Ledisi may not be a household name, but she’s been getting a lot more recognition in the music industry in recent years after spending most of the ‘90s and the most of the early ‘00s releasing independent albums in relative obscurity. The Grammy-nominated artist is known for her R&B sound that mixes influences from other genres, such as jazz. Ledisi is not a slick, prepackaged diva. She follows the classic style of letting her voice and songs speak for themselves.
For her 2009 album, “Turn Me Loose,” the New Orleans-based Ledisi had a number of collaborations, which she talked about in this interview. She also says the title was representative of how she felt after suffering from a six-month writer’s block. She shared this experience and other stories about what went into making the album.
How would you describe “Turn Me Loose” compared to your previous albums?
On this album, “I’ve done everything. It’s called “Turn Me Loose.” I’m loose! Not loose like that, but loose. [She laughs.] But it’s very open, very free. That’s what I love about this album. Everything is live and the drums are heavy. I am very honest, very raw and uninhibited, very hip-hop, very jazz and R&B. That’s the whole point of this album is to be free; totally turn it up. If it doesn’t have that free sound, that Ledisi sound, what’s the point in doing it?
What was it like working with producer/songwriter Raphael Saadiq?
I think we had a good time. I think he stretched me out a lot, as far as singing softer.
Ledisi at Voodoo Music Experience 2009 in New Orleans
What was the process like to write the “Turn Me Loose” album?
I had writer’s block for about six months. I couldn’t write a thing. There was only one song that I knew had to be on the album, and that was a song called “Runnin’” that I did with Chief Xcel. Everyone said, “You’ve got to put that on the album.” I was like, “How am I going to make that with the audience I have today?” See, I was too focused on everyone else, but not focused on me. So once I let that go, I can write again. It took me a minute.
What else can you say about the collaborations on the album?
I worked with Ivan and Carvin as well, who worked with Musiq Soulchild, worked with Mary J. Blige, a whole bunch of people. I don’t want to be name-dropping. I know them as Ivan and Carvin, friends that I met over and over throughout the years but never worked with. And when they met me, I said, I would like to hook up and sing background or write for other people. They were like, “Why? You’ve just been nominated for two Grammys. Why would you do that for?” I was like, “Why not?”
They thought that was so humbling: someone who just wants to do music. And I wanted to get back into writing for other people, not just for myself. I’m actually a pop writer. I love writing pop. I write it on the piano [as] pop, but I sing R&B. So everyone couldn’t believe that I could write that style of music. So I hooked up with those guys, Ivan and Carvin.
Then I worked with Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam, which was like [she takes a deep breath] they’re the gurus. That was like going to school, the college of songwriters when you hang out with those guys. They reminded me of my spirituality, which is great.
Ledisi at Voodoo Music Experience 2009 in New Orleans
I worked with a new group: Fire Department, out of New York City. Eric [Krasno] and Adam [Deitch]. Eric plays guitar for Soulive, and Adam plays drums for Wyclef [Jean], so hooking up with them gave me a different vibe as well. So we did a funky Meters-type joint called “Knockin.” “Knockin’” is really about getting all the bad spirits out of the way, not thinking about those things … So it’s exciting to have a different vibe.
I worked with Chucky Thompson in D.C., who worked with Raheem DeVaughn, and he brought out my street side that people have never, ever seen. I’m worried about that, but that’s the whole point about this album is to be free, totally turn it up, do something different that I hadn’t done before. So Chucky was great to work with.
I worked with Rex Rideout, who did my previous album, “Lost and Found.” I always have to work with Rex. He’s an artist/producer. He cares about what the artist wants. He’s looking at, “What do you want? Let’s get you comfortable and find that happy space to make it work, or else it won’t come out right.” Rex always seems to know to get to the artist’s soul. All these producers have that. I want that freedom sound. I want to do that. I have to do that, so I based everything around that.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists?
Don’t forget where you come from. Don’t forget the music. Don’t forget to be you … The best part is I’ve been able to be myself but at the same time stretch a little bit. I hope my fans enjoy it.
Are there any final words you’d like to say about the album?
I want to say to all the producers I’ve worked with, “I thank you for just doing things different, stretching yourself for me so that this can be possible. You didn’t have to, but you did. I learned so much about music and myself. It’s OK to change. It’s OK to be open and allow others in to enhance who you are. I think I made the right choices on this [album]. I thank you for coming on the ride with me.”
For more info: Ledisi website
Photo credits: Photo #1: AP. Photos #2, 3: Getty Images.