Michel’le Toussaint, of Creole heritage, is the latest singer to have a film made about her life. USA channel Lifetime started filming this biopic, about Toussaint’s rise to fame, in June 2016.
Afilm charting the rise to fame of American R&B singer-songwriter Michel’le Toussaint has been announced, with production having commenced in June 2016. Michel’le joins fellow legendary singers Toni Braxton and the late Whitney Houston and Aaliyah in having her story told on the USA networked, “Lifetime channel”.
The fortunate kick start
The film will cover the singer’s early life to the present day. Michel’le will be revealing her side of the story, including her turbulent relationship with American record producer Dr Dre and her meteoric success after she was discovered in the late ’80s by West Coast rapper Eazy-E. The latter being co-founder of Ruthless Records and the group NWA.
Born of Creole heritage on 5th December 1970, in Compton, California, Michel’le went on to become a best-selling artist on Ruthless Records, after being discovered almost by accident.
In 1986, aged 16, she was recruited at the last minute as a vocalist on World Class Wreckin’ Cru’s single, Turn Off the Lights. The established lead singer, Mona Lisa, aka Kimberly Leadbetter, couldn’t make it. Michel’le knew DJ Yella and club owner Alonzo Williams, who called her on the spur of the moment to see if she could go to the studio.
The band played West Coast electro and early rap, produced by Dr Dre, finally hitting the Billboard Hot 100 with Turn Off the Lights after its release in 1987. Despite the song’s success, Michel’le knew little of the music industry, and received no royalties.
Subsequently, she was signed by Eazy-E and went on to date Dr Dre, who produced her self-titled debut album in 1989. The album, Michel’le, containing the hit singles, Nicety and Something in my Heart, went on to sell half a million copies in the USA, achieving gold status in April 1990 and later attaining double platinum status.
Three decades of success
The singer, famed for her almost childlike, high-pitched speaking voice, a sharp contrast to her rich, soulful singing voice, has gone on to have a successful recording and live career. Her hit singles, charting in the USA R&B charts, have included No More Lies and Keep Watchin’ in 1990, If (1991), her two 1998 hits, Hang Tyme and Can I Get a Witness and It Still Hurts (2014).
Her second album, Hung Jury, was released in 1998. She also performed with a number of high-profile rap acts, including NWA, the DOC, Eazy-E, Tha Dogg Pound, 2Pac, Dr Dre and Suge Knight, in addition to working with World Class Wreckin’ Cru. Her record label deals have spanned Kru-Cut Records, Death Row Records, Ruthless Records and Priority Records.
She performed vocals on 2Pac’s single Run Tha Streetz and also on his album, All Eyes On Me. She also sang on Tha Dogg Pound’s, Let’s Play House, on their debut album, Dogg Food. Michel’le featured on the Dysfunktional Family soundtrack in 2003 and has also appeared on the USA hit reality television show, R&B Divas: Los Angeles, since its July 2013 premiere, as one of its six stars.
The early years
The rise to stardom was a long journey from her humble beginnings. Growing up in a relatively poor family that lived paycheck to paycheck in Compton. Michel’le travelled by bus each day to a school that was 30 miles away, in the relatively affluent neighbourhood of Woodland Hills.
Compton and South Central were tough neighbourhoods, where police routinely stopped and frisked black youths in the street. The situation was well documented in the film, Straight Outta Compton, with harassment and assaults on black teenagers being commonplace. Parents were helpless to intervene.
This played a key role in her realisation that she would need to move away from the area where she’d grown up, if, she wanted to pursue her dreams of a music career. She spoke of the whole family having to move in with her grandma when times were hard, supposedly for just six months, but remaining there for more than a year.
In interviews, Michel’le has always expressed her gratitude that she received a good education in Woodland Hills. It allowed her to become, “part of that world”, and let her know there was a different life, “across the mountain”.
She spoke of how her education broadened her horizons, enabling her to see there was a bigger world. The experience has shaped her own parenting skills. Michel’le admits that is why she takes her own children outside of their local area, always travelling with them, so they can see more of life.
