When the dynamic duo Floetry burst onto the scene with their debut album Floetic in 2002, music lovers across the globe were introduced to two distinct personalities: “The Songstress,” singer Marsha Ambrosius, and “The Floacist,” poet Natalie Stewart. With a string of hits including “Floetic,” “Getting Late,” and “Butterflies” (which also appeared on Michael Jackson’s 2001 release, Invincible), Floetry became the embodiment of a new musical energy that married the best of hip-hop, soul, and R&B. But after racking up multiple Grammy nominations for their first outing and releasing two more albums–2003’s live album, Floacism, followed by 2005’s Flo’Ology–the group disbanded officially in 2007 and The Floacist and The Songstress went their separate ways, leaving fans wondering what happened and whether they’d ever experience the sweet sounds that revolutionized the early part of the decade.
Finally, in autumn of 2010, The Floacist emerged with her first solo offering, Floetic Soul. Borrowing from the signature sound she’d pioneered from Floetry’s early beginnings and building upon the momentum and the legacy of the group she’d co-founded, Floetic Soul brought The Floacist front and center and featured guest appearances by Lalah Hathaway, Dwele, and Musiq Soulchild. It re-introduced audiences to the woman whose rich, velvet voice caressed the verses and refrains of many a Floetry tune, assertively establishing her as a unique creative force. But Floetic Soul was merely the beginning of The Floacist’s journey to artistic and personal independence.
On November 13, 2012, The Floacist dropped her latest project, Floetry Re:Birth. Far from being a mere remake of Floetry’s previous works or a thin attempt to recapture the energy of a time gone by, the new album is, at its core, the continuation of a dream and a vision that began long before fans were introduced to the incarnation of Floetry we’ve come to know and love. SoulTrain.com was honored to have the opportunity to talk one on one with The Floacist in this latest installment of our exclusive Artist to Artist series, about the road she’s traveled, growing into her voice as a woman and as an artist, and Floetry’s enduring legacy.
SoulTrain.com: Let’s talk about the new album, The Floacist Presents: Floetry Re:Birth. The original incarnation of Floetry broke up in 2007, and both you and Marsha Ambrosius have enjoyed highly successful solo careers. So why reinvent Floetry?
The Floacist: Interestingly enough, I’ve never moved away from Floetry. I make poetic delivery with musical intent–that is Floetry, as a genre. I don’t create anything else. I’m always dabbling in that level of combination; I hear dualities. So I never stepped away from Floetic expression as a poet–that’s never been something I’ve been trying to get away from. In terms of Re:Birth, a lot of it actually has to do with the spiritual aspect of my everyday life and journey. I have more music in me–more songs, more messages, more mantras. At this point, it would be a bit of a shame to put down something that had such a positive vibration and energy, and not continue. I couldn’t see a reason to not continue.
Prince had written a song for us when we were making Flo’Ology. He invited us to his house–which was fantastic, an exceptional experience! He said that Floetry could never end. He also predicted the challenges the group would face, and said that, basically, Floetry would never end because Floetry’s more than a name. He said it’s a style, a genre, and as long as [we] remembered that, Floetry would always live. His contribution to music and to the independence of artists, and ownership, is unmatched. So I took that very seriously. I took that very deeply to heart.
SoulTrain.com: In listening to Floetry Re:Birth, I noticed that the vibe feels more soulful, almost like a continuous quiet storm; in contrast, the first Floetry album in particular had a much more deliberate hip-hop/R&B energy to it. Was that intentional?
The Floacist: It’s definitely intentional, creatively. From the moment you go into a relationship with the music industry, you’re on a journey of independence the moment you sign a deal–whether you’re aware of that or not. I find it very interesting that you say that, in your opinion, this album is more soulful. The first Floetry albums were created when I was 21 years old. Floetry started on the poetry scene in London in 1999, and led to a trip to Atlanta. From that moment, it’s been a journey of interacting with people, collaborating, but also learning about one’s self-value, what one wants to do, what one doesn’t want to do. The hip-hop influence in the beginning is something that came from the producers and our collaborative efforts. I was asked to be more of a rapper than a poet, and I’m not a rapper–I’m a poet.
This album is the first album I actually created at my home in London, the first album that I’ve been able to express complete creative control on. Floetry is about the relationship between the spoken word and the melody voice.
SoulTrain.com: You mentioned the new Floetry album being your first opportunity to fully express yourself creatively. Does that differ from your solo album, Floetic Soul?
