Written By Kelly Holm
If there’s one lesson that defines Souly Had’s career, it’s to never give up. Three years ago, the R&B meets Hip-Hop artist almost abandoned a song called “Crush” at the drawing board amidst writer’s block.
“I remember being so close to giving up on it and getting so frustrated trying to get the perfect takes. I remember thinking ‘Damn, this song just isn’t it,’” Had relates. “I listened the next day with fresh ears and that’s when I realized it was the opposite.”
Now, three years and 50 million plays later, “Crush” is the most popular song Souly Had has ever released. From 2015’s Snow Day EP to 2019’s B.L.I.S.S. to standalone singles like “Fall Back,” Had is prolific about the frequent release of new music, amassing a large catalog.
Born Harrison McQueeney, the 24-year-old got his start performing basement shows at his friends’ colleges, penning songs like “robot snakes” and posting clips to social media.
“I had been previewing all of my music on Twitter, getting some traction, and the first [track] to really pop off was ‘deja vu’,” Had says. “It had 8,000 plays in the first few hours, basically off of Twitter self-promo. That next morning I called both my parents and let them know I wasn’t going to class that day so I could work on more music, and I ended up never going back.”
Soon, Souly Had was attracting the praise of Darkchild and recording in the same building as Alicia Keys. As he gears up for the summer release of his latest EP DRUGS, it is evident that he made the right choice in pursuing his artistry full-time.
“It just felt insane to have people actually caring about my music and vibing,” Had says. “I’m with them in what they’re going through, and they’re with me.”
Had describes DRUGS as a darker companion record to B.L.I.S.S. While B.L.I.S.S. carries a “honeymoon phase” type of aura, DRUGS focuses on toxic and negative forms of love, creating a metaphor between relationships and addiction in the title track, which was released on May 21.
“It’s raw, uncut, personal and honest,” he says. “I’m hoping to see the EP release in June.”
Of course, the music industry, like the larger world, has changed drastically in the two years since B.L.I.S.S. came out. That EP’s release was accompanied by a live tour, with post-show meet-and-greets at the merch table. But six months later, stages worldwide went dark, and plans across the globe were cancelled. Without the hustle and bustle of his usual life, Souly Had struggled to compose music during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I need some type of schedule and experiences in order to keep my creativity and inspiration at a good level to the point where I can write. I didn’t make a song for a good three months and was wondering why I couldn’t,” he said. “It was because I wasn’t doing anything besides sitting in the house.”
But Had soon got his creative juices flowing again, and opportunities presented themselves even in quarantined times— namely, this year’s virtual South by Southwest Festival.
“I hadn’t performed in a very long time, so my biggest concern was remembering my lyrics,” Had said. “It’s hard to get that live energy when performing virtually. I really thrive off of crowd interaction.”
While DRUGS is a snapshot of Souly Had’s work during the past year, he’s increasingly looking to the future. He hopes to cross a Pharrell Williams collaboration off of his bucket list, and aims to break into the Billboard Hot 100 by the end of 2021, promising “more bangers, more energy, and even better music to perform live.”
“I’ve always wanted to headline SPAC, which is the biggest venue in upstate New York, where I’m from,” he says. “That’s the day I think I’d say I made it.”
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