Grammy-nominated repeatedly from 2003 to 2006, Floetry were a soulful R&B duo out of London comprised of poet Natalie Stewart and songstress Marsha Ambrosius. “Butterflies” – an Ambrosius-penned song from their debut album – caught the ear of Michael Jackson who immediately commissioned a version of the song for himself; a Top 20 Billboard Hot 100 hit that featured on his Invincible album in 2001.
From then onwards Ambrosius found herself collaborating with the likes of The Game, Justin Timberlake, Styles P, Busta Rhymes, Nas, OutKast, Glenn Lewis and Alicia Keys.
Floetry broke up in 2007 when Stewart dramatically exited the group, leaving Ambrosius with a tour to complete and no band-mate. Poet, emcee and personality Amanda Diva was called in to complete the line-up, much to the horror of ‘die-hard’ Floetry fans expecting to see Stewart. Later in the same year, Ambrosius released her first solo mixtape amidst rumors of being signed to Dr Dre‘s Aftermath label. This is all addressed, in more in HipHopDX‘s exclusive interview.
HipHopDX: The question everyone wants answered – why did Floetry break up?
Marsha Ambrosius: Extreme personal reasons. After Nat [Natalie Stewart] left the group for personal reasons, I had to respect what she wanted to do in her life. The time that Floetry was, I had to respect it. I understand what it was and what it meant for the both of us, however, you don’t know how it’s gonna affect you once you’re doing it. So, as her friend, I couldn’t tell her anymore and it just got to that point where it became unbearable for me to look at my best friend not being able to handle certain situations the way she should have. That was difficult. I am grown, I wanna do what I wanna do, she wants to do what she wants to do and respectively so, we had to part.
I think on my part it’s made me better, it’s made me have to stand up for me and fend for me, and I think when you do have that person to lean on it’s a comfort zone but when the person that you’re leaning on cant carry you it becomes difficult and imbalanced. That’s everything. We had a friendship and you know, things happen � and it happened, and it’s okay, I wish her well, all of her ventures that she’s doing, no love lost at all � that was an important time in my career.
DX: Were there business reasons or was it purely personal?
Marsha Ambrosius: We were never business. Nat and myself [have] known each other for 15, 16 years so regardless of making our friendship into a business, at the end of the day, that’s all it was, for it to disperse the way it did, nothing business wise coulda interfered with that. It’s all personal.
DX: What did you learn from Floetry that can applied to your solo ventures?
Marsha Ambrosius: Just the experience. I have experienced and developed relationships professionally and personally in my life that I can rely on and lean on now to further myself, so I was given the opportunity to do so through being in Floetry and developed the relationships that worked out for me to pursue what I wanted to do with my career.
DX: Are you currently signed to Aftermath?
Marsha Ambrosius: As a songwriter and producer, yes � and now finally I’m telling everyone else “I can’t write you another hit record, I can’t do it,” because I want to do my own now. I think I got into a comfort zone where I just wanted to write and produce. This artist thing came by accident. It was because Nat and myself had found comfort on stage doing the poetry gigs and it didn’t have to be mass stadium music. But when we got to the States it was so different for them, when we had the success with the type of songs that I was write such as “Say Yes” it became mainstream very quickly for us so that’s why we got to venture out on a bigger platform than London.
DX: Why such the long wait for your solo album?
Marsha Ambrosius: I wasn’t ready. I never came into this to do a solo album. I had a solo song out when I was 19� “Is This Real?” was number one on Choice FM. That was when I was younger. All that artist stuff was for kids. I want to be Quincy Jones. My mission is to sit in the studio and create “We Are The World” for people. That was my mission. My release was that I got to perform whatever I wanted. Floetry wasn’t about format, it wasn’t about “what’s a hit record; what’s playing on the radio a million and five times?” for it to be a hit. It was, whatever I wanted to say was coming out of my mouth.
With the Floetry situation, or any situation I woulda been in in the group, is to compromise for someone else’s voice. I had been through too many experiences to put that in one album. So what I started to do was writing for other people� and get a release for all the negative thoughts I had, positive, it came in the form of a Pop song, a Rock song, Rap, I could just do anything � that’s why I had so many collaborations, so many features. I had so many ideas. But when it came to creating my album, I had to kind of settle for a minute, slow it all the way down, all the rumours, “Marsha‘s signed to [Dr.] Dre and she’s got an album out.” I haven’t said not one word though. These are the first couple of interviews that I’m actually getting to do for myself. So I can tell you that my album thus far that I have recorded? Phenomenal. I’m speaking my piece and it’s taken a long time for me to be able to be truthful for me because I don’t have to compromise, I don’t have to give it a pop twist because this one’s for Britney Spears, or let me put an extra eight bars ’cause some rapper wants to get on it ’cause they’re current and hot at the time. Me?� I can just say whatever I want and be comfortable with that and I think now is the first time in a long time that I’ve been comfortable enough to do that.
DX: When will it come out?
Marsha Ambrosius: I’m aiming for end of the year but based on all the albums I do have coming out, who knows. Timing is strategic in this business so it will come out when it comes out and I’m sure everyone will be happy when it does. I know you’re waiting and that’s more than I can ever ask.
