Chrisette Michele colors outside of the lines and it’s apparent in almost every aspect of her life. The 27-year-old chanteuse isn’t afraid to rock a red lip or keep her hair as short as the rappers she’s sung beside. And she’s never felt comfortable acting like a sheep just for a paycheck. Perhaps her mission to lead and not follow has much to do with the reason she’ll have three albums under her belt by the end of this year. Her newest, Let Freedom Reign, is a collection of tunes showcasing the ills and thrills of love. Songs like “I’m a Star” and “Goodbye Game” are prime examples of Chrisette’s ability to marry soulful vocals with stories of the heart.
But even if her words sound familiar, her actions for the new year will be anything of the sort. “[For] 2011, I’m feeling very rebellious,” she reveals. “I’m looking forward to not doing what I’m supposed to do. I’m looking forward to not following any rules. I don’t want to do what anyone tells me to do.”
As she sits in a plush chair, sipping hot chocolate on a frigid November afternoon in New York City, Chrisette is warm and welcoming. The Long Island gal isn’t the type to give a brief explanation during a conversation; she articulates herself in a manner where no one feels jipped on the answers she provides. Rap-Up.com gets inside the R&B child’s head as she reveals the song Drake was supposed to appear on, her chemistry with Rick Ross, connecting with Nicki Minaj over Twitter, her admiration for Kanye West, and her style icons. Uncage the songbird below.
1. What have you accomplished with this album that you didn’t get to do with the last two?
Well, similar to the first album, I was able to write most of the music on this album. I wrote nine out of the 12 tracks. And on this album, unlike the first two, I’m the co-executive producer. So I feel like it’s a feat for a brown-skinned girl to be able to do something like that. Hopefully it’s an encouragement to my homegirls.
2. What’s your favorite song on the album?
A favorite of mine is “If Nobody Sang Along.” That song is just the idea that if there weren’t any radio stations picking up my song, if there were no video shows and record labels and magazines, would I still want to tell my story? If what I had to say wasn’t popular, would I be brave enough to say it? The answer is let freedom reign. The answer is this album and yeah, I would keep talking even if it wasn’t popular to say what I thought. I wrote that song. That song is not really a big production. That song is Chuck Harmony playing the keys and then we brought a friend of ours to come in and play the cello. It’s more of an organic record.
3. Four rappers were originally supposed to be on the title track and only two got on: Talib Kweli and Black Thought. What happened to Drake and Rick Ross?
Drake and Ross were actually for another song. They were for a song called “So In Love.” Politics have it so that Drake can’t be a part, although he was so excited about it. He even did a video drop and everything promoting it. He’s a really sweet guy, really, really gentle, really, really nice. Ross was able to kinda sneak the record [“So in Love”] over and put it under the table and say, “Here, I’m doing it anyway. Don’t tell nobody.”
4. Speaking of Drake, he was in the video for “Epiphany (I’m Leaving).” How did you link with him before he was the superstar he is now?
I didn’t even have his number or email or anything like that. Someone here at the record label introduced my mom to his, I guess, management, ’cause I needed someone to be in the video. And he was like, “There’s this guy who’s about to come out, who’s about to rip it.” They sent me to his MySpace page. And to be honest, I had only seen him on “Degrassi.” I didn’t know he was a musician. So he was a part of my first video.
5. How’s your chemistry with Rick Ross after working together several times?
You know what’s weird, I get along really well with rappers and scary people. I ask them all the time, “Why did you ask me [to be a part of this track]?” I think I’m very laidback. I think I’m pretty calm, chill, and I don’t take too much too seriously because nothing that’s not supposed to happen will happen. I’m very open-minded because if it’s supposed to happen, I’d like to be involved. When I was hanging out with Rick in the studio doing “Aston Martin Music,” he tells me, “This is what my album’s going to look like,” and he gives me a list of album titles. Who does that? And none of the album titles have any lyrics but he had all this music. This is music I would record to, R&B music. He goes, “I’m gonna call one of them ‘Aston Martin Music.'” Not only does he want to call it “Aston Martin Music,” if I was to go outside to the parking lot, there’s an Aston Martin outside, there’s a Porsche, there’s a Bentley, there’s a Rolls-Royce outside. It’s crazy. He really lives the stuff that he’s talking about.
