Five years ago, Inayah Lamis was working at a jingle company and attempting to break into the music industry. The East Houston native’s goal was to make it as a song writer in the industry. She would take the experience of working making commercial jingles and apply it to making singing skits, which was perfect for social media platforms like Instagram.
Last year the combination of her consistency, wit, voice, and writing came together when she did a 45 second cover of Ella Mai’s Boo’d Up. The video went viral and a lot of her life changed almost overnight. She still works at the jingle company…but now she also has 1.6 million followers on Instagram, the praise of stars like Maxwell, and a debut album, SOLAR, dropping today, December 13. She took a break from her pre-tour and wrapping up her album to speak with the Houston Press about her rise to fame starting with the night her life changed.
“I had 4,300 followers when I posted that video and went to bed. I had other freestyles and video skits because that was just what I was doing. Those videos would get retweeted and reposted so when people were calling me saying the video was picking up, I just thought it was normal. I didn’t think anything of it. I saw the page do a little jump to 6,000 during the day and I still didn’t think anything of it.
"Then I went to bed and woke up the next day to 30 missed calls and a bunch of text messages. People telling me Tiffany Haddish, Rico Love, Jamie Foxx and Maxwell had reposted the video. I get online and my page had 101,000 followers. That all happened within 48 hours. All I could do was call my mom. Even now I’m still trying take in those first 48 hours.”
It didn’t take long for Inayah to take advantage of her newfound fame and she remembers her first thoughts about the steps she needed to take in order to maximize her success.
“I remember accepting the love…but then I thought if I’m getting love from these playful skits that are so easy for me then let me try to push some real music. Let me see if they take to the real songs and full records.”
The real music Inayah speaks of is the songs that shaped her childhood growing up in Houston. Her mother would play soul, gospel, and blues and that music became the soundtrack of a young Inayah’s life. Her skits are influenced by storytellers from the Blues, Gospel, and Hip-Hop.
“My core is gospel and blues if you can believe that,” she laughs when describing her musical upbringing. “I grew up on Stevie Wonder, Anita Baker, Johnie Taylor, Yolanda Adams, The Williams Brothers, The Clark Sisters…that’s the solid core of me. As a grew older and got into my teen years I started getting into the Hot Boys, the 504 Boys, and more Hip-Hop. The music was new to my ears so and I just started mixing the soulful style I grew up listening to with Hip-Hop and R&B and put it all together in my writing. To me it’s all storytelling.”
Storytelling is what made her Instagram page go viral and it is also the basis of Inayah’s new album, SOLAR.The title is an acronym meaning "Storytelling Over Lyrics and Rhymes" and it is Inayah’s belief that her ability to tell relate-able stories is what resonates with her audience, which she’s nicknamed her “Inayahlators.”
“I think people like the way I throw my personality into the skits. I’m giving them character and a little bit of my crazy self. I show personality in the videos and with the album. On this album my Inayahlators can expect storytelling – I feel like that is something that is dead in music…people don’t tell stories anymore. I think the music last longer when you can tell a story and go into so much detail that the song is immediately relatable. I have people coming up to me saying they feel like I know them because they can relate to my music. I want to create music that sticks to your soul and not die out. The music has to mean something. I want it to be memorable like the musiof Aretha Franklin or Johnie Taylor.”
Inayah has released a few singles, most notably "N.A.S", "Best Thing", and "Sugga Daddy" and her storytelling style caught the ears of a number of stars, one being Miami’s Trick Daddy. But it was who Trick Daddy would introduce her to that left Inayah speechless.
“It’s crazy because Trick Daddy inboxed me after the video went viral and said he needed to call me. He called me with his godmother on the phone saying she was in love with the song. She kept saying keep up telling the stories in my music and when I come out to Miami I need to sit down with her so we can talk about owning your masters and the rights to your music. She let me know that storytelling music is timeless. I still had no idea who this woman is thinking is just Trick Daddy’s nice, sweet godmomma but then she lets me know that she had a song that she still makes money off of to this day called "Tonight Is The Night.”
Inayah pauses as she remembers finally piecing together talking to '70s soul icon Betty Wright.
“Wait…Betty Wright? The Betty Wright? The Betty Wright likes my song?! Betty Wright just told me that "Sugga Daddy" was the type of music that she would write. IS THIS MS. BETTY WRIGHT?! I might as well have been a noodle boiling in a pot of hot water! This is the woman my momma use to play around us growing up. I used to get in trouble for singing her songs!”
Inayah has the support of her fans, her label, and even old school artist like Betty Wright but she wants everyone to know that no matter how far this music takes her she’s always representing Houston.
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“I love Houston. It’s hard to get on here but I think it’s changing. I think the women are very instrumental in the change going on in the city and I’m glad to see people like Meg Thee Stallion, Normani, Lizzo, Ken The Man, and more. I’d love to see a Missy style Ladies Night with the women from the city. If we could all come together on one record, we would shut this shit down. I’m all for working with any of those ladies.”
Hopefully those plans come together in the future but for now Inayah is building her brand and trying to cement her legacy in music by continuing to reach out and grab more fans.
“I went on a little pre-tour and it shows you the work that still has to be put in. I performed in some cities and did meet-and-greets in the others but we covered 11 cities in eight days. I have a lot of followers but there are still plenty of people that don’t know me. In some cities half the room knows me and the other half doesn’t but it’s my job to get the ones that don’t know me. By the time I finished this tour I was able to gain 100,000 followers so I think its working and I appreciate anybody that takes the time out to connect with the music.”