Cocaine is a helluva drug and fame is a tricky thing. Imagine being a teenager, signed to a record label and having your life broadcast to millions every week. That may be business as usual by today’s social media-driven standards, but in the early 2000’s it was far from the norm, and quite the jolt to those living inside the whirlwind called fame. Don’t believe us, ask Gabrielle Solange, an original member of the R&B/Pop Group, Fatty Koo.
As a part of the Capacity Youth Arts Program here in Columbus (now called Transit Arts), Gabby was able to sign a record deal with Sony Music, get on BET via a reality TV show called “Blowin’ Up: Fatty Koo” and even had a record that she was on be prominently featured during the 2005 NBA Playoffs.
Gabby experienced every musician’s dream, getting signed to a major label and national exposure but the road to success was not necessarily pleasant. She is from Toledo and ran away to Columbus to escape a troubled home. In Columbus, she was put in foster care and did whatever she could to create the best opportunities for herself. At one point, she even pretended to be somebody’s adopted child so that she could attend Upper Arlington and get the best education.
Gabby channeled her life experiences, using it as fuel to stimulate her artistic endeavors. She met with FlyPaper Mag at the Upper Cup, a coffee shop near-downtown Columbus, to discuss her upbringing, life after Fatty Koo and what’s next for her.
Check out excerpts from the interview below.
Changing the pain from her family into her art.
FPM: I know that if you’re running away, it was probably traumatic and I understand if you don’t want to talk about it.
GS: Well yeah, I experienced a lot of abuse as a kid. So that’s the best answer that I can give you without going into detail. It got bad enough that I knew I needed to get out. It was more of a protective instinctive move. It might sound a little weird, because I love my parents. I’m still finding my balance of being hopeful, but to make a change and make a difference, you must expose things. I’m still riding the line of finding how to honor my parents still because I still really love them.
I love what my mom poured into me most. She poured black history into me because of where I grew up and what I experienced as a black kid. I relate a lot to just wanting to be free because of my experience at home and experiencing what was very oppressive for lack of better words. Just that, that’s what drove me. That’s why I am the way I am emotionally.
FPM: That’s real. My dad just died recently—
GS: I’m sorry.
FPM: That’s life. But yeah, when he died, we’d just taken a dope trip. We took a cruise together and it was probably the best experience we’d ever had together.
GS: Where’d you go?
FPM: Ah, somewhere in the Caribbean’s. Somewhere in the islands, Jamaica. I don’t remember the other one. The islands all kinda run together for me.
GS: My mom is from an island! She’s from Bermuda! I don’t know where that is, but she’s from there.
FPM: Oh really? That’s like the triangle where people be disappearing, right?
GS: Ha! I know it’s not the triangle, I don’t know much about the triangle. I’ve never actually been there haha. But continue.
FPM: We went on the cruise and it was the best time I ever had. I had a lot of bitterness towards my dad. He was always present and I felt some level of guilt because I felt like I should just be happy and satisfied with what I had. A lot of people don’t have a dad in their life at all. I always felt like there was something missing.
GS: You don’t have to be satisfied. You can be thankful without being satisfied.
FPM: Yeah, exactly! I shoulda been thankful but I wasn’t. I was just upset and bitter about it. I was like ‘you’re not doing good enough. I need you to be a better father!”
GS: That’s legit though.
FPM: In a lot of ways it was like having a rich uncle. He’ll spoil you every now and again, on holidays and what not. He’ll take you on trips or something but he’s not there on the day-to-day basis parenting you.
GS: And that’s what you needed. That’s what you were supposed to get. It’s just needing something and not having it. I think everybody can identify with that to an extent.
FPM: Definitely. Do you think that’s what fuels you to be an artist now?
GS: It’s a huge part of why I’m an artist. I can’t escape it. I grew up in an artistic family. I grew up being spurred on to create art. I draw and sketch. Everybody was talented in my family! I had to do something creative to fit in. Everybody can sing in my family. I didn’t even know that it was special to sing; like that singing was a special quality.
