“I’ve been completely selfish,” Marsha Ambrosius admits. So what exactly has the soulful songbird been greedy with? Her songwriting skills. The 33-year-old British import has steered clear of joining other artists’ studio sessions while crafting her debut solo album, Late Nights & Early Mornings, which fans can hear today. But the singer, who’s also operatically-trained, has an arsenal of tracks to unveil now that her self-described “baby” is out there for the masses. “I do have a million songs that are sitting around that are available for U2, Coldplay, Maroon 5,” she reveals. “[Artists] outside of the norm that people wouldn’t expect me to do.”
The former Floetry member is comfortable doing the unexpected. Just take a look at the video for her single “Far Away.” Created to raise awareness around bullying in the LGBT community, the visuals strike home for Marsha, who sought inspiration for the controversial clip when a close friend attempted suicide. “As far as the video, I wanted something that people weren’t speaking about,” she states.
Now that the album has arrived, her first since parting ways with partner Natalie “The Floacist” Stewart, the talk is in Marsha’s favor. From a remix to Michael Jackson’s “Butterflies” to a cover of Lauryn Hill’s “Lose Myself,” the curly-haired lass shaped the effort to include tracks from “the best in the game.” While some may be surprised at how she was able to score approval from the Fugees’ frontwoman, it’s just the nature of how she handles her business.
Rap-Up.com spoke with Marsha on a brisk afternoon in New York City as she prepared for her big release day, but aside from her debut, she had much to chat about, including her love for Rihanna, getting approval from Lauryn Hill, working on Dr. Dre’s Detox, and freaking out over Prince.
1. What has been the response to the “Far Away” video?
An absolute, overwhelming, positive response. It’s been phenomenal. It’s been an eye opener to many. My intent for the video was to portray an honest approach to a situation that happened to a friend of mine that attempted suicide a couple of years ago. And I felt it only right to depict it in the video in its truest form. The fact that it’s hitting home for many people that hadn’t had the opportunity to have their voices heard, I’m thankful this video is giving that subject matter a platform now.
2. You worked on Alicia Keys’ third LP, As I Am. How was that experience for you?
Wonderful. Alicia Keys co-wrote one song on [my] album and it’s titled “With You.” Initially it was for her project. She asked me to come in and write for her album. There were a couple of other records, but this was the record she didn’t choose for that particular album. So in signing to J Records, I’m like, “Yo, we’re labelmates.” That was like December 2009, so January 1, I was like, “Listen, Alicia. We are labelmates. I had that song that I wanted to do with you. I really want it for my project.” She was all for it.
3. Which artist are you paying attention to now that people may be surprised to hear?
Rihanna. I think she’s so dope. People are surprised that I would say that, and I’m like, “What’s the surprise?” She’s awesome. I love that she’s still from the West Indies and puts her West Indian flair on current pop. With popular artists you want someone that stands out, and she does.
4. You covered Lauryn Hill’s “Lose Myself” on the album. She seems to be very particular about approving the use of her music. What was that process like?
You know what, sometimes you have to let the music speak for itself. Myself, I’ve always respected her as an artist. In creating this song over, I definitely heard the passion behind her lyrics. I know as a songwriter and producer myself, there are only so many co-writers I was gonna have on this project and if I were to have any, of course I would want the best in the game to ever do it, hence the reason why I have an Alicia Keys or a Lauryn Hill on there. These are strong, powerful women who have written songs that have reached millions of people. With “Lose Myself,” I just felt like the song needed to be heard by more people than [those who] just heard the [Surf’s Up] soundtrack. I submitted my cover of it and they were all for it.
5. Did you actually get to meet with Lauryn about it?
We’re affiliated with so many in the same circle, being that I’m in Philly and there’s like ?uestlove, like anyone that she’s ever worked with. So there was already a direct line of communication with Lauryn. I knew if I always wanted to reach out and get something done and do it in the best way possible, it was great to connect directly with her. When it was done, I was so thankful it was a yes and not a no. I just wanted to pay my respects.
6. You have several tattoos. What’s the significance of those to you?
The most recent tattoo I got was my lion on my left arm. I got it cause I’m a Leo. I fell in love with the way they had this lion in this tattoo parlor. I was like, “I want that tattoo.” The lady in there said she would freehand it for me so it wouldn’t be exactly like a copy. I didn’t just want a stenciled lion on me. When she did the tattoo, it turns out that some of the shading appeared to be my grandmother’s face when someone pointed it out to me. [The tattoo artist] had no idea that my grandmother had just passed away, but I wanted to do something for my grandmother. I can take a picture of it and you can see her face in the shading in the lion’s mane. It’s really weird. That was 2005, 2006, in Philadelphia. I did get something after that. I touched up my very first butterfly tattoo, which I got because I got in the studio with Michael Jackson and made the song “Butterflies.”
7. At one time you were signed to Dr. Dre’s Aftermath imprint. What’s your relationship like with him now?
Cool. It was a mutual decision to go separate ways. I think in doing the deal I always just wanted to produce and write under that label, like doing the features with Busta Rhymes and Game and things like that, and work under the Interscope umbrella. As far as putting out solo records, they never really had success in R&B before so I took a backseat as far as doing my artist thing. I think because so many bloggers and so many people were assuming that that was in the process is why it feels like it’s taken me so long to do a solo album, where I only just signed to J Records at the end of 2009. It’s taken a year cycle to do all the legal work, get the album ready, get the paperwork together, print it, mix it. All that good stuff.
8. Did you work on Detox at all?
Everyone worked on Detox. Detox, we still don’t know. There’s no official tracklisting for it. I have no idea if any of the stuff I did will make it. We’ll see.
9. Prince is one of your biggest inspirations. Have you ever met him?
A couple of times. He’s definitely invited me over to his crib for every Grammy party. He called me up on stage at a show in Philadelphia and I acted like a lunatic on “The Price Is Right” when they call you up, “And, Marsha Ambrosius!” He called my name out of that crowd like there was no tomorrow. He’s always been cool and always been a fan of what I do. I’m so thankful to have who I consider my top three artists of all time, in no particular order, it’s Prince, Stevie [Wonder], and Michael [Jackson]. Just getting to be creatively around [Prince] and have him respect what I do is just an honor.
10. Your former Floetry partner, the Floacist, recently released a solo album. Do you guys still talk and have you heard her album?
No and no. For Nat and myself, it didn’t end on good terms but as damn near family members—we’re like sisters—you go through things in life where you make your own decisions. We grew up into individuals and when people make decisions about what they want to do in life, you allow them to do so. That’s the right thing to do. There’s no love lost whatsoever. I wish her the best in everything that she does.