Angie Stone is a soul survivor. Not only has her artistry set musical precedents in a fickle industry that caters to bubblegum lyrics, but the South Carolina native has nine albums and one on its way as a testament to her longevity. Now, with a resurgence of soulsters topping the charts, Stone has proven to be one of the industry’s most dignified soul mavens. Essence.com, caught up with the chanteuse to discuss her split from J Records, her new album, her fiancé, relationship with ex-beau D’Angelo and why she’s comfortable in her own skin.
Essence.com: We’re living for the release of your new album, The Art of Love and War. What is the title’s significance?
Angie Stone: For me, it’s extremely personal because I was seriously contemplating leaving the secular set and going straight to gospel music because I was tired of my situation at J Records. I love Clive Davis, but it had gotten to the point where the label had become overcrowded and I became that go-to person for all their new artists. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m happy to work with anyone, but I would have had a lot more respect if they had said, "We really want your expertise and let's do a contract with you to work with these artists." Shy of being an insult, they allowed me to leave and then asked me to do the same thing that I was doing when I was there. I just felt like I was in a transition with the label and wasn’t receiving the support and marketing I needed for my project. Yes, everyone loves Angie but that doesn’t equate to record sales. They were not taking the same measures that they would for their other artists.
Essence.com: Would you say your talent to nurture was a blessing and a curse?
A.S.: Yes because I love helping people, I really do. I think they wanted a more youthful Angie Stone. When I realized all the divas—and I’m not hating because I adore each one of them—that they signed like Fantasia, Heather Headley, Jennifer Hudson, I made a decision to take my energy to a new home and landed at Stax.
Essence.com: You’re known for your positive lyrics. Do you ever feel pressure to be Soul Sistah No. 1?
A.S.: I don’t have the pressure but I do have a responsibility because I have allowed myself to be put in this position as a singer. I owe it to my fans to be who I am. There’s nothing fake about me. What you see is what you get. What you hear is who I am.
Essence.com: You have a song called “I’m So Happy Being Me.” Was there ever a time that you weren't content with yourself?
A.S.: Coming through the fire and through the storm of life with a strong man, my fiancé Ashanti, whom I’ve been dating for eight months and two wonderful children beside me, I’m just so happy that I have been able to maintain my integrity and get to where I am today with the right energy around me.
Essence.com: Congrats on finding your “Black Brother.” Do you think it's too soon to get engaged after only eight months of dating?
A.S.: No, it is not too soon when God chooses a man for you. I wasn’t looking for him and he wasn’t looking for me. I walked into the airport and he was working behind the desk and the rest is history. It wasn’t like we're these two drop-dead gorgeous people like, “Ah, I got to have you!” It was magic and we courted over the phone for about three months and when we finally met, we just hugged each other and I knew this was the man I was going to spend the rest of my life with and vice versa. He’s an auditor for an airline, a wonderful father to his two kids, my best friend and a good man as well.
Essence.com: When is the wedding date? Have you picked out your dress?
A.S.: Not quite yet. I know we’ll probably set a date by the end of the year, but I do know that we’re going to get married at the Atlantis in the Bahamas.
Essence.com: Would you say because of your celebrity you wear the pants in the relationship?
A.S.: I don’t want any man I can run over. What I love about a man in control is it allows them to be the kings that I always expect them to be. One thing about Shan is that he isn’t controlling to a fault, but he’s in control when he needs to be. He’s the head of the household based on the beliefs that I have through the Bible. We respect each other. We don’t spend money without asking each other, “Is this smart to do?” We don’t buy things unless it’s gifts for each other. I’ve never had a man give it a second thought, and that shows me he’s responsible. I’m just so happy with the man that God chose for me because until I allowed Him to choose the man for me, I was choosing the wrong men.
Essence.com: Well, it’s hard to believe that you ever chose the wrong men because you’re known for attracting the young, beautiful brothers. We’re trying to find out Miss Angie's secret.
A.S.: (Laughs) I know that seems to be the word. I think because D’Angelo was my first relationship, people think that I only date young men. Because I look younger, these guys don’t know my age when they get involved with me and I don’t really know theirs, but I act on spirit. The younger guys that I’ve dated have been mature. My man now is older than most of the guys I’ve dated, but still younger than me.
Essence.com: Well, what advice can you offer women who are trying to change their Mr. Wrongs into Mr. Rights?
A.S.: When I say getting it wrong I mean that I’m the kind of person who gives everyone a chance to hang himself. I dated someone who was younger than me and the rest of the world came down on our relationship saying that he had an ulterior motive. They made me feel like I wasn’t beautiful like as if this person couldn’t love me.
Essence.com: Would this younger guy happen to be D’Angelo? Your relationship with him received a lot of public scrutiny.
A.S.: No, I wasn't referring to D'Angelo. But you know what, the criticism that D’Angelo and I received about our relationship only began once he became successful. What people didn’t realize was that before he became successful there was Angie Stone from the group Vertical Hold—a strong beautiful sister who dated somebody who had not even crossed the threshold of the industry yet. When I was dating him he wore glasses, had short hair and his pants were hanging down to his butt. He was just a 19-year-old kid with big shorts and nobody cared and no one saw his beauty but me. And I told him, “You are beautiful. I promise you when your record drops your lips are gonna become famous, your eyes—everything will become famous. But he couldn’t see it because his self-esteem wasn’t where it is today. He didn’t even have an image and his hair was really short so I braided his hair with thread for his first album cover. It wasn’t until Brown Sugar came out that people actually took a good look at him and said, “You know what? He’s fine.” Then all of a sudden, he’s so fine he shouldn’t be with me.
