Chrisette Michele finds 'freedom' in her music

theGRIO Q&A - R&B singer Chrisette Michele is still getting used to the idea that her latest look is such a big topic of discussion...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

R&B singer Chrisette Michele is still getting used to the idea that her latest look is such a big topic of discussion. “I wasn’t raised around a lot of black people so I didn’t have that attachment to my hair,” she explains. “I’m getting phone calls from radio stations and magazines. This is what happens when a black girl plays around in her hair?” Michele, who grew up in a predominately white suburb in Long Island, New York, sports a curly natural now rather than the straight hair she wore on the cover of her 2009 album, Epiphany.

But her hairstyle is not all that’s got fans buzzing. As she prepares to release her inspirational third solo CD, Let Freedom Reign, this week, Michele is trying to put a mild beef with Rick Ross behind her. The rapper, she claims, bailed on their performance of “Aston Martin Music” at this year’s Soul Train Awards. Ross later explained he refused to get on stage because he had no “input on the performance.” Truth is, Michele is not afraid to express herself — regarding her personal style, her music biz relationships or the themes of love she sings about. Recently, she explained to theGrio how liberating it is to be a straight shooter.

theGrio: Explain what your single and video, “I’m A Star,” is all about.

Chrisette Michele: The lyrics are so specific about a girl who’s been in a relationship that was so tumultuous, and finally coming out of it and celebrating. It’s [also] my emancipation as an artist. I might be on an airplane, sitting next to somebody and they’ll say, “What do you do for a living?” I’d say, “Well, I write.” Or “I’m a stylist,” because I style myself every once in a while. You get to a place where you’re comfortable saying, “Yes, I’m a singer.” I didn’t say those words until recently.

Why were you so modest?

You see people get dropped from record labels every week. I don’t want to jinx it. My album is standing next to a Kanye West album, which is next to a Jazmine Sullivan album, which is next to a Janelle Monae album in Best Buy — that’s crazy to me. I’m just getting to the place where I can say, “Oh, this is my life.” And it’s the third album in.

What was the moment when you finally embraced being known as a singer?
When I shaved my head and I wasn’t really worried about what people thought. As a singer you think maybe I got to do it this way. Am I going to be accepted if I do it that way? But when I finally shaved my head and I wasn’t uncomfortable with people’s responses, I knew that I had arrived to a new space and I was comfortable saying, this is what music needs, what society needs.

Did you call your album Let Freedom Reign because you have more creative freedom now?

I’ve always been given a lot of creative freedom. On my first album, I wrote every song. My second album, I wrote three of 12 songs. On this album, I’ve written nine of 12 songs, but this time around the subject “freedom” is what I’m going after, saying the things that I want to say about society or learning how to love again after a broken heart or crappy relationship. Let Freedom Reign is the emancipation album for the people who were broken through Epiphany. This is their chance to be healed, to fall in love again and go out into the world and take it by force, and have a soundtrack to go with it.

You express such emotion in your music, and you weren’t shy about sharing your opinion of Rick Ross and the Soul Train Awards incident. What happened?

We were backstage preparing to go on to the stage and I literally have my outfit on, the dancers are dressed, the lighting is prepared, the music is about to be cued in the next five minutes, the people had come upstairs to bring me downstairs to the stage. I was literally backstage preparing to go on, then for [organizers] to come to me and say that Rick Ross left…There was no text message, none of his management came over, nobody spoke to my management, there was nothing.

At the end of the day, it’s not just about the relationship we have as homies, but it’s about the relationship we have with corporate America. What are we saying to the people who spent millions of dollars for us to be the only hip-hop representation on a show that receives millions of viewers.

Are you still friends?

It’s disappointing to me that he hasn’t spoken to me since the Soul Train Awards. It would be nice to get a what’s up or I’m sorry or how are you? But the relationship now is not there.

Other collaborations have been more fruitful. On the John Legend-produced “I Don’t Know Why, But I Do,” Jazmine Sullivan sings background vocals. But isn’t she your biggest competition?

Our album comes out on the same day, what better way to say “F-you” to all the B.S. by saying, “You know what, we actually enjoy each other’s music, we actually write for each other and we’re singing together on one of Chrisette’s singles.” That’s beautiful to me, so I definitely wasn’t in competition…I wish we could tour together. It’s so hard to convince an agent to put two black women on the same stage because of the competition factor, even if they want to perform together. The amount of division that occurs in the music industry is disappointing.

It’s a great “fool-for-love” type song though.

When I first heard it I was like I’m not singing these lyrics. Because who’s stupid enough to fall in love without knowing why it’s happening? Then the more I thought about it the more I realized, let me stop, I’m vulnerable sometimes.

Are you dating?

I am a date-aholic. I call it “singer speed-dating” because literally I’m flying into a city to say hi to somebody, eat dinner with them for two to three hours and flying to the next city.

Wait, Chrisette Michele has bros in different area codes?

Bros? Oh man, that’s funny. Pretty much. The thing that makes it a little easier is to practice celibacy because I don’t feel the attachment that I might feel if I’m sexually active. Practicing that and waiting for someone I really love and who really loves me, makes it a little easier [to manage] the separation anxiety.

How long have you been celibate?

[Long sigh.] I don’t want to talk about that. All I’m saying is that it’s easier that way. I mean it’s hard too, of course. You know what I mean.

It must get lonely on the road.

It definitely does. I just wrote a song called “Famous and Alone.” Family and friends can’t fill that love void, but I’m expecting somebody to be on his way soon.

Is your heart open?

It’s open. And I’m free.