Robin S. Is Riding the Wave of Beyoncé’s ‘Break My Soul’

Robin S. performs in 2019. Photo: Aaron J. Thornton/WireImage

Robin S. is no stranger to having her music sampled. Specifically, her signature song, “Show Me Love,” which became a No. 1 dance hit in 1993 thanks to a house remix by Swedish producer StoneBridge. In 2011, Jason Derulo brought that instantly recognizable synth line back to the charts with “Don’t Wanna Go Home”; earlier this year, both Charli XCX and Daddy Yankee pulled it for their tracks “Used to Know Me” and “Pasatiempo.” But those all felt different than her most recent, and biggest, hat tip on Beyoncé’s new song “Break My Soul” (it’s not a direct sample, instead interpolating the synths from “Show Me Love” into a new melody). The single leads off a reportedly house-and-dance-heavy album, Renaissance, and as such, Robin S. feels like people are finally paying attention to the woman behind the song. (All she had to do was check Twitter, where she was trending.) “This industry was not made for one person to be selfish about the gift that God gave them,” she says on the phone a few days after the song’s release. “It was meant for us to share.”

“Show Me Love” has become the legacy of Robin Stone, who released two albums as Robin S. on the Atlantic label Big Beat Records in the mid-’90s and charted three No. 1s on Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart during that time. And when her breakout hit is used right — as it was on Beyoncé’s song, produced by The-Dream and Tricky Stewart — she’s happy to share. “It is our job and our duty as veterans to teach the younger generation how to get it done and get it done your way,” she says. “The younger generation takes it to a different level. And that’s what she’s done.”

As excited as she is about the lift from Beyoncé, Robin S. is already getting back to work, preparing for a slate of summer shows. That’s on top of continuing to release songs and remixes through the independent label Reel People Music and working with her own licensing company, Hey Girl Hey Musik. (“I’m a businesswoman, and I’m not a dummy,” she says. “I’ve been around the block a couple times.”) Still, she’s going to “bask in the moment” of the recognition she’s getting now, which she wasn’t afforded even during the ’90s dance scene. “I want people to have a better understanding,” she says, “because in my era, they knew the song, but they didn’t know the person.”

What have you been up to these past few days?
[Laughs] As one could imagine, a great emotional roller coaster. Maximizing my emotions and reevaluating life and the whole thing. Enjoying the moment. I’ve said it like 1,050 times, and I’ll say it 1,050 times more: I’m very appreciative and honored that I’m getting my flowers while I’m alive.

When and how did you first find out that Beyoncé was going to reference your song?
I’m sure everybody handled the business the way they were supposed to handle it, and the writers signed off. It was a wonderful surprise. Sometimes, it’s really good to not know too much and be gifted, and I feel like this is a gift from God. When I woke up, my phone was going off like crazy. It was my son: “Mom, Mom! Mom, wake up!” I’m like, “What is it?” ’Cause he kept calling me back to back to back, so the first thing I thought was, Oh my God, is something wrong with my family? When I asked him, he says, “You’re trending everywhere, all over the place. Look at your phone!” And then when I saw it, honestly, I didn’t know whether to scream; I didn’t know whether to cry. I was in disbelief. I was sitting there with my mouth hanging wide open. I was happy, I was elated, I was stunned, I was everything.

So what did you think when you heard “Break My Soul”?
I think it complements “Show Me Love.” Everything is complementary. I was always told, from the old school, if you cannot do something better than the person before you, then you need to leave it alone. What they did, it was just enough. It was enough to honor, it was enough to give homage and then add her flavor. It was enough for me!

The words are so raw in what we are dealing with. Coming out of this COVID situation, we’re trying to get our lives back, and situations are going on. To me, it’s the modern-day “Show Me Love.” “Show Me Love” was You have to be yourself, you have to be comfortable in your skin that you’re in. If you say you love me, it’s not enough. And “Break My Soul” is like, You can’t take that away from me. You didn’t give it to me, so you can’t steal it from me. So it just matches the moment.

