It's been quite a journey to the Billboard charts for former Floetry singer Marsha Ambrosius. She's gone from having Michael Jackson cover her 'Butterflies' song and guesting on tracks for The Game, Fabulous and Jamie Foxx, to name a few, to parting ways with Aftermath and giving fans little hope that they'd ever hear her long-delayed solo debut.
But signing with J Records in 2009 proved just the right move for the six-time Grammy-nominated British singer/songwriter. Her debut, 'Late Nights & Early Mornings,' debuted at #1 on the Billboard R&B Album chart and #2 on the Billboard Top 200 Album Chart.
BlackVoices.com talked to Marsha about her current critical acclaim, any possibility for a Floetry reunion and her thoughts on the passing of Teena Marie and her old friend Michael Jackson.
Here's 20 Questions with Marsha Ambrosius.
BlackVoices.com: Congratulations on being number one this week. How did you feel when you heard the news?
Marsha Ambrosius: I screamed and then I realized that I have a whole tour coming up, so I had to kind of repress it. So, I've been doing this weird squeal thing. I've been smiling all day. I've got a headache because I've been grinning from ear to ear.
BV: Originally, your solo debut was supposed to come out with [Dr. Dre's] Aftermath Records. Did the wait to get the music out frustrate you?
MA: Well, in 2006 when Natalie left the group to pursue solo endeavors, I ended up at Geffen/Interscope, and Dr. Dre came in because he saw me in a Floetry show and signed me as a solo artist. I always rolled with the punches and said, "Okay, this is the next opportunity; I will see where it takes me." But I realized that people really make up who they think you are as a person and I thought, "Wow, I was sitting up there singing the whole time, but no one really knows me." I said, "Let me work on that." In doing so much writing with everyone, J Records approached me to sign with them, and they were completely aware of what I wanted to do as an artist. I ran with that and here we are at #1 and #2.
BV: Was it difficult to brand yourself as a solo artist coming off of Floetry and being in this successful group?
MA: I'm so thankful for Facebook and Twitter because people can access you directly. These are real people and not journalists fishing for a story. These are people who have lived with your music for a long time. So, in doing so, I've been able to reach the people and not do a tabloid story or a VH1 reality series based around what could've been a whole bunch of unnecessary drama. I'm so thankful to those mediums for allowing me direct contact with people who value your work.
BV: Was the Floetry breakup natural because you wanted to do solo projects?
MA: No. Natalie left the group in 2006 to pursue personal endeavors and looking back at it, being that we were three albums in, by right, you'd want to explore who you are and what you want to do, but it wasn't my choice. It was something that was done. So, everything in between that time, with her leaving and now, was me trying to figure out what I wanted to do, and it resulted in this.
BV: Are you two still in touch or have you discussed a reunion? She just released her solo album last year.
MA: We haven't spoken since, I think, the summer of 2007. I haven't [heard her album]. We're just two completely different people. I've just been concentrating on making me happy and have moved on to the next.
BV: Did you feel any pressure to revamp your image after Floetry or lose weight?
MA: No, not really. Image has never been something that has driven the music. I've always been about the music first. I was a basketball player prior to music, so I know when I'm being unhealthy, so I changed for me and I wanted to be comfortable when I am on stage. I got my life back together for me with no pressure. I had to get off the couch and stop watching reality TV and the Food Network and use the Nintendo Wii and work out.
BV: When did you make the decision to lose weight?
MA: I lost my grandmother in 2003 and that took a toll on me completely. She was my best friend, and I miss her dearly. I started Weight Watchers with my mother the end of that year. The point system was great and by the 'Flo'Ology' album I had gotten a lot smaller in comparison to the first album anyway. I had dropped like 30 pounds. I always applied that Weight Watchers diet and implemented the calorie and point system into my diet.
BV: The first song people took to was 'Hope She Cheats on You With a Basketball Player'; what was the inspiration for that track?
MA: Being that I was a basketball player, I think it's kind of funny that the first thing that I do is about basketball players. A friend of mine went through a really bad breakup and I wanted to make light of that whole situation, instead of a corny record. I wanted to use the perspective people overlook when you are pissed. I lashed out a little bit and had fun a little bit. I was doing things to amuse myself, but I wanted them to get to know me and say, "Marsha is kind of off the chain. She's human. She's funny. Ha."
BV: 'Far Away' is your record and video against bullying people because of their sexuality. The video is beautifully shot and very poignant. Why did you feel you needed to make this song and video?
MA: I wrote the song in 2008 at the time a friend of mine had attempted suicide. When I heard the piece of music, I knew that was where I wanted to take the record lyrically as the best friend of someone who couldn't help themselves in that situation. The fact that I couldn't help that person hurt me more than you could imagine. I didn't want to take the easy way out and make it solely about my relationship. I wanted to tell the story that no one else wouldn't otherwise. Why wouldn't I do those visuals? My manager suggested that's how we go about it creatively. Through the Website, farawaydedications.com, I've asked people to send their dedications, and it's been an overwhelming response from all angles. Everyone has said it's wrong what is being done. I'm thankful people have opened their hearts and their lives to me because they have connected with this record. It's a good thing.
