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20 Questions: Grammy Award Winning R&B Starlet Chrisette Michele

By Bridget Bland on Nov 29th 2010 7:07PM

Filed under: Music, Interviews, Celeb Updates

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It’s been more than a year and a half since Chrisette Michele released her sophomore set, ‘Epiphany.’ That record earned the 27-year-old New York native her first Grammy Award and kept the R&B songstress busy on the road alongside a who’s who of soul singers.

Now, the Def Jam Records artist is releasing her third album, ‘Let Freedom Reign,’ and she’s unapologetic about letting it be known just how she feels about pretty much everything. sat down with Chrisette Michele to talk 20 Questions. How’s it been promoting the new album? This is your third. Do you think it has been busier than promoting your previous two?

Chrisette Michele: Last year, the amount of busy-ness was insane. So, I said this year I was going to work smart, instead of working until I dropped so there’s a lot more balance.

BV: Now that you’re a Grammy Award winner, do you think that the honor of that title has changed anything for you?

CM: Uh, it sounds really nice when they say “Grammy Award winner Chrisette Michele.” Grammy Award winning is a part of my name now when they announce me. It sounds really nice, but I think that the Grammy that I won celebrated me being unique. It was for alternative R&B song so it said that it was okay to be different, left of center and out of the box, and it was a catalyst to this album, which I wrote nine of the 12 songs for. The Grammy definitely gave me the encouragement to be free.

BV: Over the years, how have the fans shaped your music?

CM: I found out that there are a lot of women who have broken hearts. When you sing on a stage and have meet-and-greets after and these people tell you stories of the horrible relationship that they were in and you sit there and listen, you say, “I have to do something to bring this person to the next level.” It’s time for them to be emancipated, free and healed. I call it “The Angry Black Woman Syndrome,” where we walk around with that scowl on our face to men and toward women. I don’t want to see that anymore.

BV: Where are you in your life right now in terms of relationships and how is that being reflected in your new music?

CM: I’m in a great space. I’m in an emancipated space, a space that says you can be free to love again after a crazy relationship, and you can be free to live again even in a world that tries to pull you down and makes you not want to live. So this album is really about freedom like the title says.

BV: How’s your love life?

CM: I think people think I’m exaggerating, but I have “fly dates,” where I have to fly in and take a private car to the restaurant and then fly out so I don’t miss my show the next day. It’s horrible, you know what I mean? The reason celebrities get married after being friends for 10 days is because 10 days is a long time in the life of what we do. Ten days is hundreds of thousands of dollars made. I guess it should be called speed dating to the max.

BV: Do you think you’ll end up with a celebrity?

CM: No, I’ll probably end up with an executive that works at AT&T or something. I need a super-regular guy because someone has to have their feet on the ground. I’m literally on an airplane more than most people are in their car so I need somebody who’s kind of chill.

BV: Where are you going to meet this guy with the lifestyle you lead?

CM: Probably at the mall or something (laughs). Maybe when I’m out to eat and he’s waiting tables or something.

BV: We heard you’re rapping on this album? Is that true?

CM: Yes, ma’am. I’ve been rapping since I was a kid. I actually rapped before I sang. This is me being more comfortable in my own skin. My first album had a lot of rap on it before it was completed and a lot of that was taken out, and the second album the same thing. So, this is the first time I was like, “Nope, it’s staying in and this is what we are doing.”

BV: Do you think label heads were worried about your image before? Why do you think it didn’t make the cut?

CM: I think people are a little afraid of being not like everybody else. I wanted to be creative, so I said, “This has to be on here” and I didn’t show it to my A&R until the last listening session for the album, and by then it was like, “It’s got to make the cut.”

BV: So are you rapping on the title track ‘Let Freedom Reign’ with Talib Kweli and Black Thought?

CM: It was really important to me that it had a specific sound. Jazmine Sullivan was going to sing the hook at first. I sent one version to Mos Def, to Black Thought, to Talib Kweli who was in Europe at the time, and [Black Thought and Talib Kweli] took the time out of their schedules to be a part of that record, and it means so much to be that they were so giving.

BV: Who are your favorite MCs?

