On Recovery, her Purpose Music Group/eOne Music debut and second full-length album, the soulful songstress known as Algebra Blessett delivers a consistently sublime set that showcases the remarkable vocal and songwriting gifts that have already established the versatile, charismatic artist as one of R&B’s hottest rising performers.
Born Algebra Felicia Blessett and hailing from the R&B hotbed of Atlanta, Algebra has already earned a reputation as one of her hometown’s most exciting new talents. Having already won widespread acclaim with her solo debut Purpose, and for her work as collaborator with the likes of Monica, Bilal, India.Arie, Esperanza Spalding and Anthony David, Algebra offers a fresh, expansive creative vision on Recovery, on which she worked with three of today’s hottest urban producers: Bryan-Michael Cox, Kwamé Holland and Shannon Sanders.
Such indelible new self-penned tunes as “Nobody But You,” “Right Next to You” and the pointed “Writer’s Block” demonstrate Algebra’s uncanny ability to spin insightful scenarios that are rooted in personal experience and crafted to convey maximum musical and emotional impact. Whether she’s delivering infectious pop, swaggering funk or sensitive balladry, there are no gimmicks here, just timelessly soulful, effortlessly accessible music that draws upon the varied musical skills that Blessett has developed through a lifetime of creative curiosity.
“My first album was a group of songs that I’d collected along the way, and it was me saying ‘This is what I do,’” Blessett explains. “But I wanted this one to be the next level musically. I called it Recovery because I’m a sucker for heartache and pain, but I also believe in going through the process to get to where you need to be. I don’t want to make anybody jump off a bridge, but I also understand that there’s more to life than gallivanting around like butterflies. So I feel some responsibility to put my experiences out there in a way that’s relatable to people’s lives.”
Algebra grew up steeped in music, in a religious family with multi-generational roots in gospel music; her mother was a minister and gospel singer who also played bass and guitar. Yet she initially resisted the urge to pursue music herself, despite singing in a gospel choir while still in elementary school. Although she had originally wanted to attend the prestigious Atlanta School of the Performing Arts to become a professional dancer, she was accepted after auditioning with a song.
“I used singing to get to the next level, but I still didn’t realize that it was my calling,” she recalls. “I fought being a singer for so long, because everybody in my family were singers, so I guess that I had to rebel. But my history of being around music, seeing my mom play bass and seeing my great-grandmother whipping singers into shape, sparked a lot of stuff that I didn’t know was being sparked at the time, and then something happened in my adolescence that pulled me into music.”
Once she finally embraced her musical destiny, Blessett quickly gained a reputation on her hometown’s booming R&B scene, becoming an in-demand backup singer and lending her pen and voice to such recording projects to such recording projects as India.Arie’s Grammy-winning 2002 platinum smash Voyage to India, while touring with R&B artists Monica and Bilal.
As Blessett ‘s notoriety spread, she continued to expand her creative horizons by teaching herself to play guitar and write songs, initially by adapting her first-person journal entries into lyrics.
“I had only been playing guitar for about a month when I started writing songs,” she recalls. “Eventually, I learned how songs can tell a story, and I learned that the way I tell a story is different from the way some of my favorite songwriters tell a story. It scared me a little bit at first, because some of the people I was working with laughed when I’d play them what I was writing. But that just forced me to push myself harder, and to do it for myself and not care what others thought.”
After signing her first record deal and earning significant attention with her first single “U Do It For Me,” Algebra released her first full-length album Purpose, which she recorded with producers Bryan-Michael Cox, Kwamé Holland, Eric Roberson and Carvin & Ivan. The debut disc spent 14 weeks on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop album chart, establishing Algebra as a vital musical force.
The period between Purpose and Recovery was a productive one for Blessett, who kept busy with a variety of notable projects. She sang on three of fellow Atlanta artist Anthony David’s albums, with the two singers joining forces on the hit duet (and popular wedding song) “4Evermore,” which reached No. 1 on Billboard’s R&B Adult Contemporary chart in 2011. Blessett also co-wrote and sang on Esperanza Spalding’s hit “Black Gold” from Spalding’s Grammy-winning Radio Music Society, was featured on Vivian Green’s album The Green Room, and sang with Anthony Hamilton on hip-hop violinist Miri Ben-Ari’s “She Was Just A Friend.”
Meanwhile, Algebra continued to perform her own live club gigs, and quietly released the eclectic mixtape EP Dessert Before Dinner, which included personalized reworkings of songs by ’80s rock band Extreme and seminal hip-hop duo Eric B. and Rakim, and which generated substantial underground buzz. She also recorded a version of the Nina Simone classic “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” that won considerable grass-roots attention. Blessett also found time to pursue her longstanding interests in acting and dance, winning attention for her performance in the Atlanta-based stage musical Rebirth.
“I really enjoy trying new things and collaborating and co-writing and being a part of other peoples’ projects,” she says, adding, “I like situations where you can just let things happen, and where it’s like ‘Hey, what you doin’ today? Let’s write a song, let’s record something.’ I also love having the chance to do things where it’s not just all about me and I can be part of a larger process.”
She’s also applied her training as a dancer and aerialist to her music, integrating those skills into her live performances. “I’ve always been into the arts of dance and fascinated by air,” she says. “I was given lessons at a trapeze school as a birthday gift, and when I saw the all of their aerial contraptions, I fell further in love. My mama said ‘You should do that in a show,’ so I did, and I’ve continued doing it. The challenge and experience just pulls me in. The art form itself is free and honest and you can’t fake it, which are the same qualities that I try to put across in my music.”
“I’m still a work in progress, and I feel like the future is open,” the artist states. “Of course I want to be successful, but what I really care about is making classic music that reaches people and touches their lives in a positive, healing way. To me, a great song is a great song in any genre, and the artists that I love are the ones who make honest music that communicates emotionally. That’s what I want to do.”