Essence.com: People have always credited the success of Brown Sugar to you. Is that true?
A.S.: No and to set the record the straight, D’Angelo is a genius and he doesn’t need Angie or anybody to make him who he is. What people need to know is that we were in love with each other so my presence, my spirit, my gift, all of that flowed into our relationship. We dated for four years and when you’re with someone you become them, we started to become each other and pick up each other's musical habits. So where he was in his life as an individual had a lot to do with how he expressed those songs. The only thing I can take credit for is “Cruisin,’” which he couldn’t get done without me. I also wrote “Jones in My Bones.” D’Angelo’s brothers are gifted and helped him with a lot of the album, so he didn’t need me. The rest of the world has placed this stigma between D’Angelo and me, but the truth hasn’t been told until now. If anything, the beautiful part of Angie—the best friend, the confidant, the songwriter, the supportive lover—inspired his music.
Essence.com: So will you and D’Angelo work together again?
A.S.: Deep in my heart and soul, I believe D’Angelo would love to work with me again, but being a prideful man that has been so misunderstood and second-guessed that might not happen. He once told me, “I don’t want people to think I can’t do an album without you.” And I have to respect that because for so long people grouped us together in that sense and it had so much more to do with our spiritual connection. We work extremely well together, but I have a respect for him as a musician, as a Black man because I understand the pressure of the will to do greatness with the odds against you and your spirit has been broken.
Essence.com: Are you and D’Angelo still friends?
A.S.: D’angelo and I are parents first. For the sake of my son, I would never disrespect his father. I am an understanding sister and it’s a love-hate relationship and I hope people don’t misunderstand my statement. When you have put your business or life out front for all to see and you’re really just two southern people who love what you do and love the Lord and try to move forward in your life and you have all these things that come at you, it’s very easy to have separation come and then silence. There are times that we are silent and there are times that we laugh. He’ll always have a special place in my heart.
Essence.com: So was it difficult letting go of the intimate part of your relationship?
A.S.: If I felt like I needed to lean on him, I could but I chose not to because in order to move on with your life you have to let that part go and it’s hard to do when you have a tie that binds you—our son—so we have that kind of communication. I can honestly say if we run into each other there’s still that gray area that questions, “How did we get here?”
Essence.com: Do you think that some of the public’s comments about you and D’Angelo not being suited for each other affected your relationship?
A.S.: No. D’Angelo and I didn’t make it and he ended up with another woman and they have a beautiful daughter and everything is cool because if that’s what you do, then that’s what you do. But it doesn’t discredit me, because my inner beauty is going to surpass any chick in the game. Anybody who knows me know that I don’t have a qualm about how I look because I’m so proud of who I am on the inside. When you have a heart like mine, I’ll go up against the baddest one and it won’t matter.
Essence.com: Did you ever feel like you had to work harder on your relationship once he became a superstar?
A.S.: D’Angelo is very possessive of the women he loves and had a major jealous streak. Even now, it’s still major and we haven’t been together for ten years. When he became a superstar I never gave him cause to look twice because he had me so in check I wouldn’t even turn my head if we was driving on a freeway because he didn’t play that.
Essence.com: Does he get to see your 10-year-old son Michael often?
A.S.: He doesn’t get to see him a lot because D’Angelo has been trying to get his career back together and focus on his life and I’ve been doing what I do handling my two babies.
Essence.com: As his friend, did you run to his side after he had his run-in with the law?
A.S.: I have a son with him, so when he got into a car accident that affects my child because my son adores his father. So if he’s in trouble I’m going to do what I need to do as a woman for my son because I would be less than a mother if I didn't. If it is moral support he needs or whatever is necessary, I’m going to always do that. If the shoe was on the other foot I would expect him to do the same thing. I didn’t drop everything, but I took time out so that my son wouldn’t hear all these rumors and I had firsthand knowledge of what was going on with my child’s father so that I could be what I needed to be as a mother for my son.
Essence.com: On Celebrity Fit Club you struggled with a heart condition and were told by the judges that you were health enough to work out. Do you think your resistance was simply a mental shutdown?
A.S.: First of all, the doctor didn’t say it was okay. What people need to understand is that VH1 is not going to put the company in a position to be sued. When I realized that it was set up to target the bigger, Black girl on the show, that’s when I wanted to leave the show. Originally, the medication they had me on was wrong and through no fault of theirs I failed to do what I was supposed to do with the medication. However, we learned that my body was retaining a lot of fluid, which could lead to congestive heart failure, so the level of intensity they were putting me through was putting my health at risk.
Essence.com: Yes, I remember watching you struggle during the biking challenge.
A.S.: What they failed to show was that the bike had been taped on third gear. No one can pedal wheels that feel like rubber bands are pulling against your movement, which is like pedaling on a constant incline.
Essence.com: Were there any benefits to your participation on the show?
A.S.: Now, I’m not saying it’s all bad. Right now, I’m down to a size 14 and looking better than I have in years. Before I went on the show I was between sizes 18 and 20.
Essence.com: As a Black woman were you affected by Don Imus’s comments?
A.S.: What Imus said has no significance to me nor does the N-word because I am so beautiful and bold in the skin that I’m in, that I won’t allow another person to take that joy from me. I think I’m beautiful. There was a time when I didn’t think I was beautiful when I gained a lot of weight because of a medical condition I had. But you can ask any of my high school friends, I had the baddest body in the school. It was other people who had the problem. So I was always good with me.
Photo Credit: Marc Baptiste