After more than half a decade as a member of the R&B duo Floetry, British soul singer Marsha Ambrosius struck out on her own, though launching a career as a solo artist wasn’t easy. There was a deal with Dr. Dre's Aftermath label that went south before Ambrosius could even release an album, and years spent writing and singing backup for other artists to pay the bills.
Ambrosius has appeared on an impressive roll call of hits that includes Michael Jackson's "Butterflies" (she co-wrote it, and sang backup), Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me A River" and frequent outings with rappers like the Game and Nas.
But it took last year's hit "Hope She Cheats on You (With a Basketball Player)" for Ambrosius, who's in town opening for R. Kelly at Baltimore's 1st Mariner Arena on Friday and the Verizon Center on Saturday, to get any traction on her own. The song is a nifty revenge anthem that has attracted attention because of its Kim Kardashian shout-out ("Hope that she Kim Kardashian'ed her way up/Don't know the difference 'tween a touchdown and a layup"), which Ambrosius says she meant as a complimentary acknowledgment of female empowerment and not a dig at Kardashian’s upwardly mobile dating habits.
In a recent phone interview, she talked to Click Track about the song, and the long-gestating solo debut, “Late Nights and Early Mornings,” from which it came.
I was going to ask how it felt to finally be releasing a solo album, but you've been a solo artist as long as you were in a duo. Does it feel that strange to you?
It feels like overnight for me. It feels like, “Oh my goodness, I have an album out already!” I feel like I'm re-introducing myself to the world. I love it.
Did the actual recording take a long time, or just getting to the recording?
No. The recording, that's the easy part. That's the stuff I do in my sleep — I'll walk in and the song is made. It's legal work. It's finding the right home [for the record]….I just want the situation to be right. At the end of 2009 “I Hope She Cheats” was on the radio and I was like, oh, so people are ready. They are paying attention to what I’m doing. The album came together fairly quickly [after that], and here's March 2011 and I have an entire album.
You [wrote a lot of songs] for other people. Did you want to keep them for yourself but weren’t in a position to do so?
Not really. I learned over the years not to emotionally attach myself to any of my work. I care about anything I do, but I've learned that many of the songs find their own place, whether that's with me or someone else. I never got mad at Michael Jackson for doing "Butterflies," like I wanted it for myself. The same situation with "Say Yes" for Ron Isley. I…never hold onto it, because it's still my work.
When you go into the studio with other people do you just know sometimes a song will be terrible, or it’ll be a hit?
No. I go in with the same process every time. No one ever knows if it's gonna be a hit or not. We just know that we're working hard. Everything else is in God's hands.
What’s the main thing you learned from working with all those superstar acts that you took into your own album?
That nothing is promised. And everyone, regardless of being in the industry or not, goes through the same real life problems as everybody else. So I have to maintain my integrity and my strong family background, and just work hard.
Are you surprised at the impact “Hope She Cheats” had?
No. I knew it was the most outrageous thing [I could say], and I knew at some point it would affect someone. I'm glad it did.
Have you had any contact with Kim Kardashian about it?
I haven't. What's crazy is I'm pretty sure that 99% of the people construe that as a negative thing towards her, but in the whole song, look how it turned out! What Kim Kardashian did was take something that would be a flaw and turn herself into a multi-million dollar mogul….[The Kardashian sex tape] was a very horrible thing that happened to her in her life as a female, and with that line I'm saying, “That one female that you messed with, she'll turn it around right on you and dog you with some other guy and make you feel like nothing.” And now she's front page news.