Chrisette Michele is better. As strong and confident as she comes across—and let’s face it, you have to be strong in order to consciously not go with the flow in something as fickle and pre-package obsessed as the music industry—she needed to tweak a few things.

The most important thing she needed to change? The music she was putting out. She’s made fans wait a good three years before releasing her latest project (appropriately titled Better, out today), and it has a great raison d’être. She’s happy when she hears from fans who let her know that her music got them through the loss of romance and other life-changing events. But really? She was sick of being brokenhearted and singing about brokenhearted subjects all the time.

So this new album is a better Chrisette Michele. She hasn’t quite found the love she’s singing of, but she sure hopes she’s prognosticating the future in some way through song. And more importantly, she’s hoping the next time a fan approaches her, it’s to say her music helped them get through a celebration.

EBONY: Why did you make your fans wait so long for new music?

Chrisette Michele: I was on stage and traveling, kind of just refocusing and figuring out what made the most sense to be next.

EBONY: You named this album Better. What are we supposed to take away from that? Is the music better? Are you better? What’s better?

CM: I think the music is really special, but I’m definitely in the best space that I’ve ever been in. I feel better than I’ve ever felt, like I’ve finally just become comfortable coming into my own and not really worrying about anyone else’s idea of who I am.

EBONY: Outside looking in, I imagine you to be someone who’s very confident, because you’ve always gone against the grain. It’s surprising that you went through a period where you didn’t think you were.

CM: Sometimes it’s scary to be confident, if that makes any sense. It’s almost an oxymoron, but confidence in who you are means that you think what you’re doing is OK. Or think that what you’re doing is what you’re supposed to be doing. And sometimes that can be scary. Because what if you’re wrong? Or what if you don’t look like or sound like or act like everybody else?

EBONY: Yet, being different is what helped you get on the map. Has that surprised you, that it worked as well for you as it has? A lot of new artists don’t get to be their own person.

CM: Yeah, and even though I say that there wasn’t necessarily pressure from, say, a record label or the industry, there’s pressure from yourself to be as successful. A lot of times, when you don’t see the same numbers that everybody else has and you hear the pressure of the label or whomever saying, “We need these kind of numbers,” you’re saying, “Well, even though I feel like if I did this I would get to those numbers, I can’t.” So the pressure is from within more so than from anybody else.

EBONY: That’s such a high level of stress.

CM: Yeah, it’s a high level of stress. It’s moments like those where you just stop. And that’s what I did over the last year and a half. I stopped. For me, stopping doesn’t mean coming off of the stage, because the stage is home for me. Stopping means not answering to anybody anymore, not asking the label what they think, not necessarily asking media what they think, and sort of just dancing to the beat of my own drum.

EBONY: So is this the first pure Chrisette Michele album?

CM: No, but it’s the first time where I had to stop to find my purity. Usually I’m so just excited and not bogged down with so much that I can just be honest and free without having to take a moment. This is the first time where I had to take a minute and say, “Wait a second, there’s too many voices, there’s too many people, there’s too many cooks in the kitchen. Let me get out of the kitchen, starve myself, go on a juice fast, be quiet for a little while.”

EBONY: And the quiet helps you make better noise?

CM: Certainly. Because when you’re quiet, you can hear yourself. When there’s so much noise, you can’t even hear yourself think sometimes.

EBONY: Mary J. Blige notwithstanding, we don’t think of voices as powerful as yours pairing very naturally with a lot of hip-hop music. Yet MCs love you and it works really well; you’ve worked with the biggest and the best. Why does it seem to work so well?

CM: Hip-hop is one of the most honest types of music out. People are talking about what happens in their lives in hip-hop. Most R&B singers are singing love songs, most pop singers are singing love songs, but most hip-hop singers are not singing love songs. They’re usually talking about their life, what they’re going through, what they’re experiencing. And so they need a voice that speaks about life, that sounds like it can explain life and what life feels like. I think that they [aspire] to work with me because my voice pairs well with [that] lifestyle.

EBONY: Is there someone you haven’t worked with who you’d love to work with in the future?

CM: Bruno Mars. I think he’s really dope. I’d love to work together. I love Iggy Azalea. I think she’s dope, I think she’d be fun in the studio.

EBONY: Did you write a lot on this new album?

CM: Oh, yes. And it’s funny because most of the writing took place maybe a year and a half ago. The album was done when I put my mixtape out for the most part. So all that happened after that was me sort of figuring out how I’m gonna explain to my fans that I’m not sad, I’m not broken, I’m not singing anymore brokenhearted love songs.

EBONY: So we’re hearing the pages of your diary, but from a year ago?

CM: Definitely. When I write songs and I sing them onstage, a lot of times what I sing about onstage happens in my life. Even if I sing about it, it happened after. But I sort of got tired of being sort of in a rut—relationships that didn’t necessarily work out or heartbreak. So I said, “From now on, I’m going to sing stuff that I want to see happen in my life.” So a lot of the album is a forecast into what I’m expecting in the future, and that’s love.

EBONY: Better is a big deal, but what else is 2013 bringing for Chrisette Michele?

CM: I’m going to take some time to go hang out in Paris and learn French for a little bit. Maybe there’ll be a French song on the next album! I’ll be out touring, of course. I’m out with Mary J. Blige right now, so just a lot of being onstage. And then I’m working on a book called Fat and Vegan that I would like to see on shelves by Christmastime. I think I’m going to take a nap in Paris right in the middle of it all and then get back to it.