K. Michelle is raw, honest and refreshingly blunt. Her debut album, Pain Medicine, will be released on Hitz Committee Entertainment in early 2010.
Upon first listen, K. Michelle’s lyrical content may seem “too real for the radio,” but her personal experiences are reflective of countless single mothers whose survival instincts have allowed them to scratch and claw their way to success.
Currently, K. Michelle is touring the U.S. on 36-city trek, as the opening act for R. Kelly’s “Ladies Make Some Noise” Tour. With a bit of courage, audience members will take a healthy dose of her “pain medicine” and find solace in the lyrics that have been penned from her turbulent life.
As K. Michelle prepared to embark on her national tour, she managed to squeeze some time out of her busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry – reflecting on the inspiration behind Pain Medicine, the provocative buzz single, “Fakin’ It,” and the mentorship she received from R. Kelly and MeMpHiTz.
According to multiple sources, you have been performing since the age of five. As a classically trained pianist and a recipient of vocal coaching, is there a particular experience from your early years that you think was pivotal in leading you to Jive?
There are some artists who have that one defining moment that they know they're supposed to be a singer. I think that defining moment was the day that I could open my mouth because I've always loved music, whether it be country music or R&B. I always knew that I'm supposed to do this. It's something that God wants me to do with music.
Is there a particular moment where you knew you wanted to do it professionally as a career, apart from the love aspect?
Even when I was young, I always would tell my mom, “I'm a superstar. I'm a superstar. I'm going to sing. I'm going to be a singer.” My mom would always tell me, “You have to have Plan B.” And I was like, “No, no, no, no, no, no! This is what I'm going to do.” Even though I considered a Plan B, but just watching Whitney Houston made me even more confirmed. I know she sang for the troops — she did that concert live — and I can still remember her with her yellow satin jumpsuit on. I knew every hand move, every breath, everything that she did through that whole show — I watched it over and over again. That also emphasized more that this is what I'm going to do.
One song that really defines Whitney Houston’s career is her rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl XXV. And a couple of days ago, I went on YouTube and found a clip of you singing “The Star Spangled Banner” at one of the Cleveland Cavaliers playoff games. That song is incredibly hard to sing, and you just killed it! I know you are the truth, because I tend to use that as a barometer of a singer’s capabilities.
Thank you. Thank you.
Now people have the opportunity to hear you live, night after night, since you were recently added to R. Kelly’s “Ladies Make Some Noise” Tour. How did this particular opportunity come about?
Well, actually I met with Mr. Kelly when I first got signed. I played him songs and we just had a long conversation about my journey through the industry. To me, he's one of the most musical people that I've ever met. He was very open with me about me as an artist. I think that was the beginning of me getting on the R. Kelly tour, because he really believed in me a lot, my artistry, and believed that I have what it takes to make it. I think I prayed this into existence. I kept saying, “I really want to be on this tour.” For me to be brand new — I haven't even been signed a year yet. And to get on the tour and introduce him, it really is a blessing. I've just been trying to glide it and not bring him down and not let my label down.
That's a stamp of approval that many people don't get, so congrats for that.
Thanks. It’s a tremendous blessing.
Along with R. Kelly, you are also touring with Pleasure P. As the only female performer, what kind of extra spice do you think you bring to the show? How have the female attendants responded to you?
I think I bring truth to the tour. I think as women we have two sides. We have the side that loves men. And then me, personally, I like to see a woman that I can relate to. I think I'm the voice for them. I think I'm just adding honesty to the tour for women, and I'm saying things that they want to say.
Pain Medicine is the title of your forthcoming project. And although the album hasn’t been officially released, I have fallen in love with “Where They Do That At.” Towards the end of the song, you make an interesting declaration: “this may be too real for the radio.” How do you think Pain Medicine will be received upon its release?
I get very irritated with the fact that a lot of people in this industry feel as if the music consumer will not appreciate real music. I get very bothered by that and I'm not going to bite my tongue about that at all. I touch on that in “Where They Do That At,” when I sing “this might be too real for the radio.”
Usually when you try to speak real things, people don't want to play it. They don't want to play real stuff for real life issues. My album is called Pain Medicine, and I face those issues head-on. I'm not going to change the kind of artist I am. It's relatable music and it's honest music. I'm not going to change that so I can get 2,000 or 3,000 BDS spins. Not going to happen.
So, Pain Medicine — music is supposed to heal and it's supposed to be the bridge between heaven and earth. It's supposed to move you. It's one of the most powerful things that we have in our control. And what I wanted Pain Medicine to do was for somebody to put it in and say, “Okay, I just went through this,” or, “I'm going through this.” Maybe I didn't make them feel a little bit better about that situation, but I made them feel like they're not the only one.
When I was recording this album, my life was not and is not at a perfect place for me. So I'm not going to sing happy, perfect music. I'm going to sing exactly what I'm feeling. Pain Medicine is personal to me — maybe too personal for some — but I wanted to open up. God gave me a platform to talk, so I'm going to say something worth saying.
Another one of my favorite songs is “Today Just Ain’t My Day,” which all people can relate to – male and female, young and old. What message do you hope that song inspires?
