Catching Up With Algebra
This week I’m ecstatic to share my recent interview with Atlanta native, Algebra Blessett. Algebra has a wealth of experience in the music industry. She was nominated for a Grammy for her writing for India Arie, she has recorded with several soul artists including Eric Roberson and Anthony Hamilton and she has toured throughout the United States and abroad. Algebra also earned a SoulTracks award in 2008, the same year that she released her debut album, Purpose. Purpose is a definite must-have and if you still haven’t purchased it yet, you’re really missing something special.
Do you know how you can tell that you’ve found a great album? I sure do. You like it so much that you can’t stop talking about it. You find yourself humming verses randomly. You play it when you’ve had a great day. You even play it when you don’t feel like talking to anyone. You respond that way because it has more than just nice beats and arrangements. It has lyrics that hit home (as my older relatives say), and the artist’s depictions of life events are so relatable that you don’t get tired of listening. And, each time you do listen, you gain a different appreciation of the music. Such an effect doesn’t happen often with albums, but when it does, you definitely remember. Two years after purchasing Purpose, I’m still playing it, without skipping a song.
I was glad for the opportunity to interview Algebra because her sound is such a rare find. In fact, to compare her music to that of any other artist would discredit the value of her work. It took me several days to find the right word to describe her music, but I finally found it. Authentic. Webster defines authentic as “not counterfeit or copied” and adds that authentic things are “actually and exactly what they claim to be”. You need only to listen to Algebra’s album and watch an Algebra show to see that her music is indeed authentic. She brings an unduplicated realness that fills the void we have in music today. And she does it with a cool sincerity that makes you instantly like her style. After an absolutely wonderful interview with her, one that I admit felt more like a conversation with a friend than a question/answer session, I can say that Algebra’s album, live performances and conversation are equally authentic. She is the same relatable artist in any setting.
Here’s what she shared during the interview about her album, lessons learned and her favorite music.
Mimi Soul: First, I have to say that if it’s possible to play the words off a cd, I think I may have done it with yours.
Algebra: Thank you very very much.
Mimi Soul: You’re very welcome. What are some of the things that inspire and influence your music?
Algebra: Life. That’s about it. I just talk about things that I’ve gone through, that I wanna go through, or that I’m going through at the moment. And of course friends, family, roadside assistance, whatever happens in life. I’m an advocate of art imitating life and life imitating art. So, my biggest thing is to try to stay inspired by whatever it is that creates an emotion.
Mimi Soul: Now, did you just say roadside assistance?
Algebra: Yes I did (laughing)
Mimi Soul: I’m curious about how you could create a song about that.
Algebra: Man, it’s easy. (laughing) Things happen. That’s where the music comes from. That’s where the sanity comes from because I think in songs you can kinda put it all together and release it. You can put all the craziness and common things in your life there and just express it.
Mimi Soul: What do you want people to take from your music when they hear it?
Algebra: My biggest goal with this first album was to conjure up some type of emotion with every song. I’m on my first record and working on the second one and I always call that first record a rollercoaster ride. There were so many different emotions I was going through so if I could evoke that in somebody else, I felt like I accomplished something. That first record, Purpose was just what it was. I had a lot of things to say and to get out. I didn’t wanna be preachy about it. It was my way of letting people know about me and my life and my artistic way. A lot of people thought the record was pseudo-sad but it was such a happy time for me. I was singing about the love lost and about the things that don’t necessarily put a smile on your face but you best believe every time I sing those lyrics I’m smiling from ear to ear.
Mimi Soul: One of my favorite songs on the album is Now & Then. Using that concept, how would you say your music has evolved, meaning Algebra’s music now compared to Algebra’s music then, or years ago?
