R&B/Soul Songstress Ledisi Talks Letting Love Rule, Why Her Break From Music Was Important, & More
She’s been letting love rule for nearly a quarter-century, and, even in 2017, the R&B, soul-singing songstress and songwriter continues to do so. A nine-time Grammy Award nominee, millions and millions of records sold, and a worldwide following, honorable songbird Ledisi has mapped an illustrious career, lionized for her idiosyncratic way of emanating powerhouse tunes—such as “Pieces of Me” and “I Blame You”, that still hold a musical significance, today. This woman is more than just a singer, putting words to a melody. She’s a storyteller, a storyteller with meaningful and intriguing stories to tell, wielding her voice as a vessel to connect with the people. She’s an artist, vocally painting thought-provoking pictures through her lyrics and visual presentations, all of which are like no other. A creative genius, that’s what she is. Talented in so many different dimensions. However, when speaking with Ledisi, it was quickly realized that, at the core of all of those amazing layers to her, lies a woman, a beautiful being, with a kindred spirit that resonates, gracefully exuding love and light through everything that she does. She lives in her truth, unapologetically, letting love lead in the most humbling way.
You may have gained your formal introduction to Ledisi during the 2000 release of her debut album, Soulsinger: The Revival; however, the New Orleans-grown vocalist has since crafted nine albums to follow, including the recent unveiling of her latest masterpiece, Let Love Rule. The 15-track project features appearances from BJ the Chicago Kid, John Legend, Soledad O’Brien, and even an interlude delivered by Iyanla Vanzant. Let Love Rule happens to be Ledisi’s first album since her three-year gap away from the music scene. Though she’s grateful for the process, she doesn’t hesitate to admit that this was one of her most challenging albums to make, but, with much diligence and dedication, it all came together, organically.
Let Love Rule debuted to the world on September 22nd, and, a week later, it’s still the talk of the timelines. The preceding single, “High”, currently sits at number eight on Billboard’s Adult R&B Chart. Last month, Ledisi premiered a liberating visual for the track, which has already garnered almost half a million views on YouTube.
Serving as a follow-up to “High”, a second single, “Add To Me” has also assembled a great amount of commercial buzz. Both singles definitely built the momentum for the full album, leaving longtime Ledisi lovers ecstatic to hear more, and, apparently, we were all in for a treat. With Let Love Rule, the 45-year-old has gifted us with a body of work that is guaranteed to lift spirits, in a major way, and powerfully bring about a sense of change.
After all, when everything is said and done, love will always win, and Ledisi is proving just that.
Recently, we caught up with the songstress for a one-on-one conversation, and our love for her overflowed, even more. During our chat, Ledisi talked letting love rule, why her break from music was important, her forthcoming tour with Kirk Franklin, and so much more.
Check out our candid conversation below..
Parlé Mag: You just released your ninth album, Let Love Rule. I love the title. So, tell us, what does LOVE mean to you?
Ledisi: Love means everything. It’s in everything!
Parlé Mag: What do you think is the biggest misconception about love, and how do you want to change that through your music?
Ledisi: The misconception about love is that it’s not in discord. Discord comes from not having enough of love, not being loved, or wanting to be seen and heard. So, through friction, that friction is love, too.
Parlé Mag: During the making of this album, what would you say were the biggest challenges you faced, creatively?
Ledisi: Starting it, committing to be there, in the beginning. [laughs] I wasn’t ready to record, at the time; I really needed a vacation and wanted to stay on a long break. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Aren’t we glad about it?
Parlé Mag: Yes, of course!
Ledisi: [laughs] So, I’m glad I was pushed to start and finish, but that was the biggest challenge, the starting. Not because I didn’t know what to do. I just wasn’t ready.
Parlé Mag: Personally, what song did you connect with the most and why?
Ledisi: You know, I love all of the songs on the project! They all connect—not necessarily personally, but they connect to the human spirit. This is, more so, not really an album that I was personally invested in. Like, I gave personal stories on a few, but not all. So, it’s kind of like a singer-songwriter. But, I have to say, “All The Way” is one of my most favorite songs. Not only because of the classic energy of the song—it reminds me of an old Luther Vandross, kind of classic R&B—but also the words. When I love you, I love you all the way. When I attach to you—in friendships or people who I meet, even if we don’t talk a lot, I’m still attached; I love you all the way. When I’m a fan of someone, I love them through their changes, too, whether I disagree or like it or don’t like it, it’s still ‘I love you’. You know?
