K. Michelle is never one to mince words. With the arrival of “Birthday,” the club-ready first offering from her upcoming fourth album Kimberly: The People I Used to Know, the Memphis, Tenn. native enters yet another chapter of her career, this time more honest than before. The LP, which features contributions from Chris Brown (“Either Way”), Jeremih, Yo Gotti and Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, mines directly from her personal life and those around her, something that isn’t necessarily new for the R&B singer but continues to give her motivation to make more honest music. “I always say people use us for some things: men might use us for our hot pockets, women might use us just to be cool with us or whatever,” says the singer, born Kimberly Pate. “But whatever the person that’s using you, you should use them to learn something.”
For K. Michelle, nothing is off limits, including past relationships -- she sang about her alleged ill-fated tryst with Idris Elba on 2014’s “Maybe I Should Call” and “controlling” relationship with R. Kelly on “Build a Man.” That honesty carries over to Kimberly, one of two albums she has left on her contract with Atlantic Records. After that? A country album, as well as a possible return to television after she announced her departure after the third season of K. Michelle: My Life aired on VH1 through Feb. 2017.
Speaking with Billboard.com, the no-holds-barred songstress dishes on her upcoming album, talks about her past relationship with R. Kelly and her current engagement to and surrogacy with Dr. Kastan Sims.
“Birthday” is a club record. Is that where you’re leaning with Kimberly: The People I Used to Know?
No, I wanted to have some fun. But that is a record that is so light and when you catch a vibe on something, it just feels good. So it’s a record that is very, very vibey. The direction of the album is actually, I actually am talking about a lot of people -- not bashing them, but speaking on some people who have been influential in my life, whether it was for the good or the bad. Either way, it was a lesson learned. So this is just the fun song going out, but I can honestly say this is my best vocal album and you will get those in ballads like “Bring On Love” and “No Not You.” That speaks to who I am and the person and the woman that I’ve become. So I just say it’s a little piece on this rollercoaster journey that the album takes you in.
You’re very explicit about who you’re singing about. Why do you feel comfortable being that explicit with the people you used to know, or the people you do know?
Because I feel like people need to understand where you started to understand where you’re going. For me, I’ve always drawn inspiration from the people around me. I don’t know how to write about anything else other than what my life is about. And I think I’m a very fair writer because I also write about my fucked up issues. I just write life at all moments. I have a record called “Kim K” that speaks kinda about what’s going on now, like I wish I could be a Kardashian so I could be black. So that’s how I feel [laughing]. So I speak about everything, not just certain people and certain things, anything around me I write about.
On “Build a Man,” you talk about your relationship with R. Kelly and in the song, you call him “controlling.” With the recent news about him about him having a cult and controlling people, what do you make of this news in particular? Are you surprised by these allegations?
I’m not surprised by them, I’m actually going to be speaking more about it because I do feel like it’s my obligation as a woman to tell the truth and to do right by other females that are in the business and all these young women who don’t have a voice. So it’s been something that’s been toying and been really stressing me and I’ve been going back and forth with how to speak about it and how to do right for those girls and read some comments about one of the accusers. I went to a blog and I saw women tearing this little girl up. And it immediately brought tears to my eyes because I remember what that was like trying to tell about my abuse. I’ve dealt with other abuse and I tried to tell but when I was telling people were calling me a liar, they were bashing me, they were telling me I was hateful. To read those comments about these women, these young women, these little girls and how people were so naïve to reality or just didn’t give a fuck about the reality and to call these little girls liars and to really take them down, is something I don’t really know right now if I’m willing to stand aside and watch it happen. But I can honestly tell you right now that I have yet to find the proper platform and the proper way to protect and voice my support for these women. I’m not here to bash but right is right and wrong is wrong. That’s all I can really say right now.
Well you talk about finding solidarity with the claims these girls are making. And you find a commonality in the sense that people don’t believe you. So do you believe that there’s truth to these allegations?
I can’t speak on it. I do believe that in every piece of the story there’s something that is true and I’ve learned so much from my mentor and it’s just the right time and place to say things, to do it properly so that the people you’re trying to help are actually helped instead of taunted so I’ll be speaking more about it but I’ll be doing it in the right way.
