Fantasia Draws Up a New Sound With Her Upcoming Album 'Sketchbook': 'I Love All Genres of Music. Not just R&B'

Ryan Pfluger
Fantasia photographed July 11, 2016 at Cienfuegos in New York.

Fantasia Barrino is well aware that her steps have been ordered in the 15 years since her American Idol win. “I’ve had a helluva journey,” she tells Billboard. “People walk up to me all the time and say that they don’t know how I made it through some of the things that I have and I say that it’s God, it was necessary for me to go through it because it made me the woman that I am today.”

Fans were introduced to the North Carolina native while she was raising her young daughter on her own. Her story, which she’s always been transparent about, has taken on many forms. In past years, she’s specifically used R&B to convey the peaks and valleys of her life, but with her upcoming album Sketchbook, slated for release this fall, Fantasia showcases her skill by way of a much wider variety of genres.

Fantasia tells a recent story to explain the LP’s title: there was a studio that she worked from that boasted a variety of paintings on the wall that inspired her. It turned out that the artist was a relative of someone at the facility. The singer then commissioned her to sketch a portrait. Then it all clicked.

“I’m like, ‘Sketchbook! Thank you God. That’s what I’m calling the album because that’s what my life has been,” she explains. “Sketches are not perfect. You see the flaws and certain things but I’m still growing and whatever God has in mind, I’m still becoming that woman. I want people to see my journey, the fact that I’m being sketched in and I want them to hear it through the music this time.”

It’s been three years since Definition Of’s release and in that time, Fantasia has taken a breath and a step back, dropping a holiday album in 2017, but nothing has had her as excited as Sketchbook and its following three-month tour with Robin Thicke, Tank and Bonfyre set to kick off in October.

Just in speaking about the work that’s gone into the album’s production, the songstress emanates a certain electricity rarely seen in artists beyond their first few years. She’s at the helm of what Sketchbook represents from the artwork, to the project’s "rock soul" sound and lyrics. “Can I tell you something?,” she whispers, “All the other albums outside of Fantasia and Free Yourself, I wouldn’t say were forced, but I wasn’t in that space or place, I wasn’t happy. My last album Definition Of, I remember walking out of that studio several times, just saying, ‘Hey, I’m a soul singer. So if I don’t feel it, I can’t do it.'"

Incidentally, "rock-soul" is something that Fantasia says she’s wanted to implement in her music from the very start, due in no small part to her musically-inclined paternal family, most notably, her cousins, famed '90s R&B group K-Ci & Jojo.  “I love all genres of music. Not just R&B. Not just gospel,” she reveals. "On this album, I wanted to bring that to life but with a much hipper and younger sound.”

Fantasia’s married now and admits that a lot of the album is inspired by her husband and what he likes [“I wanted a bop, I wanted an album that dudes could rock to, because I always knew I had the ladies.”]. Her stage shows have always reflected a sort of rock star quality, with Fantasia often kicking off her shoes and getting into everything from “Summertime” to Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit” to anything Tina Turner and even some go-go music. She’s always been unafraid, bold enough to toe the line, but now it’s actually on wax. 

Her lead single, “Enough,” is straight-up rock 'n' roll, smoothed out with honeyed vocals but the follow-up “PTSD” with T-Pain is its polar opposite as far as sound goes, but above all, Sketchbook represents a hard-fought victory -- freedom for Fantasia. “There are certain things we do, or conversations we have, places that we go that remind me of the past, the good and the bad. But the fact that I can look back over it and be a better woman, standing stronger than ever and in control of my entire career, I can look back and say, ‘Wow. I did that.’”


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