Angie Stone wears her soul on the outside like a spiritual armor that protects or a warm embrace that invites. Some have accepted her with open arms as evidenced by three Grammy Award nominations, two Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards, four Top 10 R&B albums and growing buzz surrounding her new release, Rich Girl. Yet some have neglected her soulful croons, down-to-earth wit charm, versatile music skills (from songwriting to production to playing saxophone) and have left her feeling like an outcast. Luckily for fans, she is a solid and virtually unbreakable force striving ahead with a host of projects, planning her wedding and overseeing her daughter’s aspiring singing career. This Stone just keeps on rolling, whatever may come.
In this intimate and exclusive interview, Stone discusses how worrying about pleasing others led to a loss of self-identity, why she feels like an outsider of the 'neo-soul' movement, her hopes for a sit-down with Dr. Dre and more.
[LISTEN HERE FOR AN EBONY EXCLUSIVE STREAMING OF AN ACAPELLA VERSION OF ANGIE'S NEW SINGLE “DO WHAT U GOTTA DO.”]
EBONY: I read that prior to releasing this album you felt like you were losing yourself and spreading yourself too thin working with others. Is that part of your nature to nurture others and forget about yourself?
Angie Stone: I think you’re right. I forget to take care of Angie being so busy taking care of everyone else. I am such a giver and nurturer that I gave up so much of myself. I stood back and saw there was a small percentage of Angie in what was supposed to be the Angie Stone album. I had to regroup and get back to knowing who I was.
EBONY: For some nurturers it is part of their nature but in some cases it is also driven by a need to constantly please others. Is that also part of what makes you so giving—wanting to please?
AS: It is definitely somewhat a crutch of feeling that you have to please others in order to be accepted…You have to know how to stop and be a nurturer for yourself.
EBONY: A lot of people know you as a singer but you work extensively behind the scenes in songwriting, production and A&R.
AS: A lot of people don’t know what I do. In the industry they take credit for work because to some degree it makes them feel worthy or greater. I am not a ghostwriter ‘cause it is on the CD covers who wrote and did what but people don’t care about anything they can’t see. The work gets unnoticed and the credibility goes untouched. There is a deep sad feeling that as a songwriter—something such a gift—you never get acknowledged for it. People think that’s how I eat because I make records but I make far more money as songwriter than from being a singer.
EBONY: For those that do know about your behind the scenes work they mention D’Angelo but you worked with a host of others. What are some of your proudest unsung writing or production credits?
AS: There is a song years ago I worked on with Harry Ray from the Moments…and I worked with Chuck Brown on, “It’s Good to be Home.” Of course a lot [of people] don’t know I worked with Mary J. Blige in her early, early days…They thought she had a lot of the same tones as me. So I wrote this song with her at my house called “I Ain’t Taking No Shorts” that was a motivational song for her. It spoke to her spirit because the label never felt she was ready enough. I thought she was ready and I wrote the song. It was never released because it was really for her inspiration. But years and years later I ran into her and she said ‘Angie it is so funny I was just thinking about this song we did at your house. That song resonates in my head.’ For me I was overwhelmed, because the song did what it was supposed to do to let her know that she was great in spite of what people said about her. I also did a lot of work with Lenny Kravitz. I didn’t write but I played sax with him and toured on his Let Love Rule tour. So I had my hand in quite a few things that people didn’t know about.
EBONY: Do you feel like you get the respect from the artists but not the record executives?
AS: I think a lot of it has to do with the whole neo-soul movement and the closeness and breaking up of myself and [former boyfriend] D’Angelo. It’s like if you’re my friend, you can’t be his friend and my friend. So I've kind of been left swinging on my own.
EBONY: The funny thing is that you have only said positive things about D’Angelo in the public and vice versa. So it’s like if you two don’t have an issue then why should others?
AS: I think it is important people know I learned an immense amount of things from D’Angelo. They say he got it from me but we worked very well together. Together we were a threat because they know two heads are better than one. At the end of the day I would keep it 100 and he trusted me with that. But I never get positive feedback from any of [the others.] I never even received a plaque for the work I've done. So I am out here doing me and it’s proof that I can take care of my own.
EBONY: I want to talk about Sylvia Robinson. When you were part of The Sequence you were signed to Sugar Hill Records. Did you have a relationship with Sylvia prior to her passing?
AS: Sylvia Robinson was a mentor for us all. We learned every trick of the trade from her. I was clueless when I first moved up north on how to deal with the world and the industry. I was 16 turning 17 and still in high school. I listened to everything she said. She taught me to go out and get what it is I wanted because I had the talent. When my group did break up she had already positioned me to stretch out because I had a gift and she acknowledged the gift a long time ago. I think we were close as long as she was in control of me. The minute she lost control she stopped trusting and the separation happened. But she always respected me and that’s the difference because I never spoke out against her or the label. The honor came when the sons asked me to sing at their mother’s funeral. I knew not only did she love and respect me, but that this day would come and I would be the one to hold her down.
EBONY: There is also this story of how so many artists signed to Sugar Hill didn’t get royalties and were financially exploited. Is that part of the story too?
AS: It’s so sad to talk about it now but I am going to because I never had a voice to say it before. At the time that Sylvia Robinson was the queen of Sugar Hill Records we were all okay and knew we’d get more money. We just didn’t know how to get it. I think once everybody learned we were benign completely taken advantage of nobody had money to fight. Years later [The Sequence member] Cheryl the Pearl said ‘they they owe us a lot of money…'I had gotten over and beyond it [but] since I was a team player I supported them and as time went on we learned there was a lot of money owed. Our song “Funk You Up,” that we wrote, Sylvia took 25% of publishing which left us 75%. Dr. Dre cut the song “Keep Their Heads Ringin’” and when I looked up we all had was 6%. Sylvia had sold the licensing and rights to the song over to Dr. Dre. Right now to the day Dr. Dre is collecting publishing on a song we wrote. I never had a publishing deal because I was underage. By the time I went to deal with it legally the building had burned down and there were no records or files of anything. So [The Sequence is] still being cheated. It hurts because this was our first song ever by the first female rap group worldwide. It is our legacy and we have Dr. Dre collecting publishing on our song. It is a sin. I would hope one day I can look at him as a man face-to-face and say, ‘I have children and grandchildren. I would like them to know my legacy. Can I please have my publishing back because it was never hers to sell?’
EBONY: Wow, we are going need to call Dr. Dre on that one! On a personal note, are you still engaged?
AS: We have been involved for almost seven years now. With regards to where we are with marriage, we are closing in on it.
EBONY: Is your daughter Diamond still singing?
AS: Yes, we are going to get her photo shoot done and get her back in the lab. She is awesome and sings on the last song on the album. By the end of this year she should have a pretty decent compilation of music to get started with.
EBONY: What else do you have in the works?
AS: I have First Class Glam: The Angie Stone Agency, which is a glam squad. We worked with the BET roster on “The Game” and different shows like that. There is a scripted TV show being created around myself right now. It is not a reality show, which I am really excited about. I did the theme song for a new pilot and I have a guest appearance on the new Rickey Smiley show.
EBONY: You may feel like an outsider, but you’re doing your thing!
AS: I promise you that at some point that whole little crowd will be so happy I kept the torch running in the relay. I say that because all of us have to stick together to keep the music going.
Souleo Enterprises, LLC is the umbrella company that creates, produces and curates media content, events, exhibitions and philanthropic projects by founder, Souleo. Presently Souleo Enterprises, LLC is co-curator of the art exhibition “eMerge: Danny Simmons & Artists on the Cusp,” which you can learn more about here.