A few years ago I had the opportunity to interview R&B singer Chrisette Michele for XXL’s Hip-Hop Soul magazine. Since so many of you are feeling her new single, “Epiphany” I thought it’d be cool to share the transcript of that interview from March 2007 when she was promoting her debut, I AM.
JLB: How did you meet L.A. Reid?
CM: I got signed to Def Jam the day that I met him. My A&R Shalik Berry found me at the Village Underground and had me come in and perform for L.A. Reid. It was that simple. I got signed that very day. I sang ‘A Day In The Life’ which I played on the piano and a song called ‘Golden’ which is on the album as well.
What made you get into song writing?
I’ve been writing songs since I was ten or eleven years old. It was a natural progression because my father taught English.
What were the shows at 5 Towns college like?
The first thing I saw when I got to the school was a microphone and I sang “Eyes On The Sparrow.” I wasn’t even enrolled at the school yet. They were having an open mic night during my orientation.They had us come into the city and sing a lot because they had us incorporate ourselves into the music scene.
You sang on two of the most anticipated hip-hop albums of the year at the same time, Hip-Hop Is Dead and Kingdom Come, how did that feel?
Cool. I’m from Long Island and all of my cousins are from Brooklyn, so for me to be able to tell them that I was on Jay-Z’s album, I finally got that credibility from them I’d been looking for. And Nas is the best rapper, who doesn’t want to be on the best rappers album? Now I’m not only credible, I’m cool.
Did you like being in the videos?
I felt alive, like I belonged. It felt right being on camera with Nas
You seem to have a little preference for Nas…
Naw, their swagger is totally different. Jay is more cocky, I’m the ish. Nas is more, I’m the ish and I don’t have to say it. I’mma get in trouble for that one…
Jay-Z is somebody I look up to because I’m so coy, nervous. His confidence is something not enough of us have.
Were you in the studio with either of them when you recorded the songs?
I was in the studio with Jay-Z and I wrote 5 hooks before we got to one that we agreed on…
Why five?? That hook is so simple…
I had one that went “Fame money, fortune and people, they don’t get around together, sometimes they leave you…” he was like ‘too many words.” We just took parts from one and added to another. We don’t like to take long to do a song. With Nas I was in the studio freestyling to a track that Stargate did and it got to his wife, Kelis. She liked it apparently and sang it. He heard about me through that and had me do “Can’t Forget About You.” Then I went in again for “Still Dreamin” where I just mimicked whatever Diana Ross did. Then his friend LES had me come through to his studio in L.I. and hang out for the last song on his CD “Hope.” That was just me and LES buggin out in the studio.
You performed with Nas on the Letterman show, what was that like?
Freezing cold! I guess Letterman likes it cold in his studio. It was very exciting because the guy that leads his band was talking about me when it was over. It was very fun.
How do you describe your sound?
I’m very jazzy. I fell in love with jazz when I was 16. My first CD was Astrud and Gilberto singing “The Girl From Ipanema.” I have a classical background so my voice has range…
So many people are making moves with potty mouths and hip gyrations, how are you going to make your mark?
I’m not mad at that, do what you gotta do, but I have so much to say straight from my heart that I don’t really have to dress it up with a whole bunch of stuff. I think that I’m a beautiful person on the outside, but I have a beautiful heart too.
I spoke with your mom and she said that you are quite vocal about the issue of celibacy. Does that topic come out in your music?
I am a Christian and at the end of the day, who I am shines through every song that I sing. “Good Girl” is about not allowing yourself to be taken advantage of by a man. “Your Joy” is just about the relationship between me and my father. My actions speak louder than my songs. I’ll mess up and get back up because God forgives.
I am celibate, if somebody asks me if I am I’m gonna say yeah. But what if I have sex tomorrow because it just took over? Does that make me not a Christian anymore? I have this song called “If I had My Way,” and I’m sitting on the couch with this guy and he’s so fine, and I’m so fly and it’s really a cry to God to get me off this couch tonight or its going down! That’s all part of the Christian struggle. I’m keeping it real. I’m not gonna say ‘I never have and I never and oh my God’ this is what it is. Christians and non-Christians alike. I’m just trying to stay saved, that’s all.
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