The Tough 90s
Sadly, Michel’le’s personal life hasn’t always run smoothly. Despite her cult status as one of the USA’s top R&B stars, she has made no secret of the fact her relationship with Dr Dre in the early ’90s was a turbulent one. The couple have a son, Marcel, born in 1991.
At the outset, Michel’le described that her life was, “like a dream”, with Dre surprising her by buying a luxury home for the couple in Calabasas, California. She recalled screaming with excitement when she first saw it. Driving around in their $70,000 sports car was another luxury she couldn’t have imagined as she grew up in Compton.
However, the relationship didn’t take long to go sour. Michel’le later described herself as the, “quiet girlfriend”, who was told to, “sit down and shut up”, during their relationship, which ended in 1996. In 2015, Dr Dre issued a public statement about his past conduct, without being specific, saying that in the early ’90s, “I was a young man drinking too much, with no real structure in my life”. It came after he pleaded no contest to a charge of criminal battery against journalist Dee Barnes, who accused him of attacking her in 1991. The statement added that Dre was doing, “everything”, he could so he would, “never resemble that man again”. Multi-billion dollar company Apple, which bought Dre’s company, Beats, from him for a reported $3 billion in 2014, also issued a statement accepting that Dre had apologised for past mistakes and, “wasn’t the same person”, that he was 25 years earlier. The statement concluded that after working with him for 18 months, they believed Dre’s, “sincerity”, and that he had changed.
Later, Michel’le went on to date Death Row Records CEO and co-founder Suge Knight. With him she had a daughter, Balei, born in 2002. The couple married in 1999, but divorced eight years later.
Straight Outta Compton: less than the true picture
One reason for agreeing to the biopic is reportedly to set the record straight after Michel’le was controversially left out of the 2015 American biographical film, Straight Outta Compton, chronicling the rise and fall of NWA. As Dr Dre’s ex-girlfriend and mother of his child, she later admitted to feeling perplexed, but not surprised, to being sidelined from the blockbuster film, after the acrimonious end of their relationship.
Straight Outta Compton enjoyed huge success over its opening weekend, receiving rave reviews and netting $56.1 million at the box office. However, the critics’ main issue with the biopic was that it didn’t portray the full picture. Highlighting that it had not included Michel’le’s existence or her influence on the music scene and personal lives of the artists at that time.
Speaking after the film was released, Michel’le said that there was no reason why she would have been featured in Straight Outta Compton, considering her highly-publicised break-up with Dr Dre, which attracted much adverse publicity for the producer for many years afterwards. She admitted she cried when she learned about her omission from the film, adding, “That’s all I want to say.” However, she later said that she was, “glad”, she wasn’t in the movie.
Those involved with the film insisted it was the timescale that prevented Michel’le’s role being included, rather than a deliberate omission. O’Shea Jackson Jnr, who played NWA member Ice Cube in the movie, claimed it was, “impossible”, to fit 10 years’ events into a two-and-a-half hour slot, adding that everything that happened in the film concerned NWA as a band, without relating everyone’s individual story.
Setting the record straight
Now, after years of silence, she is to reveal her version of events in The Michel’le Story, with Rhyon Nicole Brown in the starring role, Curtis Hamilton portraying Dr Dre and R Marcos Taylor playing music executive Knight, reprising the role he also played in Straight Outta Compton. The film will be released by Thinkfactory Media and Sony Pictures Television for Lifetime, with executive producer Leslie Greif.
After a difficult start in life and then suddenly being rocketed to stardom, Michel’le Toussaint has survived through her fair share of highs and lows during her 30-year career in the music industry. She’s a remarkably strong woman to come out unscathed after some of the dark times of the 1990s and it’s a tribute to her character, resilience and talent that she remains one of the R&B industry’s most enduring stars today. Michel’le has confirmed that she’s been working on some new material for her third album and is enthusiastic about her future.