What else can you share about Kimberly: The People I Used to Know?
This is the longest I’ve gone without putting out music and it kinda has people freaking out, kinda over-examining things and things like that. The album shows me and all my bipolar-ness so it really shows that and I hit on every single emotion of being a woman and being a growing woman. So it has, even for a man, a lot of things you can relate to you, a lot of life issues this time not just heartbreak but life in general. I’m shooting like five, six videos, this week? So I’m very excited about it because I’m taking my time.
There was a Murder She Wrote mixtape that you alluded to earlier on. Is that still something that’s going to happen?
Well, I actually would like to turn in two full albums to my record label so in the process I would’ve given those records out but I have two more albums with Atlantic and I would like to turn in all of this music, I have probably more than 30-something records.
Recently you posted on Instagram about How to Turn an Album 2 a Mixtape: Vol. 1. So does that have something to do with it?
Oh yeah, I was doing that. I was saying on that, it was like I wanted to put out some stuff…I think labels overthink, it’s a great thing for my label that they overthink some things and they want you to keep on doing different things. My thing is I’m a music artist. I put out music all the time so when you’re taking your time and trying to make things perfect, my fans are suffering for music. So that was just me being, “If you don’t hurry up, I’m gonna make this music into a mixtape.” [Laughs]
Is the plan to put out this music over the next two years or are you envisioning kind of a shorter timeline?
No, I want to do them quickly. I actually want to do both of these albums, this one at this side of the year and another one at the other side of the year—at the beginning though. And that way, I really want the freedom, I love Atlantic so even if it’s with them or whatever, I need the freedom to really get into the music that I love. And I’ve said this to you and to other people, it’s country music. And I can’t keep on allowing people to tell me no because I’m black, it’s just not right. So at some point someone has to fight for it. I would much rather turn in two R&B albums and be done and figure out how to fight this battle because musically I don’t play country, I am country. I grew up in Tennessee, that’s alI I listen to. I had a scholarship for yodeling so I am country music, this isn’t, “I popped up one morning and decided I was gonna be a country artist” or something. No, this is in my blood. This is in my body. It’s time to stop being scared of someone because of the color of their skin or any other prejudice that is put upon them.
Country has a large deficit of black artists. There’s Darius Rucker and Charley Pride, who have helped lay a blueprint for black musicians to make country music. Do you see yourself following that blueprint?
I do. And the thing is you can listen to that music no matter what age, ya know what I’m saying? You could sing this music until you’re 50, 60, and they’re very dedicated and loyal but they do not play. Getting in is the hard part. They love their music, and they respect it and they buy it. And I love their songwriting and I see that, and there’s been, what, three black people to ever have No. 1s in country music? And they all were men? It’s not a black woman who has got to Darius’ level or Charley Pride, anybody. There’s not a black woman who’s been able to do that so for me why wouldn’t I want to fight that? I fight everything else. I’m the type of person I feel like is known for controversy but being honest about the truth and what’s going on. I have to be honest to myself and that is saying what I’m great at: my tone, how I sing, everything is country.
To get a little personal, you’re currently engaged, right?
I am. We just started the process two, three weeks ago [for surrogacy]. I wants twins and I had this big lupus scare. Like they called me and said I had lupus and then I so then I was freaking out, had to run to the doctor, go to a specialist, it came back negative. So then I went to a fertility doctor, we’ve been going through all of that and just because I want twins, they’re saying because I’m so little I won’t be able to carry twins to full term. So this big process, I’m gonna have to pick a surrogate and everything and that’s very nerve-wracking and I have an album coming out, I’m gonna have to try and prepare. New babies are coming and it’s really something we’ve been wanting. I just want to make the right decision when it comes to picking a surrogate and that process has completely started.
All this sounds like perfect fodder for a reality TV show but from what you’ve said, you’re done with that. Is that the case?
It’s kinda the case for now. I’ve had offers. We just started taking some meetings, there are some networks that are interested in me but it’s not the same as reality. This reality basically, Atlantic gave me my own record label and they told me to sign three acts a year to them. And help bring R&B back, and you know R&B, really put the focus on it. So this is the type of TV show, not those fake little “I want a record deal” shows, no none of that, I don’t have time for that.