In the ever-changing universe of contemporary R&B, there are very few artists who have remained as creatively consistent as singer, songwriter and producer Angie Stone. A former Sugar Hill Records star, Stone began her career in the pioneering female rap group The Sequence (“Funk You Up”) in 1979. Stone’s subsequent storied career has included collaborations with a diverse line-up including Mantronix, Lenny Kravitz, D’Angelo (also the father of her son), Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys.
Since making her solo debut Black Diamond in 1999, the former gospel singer from Columbia, South Carolina has definitely made her mark throughout the industry, though she remains underrated as an artist. Whether belting out past hits “No More Rain” and “Brotha,” or crafting her new songs like the wonderfully lush “2 Bad Habits,” she always manages to bring real soul to the table.
On Angie Stone’s forthcoming seventh studio album Dream due in stores courtesy of Shanachie Entertainment on November 6th, the fiery songstress is out to prove that it takes more than a few dips of the hip to be a true R&B diva. After nearly leaving the music business altogether last year, Stone received a phone call from producer Walter Millsap (Beyoncé, Alicia Keys), who told her of a dream he had of them working together, and she made it happen. Recently, soulhead sat down with Stone to talk about life, music and soul.
soulhead: Your new single “2 Bad Habits” is tight. Tell me a little about making the new album Dream.
Angie Stone: I did this album in less than two months time, recording two or three songs a day. There was not a lot of time, but when you’re working with magic, you’re eager to get it done. Producer Walter Millsap was the brainchild of the entire project; he was the glue that made it stick. I was ready to leave the music industry, because I felt as though I was tired of hitting the brick wall. No matter how hard I tried, the devil was playing games. There were times when I thought I had something great and then it wouldn’t get any airplay, no support. I was on an indie label and began having mixed emotions about that, so I said I was done. Walter told me that he had a dream and God told him what needed to be done, and by golly wow he did it.
soulhead: Real fans know of your work as a songwriter, but I’d like you to talk more about that side of your art. How has your style evolved since your early days?
AS: When I was hungry, when I was pissed, when I was Black Diamond, when I was Mahogany Soul, those records came from very aggressive and hungry places that said, “I’m about to show ya’ll something, show ya’ll how the shit is done.”’ When I went into the studio, I went in with a vengeance. I almost had to adapt the mentality of the south, that gritty and grimey, hungry place where I’m saying, “It’s ride or die.” I’ll tell you when it started to break for me in a negative way. When I went that hard on those great albums and I never got the accolades that I knew I deserved, it reminded me that ain’t shit changed. At that point, something started to die in me. It was almost like, what am I fighting for, they’re never going to let me win.
soulhead: When did you first start writing songs? Who were the songwriters that inspired you?
AS: When I was in high school, I used to write poetry and my teacher always thought I would become a writer. I started writing songs when I was 14 or 15, and I just kept going. When I was 17, I wrote, with my partner Cheryl, “Funk You Up.” In writing way back then (Sugar Hill Records CEO) Sylvia Robinson whispered to me when she first met me, “You’re going to be a great songwriter.” I didn’t really know what she was talking about, but I did sing her a couple of songs that I had written and she was very impressed. She was a songwriter as well (“Pillow Talk”), so I could really respect her giving me the credit of a songwriter, because it was what she did so well.
soulhead: What do you remember about the Black Diamond sessions?
AS: When I went into the studio to do Black Diamond, my son was just three weeks old and I laid him in the room. I’m a self-taught piano player, so I don’t really play play, but something arose in me where I started playing and creating songs. When the producer came in there and we started working, it was just magical. It helped that I was D’Angelo’s girlfriend, even though we were having our troubles at the time.
soulhead: The song “Everyday,” which was co-written with D’Angelo, also appeared on Black Diamond. Prior to that, you worked with D’Angelo on his debut Brown Sugar and co-wrote “Jonz in My Bonz.” This year was the 20th anniversary of Brown Sugar, did you think about that when it happened?
AS: I didn’t, because you know what, he and I are in such a great place right now. I feel like I have my friend back, things are all sweet. I just hope we can get pass the stigma of what the hell people think, so we can get back to work. Professionally, I think there is still some magic there and we need to do something magical.
soulhead: I know you were on the reality show R&B Divas and walked off. What went down with that?
AS: R&B Divas were a bunch of ladies who are all very gifted, but, in my opinion, never had the commercial success that Faith Evans had garnered, that I had garnered. They might’ve had one or two hits, but it wasn’t ongoing. The show was more like re-boot camp. But, I think people started feeling very competitive with one another. “Who do you think you are? You’re not better than me,” type stuff. I felt we were in different places career wise. It’s not that I’m better, we’re just in different places.
soulhead: You mentioned Sylvia Robinson, the singer/songwriter who founded the first rap label Sugar Hill Records. Can you talk a little about her and what impressions she left on you?
AS: Sylvia Robinson was a woman who wore the pants. Her skills were something I learned from. I learned a hell of a lot from Sylvia Robinson, because she knew what she was doing, she ran a successful company and she cornered the hip-hop industry by the nose. Of course, I don’t agree with all of her business practices, but the ones that didn’t hurt anyone emotionally or mentally were the ones that were so impactful.
soulhead: All these years later, what are some of your thoughts on the period of music that people call neo-soul?
AS: With all of those people calling our music neo-soul, I had no idea what that meant. I had to come up with what that meant for me and I simply thought of it as a new era of soul. Neo doesn’t make sense to me, I don’t know what that means. It’s something they can tag phrase, but soul music is soul music, and traditional R&B is soul music. That’s what I call myself—a traditional R&B singer.