Marsha Ambrosius just might have magical powers. If the theory is true, then her pen is her crystal ball, a mystical tool with which she predicts the future with startling accuracy. A veteran soul singer whose career spans more than twenty years, Ambrosius, 41, has written for everyone from Michael Jackson to Dr. Dre. But she shares that until recently, much of her most notable work was make-believe.
“I’d been borrowing certain stories from friends and conceptualizing music a lot. I hadn’t [personally] gone through too much,” Ambrosius explains. She describes the process of writing her grown and sexy “Wake the Baby” a few years ago, a song she originally intended for Beyoncé. “Not only did I not have a baby at the time, I didn’t even have a boyfriend. Beyoncé had a writer’s camp and I remember writing [that song] thinking ‘Beyoncé and Jay-Z are human. They go through stuff. This is what I want Beyoncé to do.’” Though Beyoncé passed on the track (unbeknownst to Ambrosius at the time, the writer’s camp was for Bey’s break-up opus, Lemonade), the song ended up coming to fruition for its creator just a short while later.
The Floetry singer is now married to Desmond “Dez” Billups and the couple welcomed their daughter, Nyla, in 2016. “I’ve written songs that I had no clue would come to light or apply. ’Wake the Baby’ applies now…to me! This is crazy! Now I know exactly what it feels like. Now that Nyla is here, I can listen to certain songs with fresh ears.”
Despite meeting on one of the dreariest days of the summer, Ambrosius is bubbly as she describes how having a daughter has changed her perception of herself; how her child has become her muse. “I was Marsha Ambrosius. [Now I’m] Nyla’s mother. It’s a complete reintroduction to me. I didn’t know who I was searching for this whole time until she got here,” Ambrosius gushes. “Nyla is about ‘yes and no.’ She’s not about maybes or whys or what ifs just yet. It’s empowering. So my pen—not saying it wasn’t clear and concise before—but now? It’s so sure. Unapologetically.”
It’s wild to see your future through music.
When she talks about motherhood, Ambrosius lights up with a fiery confidence that offsets the steel-coloured clouds hovering behind her. She injects that passion into her forthcoming album, NYLA, which she named after her toddler. The politically-charged video for the single “Old Times” is both a touching ode to her family (Billups and baby Nyla make guest appearances), and gripping critique of racial inequality in America. In it, Ambrosius and her child wait at home for Billups, whose seemingly ordinary day in the neighbourhood is marred by a violent run-in with the police.
“That particular subject is our everyday. That feeling of ‘I just genuinely want you home for dinner,’ but not knowing what’s going to happen in between that time,” says Ambrosius of the chilling scene. “What I see on the news or on my Twitter feed has me worried. The world is worrying. All these hashtags go by like ‘wow, you look just like my cousin. That could have been my uncle, could have been my father.’ I’ve always taken a social stance through my music.”
Not every song on NYLA will be as political as “Old Times,” but Ambrosius (who describes her songs as “mini movies”) promises an immersive album. She’s also more mindful about what she writes – the universe is listening after all. When asked if she believes she’s been designing her current life through her music all along, she sighs emphatically. “Now I do. It’s wild to see your future through music. You want a dope soundtrack to kind of tell you what to do sometimes and I just happen to have [written] a catalogue full of songs that, for years, I’ve been telling myself what to do [in advance].”
Her ethos brings Paulo Coelho’s book The Alchemist to mind, specifically the line about the universe conspiring to grant our deepest desires. When I mention this, Ambrosius lights up and, like magic, the ominous clouds above our heads part to reveal brilliant sunlight. “It really does conspire! I feel like I absolutely designed the love of my life, who I wanted him to be, how I want him to be and ultimately, Nyla being the product of that. It’s wild to see my aspirations and dreams and go ‘wow, I’m actually living it. I called this a long time ago.”