Algebra: I really like that question because one of my favorite songs on the album is Now & Then. That song came about because at the time and still now, I was being compared to so many other wonderful artists. It’s hard when you deem something your own and it’s so easy for someone that you don’t know to strip your title from it and tag somebody else’s name on it. I think a lot of people do that with their heart as well. So, the song came about and it was just me saying that I’m not gonna change. Whatever I was back then, I’m gonna stay that. I’m just gonna grow. At the end of the day, I’m evolving not because anyone else feels like I need to. I’m gonna do that regardless because that’s what we’re supposed to do as living beings. We’re supposed to grow, change and evolve. So, if there is a difference, it’s maintaining the integrity throughout the series of my life. So, the difference is really being the same but being the same differently. I have to stay me and stay true to myself. I know me, I know my heart and I know my worth. I’m worth a million bucks with five dollars and I’m worth a million bucks with a million bucks.
Mimi Soul: One thing I wish more people knew is that you do amazing live performances. It seems like you really can draw any group of people to your music when you’re on stage. How do you prepare for your live performances?
Algebra: We usually get together and pray before we hit any stage. We’re gonna start a show late if we don’t get a chance to pray. That’s my preparation. Prayer is very necessary for me.
Mimi Soul: Can you share one of your funniest musical experiences?
Algebra: I’m laughing all the time so I don’t have the funniest because somebody does something really crazy or stupid all the time. Oh, I was in the Cayman Islands a couple years ago and the weather there is very fickle. I’m natural so I had the bright idea of pressing my hair. I wanted to be real islandy but I didn’t wanna get braids. A lot of great artists were going on and it was a great show. Everyone was there from Anita Baker to Robin Thicke to Cassandra Wilson. It was an amazing time.
When I went on stage, it was at the perfect moment where the sun is going down and the weather is wonderful. So, I’m going on stage and then it starts to rain. In the back of my head I’m going “Thank God I’m on stage and under the shade because if I go out in that audience or if this shade flies back and this water hits my hair, it’s a wrap.” But, as I was singing the song, I was all into it and I forgot about my hair. I guess the music kinda took over and I went into the audience. I mean the people were staying and part of me was just like “Go out there. Let them know that it’s not about the rain.” So, I went out in the rain and by the time I got back on the stage, I looked like a wooly mammoth with the lil cockatoo hair at the top. So, that was hilarious because when I looked to my background singers, they were giving me the eye like “Get a hat. Get a scarf. Get something.” (laughing)
Mimi Soul: What is one of the most important lessons you’ve learned in your career?
Algebra: I have a few. I learned this kinda late, but early enough. I learned to not doubt yourself. No matter what, even if you think you’re gonna be wrong, just don’t doubt yourself. You have to be full on with any decision you make. In any type of venture you plan on doing, don’t doubt yourself. Once you’re ready to do it, do it.
Another one is that everybody’s looking but no one is seeing. It’s simple. I think a lot of people who are always in the public eye worry and say “Oh I can’t do this because they expect for me to be this”. At the end of the day, it’s your life and nobody’s watching but you. A lot of times the person that you see in the mirror is not who everyone else sees. So, you have to be very confident in what you do. It saves a lot of heartache, doubt and misery. Be true to yourself and go forth with whatever it is that you wanna do. And keep God first. I don’t think I’ve ever slacked on that. A lot of people may not believe in God but I do and I’m so not ashamed of it. I think that’s what makes me comfortable. Even if you don’t believe in Him, you need to believe that there’s something bigger, better, greater than you and you need to give reverence to it.
Mimi Soul: If you could pose a question to one artist past or present, who would you choose and what would you ask them?
Algebra: I have to give you more than one artist. I would probably ask Nina Simone if it’s that difficult to love and be loved and whatever answer she gave me, I would run with it. I would probably ask Michael Jackson what’s the one thing that he wished he could’ve done as a child that he never got to do as an adult. I can think of a thousand answers that he could give me but I’d want to know the one thing that he would say. I’d probably ask Prince when he knew he could do it all himself. I’d ask so many people different things. I’d ask Quincy Jones how he keeps every facet of his life together. I’d ask Diana Ross about her decision making process and how she stayed sane in her decision making.
