It is no secret that black creatives bear the burden of prejudices assigned to them for no other reason than complexion. We can be marginalized and segregated while simultaneously noticing that our white brethren are free to navigate numerous spaces—even the ones we’re by and large told to sit tight. Unfortunately, black women deal with this on an even greater scale than black men.
Black men—rappers and select singers alike—are still heard on multiple formats on radio. Meanwhile, if you want to hear a black woman, your options are far more limited. A few have openly discussed this—notably Jazmine Sullivan, who recently acknowledged her frustration with the likes of Adele enjoying superstardom while she of equal talents and gifts is not as lucky. However, no contemporary black female artist has been as vocal about her vexation with the state of the music industry and black women’s role in it than K. Michelle.
Last November, the Memphis-bred singer-songwriter and reality star announced an album title that further ignited conversation: I Ain’t White, But I Hope You Like. When asked about the title on Twitter, K. Michelle explained: “I'm sick of executives telling me I can't sing certain songs because I'm black. I grew up on country, let me sing.”
Around that same time, K. Michelle took to Instagram to write: “Have you heard an amazing URBAN ballad on your Urban radio stations lately? Nope. You won't without a fight. We have to sing songs like Fuck a man, about drugs, and sex all day in order to get mainstream radio play. I was JUST told by an executive that NO ONE wants to sign a Black woman soul artist, because they can't promote it or make their money back.”
Despite those obstacles, K. Michelle has managed to enjoy some creative growth even if it may seemingly come with compromise. To wit, K. Michelle’s third album now has a different and far less polarizing title in More Issues Than Vogue. I prefer the original title, but the album does offer material that speaks to the critique of I Ain’t White, But I Hope You Like.
“If It Ain’t Love” is a country-influenced tune, though to K. Michelle’s credit, she showed her love of country via “God I Get It” from her last album. But, there are songs like “Make The Bed,” a duet with Jason Derülo that screams “Top 40 can get it.” It’s a good song though not the sort of track I would expect to hear from K. Michelle. The same applies the album’s lead single, “Not A Little Bit.”
Of course, there is plenty of familiarity to be found overall.
While she may not want to be burdened with having to record trap-inspired tracks solely because she is a black artist, there are elements scattered across the album. You hear it on “Ain’t You” and “Nightstand.” What works to K. Michelle’s benefit is that unlike many of the mindless artist flooding the market with cloning, she has a very distinct point of view and voice. Likewise, there is a certain wit and frankness to her lyrics that make every song undeniably hers. Say, on “These Men,” in which K. Michelle sings, “Then I tried Idris [Laughs.] and he still can get it/Even if he ain’t shit.”
The album is a bit less cohesive sonically than her sophomore effort, Anybody Wanna Buy a Heart? That’s not a condemnation. The last album was sadder in overall tone. Here, there is a sparkle and an easiness pronounced throughout the project.
I say this as a compliment: More Issues Than Vogue gives me fusion restaurant. Like, it's still catfish, only some spiffy sauce is on it and it's kale with turkey neck meat versus collard greens.
No K. Michelle fan—and there are plenty of them at this point—will feel she’s taken them somewhere unfamiliar. For those new to the party, welcome, but head to the back. We been on. But, her handlers shouldn’t fear an “urban ballad” and they ought to have more faith in K. Michelle’s ability to build on her fan base.
I can only imagine her frustration with being told she can't record certain songs because she's black. I wonder, though, at this point, is that the kind of fight worth having. She can't single-handedly change the current radio landscape nor can she force those who would rather her a Black sound from a white voice.
All K. Michelle can do is produce good content and let those of us who appreciate it do so and spend accordingly. When it comes to More Issues Than Vogue, she’s succeeded in that yet again. For those that are missing out, it’s their loss. But for those who do know how good she is and how varied a talent she proves to be, we will be taking care of her for many years to come.