Grammy winning singer Chrisette Michele first burst on the scene in 2006 when she added her jazzy vocals over Jay Z’s hit “Lost Ones.” The Long Island, New York native found herself alongside hip hop royalty once again when she was featured on Nas’ platinum album Hip Hop Is Dead. Working with legends straight out the gate set the stage for an extremely promising career that has only seemed to grow brighter over the years, especially now that Chrisette has launched her on record label, Rich Hipster.
But things haven’t been a bed of roses for the woman with the soulful voice. Though she’s found love with her manager Douglas “Biggs” Ellison, the pair’s initial relationship was split apart by rumors of embezzlement and a messy lawsuit. And while many were outraged by the 2016 presidential election results Chrisette Michele accepted an invitation to perform for President Trump, setting off a storm of criticism by many of her fans.
So what is it really like being Chrisette Michele right now? EBONY caught up with the singer ahead of the premiere of the Centric show.
EBONY: What prompted you to appear on Being in the first place?
Chrisette Michele: They called and asked if I wanted to be on Being a while ago and I’ve actually been talking to BET and Centric about doing television with them. So this was an exciting opportunity to share my story and share what I’m doing now.
EBONY: You’re pretty open about the things that you do, especially on social media, so why do you share so much about your life, career, and opinions on social?
Chrisette Michele: I came into the industry when social media was just starting; I was there for the launch of Twitter. So that was the beginning of my experience as an artist. A lot of what record labels began to do after that was social media based, so that was sort of my introduction into the industry. It was kind of what I knew as the music industry—you share, talk, interact and speak to people.
EBONY: Do find that being so open is a distraction to your music? I’m thinking of the whole Trump controversy. That became the focus for some time versus your music.
Chrisette Michele: I think everybody in the industry has those types of distractions. You know, if somebody gets a butt job, all of a sudden we forget that they have a new single out, or if someone gets married we wonder if they’re going to do an album about marriage. I think people expect you to answer with your music.
With the Trump thing, I didn’t speak on social media about it at all. I took some time away—actually a month—and didn’t really say anything. For that particular experience it was a time where I was using my art and people wanted me to do more on social media and talk more. People felt like I didn’t share anything. So I don’t think [social media] was a factor at all; people just didn’t like where I sang.
EBONY: Did you ever feel pressured not to perform at the inauguration? What made you stay in the lineup, because some people said they wouldn’t do it or even pulled out?
Chrisette Michele: When that all happened, firstly I was out of the country. A lot of the energy that was going on in the States I wasn’t physically a part of. But I rarely do things based on what everybody else is doing; I never have. But lastly, I sang a gospel song. And the song was about knowing that God is in control and knowing that at the end of the day what happens—whether I’m comfortable with it or not or afraid of it or not—that God is in control.
I thought that people would listen to the lyrics in the song. I thought that people would hear what I had to sing, but I don’t know that people were open to listening at a time like that. I didn’t know that nobody would listen to the song. Like you were saying, sometimes people don’t listen to the music and I don’t know if it’s a social media thing because I wasn’t on social media at the time. But I think when people have opinions; they’re not listening.
This time around opinions were part of a really uncomfortable dialogue, and while I’m not a Trump supporter, people who weren’t Trump supporters were adamant about walking away and not supporting anyone who didn’t say it the way they said it or didn’t show it the way they showed it.
Again, I’m a recording artist who’s traveled around the world so I have different opportunities than other people and people may decide how I should use my opportunities because my opportunities are public whereas I can’t decide how people should use their opportunities because their opportunities are private. That’s what we’re dealing with—people feeling like they should be able to control celebrities.
EBONY: Does that make you hesitant to speak your mind?
Chrisette Michele: It makes me not post as much. For instance, you’ll hear me talk about it on the show, how many things I’ve done in politics over the years—a long list of things for different political events and Democratic events—and how I didn’t really post that stuff. I left it away from social media because I knew that people may not care. It never felt like people cared when I did things like charity or hanging out with mayors or visiting different schools. So I just stopped posting that stuff.
It doesn’t make me hesitant to speak, but it makes me not expect anyone to really care.
EBONY: You use your music to do the speaking for you in a lot of ways. You wrote a song addressing the Rick Ross controversy from the awards show a few years ago. You also wrote a song to your brother. Why is that such an important part for you in terms of how you process things and deal with it?
Chrisette Michele: When you’re an artist you’re speaking about life, you’re talking about your experience here on the planet. So essentially, that’s what I do when I’m writing songs. Me and Rick Ross did a song together called “Equal” where he apologized for the things that he had said and put out there about me during that time. The song wasn’t actually written about him, it was written about the equality between men and women, and when he heard the song he decided to put a rap on it.
I write songs about everything. I write songs about love, the military…
EBONY: Are there any Trump songs forthcoming?
Chrisette Michele: No.
EBONY: No politically charged songs?
Chrisette Michele: I think I’ve written many, but I don’t think people paid attention. I did an entire album called Let Freedom Reign with an American flag on the front cover, but stuff like that gets lost.
EBONY: Why do you think that’s the case? People pick up on these little controversies, but they don’t necessarily dig deeper.
Chrisette Michele: Because that’s what most interviewers are looking for when they do interviews. The first questions are usually controversial. They kind of forget to do research on the positive things. So, that’s what gets put out there. I don’t think people are looking to put as much positivity out there as we hope.
EBONY: So much of a celebrity’s life is out there, and I know one of the things you talk about on the show is your relationship. But what have you learned from merging your business relationship with your personal relationship? And why is this time around different for you guys?
Chrisette Michele: I learned it’s okay for me to pull away from the public when I’m figuring things out in my personal life. Anyone who gets married–or is planning a wedding or changes their hair color or does anything–needs a minute to think about it for themselves. So I’ve learned that the public is not really careful to make sure that I make it through something; I’m just their entertainment.
EBONY: How did the idea for Rich Hipsters and Rich Hipsters University come about?
Chrisette Michele: People ask me a lot of questions and I don’t always have the time to stop and talk, but I do a lot of email mentorship with college students. So if I meet a college kid during a motivational speech or something like that I’ll stop and say, “I see you need help in this area. Here’s my email. Let me help.” So, it’s just my way of giving back.
Being:Chrisette Michele airs on Centric on Saturday at 10pm