And I imagine you were into Beyoncé before this.
Oh, of course! I think she is an awesome young woman doing exactly what she wants to do the way she wants to do it. In the era that my music came out, women weren’t allowed to do that because record labels controlled what we did. She’s in an era now where she’s totally in control and she’s doing the darn thing! And she’s doing it the way she wants to do it. And she’s showing young women that it can be done.

You’re reflecting a lot on when the song first came out. Take me back to the day when you first heard it. What was that like for you?
Oh, this is gonna be really funny, okay. ’Cause I live on the corner of truth and transparency when it comes to my emotions and my feelings. I came from an R&B, Top 40–type band, where I was just doing cover songs. The closest I came to dance or house was Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” and Donna Summer’s “Last Dance.” Now, I would party to dance music. But I never imagined myself doing that. So when I was approached with the song, I kind of snarled at it a little bit, like, “I can’t do that. That’s too fast for me; I don’t know how to do that.” And I was told to just take it and listen to it. So I took it, and I listened to it, and I was convicted and convinced that that song was not for me. But they asked me to please take it home and to listen to it again. So I decided that I had to give it my all. I sat down and I took the song apart word by word, verse by verse, lyric by lyric, and said, Okay, Robin, where does your life fit in with this song? What does it do to you? How does it make you feel? And when I was able to do that, then I began to say, Okay, maybe I can.

When I did the song, we were also working on the album, so I was there for the weekend in the studio. I would do a song, and I would go back to sleep, and I would do another song, and I would lie down and go back to sleep. When it was time for me to do this song, I came down with the flu. So the one that people hear now is me with the flu. And I knew that this had to be a one-shot deal. I did not wanna do that song over again. I just wanted to sing it and go back and lie down. And I remember vividly doing the song, I remember the room I was in, I remember singing the song. It was just one of those things that I was like, Okay, come on, girl, put everything you got in it and let’s get it done. So the emotions that appear in the song, it was actually me trying to sustain notes and me trying to stay alive and breathe at the same time!

After that, when did you realize how big the song had gotten?
It took a minute. This is how it went down. After StoneBridge did it and it started playing all over the place, I got a call. “Rob, Rob, the song entered at No. 10.” And this is how enthused I was: [In a monotone voice] “Okay, call me when it’s No. 5.” They said, “You know, when it goes to No. 1, you’re going to have to go to Paris and you’re going to have to do Top of the Pops.” “Yeah, but it’s not there yet.” Next week. “Rob, you’re not gonna believe this,” and they started laughing. “It’s No. 5!” [In a monotone voice] “Okay, well, call me when it’s No. 1.” “But you’re gonna have to start packing ’cause you’re gonna have to go to Paris.” Then two to three weeks later, they call me cracking up, laughing. “You got your bags packed?” “What do you mean, I have my bags packed?” “It’s No. 1!” [Laughs] What? Then the reality set in that I was gonna have to travel somewhere that I had never been. That was my first instinct. Not even the fact that it was No. 1. It still didn’t hit me. I got to Paris and I performed the song and I sat with two other artists, and one artist I sat with who gave me some advice was Bobby Womack, and he said, “Baby, just ride the wave.” And at that point, I started relaxing, because I had a veteran talking to me.

The next time that I realized that I really had something was when I was driving my car and I flipped on the radio — I was living in New York at the time — and one radio station was playing it. And I flipped to another radio station, and they were playing it. I flipped to all the radio stations, and they were all playing it simultaneously. That’s when I really got nervous, and I said, “Uh-oh.” And I had to pull my car over and get a grip on what was going on. The third time was when I did a show with Nancy Wilson, the R&B singer. She took me underneath her wing, and she said, “Let me tell you something. No matter what you do and no matter where you go, always keep it classy.” And that was all I needed. That’s when I said, Okay, I’m gonna enjoy this thing right here. I don’t know what’s gonna happen, but I’mma ride this wave and I’mma keep it classy.

