Lyric Michelle has a story to tell
A story with which many black women, myself included, tirelessly identify. The current cultural climate of the United States brings forth a surplus of ugly truths that the powers that be attempt to disguise. The history of Black and indigenous peoples continue to be rewritten by the very people who created such vile circumstances. Michelle refuses to stay silent nor will she allow someone else to write her story. Chicago born, Houston bred and LA based, Lyric Michelle understands the power of her voice. Michelle offers a unique perspective as she is the first generation American born to her Nigerian parents. There are a plethora of layers to peel back in regards to the world through Michelle’s eyes and ears with “Boot Straps”. In a phone interview with the singer/songwriter, we put some of these layers under the microscope to get a deeper view.
The sound of Lyric Michelle
B: Houston’s sound is iconic and influential throughout hip hop and R&B. What were your musical influences growing up? Whether it be music you heard on the radio or music played in your house, where did those influences come from?
LM: A little bit of both, I’d say. I was introduced to Tupac early and I fell in love. Then Lupe Fiasco and Jay-Z but also from Houston, I listened to UGK, Big Moe and Z-Ro. You can’t go to any club in Houston and not know Z-Ro’s “Mo City Don Freestyle”. When I was 10 or something my oldest brother took me to the screw shop and he had all these DJ Screw mixtapes. He was like ‘no matter what anyone says, it’s not screwed up unless DJ Screw did it’.
B: When I was listening to “Boot Straps” and more of your previous work, I got a few different vibes. It’s jazzy and soulful even in your delivery, I get a bit of an Amy Winehouse or Etta James feel. Who are some of the singers you listen to?
LM: I grew up listening to so many, actually especially being from Texas. My mom is a Nigerian woman who came to America and heard country music and fell in love. She played a lot of country music growing up. I loved the Dixie Chicks and their storytelling. Then, I found Nina Simone and fell in love with her. Just the sheer amount of emotion that she can express in one note, like that’s amazing. India.Arie, I love India.Arie. I have two of her lyrics tattooed on me. I take the purity I learned from like Joan Osborne, the grit from Nina Simone and Etta James, the truth from India.Arie, the poetry from Tupac and the wordplay from Eminem, the streets from Jay-Z and the coolness from Snoop. I put all of that together in my sound.
B: I’m not sure if you’re following the new female artists coming out but what are your thoughts on the women coming out now and their music? Does it inspire you to see women that look like you, who are the same age as you, gaining more recognition for their work as well?
LM: Yeah, definitely. I’ve been making this type of music since I’ve been able to make music. I feel like whenever you speak your intentions, the world opens up to you. I look at more women and think ‘dope, they’re getting it’. Women, just in life, our perspectives are told by men. I get why [they] might feel a certain way because a man told [them] my story, now let me tell you from own words. I see someone like Rapsody finally getting some of the praise I think she’s deserved for a long time now. Eventually, they get it so you just got to live your life (laughs).
Boot Straps: A lesson in resilience
B: What was your process in sitting down and writing “Boot Straps”, speaking on your experience and the collective experience black women face daily? How were able to consolidate that into a 4 minute song?
LM: I think what happened was, either the day before I wrote it or the morning of, I was at Soho House here in LA. I was in the elevator when this older woman of Caucus origin (laughs) saw me and looked like she ain’t never seen nothing like me before. Ha! She turned to her husband and was like ‘wow!’ then starts talking to me about my “look”. I’m just hoping she doesn’t ask [to touch Lyric’s hair]. We’re talking about everything, don’t ask. The elevator opens and right before she leaves she’s like ‘can I touch it?’ and I’m like ‘nah, but uh thank you’. So it’s not that I had to think about what are the struggles I want to talk about? In real life, every day I go through it. I don’t know how to live life without it. Then I sent the producer Chris Rockaway some sample vocals I wanted to use and then he made something for me and sent it back. I listen to music in my car so I played it that night and just wrote everything at once. After I finished I was like, is this too much?
B: Black women are finally not giving a damn if we sound angry. How do men receive your music and are you able to have constructive dialogue?
LM: A lot of people that listen to my music and that support my music are Black men. I love that so much because if you didn’t like the music then you wouldn’t be affected by the message. I almost have to assume if you’re one of those ‘not all men’ type people, then you probably don’t listen to my music ‘cause duh, not all men.
B: Getting back to “Boot Straps”, when you sent your producer the audio, where did you go to find them? What made you pick that specific gospel sample sung by prisoners in Memphis? I felt that was intentional and analogous to how Kanye sampled “Strange Fruit” for “Blood on the Leaves”.
LM: I always felt like the sound of Black prisoners singing gospel and work songs while under such intense labor and conditions, it speaks to a side of our spirit that gives no fucks. It’s like ‘I get it, this shit is terrible. It’s bad, everything’s bad but, you can’t break me and I’ll find a way to create something beautiful’. The whole point of the song isn’t me asking for acceptance from people who don’t understand me as a black person or from men who don’t understand me as a woman. It’s not me asking for anything or trying to educate you. This is just the truth of it all. Whether or not you understand, I’m tired of being the one to teach you. I’m living my life and treat me better, that’s it. The resilience in that sample and the voices, it’s like ‘this shit is hard, it’s very very hard but that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten how to sing.’
Listen to “Boot Straps” below and follow Lyric Michelle on Twitter (@iAmLyric)