Since her debut, Keyshia Cole’s shtick has been relating to scorned women. The expressive singer was solidified as the second coming of Mary J. Blige (whether Mary approved or not), courtesy of the four singles released from The Way It Is. R&B banger “Let It Go” led Keyshia’s most cohesive album to date, Just Like You, and contributed to the Mary comparisons due to its Bad Boy flavor. Three additional infectious singles followed, making Keyshia eight for eight.
Prior to the release of Keyshia’s third album, A Different Me, a hurricane by the name of Beyoncé resurfaced and dominated her urban contemporaries. In retrospect, this unnatural disaster may have benefited Keyshia. It made it easier for listeners to forget she re-released a deceased rapper’s song as the lead single and was upstaged on the album’s best song.
In-between her third and fourth albums, Keyshia had started a family with NBA baller Daniel “Boobie” Gibson. Fans, particularly scorned women that related with “old Keyshia,” felt disconnected because they were still miserable and perhaps dealing with the same dude Keyshia sang about in ’05. Somehow, they were convinced Calling All Hearts saw KC treading in happier waters, when in fact it boasts a fair share of moody records. If anything, A Different Me is her “happy album.” Unsupportive fans practically demanded for Keyshia to go “back to the basics,” and she indulged them with Woman To Woman.
Although the LP’s concept is only explicitly executed on the title track, Keyshia’s intent is comprehensible. She revises the intensity and aggressiveness of her early works and reestablishes herself as the mother of the present-day distraught souls. Granted, due to the familiar subject matter, the album may take a few listens to fully grasp. However, when you do grasp it, you’ll agree that it’s her most cohesive effort after Just Like You.
The thrashing “Enough of No Love” catered directly to those “ratchet” women who don’t mind calling their baby’s father’s other woman in the middle of the night so they can fight in the street. Urban radio favorite Lil’ Wayne represents the dead beat on the record, and he delivers a surprisingly tolerable and somewhat clever verse. The Keysh ratchet women loved is back!
That neck-rolling B-girl rises on “Zero,” a song that sees Keyshia (well, whoever she’s representing because she’s obviously happily married) allowing a man to do anything except lie to her. “I don’t mind rushing through traffic just to get dinner ready in time,” sings Keyshia. “And I don’t mind calling when I’m late to give you piece of mind. And I don’t mind you staying out all night long hanging with the guys. But I do mind when you look me right dead in the eye and tell me lies.” Meek Mill obliges with her sentiment by smoothly stating he “lied to protect her.”
According to the following track “Missing Me,” Keyshia left Meek’s trifling ass in the wind (trust and believe this almost never happens). Speaking of trusting and believing, the pulsing Darhyl “DJ” Camper, Jr.-produced single follows, and it’s the first brilliant moment of the LP. It depicts a vivid story of Keyshia becoming enlightened about her partner’s scandalous affair with her best friend. If you haven’t seen the cinematic Benny Boom-directed video yet, stop what you’re doing now and go watch it here.
“Get It Right or you can’t love me,” Keyshia demands over Mel & Muses’ hip hop-influenced production. Unfortunately, the heavy drums virtually distracts from Cole’s story of becoming privy to her lover’s infidelity because his “stroke” didn’t have her “moaning” anymore. What makes this record facetious is that she’s “been through this before,” so I’m assuming it’s her and not them.
Toxic’s wobbling piano line introduces the title track, a duet with fellow R&B singer-songwriter Ashanti (apparently Brandy turned down the request, so Keyshia was forced to enlist a singer that does not impress her vocally). The premise of the record, structured by a host of writers including Betty Wright, is similar to Monica and Brandy’s “The Boy Is Mine,” but it’s severely underwhelming like Bran and Mo’s “It All Belongs To Me.” Unlike Jennifer Hudson and Fantasia on “I’m His Only Woman,” the ladies approach the situation as adults and reveal to each other they’ve been dating the same man. Although it builds throughout, neither Shirley Brown nor Barbara Mason would ever approve.
