For her many fans, Marsha Ambrosius’ solo CD debut seemed a day that might never come. Finally, in March, four years after Ambrosius and rapper Natalie Stewart ended their partnership in the rap and rhythm-and-blues duo Floetry, J Records released the elegant, emotive Late Nights & Early Mornings.
The album, most of it written and produced by the Philadelphia-based, British-born Ambrosius, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s R&B albums chart and No. 2 on the Top 200 chart. And a single from the album, “Far Away,” has stayed in the Top 5 of Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart for weeks.
After Floetry split following the duo’s second album, 2005’s Flo’Ology, Ambrosius didn’t rush to be a solo act. Instead, she wrote and produced music for Alicia Keys, Jamie Foxx, The Game, Busta Rhymes and more. As early as 2001, Michael Jackson got a hit with her composition, “Butterflies.”
“I was comfortable with producing and writing for other artists,” Ambrosius said shortly before the start of her tour with R. Kelly. “So, yeah, I let the streets continue to talk, as they do, while I continued to push on and be a part of amazing collaborations. That kept me going before I got my chance to shine.”
Ambrosius found her behind-the-scenes work absorbing and rewarding.
“I live in the studio,” she said. “It’s like living in a cave. I’ll come up for air occasionally and, before I know it, three months, four months have gone by.”
The singer-songwriter-producer’s work with J Records stars led to her own deal with the label.
“They approached me through what I’d done with Jamie Foxx and Alicia Keys,” she said. “They knew that I wanted to be my own artist and they allowed me the freedom to do that.”
After Ambrosius got the necessary legal work completed and subsequently signed with J Records in late 2009, things moved fairly quickly. Whatever perceived delay there was regarding her CD debut hasn’t stopped it from being one of the year’s major releases. Late Nights & Early Mornings would have debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 if not for the chart dominance of another album by a British artist, Adele’s 21.
“I guess other people expected me to do a solo effort very early on but I wasn’t ready,” Ambrosius said. “But here we are with an album out, which debuted behind Adele. It’s like, ?Oh, that’s what I was waiting for, that’s what I wanted this to be.’ I guess timing is everything. I’ve been patient and I’m thankful that I was.”
Even if her solo debut was less successful than it is, Ambrosius would be pleased with it.
“I’d love my album if no one else loved my album,” she said. “I know what I put into it.”
It’s a mistake, she added, to think she hasn’t been a solo artist all along.
“I managed to find collaborations that worked,” she said. “Floetry was two solo artists doing something creative together. But I always knew that I wanted to create my own niche and I found comfort in moving forward and standing on my own two feet.”
“Far Away,” the current single from Late Nights & Early Mornings, is a rare contemporary example of a topical song that became a hit. Including elements of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” the classic Motown hit by the Supremes, the song addresses bullying and suicide. Ambrosius lost a friend in England to suicide.
“When I wrote ?Far Away,’ all I thought of was how much I loved this person and how hurt I was to see them go so soon,” she said. “Suicide and hate for someone because they’re different is a universal epidemic. The importance for me is to create honesty through music. And my primary intention is always love.”
Late Nights & Early Mornings also features the Ambrosius song Michael Jackson recorded, “Butterflies,” as a bonus track.
“He was the most amazing artist I’ve ever met, ever worked with and ever had the pleasure of getting advice from,” she said. “He told me ?Butterflies’ was the beginning of my career, imagine where I’m gonna go. From the time he said that I’ve always lived by his words. I can’t tell you what will happen next. I just know that I’ve been blessed with fantastic opportunities that I’ve taken advantage of.”