This was STORRY’s year, before the pandemic put life on hold. The Canadian artist released her debut album, was nominated for a Juno for best reggae recording, and billed to perform at the awards ceremony. Her DIY claymation music video was headed to film festivals around the world. These successes follow “The Come Up,” chapter three in the saga of STORRY’s life as told through music. Chapters one and two have yet to be released; she thought it more authentic to show us the music reflective of where she’s at now: “One foot in the sex industry, one foot in the music industry, not really knowing where my life is going but just moving forward.”
What CH III: The Come Up explores is the misogyny of both industries. As the album’s protagonist comes to that realisation, she grapples with her relationship with her mother, her understanding of success and her willingness to love. “People have said that my album is the most 3-D version of a sex worker’s life that they’ve ever seen,” STORRY says over the phone from Toronto. “It’s not just ‘this is so sad’ or ‘this is so cool, get your money.’ It’s really the array of emotions that a human would feel. For me, different genres of music elicit those different feelings.”
STORRY’s musical education includes gospel choir, the ballads of 90s divas, classical music, R&B and opera. On a recent quarantine-induced Facebook livestream, STORRY went straight from aria to a reggae beat. The album swerves between these sounds, sometimes soft and sometimes sassy but the lyrics are always vulnerable. Her talent is so obvious, it’s almost weird we haven’t heard of STORRY or seen her signature undercut with top-knot before. But, as she put it, she was “living under a rock” for six years, an ostracisation that happens when you’re caught in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship.
At 19 years old, STORRY’s first relationship was with her pimp masquerading as her music producer boyfriend, who quickly coerced her into stripping 12 hours a day, seven days a week, 360 days a year. “My work ethic is ridiculous—I was a straight-A student,” STORRY says, “But [working hard] definitely takes on a whole ’nother meaning when you're doing something you absolutely despise and have to do every single day but are also really good at.” After leaving her abuser, he made one final mark by taking all of the music they made together, leaving her without a single MP3 of her voice. How does one break onto the scene without evidence that you can sing?
The problem for many talented dreamers is a lack of clout, especially in an era when self-cultivated Instagram fame is everything. (STORRY’s ex forbade the use of social media.) After a period of renewal in India, the “omens” sent her back to her bedroom to create the album’s skeleton, along with TV pilot scripts, paintings and a feature film pitch. Searching for people to help realise the vision, STORRY met some amazing people (the legendary Sly and Robbie who produced her Juno-nominated single, for instance) in addition to a slew of shitty dudes: “people who were dangling my dream in front of me, but also wanting to sleep with me. When I didn’t want to sleep with them, they wouldn’t call me. There’s a lot of ego in the music industry.”
She was waiting on other people because she was told she couldn’t do it on her own. However, by returning to dancing, STORRY made CH III: The Come Up exactly how she wanted it, down to the custom gaps between songs. In the video for “Money Ain’t Free,” STORRY digs up her body and drags it the club, pleading with us (and her mom) to understand that she doesn’t do it for the “fast cash.” It’s a far more complex job than pop culture paints it as. With self-aware swagger, she sings:
“I’ve got a lot of drive, I got a lot of stacks in the backseat of my car.
I got a lot of lines, can play a lot of tracks at the backseat of the bar.”
“So ‘lines’ could be coke because guys would do coke on my legs at work, but it could also be lyrics,” STORRY explains. “‘I got a lot of tracks [means] I could play some of my music or I can take you for a dance because every song is $20… There’s a lot of little things that if you don’t really know the industry, or maybe even if you do, you may not catch.”
The intricacies of selling yourself—whether art and body—are explained honestly, with small touches like an old voice memo embedded in a song’s outro to remove all masks of sensationalism. Soul-bearing isn’t easy and the songwriter hopes no one on her conservative, Arabic side of the family will bring up the secret life she’s made public. As for the rest of us, the artist has no time for people who judge. She’s already in chapter four.
“Listen. If only one percent of the world is interested in me after hearing my journey, then that’s the only one percent I’m interested in talking to,” STORRY says. “I just tell my truth. That’s all I can do.”