Parlé Mag: Right.
Ledisi: So, that song means a lot to me. If you’re going to love someone or commit, commit all the way!
Parlé Mag: I agree! You recently said that Let Love Rule represents the singer and the songwriter part of you and how you’ve come back to what you love about R&B and today’s music. That said, at one point, did you ever feel like you had steered away from it?
Ledisi: Well, I did, for two years! I visited museums. I became a playwright, writing scripts and studying film, becoming an actress, for real, and having to act. Not just sing, but act. That’s been fun. For two years, I just explored other parts of my talent. So, yeah, I had to get away so that I could love it again. I wasn’t ready to start back, but I’m glad I did. I found my voice! Another voice, just writing songs.
Parlé Mag: Let’s talk about the video for the lead single, “High”. How did you come up with the concept for it?
Ledisi: Originally, I wanted to be in this painting and come out of the painting into the world, kind of like music being art and I’m a part of that painting, walking into the world and anything that makes you feel good, makes you feel high. So, that’s the concept of it. That’s the general concept from knowledge and love to just this excitement about a person making you feel good. Elevation is high, to me, and lifting. That’s why people are in the air. [laughs] One girl is touched by reading a book, so that’s elevation. She feels like she wants to fly. The couple is falling in love, so that makes you want to fly.
Parlé Mag: I like that! Very creative.
Ledisi: I wish we had me flying, but we ran out of time. [laughs] But, that’s the whole concept behind the video for “High”; It’s to feel elevation with anything that makes you feel good.
Parlé Mag: During your hiatus away from music, since you released your last album, what have you learned about yourself and your craft?
Ledisi: That I can do more! That I’m more than just a singer; I’m an advocate for arts and life and just people. That I love art, other visual art. I love every part of art. I didn’t know how much, but, now, I do. I love it all! It all goes together. And, that it should! Not just visual art, but fashion, art and beauty. Also, thinking outside of the box and not caring what people think, but making them think, instead, and being comfortable in your own skin. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned, even more. I love who I am, and I love the woman I’m becoming. Every year, I embrace myself, more and more. I didn’t know I could do all of these things that I’m doing now.
Parlé Mag: That’s truly amazing.
Ledisi: I knew it, but when you actually sit down and commit to it and do it well, it’s empowering. There’s one thing to do it and not finish, but to do it and finish, and do it well, that’s the greatest feeling ever.
Parlé Mag: Being in this industry for as long as you have, what’s it like to have people still loving you, still listening to your music, and still wanting to hear more?
Ledisi: It’s really cool! I never know it until I get on the stage, honestly.
Parlé Mag: What about when fans come up to you and actually realize you’re Ledisi, the singer? [laughs]
Ledisi: Well, yeah! That, too. That’s a little scary. I still think I’m just regular Led, and people remind me, “No ma’am!” [laughs] It’s crazy how when we were in Chicago and this lady was on the escalator—she’s going up and I’m going down, and she tries to go down the escalator to get a picture! I’m like, ‘Oh my God, don’t kill yourself!’
Parlé Mag: [laughs]
Ledisi: I didn’t know that was like that. I didn’t know people would follow you to your dressing room. I’m thinking I can be regular, and I hold onto that. I forget who I am, the other part, the extraordinary part.
Parlé Mag: So, it’s still an adjustment for you?
Ledisi: Yeah! I think so. I really do. I forget that I’m Ledisi, the singer. I’m trying to stay Ledisi, the nerd, and read my book outside somewhere. [laughs] We went to a corner bakery, and this guy was working. He’s working, for the city, and he runs into the bakery, like, “Oh my God!” That was crazy to me! I’m nice about it, but I like my other side, too. [laughs] Walking around in my nerdy boots, you know? But, yeah, I’m getting used to all that. I really enjoy that people are loving the music, and I see it on Instagram. It’s really and truly when I’m on the stage or out and about that I’m reminded.
Parlé Mag: What would you say is the most rewarding part about doing what you do?
