slender hands, and grabbed a chunk big enough to fill her Juicy Jay rolling paper. She was still in full makeup from the shoot that she had just been the subject of. Her lips were a bright red and her hair, which was mostly blonde with only trace amounts of her signature pink locks, was still neatly put together. As I approached her, I asked if she was about to roll up. She looked up at me, smirked, and said “I’m a pothead.”
This artist, whose full name is Maxine Ashley Colon, boasts an impressive resume for a person her age. At only 20, she has already seen the ins and outs of the entertainment industry, and is a seasoned veteran of the day to day occurrences of the business, so if she wanted to take a few tokes to take the edge off, it was hard to blame her.
Maxine Ashley is from The Bronx, the only borough in New York City that is not located on an island. When asked about how growing up in the borough influenced her, Maxine had this to say; “It helped me with the way I handle things. I just pretty much didn’t take sh*t from anybody. You know what I’m sayin’? I learned my manners out of The Bronx, but I learned how to defend myself and knew what I liked, so it made me very strong minded.”
“The Boogie Down,” as it is affectionately known by the residents of the borough, has a long standing tradition in the underground music scene. After all, it was the birthplace of Hip-Hop, and in a few years, people will refer to it as the birthplace of Maxine Ashley. She, however, is not a rapper; she never pretended to be. She is a singer, a very talented one at that. One whose voice is not overwhelmed or drowned out by the sound of loud overbearing beats or bass heavy melodies that characterize today’s pop music. An average person’s voice might be overpowered by the sounds we might hear today, but Maxine is so versatile that she adjusts her style of singing according to the sounds in the background, even dabbling occasionally in what might sound like rapping. In today’s music industry, the lines between rapping and singing on a track are becoming increasingly blurred. Her mom insists however, she is not a rapper.
Regardless of her style of attacking a beat, the talent she displays is undeniable. It’s no wonder that the 20-year-old singer grabbed the attention of renowned music producer and rapper Pharrell Williams. Pharrell saw in Maxine Ashley the potential to be the next great female super star and has decided to back her up from this point moving forward in her musical endeavors by signing her to his label.
None of the hype and attention is new to Maxine, though. Her career in the entertainment industry started very early on. According to Maxine, at 12 years old she started putting up videos on her YouTube account. Her videos began gaining notoriety, and captured the attention of a British media company. The company, whose name will not be disclosed for legal reasons, took a young Maxine across the pond to live, and more importantly to work. She was now expected to produce content on a regular basis.
Her time in the United Kingdom was interesting to say the least. At the tender age of 13 she was exposed to an entirely new scene of music and entertainment. She was writing material for other artists and was performing in clubs on a regular basis. But things didn’t work out the way she had hoped. At only 15 years old she developed Shingles. It was set back in her career, but it wasn’t the biggest hurdle she had to face. Her time in Britain taught her a lot, it even led to the opportunity to meet and work with Alex Gaudino, a very popular house music DJ and producer. In 2010 she recorded “I’m In Love” with Gaudino. Still only in her teens, Maxine Ashley had arrived. However complications with the company that was employing her in the United Kingdom quickly led to her leaving Europe. Shortly after breaking through to the house music scene, Maxine found herself on a plane back stateside. This time she had arrived in The Bronx… again.
Hell yeah! Hell yeah! Anyone can do this; you know what I’m sayin’? Anyone can get picked up and discovered and signed, it’s just about how much work you’re willing to put into it.
INSIDE HERE HEAD
A.R.T.S.Y: We know you’re a Puerto Rican girl from The Bronx. Can you talk to us about what the experience was like growing up in there?
Maxine: I can’t really tell you the experience because for me it’s so normal. My whole family is in The Bronx. Everybody is in The Bronx. I experienced more when I got out of The Bronx. I started learning new things, liking new things, and new music.
A.R.T.S.Y: It seems to be well known that when you first started gaining popularity it was for the covers of other songs you were doing on YouTube. What made you start doing these covers?
Maxine: My mother, she wanted to show me off to her friends so she tells me (breaks out laughing), she told me to sing a song like on video so she could show somebody, and I did the video, then I thought ‘I have a YouTube, let me just put this up,’ and that’s when everything just took off from there. Doing skits and stuff; it wasn’t all about the covers. It was just about having my own channel. Just doing what I want to do.
A.R.T.S.Y: What would you say separates you and your YouTube channel from other people who are doing similar things?
Maxine: It doesn’t separate me at all from anyone. It’s the same exact thing that everybody is doing it, just I guess I’m fortunate enough that people actually like my voice I guess. And people are actually interested you know. Everyone is interested. It shocks me.
A.R.T.S.Y: Does that mean you think everyone who is doing this has the same opportunity as you?
Maxine: Hell yeah! Hell yeah! Anyone can do this; you know what I’m sayin’? Anyone can get picked up and discovered and signed, it’s just about how much work you’re willing to put into it.
Every day I was writing or recording, either for somebody or for myself. Obviously most of it was for somebody, because I never had anything out under the company I was working with. But it was a good experience. I learned a lot. It was really hard. I developed Shingles at the age of 15. But overall it taught me a lot. I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. I was in college at the age of 13.
A.R.T.S.Y: Would you say you put in a lot of work? And if so could you talk to us about that? What’s the process like?
