Lynae Vanee is herstory in the making, and we’re just lucky to have a front-row seat. The multifaceted, powerhouse creative has become a staple of the culture, with her informative style of news that always keeps it Black, but always keeps it brief. As a performer, poet, content creator, writer, actress, and 2x NAACP Image Award nominee, Lynae is continuously finding new ways to preserve and amplify Black stories–all while carving out her own lane as a force to be reckoned with.
Hailing from Atlanta, GA, Lynae has always kept her passion for creativity and academia first, earning degrees from both Spelman College and Boston University. Her spark to enter the world of content creation came during the pandemic, with her viral series ‘Parking Lot Pimpin’ launching her into her own unique career path. With an audience of over 1.1 million across platforms, she’s even caught follows from notable figures like Amanda Seales, Kerry Washington, Tabitha Brown, Elaine Welteroth, and Zendaya just to name a few. Now, Lynae has founded her own production company From the Lot, has collaborated with brands like Netflix, Tommy Hilfiger, and Revolt, and is represented by Issa Rae’s management company ColorCreative.
In an intimate conversation with GROWN, Lynae opens up about her beginnings, embracing life’s detours, and what inspires her to authentically chase her dreams on her terms.
We’re going to start from the beginning of things, how did you discover that you were gifted in so many different areas of art?
I was raised in a Baptist church and there were many opportunities to be engaged in ministry–I did my first pageant in church. That’s when I learned I was gifted in public speaking and that was where I learned I was not a singer. My mother refused to let me get on stage and embarrass her. [laughs] I think I was always interested in marketing my talent or just showcasing talent in unique and different ways. I always imagined myself as a part of the movies I was seeing on TV. I definitely came up during a time when Disney was Black AF and that was very inspirational to me to see Black imagination run wild on screen.
Lynae recently became a notable voice across social media for her passion for storytelling. During the pandemic, Parking Lot Pimpin’ quickly became her biggest content form—but also her biggest outlet.
I really got to practice my interests when the pandemic came. I didn’t have any other option but to really engage my creative side, so poetry was always it. I wanted to do concept visuals. I had the imagination to develop things like Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’ from my poems. And I remember writing to myself contemplating with imposter syndrome and whether or not engaging this space would get positive feedback. I said, “Who am I to have a ‘Lemonade’?” The question is, “Who am I not to?”
I wanted to bring life into all the aspirations I had as a little girl. Really the whole approach to Parking Lot Pimpin’ was my own version of inner child therapy on a teacher’s salary when I couldn’t afford actual therapy.
I think it’s very amazing that you are open about that journey because some people, including myself, we kind of get into this headspace where, “Oh, I’m this age and I haven’t figured this out.” When in all actuality, figuring yourself out can take an entire lifetime.
Yeah, I think going to Spelman also helped with that because I was around so many talented women. I got my undergraduate degree in psychology and I was pretty good at that. I made it into the honors program and quickly found out that it was not for me. And that was okay!
So when it came to after graduation and applications for grad school, I told my professors I wasn’t interested in clinical psych or therapy or neurology or psychotherapy or any of that. They’re like, “Well girl, what do we do with you?” And I came to my own realization that I wanted to get into an African American studies program.
I remember calling Boston University, one of the professors was a Spelman woman, and not that she meant to discourage me, but she said, “Well, I don’t think this program is for you,” because she just really didn’t get how my background in psychology would contribute to a strong foundation for myself in the master’s program. I got in anyway. Then the same thing happened when it was time to graduate, “Well girl, it’s time for a Ph.D. program.” And I’m like, “well girl, I’m disinterested in doing more school right now.”
So I went to go teach high school and I found my way. I think also every single step I made prepared me for the moment I’m in now. Without any of those things, I don’t think I would’ve been able to do the Parking Lot the way that I’m doing it.
Who were some of the people in your life that inspired you to be so creative and outspoken? Who was there to let you know, “I support you. You can do this”?
I would like to say my godmother Quinyan Goodlove. I just always remember her being the person, [but] it was always a godmother figure. They were the ones that took me outside of the small town I lived in to introduce me to new and different things.
I had a teacher when I was in high school who went to Spelman, who also served as a mentor when I came back to teach at that very high school for my first actual job. My seventh-grade teacher, Miss Dolston, I always give her a shout-out whenever possible. I just knew she was someone I could talk to, and she was so encouraging.
Also, my partner has been very supportive of me branching out and doing new things. He talks about this quote from Modern Family all the time, it’s one of his favorite shows, and they said, “Dreamers need realists and realists need dreamers. The realist keeps the dreamer from flying too close to the sun, and without the dreamer the realist would never get off the ground.” So he definitely keeps me grounded in a way, but also has been nothing but supportive of me going out and doing the things that I want to do.
