What’s in a Name? Skye Townsend
by: iman n. milner
It’s a story as old as time itself: famous parent has offspring. Offspring has doors opened to them regardless of their own ability. We all gripe about how unfair it all is. Well, the story of Skye Townsend doesn’t fit this mold. In fact, if she had her way, she’d be an all together separate entity from her groundbreaking father. Choosing to craft her own path in the industry, the beautiful rising star has gone from YouTube fame to indie recording artist to a budding acting career and she plans to add show creator to her growing repertoire as she is slated to work alongside her father to make the future and past of TV live in perfect harmony. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Skye is that she is just 18 years old but possesses such a great wealth of knowledge of who she is, what kind of art she wants to create and what she won’t ever let herself be identified as. Sitting poolside with the stunning teenager on a summer day in Los Angeles, we discussed everything from family legacy to social network etiquette.
EDGE Magazine: So at just 18 years old, who is Skye Townsend? Right now…
Skye: It’s hard to describe myself. I’ve always been an artist. In addition to music, I’ve always been passionate about visual arts. A lot of people don’t know that I do photography and paint. At 3 years old, I told my parents that I wanted to sing. My mom wanted it to be “just a phase” so bad (laughs). I’m a super old spirit: half the time I’m listening to old Lauryn Hill or jazz. I’m sort of aggressive and people take that the wrong way but overall, I’m a passionate artist.
EDGE Magazine: So how did you decide to use YouTube as your avenue?
Skye: Originally when I told my dad that I wanted to do music just like any parent he wanted to help and I knew from jumpstreet people would assume that my dad was helping me with my career and I begged him to stay out of it. In my opinion, every great artist has a journey and if I decided to take shortcuts I wouldn’t have one. So I started to put stuff on the internet. What I liked about the internet is that people are brutally honest. They’ll tell you if they like your work and if they hate you, they won’t hide that either. I started to get really good feedback on my videos and so I continued down that path. Once I hit a couple million views, people started to call me for meetings.
EDGE Magazine: Is that how the BET show came to be?
Skye: Yes. The writer wrote the character based on me after seeing my videos. She wrote this amazing character, called me in and asked me if I’d ever wanted to act. I’d always wanted to try acting but I never did it.It was an amazing experience to say the least because I grew up on set watching my dad do his thing but to be the actor and to have the full responsibility of someone’s time and money…it was intense but great.
EDGE Magazine: What advice would you give to a young artist wanting to use the YouTube or other internet outlets to promote their talents?
Skye: People have to use a smart approach with their promotions. You don’t want to check your timeline and see people constantly promoting themselves. If you want people to support your work then you want it to be easily accessible. But above all things people have to remember that the internet is permanent. People post the craziest things and then they want to be respected. I learned early on that stuff sticks around whether you like it or not. With young people we want to wild out and party but when you become famous or popular in any way…they’re going to use that stuff against you. You have to be smart.
EDGE Magazine: Let’s switch gears and talk about your music. You have a mixtape out called “Vomit” and your sound blends a lot of influences. How would you describe it?
Skye: The best way to put it is that I’m keeping the vocals very R&B and every rich while adding some jazz influences and world music. I want my audience to hear sounds that are from India or Africa that you don’t usually hear. I’m focusing on bringing a wordly influence to the music. People tell me that my music is too deep and that I need to make it so people can understand it, no matter what. I’m at a place; however, where I make my music for people who can appreciate it and for so many years I tried to make it fit a mild. With this project, I’m continuing to just do me.
EDGE Magazine: Since you’ve officially tried your hand at acting, will you collaborate with your dad or is that completely out of the question?
Skye: We’re working on something he’s been calling a “modern day Five Heartbeats”, bringing back singing and acting and what’s really going on. What I can say is that we’re hoping to make it raw and honesty. We both pride ourselves on creating work that really talks about what’s going on in the world. We’re both pulling from experiences we’ve been through. It’s an interesting dynamic between two generations. My sister is working on the show as a stylist too.
EDGE Magazine: How has your father influenced your acting? Have you pulled from him?
Skye: I’ve never really pulled from anybody. My rides to school with my dad would turn into improv sessions. We would do things like “by the time we get to a friends house, how many characters can you come up with?”. My dad would challenge me to do things in different accents, so I was really learning from him and I didn’t even know it. When I started imitating Beyonce, I didn’t study her or anything. I guess I’d just listened to her music so much that I picked up on the way she spoke. I never realized I was studying.
EDGE Magazine: You seem to be a Jane of all Trades. Is there anything else you’d like to dabble in?
Skye: I’m really doing my art as a way to get into humanitarianism full force. That’s something else that my dad instilled in me. Giving back has always been part of my life. Even when my father was at the height of his career and we were living in a huge house, every month we’d clean out our closets and give away anything we didn’t wear. My dad would always tell us “don’t ever think you’re better than anyone else because you’re rich”. There’s a lot going on that people don’t even know about in Africa, women in different cultures, etc. I’m involved with a NPO called Code Blue and we work for homeless tens. Two million teens become homeless every year but you never see their faces so you don’t think of them. We’re giving to all of these other countries but we neglect issues that are happening in our backyards. I try to motivate through my music but I don’t want to preach so I try to find interesting ways to put messages in my records.
EDGE Magazine: Having grown up in the business, what’s the one thing you’d change about it if you could?
Skye: I love the art; I hate the business of it. I hate that right now every artist is promoting “being bad”. I hate that it’s incredibly awesome to be smoking weed or fighting in clubs. I hate that reality TV is more important than acting. As a child of an entertainer, I hate that there’s no privacy for families. If a parent is divorcing their spouse, there shouldn’t be cameras in a child’s face. Fame is not glamorous. You lose your privacy, you lose your right to an opinion. People need to realize that celebrities are people, they treat them like puppets. I think about all of those things and want them changed…immediately.
EDGE Magazine: If I could go back to any era it would be…
Skye: The 20s or 30s–it was pretty bad for Blacks then but the music was so rich. I’m a huge cotton club fan. Or maybe the 80s, I love the colors and the way they dressed.
EDGE Magazine: What do you hope your legacy will be?
Skye: I hope to never make a meaningless song. I want my music to be respected. As a Black actress, I never want to settle for a role that demeans me. There’s too many roles that set us back. There’s so many actors who fought to change that and there’s no reason we should still be doing those roles in this day and age. I hope to always be a class act. I hope that people see that I put my all into my work.
EDGE Magazine: And you know we have to ask…what does living a life on the EDGE mean to you?
Skye: Going against the grain and doing what you believe in wven when people don’t support it. Sometimes you have to find support in people you wouldn’t expect to lean on. Being an artist requires so much courage because you can fail. You can be relevant and the next day, no one cares. So bravery…stepping out on faith…that’s living life on the EDGE.
Photos by: Ashley Nguyen
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