Born in Havre de Grace, Maryland, American singer/songwriter Ultra Naté took the UK charts by storm in the ‘90s with classic Top 10 hits like Free and Found a Cure.
Meanwhile, in her US homeland, the garage house/RnB star has continually topped the club charts, leading Billboard Magazine to rank her as the 12th most successful dance artist of all time. Now, Ultra has teamed up with house producer Quentin Harris for an exciting new collaborative album under the pseudonym Black Stereo Faith.
Click through the gallery to discover Ultra’s selections and find out why she chose them...
1. Marvin Gaye - Here, My Dear
“I was a really young kid when this album came out. My mother had bought it and her record collection was my first exposure to vinyl.
“The most striking thing was the album art; it was really elaborate and emotional and told the complete story of what the album was about. It was a double disc, so it opened up into this whole experience. And once you listened to it, there was this journey that each song took you through, which was really meaty fare for a kid of my age to take on, but I was really absorbed and got what happened in his marriage and how it ripped him apart.
“It was such an elevated level of work that it went over most people’s heads.”
2. Prince - Purple Rain
“Oh my gosh, that album encompassed my teenage years. Seriously, I lived that album. I still remember the day of its release and how they played it on the radio from start to finish.
“It was such an elaborate record and wasn’t the cookie cutter standard pop fare! It was such a journey into musicianship and Prince’s mind. The movie has such strong visuals – I saw it like a million times. You’d just get the popcorn and the drink ready and get up in it. I was already a Prince fan, I loved Controversy and a lot of his early stuff, but Purple Rain took him to another level.
“I never met him directly. We’ve been in the same room, but I never had the impression he wanted people rubbing up to him saying ‘I love you’ - and I was more the stand back and gag quietly type [laughs].”
3. Michael Jackson - Off The Wall
“I feel like Off The Wall was that moment when Michael Jackson’s shit started to happen and he really embraced who he was as a solo artist. It was so soulful and urban, and I know that there were subsequent albums like Thriller, but that’s such an obvious choice.
“For me, Off The Wall was the beginning of that journey to get to that place. That was the moment where he shifted and it was a really important part in his story.
“I don’t hear any baggage when I’m hearing Michael Jackson, period! It’s never affected the way I hear his music, and back then he was still able to be an artist in the purest sense. It’s hard for us on the outside looking in, because we’re not living that same reality - where he was completely imprisoned.”
4. Rufus - Rufus featuring Chaka Khan
“I didn’t realise she was the only female on my list, that was a mistake. However, she is definitely the tops in my opinion and there are millions of female artists out there that totally influenced me in a really big way.
“The cover art on that album really drew me in and the visual part was the first time I really got Chaka and thought, oh, she’s the bomb. She soars above the music effortlessly and I think she’s an amazing example of musicianship and how she uses her voice as an instrument - it has so much clarity, resonance and tone.
“I never had a formal education in singing or songwriting, so these records were the foundation that taught me singing and how to write musical arrangements and production.”
5. The Police - Synchronicity
“I think I chose this because I was in a weird musical space at that point in my life when I was still a teenager. Some of the strangest left-of-centre things appealed to me.
“While I enjoyed their early records, sometimes albums like this that are more under the radar resonate deeper because I find interesting things in the layers of the music and where it takes me visually when I close my eyes and listen to it.
“For some reason, I always got a very strong visual response to Synchronicity and I’d listen to all the various layers in the production. It stuck to me like glue and I felt like I could live in that space.”
6. Donnie - The Colored Section
“His vocal is reminiscent of Stevie Wonder, but in a very organic and authentic way - it’s a reflection of his soul roots from Atlanta, Georgia.
“I love the honesty and resonance in his voice and he reminds me a lot of Donnie Hathaway talking about the black experience. It should be better-known by people because I think it’s a brilliant album and probably ahead of its time.
“It was received very well here in the States, and I think he deserves more of a platform because he’s really speaking to American history and the civil rights movement. A lot of black culture has lost how to convey some of these things musically, people are always thinking more about how to make music more palatable and easy to digest.”
7. Ten City - Foundation
“The interesting thing about that period is that it completely derailed my plans for what I was going to do with my life, which was to go into medicine.
“I discovered Chicago house by going to a club with my friend one night and that sound, and the sound system and energy of the club, changed the course of my life. And Ten City was part of that story because that was the music being played, along with danceable RnB.
“Ten City was the first act I ever saw perform live at that very same club, and I met the guys later and we became great friends, so they are part of my foundation as well.”
8. Pink Floyd - Dark Side Of The Moon
“The biggest crime that has happened in music, period, is that the attention deficit has got so bad that people are losing out on the real experience of music.
“As a musician, you’re trying to figure out how you can condense this whole emotion and thought into three minutes and thirty seconds, because that’s all you’ve got, but I loved this Pink Floyd album long before I became a musician. Again, this is the groundwork that taught me about musicianship and the depth of feeling and work that goes into breaking down those rules; letting your art speak and taking people on that journey.
“Queen was very good as that as well. Because I was still a singleton for many years, and being a lonely child, I delved into music a lot deeper - that was my companion. So I love how this album transitioned into these other places and I really leaned on that sentiment for my new album Black Stereo Faith by not paying attention to the rules and letting the songs languish, transition and segue into other places.”
9. Peter Gabriel - So
“When this album came out, I just loved every song so much. This was the moment I really focused on Peter Gabriel and got him.
“My friends and I would always listen to this album before we went clubbing, which was basically insane because it had nothing to do with clubbing [laughs].
"He’s just as experimental and popular now. The guy’s heavy and I still feel like a 10-year-old kid, forever learning from these people and the music they’re making.”
10. Maxwell - Urban Hang Suite
“It was the perfect love album at the time. I’ve loved every record he’s put out since then, but that particular one was during my in-between period when I was kind of at a crossroads.
“I’d been dropped from Warner and I was writing, in my mind, what would be my next album, but didn’t have a record deal. I was going back and forth between Baltimore and New York writing things, and during that process Urban Hang Suite came out and a good friend of mine was a photographer on that album.
“Although I never met Maxwell, I was kind of behind the scenes on that process before anyone had heard his music, so when it came out and really hit big I felt attached to it because I did my 12” deal with Strictly Rhythm and my song ‘Free’ came out and the rest is history. It was like, yes, we both won!”