Ledisi: The people saying, “You got me through cancer.”, “You got me through a divorce.”, or “You got me through the loss of my daughter.” The tears that just start happening when I hug. I’m a hugger, sorry for people who aren’t. [laughs] But, yeah, then, they tell me their whole story. That’s the most rewarding part. When I do my music, I don’t think about where it’s going to go and where it’s going to land. That’s too exhausting. I mean, you want people to love it, but, the older I get, I just don’t care. I just do the music and focus on that. When it lands to the people and they respond, in a good way, that’s the greatest reward. I still haven’t seen it yet, fully, because I’m still working on it, and I’m still working on getting better.
Parlé Mag: You’re about to embark on ‘The Rebel, The Soul, and The Saint Tour‘ with Kirk Franklin. I love that this is untraditional, but, at the same time, unifying different types of music and people of all audiences. Talk to us about how this tour came to fruition.
Ledisi: Well, my manager wanted us to do something together, and I just didn’t want it to be a traditional thing where I open, he opens, or whatever. I didn’t want to do all of that. I think this is something that fits both of our audiences. My audience is very mixed. I want to stay R&B, even though there is a Gospel artist on the same stage with me, I think I could do that. But, I wanted someone else to be whoever they’re going to be. To me, Kirk, he relates to everybody, not just one sound. It worked perfectly, so I had to think of something to make it work. That’s where ‘The Rebel, The Soul, and The Saint’ came in. We’re all of those things, individually. We’re dealing with the soul of the music or the soul of people, and being rebellious is not to be causing friction, but to say, “Be who you are! Don’t be afraid of who that is.” And, I love having PJ [Morton] on there because, to me, he relates to the same audience. That is very mixed, as well. From Maroon 5’s audience to soul audience and Gospel audience. It all goes together; we all blend in nicely, in the middle. So, that’s where that tour came about; it was just having to find a name for it and bringing all people together to enjoy one show.
Parlé Mag: Are there currently some collaborations in the works, with you and Kirk?
Ledisi: On the project, I asked for him to write a song for me, and it’s the last song on Let Love Rule; It’s called “If You Don’t Mind”. It’s actually out on Gospel radio, right now, too. So, that’s really cool! I didn’t know that until I found out about it. It’s all over, and it’s doing pretty good. I had to wait a few years for him to come around, but we made it work! [laughs] Well, after I yelled at him, ‘Where my song at?’
Parlé Mag: Oh, dear! [laughs] So, would you ever consider doing a Gospel album, yourself?
Ledisi: Everyone asks me that, but no!
Parlé Mag: Aw!
Ledisi: If I do that, then I would have to commit to that area. It shouldn’t be just something I’m doing just to be doing. I would never think of doing that. Either I’m going to commit to that and do it, or not. I’d rather feature, here and there, and do inspirational Christmas things, maybe on a few tracks. But, never a full Gospel album—unless I’m ready to go there, all the way. I don’t like doing things halfway. Like I said, all the way! I take Gospel music very serious. I really do.
Parlé Mag: Let’s get into your acting a little bit. Back in 2014, you appeared in the film, Selma, as legendary Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. Can we look forward to seeing you in more mainstream acting roles?
Ledisi: Yes! I’m working on it. Right now, The Tale of Four is doing really good. It’s a short film being featured in festivals around the country. So, that’s doing really great. That’s Gabourey Sidibe’s directorial debut. She asked me to do that, play Aunt Sara. That was fun to do. I’ve been writing things; hopefully, it’ll get picked up. Hoping to do more stage acting, as well. It’s all in the works, so it’s hard to talk about things until it happens. But, I am definitely working on the acting side of myself and the author and playwright. When I get bored, I go to something else and master that. [laughs]
Parlé Mag: Well, it’s good to explore different areas of life, so we definitely can’t wait to see what else you have in store!
Ledisi: Mhm mhm! I’m having fun.
Parlé Mag: Besides the new album and tour, what’s next for you?
Ledisi: Wow! I’ll probably do another tour, and then I don’t know. I just want to see what happens with this year. We’re already towards the end of the year! Isn’t that fast?
Parlé Mag: Yes, indeed!
Ledisi: Gosh, it came by so fast! So, yeah, I just want to get through this year and pray for the next one. I pray that people buy, support, and stream the project and enjoy what I’m giving! I hope to do another tour, next year, and more films. You know, basically, just be Ledisi and continue to be my crazy, nerdy, authentic, Afro-centric self! [laughs]
Purchase Ledisi’s Let Love Rule album HERE!