FPM: It is.
Writing, Her Special Gift
GS: Haha, I did believe that writing was special. But that was because of my third-grade teacher. I had this ONE non-racist teacher.
FPM: Everybody else was racist?
GS: I felt different with everybody else. You know, there was racism that went on every single year for me at the schools I went to during my childhood. There was no one intentionally counteracting that or even aware of that as a leader. But I had one teacher and it was almost like she knew. She specifically and intentionally empowered me.
GS: And it wasn’t even just because I was black. She did that on her own. It was in her spirit to empower people. And she intentionally empowered me because she saw my gift. She empowered me in a way when I was very young. I was around seven when she said, “you are an amazing writer. You can do something!” Really, I was embarrassed! I like to blend in and every time I stand out, I felt like “oh no, I’m standing out!” I’d retreat into myself because I felt like I was supposed to hide because I’m black. But because she did that, I felt this conviction and accountability like I HAVE to do this. I was MADE for this. I remember spending hours on the floor writing novels, writing songs, writing stories.
FPM: Oh, so you’re not just a song writer?
GS: No, I WRITE. It was mainly novels and stories; that’s what I love! What happened with singing, is that I fell in love with how a song is taking an entire story and trying to fit it into four minutes. There’s an art to that. For my songs, that’s a way for me to use my voice, and package a story in a way where someone who would never read a book, could hear it.
FPM: Hmm, that’s dope.
GS: It turned into more of a, as my situation became abusive, because it wasn’t always abusive, —
FPM: It was like therapy almost?
GS: It saved me. There were times where things turned dark but (writing) was the only thing that helped me to hold on. Then it became this thing where people began to question me like, “why are you always writing?” I’d be at the lunchroom with my notebook. I’d be at recess with my notebook. It became more than just me writing to get away. I felt like instead of me just getting away emotionally, I could get away too. I could make something of myself and become more than what I was. You know? And I just thought, I want to be a singer. I prayed about it, I cried about it.
GS: Yeah, and I had a friend—she shot my pictures on my website. I used to dress in all black. I was emo. My joy had been broken after a while and I had always been a hopeful, bubbly kid. She found me and was like “what are you doing, wear some colors”. I was dramatic and I would retort EVERYDAY IS A FUNERAL. I was super broken. I wore black because my sister had been abused too and the light left her eyes. So, my thing was, she’s dead so I’m going to mourn her every day.
FPM: How many siblings do you have?
GS: I have three. I have a little brother who is amazing. He’s a great rapper, writer, artist.
FPM: What’s his name?
GS: Cizz Travis. He’s in Toledo now, he lives there.
FPM: That’s dope. We’re going to have to check him out.
CAPCITY, Her Way Out
GS: But yeah, my friend. She took me to the studio. There’s inner-city programs (CAPCITY) here that will allow you to use studio equipment just because they’re trying to get you off the streets. She had the key because she was the main one volunteering there. When no one else was around, we were not supposed to be there. She would wait until everyone was gone and then let us come in at night.
FPM: What’s her name?
GS: Her name is Tasha. She’s a photographer/videographer now. She does artist development. She does a lot. She’s an amazing person. She knows a lot of people that do music. But we would be at the studio all the time. I would sleep there, on the sound foam. The sound foam, that you use for acoustics—I would sleep on that, over night. I just wanted to get away. I just held onto my music as something that could take me somewhere.
FPM: When did you start publishing your music?
GS: A long time ago, but this is my first time independently publishing.
FPM: Were you signed to somebody or…Is it a bad situation or something?
GS: No. I don’t care. It was wild. For a long time, I didn’t want to speak on it. I’ll be honest. It was hard. When I was 15, I… Remember when I told you I prayed and cried that I’d make it into music? Well, it happened. It’s crazy. I specifically remember writing God letters saying, “I know I have nothing but I just want to be a singer.” Before I knew it, a series of events happened and I was in a band signed to Sony Records.
