For Los Angeles-based neo-soul songstress Tierra Umi Wilson, music is an extension of her fluid identity.
Over the past four years, the half-Black, half-Japanese singer-songwriter has slowly built a following on SoundCloud and YouTube, largely due to her distinct lo-fi sounds. Those calming, soulful melodies are a reflection of her personal attributes, which include being introspective and intentional.
“Meditation is a really, really big part of my life, and spirituality is so tied to my music,” she explained on “Making It,” a co-production between In The Know and Complex’s Pigeon & Planes. “I feel like when people hear spirituality, they think it has to do with religion. But for me, it’s just a practice of presence and a practice of self-awareness.”
Wilson, who goes by her professional name, UMI, started writing songs when she was just 4 years old, according to a 2019 interview with Complex. But she didn’t seriously begin to pursue music until she was in high school.
In the process of making her own sounds, she drew influence from Japanese and gospel music and looked to artists like SZA, Lauryn Hill and J*Davey for inspiration.
“I found beats online, and I made beats by myself,” she recalled on “Making It.” “I used a borrowed laptop from the library, like I was just trying to make it work ’cause I knew my purpose was to create music.”
Yet, limited resources aside, Wilson said her biggest challenge was simply performing her music. That’s part of the reason why she initially felt comfortable with just creating content on SoundCloud and YouTube.
“I had the worst stage fright,” the singer admitted. “I couldn’t sing in front of my family. I couldn’t sing in front of friends. I would just freeze up.”
Still, that didn’t stop her from attracting listeners. In 2018, Wilson released “Remember Me,” a song that was reportedly based on a close friend’s experience with heartbreak. The single immediately went viral — it received nearly 2 million listens on SoundCloud, and its companion music video garnered more than 15 million views on YouTube.
The singer has since ridden that wave of success to take advantage of other opportunities. In 2019, for example, she toured with singer-songwriter Cuco. Wilson said she hopes to continue performing live — now that she’s a lot more at ease with being an up-and-coming artist.
“Next year, I see myself doing more shows around the world, performing for more people,” she said. “I think I was put on this earth to heal, so I know, next year, I’ll be healing more people through my music.”
In The Know recently teamed up with Pigeons & Planes to highlight up-and-coming hip-hop stars. “Making It” tells the stories of their journeys and documents how self-made stars rise to prominence in the digital era.