The Floacist: Floetic Soul was part of the freedom journey, definitely.
SoulTrain.com: Earlier this summer, vocalist Julie Dexter joined you at the Vail Soul Music Festival as part of the new Floetry. Will she be touring with you? Who can fans expect to see on stage with you in terms of guest vocalists and musicians this time around?
The Floacist: I’ve embodied a larger family now. We have a group of background vocalists called The Isis, who add texture. There will be a larger vocal presence in the show. You’ll see people I’ve collaborated with in the past. I don’t want to get into calling too many names, or people will be like, “Hey, I don’t see so and so!” [laughs]…but it will definitely be a collaborative effort on the road.
Julie and I go back a long way–I’ve known Julie since I was about nineteen years old, since before Floetry formed. In 1998 I spoke to Julie about us combining our vocals and poetry, when Floetry was an idea more so than a manifestation. So we often collaborate. But I think it’s really important that I make it clear that Floetry Re:Birth is not about me replacing Marsha. The songstress is irreplaceable. It’s about the embellishment and the growth of the genre.
SoulTrain.com: When you decided to re-form Floetry and produce a new Floetry album, was there ever a moment when you thought about bringing Marsha back onboard?
The Floacist: Absolutely. But everybody must be able to walk their walk.
In 2006, when I wanted to liberate myself and Marsha from the influences that were attempting to take Floetry a different way, Marsha wanted to do something different. The doors, the gates, the heart–Floetry is always open to Marsha. Always will be. I’ve known Marsha since I was 11 years old. Floetry does have a specific ethos, energy, which I am content to the depths of my heart and soul with being the conduit of. And I will always protect that vibration and energy.
SoulTrain.com: Let’s shift gears a bit and talk about your creative process. There are some unique differences between constructing song lyrics and composing poetry, but ultimately no matter where you begin when you add instrumentation you have music. So when you’re creating, how does the process work for you? Are you writing primarily as a poet, such that the poems stand on their own, or do you write with the specific intent to develop a musical piece from each poem?
The Floacist: That’s a fantastic question! I am poet first. My baptism of “poet” opens me up not just to being a performance poet, it opens me up to the responsibility of words, sound, power, identity–what you say, what you stand for, how you heal with your words. I always write as a poet–and I mean “poet” in its ancient sense. However, the songs that I have released over these past ten years, every album contains .5% of what I’ve actually been writing. I write as a process of life. When it comes to making a song, the song feels more so as a release and imprint of moments that last much longer than the song. I approach it as a solution, as a time to wrap things up, to be affirmed. So I may have been writing rants, temper tantrums, ideas, mantras, poems, song titles, books, stories, speeches. But when I get to writing a song, less is more. Conflict comes first, and then humility onto the conflict.
SoulTrain.com: 2012 is the ten-year anniversary of Floetry’s breakout hit, “Say Yes.” You’ve released a new version of the song, along with a new video clip. You can still turn on the radio and hear the original version of “Say Yes,” and it’s timeless. So what inspired you to re-record the song, and what has fans’ reaction been to your re-imagining of it?
The Floacist: First and foremost, I wanted to celebrate the journey. “Say Yes” was the second single off of Floetic. And it was the only way I could include Marsha on this album, in spirit. Marsha is credited on this album.
There’s definitely a difference between being 21 and recording a song about sensuality, connectedness, seduction, embrace, love…and being 33 and creating a song about those things. As a younger woman I was trying to make an imprint of the woman I would become. Now, I can create from the space of who it is that I am. This, I think, is why it seemed kind of quaint to have an anniversary edition to such a pivotal song.
There’ve been different responses [to the song]. It’s been misconstrued that the offering is an attempt to compete with the previous recording. They would either say they like it or they don’t like it, they prefer it or they don’t. But there are those who understand that it is a limited edition offering and have an appreciation of it.
I’m a believer of the sankofa philosophy of learning from our past and enriching our present, in order to effect our future. And it’s all very sankofa to be able to initiate the new by touching the past.
Visit The Floacist on Facebook, and on Twitter @the_floacist. Floetry Re:Birth is available on iTunes.
Rhonda Nicole is an independent singer/songwriter, lovin’ and livin’ in Oakland, CA, currently performing with San Francisco-based soul band Midtown Social. Download her EP “Nuda Veritas” on CDBaby and iTunes, check her out on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @wildhoneyrock.