Think about this title, “the female R. Kelly.” Not only that is a heck of a compliment coming from the man himself who Kelly Price listed as someone she wanted to work with when growing up, but it also means you can’t discount the fact she’s been one of the premier voices and songwriters over the past decade and a half. It seems more and more when we’re talking about the artists who believe in the preservation of real r&b and those who continue to make it despite pressures from the industry, we’re talking about those who honed their craft in the church choirs. Kelly Price is of that mold, and with the release of her new album “Kelly” is out to do her part to ensure that real r&b will live on. In this interview, Kelly talks about making an album that you can put on and listen to from start to finish, her new sound you can expect to hear, the history behind her working with Puff Daddy, the reason she has her son to thank for hooking up with Mariah Carey, if the Queen Project will ever happen and more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: First let’s talk about your new album “Kelly” which is due out in April. What can fans expect to hear on this album?
Kelly Price: I believe that they will hear everything that they’ve come to love about me on hyper overload! I think that I have kind of developed a thing where people just kind of feel like they know what to expect from me on an album but it’s weird because I would say that they should expect that but they should expect so much more. I literally have been quoted as saying “This time around that for everything that people have ever heard me sing about, they’ve never heard me sing it quite like this.” I say that because I’m different than who I was when I first came out, my first record came out in 1998 and this is 2011 so it’s 13 years since I made my first album. I feel like the person that I am, the life that I’ve lived, the experiences that I’ve had, I’ve raised my children in that time. Time line
wise I’ve been saying that my son was in first grade when I put the first record out, and he’s halfway through his first year of college now. So that’s an indication of how many years are between this project and the very first one, there have been a lot of experiences that have shaped me to be where I am and who I am at this moment that make me very different than the person that I was when I put that first album out. So I could have never even emoted the songs back then the way I do now but life itself has caused another sound to come from me and that sound literally is going to be what moves people. The words are going to move them because those have evolved as a result of life experiences too, but the way I sing today is not like any other time I’ve ever sung in my life. It’s simply because I’ve lived so much more so what I’m singing, I’m pouring so much more into it because of what I’ve lived.
YKIGS: I was reading in your bio that when you were growing up, you would put on a record and let it play until the needle lifted and that was kinda your goal with this album, to create that type of album.
KP: Unfortunately we’ve become a singles driven society. I say unfortunately which sometimes it works out well because that was the whole mode of when we used to make tapes, I’m dating myself, but we would make tapes and put our favorite songs on there rather than playing the whole album, sometimes we would just have the songs we want to hear on a tape. So we can do that now with outlets like iTunes and other download sites where you can purchase music, but there was a time when literally you had an artist who you loved and you would put their record on and you would let it play, every song all the way through. You weren’t going to go and lift the needle and try to move to the next song, that was too hard anyway, but people made albums that you listened to the first song and let it play all the way through to the end, you didn’t skip songs because every single song you loved, every single song you knew all of the words to, and it was a complete front to back listening experience. It was a sing along experience, you were going through the motions while you were cleaning the house on Saturday, or doing the laundry, whatever it was you were doing, music was the backdrop for whatever your task was for the day. You were busy, so you didn’t have time to stop and switch songs every few minutes at the end of a song but you didn’t have to either because every song was an amazing song. That’s what I wanted to do with this project and I believe that I was able to accomplish that. I think people will have a wonderful, reminiscent, nostalgic time listening to this project because they’ll be able to do that.
YKIGS: As a fan of r&b I definitely feel that’s something that’s missing these days so I’m glad that that was your goal and you feel you’ve created that, so I look forward to hearing it.
KP: Thank you!! Me too!
YKIGS: Talk to me about the single “Tired,” how it came together, and how it feels to be nominated for a Grammy on the song.
