After putting down guest vocals that resulted in the hot hook on “Lost One,” a single from Jay-Z’s 2006 album Kingdom Come, Chrisette Michele burst on the scene the following year with her own debut project, I Am. Several studio albums and hit songs—including “Blame It on Me” and “A Couple of Forevers”—came later, establishing her as a bona fide powerhouse in the industry.
SoulTrain.com spoke with the newly-engaged, Grammy Award-winning songstress about Milestone (her new album slated for release in the spring), the significance of the Soul Train Awards, owning her own music imprint, and why 2016 will be an exciting year for her.
Chrisette Michele: Crazy! And you’re right—it has been about ten years since we got started in this thing. I don’t know if it’s flowed or if it’s “stop and go” or up and down, but I just know that it continues. The biggest deal to me is that I’ve been able to keep going because I know many people who fell by the wayside or who have given up or stopped along the way. I’m just so grateful that, after all this time, I’ve become a young businesswoman who now owns a record label and I’ve been able to put out music myself. I think that’s what the journey is all about—getting to the place where you own things.
SoulTrain.com: Your new album, Milestone, will be released this spring. In terms of sound and style, what are you giving fans this time out? Will you be shaking things up a bit?
Chrisette Michele: I’ve been recording and creating songs for people for a really long time, so it was really important to me that the fans were satisfied. But this time, I’m gonna be a little bit selfish; the same songs that I listen to on my iPod or that I dance to when I go out, I’m gonna write and sing those songs and I’m gonna enjoy them. I think that people are gonna enjoy them with me because I’m having just that much fun.
SoulTrain.com: The first single from your upcoming album is the “trap soul” cut “Steady,” which is a bit of a different vibe for you. Tell us about going this route for your new music.
Chrisette Michele: I really love the roots I had when I first got started with Jay-Z and Naz, and then with Rick Ross and now with Wale—it’s that hip-hop space that I have always really enjoyed. I decided that now that I’m able to put things together myself, I want to bring some of that into this next album, and “Steady” is the beginning of that. I can’t wait for you guys to hear the rest of the record and see where we’re going with all of this.
SoulTrain.com: Part of your Rich Hipster umbrella is that you now own your own record label. What has it been like so far?
Chrisette Michele: It’s so fun, but it’s a lot of work. It’s a high financial cost where you just have to keep your eye on the pulse of what’s happening in the business world, make sure you’re up to date and also make sure you’re paying attention to how much things cost. The scariest thing is the financial risk that you take. It’s real business—you’re really putting a product out into the world and you’re really selling things in stores. And once you own a label, it’s not just about the music; it’s now about [whether] you can really run a multi-million dollar business.
SoulTrain.com: From an industry standpoint, has owning your own label changed the way you see things? Also, has it creatively sparked anything new for you?
Chrisette Michele: It has sparked a lot creatively because I don’t have as many people to answer to or be approved by. I’m the only person taking the risk because I’m the person who’s putting out the money, as opposed to before where [there were] many people taking a risk and putting out the money. The people who are eating off the checks we bring in are people I know; before, there were a lot of people I was feeding whom I didn’t necessarily know. They didn’t know my heart or where I wanted to go and although they meant well, we just didn’t have enough time to get to know each other.
SoulTrain.com: Reflecting on your entire discography, which song would you say perfectly embodies you?
Chrisette Michele: “Best of Me.” That’s my favorite song that I’ve written and recorded. I love to tell stories. I love poetry. I love classic American music and classic American songs that stand the test of time. That’s a classically-written piece—even the instruments are classically chosen. I think that it’s a standard American sound.
SoulTrain.com: As you know, folks are still buzzing about the foursome that was the Soul Train Awards cypher. What was it like to be part of setting the bar for that inaugural experience?
Chrisette Michele: It was so much fun. My fiancé encouraged me to do it because I was really afraid. I had so many questions: “What am I gonna sing?” and “Who’s gonna be there?” I didn’t know that when I got there I would see K-Ci and Lalah [Hathaway] and Eddie [Levert]. We didn’t even know what the music would be until a couple of days before, so I was really nervous. And then it became, “Well, what do I wear? Is it grown and sexy? Will it be formal? Do I get to wear leather?” So we literally ran out to Bloomingdale’s in New York City right before they closed and we bought everything we thought was fun, hopped on a plane, got there and said, “Well, this is what we’re doing.” When we got there, Erykah Badu was so nice and so inviting and made us all feel really welcome, so that was important to me.
SoulTrain.com: From the outside looking in, your performance and Erykah Badu’s pride really translated through the television.
Chrisette Michele: We didn’t know what would happen or what people would think but the response has been really overwhelming. I think we’re all grateful for that.
SoulTrain.com: In addition to your participation in the cypher, what was the overall Soul Train Awards experience like for you overall?
Chrisette Michele: The awards are really an emotional time for soul singers in general, and I don’t know if everybody knows that. It’s not about the hoopla and the glam and being nominated; it’s about music and our voice and what we represent as a community. It’s a family [environment]. It’s not a competitive day for artists; it’s more of a “Let’s keep this sound, this legacy and the spirit of this music alive and let’s keep it going.” We really do stick together. I spent days at Tyrese’s house just listening to his dreams and visions for the song “Shame” and for his latest album, so when he won the award, it was a triumph for everybody. We’re all really proud of each other.
SoulTrain.com: Besides your new music, what else can we look forward to from you in 2016?
Chrisette Michele: I’m so excited about 2016! We have the whole entire year mapped out. I’ll be doing some more television and acting, and then I’ll be going on tour for Milestone this summer. We’re doing a bunch of pop-up shops and we’re also doing the second annual “Pose ‘N Post Symposium.” At the end of the year, we’ll be doing a college tour and of course, I’m getting married, so we’re planning that, too! It’s gonna be a full year!
LaShawn Williams is a freelance writer and editor from Chicago, Illinois. She is an arts and entertainment enthusiast who has a serious thing for stand-up comedy, music and dance. Follow her on Twitter: @MsWilliamsWorld.