Though Kendra Foster has spent the majority of the last decade calling New York City home, it’s difficult to hide the Tallahassee in her voice. “I like to collaborate and get into cahoots with it,” Kendra remarks, accent in full swing, regarding her work with funk and R&B masters George Clinton and D’Angelo.
And though many artists would certainly like to be in cahoots with the legendary George Clinton and travel with his Funkadelic all-stars—then be called in for songwriting and vocal duties on D’Angelo’s massive 2014 album, Black Messiah, and win a couple of Grammys—it was Kendra Foster who got the call. “I was a true fan before I was anything else with the Funkadelic and The Vanguard,” Kendra emphasizes. “Working with George and D’Angelo was my dream.”
As a serial collaborator, Kendra’s philosophy is simple: “I don’t come into collaboration with an idea of, ‘It is has to be like this,’ and ‘I need that’—no, I just want to create. But I have to remind myself, ‘Kendra, they called because you have your own magic. Maybe you didn’t know it until you met George, but this stuff that was coming out of you was actually good.’”
The Adventures of Indica and Mary Jane Greenleaf
Touring the world with the Parliament-Funkadelic all-stars left plenty of time between shows to find other avenues of creative expression, and as is often the case with artists, art soon began to imitate life. “We seriously were on such crazy conquests for acquiring reefer and making sure we had it everywhere we went,” Kendra recalls. “All over the world.”
Kendra and George Clinton’s granddaughter, Shonda Clinton-Drennen, lived the outline of a story that became a comic, The Adventures of Indica and MaryJane Greenleaf: “We would have to speak in charades when we didn’t know the language in Scandinavia; we’ve stopped people coming out of phone booths to lead us to the hood in places like Bristol. We’ve jumped out of moving cars in Canada—you name it. Everyone in the band called us the female Cheech and Chong.”
But what to do with all this inspiration? “We realized, much in keeping with Baba George’s philosophy, we should become characters,” Kendra notes. To continue the Parliament-Funkadelic flavor, Kendra and Shonda recruited illustrator Marc Sokpolie. “He showed me some illustrations and that was that,” details Kendra. The team is ready to push the project forward, and they continue to live out some of the inspiration for the comic’s storylines while touring.
Standing on her own
Kendra is still hard at work on a forthcoming solo album, as well as working on a number of collaborations with other artists. Her prolific output is best described by Kendra herself: “I know when to indulge in the magic of my dreams.” Those dreams are collaborations with “many amazing artists.” Her single, “Da Da,” is available on Spotify, and a “truly, really far out there” music video is in the works.
Kendra’s music is dusted with the driving funk one would expect from someone who toured extensively with Parliament-Funkadelic, but also fizzes with experimentation in vocal lines and melodies fans would recognize as the influence of not just collaborators like D’Angelo, but of other offbeat pop artists such as Erykah Badu or Lauryn Hill.
Free from the need to be free
And if there’s a secret to Kendra’s ability to create art in so many different arenas, then seamlessly collaborate with true legends of the music industry, it’s the wisdom gleaned from her mentor. “There is something that George says that I think I’m finally starting to understand,” Kendra shares. “He talks about ‘being free from the need to be free.’ I always thought it was something about being passive, but if you can see yourself past the construct that looks like it has you powerless, you will be free simply because you believe you have the power. Once you acknowledge that you’re stronger than the construct, how can it hold you?” If you, like Kendra Foster, believe in the power of dreams, it doesn’t seem like it can.
The Grammy double whammy
2014, after over a decade of silence, marked the return of the reclusive D’Angelo. The album, Black Messiah, was a critical and commercial hit. Kendra’s collaboration with D’Angelo as a member of The Vanguard earned her two Grammys: Best R&B song for “Really Love” and Best R&B Album for Black Messiah. Kendra says of the collaboration, “Those people asking me to work with them, that makes me know this, making music—I’m supposed to do this.”