By Carolina de Busto
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
In the cluttered, money-mad landscape of modern R&B and soul music, the figures that stand tallest stand alone. Prima donnas like Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill have the creative vision and iron-fisted drive necessary to elevate themselves among their peers; Usher and R. Kelly work their mack-daddy game as lone wolves on the prowl.
The point is trite but true: you can't be top dog if you're playing second fiddle.
Unless you're Philadelphia neo-soul duo Floetry, that is. Between Natalie Stewart and Marsha Ambrosius, there are no dogs, no fiddles, no hierarchy, no competition. For these two, working in tandem is the only way to operate. And whether you put a hyphen, a slash or an ampersand in the genre title doesn't matter to either of them or change their outlook on their art.
"We classify ourselves as just doing Floetry," says Ambrosius by phone on a cool Philly afternoon. "Our music is very reggae, jazz, folk and soul influenced. We heard so much growing up but we go our own way. Expect anything, but it's always going to be Floetry."
Stewart and Ambrosius first met on the basketball court in the late '90s, as teenagers in their native England. They quickly discovered a mutual affinity for music, both as fans and performers, which kept them in touch during their college years. In 2000, the pair came together as a musical unit in Atlanta, where they had both moved on their own in order to pursue music and acting.
They eventually found their way to Philadelphia, America's epicenter of neo-soul. Once there, they began penning songs for fellow Philly soul cats Jill Scott and Bilal, and were tapped by the Gloved One himself to contribute a song to his Invincible album--which resulted in the R&B hit "Butterflies."
2002's Floetic, Floetry's Dreamworks debut, garnered critical and popular success. Pairing off Ambrosius' velvety smooth vocals and the elegant urgency of Stewart's rhymes, the album offered a fresh take on the overworn R&B model.
"More than positive, the music is just honest," says Stewart. "It's a celebration of life. I love living, the ups and downs, all of it. I'm an Aquarius, a very passionate person, almost to the point of being dramatic. But I'm also realistic."
Indeed, while Floetry remains in tune with the defining sounds that preceded them, they're more concerned with making their own music than following in anyone's footsteps.
"It's 2005, and it's still, 'Who are you influenced by?'" Stewart says. "You become the second someone. But how can you be the second Marvin Gaye if you're not from his age, or Aretha Franklin if you're not connected to the social constraints from that situation? It's another way of keeping artists stuck, which has a big effect on society. Art imitates life and all of that."