KP: Amazing, amazing, amazing. It feels amazing and I have been so blessed in that this album comes more than five years after the last project. The music industry has gone on roller coaster rides *laughs* over the last few years, the sound has changed, they tried to redefine what r&b music is by calling music that I don’t really feel is real r&b music, calling it r&b music and placing it in a category and a genre. Literally artists like me who make the kind of music that I make have been forced to compete with artists who don’t make the kind of music we make, so we have “Tired.” I’m grateful for the Grammy, I’m grateful because people still want to hear what I have to say so that’s amazing. “Tired” was literally inspired in a conversation where I was just told I need to write uninhibited, what’s going on, what your truth is, and don’t hold back, it’s a waste of time. R. Kelly said to me it’s a waste, he said he kept hearing me sing this line over and over and over again that I’m tired, and that I needed to write it, he couldn’t write it for me. He said that if I do it, don’t do it unless I’m going to tell it and tell it all. That’s what real r&b music is, people speaking the raw truth over music and people sang along because they could relate. So to do that in a world where that format of music has been fighting for its position for the last few years. To be in this place and to be nominated for a Grammy means that r&b is not gone, it’s not dead, people still want to hear it, they still want to hear me, and I’m really grateful, I’m excited.
YKIGS: You mentioned feeling the need to have to compete. Did you ever feel like you had to change your style to compete, or did you always feel like you could always keep doing what you’ve been successful with before?
KP: I know that as a singer and as a writer I can do anything that anyone asks me to do musically, that’s not the challenge. The desire to stay true to what’s in my heart was where the issue was always going to come because I feel like that just based on my ability, what you need I can give you, but what I know is that my audience knows what’s coming from my heart and they’re not going to appreciate anything other than what’s heartfelt. I think there’s a difference between a good sound and someone who backs that sound up with what’s real and what’s coming from inside of them. So I didn’t feel the pressure to conform to what else was happening and being called r&b. I did get frustrated a little bit because I didn’t understand how I could find what I do and artists like Faith Evans, and El DeBarge and Kem and Ledisi, people who make solid r&b music, Angie Stone, would find themselves having to compete in the same categories as hip hop artists, it’s not the same, or even pop artists. I think that we have categories or music for a reason and it keeps the ability to do what we do pure so that we don’t have to switch up our format in order to stay plausible and stay relevant, but it’s also keeps r&b, r&b, that’s probably the best way I know how to say it. I’ve said recently that I respect every format of music and every type of music and even the new wave of musicians that are here, but I should never find myself competing in the same category as Drake! We don’t do the same thing.
YKIGS: Now talk to me about the single “Not My Daddy” which is the collaboration with Stokley. How did this collaboration come together?
KP: I literally was at home one day, walking around and humming this melody and doing what I do when I’m at home on a regular day. I started singing this song and I stopped and said “Oohh what’s that?” I didn’t realize I was actually singing and writing a song in the moment as I was walking around the house. *Laughs* So I stopped what I was doing, wrote out the song, finished it out, and I got the studio later that day and literally the song had taken on the format and the shape of what I call a Mint Condition type song. So when I finished it and I got to the studio that day, I said to Warren Campbell “I wrote this song today, you have to hear it, but it sounds like something that Mint Condition would do, so I need to get my band in here, I need to get the musicians in here because they need to play this live, I need it to have a certain sound.” So he said to me, “Rather than bringing in your musicians and asking them to play it like Mint Condition, why don’t you just call Stokley and ask Mint Condition to do it?” So I did! I asked Stokley if he would do it and he agreed to produce the song, so I recorded the song that day, sent a rough version of it to him, and he literally went in and produced the song with the band and they got it done. I kind of already had in the back of my head that I was going to want him to sing it with me but I didn’t want to hit him with too much at one time. So once he finished producing the song, I was like “Oh my God I love it so much! You know you have to sing on it too right?” So he agreed. *Laughs* So that’s how it came together.
YKIGS: Cool, I love how that came out, I like that one.
KP: Awesome, thank you!
YKIGS: The last album you released “This is Who I Am” was a gospel album, so what made you decide to go back to mainstream soul and r&b on this one?
KP: Well I never walked away from doing mainstream r&b. My background is a gospel background, I grew up in church, I come from a line of preachers and musicians who are in church; that goes generations back in my family. So I grew up in church and did music in church and I still go to church now and participate in the music at my church so that’s never going to go anywhere. That’s as much a part of who I am as all of the music that the public has gotten from me over the years. I wanted to be able to go and do something that paid homage to where I come from. I think that when people talk about the singer that I am, you can’t come to a conclusion about who I am as a singer without including the fact that I grew up in church in a musical family around some of the most amazing singers in the world. For me it’s always interesting to hear when people address the fact that I did a gospel album because I didn’t think anything was strange about it when I did it because I always remember that Aretha Franklin was the queen of soul but I very, very much so remember that she released gospel albums in between r&b albums and it was wonderful.
