. Michelle has made a career out of walking in her truth. Her delivery might be off-putting to some, but her unfiltered commentary is all from a sincere place. For instance, the misunderstood singer doesn’t mind offering real guidance to the fresh voices in today’s R&B era; but she’s no yes-man, though.
“I think when it comes to the new people you have to support,” K. Michelle candidly tells Rated R&B. “I want to offer all the support so that they don’t make the same mistakes I made because I made a lot of them. But, I’m not going to offer no fake shit. If I don’t like it, I don’t like it.”
It’s a chilly Monday afternoon in mid-January and the Memphis native is running a few minutes behind for our call. It’s a heavy day of phone interviews for the R&B star. The calls are special, though. They are in support of her latest album All Monsters Are Human, which is available everywhere.
K. Michelle’s team heads the call and invites the woman of the hour to kick off the eagerly-anticipated conversation. She is in great spirits from the chirpy tone of her voice and is seemingly eager to talk about her latest work before she makes a run to Target.
But first, before the new album discussion, it was only right to congratulate her on making the list — Rated R&B’s 50 Best R&B Albums of the 2010s list, of course.
Her sophomore album, Anybody Wanna Buy a Heart?, made our unranked albums list ahead of the New Year. Considered by many as her finest album, K. Michelle is equally as smitten as the critics, five years after its breakthrough release.
“That album was amazing,” she confidently says. “I’m not saying that because it’s mine. I listen to it still and be like, ‘Girl, this is good’.”
The emotive singer-songwriter is hoping for a similar reaction with All Monsters Are Human. Truth be told, her fifth studio release, the follow-up to 2017’s Kimberly: The People I Used to Know, felt like it wasn’t going to be put out. Most of the slow starts for the All Monsters Are Human release, which she first hinted for a September 2018 arrival, were attributed to her serious health battle after multiple surgeries to remove her butt enhancements.
In a fight for her life, completing an album was the last thing on her mind. Clawing her way out from this time that could have proved fatal and a mountain of other somber moments that almost delayed AMAH wasn’t easy, but she made it through. How did she get past it? She went into the studio and recorded music that her loyal Rebels would instantly love.
Now, she’s back with tons of new music — including a new mixtape (Still No F*cks Given) and a proper full-length album. The latter collection, however, is the first independent studio effort released through her imprint Chase Landin, LLC d/b/a No Color No Sound Records.
All Monsters Are Human includes her street single “Supahood” featuring Kash Doll and Yung Miami of the City Girls. It also includes her blazing single “The Rain.” Produced by Cory Mo and Jazze Pha, the New Edition-sampling hit has infiltrated the top 10 on the Billboard Adult R&B Songs chart.
In our conversation with K. Michelle, the R&B powerhouse talks All Monsters Are Human, evolving as an artist, fighting to record a country album, her thoughts on musicianship in today’s R&B and much more.
All Monsters Are Human is the title of your first release since parting ways with Atlantic Records, who backed your four previous albums. At one point in your career, you mentioned the label allowed you creative control. But, on the new album’s opener “Just Like Jay,” you said they wanted you to follow the Mary J. Blige blueprint. When did it hit you that having your own music identity was no longer a priority for the label?
It was never a priority. I still love my label. We’re still in good standings. I never picked a single. I was able to do my albums but when it came down to the country album, it always had to be pushed off. The crossover records had to be pushed off the album. There was no room and they didn’t fit. So, me being kind of naive as an artist, I was always told the next album is the time.
On one album I was told, ‘This record is too big for [you]’ to my face. So, after this last time, I realized they’re never going to let me do this. I did a whole country album. The last album was supposed to be that. They would not let me turn it in after they spent money on me recording it. They were just saving face. So I realized that as long as I was there, they were going to fight for me to be the next Mary J. Blige. Nothing is wrong with Mary J. Blige (she’s one of my favorite artists of all time) but at some point you want your own identity to be who you are.