Basically, “Today Just Aint My Day” was one of those records where I went in the studio. The producer was trying to give me a record that was already recorded, some pop bulls**t, and I don't sing that. I was like, “I’m not singing that.” I was not having a good day. I went into the piano room and every problem that I was having or someone else might have, that would make them not have a good day, I sang about it. It's two songs on that album. I think that's one of the most personal songs ever, that I went in there and did, because I know everybody, everybody can relate to not having a good day. I just wanted that song to be out there, and I wanted everybody to know whatever is causing you not to have a good day, we all are going through it, too.
I am intrigued by the fact that you were able to write and co-produce all of the tracks for your debut. A lot of people do not get that opportunity. Why do you think you had that much flexibility?
I think because I'm very strong-willed. I know I'm a brand new artist and I haven't sold one record yet, but I also know I can't feel something I don't believe in. My personality is so strong — however I feel, it shows on my face, it shows in my posture, everything. The person that signed me, I think he somewhat understood, “I can't shove records down her throat. I can't do that.” So it was all about me just being me and being the artist that I truly am.
Have you always been very vocal or did life teach you to be that way?
I think I haven't had a choice but to be vocal with my life. A lot of things that I've gone through, it's made me a fighter. It's made me very strong. Some people might feel as if I need to calm down or be quiet. I'm not because that ain't me. All my battles and all my struggles have made me this strong woman I am. God's not done with me yet. I'm still working on being able to allow myself to take the backseat on some things, but when it comes to my career and it comes to how I'm going to eat and take care of my son, I'm going to always be very vocal.
How has motherhood shaped your career?
It made me fight even harder. Like right now, I'm not around my son. And if I'm going to be away from him, there has to be a reason why I'm away from him. I have to be doing something for the betterment of him while I'm away. Motherhood has made me say, “This has to work, and it has to be done my way, and it has to be done in a way that's beneficial to my son.”
When you look at the R&B game, what do you think you are bringing to the table that other artists are not bringing?
I think the records that I have on my album — if the label puts them out — those records are completely different and they are completely what I think the industry needs. “You Should Have Killed Me” is one of my favorite records. I have so many stories of women that are going through things like abuse. I got a letter from a girl who's going through a trial. She was raped. She was scared to go to trial. She heard “You Should Have Killed Me” and she felt like she had the power to do things.
I'll say what a lot of people won't say. I'll carry that on my back. And I'll say it in a musical way and in an honest way. We have great R&B out there right now. There are a lot of artists I love in R&B right now, but I feel like a big majority of R&B is watered down for radio and it's watered down to be politically correct. I'm just not going to water down anything. I'm going to tell it how it is. And if you don't like real talk, you can just stay away from my mouth. The R&B I'm bringing is straight to the point, no chaser, straight R&B. That's what it is.
The very first song that introduced me to your music was “Fakin' It.” In a weird way, the song is a bold testament to the power of love, because even though you are not feeling what's going on during the most intimate part of the relationship, you make a conscious decision to remain faithful to your man. I really applaud you for being a positive role model for young women and spotlighting the virtues of monogamy. What other messages can we expect on Pain Medicine, in regards to relationships?
Relationships, for me right now, I'm staying away from them. As far as the “Fakin' It” record, that's like a fun record for me. The rest of the album isn't like that. It's a fun record, and that is a part that women go through. You could really, really love a man, but he just doesn't know what he's doing. And you still hang in there. Women take a lot, and they hang in there for the men that they truly love. They would never want to say, “Oh my God, I'm faking it,” because they would never want to hurt them, but a lot of women do fake it. I just wanted to bring that to the light. You know, we have Young Money and everybody's saying, “I wish I could screw every girl in the world.” Well really, while you're doing that, they're probably faking it [laughing].
I was looking at your most-recent press release and it said that R. Kelly gave you some pointers about the business side of the music business. What advice has he given you that you think will help your career for the long haul?
Mr. Kelly told me as long as I write life and not music, I'll always have a job. And he told me, “Don't let the label dumb you down. If you want to say something, you say it. Whatever you want to do, if it's bad for you to do, then do it.” The thing with him is he talked to me for about three, four hours. And he basically told me to not change anything about myself. Period. And that was the greatest advice that he could give me. “You are a bold personality, a big personality. People might not get it. People might not appreciate it. But you remain you. I've seen artists come and go, and I think you have what it takes. So you write real life, and not music, and you'll forever have fans.”
In addition to R. Kelly, you also praise [Mickey] MeMpHiTz [Wright] for your early success. I pulled the following quote from your press release: "God knew I needed somebody that could understand my struggle and develop me into a better artist. MeMpHiTz is the best person to work with me." Briefly describe your professional relationship.
MeMpHiTz and I were born and raised in the same city, [Memphis, Tennessee], so he knows what it's like to have to live in the inner city and we both have the same kind of fighter spirit. When he met me, I was very vocal, as usual, like, “I'm singing this and I'm da, da, da, da, da,” and he was very acceptable. He was like, “I don't want to change you. I just want to bring it together so that you can become better.” And I like that he said he wanted to make me better and not completely change me, to fit me for what was missing in the industry, or things like that. I felt like I always needed somebody to get it. And once I had one person to get it, I felt like that would open the doors for a lot of different things. So I was very lucky to find somebody that understood me.
For more information on K. Michelle, visit her official MySpace page.