One of the first things that jumps out about K. Michelle’s major label debut album, “Rebellious Soul,” is that it is not at all a typical R&B album on the lyrical level.
Most contemporary R&B and dance pop artists are keeping things light lyrically, singing playful songs about the opposite sex, going to clubs, partying and other just-for-fun subjects. These are the kind of songs that have been selling and making big moves on Top 40 and other charts.
There’s not that much that’s sweet and light about the songs on “Rebellious Soul” and Michelle brings her tour in support of the disc to North Myrtle Beach’s House of Blues on Saturday.
“I just didn’t want to use the normal my-heart-is-broken-up because there are a lot of things that women face that don’t just have to do with heartbreak,” Michelle said in an early November phone interview. “We face life, we face insecurities, self-esteem issues. We’ll feel horny or sexy sometimes…I write in a different kind of way, I feel, than other artists’ angles or their writers who write for them. I take it head on and I say exactly what women think.”
Michelle has gone through enough ups and downs to speak from experience on some of the tough topics that filter into her music.
A native of Memphis, Kimberly Michelle Pate (as she’s known on her birth certificate) was signed by the RCA-affiliated Jive Records in 2008.
She gained an early supporter and mentor in Jive label mate R. Kelly. She worked on a debut album called “Pain Medicine,” which was being executive produced by Kelly and was slated to have guest appearances from Missy Elliott and Rick Ross, among others. The album, though, was never released.
Michelle, though, was hardly idle during her time on Jive, as she released three mixtapes that gained an underground following and also released a handful of singles, including “I Just Can’t Do This” and “How Many Times,” both of which cracked the top 60 on Billboard magazine’s R&B chart.
But Michelle’s tenure on Jive may end up being best remembered for the controversy she generated when she accused label executive (and one-time boyfriend) Memphitz of physically abusing her – charges that Memphitz has emphatically denied.
Whatever did or didn’t happen between the former couple, Michelle ended up negotiating her release from the label, even though it meant stepping into what was now an uncertain future in music.
Michelle said she has no regrets about going public with her accusations about Memphitz, even though she has faced questions and scrutiny over her statements.
“People needed to hear that. And I’m still going through my issues with that, and I feel like I became the face for a lot of women,” Michelle said. “I’ve done the right thing in telling what I went through because a lot of women go through it and have related. And more women are coming out to speak about it.”
As it turned out, leaving Jive wasn’t much of a setback, as Michelle got a break of another type when she was selected to join the cast of the VH-1 series “Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta.” She has finished her run on the show, but it helped generate renewed interest from record labels, and she signed with Atlantic Records, which released “Rebellious Soul” in August.
The album suggests she could be a major talent in R&B. Her unvarnished lyrics right away separate her from most other R&B singers. “My Life,” for instance,” paints the picture of being all too familiar with living the kind of life that’s one struggle after another (“Where I’m from, it ain’t flowers and candy/I’m just happy the life didn’t get me”), while “Can’t Raise A Man” cautions women that they can’t change a guy who’s already fundamentally flawed. Perhaps the most moving moment comes on “I Don’t Like Me,” where Michelle sings achingly vulnerable lyrics about those moments when she feels beaten down and less-than-proud of herself.
The music is just as impressive. Michelle’s strong vocals have drawn comparisons to the late Whitney Houston, and her highly melodic songs – mostly ballads -- often have a silky beauty.
“Rebellious Soul” made a strong commercial impact, debuting at No. 2 on Billboard’s album chart and “V.S.O.P.” cracked the top 10 on Billboard’s R&B songs chart.
Michelle is trying to build on her momentum with a fall headlining tour that runs through Dec. 3 and is slated to resume early in 2014.
She said she plans to perform songs, not only from “Rebellious Soul,” but from her four mixtapes in a show that is designed to please her female fans. (The fourth mixtape, 2012’s “O F***s Given,” became an Internet hit and included, Michelle said, some songs initially earmarked for “Pain Medicine.”)
“It (the live show) will just be exciting for the ladies, to laugh, cry, sing, kind of an intimate one-on-one thing,” Michelle said.
“That’s the way I like it. I like it to be me. I like the fans to feel like we’re just sitting at home and listening to some great music. So that’s how the tour is going to be.”