YouKnowIGotSoul: Tell us about your new single “What I Need (Give Me What I Need)”.
Kelly Price: I wrote this song actually several years ago. I was at a time in my life when I was about to make some major changes. It was before I was divorced, It was before my sister died. A lot of changes I knew were coming up in my life. It was one of those defining songs that I wrote and leaned on to help me put my big girl panties on and make decisions about life going forward. I decided to release it now because last year I was invited when BET brought back Sunday Best. They put it in the hands of Jesse Collins and had him reimagine the show to give it a refreshed look. He had the idea to bring in someone who was Gospel savvy but not a Gospel artist to put on the judge’s panel. When he asked me to do it I was excited. I grew up in the church with preacher parents. Doing it last year, it kind of sprung up on me. I put out one Gospel album in 2006. I can’t believe it’s been 15 years since recording it. When I was invited to come back to be a judge for Season 10, I wanted to have some original music prepared. In the finale, they ask every judge for a performance, which I did last year. Because I didn’t have new music to share, I sang a song that I loved by one of the Clark Sisters. So I planned on releasing this song in the connection with the finale of Sunday Best this year. Unfortunately, all of this happened and everything got shut down. I made the decision to let the song come out anyway even though we’ve halted production on the show. We will come back to it and finish it later in the year, but I felt like the timing of it is good. It speaks to our hearts, it speaks to a lot of questions that people may have right now. A lot of times we depend on our own intelligence. Sometimes I haven’t made very smart decisions! *Laughs* Just doing back to the foundation of my faith and asking God beyond anything I want, to give me what I truly need. I think when we have what we truly need in life which is piece of mind and stability, the intangible things, it’s easier to get what you want. That’s what this song is a testament to. Me not always having made the best decisions and deciding that I don’t need to lean on my own intelligence and to ask God for direction with life. I think we’re all doing that right now.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Are you currently working on a new project? We’ve been waiting on Volume 2 of your “Sing, Pray, Love” album.
Kelly Price: Do you remember when that came out in 2014 and the timing of this, is so weird. We were leading up to it, we had the single “Its My Time”, it literally went to #2 at Urban A/C radio and then I got kicked out of the #1 spot because Michael Jackson rose from the dead and had his huge hit single. If you’re going to lose the #1 spot, that’s who you want to lose it to! Oddly enough, it was also around this time of year. My sister passed on Easter Sunday that year. The way I describe myself on the promo tour was that I was an empty shell following a script. I was doing my best not to burst into tears during every interview. I didn’t have a proper opportunity to mourn my sister. It was a beautiful record, but my heart wasn’t there. So I feel like this is my real first intentional offering since the “Kelly” album back in 2011-2012. Yes, there is more music coming. I have a single right now “Unsung” which you can pre-order. It will be available on May 8th. Leading up to a new R&B project. I’m excited because my life has changed so much since the last body of work was presented. For the first time in my adult life, I’m a single woman. I got married at 19 years old to my very first boyfriend. Being single in the 21st century is an interesting place! The DM’s are a mystery!! *Laughs* Dating after being married for almost a quarter of a century was a very interesting thing. I talked about a lot of that in the music. Just real grown stuff. From a healthy grown perspective. Having fun with it really. It’s still powerful and everything you know me to be, but it’s a very, very different perspective. What I found is that a lot of my contemporaries in life are experiencing the same thing. Trying to figure out who they are. It’s an interesting time of life and I like it.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about being on Wale’s single “Sue Me”.
Kelly Price: This is a true story. It was probably this time last year when Wale and his camp reached out to me. I was filming and we were trying to make it happen. I wanted to be in the studio with him when we did the record. He did his part, but I wanted the experience. The era I come from with writing and singing, collaborations were king. I love being in the studio with the artist. Months and months were going by, so we ended up deciding I ended up needing to get it done, for the sake of his timeline. We couldn’t get in the studio at the same time. He came with both ideas. He loved the song “Love Sets You Free”. From that concept, he did his own concept about black men loving themselves. On “Sue Me”, he just wanted a powerful sound and message. I love Wale, he’s super soulful in his delivery, it’s almost like he’s singing when he raps.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about your songwriting process. Nobody ever seems to give you enough credit for your writing work.
