When Moe Lincoln finds something she wants to do she makes it her own. Whether it’s her signature sound performing as the artist Kingsley, her signature look (think very regal and very purple), or her signature lipstick collection through Event Cosmetics, no detail is too small and no opportunity is too large to take on.
After two years competing in track and field at North Central College, Lincoln was diagnosed with a heart condition that effectively ended her career in the high jump and 400 meter hurdles. She set her sights on crafting her academic program to prepare her for a career she could guide herself in music.
She transferred to Northern Illinois University with designs on studying both business and music. Her best friend was at NIU majoring in music and minoring in business, but Lincoln wanted more. A music business course taught by Reggie Thomas, professor of music and head of jazz studies at NIU, inspired her to craft a plan to put as much business into her end goal of succeeding in the music business as possible.
She worked with the deans of the College of Business and the College of Visual and Performing Arts to craft her own program. “I talked with them and figured out a way to create a two major program and I picked all the classes that would really fit and mesh them together,” Lincoln said. “I was awarded two degrees, but technically it was a music business degree that I shaped together.”
“College is such a great time to learn who you are. Your adulthood is a great time to be who you are. And those are two very separate things.”
Her unique degree combination was part of a long-range plan.
“I was planning on moving to Los Angeles after I graduated and I didn’t want to just be in the shark tank just trying to swim,” she said. “I knew business was important to being successful in music, and if I do this, at the end of the day, at least I’ll understand business. My end goal was to be Beyonce, right? This is what I’m working for, so how do I cultivate a path to that in my college career? I had very strict parents who weren’t really “team LA.” They wanted me to go to college first and then go to LA. So I wanted to make sure that everything I did in college prepared me for going into this field of work.”
Lincoln was excited to learn that The Harmelodics, NIU’s all-female a capella group she founded in 2015 is still performing. Her friend and classmate Trent Snyder formed The Huskie Hunks, an all-male a capella group who also still performs at NIU.
“Because I wanted to be like Beyonce the a capella group was so important to me,” she said. “It was like the hot music that I craved to write and work out and use all of these tools. We’re learning to score, and scoring stuff like Britney Spears ‘Oops, I Did It Again.’ It was, ‘let me see how I can do this.'”
Her most memorable professors at NIU included her Swahili teacher who insisted on being called Mama Edwards. “America’s a very funny space,” Lincoln said. “We forget that there’s so much happening in our world and kind of forget about the outside. One day for class she made us put a milk jug on our head and we walked around the commons area. She had a huge, like five foot tall jug on her head, and we’ve all got these little ones, but she’s emphasizing to us that this is how she would walk every day to get water. It was such a profound way to look at life and the things we’re given that sometimes feel like so much. It’s not. It’s just the tools. Can you walk and get yourself water and bring it back so your entire community isn’t thirsty?”
A psychology class has had a lasting impact on her, as well. “It was my first time having a Black male professor in my entire school career. We watched something specifically about finding love as a dark-skinned woman. The discussion we had for the next few weeks blew my mind about how similar the experiences of everyone in our class were, and how we feel about ourselves in all walks around the United States. It was such a great, curated conversation and such a safe space.”
Lincoln said that her favorite professor was Robert Sims, professor of music at NIU who she had for voice. “Dr. Sims was by far my favorite professor,” she said. “He kept it real all the time. All the time. My tears never worked on him. No they did not. He saw excellence in me in ways I never saw in myself. He gave me confidence to put my shoulders back and sing from the bottom of my heart and what that feels like. I’m very thankful. I take many lessons from him every time I perform.”
Lincoln recorded portions of her next album, “Come and Find Me” in the same London studio, Abbey Road, that The Beatles played in. She says this upcoming album, her third, is about the healing of her college self.
“When you transfer schools, or even if you’re away from home for the first time ever, you kind of become everything you think everyone wants to you be,” Lincoln said. “By the time you get to your senior year, you’re a little shaken out of it, but you still have the people who remember you from freshman year. Then you move away. I did. I moved to Portland (Oregon) and then I was on the road, and then I’m in London. You look back at those moments and decide, is that who I absolutely want to be? Can I be something else? This new album is me getting to be the confident person that I knew I could be, that I didn’t know yet. I just want people to keep going, keep testing out what you like about yourself. Keep going. College is such a great time to learn who you are. Your adulthood is a great time to be who you are. And those are two very separate things.”