BV: You cowrote a song with Alicia Keys on this album. How was that experience?
MA: Right. It's called 'With You.' It was intended for her project on the 'As I Am' album, and I had already written a song called 'Go Head,' which she used and that was one of the records that was passed up on. So I think a month later after that album came out, I said, "Hey, Alicia. What are you doing with that record because I would love it back." I was so shocked she was going to use it, but she didn't again and it was a month after her album was going to be released and I signed with J Records, and I said, "We're label mates. Let's do this," and that's how it happened.
BV: You have been very vocal about your love for Lauryn Hill. You covered 'Killing Me Softly' at this year's Grammy hip hop event and also covered her song 'Lose Myself' on your album. Why do you love L Boogie so much?
MA: She's genuinely one of the best to ever do it. One of the best females to come out and give her opinion and that song 'Lose Myself' has been grand, and I always used to sing that record. I was just blown away when they said, "Cool. You Got it." She's one of my heroes. When the Grammy Foundation told me I could sing "Killing Me Softly," I think I won a karaoke competition for singing it.
BV: People really enjoyed your 'Sextape' mixtape series. Why did you do that?
MA: I was looking and searching for love songs I could relate to and compiling records for my DJ to play during my show and thought, "If this was a mixtape back in the day, it would be insane." I wanted to put my stamp on it as well and that I am on the way. Remember this old Stevie Wonder record, Teddy P record, Prince seals the deal at the end - it was one of those things that came along creatively because I had ample time to do it. People were really feeling it so I decided to do a four-part series and this is volume one. Come next album, I will definitely do volume 2.
BV: You paid homage to Teena Marie recently at BET Honors, singing her staple 'Portuguese Love.' What are your thoughts on that experience?
MA: With Miss Teena Marie, Lady T. I tried to be like her when I was younger. I tried and failed miserably. She's the blueprint to everything that I ever wanted to be: songwriter, producer and artist. She did it all. To lose her so early is tragic and unfortunate. The fact that BET wanted me to honor her in that way, I was floored as I've always looked up to her. When she heard the cover I did for 'Yes, Indeed' - Dr. Dre produced that - and she sang 'Say Yes' and that was such an honor and surreal moment in my career. One of my idols singing my record at their show. I felt it was only right to honor her because she blessed me with so much. She will surely be missed.
BV: Have you ever thought about doing a cover album?
MA: Possibly. It will be abstract and I will be particular in why I choose those records, but possibly. With the Teena Marie cover, I'm just thankful I got the blessing to do so.
BV: It's impossible to talk to you without mentioning Michael Jackson and your working with him on 'Butterflies'; how did his death touch you?
MA: It's still surreal. I remember getting phone calls from friends and associates asking if it was true. The fact that I was one of the few people on earth to find it out, it hit me hard. There will be no other like [Michael Jackson]. Writing 'Butterflies' and having my album #1 and #2 comes after being in the studio with him in New York. It's bittersweet and melancholy. The legend that is Michael Jackson will never be forgotten.
BV: What did Michael teach you in your time working together?
MA: He's a practical joker. We had fun. He told me, "This is the beginning of your career. Imagine where you are ready to go." If I wasn't right in my spirit right now, I could have sat down and quit after. But, he said, "This is the beginning." Some people are like that, "I don't need to do nothing [after writing for MJ]." He hadn't heard of me before, but his manager signed Floetry, but I had to thank him for that opportunity.
BV: Were you approached by or did you think about participating in one of the posthumous MJ albums?
MA: Not really. I think I was approached one time, but it's not that I'd be opposed, but I just felt like my work has been done. Even with my album now, this song on there, 'I Want You to Stay,' was intended for him, but we didn't get to finish it. Touching untouched work that is not intended to be released is always a touchy feeling - whether you're passed or living. Michael Jackson's work is just sacred; I would feel ridiculous just trying, but given the opportunity, I would do my best.
BV: There's a black British singer invasion going on right now with you and Estelle, Leona Lewis and so many others. How does if feel to be a part of that?
MA: For me, I just took the opportunity and it was able to work out. I have built a core fanbase since early 2000 until now, which is insane - an 11-year career in the U.S. I do go home and they love me there, but it is a dream to come to the U.S. and be able to make some kind of noise. I'm blessed to be among the names of all of those that paved the way. I would love to do an entire British invasion tour. I think that would kill in the summertime.
BV: What are your thoughts on R&B music today and the future of R&B?
MA: I think it's great where it is and where it's going. There's still room for those to come. I'm just thankful the success of the first week and where I'm taking my album shows it does work. Creating good music for R&B and hip hop - it works.
BV: Will you act in the near future?
MA: I plan to act a fool for the most part (laughs). I love movies. I love film. My next venture is to possibly score. Whether I will be acting in them? No. That's not my field. I won't even take it that far. It's serious business, and I'd want to take that seriously.
Marsha Ambrosius' solo debut, 'Late Nights & Early Mornings,' is in stores now. She will kick off the BET Music Matters tour with Melanie Fiona on March 16 in Dallas, Texas.