6. “Number One” was co-written by your mother. How did that come about?
I was having a complete writer’s block on “Number One.” I was in the studio exhausted and the song had so many melodies. I was like, “I’m not trying to fill this up right now. Mom, what would you say if this was your record?” So she began to speak the sentences and I typed out her sentences and just made them rhyme at the end and went in the booth and recorded them. Just like me, she writes music. My whole family is very musical. My dad won a bunch of awards for music. He won the Apollo a bunch of times. But they’re teachers by trade [in] special education.
7. You tweeted about wanting to do a song with Nicki Minaj. Have you since connected?
You know what, she actually hit me back and now we’re following each other on Twitter. And she, obviously if you haven’t noticed, has been inundated with collaborations and all this stuff, so I mean when she’s ready and she wants to come around to it, that’s cool. And if not, that’s cool too. I support her. I’m excited for her. I was talking about her at a business forum a couple weeks ago. I think that it’s genius when someone can take their environment and brand it, when you can take a Barbie, the streets you grew up in, lipgloss, and just things, and brand them. The difference between me and an artist like Nicki Minaj, someone who takes things to brand them, is that the things that I take aren’t really tangible. I take emotion and brand it, so it’s a little bit… It takes a little longer for people to see what it is that I’m saying because it has to touch them in their heart, which is why I’m the type of artist who has to tour 200 to 250 days out of the year.
8. What did you think of Kanye West’s film “Runaway” after attending the New York premiere?
Kanye is one of my favorite artists. He’s a rock star. The thing I love about him most is that he’s not afraid of the machine. A lot of people who have something to say hide underneath the tables, are afraid to wear Alexander McQueen, they’re uncomfortable riding in Maybachs because they don’t want to be seen. Kanye doesn’t mind standing on a box top and saying what he believes in. We might not understand why he said what he said, but when he explains what he means, there’s so much meat in it. What was really great about being able to be part of that screening was to be able to hear his explanations for a lot of the things that he’s said and done over the past few years. I was really, really moved by his honesty and bravery because he’s one of the bravest people.
9. Do you have a style icon in the music industry?
Josephine Baker. Diana Ross. Dorothy Dandridge. They weren’t afraid to be glamorous but they were still demure. They still had some mystique, but they were also eclectic. They weren’t doing what everyone was doing at the time. Even Phyllis Hyman when she wore those turbans on her head. She was a comedienne-singer on the stage. She wasn’t really afraid of what anybody had to say about what she had on. Josephine Baker wore top hats and suit jackets, but she looked like a model. She wore a big bow tie, it’d be a masculine outfit but she’d have on beautiful lipstick and stand up straight. Dorothy Dandridge, the way that she walked even inspired me. Elegance mixed with eclectic behavior is attractive to me.
10. Many artists have causes they’re passionate about. Have you supported any or created one of your own?
Saving Our Daughters is an organization that focuses on saving our daughters. One way that I think that we can save our daughters is through mentorship. So my main focus is to encourage young people to mentor younger people because there’s a lot of kids out there who don’t have great role models to look up to. I’m also starting my own mentorship program called Email Mentor. A lot of people don’t have a lot of time anymore. A lot of times I’ll give a kid my email address and we’ll send pictures back and forth. We’ll say, “How are you doing in school?” Then when they get good grades, I’ll post it on my Twitter page or I’ll send them a pair of sneakers or something like that. It’s a way for the high-profile person who wants to mentor kids to have some time to mentor children. So you’ll be seeing a lot about that in the future.