Even if you don’t recognize Bebe Rexha’s name, you’d probably recognize her voice – and definitely know lyrics she’s written.
The singer-songwriter, 26, has penned tracks for pop’s biggest stars. And this summer, she boasted credits on a trifecta of hits on Billboard‘s Mainstream Top 40, having co-written the chorus of Iggy Azalea‘s “Team,” singing the hook on G-Eazy‘s “Me, Myself & I” and cracking the charts with her breakout single, the Nicki Minaj-assisted “No Broken Hearts.”
Rexha has been musical since she was a kid, but her first major break came in 2010 when Pete Wentz tapped her to front his experimental band Black Cards. Fast forward six years, and she’s pop music’s secret weapon, writing for former Disney stars, touring with chart-topping talent like Ellie Goulding and working on her debut LP (rumored to be titled A.Y.F.).
Here are five things to know about the rising star:
1. Music has been a part of her life since she was young.
“It all started when I was 4,” Rexha tells PEOPLE. “I was watching a lot of The Little Mermaid, and I loved that movie. I was going around the house singing – I wanted to be on Disney and everything; I wanted to be a princess.”
Starting in elementary school, “I played the trumpet for nine years and then I joined the choir after that and then I was in musicals in high school. I wanted to be part of pop culture, so I started song writing and I got signed to my first record deal,” she says.
2. She’s written for Rihanna, Eminem and more – and now she’s ready to be the one front-and-center.
In just six short years, Rexha has written for top talent in the industry, from Selena Gomez and Tinashe to Pitbull and, most recently, Nick Jonas (“Under You” appears on Jonas’ new album Last Year Was Complicated.
Her first breakthrough, though, was co-writing Eminem and Rihanna’s 2013 smash “The Monster.” The next year, she penned and sang the hook on David Guetta’s all-star collaboration “Hey, Mama,” also featuring Nicki Minaj and Afrojack.
Now that her own single, “No Broken Hearts,” has hit the charts, Rexha says she’s still pinching herself.
“When I was a little girl, my dream was just to hear my song on the radio. It was very fascinating to me, and I was like: ‘How do I do that?’ Now it’s like, ‘Oh my God, my song is on the radio!’ Being around all of my friends who’ve had a lot of success in the industry, you can get used to it and a little jaded – so my thing is to keep it all very creative and make every moment a happy moment and just have fun with it.”
3. She has an onstage alter ego named Moonshine.
Rexha says being onstage transforms her during a set.
“Somebody went to my show before they met me, and we actually ended up becoming really good friends,” says Rexha. “We were talking once, and he was like, ‘You are a totally different person in real life; you’re so sweet and soft-spoken.'”
After getting the idea from a producer in the studio, Rexha and her friends dubbed her Moonshine, after the potent spirit.
“I like to act like a strong woman, like a superhero, which is the girl I’d like to be all the time,” she says. “It’s like a switch that goes off – I turn into this bad-bitch character.”
4. Fellow New Yorker Nicki Minaj went from being Rexha’s idol to her friend and collaborator.
Having worked together on both “Hey Mama” and “No Broken Hearts,” Rexha and the rapper are on first-name basis.
“I grew up listening to Nicki Minaj – she’s from New York City, too, and I remember when I was listening to her mixtapes back in the day, and I was like, ‘Wow’ as I saw her career start on the Internet. Now here we are 10 years later. So to follow her from New York to all around the world, it’s just been amazing to have her on my song,” says Rexha.
The singer says she’s learned from Minaj both from advice – and by example.
“We shot the music video, and at the end she was giving me a lot of advice on how to really stick to what you love and your career and have a clear voice,” says Rexha.
“Working with her, I noticed that she was very passionate, and she is intentional on what she wants, and it was really nice being able to work with her and seeing that. Sometimes being a female in the music business, or any business, you know you want to be this way and sometimes I come off as being a hard chick. But it was really cool seeing her through that; it was really refreshing. She’s taught me to be a boss.”
5. She grew up in an immigrant family and figured out on her own how to break into the music business.
Born in Brooklyn and raised in Staten Island, Rexha has lived in New York City most of her life. “There’s something about it that’s just in my blood. I just love the city and the energy – you can’t find it anywhere else.”
Raised by Albanian parents, Rexha says they were always supportive of her creative pursuits, but she had to find her own way to break into the industry.
“I originally started wanting to get my own music out, but my parents came from another country. My mom was born here, but my dad came from another country, and like a lot of people love music, but they don’t know how to get into the industry,” she says. “I was like, I want to hear my songs on the radio, and they were like, ‘We don’t know how to do that.'”
A savvy self-starter, Rexha realized early on that her best bet on getting into the biz was to first make a name for herself as a behind-the-scenes person.
“I wanted to do it the right way, and I would write these songs for myself, and they would always end up for other people. I did that so it would give me somewhat of a leverage and a step into the music business because then people respect you on another level,” says Rexha.
“I think that helped give me the respect, but now to be able to do it as another artist is so amazing because it’s what I’ve been always doing, but now I get to put a video behind it or put pictures behind it and make it come to life, which is the most exciting part.”