Keri Hilson is back and making moves both on and off stage. The artist, songwriter, and philanthropist has had her ups and downs, but the reflection looks like magic. “God wrote my story, and God wanted me to share it,” she says.
Hilson hit it big as a songwriter in the late-aughts after collaborating with superstars such as Mary J. Blige, Ludacris, The Pussycat Dolls, and Britney Spears. Though it had been eight years since her last album release, Hilson returned to the stage this year and she hasn’t lost a step. Beyond her career as an artist, Hilson has a storied track record as a philanthropist. She has contributed to the fight against HIV and AIDS and has lent an ongoing hand to disaster relief efforts. Most recently, she launched the Keri Hilson Foundation, which focuses on investing in arts and physical education programs at underserved schools.
Recently, Hilson, a Georgia native, sat down with W Hotels at W Atlanta – Buckhead as the latest guest in the What She Said series. The evening’s conversation was hosted by veteran record industry executive, Catherine Brewton, who knows a thing or two about fighting for a seat at the table. Throughout the hour, Hilson and Brewton talked about the unique challenges women face in reaching for success and staying true to themselves in the process. Watch the replay of the event here and find a few of our favorite takeaways below.
How she broke through the noise
Hilson set out with dreams of being a performer but it was songwriting that solidified her place in the music industry. Her first big break was being featured on Timbaland’s “The Way I Are” and with this newfound success and stardom, Hilson had a to navigate worlds of celebrity, hip-hop, and social media as she tried to stay creative and keep to her vision.
“I want to be known as someone who didn’t have to change who they were. I don’t have to let others manipulate how I am perceived.”
Hilson calls it grace, “the grace of God,” that has kept her balanced through the years, especially when it comes to her self-worth. “I never played the inferior-superior game,” she says, contrasting her days as an undiscovered artist and then of finding success. Hilson says it’s key to find enjoyment in one’s work — but that work is still work, and we must keep moving forward.
Hilson says that her compassion for others has grown after understanding her own pain. Taking inspiration from her mother, a teacher and a champion of students in her own right, Keri Hilson now focuses her efforts on reinvesting in arts and physical education for students.
“I believe very much that children need to express themselves.”
Hilson recalls that these were the academic spheres in which she herself learned about work ethic, how to win with grace, to lose with perseverance, and to value and respect others. It was with this in mind that she launched the Keri Hilson Foundation, whose mission it is to enrich the lives of young women by promoting arts, health, and fitness within school systems. Hilson’s initiatives were focussed first locally and are now on the move nationwide. She even hopes to take the program global, with eyes on Africa and beyond.
Keeping it real
A battle with depression for a time had Hilson questioning everything, and it even kept her bedridden, but she’s found a new purpose in sharing with others the highs and the lows of this experience. “Everybody shares their highlight reel,” she says, “but narratives are edited.”
“There’s a focus on the material, but you have to search for the spiritual.”
Her advice to young women
“There’s a lot of pressure on aesthetics and body image, especially on Instagram and Snapchat. I would love to tell a 14-year-old that, you’re unique and God doesn’t make any mistakes. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. You play your game, and win your race. Grown women are going through the same thing! Be yourself and that’s beautiful.”
“Be yourself and that’s beautiful.”