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How Yahzarah got her groove back 

The Ballad of Purple St. James puts Foreign Exchange Music on the map

If anyone understands that love isn't always perfect, it's Yahzarah.

When she abruptly left her first love, music, to take a day job at Banana Republic in 2003, she knew something seriously had to give. Heartbroken after the release of her lackluster second album, Black Star, she was drained -- creatively, emotionally and mentally -- and needed to hibernate from the music industry.

"There was a point when I started to believe them, started to believe that I really couldn't write songs and be myself," she says, recalling her frustration at fighting what would turn out to be a losing battle over creative control.

But eventually, the people who loved her, even in her low point between albums, persuaded her to get back to music. "[Soul singer] Ledisi was like: 'You have a job now? Are you crazy?'" she remembers.

The convincing words of an old college buddy and MC, Phonte Coleman, eventually brought the talented songstress (whose talking voice is even melodic) full circle. He began using her voice whenever and wherever he could, be it on Little Brother albums or Foreign Exchange projects. And when he officially launched his own boutique label, Foreign Exchange Music, with producer Nicolay in 2008, she was one of the first artists he signed.

"She could sing a grocery list and it would sound good; it's never been her vocals, it was the material," Phonte, who co-wrote Yahzarah's new album with her, says.

With that obstacle officially out of the way, Yahzarah has released her most mature album to date, The Ballad of Purple St. James. The release is not just important for Yahzarah, but for the FE label as well, since it's the first major album to drop besides the label's namesake group. With robust production, and lyrics that run the gamut from graceful to forceful, sexy to classic, it's the album she feels she was born to make.

"I can't even perform this album without getting emotional; I mean, I'm not gonna let my make-up run, but I'm shouting all over the place like a Penecostal preacher," she laughs. "It's a healing process."

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