GS: That was a long time ago. I was 15. By time I was 17, we were on BET with a reality show.
FPM: You were on television?
GS: Yep. You can literally look it up. For the most part, that was so long ago, and a lot happened. Most people just wanted to know what happened afterwards. It wasn’t a good situation. It was one of those VH1, TLC-type, why am I broke when I had the NBA theme song of the playoffs.
FPM: You had the theme song for the NBA playoffs?
FPM: That’s crazy.
The Rug Got Pulled Out. Her Story
GS: Yeah, and I wanted to hide. A lot of the reason you don’t know about me is because I haven’t been doing anything. It was hard. My old managers, I know that they meant well but I was an asset. I was an experiment to them. We were just some inner-city kids. They were also the managers for the Fugees and Lauryn Hill, so they were excited like OOH more inner-city kids! They’d be like “don’t sing about that, sing about this. Put this person here, do this” and I’d be like, wait that’s not me! Uhh, I don’t know what to do. I was really lost. I just wanted to sing.
FPM: Right. On some Musiq Souldchild ish.
GS: Right when I finally started to really get myself down, like who I am, suddenly, the rug was pulled out from underneath me and I was sent right back to the situation that I came from.
FPM: Why did it get pulled?
GS: That’s quite a story. I don’t want to talk forever, but basically there was division in the group. We were different. Now-a-days, when people hear our music, they say, “really, you were just ahead of your time.” What happens in the industry is, those executives, you are an asset. If you are too different, it’s too risky to do anything. Sony tried to urbanize us. Now their entire urban department, I don’t even think it exists anymore. But back then they had an urban department. We couldn’t get on MTV because P. Diddy was doing “Making the Band” out of nowhere and so they switched us to BET at the last minute. Viacom owns both. My thoughts were, I’m not a typical black person, I don’t know how to act black, so what am I going to do? I’m edgy and weird. I used to wear spiked chokers—
FPM: Because you were emo.
GS: Correct. And I talked proper, and I already got bullied. I was bullied in high school because I wasn’t super ghetto and wanted to succeed. It was weird. At the black schools I got bullied and at the white schools, they tossed racial slurs at me. I felt like I didn’t fit in. I was afraid to be the proud-black person that I am now, because I was so withdrawn into myself at the time. I hid myself. And that just made me more insecure. We were a diverse group of people with different backgrounds, and the leadership handling us honestly didn’t know what to do.
Once Sony Urban tried their thing, and it didn’t work, they were like “alright, we out.” Then our management started to pitch us to Hollywood Records and that was a big nah too because a lot of them were older. They didn’t fit our image. It was owned by Disney. They’re a lot more edgy now but they weren’t back then. They were wholesome. I was turning into a different type of artist myself and it wasn’t meshing with my group. We were running out of money. We were supposed to go on Tour with the Black-Eyed Peas and suddenly they didn’t go on tour.
We were like “what are we going to do” and they just said “Go to the high schools! Yeah, get the young people.” After that tour, we were just like, now what. Door after door keep on closing. The last big opportunity that I had was Ice Age the movie. It was one of the sequels. They called us in and we did this amazing song at this huge state of the art studio that I could never imagine ever being in. I was super happy. They told us they were going to send us back home and let us know what happened with the song. Out of nowhere, they pivoted and decided they wanted to do all instrumentals for the movie and didn’t want any voicework on the songs. That was the last chance.
GS: I came home and asked what do I do now. Go back to life? I don’t even know what that means. I didn’t go to college. I don’t want to go to college. I didn’t have parents. I had to cut off my legal guardianship. The government was technically my parents, and to be in a band, I had to emancipate myself. I would have had a free ride to go to college but I wanted to travel and make music. I basically screwed up my future and didn’t even realize it. I tried to be a solo artist and they never answered me back. I asked them to believe in me and they never responded. I would be riding the bus, and people would be like “aw you aint no star! You on the bus just like us! OHHHH!”