Each of your predecessors showcases a nice variety of your diverse artistry, which doesn’t always translate into a bonafide radio hit. As an artist who has been committed to never chasing the charts and only the hearts, how do you feel being celebrated more for the overall album than its true singles?
That’s fine with me. I’m always celebrated for my overall work. It’s supposed to be a masterpiece. That’s what I did learn from R. Kelly. One thing he said to me that I always will remember is, “Just because the record isn’t a radio record doesn’t mean it’s not a hit.” That’s because the amount of money is not being paid. Just because you didn’t buy your Grammy, doesn’t mean you don’t deserve one. I don’t play the politics of the industry. If I was to sell out and play into the politics of the industry, I don’t think my fans would appreciate it as much.
I think people that love me are rebellious. We’re in our own world where all we do is listen to music. We don’t deal with the rest of the stuff. I don’t like red carpets. I do get invited to the awards, you know what I’m saying? I didn’t get invited to the Billboard Awards even though they made me the top five R&B artists [that year]. It’s crazy, right? This whole shuck and jive, cooning out game is one big, fake coonery that I’m just not apart of and never have been. I know who I’m willing to be and who I’m willing to sleep with and not. I know what’s going on.
Something that noticeably stood out after listening to All Monsters Are Human is that many songs sound slightly more radio-friendly than your previous albums.
You think so?
Yeah. There were a few songs that repeated a lot, like “OMG,” that had a certain radio appeal. So, what was your mind frame sonically while recording this album?
Everywhere. I was kind of up some days and down others. [This album] has a lighter sound. I wanted to lean into lighter songs because I was trying to be in a lighter place and not feel as heavy on a lot of the songs that made the album. I was heavy for two years sick. When I got in the booth this time, I was happy to be back in there and I didn’t want to be that heavy. I recorded a lot in different booths and different fashions but the songs that made the album seemed to me like the days weren’t so heavy.
At one point you mentioned that “Save Me” was a pre-album single. However, it didn’t make the final cut on AMAH. Why?
“Save Me” was something I was going through with my boyfriend at that time. It’s still on iTunes, so fans still can get it. I’m going to do that through the year, too. I’m going to just give out songs throughout the year on iTunes. I’m going to just start getting with these producers and say, “Hey. Let’s just put out these songs throughout the month and start rolling them out.” I don’t do that but I have too many records just sitting.
You seem to always be inspired musically by different entertainers and their public stories, from Drake to Kim Kardashian and now Ciara. How did you decide a record like “Ciara’s Prayer” needed to take creative shape?
Because I just say it all the time and I always write about life. So, I wondered, “Was her karma that good? How did she get that man? (laughs).” I want to know if there are any other men like that. If so, where do they live? I want to know (laughs).
Now that “The Rain” has proved a hit, what song are you considering for the follow-up?
Well, you know radio can take longer. I’ve had to break it down to my fans that “[The] Rain” is still brand new at radio, and it’s still moving. So, I’ll probably sit with “[The] Rain” for some more months before anything else happens. R&B records can take up to nine months to get even midpoint. I’m just hearing “[The] Rain” for myself on the radio. Stations are still adding the record. It’s a hit record and it’s moving. But after “[The] Rain” is finished, I’m probably going to go to a record called “That Game.”
I know the fan favorites. I put up “[The] Rain” and the number of views on YouTube from them ripping it from our [Instagram] live was so crazy that it had to be a single. “That Game” is the same way. It’s on YouTube ripped from [Instagram] live and they’re begging for that. So, I might do that. I know Moneybagg Yo gets on that record next week. I’m going to start getting some rappers and do some remixes of the album just for fun. So, once you guys learn that album, I’ll put out in like 2-3 weeks some remixes probably with some of my favorite rappers. I’ll put those out for free and fun. Music doesn’t always have to cost a lot of money.
