Junior music major Yani McNeil has gotten her professional music career started by releasing a handful of songs through a platform by Off Campus Music. Contributed photo.

Getting to know local singer-songwriter, Yani McNeil

Music can be sexy. Music can be painful. Music can be cathartic and freeing. Not many artists can have their works characterized as such while also having you move about on a dance floor, face damped with sweat and tears.

Enter Yani McNeil, a junior music major at Virginia State University. Though not yet having an extensive catalog, with only having released a handful of songs, her “loosies” prove that pigeon-holing her into one specific sound or genre is nearly impossible. With hypnotic vocals and a vast array of musical influences branching into jazz, soul, R&B, and gospel, Yani McNeil creates grown folk music for the still maturing Gen Z.

Born in Pleasantville, New Jersey, McNeil was raised mostly by her grandparents alongside her younger sister and cousins. Her appreciation for music and writing was formed by the influence of her grandmother, aunt, and mother, all musicians in their own right. From a young age, McNeil leaned on the itch to express herself creatively through written word and visual arts. The ups and downs of her formative years, having her mother pass when she was just thirteen, being shot at while attending a birthday party, and her desire for social change, all contribute to her style of relatable, introspective writing.

“I always planned to write,” Mcneil said. “When you listen to my music, you kind of get a better understanding of who I am. Being an artist is being able to communicate with people who I am.”

McNeil recently premiered her latest release, “Leave Me ‘Lone,” on Off Campus Music, a local college music platform presented by Cam Culture Media through Instagram.

On “Leave Me ‘Lone,” Yani takes you through the phases of a toxic, one-sided relationship of her past and the reclamation of her independence. In this track, she seamlessly blends R&B styled vocals over an afrobeat influenced instrumental making for a steady listening experience. Her laid back but genuine delivery complements the warmth, subtlety, and bounce the instrumental provides.

Though straightforward in nature, the song’s simplicity is what makes it so distinct, proving that artists don’t need flashy production or thousands of different elements for a product with staying power. The way McNeil commands complete attention as she coasts along the track so confidently is what makes her listeners sit with her messaging and the emotion she seeks to evoke.

“I guess you can say [being featured on Off Campus] was a growing experience,” McNeil said. “I have a lot of opportunities that have opened up since. It was a great experience and I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort zone.”

With her unique sounds and approach, Yani McNeil is sure to establish herself as an influential figure as she continues to grow and evolve as an artist. Her new releases can be found here: @kasjmir on Instagram.

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