Marsha Ambrosius makes it on her own, without having to 'compromise an opinion'
Ambrosius, formally known as one-half of the hit soul/spoken-word hybrid Floetry, found her solo debut, “Late Nights & Early Mornings,” at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 -- nestled between Adele and Mumford & Sons.
“I had my mother, who I knew was gonna buy it, so there was one copy,” Ambrosius said of the “overwhelming” feeling of selling 96,400 copies in the album's first week out.
No stranger to the anticipation of an album’s performance -- Floetry had three -- the stakes were different now that she was solo.
Besides, she hadn't been a mainstay in music since the duo fell apart in 2007. After Natalie Stewart left to pursue her own endeavors, the Liverpool native, who is based in Philadelphia, worked to “pick up the pieces and figure it all out,” she said.
“I kept my head down and kept working. I ran with what was given to me … I had no other choice. We were two different people completely, creatively," she said of Stewart, to whom she hasn't spoken since 2007. "It wasn’t a group that was put together; we had an organic thing. So when you have a group that’s not on the same page, you can't create the same things. When she decided to leave, I had to let it be that.”
She signed for a short time to Dr. Dre's label, Aftermath Entertainment, as an artist/songwriter/producer before making the move to current home J Records. Ambrosius penned tracks for artists such as Alicia Keys and Jamie Foxx as she mulled over her artistic direction and became a go-to guest vocalist on tracks from Common, Nas, Queen Latifah, Wale and Busta Rhymes.
“I wasn’t ready for anything like [a solo album],” she said of the interest J Records showed in her during her songwriting days. “I was still trying to get over everything that was happening with Floetry. People hadn’t seen me outside of [the group], and they create who you are as an artist. In the group, I was the songstress, which was just me standing there and singing all these heartfelt songs I had written.”
The album, which Ambrosius said she crafted from “the growing pains of everything” she had to deal with in the industry and personally, got most of its buzz from the backstories of its two singles: “Far Away,” an emotional ballad about suicide in which the accompanying video shows the consequences of homophobia and was inspired by the death of one of her close friends; and “Hope She Cheats on You (With a Basketball Player)," a venomous tirade against men who trade in love for a vixen looking to "come up."
“I’ve always been a little devious, a little naughty in my lyrics. A friend of mine went through an extremely bad breakup. I didn’t want to do the whole ‘you wish them well’ song -- those are boring and have been done before,” she said, laughing, when asked about the genesis of “Hope She Cheats.” “We all have that within us ... as childish as that sounds.”
“Late Nights & Early Mornings” isn’t just a showcase for Ambrosius’ ability to draft a love song; it also gave her the chance to cover a couple of songs close to her, including a spot-on take of Portishead’s “Sour Times” and a reworking of Lauryn Hill’s odd “Surf’s Up” soundtrack contribution, “Lose Myself.”
“If I didn’t know it was on the soundtrack, I would have missed it. Lyrically, it’s so poignant. I would have never written that. Having the blessing of Ms. Lauryn Hill is a blessing,” she said. “It’s one of the best records I’ve heard -- ever.”
Ambrosius is currently co-headlining BET's "Music Matters Tour" along with singer Melanie Fiona. The tour stops in Los Angeles (minus Ambrosius) at the El Rey Theatre on March 26.
-- Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photos: Marsha Ambrosius. Credit: Glynis Selina Arban