DX: Musically, will it resemble your mixtapes?
Marsha Ambrosius: Not really. The last mixtape, kind of, but I’ve been recording so much and so many songs that I had to give some away. It was ridiculous. Yours Truly has all the songs that Focus and I had done together that we were gonna give to other people, then I loved them so we were kinda holding onto them. Then I was like, “I’ve grown too much” � they were songs we recorded last year, one of which Slum Village [click to read] picked up for their album which is now “Cloud 9” [click to listen] featuring me, even though it was my song, but then it was one to give away anyway� Same with Little Brother [click to read] getting “Sunshine.” I just have too many songs, it got exhausting, so I figured let me give what I used to be away. So when the album does come out, you’ll know who I am now.
DX: Your big collaboration of interest is obviously Michael Jackson.
Marsha Ambrosius: Who is the best by far, and will remain so. Hands down.
DX: How did you feel when you found out he wanted to work with you?
Marsha Ambrosius: I wanna say I collapsed to the floor when I found out he called regarding the song. This isn’t even when I met the guy, I screamed at the top of my lungs. It’s supposed to happen when I’m like, 50-something. I don’t know what I was thinking that I could just come to America, put this tune on our album, have it on our demo, then Michael Jackson hears it and wants to record it. I don’t think I’ll ever process it, it’s only when I press play and realise, I spent two weeks with this man, and his children, and his family, we went to L.A., mixed the record, spent some more time with him�I got to do that.
DX: So you didn’t actually pitch the song to MJ?
Marsha Ambrosius: Everyone and their mom must have pitched something. I, on the other hand, was trying to get Floetry off the ground so I put a couple of records on our demo and he heard it. Huge. You don’t think that’s ever gonna happen to you.
DX: Do you remember when you heard the news about Michael Jackson’s death?
Marsha Ambrosius: I was at home [in] Philly. Got the TMZ breaking news Twitter, saying that he had gone into cardiac arrest. Turned on the news, had everyone calling my phone, texting me, seeing if it was true. I was like, “I don’t know, I’m watching the same thing you are� What do you want me to do, call him?” Like, it was just one of those crazy moments but when I found out about the cardiac arrest I was scared, immediately thought the worst, started crying, and then the first confirmation came from TMZ but I was watching CNN and they hadn’t confirmed that he had passed, they were saying they were trying to resuscitate. It just got really dramatic and I thought, “They’re just buying time to break this type of news to the world.” When it did happen I then got calls from newstations, calls from radio, “Marsha, are you okay? I know what this must mean to you, you did ‘Butterflies,’ you knew him�” It was just weird for me to somehow be a part in that whole� it was just wild, and still is. And sad.
DX: That makes it even more meaningful that you worked with him�
Marsha Ambrosius: That was the bittersweet of it, thinking that something I wanted to do at the end of my career now possibly couldn’t have because of his passing. I’ve just taken it for a blessing that I got to do that before he did pass away. It meant more than anything tome anyway but now it means that much more.
DX: What’s the story behind getting Amanda Diva to tour with you when Nat left?
Marsha Ambrosius: I feel sorry for her. I completely felt sorry for the whole situation. When Nat left Floetry, the record company were left with this brand, we’re left with a tour to do, there’s no Natalie. So I’m standing there like, what’s the plan? The record company then comes together, my management comes together, and advises for Amanda Diva [click to read] to come onboard for the remix tour. For our die hard fans, that’s why it was never titled Floetry � that would never happen� It will never be a replacement, no one’s ever gonna be me, no one’s ever gonna be Nat, no one can ever be Floetry, unless me and Nat are on stage.
When Amanda Diva got on board, the story was never told publicly by Nat nor myself, so it wasn’t for people to know that there was a dramatic breakup, that Nat had left, and the record company had forced this whole situation because at the end of the day it’s a business. I had to bear the brunt of all the bullshit at the time and unfortunately, Amanda Diva was in the line of fire. Some people they claim to be tough exterior, you can handle anything, but you don’t know how you’re gonna react until you are put in that situation. So for her, I actually felt bad. I was like, “If you don’t want to do this then you can go home because I don’t wanna do this to you anymore, I feel like I’m responsible for this.” That got unbearable unfortunately for her it was just a whirlwind of “That ain’t Nat!” I know that, she knows that, but we’re doing this summer tour to get this out of my hair, record company’s signing papers saying “Floetry null and void, Nat‘s not involved, we’ve got you now.”
DX: Which artist you’ve worked with have you learned the most from?
Marsha Ambrosius: Everyone has a story to tell, you never know who you’re gonna learn from, I’ve learnt everything from Michael Jackson through to The Game [click to read]. [They are] not the same artist, but everyone has a story to tell and I guess when the example is given you take what you want to take from these people. I’ve got to meet some really, really cool people, so everyone has a story.
I can’t see it, I’m not saying it wont happen. But that’s how my life works. I can’t really see too much, I feel it. I couldn’t tell you when.
Photos by Tamar Nussbacher.