Maxine: Hell the f*ck yes! Like since putting up videos on YouTube, I started at 12. Since then I got discovered by this Company in the UK and I lived out there for three years. Every single day I was writing, and singing and performing for people at a club. I was performing every single day; recording every day. Then at 16 I did this song with Alex Gaudino called “I’m In Love,” and then I started performing even more. Performing in places like Pacha, and big EDM clubs and stuff. Then I came home, got signed to Pharrell. So I never stopped working. So it’s pretty much what I do. It’s my life; you know what I’m sayin’?
A.R.T.S.Y: Can you talk to us about your time in London?
Maxine: Every day I was writing or recording, either for somebody or for myself. Obviously most of it was for somebody, because I never had anything out under the company I was working with. But it was a good experience. I learned a lot. It was really hard. I developed Shingles at the age of 15. But overall it taught me a lot. I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. I was in college at the age of 13.
A.R.T.S.Y: If we understand it correctly, you go to London, do your thing, come back and get signed. But how did Pharrell learn about you. Was it from your time in London or was it from the YouTube videos?
Maxine: Well apparently he was following me on YouTube for two years; prior to him hitting me up. So YouTube was the thing that people knew me from, like they saw my face and they heard me, but I guess people talk. Small world; especially the music industry.
Maxine Ashley has accomplished a lot in her career. But the most astounding part is that her career is still in its beginning stages. She has only been alive for 20 years, and eight of them has been spent working on her craft. She is an entertainer, blessed with a talent and a work ethic that makes success appear inevitable. It’s almost as if she has no choice, the hand she has been dealt cannot be beat, so she will not fold.
Upon returning to the United States, Maxine was contacted by Pharrell via an email to her mom and then she realized how long he had been following her YouTube channel. According to Maxine, it was her very first video she posted on her channel (MaxineOfficial) that cemented his decision to reach out to her. It was her rendition of Beyonce’s “Sweet Dreams” that catapulted her to the forefront of Pharrell’s attention.
In a video interview with Dazed & Confused magazine, Pharrell explained that when he was watching the video he thought she was lip singing. It was only after he noticed a subtle nuance during her video that he realized it was her actually singing. That was the moment! As the Pharrell put it himself, “that’s when I was just like, okay, we gotta find this girl.”
Since linking up with the world famous producer, Maxine Ashley’s career has seen some of its brightest days. She’s worked with other artists and has been featured on a few tracks that have only fueled her popularity. Her YouTube channel currently boasts over 18,000 subscribers, and perhaps most notably, the fashion world has taken notice of this talented singer. In 2012, Lanvin Paris picked up Maxine’s song “Cookie Man” as the theme for their Spring/Summer marketing campaign. When asked about how she felt about having her song picked up by a major designer label, Maxine Ashley said she was ecstatic. “Every opportunity I get is exciting. But then it’s just like what’s next, what’s next.”
Her success’s roots can be traced to her YouTube posts, so the comparisons to other stars that had similar breakthroughs are inevitable. One such person she has been compared to is Justin Bieber. As far as her thoughts on the comparisons, she thinks it’s awesome because as she put it, “Justin Bieber is famous as f*ck. I guess I’m the Justin Bieber of Pharrell,” referring to pop sensation Usher’s discovery of Justin Bieber through the video sharing website as well.
Maxine is currently working on an upcoming mix-tape that is going to be called “Mood Swings.”
She says that the project is going to be crazy, and it’s going to leave her fans wanting more. The singer says that she had the opportunity to work with a lot of very notable artists and producers. She even hinted that she may work with the new king of the West Coast; Kendrick Lamar.
Maxine Ashley views “Mood Swings” as a sort of reward to her supporters for having been so patient with her in terms of putting out the project. “The reason I called it mood swings is that it fits whatever is your type of music. I also don’t know; I just make music on how I feel. Each song fits a different mood.” The singer says that the project will have a ton of awesome surprises and will put on display Skateboard P’s knack for producing hits in full force. “Mood Swings” is a work in progress and will drop when Maxine feels it is ready. For now she says her fans could expect it to drop during the summer, and it will consist of between 10 and 11 tracks.
At the same time the singer is also working on a full-fledged album. The album will more than likely mark her triumphant entrance on to the world stage. By the time it drops, her name will be on all the blogs and on the tongues of every DJ at a radio station, and when that happens you can tell all your friends that A.R.T.S.Y Magazine put you on to Maxine a minute ago.
As for the actual album, Maxine says that it will showcase Pharrell’s talents of production even more so than her mix-tape. “It is gonna be P at his best, and cooler than ever.”
Maxine Ashley is Pharrell’s newest protégé, and she has situated herself so that her only result will be success. She is so confident in her abilities that she believes failure is not only an option but also impossible. We asked her how she would handle failure should it be her result and she responded by saying, “it just can’t happen. That cannot happen.”
To learn more about Maxine Ashley our readers can follow her on her Twitter and Instagram @MaxineAshley, they can check out her TUMBLR page, http://maxineashley.tumblr.com/, and can subscribe to her YouTube channel, http://www.youtube.com/user/MaxineOfficial. Be sure to check out A.R.T.S.Y Magazine’s promotional video featuring her, and check with A.R.T.S.Y for updates on her upcoming projects release dates.
Her new mixtape Mood Swings is also now available. A.R.T.S.Y reviewed it here.
By Skinny P.
Photography By Tommy Thomas, A.R.T.S.Y, Issue 4