Kelly Price Discusses Working With Kanye West on 'Ultralight Beam,' Praises 'The Life of Pablo'

Dana Edelson/NBC
Kanye West performs on Feb. 13, 2016 on Saturday Night Live.

During Kanye West's sanctified performance on Saturday Night Live over the weekend that included guests The-Dream, Kirk Franklin, Chance the Rapper, El DeBarge and a choir, a belle shined amongst 'Ye's crew of collaborators -- R&B queen Kelly Price

After adding her soulful vocals to the track and bringing the good word at 30 Rock for a special rendition of "Ultralight Beam" and "High Lights," Price hopped on the phone with Billboard to discuss how the ethereal record "Ultralight Beam" came about, how producer Fonzworth Bentley became the plug and if Mr. West truly achieved a "gospel" rap album. 

Billboard: You became a trending topic on Twitter following your appearance with Kanye West on Saturday Night Live for “Ultralight Beam.” Describe the energy on-stage performing alongside ‘Ye, The-Dream, Kirk Franklin and a choir.

Kelly Price: You know what? Amazing. There was such a kinship -- and it wasn’t energy, it was synergy. We were really unified throughout the rehearsals in preparation for Saturday night. ‘Ye just really went out of his way to make sure that everybody understood that they needed to take their moment and really put out the message in their moment to make sure that it resonated. He literally was saying, ‘I want people to feel it through the screens.' What they felt when we first did the record. It was emotional even recording the song. I remember writing my verse and recording it. I was in Atlanta and the guys were in L.A. I dropped my verse and 10 minutes after I sent it back, they called me and I could hear people in the back, crying after they heard what I did so everything about it was really, really authentic. As much as we rehearsed, as much as we prepared, like professionals should, the moment itself was very organic and it was very authentic. It was a big, big moment. I believe that for all of us, it goes down as one of the top performance moments in our careers.

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How did you get involved with the record?

It’s crazy. This track had been around for maybe a little bit [before I got involved] but I got a call from Fonzworth Bentley, who is a mutual friend of ‘Ye’s and mine. He’s the one who made the connection. When the song started, ‘Ye was on the track, Dream was on the track, and it was Fonzworth who called me and was like, ‘Listen, are you in L.A.? I need you in the studio right now.’ I’m like, ‘No, I’m in Atlanta.’ And he’s like, ‘Ugh. I gotta get this done. It’s this track that’s kinda gospel-y but I just need people to feel God when they listen to this. I need your anointing on this track.’ So that’s how I got involved. That’s how Kirk got involved, too. It was really Fonzworth, who was one of the producers on the song. Kirk already knew ‘Ye from years ago but it was like a reconnection for them to come together on this track. It was just one of those moments that was preordained, like it was already written that it was gonna happen. And it did -- it came together so perfectly because I didn’t even have Chance the Rapper’s verse on it when I got it. [Producer] Derek was like, ‘Write what it makes you feel.’ What I sang is what I felt when I got the track and so when I heard what Chance was saying -- which wasn’t until after I’d written, sung and recorded my part -- I was just like, wow, it meshed. You would’ve thought we were together when the song was coming together.

 

Kanye has said “I’m ultralight beaming.” What does the phrase “ultralight beam” mean to you?

Oh, God. That’s what it means to me. People have their own interpretation of what they call “a higher power” or what they call “a divine power,” the “ultralight beam” is, to me, the brightest of all light, the highest authority, the one thing that cuts through the darkness and the ugliness of the world, of war, of poverty, of life, of evil in any form. It’s the ultra light. Instead of focusing on anything else that may be wrong about life, the world, politics or whatever, when you can focus on that, there’s hope because hope comes inside of that light. I can’t speak for what Kanye means in other context but that’s what this is. That’s what ultralight beams is. Something that’s not divisive but something that we can all look to and kind of just be all on the same page.

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Before Kanye’s project The Life of Pablo even hit timelines, he described it as a “gospel album.” Do you think he accomplished that?

He did, actually. I really can’t wait for the opportunity that he’ll have at some point to articulate why he called it that. When I listened to the entire project from beginning to end, it’s undoubtedly Kanye -- he’s himself, he’s not preaching, he’s not quoting scripture, that’s not what he’s doing. Jesus taught in parables. A parable simply being a story that was, for lack of a better phrase, dumbed down or naturalized or humanized so that the common everyday person could understand the divine message he was trying to send. So what I feel like Kanye accomplished with this album, was to send out messages of falling, feeling condemnation, feeling unworthy, finding a glimmer of hope, reaching, asking for help, receiving that help, getting back up, grace, mercy, forgiveness, then getting rid of self-condemnation and finally getting to a point where you believe you’re worthy to have all of those things and to live an amazing life in spite of your shortcomings, in spite of who you may have been at a point [in the past] or even bigger than that, in spite of being a very, very flawed individual because God is grace, God is mercy and God is love.

Even inside all of our flaws, in His divineness, knowing that we’re going to continue to mess up as long as we’re living, we’re still worthy of achieving greatness, having an amazing life, living better, doing more and being more, so [Kanye] did it in his own way. It’s not a sermon, it’s not an across-the-pulpit type thing, but it’s what any kid in any streak, any person from any sect of life, and anyone especially who has felt at any point that they have done something so horrific that they could never be worthy of anything great, would understand when they hear it. And with just the dictionary definition of the word “gospel,” it is is not religious by definition. It just means “good news” so when you can articulate good news, you are, in fact, delivering the gospel. So in my opinion, he achieved it.

Can Kelly Price fans also expect more good news?

Yes, well currently, I have the first single off the Saints & Sinners soundtrack, a new show on the Bounce TV Network that begins on March 6. I’m not just singing on the soundtrack, I also have a recurring role on the series as well. I am working on my new project that will be released later this year as a co-effort between my own label and eOne Nashville. I’m kind of in a reinvention as a person first and then as an artist because as an artist, my music reflects the person I am. So after 23 years of being married, now divorced and in the 21st century of dating, it’s all coming out in my music. It’s really, really interesting. I’m excited about the new sound, the messages that I have and how my fans are gonna receive them. I am receiving an honorary doctorate on Friday of this week and I’m co-valedictorian of the graduating class then I have more television later this year. 2016 has really started off with a bang and it’s just the beginning of a wonderful, new chapter of my life right now.