A similar wobbling piano line remerges in “Wonderland,” a thumping, slow-burning duet with burgeoning singer-songwriter Elijah Blake. I thought it was Mario, too. The jovial record is further proof that Keyshia is capable of singing more than just sorrowful records about heartbreak. Ending it with the eerie echo was unsettling, but Keysh is fond of abnormal intro and outros.
Case in point, the introductory to “I Choose You.” I’m not certain what Jack Splash and Keysh were going for, but it didn’t translate well. However, once the actual beat of the song drops, all is forgiven. Yet again, Splash proves that he’s a genius when it comes to crafting nostalgic productions big enough to impress Dame Shirley Bassey. If you desire further justification, revisit Alicia Keys’ “Wreckless Love,” Melanie Fiona’s “Wrong Side of a Love Song,” J. Hud’s “I’m His Only Woman” and/or Cee Lo Green’s “Fool For You.”
Keyshia delicately approaches the record before wailing the soul-stirring chorus. “If it ain’t you, it’s not worth it. No matter what I do, nothing’s worth it. Baby, I know–love’s not perfect. Even if he gives me the world, that’ll never be enough–‘cause I choose(d?) you! And if it ain’t you, then it’s just not worth it.” Reading the lyrics doesn’t give Keyshia’s passionate delivery any justice.
If you listen to “I Choose You” and still insist that Keyshia only sing songs about no-good men, you deserve Mitt Romney as a president (that applies to non-US readers as well). Fans demanding R&B singers to only sing what they want to hear has suppressed them creatively (see: Brandy and Monica). Allow them the freedom to experiment–lyrically, vocally and sonically–and introduce you to a more dynamic side of them. Bravo, Keyshia and everyone involved in this timeless record.
“Stubborn” is a jittery, piano-led up-tempo where she admits to being “stubborn when it comes to love.” Darkchild may not have been a fan of Two Eleven, but this track can find itself right behind “Slower” on many playlists.
Apparently Keyshia has a certain affinity for Betty Wright, or her mother, too, attempted to discourage her from singing erotic lyrics. If the “I know you’re not gonna sing that song” reference didn’t forewarn you of “Hey Sexy’s” oncoming sexually driven lyrics, Keyshia’s whispering about being ‘under her lover until the break of dawn’ surely perked your ears up a bit. The old-school-flavored, bedroom boom was going quite well until the cliché-ridden bridge came in. “DJ, don’t stop this, bring that back. I’m going round and round like laundromat.” The-Dream really appreciates laundromat references.
“I’m not easily impressed, but you got me fucked up,” admits Keyshia over T-Minus’ excessively layered production. “Forever” is sparse and bogged down with unnecessarily lengthy notes. Redundancy continues with “Next Move,” a song that probably exists somewhere else in her catalogue. If you, like me, anxiously waited Robin Thicke’s verse, you may have ignored him singing backing vocals.
Bink samples Isaac Hayes funky Shaft theme for “Who’s Gonna Hold Me Down.” Keyshia’s compelling commentary would have been more effective if the verse was extracted and the song was made into an interlude. Remember when albums included significant interludes?
As we know, Keyshia really hates liars. She told us (well, Meek) at the beginning of the album and felt obligated to remind us on the penultimate track. The instrumental for “Why Lie” is striking. Dru Castro laced the track with a funky bassline, ethereal flutes and rhythmic claps.
Flirty and saccharine pop ballad “Signature” closes the album. Keyshia improvises over a recurring piano chord before Rykeyz’s drums kick in during the first chorus. Though melodic and notably metaphorical, the song only takes off during the guitar-driven chorus, which is flat and bogged down by sparse, prolonged notes.
Genius Report: B+
Standouts: “I Choose You” “Trust & Believe” “Wonderland” “Hey Sexy”