Kelly Price: I’m going to be honest. It has grown so much over the years. Literally, where I’m at right now, songs sing themselves to me and interrupt my sleep and thought pattern! *Laughs* I’m awakened because I’ll be dreaming I’m writing songs! That happens a lot now. That’s probably the craziest explanation I can give to you. A formula that I started with especially when I was doing more hip-hop stuff, I think first with the mind of R&B or Gospel. That’s my background. When I first started writing at Bad Boy. Puff used to tell me he loved my harmonies and arrangement, but they’re trying to make the people dance! They won’t dance if they’re trying to figure out what you’re doing! It’s too busy! That was my first lesson in learning how to simplify things so anyone could sing it. That was a very good lesson for me to learn. What I try to do, some of my ballads are more complex, it’s just singing. When I think about writing things, I try to keep in mind I’m not just expressing my emotion, but someone out there will listen to what I’m saying and I’m telling their story and they will want to sing along. I try to make the chorus as sing songy as possible so anybody could sing along. I learned that early on. One of my favorite songs I’ve written even though it was never a single was “Metamorphosis”. That’s strictly musical. It’s jazzy. It’s crazy chords. That’s strictly a musicians listen, somebody that can appreciate that from a musicians standpoint or they love jazz. I allowed my musical mind to go crazy with Shep Crawford. Writing started for me as therapy. I grew up in the Edgemere projects in New York City. I would write when I wanted to get stuff out. I would write whatever I was feeling and then hide the papers from my mom! Because whatever I was feeling came out! *Laughs* Sometimes it was words that she didn’t necessarily appreciate that I was using. Writing to me has been the greatest gift and blessing. It’s funny that you bring it up. I actually consider myself a writer first before I consider myself a singer. I have been singing a lot longer, but I can remember the actual day that I decided to write a song on purpose. I had been poetry in little notes as a kid. But in second grade, I had a project that the teacher gave us. They told us to pick a book and find our own way to tell the story to the class. I read the book and wrote a song about the book and sang the song to the class. I love to write. I feel like as a writer I can be anybody I want to be.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Take us back to the story of how you originally linked up with producer Stevie J and got into the Bad Boy camp.
Kelly Price: I had just gotten off the road with Mariah Carey over in Japan for a tour. All of the money I had made from that tour, I took it, I rented out a club, pulled all of my songs together, and sent all of these invitations to producers and A&Rs to come so I could sell my songs. It was a Monday and I figured everyone could make it! The party is full of people that I know, but none of the people showed up that I really wanted to be there! So that was on a Monday. The next day I got a call from Stevie J who apologized for not making the party, he got caught up in a session, and he asked me to come to the studio so we could sit and have a conversation. He had heard about me from his brother who was a musician at a church I had sung at in Long Island once. So literally that’s how the connection was made. I came to the studio that night and talked about music. He starts playing church music and I started singing, it was very organic. At a point, Puff walks in the room. He had been standing on the other side of the door listening. He walked in and said hello, not much else. He asked Stevie to step outside and he asked who I was and if I could sing again. I started singing again, and literally caught up. Eyes closed. While I’m in the middle of the song Puffy comes in and stands there and listens to me. When I open my eyes he is standing there. He said he never heard anything that sounded like that. He asked if I wrote too. He walks me out of the Midi room at Daddy’s House and into the SSL room. There are four guys there and a session is going on. He stops the session and puts on a raw beat, and asks me to write to it. I grab a pen and a pad off of the table and start to write. He snatches the pen out of my hand and says “You said you are a writer, write!” I just started singing everything that came into my head at one time! He introduced me to these guys, it was a new group he had just signed from Atlanta, and they ended up being 112. He said he wanted to do work with me. I got a call from Puff the next day and he wanted me to come to a session to do background vocals. It was a session for Horace Brown. From that day forward, I was at Daddy’s House studios every day for about 30 days straight. Writing on something, singing on something. That was 1996!
