Incorporating yourself into the music that you make is something that every artist tries to do. Every album and every track is a piece of the path that they chose or the path that chose them but getting that across to the listeners can be difficult. Ledisi’s fifth studio album, Pieces of Me, is just what her fans have been waiting for from her—a deeper look. A soulful voice who’s been making her rounds in the world of R & B since the late 90’s, Ledisi is finally receiving mainstream success, a long time coming for an artist that’s been long deserving. With a growing fan base, a new label to back her and a soulful sound all her own, Ledisi is eager to finally give her all to the art, even if it’s just a little piece at a time.
Born Ledisi (a Yoruba word meaning “to come forth”) Anibade Young with musical roots in New Orleans, Louisiana, she set out to follow her dream of singing by any means. Raised in Oakland, California she has blended the perfect mix of Funk and Jazz to create the eclectic sound that she has developed and honed over the years. She also thanks New Orleans for providing her with the resilience she needed to get her through the journey. “With that in my blood, I could never give up on my dreams,” she explains.
Early on, she formed the group “Anibade” on her way to obtaining her dream, eventually releasing the album Take Time through her own record label LeSun Records. Ledisi released her first solo jazz album, Soulsinger: The Revival in 2000 followed by Feeling Orange but Sometimes Blue in 2003, which garnered her “Outstanding Jazz Album” at the California Music Awards. Over the years she has tapped into her Jazz roots, some Funk, and even a Christmas album, so it’s safe to say she has fans from every genre of music. For the moment however, R & B is the focus.
The success and the accolades were coming in slowly but surely, but at the same time Ledisi was dealing with a lot of doubts. She was performing often—admittedly the same seven songs—but she was on the verge of giving it all up. Independently funding your own project, a touring band and having to handle all the day to day operations of an artist can be very time consuming, not to mention an incredible financial burden. It was during this period that she had a five year lapse between albums. Thoughts of giving up were real, but other plans were in store. “It cost so much money keeping afloat, it was hard, I was broke, I was sleeping on the floor in New York City,” Ledisi remembers. It took a turn for the better all in one night. “I had one show where I performed and Verve came, which was the same label that said no to me years ago, they came and said we need to sign her.” It took another year in a half before the five year hiatus would come to an end with a deal coming by way of Verve/Forecast Records. A record deal wasn’t ever the goal, but the timing seemed to be perfect. Ledisi still owns the masters for her first two albums so she is technically getting the best of both worlds. In 2007, she released, Lost and Found, her third album. The album was nominated for two Grammy’s: Best New Artist & Best R & B album. It was then that Ledisi really began to see her hard work coming to pass.
Genre bending continued to play a consistent part in her music over the years. Obviously, being boxed in isn’t what Ledisi wants to be known for. “I make music based on who I am so all my fans can wiggle to which record they like.” Her fourth studio album release Turn Me Loose, which featured the lead single “Alright” showcased her skills of breaking out of the mold that the industry tried to confine her in. She garnered another Grammy Nomination for the project, again in the Best R & B album category.
Pieces of Me, her fifth album is set for her fans, an open letter to let them know that not only is she still here, but that she’s a real person with real emotions who is just looking to make real music. “There’s a certain confidence that I regained about myself this year. I’m not fighting to be something I’m not. I’m not fighting for people to notice me, I’m just saying I don’t want to be unnoticed.” Pieces of Me is the title of the album, but it is also the title of one of the tracks on the album, the last song written for the album. The track was put together by Ledisi and legendary producer Chuck Harmony to help define “the complexity of a woman,” of course with Ledisi in mind. It was the conclusion of the album, but it marked yet another step in the growth of a person.
Fans will notice that Ledisi’s personal style has also changed as she becomes more open with herself and the image that she is putting across. “I would hide behind my hair because I don’t like people to see me,” she admits. “On stage I’m somebody else, but off stage I am very shy. When I first saw myself like this I was like ‘wow, I am a little edgy, I am a little jazzy, this is me… I’m a red head.” She credits the change in style to her stylist Michele London and her glam team who helped her understand the importance of image. “I didn’t know how important imagery was until Black Girls Rock, until the changing of the hairstyle, until people started to recognize me.” Now, not only does she get the recognition, but she’s comfortable with herself and that’s a message all women should appreciate.
Her grind is reminiscent of an underground rapper selling mixtapes out a trunk, or an independent author hustling books on a corner book stand. For musicians, entrepreneurs or anyone hustling to get to their dreams, Ledisi should be a great inspiration. After our interview, Ledisi took a minute to compliment the Parlé grind, going as far as comparing the early one-man army approach to how she started off her career. When the doors were seemingly closed for her, she opened them by starting her own label, releasing albums and touring using her own team and her own resources. While she continues to be recognized on different levels, Ledisi took time to reassure us that as long as we continued the grind, success was inevitable. Of course, she is a shining example of this. “I came up like Too Short, struggling in the streets of Oakland, I was on the underground,” she recalls.
She’s come a long way. Pieces of Me was released on June 14 and is available in stores and on itunes now. Still looking for more pieces of Ledisi? Just listen to her music, listen to her lyrics and maybe you’ll find some pieces of you in her.