Performing as Kingsley is not a recent decision for her.
“I went to school for marketing and business and learned what branding actually is,” she said. “But in sixth grade I was telling my mom that I want to be a singer. It was my mom who told me I didn’t have to be my name, that I could be any name I want to be. So, I went downstairs on our basement computer and I was searching for names, searching and I didn’t like any of the girl names. So I switched and this name Kingsley pops up. It was like that moment in Chicago where it goes…ROXIE! I was like, this is it. This is the name. I wrote it on a piece of paper and sprinted upstairs and told my mom I was going to be called Kingsley. I think she was disappointed it didn’t take me longer to find a name to keep me busy. But she said, ‘Great. Now go practice!'”
Her concept of Kingsley was formed in her marketing classes at NIU. “I really leaned into this regal aesthetic. It was this persona that she really became regal, holding herself in high regard and the purples and gold and all of this confidence that I hadn’t yet exuded. She’s been so instrumental in my growing into who I am. I’m very thankful to have that person I could be.
“I like purple and my mom likes purple because of Prince. I wanted us to have that in common. Specifically with Kingsley, when you are starting off as a brand, and this is helpful for people who want to be influencers, you have to have the one thing people can remember. Amy Winehouse had this big beehive, right? When you’re really emerging on the Internet, it’s important to, if you can’t keep your look the same, have something people can associate with you. So purple is the association when you think king, Kingsley, royal, purple.”
She has found ways to use her music to express other ideas through other projects. While creating her second album, “Crying on Holidays” she worked with a Black owned makeup company in Portland and released three lipsticks from their collection each named after one of her singles.
The lipstick collection owes its existence, in a weird way to Covid-19. Lincoln’s best friend is Haley Johnson, who plays bass for the band Big Wild and has toured with KT Tunstall several times. Johnson’s mom worked at a makeup store in Portland where Moe and Haley would stop have their makeup done by Haley’s mother and the store’s owner, Katherine.
“When Covid happened, I would go by the store when I was doing my downtown walks, and one day I saw Katherine in the window, so I banged on the door for her to let me in. We talked about what was happening with the business and with downtown Portland. Nobody was getting married, and she’s the best bridal makeup person in Portland. So I asked her what I could do to help her, and promote the business. We came up with the idea to do a signature lipstick. I felt like Rhianna. We were in this lab literally testing out so much lipstick. It was kind of overwhelming. We ended up with three and we named them after the singles. It was so much fun packaging them and launching them. I got to go to so many markets and just sell my lipsticks. It was so cool. I was out of my element. We ship all over the world, and they’re still doing really, really well.”
She also has written and published a recipe book as a companion to “Crying On Holidays” that pairs each song to a cocktail that she feels represents that song. “I just tell deep dark secrets in the book about why my heart was broken, so you can drink and laugh and get to know me.”
Another unexpected benefit of the pandemic is that she got experience with the mixing process on her album. “Most female artists will just send their album to a mixer,” she said. “They email them back, you tell them what you want changed and they are in a separate room and do things. But because of Covid, I was working with one producer and he let me sit in the room with him and he has the time to show me this stuff. I learned so much about mixing. I have so much more of a language about it. I feel so much more confident talking to my producer about what I want the song to sound like. I got to learn so much about production in a way that I otherwise would never have gotten the chance to.”
Her advice to aspiring creators of all kinds is to not look at the numbers. “I had a video once that got 50,000 views but had nothing to do with my music. So don’t look at the numbers. Just keep putting out really good work and people that care about good work will find you. You have to tell yourself that every day. Every day. The numbers really don’t mean anything. I view so much stuff that doesn’t mean anything to me every day. But the stuff that I actually care about, I engage with. That’s what I try to remember. Whoever’s engaging with your stuff, really, just give all of your attention to, because they come back.”
Moe Lincoln will be on campus for an informal chat with students, Friday, February 3 at 4:30 p.m. in the Music Building’s Recital Hall.