Vallerie Muthoni, also known as Brown Suga is exactly who she says she is, an art/ist.
She’s a Kenyan-American rapper, singer, creative director, dancer, voice-over artist, and much more.
The 22-year-old journalism undergraduate with a minor in PR & Advertising at the United States International University and a self-acclaimed millennial polymath has always known since she was a kid that music is her path alongside anything creative.
From her debut EP, THE Wavey Soul released in 2018, she has evolved in the creative space and we talk about that in this little chat.
Hi Vallerie, how are you doing today and how has your day been?
It is currently 1:30 pm on a Monday afternoon and I am in my living room. I just had a lovely wrap that I made for breakfast/lunch while catching up on the latest episode of The Equalizer starring Queen Latifah (great show btw). I’m also thanking God I have a day off from school since I had mid-semester exams last week.
Tell us a little about your childhood
Born in Indiana, USA, and raised in Nairobi, Kenya by a single mother, I grew up knowing and constantly being affirmed that I was born for greatness. Having a supportive mother that invested in my artistry; she paid for my music production diploma after high school and taught me discipline, work ethic, and how to stand my ground in such a male-dominated industry. Mama Muthoni is a great contributor to who Vallerie Muthoni is today
How did you get into the creative space? What influenced your career choice and why did you decide to juggle many artistic options like singing, dancing, directing, and so on?
I honestly don’t think I chose this career path, and more like it chose me. Since I was a young girl since I could walk and talk, I’ve always been the entertainer in the family. The one putting on a show at every family function, it was clear that my passion for music and live performance would drive me down this path that I am on now.
When you live boldly and passionately in your purpose, the universe sort of aligns and brings you closer to like-minded people in the creative space and you find yourself drawn to these spaces where art naturally flows. My multifacetedness is another thing I never really chose to do and just evolved into. When I was in primary school I was choreographing dances for our graduation ceremonies, while participating in singing competitions, getting my hustle on, and selling printed-out lyrics to my fellow classmates. It’s always been in me, expressing my creativity and exploring my passions simultaneously – it brought me joy and still does.
What are the highlights of your career so far? And have those highlights pushed you to do more?
Some of my career highlights would be getting to open up and share a stage with Burna Boy who I’ve been a fan of since way before the world was put onto him. That moment in my career affirmed me greatly and reminded me that I am well on my way, that I am exactly where I am meant to be and I’m only getting started.
Another career highlight for me has been the projects I have released under my creative company Brown Suga Productions – this includes directing music videos, releasing and selling merch, executive producing events and even doing voice-overs for ADs. Looking back at these moments I am super proud of myself for having the courage and discipline to bring my ideas to life and execute them to the best of my ability and these are my motivations to keep going and to keep going harder.
One thing about being young and female in the industry is getting exposed to things you’d rather not, what other struggles do you face and how have you been able to stay grounded?
Being a young, female, independent artist that also manages herself, I have seen and experienced quite a lot of things in this industry. I believe the kids call it ‘character development’ but one thing that is a recurring issue is people in the industry constantly trying to underpay or even take their sweet time when it is time to pay up.
I have been called names and given weird treatment when I have expected and demanded some sort of professionalism from promoters or other people in the industry. It sucks but Nicki Minaj said it best in her documentary ‘when Lil Wayne demands his needs/professionalism on set he’s called a boss but when she does she’s called a bitch’.
How do I stay grounded? Well, it helps a lot having my mother in my corner, being able to get advice from her on certain situations, or having her remind me that I’m not being dramatic when others lack professionalism or are trying to underpay or finesse me. She is definitely been my constant from the moment I got into this industry and I trust her cause I know she has my best interest at heart. That and my relationship with God, who also has seen me through it all, and will see me through to the very end.
You study journalism, do you enjoy it and plan on integrating it into your work as an artiste? If so, how?
Yes, I do! In my final year, THANK GOD. Since I was young, I’ve always known I’ll be an entertainer when I grow up. As I grew older I found out that solely being a musician isn’t exactly the most lucrative paying job and that I’d need some sort of other sources of income since I’ve always enjoyed entertaining, talking to people, hosting events, etc I saw that being a radio/tv personality would be my best option.
That way I’m still connected to the music and entertainment industry. I can use my charismatic personality and get paid a reliable living wage – a win-win. As mentioned earlier, I am also minoring in PR & Advertising which is a great asset in my industry, seeing as I’m an independent artist and I have to know as much as I can about branding myself and how to ‘sell’ that brand to my audience.
Do you think there’s any more innovation to have in the music space and what would they be? In Kenya, what do you think would be revolutionary for female artists?
Innovation and evolution are inevitable. It’s jarring but beautiful. I don’t really know what the next innovation in our industry may be, but my hope is that we will be able to gracefully and organically adapt accordingly and use these new technologies to our benefit. What I think would be revolutionary for female artists in Kenya would be more women in the professional music industry; more female producers, sound engineers, studio engineers, managers, label executives, etc. Because as we know women, especially black women, are truly revolutionary, and together we create an unstoppable force.
Your IG profile says ‘closed for renovation’, that’s interesting, why did you decide to take time off social media and how do you think social media, as a whole, influences your work?
Well, these past 3 years have been the most transformative, life-changing, character-developing, artist-developmental years of my life thus far.
As a human being, I have evolved in ways I couldn’t even imagine. From healing childhood trauma to breaking self-destructive patterns, to letting go of relationships both platonic and romantic that were no longer serving my growth and were not reciprocal in energy. December 2022 felt like the conclusion to this 3-year chapter/cycle.
I learned what I needed to do, shed what I needed to, and now it was time for a new chapter. I had never taken a social media break before but this specific time in my life had me assessing what social media was doing to/for me. It felt like a place that became an escape for running away from my problems, a place for validation from thousands of meaningless exchanges, and a place for comparison, it became a place that was doing more harm than good – so I decided to leave it alone for a while.
I am currently in my ‘cocoon’ / solitude era, where I have retreated to my own space and peace, working on finally putting out this long-awaited EP, reading more books, eating healthier, working out, and intentionally going to places/events that actually bring me joy or bring me closer to my goals and dreams. I am aware that social media in this day and age plays a crucial part for artists, connecting with fans and remaining relevant in the industry therefore it is easy for an artist to feel subconsciously influenced by the pressure and trends that social media brings along.
But right now, as for me, having taken a step back to re-assess what I want social media to do for me and my career I can positively say that upon my return to Instagram and Twitter, I will bring back content that makes me happy, that lets me organically connect with my audience and that shows the authentic and genuine side of me. So be on the lookout for my returning series Song Association Sundays and #MadeInKenyaMondays and some new music of course!
Lastly, what’s a perfect day like for the Brown Suga?
A perfect day for Brown Suga starts with a little sleeping in, I am not a morning person lol. Some homemade rolls/wrap with my special cinnamon-infused black tea in our backyard garden as I catch up on my shows. Then a day of spontaneous adventure with the people I love; I’m a sucker for cheap thrills and inner-child activities like going to the movies, painting/coloring in the grass, picnics, road trips, etc. A perfect day for Brown Suga is intentional joy and adventure, that is all 🙂
Click here to find out more about Vallerie Muthoni and get updates on what she’s been up to.