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The Best You Never Heard: R. Kelly, Lauryn Hill, JoJo, & Christina Aguilera

best u never 111 The Best You Never Heard: R. Kelly, Lauryn Hill, JoJo, & Christina Aguilera

This week’s  Best You Never Heard features little known gems by R. Kelly, Lauryn Hill, JoJo and Christina Aguilera.

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R. Kelly – ‘U Saved Me’

R&B great R. Kelly enjoys such status not simply because of his vocal prowess. Nor soley his prolific writing ability. Rather, it is the unparalleled versatility which defines the two, which has seen the 44 year old’s name become etched in music history.

Such versatility is perhaps best exemplified in the ‘Sex Me’ singer’s foray into Inspirational / Gospel-tinged territory. While successful releases such as ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ and the Kelly-penned Whitney Houston single ‘I Look To You’ provide solid examples of this, I argue lesser known cuts such as 2004′s ‘U Saved Me’ to serve as the best of an impeccable bunch.

Lyrical story-telling at its best, with ‘U Saved Me’, Kelly delivers a triumphant series of narratives centred on hope and defying the odds. Dually engaging and uplifting, one’s spirit can’t help but be joyous upon listening to this one – regardless of the barer of the message. {SAM}

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Lauryn Hill – ‘I Used To Love Him (ft. Mary J. Blige’

Honest. That is the word that best describes the music of the legendary Lauryn Hill and Mary J. Blige. The power of their vocal performances stems not from expansive vocal ranges or robust belting but from passion and conviction.

This point is aptly reflected in ‘I Used To Love Him’ which was included on Hill’s iconic ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ album. Written and produced by Hill, the song comprises an ingenious vocal arrangement where both singers engage in well-timed exchanges, expressing the anguish of the lyrics through their equally raspy tones.

It has been almost 13 years since Hill released a new studio album and songs like this exemplify why both critics and fans alike have been calling for her return. Either way, even if she never makes another record, ‘The Miseducation…’ has permanently etched her name into the history books. {TRENT}

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JoJo – ‘Anything’

While the so-so sales of JoJo‘s 2nd studio album ‘The High Road’ may have left some citing the dreaded ‘sophomore slump’, one spin of the songbird’s 2006 effort quickly dispels any such notion. A solid collection of Pop-tinged R&B, the record boasted many a gem, one of the most notable being ‘Anything’. Quietly released as the project’s final single (with  no accompanying video), the song went criminally unnoticed - amidst the label drama which would see the 20 year old out of action for the next three years.

Still, with its thumping bass-line, soaring vocals, and refreshing faux-intro (courtesy of Toto‘s 1982 hit ‘Africa’), this is a winner and then some. Great track! {SAM}

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Christina Aguilera – ‘Sex For Breakfast’

Although Christina Aguilera ‘Bionic’ was one of the biggest commercial disappointments of the 2010, the record comprised several incredible moments. One such example is ‘Sex For Breakfast’.

Co-written by Aguilera, Noel Fisher and Bernard Edwards Jr., the song is characterised by simple production, allowing the listeners to appreciate the intricate complexities of her impressive vocal range without the unnecessary distraction of added studio flare.

Perhaps what is most enjoyable about ‘Sex For Breakfast’ is Aguilera’s use of restraint. Utilising fluid melismatic vocal runs and airy falsetto, she captured the sensual mood of the song, a welcome change from her usual throaty screams.

If Aguilera ever decides to focus on the Adult Contemporary market as her main target audience then this is the type of record she needs to create. A voice like hers needs to be heard but only at a lower volume. {TRENT}

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The Best You Never Heard: Kelly Rowland, Jazmine Sullivan, Olivia, & Kelis

best u never 10 The Best You Never Heard: Kelly Rowland, Jazmine Sullivan, Olivia, & Kelis

This week’s  Best You Never Heard features little known gems by Kelly Rowland, Jazmine Sullivan, Oliva and Kelis.

