For many, Kimberly Michelle is the breakout star of VH1 guilty pleasure Love & Hip Hop Atlanta: a reality TV maven whose frequent social media beefs, high-profile romances and Instagram stunting makes for gossip site gold. But her drama-filled antics often mask the fact that she has evolved into one of the most impressive R&B musicians of the decade. All three of her albums debuted in the Top 10 of the Billboard charts, and her most recent album, More Issues Than Vogue, peaked at Number Two upon its March release. Michelle sings with a bracing honesty and sensitivity that’s uncommon in urban pop, her songs addressing the joys and pain of being a talented and misunderstood black woman in America.
Throughout her career, the Memphis-born Michelle has fought for respect. An early deal with Jive Records, where she collaborated on songs with Missy Elliott and R. Kelly, foundered; she was forced to compile the tracks from those sessions into the 2012 mixtape 0 Fucks Given, which earned over a million downloads and led to a deal with her current label, Atlantic Records. “Producers were angry and tried to kill me, but I said, ‘I don’t give a shit, I gotta do what I gotta do’,” says Michelle during an interview at the Kentucky Derby, where she’s appearing as Jack Daniels’ first African American brand ambassador.
Despite her recent run of hit albums, K Michelle has struggled to get traction in mainstream outlets, an issue she addressed during a memorable interview with the Huffington Post. Echoing assertions by Tank, Tyrese and Jazmine Sullivan, Michelle asserts that race is major factor in why black soul singers have been shut out of pop radio in favor of white performers like Adele and Sam Smith. Hilariously, More Issues Than Vogue was originally titled I Ain’t White, But I Hope You Like It. She spoke to Rolling Stone about that controversy, as well as erroneous perceptions of her, her enduring love of country stars like the Judds and that would-be tour with Azealia Banks that was mysteriously canceled.
What’s the meaning of the title More Issues Than Vogue?
Basically, I just saw that scrolling down my timeline about a year ago. I started laughing because people have this perception of me, and it used to bother me, but now it really doesn’t because everybody wants to place people in their character role. For me, there’ll always be issues and things placed upon me whether they be true or not. So I used the title to clear up and kinda poke fun at things people say about me.
Do you feel as if people’s perceptions of you keep them from recognizing you as a serious musician and artist?
Yeah. People take the things that the media says and they want so bad not to like my music. What can you do other than make good music, and people will slowly come? Each album, you hear people say things like, “Oh my god! I’m so late to the party!”