When Bri Steves found herself on stage with Kendrick Lamar, she could hardly believe it.
“It was very surreal, being brought out on stage,” said Steves, a rapper who performed her first Atlantic Records single, “Jealousy,” with Lamar during his headlining set at the Made in America festival iin September. “I didn’t know [about it] until the day before. Seeing people in the audience I went to school with, I felt like I was meant to do this.”
Steves, a 2017 public relations alumna whose given name is Brianna Stevenson, began her career while she was still a student at Temple University. This year, she’s made a name for herself among popular artists between performing at the festival, signing a contract with Atlantic Records and beginning her first tour on Monday.
“I was really nervous about actually keeping my record deal in school,” Steves said. “I had a lot of doubts and wanted to actually drop out, but I had a great support system.”
Public relations professor David Brown said he remembers her unique drive to excel both academically and professionally.
“She was so determined not only to be successful in her music career but also finish her degree,” Brown added. “I made sure she kept her word in terms of balancing her music and her studies.”
Brown’s mentorship helped guide Steves to graduation.
“Dr. Brown helped make my career work by any means necessary,” she said.
On Oct. 26, Steves will perform at Powerhouse, Power 99 FM’s popular annual hip-hop concert, in a lineup that includes Meek Mill, Lil Uzi Vert and SZA.
For Steves, her success still surprises her at times. This September, when the hit HBO series “Insecure” featured “Jealousy” in one of its episodes, she said she was caught completely off guard.
“I didn’t know until I watched the show that night,” said Steves, who is a fan of the show. “I jumped up and down and screamed my head off. It was really overwhelming.”
Having graduated last year, Steves often reflects on her growth during her time at college.
“I definitely think Temple helped prepare me a lot in terms of multitasking,” Steves said. “I had six classes while also trying to record myself. I had to learn time management.”
While Steves no longer faces difficulties in the classroom, she acknowledges the struggles of being a woman in the hip-hop industry.
In 2017, only 16.8 percent of artists were women, according to a January 2018 report released by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, a University of Southern California think-tank studying diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industry. It indicated the lowest number of female artists represented in popular music content in six years. Steves believes this makes her role in the industry all the more important.
“Because I’m a woman, I want to make sure the message is that I work really hard and am multi-talented,” Steves said. “I’m more than just a pretty face. That’s a step for all women not just in hip-hop, but in every industry.”
Dave Silver, a 2013 advertising and account management alumnus, said Steves is entering an expanding hip-hop scene in Philadelphia.
“In the last five years, Philadelphia has been having this resurgence,” he added. “You’re starting to see a lot of these artists putting the city back on the map to start and grow their careers.”
Silver is the co-founder of REC Philly, a company that provides resources to up-and-coming artists, and the organizer of Amplify Philly, an initiative dedicated to bringing Philadelphia’s business, culture and tech communities into the international spotlight.
For the past three years, Silver has been working with Steves on events like the REC Philly Underground POV, which is a concert highlighting emerging artists, and a marketing campaign for the water company Core.
“[Bri’s] really fun to work with,” he said. “And she’s a smart businesswoman who clearly understands marketing as it relates to music. She’s really about to be taking off.”
Steves said she’s excited for Atlantic Records’ Access Granted: HBCU Tour, but the rapper never loses sight of her roots.
“It kind of feels crazy, like a lot of things are snowballing and happening at once,” Steves said. “I’m very appreciative and humble about where my journey has led me.”