For Kimberly Michelle Pate, also known as K. Michelle, the concept of having a filter and self-censorship is nonexistent. You can always count on the Memphis-bred singer to speak her mind, and she doesn’t care who takes offense.
On “Just Like Jay,” the opener of her fifth studio album All Monsters Are Human, K. Michelle sings like the open book the world knows her to be. In just under five minutes, listeners are updated on a whirlwind of tabloid-worthy news that led to her first album in two years. The song’s hook –– “maybe I should walk away, Fade To Black just like Jay” –– alludes to Jay-Z’s 2004 concert documentary following his first retirement announcement.
“I ain’t even wanna do this album,” confesses a somber K. Michelle, the natural twang of her singing voice radiating alongside the keys of a grand piano. From there she talks about battling depression, leaving Atlantic Records to go independent with eOne Music, a series of health struggles and scares following her surgeries of illegal silicone butt implants, and her ex’s philandering betrayal.
For K. Michelle, the last two years have been a rollercoaster of learning from past mistakes, but ultimately celebrating the wins. In front of millions, the artist has amassed a decade-long career that’s secured three No. 1 R&B albums (well, four, now) on the Billboard charts and additional notoriety thanks to show-stealing and memeable moments on Vh1’s reality TV franchise Love & Hip Hop. Witnessing K. Michelle in person, it’s clear that she loves drama and the heat that can come along with it.
That’s why her decision to host a ball on a Thursday night for her album release party at the House of Yes in Brooklyn seemed like an appropriate move. Standing tall in thigh high black boots and a sequined dress accented by feathers at the hem, K. Michelle instructed the audience to “just love on each other tonight.”
Her team Rebellion would end up crushing Big Freedia’s team Bounce in five total categories of “face,” “runway,” “best dressed,” “sex siren,” and “dance battle.” As songs like Teyana Taylor’s “WTP” and her own “V.S.O.P.” played through speakers, K. Michelle sat calmly, smiling away. Underneath a black hat fitting enough for both the ball and the Kentucky Derby, she sipped on a cocktail while observing the battles. For once, she didn’t have to perform on stage, and there was no added pressure for her to be at her absolute best.
Two days prior to her album release party, a different side of K. Michelle shows. She’s agitated as we wait outside the elevator at VIBE’s office in Times Square. Before arriving, someone was “hounding” the star for a favor that she offered — obviously working her nerves in the process. She tells her large entourage which includes her bodyguard, an assistant, her publicist, and two videographers that she’s in no condition to take photos. She gave razzle-dazzle for her fans at the ball, but at the office interview, it was a stripped-down look of a t-shirt and jeans topped off by a fur jacket.
“I picked the title All Monsters Are Human because I feel like we all are a villain to someone,” reveals the singer. In 13 tracks, K. Michelle delivers the straightforward R&B that she’s known for. She connects “Can’t Let (You Get Away)”— a lustful song written more than two years ago— to the smooth sway of Jagged Edge. “OMG” taps into the singer’s Florida A&M University-trained, yodel vocals over a trap 808. The lyrics of All Monsters Are Human are frank, and for the first time K. Michelle’s in complete artistic control.
“This is the first time I ever got to pick a single. I never got to pick a single. [The label] always picked them for me.” Her choice to select “The Rain”— a mellow, lovemaking number produced by Jazze Pha, which samples New Edition’s 1988 quiet storm staple “Can You Stand The Rain”— is paying off as the song is currently peaked at No. 17 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and No. 8 on the Adult R&B Songs chart, which measures airplay on Urban Adult Contemporary radio.
“People like to throw shade and say ‘she got dropped,’” says K. Michelle while making a funny face at her IG Live, which she set up at the beginning of the interview. “No, I didn’t get dropped. Me and Atlantic are in good standings.” She, however, had a puzzled reaction when finding out that an Atlantic Records ad banner was at the bottom of her “Supahood” music video on YouTube. Most likely the case since Yung Miami from City Girls (who is featured on the trap&B jaunt alongside Kashdoll) is signed to Atlantic.
“It’s better for me to be somewhere that’s going to let me do the music. These people [eOne Music] haven’t told me nothing and they’re ready for my country album. And they paid for everything. So when people say ‘independent’ it’s kind of crazy because I haven’t had to come out of pocket for anything.
“eOne and [the independent record distributor’s president] Alan Grunblatt have been good to me. They believe in me. So I’m going to stick with the team that rock with me. I’m never going back to no major. I’m going to stick right there.”
Sonically, All Monsters Are Human contains superheroine vibes that take listeners back to the 80s. In addition to the New Edition sample, “All The Lovers” finds K. Michelle wailing “where do they go” over new wave synths á la Tina Turner during her Private Dancer era in 1984. Another potential single option, “Love On Me,” recalls the radio feeling of post-disco.