Mimi Soul: You’ve experienced many facets of the music industry and you’ve seen it from several perspectives. What do you think the future of the industry will look like?
Algebra: It depends on which seat you’re sitting in. I think it’s gonna be very lucrative for those who are able to stand on their own. From an artist standpoint, I think it’s gonna be very dismal for those that depend on someone else to tell them what to do. From a musical standpoint, I’m really excited about live music and that people are actually learning to play music. I believe that music now kinda forces people a little bit, depending on if you’re in that live game. It kinda makes people wanna go back to school and learn to do things and do things more organically but still put a more mainstream feel to it. There are producers that are real musicians. So, musically I think it’s gonna be a very wonderful time.
From a business standpoint, I think it’s gonna be the same. If you know it, and you know how to make it happen, then it’s gonna work for you. With or without the money, it’s just not gonna be the same way. It’s not gonna be through vinyl or cds. This internet thing is major. Once you grasp that, then there you go. Of course the beautiful thing about that is generations keep coming. Cats that dealt with 8-tracks are lost right now. I think it could be very lucrative, it’s just gonna be different. It’s not gonna be as tangible. The turnaround will probably be faster and it won’t be tangible. It will be cyber and faster. So, you gotta keep up with it.
Mimi Soul: Considering the changes that are coming in the industry, how do you see yourself keeping up as artist?
Algebra: There’s a lot of work that I have to do but I have to stay true to myself and really not worry that everybody’s looking at me. It has never been about me keeping up with the Joneses. It’s about me appreciating the Joneses and if I don’t keep up with them, I should be cool with it. But, you best believe that the Joneses know what I’m doing too. So, that’s my take on it. I just wanna stay true to myself. I’ve never really put an age on my music.
Mimi Soul: What can we look forward to from you this year?
Algebra: This year I pray to have a single. I’m working on the second album now. I don’t know what it’s called or what the first single will be. But, perhaps within the next couple of months, I will start putting stuff out there to let people know where I am.
Mimi Soul: Ok, I gotta ask a fun question. If you had to part with all of your music except three albums, which three would you have to keep?
Algebra: Nine times out of ten, the three albums that I would keep are the ones that I already know back to back. I wanna share those with the world. So, it’ll probably be three great albums that I’ve never heard of and I just need to have for myself. But, I would give away to someone The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and every one of Donny Hathaway’s albums. I’m about to give away like ten albums (laughing). I would give away Bitches Brew, D’Angelo’s first album, Brown Sugar, and ooh, The Emotions Greatest Hits.
Mimi Soul: You’d give away all of those?
Algebra: Yeah, because I know those like the back of my hand. I’d give them away in return for three of the greatest albums that I’ve never heard. Jodeci, New Edition, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey’s first album. We could be here all day.
Mimi Soul: Thanks for taking my popular question and flipping it in a way that I’ve never heard. (laughing)
Algebra: (laughing) I wouldn’t keep any of my favorite records. I’d give all of those away because I need people to listen to these great albums. Ooh, Nancy Wilson. Nancy Wilson has like mad albums but there’s this one album that’s crazy. It was an album from when she was really young and the vocals on there were amazing. We’re getting into the catalogs of songwriters now like Burt Bacharach, Diane Warren and David Foster. Oh and Celine Dion. You’re making me wanna just go and pull up iTunes for real.
Mimi Soul: Ok, one more. Can you choose a b-side song from one of your favorite albums?
Algebra: That’s easy. Be There Where You Are by Whitney Houston. Great song. I love b-sides.
Thanks for a great conversation, Algebra! You can purchase Purpose from Amazon or iTunes. Those of you in the Atlanta area can catch Algebra’s show at Sambuca on April 18th. If you’re too far away to attend, check out the clip below to see what you’re missing.