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Kelly Rowland – ‘The Show (ft. Tank)’

As many will recall, Kelly Rowland’s 2007 effort ‘Ms. Kelly’ was marred by shocking management, bad single choices, and poor promotion. Still, the Gold certified LP delivered many a gem – including the Tank-assisted ‘The Show’.

Perhaps the raciest of Rowland’s oft underrated efforts, ‘The Show’ features the Destiny’s Child star and the R&B crooner trading verses about the much treaded on ‘deed’. However, unlike countless other sensual cuts, the song employs clever metaphors and similes in staging the ‘act’ – instilling an aura of ‘tact’ and ‘class’ in an otherwise risqué subject matter. Vocally, Tank’s butter-smooth baritone and Rowland’s soprano are a matched made in R&B heaven. {SAM}

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Jazmine Sullivan – ‘Excuse Me’

In a time when R&B has been sidelined by consumers in favour of generic Pop hits, Jazmine Sullivan continues to satisfy the supporters of true artistry. ‘Excuse Me’ was included on the singer/songwriter’s critically acclaimed ‘Love Me Back’ LP, and serves as one of the record’s most compelling tracks.

Co-written and produced by Missy Elliott and Cainon Lamb, the song not only displays Sullivan’s technical skill but her ability to interpret the meaning of the lyrics, creating a truly believable performance.

‘Excuse Me’ demonstrates the exact reason why Sullivan’s talent is desperately needed in today’s music industry. Most acts are unable to carry a tune without the assistance of heavy production and auto-tune; hence a vocalist of her stature deserves our appreciation. {TRENT}

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Olivia – ‘Cherry Pop’

A victim of constant push-backs and label-politics, R&B songstress Olivia’s career has been quite the non-starter. Formerly a member of G-Unit, the singer’s sophomore effort ‘Behind Closed Doors’ (2005) indeed never saw the light of day. However morsels of material from the LP have since found their way onto the internet; with one of the most solid being the Missy Elliott produced ‘Cherry Pop’.

Boasting much in the way of Retro appeal, Elliott’s production on the racy cut gives a contemporary nod to 70’s Funk; with Oliva’s Old Skool vocal rasp further lacing it with both modern and Throwback sensibilities. Great track! {SAM}

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Kelis – ’22nd Century’

Regardless of its poor commercial performance, Kelis’ ‘Flesh Tone’ included a collection of brilliant Dance recordings. Of course, the standout song of the 9-track lineup was definitely ‘22nd Century’.

Laced with incredible the production provided by Boys Noize, the record truly has a unqiue futuristic appeal, allowing the distinct tone of Kelis’ voice to shine.

‘Flesh Tone’ is undoubtedly one of the most underrated albums released in the last year. However, judging by the current trend in music which is leaning toward more Dance-oriented material, Kelis may have simply been one step ahead of her peers – in the 22ndcentury to be precise.{TRENT}

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The Best You Never Heard: Beyonce, Brandy, Whitney Houston, & Mariah Carey

best u never 9 The Best You Never Heard: Beyonce, Brandy, Whitney Houston, & Mariah Carey

After a brief rest on the bench, our Best You Never Heard feature returns this week with little known gems by Beyonce, Brandy, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey.

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Beyonce – Forever to Bleed

For all Beyonce‘s success, critiques pertaining to the type of music she releases remain steadfast. Indeed, for as revered as the likes of ‘Check On It’, ‘Get Me Bodied’, and ‘Video Phone’ may be in the here and now, such songs beg the question of whether they can or should be performed years from now. For many, the answer is an emphatic ‘No’. Hence, arising, are valid questions surrounding whether Beyonce is truly putting her best foot forward creatively.