So when you went to college, were your sights always set on being in education or did you always know you had a bigger, more creative aspiration for your life?
I think what I always thought I would be, deep down in my soul, is a working poet. So really, the plan wasn’t to be a teacher, it was to create an after school program based in African American studies so I could still have the freedom to work for myself. It just so happens that when I went over there, they were looking for teachers. I leaned into it to get what I could from that moment.
[But] soon I started to feel the weight of not wanting to be there, even before the pandemic, I started to hate getting out of bed because I started to feel that stagnancy. I started to question, “Girl, is this it? You have one chance,” and having no clue what that chance might be.
I myself was born and raised in East Point, and Atlanta seems to be a very popular place for young Black creators, entrepreneurs, business professionals. How much do you think your environment plays a part in sparking your creativity?
I think art is a reflection of the artist’s reality, period. So if mine was so versed in Black study and Black culture, that directly informed what my creativity would look like. I grew up in the suburbs, so I definitely feel like I had an experience of duality that afforded me the opportunity to witness, and in some cases experience, the intersections of class and race and their effect on family dynamics. Good Lord, definitely starting to feel my psychology degree creep out. [laughs]
But that was a catalyst for me. My mother’s family was very impoverished in Mississippi, but that’s also where I felt some of the most love and have some of the most core memories. So I wanted to be an example for what was possible, but also educate myself on why things were the way they were so I could figure out how I could go about changing them.
In terms of inspiration, you mentioned in a prior interview that Issa Rae is your creative muse. What about her work inspires you?
Issa’s just the bomb.com! I heard a lot growing up to find someone who’s doing what you’re doing and follow their resume. Although she has her own world and did go to school for the things that she wanted to do, to see her vision, she had to do it herself.
That’s really inspiring, and so to see her win was just like, “Oh, I can do this.” And I’m really excited because at the end of January, I was able to take my Parking Lot to LA. I signed with her management company, ColorCreative.
And I never asked, “Oh, does Issa know who I am?” Because that’s weird. But towards the end of last year, my manager came to me and told me that Issa was asking about what I was doing. I had an opportunity to meet her a couple times, but my mouth never worked right when I talk to the lady. [laughs] I divulged to her the last time I got to meet her, I said, “I have a confession. The first time I met you I was on edible and that contributed to how emotional I was. And I’m sorry!”
But Issa was gracious enough to let me host the Parking Lot in the parking lot at Hoorae. So she’s my muse for many reasons, a distant mentor. I really look up to her for her creativity, her business acumen, and her community service spirit. Her whole philosophy of networking horizontally and bringing people up, not even lifting as you climb, but everybody climbing together is community-oriented.
Earlier, you spoke about imposter syndrome, what would you say to the Black girl who is inspired by what you’ve been able to do, but they can’t get past that?
It’s something my therapist said to me, while I was telling her about my imposter syndrome at the time. She said, “It’s interesting to me that you’re saying that you don’t know if you can do these things when you have the evidence that you can.”
More often than not, imposter syndrome comes from what we think other people will consider us worthy of, when we haven’t taken inventory of what we’ve shown to be gifted at—what God has said to us. So I think it’s about who we’re listening to when it comes to imposter syndrome.
Exactly that! For somebody like you, your work expands more than just on social media, and you utilize more than just one creative outlet to express yourself. So would you describe yourself as an influencer?
I think it’s more complicated because when you think about the traditional definition of an influencer, it’s typically someone who is a tastemaker. They develop an audience based on their taste, and companies find ways to attach themselves to this taste to market or influence their audience to purchase certain things. And that’s not what I do.
I’m a content creator, for sure. I create content and I just happen to be the face of my content. But I think people trust me. I think I have influence, but I wouldn’t label myself an influencer.
For someone who may not be familiar, how would you describe to them who Lynae is and what her brand stands for?
Man, I don’t know. Lynae is this Black girl who gets in her parking lot and tells the truth? She has an academic background in Black studies and wants to make sure that Black people in particular have the tools they need to navigate the world more confidently, more successfully. If other people want to listen in, then great!
I love it, keep it simple! In navigating the social media world and having a following that’s growing every day, what is most often misunderstood about who you are and what you create?
That I want to do politics—absolutely not. I get very frequently, “Why don’t you run for office?” I’m not doing it, never. Honestly, I want to repair Black communities. White supremacy has been very successful at dividing us and shaping attitudes. For those of us who look different, who identify different, who are differently abled–I want to repair that. So that means I have to engage political conversation and bring it back to the homies.
