Everything and everyone grows. Chrisette Michele is no exception. A veteran at the grizzled age of 27, and on the cusp of her third album, Chrisette has found that middle ground. In 2007 she released the critically lauded I Am, which fetched Chrisette her first Grammy for the song “Be OK” written by Chrisette herself and produced by will.i.am. 2009 brought the commercial success of Epiphany, which debuted at #1 on Soundscan and the Billboard charts.
Now, come November 30th, 2010, Chrisette is prepared to Let Freedom Reign. First single “I’m a Star,” written by Ne-Yo and produced by Chuck Harmony, has already landed impactfully at urban mainstream and urban adult contemporary stations nationwide.
“When I got the call that Ne-Yo wrote a song called ‘I’m a Star’ I was like, ‘Nope, I ain’t singing that!’” Chrisette chuckles. “Then I heard it and it was about everything I’ve been through the last couple years. I realized I have willpower beyond what I recognized. That song is about going through a really tough time and coming out on top. And that you can have peace no matter what you’re going through, despite how fragile you’re feeling at the moment.” Indeed, Chrisette turns fragility into frivolity with her uplifting vocals.
Speaking of vocals, Chrisette’s have been blanketing the radio dial alongside Rick Ross and Drake on the massive “Aston Martin Music,” from the Bawse’s current mega-album Teflon Don. Chrisette has been enjoying that ride as well: “When I’m in the studio, the last words you’ll ever hear me say is ‘hit’ or ‘top of the charts.’ I don’t think that way; I just think about what feels really good. I didn’t fathom the success of ‘Aston Martin Music.’ I was just excited to be in the studio with Rick.” Studio time with Rick likewise birthed the track entitled “So In Love,” which Chrisette is proud to claim as part of Let Freedom Reign. Also, look online for her highly-touted mixtape with her new artist Lem Payne (her brother), aptly called Love Thy Brother. Additionally in the past year, Michele joined Maxwell, Musiq Soulchild and Anthony Hamilton on four tours, then headlined a tour with Solange Knowles.
Indeed, Let Freedom Reign is charged throughout, a blissful marriage of fiery spirit and artful musicality. There’s no inert filler. Listeners will find everything from the quirky, funky headsnapper “I’m Your Life” to the high-octave, high-octane sheared metal thunder of “Goodbye Game” and “I Know Nothing,” on which she pleads “Who knows all there is to know?” Producer Chuck Harmony, responsible for the entire album, flashes a repertoire ranging from sugary R&B to dancefloor 4/4 to the raw snarl of Nine Inch Nails. On “Unsaid,” he taps the epic sentiment of Coldplay, Chrisette’s favorite band, on what is fittingly her favorite song. “Unsaid” features a faster, military-cadenced beat with Michele’s giant, ethereal vocals overlaid like a tapestry. Poetic, beautiful, visceral.
Elsewhere, John Legend provides the sweetly satisfying ballad “Don’t Know Why But I Do.” Then there’s the club thumper “So Cool,” with its big, sweeping buildup giving way to 4-on-the-floor mayhem. “So Cool” smacks of the Chemical Brothers’ dancefloor anthem “Star Guitar,” an intoxicating brew of pop and rock and house and all-around spicy goodness. The album ratchets up with the crucial and insightful “If Nobody Sang Along,” what Chrisette deems “the most honest song on the record.” In a melancholy bed of strings and piano, Chrisette plants seeds of discontent, grappling what it is to be a recording artist. Pushing her voice to the verge of breaking, she asks: “What if there were no record labels, no MTV/would I still take the time to write it, would I say what’s on my mind?” and posits “I feel judged, like I’m on trial.”
Chrisette Michele is leaving no stone unturned, artistically or emotionally. Better still, vocally. In fact, she raps on the titular track –the album’s most dynamic– alongside talented lyricists Talib Kweli and Black Thought of the Legendary Roots Crew. Grand, rollicking R&B/hip-hop fusion underpins Chrisette’s call-to-arms: “That record is my heart. It’s about what I feel is this current spirit of murmuring in America, where everyone is complaining about every last thing. Everyone’s upset with politics and the government and health care and education and taxes—anything we can possibly complain about. I wanted to take a moment to celebrate the freedom and liberty that we do have, the option of education, the option to work hard and get what you want out of life, the possibilities.”
Let Freedom Reign is a full plate, an unusually whole sonic spectrum. In an age of disposable tracks and thoughtless compositions, this album is the poignant counterpoint. That applies even to its name. “I spent time with the naming of Let Freedom Reign,” Chrisette states. “Let is a verb meaning to allow, to make room for. Freedom, we know what that is. And Reign means to be supreme. And freedom can’t reign unless you allow it to. This moment I’m in the midst of is about doing whatever it is to bring freedom into your life, to make freedom your reality. Let Freedom Reign is a mandate to the people who are listening, a challenge to the people who are listening to create freedom and truth in their lives.”