While yours truly continues to negotiate my own stance on the matter, I argue ‘Forever to Bleed’ to be a great step in the right direction for the superstar. Recorded in 2008 during the ‘I Am…Sasha Fierce’ sessions, the haunting ballad unfortunately never made the final cut. However, with its rich lyrical content and compellingly raw delivery, the song boasts a sincerity and authenticity too often lacking from the singer’s otherwise solid back-catalogue of hits. More of this please, Ms. Knowles. More of this. {SAM}

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Brandy – A Capella (Something’s Missing)

Despite her claims to the contrary, Brandy’s ‘Human’ did include some of her best work. This is exemplified by the spine-tingling vocal performance of ‘A Capella (Something’s Missing)’.

Produced by Soundz, the track features the full extent of Brandy’s astounding contralto range as she descends to unbelievable lows, even outperforming the capabilities of the added bass guitar.

There is no question that Brandy can execute some of the most fluid and well-timed vocal runs in the game but it is with this song that her abilities can be classed in the league of legendary singers such as the great Chaka Khan. {TRENT}

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Whitney Houston – For The Lovers

Lifted from Whitney Houston‘s Platinum selling comeback ‘I Look To You’ (2009), ‘For The Lovers’ serves as one of the LP’s strongest offerings. Primarily a home-run due to to its effortless encapsulation of the contemporary and the traditional, the Danja produced banger sits right in the thick of what’s hot in 2010, while also giving a retrospective nod to Houston’s 80′s hits such as ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’. What’s more, the track is one of the rare instances on an otherwise (good, yet) restrained album where we’re reminded of that ‘voice’ we grew to know, love, and for some, emulate. Indeed, present during the latter half are the trademark vocal runs, trinklets and isms which make a Whitney Houston track a…Whitney Houston track.

Why this was overlooked as a single is beyond me, as yours truly believes it posses an instant likability lacking from the grower that was ‘I Look To You’s lead rekease ‘Million Dollar Bill’. Still, single treatment or otherwise, the song goes hard! {SAM}

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Mariah Carey– Slipping Away

Mariah Carey has long been regarded as one of the industry’s best singer/songwriters and there is no better example of her musical prowess than ‘Slipping Away’.

Released as a B-Side to her enormously successful ‘Always Be My Baby’ from her diamond-certified ‘Daydream’ album, the record features the songbird combining the various colours of her incredible vocal range with the sound of classic 90’s R&B.

Lyrically impressive and melodically astute, this track is one of the many gems in Carey’s catalogue that display her true skill as an artist. Her voice has been glorified but her genius is gravely underrated. {TRENT}

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The Best You Never Heard: Danity Kane, Destiny’s Child, Johnta Austin, & Mary J. Blige

best u never 8 The Best You Never Heard: Danity Kane, Destinys Child, Johnta Austin, & Mary J. Blige

This week’s Best You Never Heard feature returns this week with little known gems by Danity Kane, Destiny’s Child, Johnta Austin, and Mary J. Blige.

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Danity Kane – Lights Out

Lifted from Danity Kane’s 2008 sophomore smash ‘Welcome to the Dollhouse’, ‘Lights Out’ served as one of the LP’s many highlights. Penned by band-member Dawn, and produced by newcomers Flex&Hated, the song served up a delicious slice of Urban-Pop – which no doubt have made a dent on the charts had it been released as a single. From its production, to its vocal arrangements to its lyrical dexterity, this is a home-run of a track if I ever heard one.

Unfortunately, the group – who were the nearest the industry had come to producing a Destiny’s Child successor, disbanded at the top of 2009 (see: Diddy, petty squabbles, and Bad Boy). Yet, with gems such as this, Aubrey, Dawn, Aundrea, Shannon, and D. Woods clearly made their mark. (SAM)

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Destiny’s Child – If

The release Destiny’s Child’s final album, ‘Destiny Fulfilled’, was a bittersweet experience for both fans and critics alike. However, the trio ensured that the record was packed with some of the best songs that they ever recorded. One such track was track #8 – ‘If’.