YKIGS: I want to talk to you about your writing now because I know that you write a lot of your own music. Where do you feel you developed this talent for writing and how important is it to you to be able to write your own music?
KP: Well I wrote my first song, or at least what I would call intentionally wrote my first song, when I was seven years old. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember but the first time I sat down to write a song on purpose was when I was seven years old. It’s something that I did as a kid, I would just write things down and sing about it, and it would just kinda help me get though things sometimes. Sometimes I would just write down whatever I was feeling or whatever was going on in my life or my environment at the time, and I would write and I would sing. As a kid I really didn’t understand how important it was to the development of who I was or possibly even what it was doing for me, I knew that I felt better but I didn’t understand the total significance of what was happening at the time. But it’s so important; it was important to me then as a kid and it kinda saved me in a way from a lot of things that could have possibly eaten me up or consumed me as a kid growing up in the inner cities of New York. Today, it still takes on the same role in my life whereas I get to write about the things that really, really affect me in some kind of way in life and then I get to sing about it. The biggest part to me that is poetic justice is that I could write about something that really hurt me, sing about it, and then go and make money off of it. *Laughs* That is probably the sweetest revenge or whatever you want to call it to have something bother you and to be able to write about it and then turn it around and make it work for you is incredible. The importance of it will always be first and foremost that it is the way I release and free myself. Then on the business side of it, just understand that writing is perpetual, when I’m no longer here, what I was thinking about on December 15th, 2010 that I wrote and published will always be here.
YKIGS: I wanted to see if you could shed some light on a story for me. I talked to the producer Stevie J. in an interview a few months ago and he told me he first found you singing in a church and Long Island and he kinda brought you in to get you writing and singing on some of the Bad Boy projects. Do you remember anything about that first meeting?
KP: I knew a musician in a church in Long Island who was connected to Stevie’s brother. I had already been singing with Mariah for several years actually and I was doing some writing around the city with different people. I never met Stevie in the church but our names had been running back and forth to each other through people that we knew mutually at this particular church in Long Island. I was trying to step off into a world of writing more often for other people and trying to send my music around and I actually took my rent money one month, well actually it was several months *laughs*, and rented out a club in Long Island and decided that I was going to do a listening party for some of the songs that I had written. I invited a bunch of people to come and Stevie was among the list of people through our mutual connection at this church in Long Island and he was invited to come and he actually didn’t make it that night to the party because he got caught up in the studio. But he called the very next day, he apologized for not making it, and he asked if I would be able to come by the studio and just see him. So when I got to the studio he was there, we were talking to each other and he just started playing the keyboard and I started singing and what happened was Puff Daddy walked by the room and heard me singing and walked into the room. He had a conversation with Stevie, stepped out of the room, Stevie came back into the room, started playing again, unbeknownst to me that conversation was “See if you can get that girl to sing again so I can hear her again.” That’s what happened so Puffy walked back into the room and introduced himself to me and asked my name and told me he really, really liked what he had heard and asked if I was also a writer and I told him yes and it kinda went up from there. He literally did what Diddy does and kinda came in and just swept things away. He took me into another room and introduced me to a bunch of people who were in a room writing and singing, there was a guy group in there singing and talking to each other. He introduced me to them and told me he had just signed them and their name ended up being 112, they didn’t even have a name at that time. So there’s a lot of history, a lot of intertwined history in there. It was a great time in music making because people were still doing collaborations in a way where you could just get some of the most incredible stuff. So the whole Long Island church connection thing was in there, but I actually never met Stevie at the church, we had a mutual connection at the church in Long Island who kinda parlayed that whole thing.
YKIGS: Very cool, thank you for sharing that history with me, I love the history behind the music so it was really cool to hear that.
KP: You’re welcome!
YKIGS: I know you met Mariah Carey at some point and started working with her. Was that whole situation prior to the Bad Boy situation?
