There is very little subtlety to Katlynn (pronounced KAT-lynn) Simone’s “H-Town” single or video. Among the candy paint, neon lights and contrasts between big city and rural decadence is a just-turned 21-year-old woman who is deeply rooted within it. There’s magic when she’s asked to describe home versus the constant shifting of faces and trends that Los Angeles brings. The “H-Town” video has already racked up significant viewership milestones, and the song's radio-friendly vibe should make Katlynn, at the least, a threatening Houston singer with the chops to create modern R&B without sounding forced.
If there is one thing that may irk her among the incoming compliments and platitudes, she’ll easily tell you. “Traffic,” she says in a huff. “Sorry, L.A. traffic is too much. I’d do Houston traffic any day. It’s bad out here.”
Simone’s current “here” is UCLA, where she’s finishing a degree in Film and African-American Studies. She’s already had to bat down rumors of signing to Roc Nation in 2014; before that, it was navigating the world of being known as a child actress. For four seasons, Simone starred as Brittany Pitts on BET's adaptation of The Game, the football-themed show that morphed from a smart comedy into a dramedy during its second run on network TV. Even when asked about her time on the show, Simone still finds it weird people will quote lines from The Game to her just as much as her own music.
“Both of them throw me off,” she says. “But people quoting lines from the song as a tribute to the city? I have to ask people, ‘What do you know about that?’ It’s crazy.”
Living in California and going to college there offers all of the usual culture clashes one would think: the language, the demeanor in regards to life, In-N-Out vs. Whataburger. It only adds to her sometimes nostalgic view of home. For the “H-Town” video, she centralizes her view and love for her hometown via the daydreams of kids growing up in the city. Marauding around town in a candy-painted slab, feeling like the king of the world. Her vocals drips in a bit of a haze, a hypnotic vibrato that bounces off the steady stream of woozy guitars and drums.
She sings with such a command on “H-Town” that it could be mistaken for radio-ready rap. But it doesn’t speak directly to her influences. “Girls love Beyoncé,” she hints at with a minor rasp on the single. The Beyoncé love doesn’t stop there.
“I mean, my parents based a lot of my training growing up on what Beyoncé did,” she remarks with a laugh. “But I also get my influences from Lauryn Hill for the way she [was] never hypersexual. Toni Braxton is a voice I always like to listen to for references. And Aaliyah as well. They see me and they do think of Aaliyah and I listened to a lot of her music and her story from growing up and then chasing stardom...I can see it.”
The Houston she speaks off is varied. There’s the South Park side, where her great grandmother is from, and then there’s the HSPVA side, where she spent one year before heading out to Los Angeles. Spending summers in youth programs at the Ensemble Theater, running track meets with her dad as a coach. She can recall childhood days being fed nothing but Timmy Chan’s off of Scott and her mother pulling her to go inside Frenchy’s because she’s, in Simone’s words, “obsessed."
“H-Town” is Simone's reintroduction to music, even if plenty of people failed to catch on with 2014’s “Beautiful Lie." Her packaging as an actress turned singer puts her at a disadvantage due to that pesky thing called perception. Actresses in Hollywood dabble in singing because they can, not because its their first passion. Simone’s the antithesis to that logic. If it wasn’t for one unorthodox decision while attempting to make her way onto The Game, the world wouldn’t even know that she existed.
She retells an anecdote about her original audition for the role of Pitts. “I didn’t know what I was doing. Here’s this little girl from Houston, super excited to be at this L.A. audition. And I asked the casting director to let me sing for her. I’d never suggest somebody do that, but for me, it worked.”
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In this crapshoot of a year, Simone radiates merely by being simple and true to herself. There are plenty of stories of her mom pushing her as a kid during Beyoncé’s Goldmember era and coming onstage with her. It translates to her downtime when not dealing with college. Her studio time involves plenty of food from Postmates, dim lights and scatting out melodies as a means to find calm before it’s go time. There’s no set date as to when her full-length project will see the light of day but she’s mainly focused on letting go of fears — namely how people will take in the music.
“There’s stress and pressure that comes with that,” Simone says. “Houstonians are proud of where they come from. We had to go through and make sure everything was authentic. But that first feeling of hearing my music on the radio? Amazing.”
As polished as she is dealing with the world via interviews and bright lights, the acceptance of her music is an entirely different beast. She’s prepared for it, even if her parents, devout 97.9 fanatics, nonchalantly celebrated her single getting played on its airwaves.
"Staying humble, staying true to myself, knowing my roots.” she says with the demeanor of someone optimistic about the future. “I’m not necessarily scared of that. Reactions, I mean. I’m excited for it. I’m ready. I’m pretty confident in knowing that’s not an issue. And I don’t want anybody to think any differently of me.”