The 31-year-old McFerrin taught herself to produce during the pandemic, and has earned praise from the New York Times, Billboard, FADER, Pitchfork, Vulture, and others for her harmonies, lyricism, and musical versatility. She produced 70% of “I Hope You Can Forgive Me” herself.
About her album, McFerrin says in the press announcement, “I Hope You Can Forgive Me is a journey of growth. Writing it became a place for me to process all of the scary and unfamiliar feelings unearthed in the pandemic, allowing me to find even more love and gratitude in the life I’ve been afforded to lead. And while I definitely had not planned on becoming a producer, this album called my bluff! It’s a testament to overcoming any fixed notions I had of myself and I hope it inspires people to believe and trust in themselves. You only get one chance at a debut album, I’m incredibly proud to call I Hope You Can Forgive Me mine.”
While this is not McFerrin’s first time performing in Baltimore, it is her first time at Creative Alliance, an intimate venue.
In an interview with Baltimore Fishbowl, McFerrin spoke of the people in the crowd being what makes or breaks the performance experience for her, rather than the size of the venue.
“It really comes down to the audience at end of the day,” she said. “I could have a smaller venue with a sh**ty audience or a larger venue with a great audience or vice versa, so it really depends on people that are in the crowd,” McFerrin said.
Questlove once dubbed her distinct style “soul-apella,” and McFerrin thought that aptly described her work when she was performing a lot of a capella music.
“I think when I was doing acapella stuff it definitely fit. I’ve always said that I send soul music – FADER recently called it soul-pop – so I think at the end of the day, since I’m singing music from my soul, that makes the most sense, regardless of a capella or not,” she said.
She was in an a capella group in high school, but she was largely influenced by her father, Bobby McFerrin.
“The majority of it comes from watching my dad my whole life. He always had crowd participation, or Voicestra, that’s a group that he created in the ’80s that’s an a capella group,” McFerrin said.
The song “Run” is a haunting piece that McFerrin wrote after learning her great-great-great-grandmother escaped from enslavement. A distant cousin sent her a message through an ancestry website, and writing the song was “a means of connecting with this ancestor,” according to the Track by Track notes.
“The song is one of conjuring, especially with abstract call and response that encourages her to run and that it will be worth it; an affirmation Madison is living proof of,” read the notes.
The listener is transported to a time of simultaneous terror and hope, literal life and death, and strength and softness both lyrically and musically.
The song is also the only one on the album in which McFerrin’s father is featured vocally. His presence is unmistakable.
McFerrin explained the ancestral connection is the reason her father is included in that one particular song.
“That was very intentional,” she said. “I hadn’t set out to have him on my album, but when I made ‘Run,’ it seemed fitting to also include him. I initially also wanted to include my brother [Taylor, her oldest brother], but that didn’t work out in the same way. But yeah, it was very much intentional given the ancestral legacy component.”
The songwriter said the message from her cousin “was inspiring, motivating, made me feel an even greater sense of connection to my legacy and my ancestry.” It also came at an opportune moment in her life.
“I think that I learned that bit of information at the perfect time,” she said. “It’s when I needed a bit of my own resilience in the pandemic. And so to understand that I come from a legacy of people who, I mean obviously just as a Black American to still be here as a descendant of enslaved people obviously resilience had to occur, period. Just to know that at least one of them had taken this courageous step to escape enslavement, it really helped fortify inner turmoil that I was struggling with. It helped me get through that moment.”
McFerrin recalled one piece of advice her father gave her that she takes with her everywhere: “You will always have butterflies – it’s just about getting them to fly in formation.”