Natalie "The Floacist" Stewart is best known for her role as half of the British neosoul duo Floetry. Along with her bandmate and childhood friend, Marsha "The Songstress" Ambrosius, Stewart released three albums as Floetry and earned seven Grammy nominations.
After Floetry broke up in 2006, Stewart became a solo artist. Her second album, Floacist Presents: Floetry Rebirth, continues her journey in floetry — a blend of poetry and spoken word put to music.
"I really, really wanted to let it be understood that this album isn't about replacing Marsha," Stewart says. "I see The Songstress as completely irreplaceable. The album is really embracing and appreciating your past in order to, you know, strengthen your foundation in your present, in order to have a positive effect on your future. And by no means is this to compete [with past Floetry records]; I wouldn't be crazy enough to do that. It's just really to embrace everything."
Speaking here with NPR's David Greene, Stewart discusses her split with Ambrosius, the philosophy behind her new album and the confines of being a black musician in the music industry. To hear more of their conversation, click the audio link on this page.
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
British-born Natalie Stewart fears the path for black musicians is becoming more and more confining. The singer/songwriter and poet says it's increasingly hard to break stereotypes. That idea is at the center of a conversation our colleague David Greene recently had with the musician. She is better known as the Floacist.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
NATALIE STEWART: (Rapping) Some way, somehow I will become the master of my emotions, redirect my devotions to the I in I...
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
To understand Natalie Stewart you have to go back a decade. At the time, she felt like she was living a dream. She'd invented a new sound that she called Floetry.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
STEWART: (Rapping) I think I'm going to move today and it's time for a new way...
The sound is ultimately to do with the journeying of the melodic voice of the spoken voice. Poetic delivery with musical intent is the Floetic ethos.
GREENE: It was a sound that she created with her childhood friend, Marsha Ambrosius. They grew up together in London.
STEWART: Marsha is the first person I thought of to launch this thing, where we were going to blend the two voices at the same time. And it was just very apparent in the moment that we performed that something quite special had occurred.
GREENE: The duo called themselves Floetry, and they were successful. Natalie and Marsha released three albums in the course of four years, and Floetry earned seven Grammy nominations. But then came the pressure to conform.
STEWART: Management and the label kind of leaning. I mean, a direct quote, as I was quite often being asked to "dumb my lyrics down," and to rap more so than being a poet. And I wasn't very comfortable with the route that we were being suggested to go into.
GREENE: But her friend and collaborator, Marsha, did take that route. She went to the U.S. to launch her solo career.
STEWART: She didn't want to make a neo-soul music anymore. She didn't feel like it was really who she is. She wanted to do something else. And there is room for everybody.
GREENE: Natalie Stewart saw her partner's choice to go into hip-hop as falling victim to stereotype. Stewart, for her part, wanted Floetry's original sound and style to find its place in black music. And now she's out with her second solo album, it's called "The Floacist Presents Floetry Rebirth." It's the first time she's talking openly about the breakup with her musical partner and friend.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
STEWART: (Singing) Now saw myself flowing without you, friend. Now you want to go out on your own. Where you want to be is not for me. You'll have to grow alone...
GREENE: I assume I'm not making a jump to say that you're directing...
GREENE: ...some of these lyrics at your old partner.
STEWART: You know, I'm absolutely speaking journalistically, in the sense of for my very own journal; absolutely my personal experiences, meditation and mantras. When Marsha did originally leave the group it was very, very difficult for me to sit and not be able to respond to every Internet blog or every rumor that I saw going up.
But that process actually did introduce me to a more introspective side of myself. And to be fair, this song was the first real statement that I made of my thoughts of what had transpired some years ago...
GREENE: So you spent time really out of the spotlight.
STEWART: Oh, I had to. I had to spend some time rebuilding my confidence and rebuilding my feelings, my emotions and then really freeing myself. But I'm also actually - I'm very happy to be where I am now. I'm very much at peace with the journey.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
STEWART: (Singing) What is out there? Something tells me as above so below. It's a big place universal. From the circle all else grows...
GREENE: Can you help us define what we're hearing? I mean it really is a mix of spoken word blended together with music. It's not quite R&B. It's not totally soul. It's not hip-hop. I mean, where does it fit in, in your mind?
STEWART: This is a genre, a time where the expression within black music is really - it's quite muffled. It's difficult to do anything other than hip-hop - straight hip-hop. And even the type of hip-hop right now is just very stereotypically picked right now. I don't mean that of necessary the artist. I mean that just as the machine of what's being created.
GREENE: You're describing a very difficult position for any black musician if you do decide to do something other than hip-hop. Why have we gotten to this place?
STEWART: You know, we've seen a really big shift in the music industry. I mean, in 2000 when we got to the States, there was a neo-soul movement. There was a soulful movement. There was even a more soulful hip-hop. There was almost like a neo-soul hip-hop, people used to call it backpacker hip-hop. And then, everything really started to crush-in. You see a lot of labels have closed. And unfortunately it seems that black result, quote-unquote, "is geared towards only that type of kind of teenage or young adult time in life."
GREENE: I want to hear a bit more from the new album. One of the biggest singles that Floetry released when you were still with Marsha Ambrosius was the song "Say Yes." And now, you feature another interpretation of that song on your new solo album.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAY YES")
STEWART: (Singing) Though you've got to go with say yes, say yes, say yes. I want you to know that you're making me so...
GREENE: So why did you decide to re-record the song and, you know, as a solo?
STEWART: For the upright bass alone - no...
STEWART: You know, I really, really wanted to let it be understood that this record is - this album isn't about replacing Marsha. I see the Songstress as completely irreplaceable. The album is really embracing and appreciating your past in order to, you know, strengthen your foundation in your present, in order to have a positive effect on your future. And by no means is this to compete. I wouldn't be crazy enough to do that. It's just really to embrace everything.
(SOUNDBITE A SONG)
STEWART: (Singing) Ooh, what goes up, must come down...
GREENE: It has been such a pleasure listening to music and chatting. Natalie Stewart, thank you for joining us.
STEWART: I've had a wonderful time. Thank you.
GREENE: She's known as the Floacist. In the new solo album is "The Floacist Presents Floetry Rebirth."
(SOUNDBITE A SONG)
STEWART: (Singing) Yeah, and after the sun comes...
WERTHEIMER: MORNING EDITION's David Greene, with singer-songwriter Natalie Stewart, also known as the Floacist.
It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.