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Arguably, the singer was ahead of her time. Before Mary J. Blige was exalted as the "Queen of Hip-Hop Soul" -- and before the rise of Faith Evans and Lauryn Hill -- Michel'le was a young neo-soulstress who had strong ties to the hip-hop world. It was in 1989 that Michel'le signed with Eazy-E's Ruthless Records, which was the home of N.W.A. as well as Dallas native the D.O.C. and the female pop-rap group J.J. Fad (of "Supersonic" fame). Ruthless was distributed by different labels, depending on the artist. N.W.A. (one of the most important and influential groups in the history of gangsta rap) went through Priority, while the D.O.C., J.J. Fad, and Michel'le were signed to Ruthless/Atlantic. Although Ruthless was primarily a rap label, Dre and Eazy wanted to branch out into urban contemporary singing; and Michel'le, although quite hip-hop-influenced, was very much an urban contemporary singer. In 1989, Dre produced Michel'le's self-titled debut album; Eazy served as executive producer, while the mixing was handled by Dre and DJ Yella (another N.W.A. agitator). But, despite the participation of all those N.W.A. members, Michel'le's album didn't sound anything at all like that group's controversial and disturbing gangsta rap; and unlike N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton, it enjoyed a great deal of exposure on urban radio. The funky "No More Lies," Michel'le's debut single, was a major hit on the same R&B stations that went out of their way to avoid Straight Outta Compton; it was also a big pop hit and reached the Top Ten on Billboard's pop singles chart. The equally funky "Nicety," which was released as a single in 1990, was another major hit, and "Keep Watchin'" (the album's third single) also fared well.
In 1991, Michel'le became the victim of some East Coast/West Coast rivalry; that year, Bronx rapper Tim Dog (formerly of the Ultramagnetic MC's) said some insulting things about Michel'le and Dre on his angry, West Coast-bashing single "Fuck Compton." Unlike the infamous, well-publicized feud that L.A.'s Death Row Records/Suge Knight clique and New York's Puff Daddy/Bad Boy Entertainment/the Notorious B.I.G. clique had several years later, Tim Dog's war of words with the members of N.W.A. didn't turn deadly; nonetheless, Michel'le was said to be furious over the things that Tim Dog said about her on "Fuck Compton." But, as much attention as Michel'le received in 1989 and in the early '90s, her popularity didn't last long. In 1996, the Southern Californian had a cameo on the Dogg Pound's single "Let's Play House," but her second album, Hung Jury (a Priority release), didn't come out until 1998 -- nine years after her self-titled debut -- and it wasn't nearly the smash that Michel'le's previous album had been. ~ Alex Henderson