YouKnowIGotSoul: So how did that lead to you getting signed officially?
Kelly Price: Being over at Daddy’s House! From going from being the girl that nobody wanted to take a risk on. The industry knew about my pen and voice. I didn’t look like the girls they were signing. It’s kind of always been monkey see monkey do. If it’s a formula that people don’t think is going to work, they will wait until someone else tries it. Once the first deal came along, I started getting interest from everywhere. I had a deal on the table from Jive, MCA, Puff threw his hat in the ring. I started negotiating a deal with Jive Records and I ended up walking away from the deal. We ended up negotiating a deal for several months, the day that I was supposed to sign, I was called into a meeting with the head of every department at Jive. When I got there, they wanted to let me know that they would not put the record out unless I lost a massive amount of weight. So it was the best thing that could have happened to me because I was on my lawyers office to sign the contract. It was a very awkward meeting. I wanted to cry but I did not. I said to them, if that’s what I need to do I will. But where I got tripped up is where I said to them “I’ve always been a big girl, I come from big people. What if I get to a weight I’m comfortable at? Who decides when enough is enough”? They said they didn’t know. They didn’t have an answer for me. So I grabbed my pocket book and cried all the way to the train station and road the train back to Long Island. Not long after, there was another bidding war that ensued. I met Ronald Isley writing at Daddy’s House, his single “Floating on your Love”. When it was time for him to record it, Puffy didn’t want to cut vocals on him because he felt he couldn’t tell Ronald Isley how to sing. So he asked me to stay and produce his vocals, because I wrote the song. That’s how I met Ronald Isley. Before the end of that session, he asked if I had a deal. He said I should be making my own music. I told him the industry didn’t want a girl like me, and he didn’t agree with that. We exchanged information. He kept in touch even though I didn’t think it would go anywhere. He opened up his tour in Atlanta in 1996 at the Olympic games. The night before he left, he had a final rehearsal in New York City. He called me and told me he had fired one of his background singers and he wanted me to come on the road with him. He needed me to join him the next day, and I couldn’t do that, I had kids at home! Long story short, I’m on a plane the next day and arrived at the soundcheck. Two hours later I’m on the stage doing 24 songs I had never sung before. Night number two we played The Strand Theatre in Boston, we drove all night from Atlanta. At the end of the show, he started singing “Voyage to Atlantis” and he called Angela Winbush out. When she came back to her microphone, he called me out in front of the audience and started singing “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” by Rose Royse. He pointed to me and told me to sing. I looked at him with wide eyes! He stuck the mic in my hand. I sang the song and when I was finished, people were on their feet. He took the microphone from me and said I was his new artist!
YouKnowIGotSoul: Reflect on your debut album “Soul of a Woman”.
Kelly Price: I remember that while I was recording it, because of the situations I’d had with labels, specifically the Jive one, I remember calling Ronald, I called Hiram Hicks, the president of Island Records. I came into the office for a meeting and I was teary and wondered if the people would hate me, I was too big. They literally said to me, I had to get myself together, I was representing for a majority of women who have nobody to represent them in the world of entertainment. Women like me needed women like me to represent them. Ronald Isley said to me he didn’t care if I was 1200 pounds and blue, if I open up my mouth and sing and for all of the artists I’ve worked with, I can’t be denied. Literally, they didn’t hear any of the music until the album was done. I A&Red my whole first album! They left me to do it myself, they knew I wrote for everybody. I called in favors. True story, I think the biggest deal I had on the table was $750K for my first album. Ronald Isley as a boutique label had $225K for me. $25K of that was an advance. I made that album with $200K which is unheard of. I called in all of the favors I could! I called Puff and told him he couldn’t charge me what he did everyone else and he gave me a good rate. I can’t say how much our he’d kill me! He was mad I didn’t sign with him, but he believed I needed to be out there. He knew that I was in good hands with Ronald Isley.