I’ve been invited to the White House five times, turned down every invitation because I’m not interested in being a White House commentator. I’m not interested in being taken off my path because that might give me some visibility in certain sectors. Just because you are good at a thing doesn’t mean you are called to do it.
What would you say, out of all the outlets that you’ve had your hand in, which one of those would you say is your very first love?
Poetry. Yeah, it’s an easy answer because it’s the truth. Even at this stage in my life, I beat myself up about not journaling as often or not really sitting down to write poetry. But I’m reminded that I’ve never put my pen down.
When I’m able to be in rooms, in general meetings with some of the most major networks they ask me, “Do you write poetry, have you ever done spoken word? Because when you do these [videos] it feels like a spoken word performance.” And the first time I heard that, it almost made me cry because I just assumed that I’m abandoning my first love. But I’m carrying it with me wherever I go. When it comes to acting, script writing, to relaying things, I came to understand that I still am doing it in a poetic way. That’s what sets it apart. So I’m grateful for my first love. It’s definitely poetry.
Speaking of acting, you are pitching a script for a digital series, which would be an expansion of Parking Lot Pimpin’. Are you able to give insight into how that process is going?
I want to be able to start putting the Parking Lot into action, applying it to stories, to narrative. I took [ a scripted show] to 10 places and it wasn’t picked up. I got rave reviews, I made fans in the rooms, but the market was in a stage where it was looking for familiarity, and the concept I developed was completely original. A lot of people didn’t know where to put it.
So now we are taking that digitally, and in the same way, my muse Issa did ABG, we’re going to be producing a digital short of the scripted series that I wanted to produce. I really believe in it. It’s something that needs to exist. I have people in my corner who want to see it exist. So what that means for me is that I have to do it myself. I made a show on social media one time. I’m sure I can do it again.
I love that. I think I’m learning as time goes on, like you said, if you want something done, you got to do it yourself. I had the pleasure of hearing your poem on ‘Ghetto Gods,’ EarthGang’s album. Absolutely Amazing. How did that collaboration come about and were you nervous about it?
Nervous as shit. I was really introduced to them by my boyfriend in car rides with him, and loved their approach. But I never reached out to them, Olu just slid in my DMs one day, and said, “Lynae, what’s up?” I said, “Huh?”
You’re like, “Me?”
Yeah! He said, “We want you to write a piece for our ‘Ghetto Gods’ album.” My heart dropped into my stomach because that was the very pathway I saw myself on, writing for people and appearing on albums. I was like, “Oh, this is my shot.” And what made it worse is that they said, “It’s got to be 30 seconds.”
What? 30 seconds?
My poems are wordy. I play with internal and external rhymes, I usually express full and complete thoughts. So the most nerve-wracking part was having to fit what I felt was my coming out moment, in 30 seconds, and I did it. I just stayed up all night and gave them what they asked for and they loved it. The hope is more opportunities like that, waiting on Beyoncé.
Listen, it’s in the air. At this point, Beyoncé, I’m sure has seen one of your videos. If Issa saw it, Beyoncé saw it. [laughs] So, where were you when you first found out you were nominated for an NAACP Image Award?
Well, I was working, I was losing my mind trying to create some content and I didn’t have anything that I needed. But I saw Tabitha Brown either texted me or messaged me on Instagram, and she said, “How do you like to be introduced?” I just said, “Lynae Vanee.” And she said, “How do you pronounce your middle name?” So I typed up the phonetic spelling for her. Then she said, “Okay, well I’m about to announce your nomination for the NAACP Image Award, so turn on your phone at 12:00.” I said, “Miss Tab, I don’t think you’re supposed to tell me that.”
But she’s been a light. She’s amazing, and she is a supporter of my work. So yeah, it was just in the midst of chaos. I got this reminder that God was still watching me. Even more so in the aspect of getting nominated for an award, “Not only am I watching you, not only am I here, but I see you and I commend you for your good work.” That was really empowering for me. It was really an emotional moment.
Wow, that’s inspiring! So what’s next for Lynae? Is there anything that we should be on the lookout for?
Fine Lynae and Outside Lynae, making appearances all year.
I’m really interested in developing how I present fashion-wise. I’m going to be creating a whole lot more. You’re going to see different types of content. All Black History Month, I’ve been doing skits, I’ve been doing sketches. You will see some of that concept visual passion applied in different ways. Expect to see some Deadline articles this year. Some Variety articles, who picked up what projects and who I’m working with, and all that jazz. So big things are coming.
Photographer: B. Media
Creative Direction: Maame Yaa Ansah
Production Assistant & Movement Director: Michaela Johnson
Producer: Kaya Nova
Stylist: Kyanna Renée
Makeup Artist: Leanna McAlpin
Hair Stylist: Nasetia Windham
Wardrobe Provided By: