Cover Story: Elle Varner On ‘Ellevating’ & Finding Her Joy

Elle Varner
Photo Credit: Jennifer Johnson // Artwork: Hannah Aryee

Ever since she hit the airwaves in 2011, Elle Varner has been the artist we’ve all wanted to win big. With her positive soulful vibes, raspy powerhouse vocals and girl-next-door beauty, she was — and is — the perfect package.

[SEE ALSO: 10 Times We Were Digging Elle Varner’s Curls]

The music is in her blood. She was born into musical greatness with both parents who were songwriters and publishers. Like her dad, she plays multiple instruments, including the flute, piano, and guitar.

After a top five-Billboard debut with Perfectly Imperfect, she went on to take full control of her musical destiny — including launching her own label. And now, her long-awaited sophomore effort is set to drop this spring.

We caught up with the songstress to chat about the project, dubbed Ellevation, her effortless beauty regimen and finding her joy as a Black woman.

— Stephenetta (isis) Harmon

Hype Hair: It’s been a while! We’re so glad to hear you have a new album coming out this spring? Tell us about it.
Elle Varner: Ellevation really [connects to] how I’ve seen a lot of people in that mode lately. There’s a lot of darkness in the world right now that we feel and experience, so being able to bring some light through music is really important for me. So there’s a lot of positive frequencies and vibrations in this new music.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Johnson

HH: How does it compare to your previous works?
EV: What is consistent throughout, from the first mixtape, Conversational Lush, to Perfectly Imperfect to now Ellevation is you get that honesty, you get that personal experience. I get so many people that tell me how much they relate to my songs. That lets me know I’m doing something right. As long as I continue to be honest and allow myself to be vulnerable through the music, I feel like I’m going to continue to have that connection.

HH: We love the two new singles from it: Loving Me Blind is a killer acoustic ballad and “Pour Me” is ‘90s synthy club feel.
EV: Yeah, [there’s] a little something, something for everybody!

HH: While you’ve been out of the spotlight, you’ve remained busy — even nabbing a Grammy with Chance the Rapper in 2017 and launching your own label, 212 Ent. How does it feel to be your own boss?
EV: I definitely have been taking on a more prominent role in my own business over the last few years dealing with ownership and having full creative control. As a Black woman, it’s really important and it’s a wonderful time for us to be able to take advantage of those [opportunities]. I’m really grateful that is a possibility today — even if it’s difficult, it’s still a possibility.

HH: Is the label just you or…
EV: I’m starting with myself, but I have some artists I’m working with. I’ll definitely be developing some very young talent.

HH: What does that development look like?
EV: My mom and dad helped to develop me. I was in the studio watching them. My mom toured with Barry White and Maxwell. So, I got to see firsthand what that side of [the business] was, as far as performance, but then also being in the studio and singing backgrounds, which is actually really more difficult than people realize. And, just all facets of it — having the mental stamina, the emotional endurance for this, ’cause it’s really hard to be an artist. It looks so glamorous and “I woke up like this,” but it takes a lot. You have to have a good team, you have to have a good solid foundation.

HH: Speaking of foundation, what is your hair foundation like? How was it growing up natural before there was a movement for it?
EV: It was always like no matter what age or what school I was in, or what demographic I was around, my hair just let you know when I walked in the door that’s Black girl magic right there. And, I felt powerful. When I was a kid I just definitely wouldn’t let anyone tell me anything. “Oh, you can’t see? Well, find another seat” cause this is my hair.

Elle Varner
Photo Credit: Jennifer Johnson

HH: When did you first fall in love with your hair?
EV: After I discovered diffusers, that was a game changer. The diffuser really helps to define your curls, but also give you that volume, so you can just wash it, diffuse it and go. I kind of fell in love with that.

HH: Do you have any favorite hair moments?
EV: One of my first favorite hair moments was when I’ve got my first silk press — the sound of that flat iron and the smell. Going to the salon and getting my hair pressed, I was like “Oh, I’m grown!”

HH: Worst hair moment ever?
EV:  I’ve had some crazy hair moments. There was one time when I kept putting my hair in a bun… and it ended up dreading up and getting matted. It took, I don’t even remember how many hours and how many bottles of conditioners. It was terrible! I’m pretty sure I was crying. It was a crazy matted mess and I did have to cut some hair, but hey, it grows back.

HH: What is your relationship with hair now?
EV: I think hair is an extension of you and how you’re feeling. What’s exciting is now it’s more an accessory than ever. You don’t have to be confined. If you want to be natural, that’s great. If you want to be natural, but on the weekend rock a lace front, that’s great, too. We could do whatever we want and just be that total vibe that we want to be.

HH: What one hairstyle haven’t you rocked yet, that you’d like to try?EV: I can’t promise anything, [but it] would be dope down the line to do a Rihanna “Good Girl Gone Bad” and pop it off. You never know!

HH: Ha! What’s your day-to-day regimen look like?
EV: I have a small CVS in my apartment! You can only imagine how many products, but finding the product that doesn’t have, for example, alcohol in it cause alcohol really dries out my hair is really important.

I like to do self-care. Maybe once a week, do a deep condition. I have these metal aluminum caps, you just leave it on for maybe an hour or so, do the dishes, just really let that soak in.

HH: Anything else?
EV: Getting trims regularly is important.

HH: Are there any hair products you swear by?
EV: SheaMoisture. They have this frizz-free curl mousse that’s great. Carol’s Daughter is great and so is Curls.

HH: Two products you can’t leave home without?
EV: Oh, it would definitely be my 1/8 inch wand, curling iron. I gotta get them tight curls and moisturizer. It sounds so basic, but it’s so important to keep your skin hydrated. I definitely took it for granted for many years and now I’m like, you better put this cream on your face — and SPF, too. Even if you’ve got that good “Black don’t crack” melanin, you still want to protect your skin from UV rays and sun damage.

HH: Are you into DIY?
EV: I’ve done that for skin, but I haven’t done that for my hair yet.

HH: What are you mixing up at home for your skin?
EV: I get the raw shea butter and melt it, then I add essential oils to it, like tea tree or lavender. Just makes it a little more fun and smells good and feels good to the skin.

HH: Who’s your go-to hairstylist?
EV: One of my top hairstylists is Kya Bilal. She’s based in LA — she worked on the hair for Mad Max and won an Oscar. She’s just done such a phenomenal job. Any kind of style, any kind of look she is the queen. I have a video coming up actually for “Pour Me,” so you can see some of her work. I’m excited about that.

HH: If you don’t have a stylist around, what’s your go-to style?
EV: A wash and go with the diffuser – I can’t go wrong. Or I’ll pin it up with a couple of fallen pieces in the front.

HH: What is biggest hair lesson you’ve learned?
EV: Over time, I’ve tried to not mess with it so much [and] leave it alone. You’d be surprised the wonders it’ll do for your hair if you just let it be. Don’t obsess over it and just enjoy and whatever state it’s in. That works with anything in life.

HH: How do you define beauty?
EV: Self-love and self-expression. You have to find beauty in your imperfections, in your flaws. That’s probably the most powerful discovery I’ve ever made —  realizing like, you know what, I talk about this on “SoFly” — ain’t nothing going to change here. This is the body that I live in and any man that comes into my life or that doesn’t appreciate and love my body, well forget him! The love that I was looking for started with me.

And, then self-expression — whatever makes you feel gorgeous and beautiful. Let love be the starting point and then from there, self-expression. Those are two are my top pillars of beauty.

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About The Author

Stephenetta (isis) Harmon

isis is a music, hair and communications junkie. she is a Black beauty editor; founder of Sadiaa, the premiere beauty directory for women of color, and editor for