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Middle school iPhone recordings lead to Hannah Jadagu's debut album 'Aperture'


A lot of parents worry about how much time their kids spend on their smartphones. Hannah Jadagu's folks are probably happy that she did because it launched her music career.


HANNAH JADAGU: (Singing) When the day grows old, I'm not cut out for this.

MARTÍNEZ: This is Hannah Jadagu's song "Sundown," which was recorded on her iPhone 7. Home recording was just a hobby when she started doing it in middle school and posting the results.

JADAGU: I literally just was making songs on my phone, and I guess it connected with a few people. And I wasn't, like, seeking out a record deal. I was sort of just in my room in Texas making songs.

MARTÍNEZ: She's since moved from Mesquite, Texas, to New York City, where she's a sophomore at NYU, and she has a new album on Sub Pop Records. You know, that's the label that's signed Nirvana. Her album is called "Aperture."


JADAGU: (Singing) Moving on with you. What more could I do? It's best if this is something new. So why am I scared to lose?

MARTÍNEZ: Jadagu started working on "Aperture" when she was 19 years old. And she just started her first U.S. tour as a headliner. So I had to ask, how does she manage a full course load and a long concert tour like the one she just recently finished?

JADAGU: I took a year off of school because I knew myself, and I knew that I could not juggle both things. But when I just have festivals here and there or, like, a two-week European run, I just make sure to do my work on time or ahead of time and communicate and hope that the professors are nice.

MARTÍNEZ: Isn't that terrifying? 'Cause, OK, it's like, for someone to take a load off because they know they want to be able to handle the load they have better...


MARTÍNEZ: ...It's frightening, I think, because it's like, will I ever get that back?

JADAGU: Oh, my goodness. My tour starts the same day as the first day of school, so I'm going to have to take a leave. But that's something I haven't conquered. It's like, I always hold on to my dream of, like, going to school and getting my degree. And so it's always an internal battle.

MARTÍNEZ: She's doing a lot of internal battling on this new album. She sings about struggling with faith, family and, of course, love.


JADAGU: (singing) I heard that she loves catching you stare. And I'm dreaming 'bout you screwing me over now.

MARTÍNEZ: What is it about love that makes it so pop-songwriting friendly?

JADAGU: It's just a very universal concept, and we see it everywhere in media, like film and television, you know, even in video games. Like, we see it everywhere. So how could it not be a go-to writing topic for artists?

MARTÍNEZ: There's a song, "Admit It." And you sing, why is it our conversation easily comes to an end? I can sense all your frustration. Should we even try again?


JADAGU: (Singing) But all I know is I will admit I want to be there for you - all of the times that you have helped me through.

MARTÍNEZ: I got to know, like, what was that?

JADAGU: (Laughter) You know what's so funny? People thought this song was, like, a romantic song. And I...

MARTÍNEZ: It kind of...

JADAGU: ...Totally get that.

MARTÍNEZ: ...Sounds that way. I mean, set me straight.

JADAGU: No. I was just talking about, like, when me and my sister were, like, not - we were besties, and we're always besties. But there was a moment where, you know, they were going through their own things, and I was just not doing my due diligence as the younger sis to check in and to help out.


JADAGU: (Singing) I'll admit, I'll admit, I'll admit it.

I take such small interactions - that could have been, like, one interaction - and then I'm making it sound so big because I think sometimes that's a job of the songwriter.


JADAGU: (Singing) I'll admit, I'll admit, I'll admit it.

MARTÍNEZ: So I think when someone hears your voice and hears your song without seeing you, they're going to think indie music.


MARTÍNEZ: I say that because indie music predominantly is associated with white artists.


MARTÍNEZ: So as a young black woman, I mean, have you encountered any problems in maybe getting your music heard or when people see you for the first time after hearing your voice?

JADAGU: Yeah. I think that a lot of the problems tend to come from the labels. And by labels, I don't mean music labels. I mean, just, like, the way that people tend to label my music, I think sometimes people assume - you know, they just hear "Warning Sign," and they're like, OK, this is an R&B artist.


JADAGU: (Singing) Never seen a warning sign. Hard to know without much light. When it's oh so loud, should I quiet down?

And that is when I might have a qualm or two because I think that people tend to look at, you know, me, and they see a Black girl, and they're like, well, she's got to be making, like, alternative R&B. And that's definitely not what I make, like, on the grand scheme of things.

MARTÍNEZ: Does it bug you, though, that - like, when someone is surprised? See, I've done this a long time, Hannah. So I've learned not to - and in radio, too - so I've learned not to be surprised when someone's voice matches or doesn't match what we think their face should be like.


MARTÍNEZ: That's the way radio goes, right? So...


MARTÍNEZ: ...Does that bug you?

JADAGU: No. I don't think I've actually ran into problems with the whole people hear my music, and then they see my face because I think now we're in a time where you hear something, you're going to automatically want to know what the artist looks like. But, yeah, I've run into instances where if I tell someone, oh, I make music, and they're like, well, what kind of music do you make? - and then I say, you know, alternative indie stuff, then it gets a little quiet, you know? That's where I've sort of had weird interactions. They only really believe me when I kind of have the guitar around, but that's just not feasible for everything, for every...

MARTÍNEZ: Oh, yeah. The guitar is, like, a telltale sign, right? I mean that's indie music.

JADAGU: Yeah. That's a giveaway. Yeah.

MARTÍNEZ: There you go. There you go.

JADAGU: It's almost embarrassing, but, yes.


JADAGU: (Singing) I don't want to talk to you again. I don't want to talk to you again.

MARTÍNEZ: That is Hannah Jadagu. Her first album is called "Aperture." Hannah, thanks a lot for sharing your story.

JADAGU: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF HANNAH JADAGU SONG, "WHAT YOU DID") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Destinee Adams
Destinee Adams (she/her) is a temporary news assistant for Morning Edition and Up First. In May 2022, a month before joining Morning Edition, she earned a bachelor's degree in Multimedia Journalism at Oklahoma State University. During her undergraduate career, she interned at the Stillwater News Press (Okla.) and participated in NPR's Next Generation Radio. In 2020, she wrote about George Floyd's impact on Black Americans, and in the following years she covered transgender identity and unpopular Black history in the South. Adams was born and raised in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Phil Harrell is a producer with Morning Edition, NPR's award-winning newsmagazine. He has been at NPR since 1999.
A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.