Marsha Ambrosius took the spotlight as one half of Floetry over a decade ago, but was placed in a league of her own with her provocative, sensual lyrics and phenomenal vocal talents. She continued to grow as an artist over the next few years, and became a vital part of the hip-hop world with her robust, sultry voice. She's worked with everyone from Nas, Kanye West, Common, to The Game, and Wale. Ambrosius released her first solo album, Late Nights and Early Mornings, in 2011 which catapulted her career as a solo artist and led to two Grammy nominations and a No. 1 spot on the US Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.
She recently released her new single, "Run," featuring Dr. Dre and today, her second solo album Friends and Lovers is finally out. Co-executive produced by Da Internz, Ambrosius' album is a stunning look at how she's grown as an artist over the past few years. We spoke with Ambrosius about her growth as a solo artist, working with Dr. Dre and Charlie Wilson and the 16-track autobiography of her past relationships.
Interview by Cam Dooley (@tribecalledCAM)
Let's talk about how you’ve grown as a solo artist since Late Nights and Early Mornings.
Life has happened. I’ve grown as a person versus grown as an artist, if you will. I think the past 14 years that I’ve been in America as a solo artist, I've just happened to find creative pockets of work that have worked for me, so with the second album I just feel like I’ve gotten to explain where I am in my life versus where I am as an artist because I’ve never really been able to separate the two anyway.
Your new album Friends and Lovers sounds so personal and you've referred to it as an autobiography of your past relationships. What's song stands out to you the most on the album, so far?
It’d have to be “OMG I Miss You.” It's the one song I have outbursts of. I’ll sing that when I wake up type thing like it’s someone else’s song. It's like if you ever randomly burst into the "Family Guy" theme song or something. That’s what I do with that song.
I’ve always wanted to do an album where you want to know what happened in the relationship, like on “With You” or you want to know what happened after the late night and after the early morning. Songs don’t usually do sequels, movies do, but with the relationship in “Say Yes” you want to know if me and that guy still see each other at least. And I don’t think we do that through music.
There's production from Eric Hudson, The J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Da Internz and a few features, too. What was your favorite part of the production of the album?
My favorite part would have to be it just shaping itself from what was Late Nights and Early Mornings. That definitely catapulted conceptually where I wanted to take this next album because I feel like in music I’ve always kind of leaned toward the film and movie aspect of how music is made—everything is visual to me.
I’ve always wanted to do an album where you want to know what happened in the relationship, like on “With You” or you want to know what happened after the late night and after the early morning. Songs don’t usually do sequels, movies do, but with the relationship in “Say Yes” you want to know if me and that guy still see each other at least. And I don’t think we do that through music. I feel like as attached as you get to one song, it just kind of remains just that—one song.
I really wanted to do an album that was an extension of all these relationships that allowed me to be so open, so when I go to speak to the producers about it, Da Internz in particular who are co-executive producing on this record with me, that’s exactly the approach I wanted to take. I wanted it one voice that always distracts me from it all.
Whether it’s the lover or the friend and even with “So Good” or “69” or “OMG I Miss You,” as different as they are musically, they just tie into each other and still speak on the same relationship. It’s not bouncing from, "Okay, let me get this hot beat and try and write a song from that and let’s get another one with this next producer.” I think each producer knew depending on where the relationship was in the album, whether it was fictitious or completely true. I had to almost speak about myself in third person. And the producers got to do that for me, too.
“69” is the sexiest song on the album. What made you decide to take it there and put the song so early on in the album?
It’s the same with the first album. It started with “Anticipation,” the second song was “With You.” With Friends and Lovers, the intro goes right into “So Good” that goes into “Night Time” that goes into “69,” it was the climatic version of the initiation of wanting to do someone.
With “With You,” I was explaining on the first album that “I want to do it all with that person.” So come second album, am I still talking about doing it, or am I about that life? [Laughs] I’m doing the second album and you want to know that all that initiation, all of those suggestive songs resulted in me getting what I wanted. And when I wanted it, I wanted it to be so good.
