Fousheé Channeled Her New Jersey Upbringing Into The Punk Aggression Of ‘softCORE’

Talk about a left turn. On her second album, softCORE, New Jersey singer/rapper Fousheé eschews the moody R&B of her debut, Time Machine, to vent some frustrations about life, love, and current events. Anyone expecting a redux of her breakout “Deep End” wouldn’t be disappointed, just surprised. In just 12 tracks, the New Jersey singer runs the gamut from screaming pop-punk to squeaky-voiced cloud rap, defying categorization and pushing against the boundaries arbitrarily foisted upon Black musicians.

Part of this experimental evolution is the legacy of her upbringing in the suburbs of New Jersey. “Somerville is where I started writing and my dream of being a singer started,” she recalls via Zoom. “We lived at this spot on Cliff Street. It was the coolest shit I’d ever seen. It looked like a castle. We had a sound system with a karaoke mic and a piano with stock sounds. I used to go crazy. I used to throw concerts there. I was writing songs. I put together a group. It was a really grounding place for me. I was dancing, I was singing, I was having a ball.”

While living in Somerville gave her place to start, a later move to Bridgewater was disorienting. Without any other Black kids to relate to, Fousheé felt set adrift to discover who she wanted to be, bereft of the cultural models that can provide a sense of belonging, safety, or security from which to base her future growth. “There wasn’t a lot of cultural examples for me,” she laments. “People would feel kind of weird around me because I looked different and ask me questions about being Black, like, ‘Why your hair look like that?’”

This sense of ostracization became both a gift and a curse. While her surroundings led to a relatively narrow musical education, her influences wound up being what you might call “well-rounded” simply from exposure to an alternative viewpoint. “I was in this lyrical poetry class actually where it was all about Bob Dylan and didn’t know who it was and I was really frustrated,” she says. “And now I appreciate it.” The influence of the more folksy side of music is evident in the slower moments of softCORE such as the album’s closer, “Let U Back In” and “Unexplainable,” with often more abrasive examples elsewhere in the set.

softCORE is peppered with aggressive songs like “Bored,” “Supernova,” and “Die,” which lean heavily on the pop-punk influences Fousheé picked up on Z100 as a teenager at the turn of the millennium. “I tried to take the type of topics that I would hear in hip-hop and rap and put it in a punk setting,” she explains. “I just tried to make it honest, talk about how I feel, have it more like stream of thought.” As far as why she chose to go with the hardcore aesthetic after making her debut with a much more elegant, gentle style, she says that metal and punk fit the content, themes, and feelings she wanted to convey.

“I was tired of crying to these slow guitar songs, and I wanted to rage and have fun when I perform,” she expounds. It started from me just expressing anger, and that’s one of the best foundations on which to express that type of emotion. Metal and punk is so carefree and so releasing. And I wanted that for my audience, too. As a Black woman, we don’t get to express those feelings a lot without it being shunned in a music setting. You don’t see that many Black women raging. There’s Rico [Nasty], and way back, Kelis, but it’s so few and far between that I think more of us should and we all feel this way, so we should have resources that express that. And I want the Black girls to mosh at my shows and everyone to mosh at my shows.”

Incidentally, this seems to be a theme reflected in the recent release of another New Jersey singer primarily known for R&B, SZA (who hails from Maplewood, a 90-minute train ride away). On SZA’s new album, SOS, she forays into punk on “F2F”; the surprising shift garnered a positive response on Twitter. Meanwhile, both SZA and Fousheé’s intricate songwriting has been compared to battle rap — a connection that Fousheé can trace to their shared home state and its proximity to the New York battle rap scene.

“Plainfield, that’s where they listen to a lot of D-Block and underground rappers and there’s their own set of rap heroes there,” she reminisces. “There are so many independent rappers coming out of Plainfield.” She describes Somerville as her “middle point in creativity and experimentation,” again citing Bob Dylan influences that set her apart from a typical rap head or R&B singer. “That’s where I was introduced to Bob Marley, and Celine Dion, and dancing while singing, and this idea of artistry. So, that, and then maybe even a little Bob Dylan from Bridgewater and Z100, the more rock and folky influence.”

The thing she wants listeners to take away from this melange of influences and sounds is “that vulnerability and rage can coexist,” she says, opening up more space not just for Black voices in hardcore scenes, but also for freer expression of these emotions in Black music. It doesn’t all have to be just one thing; nor should anyone feel alienated because they don’t fall neatly into a prescribed box, category, or genre based solely on their ethnic or cultural background. “I don’t want to do what anyone expects,” she declares. “I like to keep people guessing.” But for anyone who expected a less challenging experience, she recommends giving softCORE a chance to grow on them. “Please listen to it at least three times. By the third time, you probably might have a different favorite song, or you might hear something different. Listen to it three times.”