By Sabrina Ford
NEW YORK (Reuters) - R&B singer Ledisi, a multiple Grammy nominee with the seal of approval from first lady Michelle Obama, is finally baring her soul on her fourth album in five years.
The New Orleans native has just released the aptly titled "Pieces of Me," a follow-up to her genre-defying outing on 2009's "Turn Me Loose."
That album -- boasting blues, rock, hip-hop and funk elements -- yielded a pair of Grammy nominations, as did her 2007 breakthrough "Lost & Found."
"'Turn Me Loose' was an expression of just wanting to express that I loved all music. I wanted to show that soul music is in everything," said Ledisi, who counts Chaka Khan and hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest among her influences.
After several months trying to decide on the musical direction of "Pieces," Ledisi decided to focus more on what she was going to say rather than how she was going to say it.
"My executive producer Rex Rideout kept saying, 'Don't think about writing a hit song. What do you want to say on this album?,'" she recalled.
On the new track "Hate Me," Ledisi taunts a frustrated lover, singing, "I know you hate me but you can't stop loving me." Another track, "Shut Up," is directed at "all the people that thought I'd never be anything," says Ledisi.
Not surprisingly, Ledisi found the creative process to be therapeutic. "I have a new level of confidence I didn't know I could. Now I have my own walk and my own journey. I'm not worried about being something that I'm not or competing with others. I'm competing with the last album that I did."
Ledisi, born Ledisi Young, had been making waves on the independent music scene for years before gaining mainstream recognition with "Lost and Found." She secured a dark-horse Grammy nomination for best new artist, losing to the decidedly less-prolific Amy Winehouse.
Her distinctive musical stylings and dreadlocked hair set her apart from the formulaic R&B scene, but she feels -- until now -- that she's held back.
"I feel like people know I can sing, they know my image but they need to know more about who I really am," said Ledisi, who refuses to reveal her age.
Turns out who she really has taken some aback.
"Some people have said, 'Wow! Did you really say that?' Yes! Women say that," she explains of her most honest moments on disc. "Some things we don't say enough."
It was that self-assuredness that caught the attention of Michelle Obama, who counts Ledisi among her favorite artists.
When Ledisi was invited to attend a White House dinner earlier this year, the first lady lauded her resilience against music industry pressures to become a stick-thin carbon copy of current pop acts.
"She said, 'I listen to you every morning,'" recalled Ledisi. "She really inspired me. I said, 'I have to work harder. I have to do more.'" And she has, by becoming more involved in philanthropy.
But her favorite thing about her most famous fan? "She gives the best hugs!"
(Editing by Dean Goodman)