KP: Oh yea, I got connected with Mariah back in 1992. I had a gig through a friend with George Michael actually, I sang background for George Michael back in January of 1992 and he was in New York doing a concert a couple of nights at Madison Square Garden and he wanted to hire some local singers that gave him more of a gospel flavor in addition to his background singers. So I got a call from a friend who was hired to contract the singers for the George Michael engagement. That was in January of 1992 and of course you know George Michael was signed to Columbia at Sony which is where Mariah was also signed. In February, Mariah was planning to do this huge performance of her Carole King song “If It’s Over” at the Grammy awards and she wanted a choir behind her. So because of what happened with the George Michael situation, my friend who contracted the singers for George Michael got the call to contract the singers for Mariah in February of the same year and he called me to be a part of that group as well. I joke a lot that my son is the one that got me my gig with Mariah because I was very early in my pregnancy with my son, I was in my first trimester and terribly inflicted with morning sickness all day long, it just didn’t come in the morning! This particular day when we were at the rehearsal hall waiting for Mariah, she had got caught up and was about three hours late to this rehearsal so they released the choir to go on a meal break and told them to be back by a certain time and by then she would arrive. I was too sick to eat so I stayed behind in the rehearsal hall and sat at the piano with my friend and started to sing. Mariah walked into the room while I was singing and she heard me before I realized that I even knew she was standing there listening. That’s how I ended up connecting with her, at the end of that rehearsal she sent Trey Lorenz to me who was her background singer at the time and he introduced himself to me and told me they heard me singing and wanted to know if I would sing again and I did. Tommy Mottola came to me and he said to me “I’m going to make you a star.” I looked at him and here I am this sarcastic kid from the projects and I’m looking at him like who is this dude? Then they asked me if I would be interested in coming to work with Mariah and be a singer that worked with her on a regular basis and I told them “Sure, give me a call.” I didn’t think that they would, but they did. So February 1992 is where it all started with me and Mariah.
YKIGS: You’ve had some amazing collaborations over the years, is there one that stands out to you as a favorite?
KP: Oh gosh, Eric Clapton was incredible, Wynonna Judd was incredible, the Biggie one of course was incredible, all of them, I like them all for different reasons! Whitney Houston and Faith Evans, they were all incredible collaborations and defining moments in my career for one reason or another. I can’t say that I favor one over the other. R. Kelly and Ronald Isley, what do you say about that? Every one of them I love, I love to collaborate and I think that it always creates something special when you can bring talented people together and just let what they do flow freely, you’re always going to get something amazing.
YKIGS: I’m glad you mentioned R. Kelly because I wanted to ask you about being one of the only females who’s had a chance to write a song for him. What does that honor mean to you?
KP: Well if I can just correct that, not the only female, the only person! *Laughs* He writes all of his own stuff, he’s been known to work with other producers for beat making and tracks and that type of thing, but he has always insisted on writing what he speaks out of his mouth. That was really interesting because I actually wrote a wish list earlier on in my career as a writer of people I wanted to write for and he was one of the people that I had on my list. In my early grind days I would hit the pavement hard and take meetings in different labels with a&r people and playing my music and trying to get placements. I remember specifically one day being at Jive Records with an a&r there and she said “Well we love everything that you have is there anybody specific that you’d want to talk to me about doing music?” and I told her I wanted to do a song for R. Kelly and she said “Well you need to give me another name because that will never happen.” Maybe a year or so later he came in town to work with Puffy and the producers there out of the Bad Boy camp on stuff that would eventually end up on the “R.” album. I got a call at home from Puffy, at this point I was already doing stuff out of the Bad Boy camp, and at this point he called me and said “Look I’ve got R. Kelly in town, we’re working on some stuff and I just got off of the phone with him and he specifically asked me about having you come in to do some writing for him. Can you get into the studio or would you even be interested?” My heart at this point is skipping a beat and I’m trying to keep calm and stay professional but I tried to play it cool like “Sure, tell R. Kelly I’ll come in tonight, fine, whatever.” But I was freaking out on the inside because I’m telling myself this is nuts, this dude writes for himself, nobody writes for him. But his comments to Diddy were that he had been reading all of the credits and wanted to know who this Kelly Price was that he had doing all of this stuff. Then when he and I met and had an opportunity to start developing our own relationship, he started flying me into Chicago to write with him and for him. So that’ show we developed our own relationship, that came through the whole Bad Boy thing as well and he said to me “I love what you do, I’ve been listening to what you do, you’re like me, you’re the female Rob!” *Laughs* I’m laughing because I’m remembering exactly the moment but he had such a serious look on his face and I was saying to myself “What in God’s name is he talking about?” But he went on to say “When you write, you’re like me, and I feel like you’re the only other one who can say what I would say, so I need you to write this for me.” That was the wildest thing in the world to me at that moment.