On “Shoes,” you mention going back to one guy who needs to choose between you and another girl.
With a song like this, I wanted other women to know that it’s okay to have messed up in your past. It’s okay to have been that other woman in your past unknowingly. And ultimately pursuing unselfish level whether it’s what you wanted or whether it’s right or wrong. That morning after not knowing where your shoes are is like the ultimate walk of shame. Whether or not you’re about to look at yourself in the mirror and admit that’s who you were. And I think in the end of the song I end up saying “I’ll come clean if you will, but it wasn’t me.” This isn’t who I am. But you forced me in this position because I didn’t know about her. And “Shoes” is just admitting your shit. [Laughs]
You covered Sade’s 1998 song “Love is Stronger than Pride,” do you draw inspiration from her and what made you choose to recreate that specific track?
Sade is Sade, first of all. She reminds me of home. Growing up in London, I don’t know what household doesn’t have Sade in it. It reminded me of being in my mama’s house and her telling me to do my chores after school and then her putting on that album. I can smell what meal was being cooked that day. That’s what that song made me feel like.
I hadn’t really paid attention to it, lyrically, until I was older and I was like, “Wow, that’s where I am in my relationship right now.” I didn’t personally have the words to say for sure how I really felt, and that’s why I covered it. Even with the first album, when I covered “Sour Times,” that’s where I was in that relationship. And Portishead got to speak for my relationship for me.
I’m hip-hop, my generation is just on a whole different thing. My spin on it, having called DJ Premier asking if it was cool if I sampled Jeru the Damaja's “Come Clean” which is my favorite beat of all time and I get his blessing and then I hit Sade like, “Can I cover this record?” Get her blessing. And then I play it for Dr. Dre like “You like this?” And he’s like, “You did this?” and I’m like, “You want to get on it”’ And when he says yes... It turns into a whirlwind of hip=hop royalty meeting what I consider one of the most timeless songstresses of our time: Sade.
Speaking of Dre, let's talk about you two working together in the studio.
We’ve been working together since like ‘05 and that’s been nonstop really since then. Whether it was The Game’s album or Busta Rhymes and his stuff and my own projects, it was just time. Timing is everything. And I just didn’t know it was going to be the same week that he became a billionaire. [Laughs]
Are you working on any of his upcoming projects, too?
Yeah! For him, for his artist Jon Connor, there’s so many projects to do; there’s just a lot of work. The N.W.A. biopic, there’s so many things. There’s so much work to do. So we’ll just continue to do so like we always have been.
It's weird with current times. People used to read credits. I still read credits and where people do things. I want to know who the engineer was on certain songs. There’s a couple of us bouncing around who still knows who does what.
And there's also Charlie Wilson on “Spend All My Time,” too. How was it working with him on the album?
Uncle Charlie. [Laughs] It’s crazy. If I wanted to do a duet on my album, he was the one I was going for. That was the top of my wishlist. I don’t even know what a plan B is for that. For the first album, I didn’t even have a feature at all and this one I wanted it to be Uncle Charlie. My brother and myself wrote “Spend All My Time” dedicated to my aunt who passed away from cancer. Charlie and myself—as label mates and also me being completely aware of his back-story and what he’s been through, I really wanted him to be a part of this song for that reason. And when he heard it and said “This is me, this is that feeling,” I was just thankful that he got on it and just completely blessed it. It’s definitely a song that I’m going to find difficult performing live without crying.
What are you hoping your fans get out of the album?
I want the listeners to hear themselves in these songs. These songs are mine, but be the fly on the wall. Let every sensual, sexual experience be... let me act as your threesome. Don’t worry about feeling comfortable with who you’re trying to give some to.
If I have to be your initiation and you have to press play on “So Good” to get you there, then so be that. If you’re trying to fall out of love, break up with someone, then go listen to “La La La La La” and get over it. If you’re recovering from a broken heart just “Run,” if you’re missing someone “OMG I Miss You.” Just really feel it.