So what’s the 411 on K. Michelle? The 27-year-old bombshell has already been serenading sold-out crowds for months prior to the release of this week’s Rebellious Soul, her very first album. (Diehard fans sing along to every verse of favorites like “I Just Can’t Do This.”) VH1’s Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta—K. Michelle’s reality-show rollercoaster ride to nationwide notoriety—has been the guilty pleasure of over four million viewers since its premiere last June largely because of K. But despite four mixtapes over the past three years, the singer might be best known for catty battling (she called Tamar Braxton a muppet less than 48 hours ago on Twitter) and Millie Jackson-level rawness.
Born Kimberly Michelle Pate in Memphis, Tennesse, K. Michelle is a curvy bundle of contradictions. She’s the loving mom of an 8-year-old son, Chase, who operatically croons “Coochie Symphony” before live audiences. She pledged Delta Sigma Theta at Florida A&M University with country CDs of the Dixie Chicks on scramble in her dorm room. A classically trained pianist, she scored her music scholarship to FAMU by yodeling. Product of a two-parent, middle-class household, she embraces ratchetness like she don’t know no better… but she must.
Backstage at the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C. after another concert filled to capacity, K. Michelle sat in a green room getting her bouncy auburn curls freshened up. She spoke at length about the bald honesty of her lyrics, her as-yet-untitled future VH1 solo series, her move over to New York’s original Love & Hip-Hop, and the shaky state of the music biz.
EBONY: You established your name through reality TV. Why continue to do it now that your name is known?
K. Michelle: Well, I really don’t want to do Love & Hip-Hop: New York, but it’s part of my contract. I have to do that to get my show. I just basically think that people, when you’re in their face every week, they feel like they know you, and they want to be a part of your success. They want to be a part of your pain. And I’ve gotten so much support for just being me. There are some things I want to change that is not healthy for my singing. So I’m changing some things within it. But it’s just kinda like, if you could use this platform to really do something with it, why get off of it?
EBONY: Do you feel that reality TV has been invasive at all? Pop stars used to disappear between projects, they used to have more mystery. Do you feel any of the pressure of being in fans’ faces all the time?
KM: It doesn’t work anymore. People wanna know. It’s a new day and age, and if you disappear, then you’re gone for good, forever. So you can’t just disappear like that. You have to be active and they have to see you.
EBONY: How did you pull off “I Just Wanna F**k”? Were you worried about sounding like Brian McKnight’s “How Your Pu**y Works (If You’re Ready to Learn),” or even Justin Timberlake’s SNL parody, “D**k in a Box”?
KM: I just did it. I didn’t care. And I know a lot of people have thought like that. In your mind you’re like, “man, I wish I could just be like men do.” You know how y’all do. [laughter] Sometimes women wish we could just go and do that. But we can’t do that, because then we get a name for ourselves and we can’t do it. So it’s in our mind that we want to be able to say that and do it. I just said what was on women’s mind.
EBONY: Growing up in Tennessee, I heard you love country music. Who specifically?
KM: I love it. Alison Krauss, Sara Evans, Jo Dee Messina, the Dixie Chicks, Toby Keith.
EBONY: Were you teased for loving country music as a Black girl?
KM: No… They thought it was funny! But people would always be like, “Sing! Sing country music! Yodel!” So it was something. I got a scholarship out of it and all kind of stuff. The first tape I ever got was The Judds. So, no, they thought it was cute. [laughter] They didn’t really pick on me about it.
EBONY: FAMU was handing out yodeling scholarships?
KM: It was a music scholarship, but I yodeled. I did opera, I yodeled, and I did a regular piece. And they were like, “Oh my God, I never had a Black girl at this university that knows how to yodel!” And they gave me a scholarship.
EBONY: Have you got any flak from the Deltas for your wild behavior on Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta?
KM: It was at first, but now they’re inviting me to do everything. I’m doing a lot of different things. So no, not anymore. I was just like, “you don’t accept me, this is me. I’m not perfect, but I do help a lot of women, and you’ll eventually see.” And now they’re starting to come around. I just did something here a couple of weeks ago with them, and they’ve been overly inviting me to do some things but I haven’t been able to. So I guess I’m not that bad after all.
EBONY: How was growing up in Memphis?
KM: I have both of my parents [and] my little sister. I was always just the bad child. [laughter] I was always in trouble. I have a step-sister that’s older than me. But I was like the bad child. I never listened. I did it all, I played classical piano. I played like 13 years of training, and then I wanted to sing.
I took swimming lessons, I still can’t swim. They put me in gymnastics, I complained about that. They only thing I wanted to do was sing. And I hated piano but they made me play. I played guitar for three years. Then I wanted fingernails. You can’t play… [laughter] They were like, “you’re gonna drop the guitar for fingernails?” I was like, “Absolutely. I want fingernails.” I can read guitar. That’s really easy for me.
EBONY: Why don’t you play piano onstage?
KM: I am. I’ma start doing it for when I go on tour in September. I’m gonna bring out some instruments and really mess with their heads a little bit.
EBONY: You have an 8-year-old son. Where would you raise him between FAMU’s Tallahassee, Atlanta, Memphis or New York?
KM: I love Memphis, but it’s not the best place for me to be. Just because I can’t even go to the grocery store right now. It’s a lot of crime there, and then nobody wants to walk around every day with a bodyguard all day. My mom’s not even comfortable with me being home, they’re not comfortable with me even being there. So New York I can kinda get away with stuff.
EBONY: And Atlanta?
KM: I can’t do it. It just don’t feel right. It didn’t feel right when I got there. I went there for a record deal; it’s never felt right. I absolutely love New York. [Chase is] in Memphis with my mom and father. I can’t really put him in New York away from everybody. So I have to go back and forth. He came to New York and really loved it. But no, we not doing that. I would be scared. It’s not gonna happen. Memphis, he can get a home-cooked meal every day, he goes to church on Sundays. He don’t have to be toted around with me on the road. Memphis is the best place for him.
EBONY: How is Tennesse for Black folks?
KM: It’s all Black. It’s a lot of Black people, especially Memphis.
EBONY: Except for Justin Timberlake.
KM: We had the same voice teacher.
EBONY: You asked to be bought out of your first record contract. Other modern singers like Miguel have gone through the same thing. Are music labels still a little lost?
KM: Everybody don’t get it. Everybody’s not gon’ get you. Everybody’s not gonna understand it. It’s like Clive with Whitney. It takes a special person to understand a gift and really show it to the world. You have to have a team. Everybody think they know a star. And you could have a star and not know what to do with a star. The better you sing sometimes, the harder it is to get it right. That’s where we’re at. The labels, they’re just trying to get it right. [Jive] shut down and went into RCA. Good for them. They shoulda been shut down before I got there.
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