As the breakout star of Jay-Z's "Lost Ones" single, Chrisette Michele is music's latest overnight sensation, but that doesn't mean it's all been easy.
"I got to write six hooks, and he liked one of them," the singer recalled of collaborating with the Def Jam president. "He's a perfectionist, so I was a little nervous in the studio. He turned around at one point and was like, 'Can I be honest?' So he gave me a lot of feedback."
And that guidance paid dividends, not just with Jay, but with fellow hip-hop king Nas.
"I wrote three hooks on Nas' album [Hip Hop Is Dead] and performed on three hooks," she said. One of those hooks was for Nas' latest single, "Can't Forget About You."
"Nas wasn't in the studio when I went to record," Michele recalled. "But I had the track and I had the vocals, so I just wrote what I felt. It was very organic."
With those experiences under her belt, Michele is ready to go it alone with a self-titled debut album due this summer.
"It's a really cool, cool time," she said. "I wrote every song."
She has yet to pick the first single, but one possibility is "Golden," on which she sings, "I'm ready to be like the olden days/ When commitment was golden."
And with a sound reminiscent of classic jazz songstresses, Michele is definitely taking it back to the olden days.
"I listened to a lot of Sarah Vaughan [and Billie Holiday] coming up," the Long Island, New York, native said. "I went to school for vocal and jazz performance, so I played the sax and played a lot of jazz instruments. That's my heart, that's my soul."
Michele has also learned from contemporary greats like John Legend, Will.I.Am and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds — she worked with all of them on her debut to help put a fresh spin on her style.
"[Will.I.Am and I] got together like brother and sister — it just felt like such a bond that we had together in the studio," she said.
Inspired by Babyface's relationship with his son, Michele co-wrote "My Joy."
"Babyface pulled out his guitar and handed me a pencil and we just started writing," she recalled. "I asked him what he loves. He said his son, so I wrote 'My Joy' about a daughter who loves her father."
Babyface not only assisted Michele with her songwriting, the Grammy-winning producer also schooled her on how to put together a song.
"I learned what [producing] was watching Babyface, because I watched him with the strings and the orchestra — actual instruments as opposed to other producers, who had a lot of different machines, which I also respect," she said. "I learned that my passion was more like what Babyface did with the actual instruments, [which was] more composing than producing."
"Golden" is currently streaming on Michele's MySpace page.