Miami-bred Cuban-American singer, rapper, and songwriter Kat Dahlia put herself through the restaurant industry ringer to pay for some studio sessions. Recordings led to a deal with Vested in Culture, Sylvia Rhone‘s Epic-supported boutique label — home to Casey Veggies and Quadron. “Gangsta,” a tough ballad about self-reliance with a twist on 50 Cent‘s “Wanksta,” was released in early 2013 as her debut single and topped out at number 40 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop chart. It made for an ideal introduction to her as an autonomous individual and throaty vocalist, but her progress stalled. Two years of delays preceded the release of her first album. Regardless of the time taken for preparation, My Garden is an assertive, fully formed debut. While a lifetime of serious experiences can be sensed in the mere sound of Kat‘s voice, she hasn’t been so hardened that she keeps her guard up. She opens “Mirror” by declaring “I wear my heart on my sleeve,” and the album contains several references to getting high, making it plain that she has no shame in conveying how she copes with her real-life struggles. Some of the material contains resonant echoes of Amy Winehouse and Rihanna, but Kat‘s down-to-earth, thrill-seeking personality always pokes through. Here, she takes a bold first step. My Garden is a mix of colorful party anthems and substantive, pull-no-punches ballads with warmth beneath the surface.