Marsha Ambrosius' new 'CASABLANCO' album is just what Dr. Dre ordered

NEW YORK (AP) — Marsha Ambrosius was done with the demands required of a successful R&B star, including the wear-and-tear of touring and fickle music industry politics. She was at peace working behind the scenes and writing for other artists. But Dr. Dre had a prescription to rejuvenate her on-stage desire.

“I didn’t want to do a project,” said the Grammy-nominated artist. “I’ve checked off my bucket list, everything that I’ve wanted to do. And Dre said, ‘I just want to keep you inspired. Let’s just create and see where this goes.’”

Their musical travels carried them to her new album, “CASABLANCO,” available now. The combination of Ambrosius’ writing and singing prowess with one of this generation’s greatest producers have made it a highly anticipated project after years of teasing.

“I haven’t had the opportunity to not only create, but have no limits, no boundaries. Dre was very much, ‘Whatever you want to do can be done,’” said the Britain-born singer who has writing and producing credits on every song. “It breathed new life into me creatively, knowing that I hadn’t really done everything I was capable of doing until we created this.”

The 11-track project is a sonically-opulent collage, masterfully fusing jazz and hip-hop – a compound only the Dr. could mix. “CASABLANCO” – a play off the luxurious lifestyle of the iconic “Casablanca” film and Moroccan city, marks the singer's fourth solo studio album, following 2018’s “NYLA.” (The "A” in the title was replaced by Dre to represent the grit of hip-hop sound.)

Entirely produced and mixed by “The Chronic” architect with support from Erik “Blu2th” Griggs, Focus… and Dem Jointz, the album was recorded during a two-week span in 2021 while much of the world was still held captive by the COVID-19 pandemic and as Dre recovered from a brain aneurysm. Signed to Dre's Aftermath label via Interscope Records, the pair have a lengthy collaborative history, last officially joining forces on his 2015 album, “Compton.”

“CASABLANCO” separates itself from today's trap-beat, atmospheric R&B in both sound and construction. Eight of the 11 songs are more than four minutes, with three tracks exceeding five minutes, including substantial instrumental breaks and creative, non-traditional verse and bridge and chorus arrangements. Jazzy instrumentation precede many of the tracks before switching to Dre’s unmistakable hip-hop sound, referring to the combination as “tux and Chucks.”

But the project, backed by a 27-piece live orchestra and filled with intricately woven samples from many artists including Michael Jackson, Duke Ellington, George Benson, The Wu-Tang Clan and Nas — and even Ambrosius herself – took more than a year for clearances. Singles from “CASABLANCO” include “The Greatest,”“Greedy,” and the amorous “One Night Stand” which samples “All Night Long” by Mary Jane Girls.

“I was like, ‘what if it was ‘one night’ instead of ‘all night long?'” said Ambrosius. “It still goes to the reason why we created the record: It was like if we have one more album to make, what would that be? So, it felt like a one night-only moment which ultimately could turn into forever. And mine did.”

While “Best I Could Find” is reminiscent of Stevie Wonder's “Innervisions,” “Cloudy With A Chance Of …Real” is a dramatic longing for her lover, as she sings, “Feels like this is somebody else's, living this pain right through me/And I carry the weight of this rain falling down, and it’s oh so lonely.”

Referring to the song written during the pandemic, she said: “That was that fog, that haze, that uncertainty, that: What’s going to happen if I can’t love you the way I want to love you, or you’re unwilling to receive what my love looks like because of where we are in the world right now."

Despite a solid solo career with songs like “Far Away” and “Late Nights & Early Mornings,” singing hooks for major artists like Kanye West, Nas and Nipsey Hussle, and writing for H.E.R. and Alicia Keys, many fans still associate her with the duo Floetry.

Floetry (Ambrosius and Natalie “The Floacist” Stewart) emerged during the neo-soul movement of the early 2000s, finding success with songs like “Say Yes,”“Getting Late" and “SupaStar” featuring Common. The 46-year-old Ambrosius understands the nostalgia that fans have with that music.

“We were young and fearless and weren’t conforming,” said Ambrosius, who also wrote “Butterflies” by Jackson. “I’m glad that I can say I did some timeless classics. And 24 years later, with Dr. Dre and ‘CASABLANCO,’ that same feeling that I had then, I have now.”


Follow Associated Press entertainment journalist Gary Gerard Hamilton at: @GaryGHamilton on all his social media platforms.