Utilizing those 80s sounds has become a conduit for K. Michelle to access her brand of “real R&B.” “I’m an 80s baby and I love the music of the 80s,” she further explains. “[That period of music] was about the musicality. It’s about lyrics. It’s about not mumbling.”
Her frustrations on the present state of modern R&B lash out: “These motherf**kers listen to people who got balls in their mouths, who don’t even open their mouths. These people listen to people that’s going to put you to sleep. It’s like one big long lullaby.” On the contrary, she does believe that Ari Lennox is the representation of real, soulful R&B. “She just has it! I look at her and feel R&B.”
For K. Michelle, there is no reason to sugarcoat what she has to say. This trait is something that’s been ingrained in her since her start when she was actually signed as a rapper. “When I started people told me female artists didn’t curse on R&B records,” she points out. “Now they’re cursing every other word.” Unlike her previous albums, More Issues Than Vogue and KIMBERLY: The People I Used To Know, All Monsters Are Human does not feature K. Michelle spitting a hot sixteen. That material was saved for Not 1 F**k Given, a secret mixtape K. Michelle uploaded online earlier in January, despite releasing a new album.
“This album is a vibey album,” says the singer with pride. “You won’t hear any gunshots or anything going on. It’s not that aggressive of an album. And it’s very emotional. And it’s very soft-spoken but straight to the point. It’s that type of vibe.”
One of those emotional tracks is “Ciara’s Prayer,” a direct response to the romantic love story of the Atlanta singer and her husband, Russell Wilson. In the chorus, K. Michelle sings a tongue twister, “Ain’t no future anyway/pray the prayer Ciara prayed.”
While talking about the songwriting process behind the track, she laughs. “And whatever prayer. Whatever Jesus she talking to. Whatever church. The address of the church. Whatever it is, I need to go to that church. And I need to know the exact words and prayer of her. I wanted to know what prayer she was doing to get that man.”
Michelle has always been a fan of Ciara, who she calls “one of the nicest celebrities I ever met.” Being a vet in the industry, Ciara offered her former Jive labelmate advice during their first meeting: “When you win, everybody wins with you. But when you lose, you lose alone. Just remember that.”
One endeavor that K. Michelle finds herself prepping for is the pending release of her country album. With the industry currently in a state of frenzy with the definition of genres as they relate to race, the star knows she’s in for a challenge. A challenge that she’s been planning to tackle for years despite some record executives’ hesitance. She’s been rallying fans behind her — some as famous as T.I., Lil Duval, and D.C. Young Fly — by teasing snippets of her yodeling along to some of the album’s tentative recorded material.
“I’m going to need the culture to embrace me,” she says while hugging herself. “To love me. I’m in a battle to put our culture on the map in another genre. I need people to have my back. This is a callout of support to the artist.”
Michelle revealed that she’s in conversations with Billy Ray Cyrus and Babyface to pen some tracks, and that she wants to collab with Dolly Parton. While All Monsters Are Human delivers on R&B, this upcoming album will be traditional country that respects the genre rather than trying to progress it. “I’m not doing no hip-hop country. I’m not doing that mess. I’m not doing none of those gimmicks of country. I’m not playing in that. Country music is solid.”
Towards the end of the interview, K. Michelle is at ease as she discusses what she endures as a Black woman in the music industry. Her body is still healing from her “childish and clueless” decision of getting plastic surgery— and she still has a few more operations to go. She’s currently in the casting stages with Lifetime for a reality series she’s producing that will shed light on other women who are affected by improper plastic surgery.
Aside from that, K. Michelle believes that life is going well for her. Although she’s frustrated and “tired” by the constant demands of some of “her entitled Rebels” [the name for K. Michelle’s fanbase] who want endless amounts of new music. In fact, she’s currently at odds with one of her Rebels, who is pretending to be her on YouTube and Instagram, and is making a profit from fake videos and events under her name.
Michelle also doesn’t take kindly to the mass levels of cultural appropriation and racism in the industry. She’s been vocal about that issue on tracks such as “Kim K” from The People I Used To Know; to outright calling pop star Camila Cabello, a “racist rat” in a since-deleted post on Twitter back in December, following screenshots of the latter’s racist old social media posts. Although her handlers want to skip over discussing that, K. Michelle is very articulate with her delivery.
“She shouldn’t say [the n-word]. You have a problem with us, but then you go get DaBaby when it’s time for a song to hit. Don’t nobody want to be Black until it’s time to get a feature.” Relating to the scripture-like words of Malcolm X, the singer believes that “the Black woman is the most unloved and imitated individual on this planet. The power of Black women is amazing.”
“I’m all for Black women,” K. Michelle says with a stern look before clipping it with yet another controversial but rather truthful statement. In her signature authority— Memphis drawl and all — she closes out with this thought: “And whoever is offended by that can go suck a d*ck!”