Vocally fluid and lyrically astute, the group harmonised with perfect synchronisation; engaging in carefully timed exchanges without missing a beat. Yet, what was most interesting about ‘If’ was the fact that it is one of the few songs in the entire Destiny’s Child catalogue that did not revolve around Beyonce. Not only did all of the girls get equal airtime but we finally got hear what they are capable of as a group instead of just Beyonce and her background singers. (TRENT)

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Johnta Austin – Turn It Up

Many of you will find the name Johnta Austin synonymous with monster hits such as ‘We Belong Together’ and ‘Be Without You’. Unsurprising as the singer-songwriter is the pen behind both chart-toppers and more.

Austin decided to step out from the shadows in 2007 with his debut LP ‘Ocean Drive’. Though the album never saw the light of day, it spawned the oh-so-stellar single ‘Turn It Up’. An R&B mid-tempo with a ‘thump’ (courtesy of producer Jermaine Dupri), the song manages to give a nod to many an R&B classic, while not being far from being one itself. Great track. (SAM)

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Mary J. Blige – Kitchen

There is a reason that Mary J. Blige is called the Queen of Hip-Hop/Soul – this woman always manages to evoke a wide range of emotions amongst her listeners. ‘Kitchen’ stands as a shining example of exactly how Blige manages to apply her incredible voice to lyrics reflecting real life experiences without sounding contrived or unnatural.

Utilising clever metaphors and a classic R&B melody, the diva and her co-writer, The-Dream, combine the essence of 1970’s Soul with modern production to create a song that proved to be a standout track on her ‘Stronger with Each Tear’ LP. If there is someone in life who is trying to take what’s yours and you want to send them a message then this is the song for you. Mashonda. (TRENT)

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The Best You Never Heard: Whitney, Jill Scott, The-Dream, & Cherish

best u never 7 The Best You Never Heard: Whitney, Jill Scott, The Dream, & Cherish

This week’s Best You Never Heard feature returns this week with little known gems by Whitney Houston & Deborah Cox, Jill Scott, The-Dream and Cherish.

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Whitney Houston & Deborah Cox – Same Script, Different Cast

For a collaboration of such magnitude, it’s surprising to note that so little has been made of Whitney Houston and Deborah Cox’s 2000 duet ‘Same Script, Different Cast’. Lifted from Houston’s multi-Platinum ‘Greatest Hits’ LP, the stirring ballad sees the divas soar to new vocal heights, over a soulful reinterpretation of Beethoven’s ‘Für Elise’

In an age where the beauty of great lyrics is almost entirely confined to the past, this is a potent reminder that an engaging story can skilfully be conveyed via song. Indeed, the track features Houston playing the former lover of Cox’s current boyfriend, warning Cox of his hurtful ways. Yet Cox refuses to acknowledge it, accusing Houston being jealous. A divas clash of epic proportions!

If ‘The Boy Is Mine’ had a sassier, older sister, this would be she! Awesome track.  (SAM)

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Jill Scott – The Real Thing

Serving as the title track from her 2007 release, ‘The Real Thing: Words and Sounds Vol. 3’, Jill Scott’s ‘The Real Thing’ demonstrates her versatility as both a songwriter and vocalist. The powerhouse singer gives the listener the opportunity to hear the restrained yet gritty side of her renowned voice while unleashing a wave of lyrical fire over the live instrumental.

Scott spits rhymes in the second verse with the precision of the most talented MCs; combining her Neo-Soul roots with her poetic skill. When it comes to being a true artist, Scott is definitely ‘the real thing’. (TRENT)

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The-Dream – Put It Down

Despite his inability to perform live, The-Dream has proven to be quite a proficient studio artist. This fact is most apparent on ‘Put It Down’ – the sexually-charged standout track from his ‘Love vs. Money’ LP.

Mr. Nash sores effortlessly through his illustrious falsetto, demonstrating the full capabilities of his upper registers. This is one of the few records on which Mr. Nash’s voice comes close to matching the heights of his enormous ego. Well, almost. (TRENT)

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Cherish – Chevy

Though now no longer together, sister-group Cherish served up many an underrated gem in their short stint on the music scene – cue ‘Chevy’. Taken from their 2006 debut ‘Unappreciated’, the track is best characterised as R&B bliss.

