Soul singer Betty Wright defends collaboration with Rick Ross: 'He is a genius'

theGRIO Q&A - Last week 'Mastermind', the latest LP from rapper Rick Ross, debuted as the #1 album in America, moving 179,000 units in just a few short days...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Last week Mastermind, the latest LP from rapper Rick Ross, debuted as the #1 album in America, moving 179,000 units in just a few short days.

The record, like the man, aims to be larger than life.

Loud, polished beats, grandiose provocations of fame and wealth, and a slew of boldfaced features from rap’s reigning royalty (Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, the list goes on) can all be heard supporting Ross’ signature barking bravado.

The voice on the album that cuts most successfully through the static of mainstream radio rap, however, is that of soul singer Betty Wright. Now 60 years old, Wright rose to fame in the early 1970s with hits like “Clean Up Woman” and “Tonight is the Night.”

Today, she’s become a maternal figure to some of hip-hop’s most influential artists, lending her voice to Mastermind’s standout track “Sanctified” alongside Ross, Kanye West and Big Sean.

TheGrio caught up with Wright to discuss soul music’s place in hip-hop, the genius of Yeezy, and her relationship with rap’s new ruling class.

theGrio: You and Rick Ross are both from Miami, but how did you two decide to start working together?

Betty Wright: We would see each other sometimes at Puffy’s house or at a New Year’s Eve party and we always said we would do something together. DJ Khaled, Ricky, Puffy, we would always say, “We’re gonna do something. We’re gonna do something.” And we eventually did….We’ve got a real small circle of friends, even though they’re from all different parts of the word. It’s a little clique, you know?

Ross has become a polarizing figure in music today. People either love him or they hate him. What were your first impressions?

Well, first of all, he is a genius….He’s got an incredible tonality to his voice. He has an incredible memory. He listened to the song that we did on my album called “Bodyguard,” just listened one time and said, “I’m ready. Come on big homie, let’s go.” And he just went in! He went in and he remembered everything…. He got a little frightened though because I told him I wanted him to sing on my record. He was like, “Ah, no ma, I don’t sing!” (Laughs) But he’s definitely a big personality. He’s very well mannered.

How has the reception of “Sanctified” been so far for you?

You know, I’m sure it’s controversial and I’m sure people are saying I fell and bumped my head. But see, what they don’t know is God uses simple things to confound the wise. I have people on Twitter saying they hadn’t really thought about how the blood of Jesus washes away sins. They hadn’t thought about the things that Kanye is saying until this record came out. [The song] put them in a spiritual mindset, so that’s a beautiful thing.

You’re a religious woman and a lot your background is in gospel music. How do you feel about the lyrical content of the song — all the talk of groupies and chasing money?

I hear young people on this record saying, “Are you going to help me Lord? Because listen, every time I try to do right, there’s always some woman in the lobby waiting on me, trying to get established. They want to get famous off of just being with me. And I’m trying, but boy I’ve got demons.” [When Kanye] says, “Lord, you sent me a message saying I’m too aggressive. Me? I’m too aggressive?” he’s talking to God. They’re not doing anything that we don’t do in prayer; they’re just doing it in their way. Can I tell a man how to talk to God? That’s a one-on-one, baby.

You recorded your part for “Sanctified” separately from Kanye, but have you seen him since the release?

I have not seen Kanye since the passing of his mom. The first time I met him I want to say was 2003 or 2002 and it was the sweetest thing. When he met me his eyes filled with tears. He said, “You’re Betty Wright!” and he ran around to the other side of the table and got his mom and brought her over to meet me. He said, “My momma loves you,” and that they played me all the time. It was just a beautiful thing.

What is it about Kanye musically that made you want to collaborate with him?

I respect genius. You’ve got to see the genius in that kid. You can talk about him, you can say he’s crazy, you can say whatever you want to say, but at the end you’re going to have to say he’s a genius. You’re going to have to say that. Hands down. Hands down Rick Ross is a genius. Hands down Diddy is a genius. Hands down Kanye is a genius. All of them. DJ Khaled, who called and put it together, who can always find me when nobody else can find me.

Why are rappers today so intent on sampling the soul singers from your era?

It’s real music. After you know the real, it’s hard to take the fake…You recognize that there is a fatness to the bass, there’s a depth to the drums, a keenness and an eerie sweetness to the strings. There is no substitution and that’s why they keep going back and bringing it up to date.

Follow Jackson Connor on Twitter @JacksonMConnor