I’d be ordering food, and they’d be like “wait, I know you. Omg, did you fail?” How embarrassing. I hated Columbus. I remember going to the Hip Hop Expo and somebody used my name as a punchline. They said, “you’re a one-hit wonder like Gabrielle from Fatty Koo.” I just wanted to die.
I remember going, and I had producers who wanted to fly me out for other artists. I was so young and my whole life had been about trying to hold on to the little bit of who I am. I wasn’t really smart about it with the business or how things worked. I just felt really rejected. I had this one song, called “Survive”, and my management tried to get me to sell it to Rihanna. I was like “No! That’s my song! What are you trying to say? That’s mine!” The reason I write is to tell stories and it was a song about my breakup. This really personal matter. They were like, “ok if you really don’t want us to, we won’t pitch it but we really think it’s good.” Next thing you know, I’m working security, three jobs, riding my bike to be a waitress. That’s when I realized I’m not going to make it. What do I do without a manager, without a studio, without resources. I couldn’t even fall back on that inner-city program because I wasn’t a youth anymore. I tried to fit in different groups and make things shake but nothing stuck.
FPM: Did you try to get involved here on the local scene
GS: I will just say that I came to find out that respect, as a woman entertainer, is not something that comes easily. Because I have a very bashful personality, that was hard for me to accept. I was so broken Even my own bandmate looked at me with disgust: “you used to be fierce, what happened?” My parents didn’t want me, the music industry didn’t want me and now my own city didn’t even want me. At that point, I just squashed my creativity.
Her Next Chapter
FPM: So where did the flip happen, from you being broken to where you are now?
GS: Well, I injured myself 8 years ago. Up until 2016, I couldn’t walk without this crazy, burning pain in my body. I gained a ton of weight—I’m still working it off. I gained so much because I was sedentary. I was bed ridden. I thought I’d never walk again, let alone dance again. Blah blah, darkness, depressing. Here’s how it changed. I read my bible a lot, not because I’m an amazing faithful person, but because I was just scared. I said “God I used to know you and now you’re so far away. You gave me the most impossible thing, a career in music, and messed it up.” There was this verse, “the place where you formerly ashamed will be a place of praise and renown.” I knew deep down that that was for me even if I didn’t understand how it was possible. But then I would get these messages of confirmation from the most random places. Strangers would come up to me and say “You’re supposed to sing.” I didn’t believe it because I was so big at the time, but it kept on happening. With each additional affirmation, I gained more and more confidence. I found a team to help me. There’s a quote that says, “support equals success.” I linked with my friends and it was mutually beneficial. I helped them with their projects and they helped me with mine.
I felt so abandoned but there’s a difference between reality and truth. My reality was that I had nobody and I didn’t know how to make it without a producer. Me and God had a lot of conversations; Jesus is my best friend. And I remember back as a kid, I wanted to be a super-dope, female producer. Missy Elliott inspired me. When I was still big, a couple years ago, I realized I didn’t have any money to hire other producers so I just taught myself. I found this $85 program called Mixcraft. I thought it was trash because it wasn’t ProTools and I was about to walk away from it but I heard God’s voice speaking in my head. It said “SIT DOWN. Your life is going to go in a very different direction if you don’t sit down, right now.” So, I sat down in front of this janky computer I got from craigslist with this bum-ass program and I started to create. After a couple years, it sounded really good. Then I upgraded to pro-tools and then I upgraded to logic, and now I’m producing all my own music. And now I don’t have that awkward, uneasy feeling when working with a producer whose vision might not necessarily line up with mine. No producer can tell me that I need them. Actually, I work with people because I WANT to. That’s my truth.
FPM: Very self-empowering.
GS: Yes, that’s that respect that I felt like I never had before. I will make my own website now. I will make my own music. And if you are somebody I respect a lot, then I would love to collaborate. But yeah that’s what changed for me. It was me finding myself, my confidence, friends that believe in me and trusting God to guide me to my next chapters.