Yahzarah (aka Ms. Purple Saint James) released her highly anticipated- fourth studio album “The Ballad of Purple Saint James” (Foreign Exchange Music) on May 4. Gypsy Soul hosted Yahzarah for Connected on May 6, where the Washington, D.C.-born songstress sang a few songs, danced a bit, and chit-chatted about her new album. I got a chance to sit down with Ms. Purple Saint James. Read on to find out what she had to say about the music industry, her somewhat-controversial lyrics, her fierce fashion and, of course, her new album!
S. Ann Johnson: Why did you decide to call your new album “The Ballad of Purple Saint James”?
Yahzarah: Well, a ballad can also be a story, and this is my story told through the eyes of my alter ego who was created to breathe life into me making music again. She was born because I had such a painful corporate relationship with the music business that hearing my own name after a while inspired writer’s block. I didn’t want to hear my name. I’d been pimped; it had been pimped so hard that just the very mention of it kept me from being able to write songs.
My last record [“Blackstar”], my label told me that people didn’t like hearing me, that my lyrics were too complicated. The worst of it was that my lack of racial ambiguity kept me from selling the records, which is just some sh*t I just can’t help. I’m African boo. That ain’t goin change. I’m Ghanaian. It’s all in here (touching face), and it’s nothing wrong with it.
I actually quit the music business and I started writing under Purple St. James as a pseudonym when I would sing hooks for rappers or write for other artists. Sometimes I would put on a Mary [J. Blidge] wig if I wanted to be inspired and write for Mary—just another hat to kind of get the inspiration. As I started moving away from Yahzarah and closer to Purple I started writing these really fun and truthful songs and stopped worrying about what people thought. Under Yahzarah you had Erykah [Badu] and Ndambi—these associations that’s holding me into this box, which really was never me to begin with.
Talk to me a little bit about the process of creating the “Ballad of Purple Saint James” album?
I’ve had three different drafts of the “Ballad of Purple Saint James.” I worked with a lot of great producers. Eventually after the three drafts were done and I was ready to release the record I ended up sitting down with Phonte [of Foreign Exchange]. Phonte and I were working on Zo!’s “Sunstorm” album. He and I hadn’t sat down in a while and just seriously collaborate. We’d been doing a lot of performance; a lot of FE stuff. But seriously sitting down and writing like we used to—he and I went to college together. You can attribute our collaboration to songs like Rooftop, “Firefly”—he wrote the hook for “Firefly.” Basically, when I let him hear the record he was like “This is really great. You did all this by yourself?” I went all over the United States, I just recorded songs until I felt like I had a story that I wanted to tell. I was just about to release it; this was November of 2009. I just felt so comfortable with the working relationship we were having that I said ‘I just want you to hear the record. I want to hear what your thoughts are.’ He said, “I think this is really good, but I know that Nic [Nicolay of The Foreign Exchange] and I can make you a better record.”
So you started over?
I started over. We kept four songs from the original 16. Four out of 16 and built the story around it. The stories that we wrote are songs that I don’t think Nic, Phonte and I could have written a part. It’s kind of ironic. Phonte and I have been working together and writing together for over a decade and it’s just ironic that the circle would come back to the people who know me the best, who’ve known me the longest and who squeeze the very best out of me. They are always looking for that perfect lyric, that note. “Yah you can write that better, you can sing that better.”
When you were writing the songs for your latest album, did you ever write lyrics with trepidation? Specifically in your new single “Why Doncha Call Me No More?” you wrote “I hope you have a little girl and she’s the apple of your eye . . . I hope somebody makes her cry.” (Listen to the song below!)
[Laughs] I meant it. I wanted to get this out. I wasn’t going to write my classic until I wrote about the experiences I had with my one first love, and to get that story out would be the catalyst to me telling the truth. Cause I kept writing from the standpoint of I don’t want people to judge me. I don’t want my family to think this way or I don’t want this person to feel like I’m giving them any energy. You know? Giving them all this energy allowed met o get the truth out. I gave them all this energy and it hurt me; I might as well give them all this energy and let it help me. So that’s his song.
Ironically, Phonte actually came up with the “you can tell the best of lies but to my surprise you’re not the man I met at all. Tell me what’s your fascination with assassinating everything that’s not your own.” Some men think of women as prey. That’s just who they are. They don’t understand how deeply and how horribly that hurts someone until one day it’s their beautiful little girl with their eyes looking up to them saying “Daddy, why did he do it?” You know? And I said I hope one day he knows what agony he put me through. I want his little girl to be beautiful. I don’t want her to be brat. I want her to be the sweetest little thing, and she looks up to him in tears streaming down her face; face all balled up and ugly and says “Daddy, why!? Oh, Daddy, why!?” and he instantly thinks of me. I want him to think of every woman along with me that he ever mad feel that way. Cause a man doesn’t get it until he happens to his own little girl.
I also wanted guys to know an intimate idea of what a woman is really thinking. Like I could tell you I wish you well, but I’m really lying. I want you to hurt.
Are you planning on coming out with a lost tapes album to include the songs that didn’t make the final cut?
That could be. The record was just picked up my JVC in Japan. And we added two songs that were not put on this album. “Fast Lane” and another record that nobody got a chance to hear because I was perfecting it. It’s called “Chocolate Inside;” it’s real scandalous. It’s about this dude who talked all this yang to me. He was like my ex and I see him after a long time and these sparks start to pop, and I end up waking up the next morning at his place. But it doesn’t mean anything but goodbye. It’s called “Chocolate Inside (AKA One Night).”
This has nothing to do with your music per say: Do you ever wear the same thing twice?
I do. I’m very deliberate in how I do things. I have a lot of great friends and fans who are really wonderful designers. I attribute a lot of my most recent looks to my stylist.He’s 21 years old. He’s got this really great amazing eye. Another person who has been dressing me for the last decade is Whitney Mero of Onion. I’m actually wearing her right now. Her motto is “Making Grown Men Cry Since 1995.” I also used to sew. On “Hear Me” [Yahzarah’s first album], I used to sew for the whole band.
Do you still sew?
I don’t have time. I miss it. I still from time to time design.
Your shoe game is on point!
[Giggles] I live for shoes. I don’t spend a whole lot of money on clothes. I do a lot of thrifting. I do refurbish a lot of the thrifted things I buy. I may add a few patches here or a broach. I wear what makes me feel good and sexy and fun and easy for me to put on.
Any upcoming projects you want to tell me about that isn’t on the FE Web site ?
Well, it is on the FE Web site. But I’m working again with Zo! D. Brock is working on some amazing stuff that I can’t talk about now because it’s top secret. But I’ll be working with him. I’m also working with an artist named Sophie Black out of North Carolina who is an amazing alto and also my cousin. And I’m also working on writing and producing for as many artists that will allow me to.
CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE YAHZARAH'S NEW ALBUM, "THE BALLAD OF PURPLE SAINT JAMES."