Interview: Chrisette Michele
Wed, 11 Jun 2008 11:10:19
Chrisette Michele Photos
Chrisette Michele Videos
Chrisette Michele's got soul. That's a hard thing to come by these days. There aren't many smoky metropolitan watering holes out there fostering the sound like there were in the '60s and '70s. Nevertheless, soul remains necessary, and as evidenced by it's integral role in rap music. Chrisette Michele has got the genre down so well that she's been approached for collaborations by heavy hitters such as Jay-Z, Ghostface Killah and now T.I. The young New York crooner's debut album I Am (Island/Def Jam) combines Chrisette's soulful cadence with some very modern lyrical stories. She took some time to discuss I Am, giving hip hop some class and much more with ARTISTdirect in this exclusive interview.
You've got a very old school, traditional vocal approach, but you explore very modern subject matter.
I definitely listened to a lot of jazz growing up. So, I specialize in storytelling—like a lot of the older jazz classics do. As far as soul is concerned, I went a little more modern.
Where do the songs start for you?
"Like a Dream" was actually a love letter to a guy who I thought was cute at a club that I go to. I actually went there last night, coincidentally. It was a letter to him. As a singer with access to different equipment, I just go hang out in the studio and make songs for people. Then I just give them the songs. "Like A Dream" actually got to my record label by mistake, and they were like, "That should be the first single." It didn't end up being my first single, but it does start the record. That was kind of funny. Usually, I have a conversation before I write. We'll talk about our life stories or what we're going through at the time. Songs are based on other peoples' lives mostly. I'm a little shy about sharing my own stories.
So you're more likely to write about someone else than yourself?
Yeah, definitely, if you told me about something you were going through, I'd write it down. The song "Golden"—obviously, I'm not married—is about a married couple. It's more about my parents. The songs that I personally relate to most on the record are "Be O.K." and "Big Girl."
"Slow Down" off Ghostface Killah's Big Doe Rehab is one of your most powerful vocal performances. What was it like working with Ghostface?
That was a fun record to do! We were nervous about doing it, because the record was so weird. My friend Science and I put it together, and we were like, "Who wants it?" We were surprised that Ghostface wanted it, but we were honored. I was excited that he had such a great message behind what he was saying on that song.
You bring a different vibe to hip hop tracks.
Definitely, it wasn't one of my original goals, but this is the first classic hip hop collaboration I've done. I've worked with Jay-Z, Nas, Kanye West and Ghostface. Up next is T.I. One of my goals is to contribute something new to hip hop culture. I feel like I'm able to give a lot, and I'm really honored to be a part of it. The song with Ghostface is definitely very special. It slows down, and it's kind of metaphoric. It was also just fun.
“The audience becomes part of my family for the hour that we're together”
It's a hazy track you can delve into. It almost has a psychedelic feel.
We definitely burned a lot of incense during it [Laughs]! I don't know if I was trying to channel any old style music or not on that. I was just hanging out in the studio, and that was what happened. At the end of the day, it wasn't my goal to preserve any music or make sure anything special stayed alive. I just wanted to have a good time.
Are you excited about touring with Raheem DeVaughn?
The tour with Raheem is going to be sick. We have a surprise opening act. There's going to be a lot of singing and dancing, so come out and have a good time. I play some instruments. My brother is up there on stage with me. So it's definitely a family affair. The audience becomes part of my family for the hour that we're together. The songs sound great live, because a lot of the elements we used in the studio were live elements. Sometimes I get teary-eyed, because I put all this work into the CD, and when I'm on stage, there are thousands of people in front of me who know every single word. It's really amazing. People need to see the person they're connecting with on the CD, and I need to see the people that I'm giving to. It's love.
Do you particularly like hip hop collaborations?
The great thing about hip hop is that it conforms to anything. Hip hop can have country, soul, R&B or rock. It's the most pliable genre of music that there is. I went to the studio with T.I. about a week ago, and I was more honored than I've ever been. To be with someone who has come through so much and is still on top of his game putting out great music is an honor. It's rewarding to be in the studio with great artists like him, Kanye, Ghostface, Jay-Z and Nas. To be able to contribute something to them is huge. What's fun for me is being a theater girl, that's how I was raised. Every time I go into the studio, I'm a character. People will still call me, "Chrisette Michele," but I'm able to transform into whoever it is I'm hanging out with. I think that's the best part of the music.