CM: Black Thought, Talib and KRS-One, people who were street politicians in the ’80s and the ’90s and said what was going on in their communities and in society, like Queen Latifah and Public Enemy, those people inspired me to tell the truth and to be honest. ‘Let Freedom Reign’ is the most honest and most boisterous and unpopular I’ve allowed myself to be, and I’m really saying things that I feel about this country. I’m not afraid, and that’s why I had to rap it.

BV: What’s going on with you and Rick Ross? Are you all beefing?

CM: Rick Ross is someone who I met years ago and became friends with. He was always very warm, kind and inviting, and we were label mates who became cool. That’s what we were. When I put out ‘Epiphany,’ he free-of- charge laid down a verse, and that song was put in heavy rotation on radio so I’m grateful to him for that. When he did ‘Maybach Music,’ I wrote the hook before he wrote his rap, and before Drake was even on the song and that was something special we shared together.

BV: So what happened at the ‘Soul Train Awards’ with Rick Ross leaving before you all performed?

CM: When he didn’t receive his award, he left the awards without saying anything to me – someone he’s eaten with and went shopping with. It was kinda like, “Aw damn, I thought we were cool.” The first emotion was betrayal, and that he didn’t care that I had an album coming out and that this was promotion for my record. He just left. That was uncomfortable, but besides that I was disappointed in how hip-hop was represented that night at the ‘Soul Train Awards.’ We were the only people doing anything to rep hip-hop, and for us to get up and leave after millions of dollars were spent and after a dozen dancers were choreographed, it was a big show because now we’re making hip-hop look crazy.

BV: Have you talked since the situation?

CM: No, we haven’t. We have a really cool record called ‘So In Love’ on my new album. Rick sent it back to us in a day. He doesn’t ask, “How much is it?” It’s all about the art for him, so for our relationship to be tainted would be really sad to me, so I’m sure we will speak again.

BV: You’re wearing the hell out of that hair cut. It’s a hit with the blogs. People are really feeling it.

CM: What blogs are you reading (laughs)? It’s a love-hate relationship with me and the Internet. I’ve received so much support from blog sites, especially in this climate where promotion is a new space and TV time and radio space has six people playing all day. If it were not for the blog sites, Internet sites and AOL BlackVoices I really don’t think I’d be here today. I’m super grateful for the love I’ve received about my shaved head from you guys and from everybody else, but the truth of the matter is I was just tired of relaxing my head. I couldn’t stand it. It burns and smells, and with weaves you have to have glue in your head. Glue is for arts and crafts projects, not a hairstyle.

BV: That’s a lot to deal with. Do you think you’ll keep it shaved low for a while?

CM: No offense to anybody. Weaves are beautiful, it’s just exhausting. I wake up in the morning, and all I have to do is put oil sheen in my head. I am going to let it grow out. I’m done shaving now but will let it grow out.

BV: Unlike some of today’s big R&B singers, you’ve traditionally stayed away from endorsement deals and promoting products? Do you think you’ll ever do that?

CM: My baby brother and I are creating a T-shirt line and are starting off as an Internet boutique, and I’m also coming out with an eyelash line called Tranny Girl. They are over-the-top lashes for the girls who like to go out and have a good time. It kind of describes me because sometimes I call myself that. Both will be out early spring. And Lem Payne is my new artist, and my brother who I think is the male version of me. Now, I’m going to expose him to the masses and make money off of him (laughs). We’re starting off independent with the mixtape, ‘Love Thy Brother,’ and it’s just the beginning of exposure with him and that.

BV: Who do you want to record with that you haven’t yet?

CM: Janelle Monae and B.O.B. They are so freakin’ cool and out-of-the-box and are so comfortable with pop, hip-hop and jazz. They are just comfortable with being honest with what’s inside of them and I love it.

BV: Will you join anyone on the road anytime soon?

CM: I’m going to be hitting the road with myself once again. We did a tour with Maxwell, then with Musiq Soulchild, then with Anthony Hamilton and then with Solange and I did a tour by myself and most of the dates were sold out. I have to thank my fans because in this climate it’s hard to stay afloat on the road. You guys have been very supportive, so I will be back on tour starting on January.

BV: Your album is dropping in the midst of the holiday season. What are you most thankful for?

CM: My mom. She’s incredible, and I don’t know what I would do without her. She’s my manager, and she’s my ear, my shoulder and my family. I’m just so grateful.

Chrisette Michele’s ‘Let Freedom Reign’ is in stores now.

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