Ledisi is a woman in her zone. For her new album The Truth (out March 11), the Grammy nominee decided to strip off a few layers—literally and figuratively—and reveal a more transparent and sensual side. It’s a side we’ve rarely seen, but one she promises has always been there. She decided to go with a risqué album cover to show off her newfound confidence.

“It’s not ‘Look at me I’m sexy.” I’m just being me with my confidence level up another notch,” she says, while sharing her motivation for the album cover, finding her inner groove and the bodysuit she wore at Black Girls Rock! that had everyone talking.

ESSENCE.com: Wow, we’re seeing a different you with this album cover. A sexier Ledisi. What’s going on?
Ledisi: I’ve always been like this, I just haven’t shown it. I decided I wanted to scare myself into my greater self and do things I had never done before like taking a dance class and getting a nutritionist. I wanted to fully understand what was going on with me mentally. I started thinking I need to get the love I deserve and it starts with me loving on me. I really focused in on me. Now I’m really excited about what I have going on with me, which is I’m really loving on me and having the kind of love I deserve. It’s just radiating out, that’s all. All natural.

ESSENCE.com: Tell us about the moment you decided this is the album cover shot.
Ledisi: My original shot was even more risqué than what you see. It all came together naturally and it felt and looked like me. I was happy about that. That’s me on that cover and that’s me tongue-in-cheek being like, ‘Hmm-mmm.” I wanted people to look in my face. You never see my face. You never see my eyes. You never see me happy and illuminating. This cover is natural, it’s earthy and you can still see my face. I’ve always been heard and never seen. I once asked a lady, ‘When you think of Ledisi, what do you think?’ And she said, ‘We hear you, but we don’t remember what you look like.’ That’s why I’m making the changes I’m making. You will hear me and you will see me. It’s because image-wise I haven’t shown that.

ESSENCE.com: What do you say to people who think it may be a little risqué for your image?
Ledisi: I’ve already gotten them, from the pictures I’ve been posting on Instagram to my outfit at Black Girls Rock! It’s their box of who I am, and I get it. It’s okay because I know you love me, but I’m an artist and we grow and change to create art. This is me naturally. I didn’t go and say, ‘Oh I want to be like this person.’ No, this is my life I’m talking about. I decided I wanted to make changes for me. My hairstylist said why don’t you do something more vibrant with your hair? She gradually worked with me on that. Or, I decided to wear a red lip because I felt like it. It wasn’t the label telling me. That was me. They were shocked. This is all me changing because I wanted to. And it felt good for me. And I felt sensual. Other women, from my dance teacher to the other curvy girls in the class, made me feel sensual. Finally, showing some legs. I never showed my legs. I was always covered. And if you saw my shows you would have seen this side of me. I’ve always been this person.

ESSENCE.com: Well I was jealous, especially when I saw you in that bodysuit and Black Girls Rock!
Ledisi: [laughs] Do you know how covered I was? I had pantyhose, girdles, the works. I had more clothes on than the dancers. I was more afraid than anyone in the room but I knew I had to do it for me to feel better and to show that I worked my butt off. I really did the work. It’s about doing the work and being proud of the work you’ve done. And that’s what the truth is: fully being out there and embracing the fullness of who you are as a woman. I’m a curvy woman. I’m proud of it. I love who I’ve become and I’m not going to apologize for evolving.

ESSENCE.com: Going by the cover, is the album going to be more intimate and revealing?
Ledisi: You wouldn’t call it “The Truth” unless you’re telling the truth. You’ll hear about the relationships I let go of. The relationships I found. The self-celebratory mood of being a woman. You’ll hear me leading and telling my man, since you love me so good, let me lead and I’m gonna love you. You’ll be surprised about how sensual, open and fun I am on this album. I’m grown now and I’m embracing that. And I think more women need to be that. I can’t believe how much we don’t celebrate when a women is evolving. I thought more people would be more excited for me but I found that women weren’t as supportive. That was sad to me.

Ledisi’s The Truth is out March 11, 2014.

What do you think of Ledisi’s new album cover?