Up early listening to new R&B artist and this is the best way to fall asleep, this shit has no soul and it boring. It plays like one big lullaby. I’m so confused by it
— K. Michelle (@kmichelle) January 8, 2020
R&B seems to be the genre that is the most guarded by its conservatives. Often times, there are conversations about the absence of traditional R&B elements like pure vocals and soul in the modern R&B era. You even described the evolving sound like a “one big lullaby.” How do you and other seasoned acts believe newcomers should express their form of art if it’s being asked to be boxed in traditional R&B mode?
See, I don’t speak for other artists unlike Tank, who hopped in on some shit that didn’t have shit to do with him. He was the same one losing his mind when Jacquees said he was the king of R&B. Now you want to comment behind me when I said it’s one big lullaby? Stay over there, General. Stay in your lane.
It does all sound like one big fucking lullaby. What you want me to do, lie? There’s no heart. There’s no soul. It’s a lot of great artists. I also said that in my tweet, which we like to overlook, and shouldn’t be overlooked in this article. I said that they’re some great artists and songs, but the bodies of work are lacking. I believe in bodies of work, as you can tell from my body of work. So there are artists that I absolutely love that are new R&B artists.
I will never say the baby’s name or disrespect them or anyone but I was listening to a group of different R&B artists that morning. I was literally falling asleep. There was no umph. I popped in Ari Lennox and I was excited. You are supposed to be excited. I listened to other artists and I wasn’t excited. That’s my right as an artist. I’m minding the business that pays me.
She is phenomenal and one of my favorites, I think people just always want to vilify me. I don’t have to love everything I hear. But Mrs.Ari excites me not one bit of boring. https://t.co/uZymxcoUtg
— K. Michelle (@kmichelle) January 9, 2020
I wish it would just get back to the music…to just the singing and writing. You don’t get but three minutes and thirty seconds to paint a picture and to tell a movie. Where are the bridges? We don’t do bridges no more? That’s when you really break it down. That’s when the music really feels good to you and touches your soul. If you’re an artist and you can’t make a musical bridge, then you ain’t no artist.
So, that’s all I’m asking. I’m even challenging myself to step up. All this talk about country music and you never put it out. I’m challenging myself. I’m challenging every artist out there to give your fans something that they paid for. Give them something that’s going to make their day better — not just something that’s going to make your pockets bigger.
Speaking on your highly-anticipated country album, how are you hoping to break the color line in a controlled genre where you don’t see many artists that look like you?
This is me just having to fight. There is no way you can plan this. This is something you’re going to have to get in there and fight for. I’m going to do what it is that I need to do, which is make great music. That’s all I can do. I’m very excited about this because country artists are reaching out to me. I received a call from Billy Ray Cyrus, who is really supportive. So, I’m going to work this R&B album and make people hear every single song on this album.
Once people hear this album, I’m about to do something different with this country album. I promise you. It’s time. You’re not ready for what’s about to happen. If you think I’m good on my other albums [singing country], wait until you hear my voice and where it’s supposed to be. I had to sneak those songs in there on other albums, sir (laughs). But I’m finna to walk into it and I’m going to fight like never before. I need my people to have my back instead of fighting against me all the time. I’m fin’ to take on a whole nother situation and I need my people.
How does one have a natural progression as an artist? Also, where do you see your artistry evolving in the next decade?
I think a natural progression is just that — natural. You can say where you want to go, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to go there. For me, my progression has always been growth. It’s just been all about me growing to be better while challenging myself in the weaknesses that I have in my craft. I’m a lyric girl over a melody girl. I like to make sure that my lyrics are detailed and that someone can really relate to them. My melodies sometimes can be repetitive, which I know is one of my weaknesses as an artist.
I see myself moving into this country album after this album. I’m going to sit in that a while and fight for that so it can be easier for some other women that are my color.
As a musician, who has tight songwriting skills and a sonically sound ear, are there any rising and established artists you’d like to write or collaborate with on the production side in the future?
I really want to work with Dolly Parton. That’s really it. I really love her.
Stream All Monsters Are Human by K. Michelle below.