Were there moments that I was just tired of singing the song? I told you, I live on truth and transparency. Absolutely! Did I want to forget the words? Absolutely. But when you have women coming to you and saying, “You saved my life,” “You gave me something to live for,” “You gave me words that I couldn’t find.” And then you have the LGBTQ community coming to you saying, “I came out on your song.” “I found out who I really was listening to your song.” “I found out what my purpose was listening to your song.” Then it becomes not about you. So it didn’t matter how I felt about the song anymore. It only mattered who was listening to the song and the effect that the song had on people.

It’s funny what you mention about the moment with the radio, because even now, I’m sure you’re aware that Beyoncé wasn’t the only one who was using “Show Me Love.”
Oh yeah. Chris Brown, Jason Derulo — there’s a whole bunch of people. But my flowers were not given to me. This right here is so special to a seasoned artist like myself because “Show Me Love” is my legacy. And Beyoncé thought of me enough to be a part of my legacy, so that I could be a part of her legacy. That’s the gift that keeps on giving. The reason why the other ones did that was just, “Let me make a fast buck on a song that I know is gonna make some money.” So, yeah, it kept me relevant. I was a little beside myself, I’ll be honest. Then I said, It’s better than nothing, so ride that wave.

Well, this year, there’s one by Charli XCX that’s more like a pop song and then Daddy Yankee had one that’s this reggaeton song. What do you think it is about that song that makes it able to fit into so many different styles?
It is a song that everyone can relate to. I don’t care if you are — I will go back as far as to say an infant. An infant needs love; that’s the way they grow, that’s the way they turn into happy individuals. If you’re a toddler, you need love. If you’re a teenager, you need love. Young adult, you need love. And you don’t need just to be told that you’re loved, you need to be shown that you’re loved because that creates a happy adult. Someone who can accept love and then give love.

I’m sure you’ve heard people talking about how there’s this bigger revival of house music happening right now; Beyoncé is going to have other house songs on the album. As someone who was around for the rise of house in the ’90s, what do you think it is about that music now that makes it strike such a chord?
House music or dance music, whatever you wanna call it, is happy music. It takes you away so that you forget all about what’s happening. We just came out of — well, we’re still in a pandemic, okay. But we just came out of being confined. And dance music takes your soul, and it moves it to a whole ’nother level. And it’s always done that — it’s just that dance artists have never really gotten their accolades. We were the underdogs. It’s not just “Show Me Love,” it’s a lot of dance artists out there who have never gotten their flowers. But if I can get my flowers, I’ll share with all the dance artists that’s out there because we’re a community.

Have you ever seen a dance person that gets off the floor and is not happy?

[Laughs] Nope.
No. My point exactly. We carry you to a whole ’nother level of life and make you feel good.

You have some shows coming up; you’re in Europe this summer and are playing some shows in the U.S., too. How are you feeling about getting back out and performing after this?
I’m loving it. This ain’t nothing to me. I’ve been performing all my life. The only thing that affected me was when I couldn’t perform, when I had to be stuck in the house. But now that I’m able to get out — let’s be clear, I never left. But I’m back in business now.

That’s awesome. And aside from the tour, is there anything else that you have coming up that you’re excited about?
Well, I have a remix that I did of “Show Me Love,” through Reel People, by Emmaculate. And I also have another song that’s out now called “I Believe,” and that song I dedicated to my mother. If you get an opportunity to listen to the lyrics, it just describes how she was always there for me, holding my hand as I battled to be free. She was my enforcer, she was my endorser, and it was because of her strength that I am who I am today. And now I believe I can do anything because my mother told me that I could and because God showed me that He would carry me through it.

And you’re still doing it.
Yeah. I’mma do it until He says, “You can’t do it no more.” And hopefully that’s a long time.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Allen George and Fred McFarlane
Robin S. Is Riding the Wave of Beyoncé’s ‘Break My Soul’