YKIGS: That’s so cool, thanks for once again sharing that with me.
KP: You’re welcome!
YKIGS: Finally I want to end by talking about the Queen Project, is that still going to happen?
KP: I am so buried inside this project and working it so hard and Deborah is smack dab in the middle of trying to roll out her Broadway play. When we started this project and Shep Crawford came to me with the idea of doing the Queen Project I had to put my album on the shelf to do it even though I was halfway finished with this album when he came to me. I had a conversation with Warren Campbell, I literally had to go and have a real sit down with Warren tell him about the opportunity even though I was halfway done with this project but I thought if it came out it would be major. We agreed that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity but we also knew that we were going into it with a limited window because we did have a time line in mind for this project and Deborah had already signed a contract to play the lead role in the Josephine Baker story on Broadway so she had a definite start date with Broadway at the time. So we knew we had to get the record done, get it out, and we had to be able to do all of that and get it toured by a certain time. If we couldn’t get it toured and out and all of that by a certain time, then it wouldn’t make sense to put it out. We worked very quickly and we got the music done and we kinda put the cart before the horse because we went in and got all of the music done, the album was finished, and we still didn’t have distribution in place, none of that. So we were working to get the business part of it done after the creative part of it was done and that ended up being the biggest challenge with everything. That was taking so long with getting everything established and corporations established and taking three camps and making them one. That ended up eating more time than anything and it just got to a point where we had to just realize that it wasn’t going to happen because even if we had put the record out we would have never had an opportunity to promote it or tour it because of my project and because of Deborah’s commitment that she had made to Broadway already.
YKIGS: That’s too bad. How did you establish the relationships between you and Tamia and you and Deborah Cox. How was it you three who were going to be a group? What type of relationship did you all have?
KP: This was all about Shep Crawford. Shep Crawford had produced major hits for each one of us and he’s also been each one of our musical directors at some point. He’s been Tamia’s musical director on the road with her and her band for ten years, probably almost as long with Deborah. He and I met in 1998 and started a working relationship and a friendship from that point of that just kinda blossomed. You’re talking about “Stranger in my House” and “Me” and all of these amazing songs that Tamia has done, Shep Crawford produced those songs. “Nobody’s Supposed to be Here”, Shep Crawford has written and produced and so many other things for Deborah Cox. Shep Crawford and I have worked together on so much honestly, he produced “As We Lay” and then when I went to go do my gospel album and I wrote all of the songs, he was who I called to come in and put the band together and get all of the live music together for the live music and recording. So there’s been a working relationship there with each one of us separately. The three of us knew each other from around the business and we’ve been in the same places together and a part of different things together, but it took Shep Crawford as the common thread to bring us together in the booth. It was his dream to hear the three of us together on one song and it went from wanting to hear us on one song to an entire project. So he was the one that approached the three of us, it was totally his idea; he conceptualized it, he thought up everything the way he wanted it to be, and he asked each one of us individually if we would be interested in doing the project. That’s how it came together.
YKIGS: that’s all of the questions I had for you, is there anything you’d like to add?
KP: “Kelly” will be in stores April 5th! And it’s Kelly Price week because my birthday is April 4th. *Laughs* And then thank you again. And thank you to everyone who has supported and I look forward to getting out there and singing this new music and revisiting some of the old music and once again I thank everybody for the support through the years. I’m very confident that they’ll listen to this project and feel like it was worth the wait between the last project and this on. And come see me on Twitter @KellyPrice4Real.