The Old School inspired car-bumper manages to not only be racy (with clever use of metaphors), it also remained age-appropriate for the ladies – who at the time were mostly in their teens. How or why this wasn’t a single, I have no idea! (SAM)

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The Best You Never Heard: Janet, Toni Braxton, Usher, & Mariah Carey

best u never heard 6 The Best You Never Heard: Janet, Toni Braxton, Usher, & Mariah Carey

After a brief rest on the bench, our Best You Never Heard feature returns this week with little known gems by Janet Jackson, Toni Braxton, Usher and Mariah Carey.

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Janet Jackson – LUV

Produced by Rodney ‘Darkchild’ Jerkins, ‘LUV’ was initially slated to be the follow-up to Janet Jackson’s 2008 comeback smash ‘Feedback’. And with good reason too.

A nod to the infectious, melodic brand of Pop-R&B Ms. Jackson served up on ‘All For You’, ‘LUV’ also boasts an Electro-Pop undertone. An undertone which firmly positions the song in the thick of what’s topping charts today.

While label politics derailed ‘Discipline’ (the album which housed the song), a positive can be sourced from the drama in that it produced one of Janet’s best musical offerings in years. Awesome track. (SAM)

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Toni Braxton – Stupid

Although her ‘Libra’ album failed to make a major splash on the charts, Toni Braxton‘s 2005 LP comprised some of her best work. A perfect example is ‘Stupid’ – a dark and lonely ballad about a lover scorned. It is on this track that listeners are reminded of Braxton’s rare contralto and her subtle genius as a songwriter. (TRENT)

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Usher – Making Love Into The Night

With Usher currently enjoying a career-resurgence thanks to the success of the Pop-tinged ‘Hey Daddy’ and ‘OMG’, one could be forgiven for thinking that ‘Pop’ is the crooner’s new mainstay.

However, as many a cut on his Platinum-selling ‘Raymond vs Raymond’ LP highlight, the 31 year old can still serve up sizzling Slow Jam. Case, point, example, ‘Making Love Into The Night’.

Produced by Jim Jonsin, and penned by Rico Love, ‘Making Love…’ is simply R&B perfection. A subtle fusing of the past and the present on the production tip, Usher’s vocals ride the beat with ease, sporadically lacing it with his trademark falsetto. More of this, please, Mr Raymond. (SAM)

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Mariah Carey – Everything Fades Away

Released as a B-Side to her mega hit Hero, ‘Everything Fades Away’ displays Mariah Carey‘s songwriting skills at their very best. Soulful, passionate and vocally astounding, Carey engages in a riverting interplay with her troop of male background singers to emulate the pain of a dying relationship. Songs like this helped Carey’s ‘Music Box’ to become her best-selling album to date with sales exceeding 30 million worldwide. Diva. (TRENT)

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The Best You Never Heard: Mya, Sugababes, Ciara & Smokie Norful

best u never heard 5 The Best You Never Heard: Mya, Sugababes, Ciara & Smokie Norful

After a brief rest on the bench, our Best You Never Heard feature returns this week with little known gems by Mya, Sugababes, Ciara and Smokie Norful.

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Mya – I Am

Mya’s last major label effort ‘Liberation ‘ironically remains caged after label mishaps and the poor performance of its singles forced it to be shelved. While what we did sample of the album was kinda hit and miss, the record did boast potential in the form of tracks such as the Kwame produced ‘I Am’. The gutsy up-tempo, saw the singer raunch it all the way up, in what is a very pro-female anthem. A great song!

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Sugababes – No More You

Despite the Sugababes’ most recent LP ‘Sweet 7’ being anything but ‘sweet’ (see: it’s dismal chart performance), the album did serve up a few gems – ‘No More You’ being one of its best. The haunting production courtesy of Stargate really compliments the song’s lyrics (which were penned by Ne-Yo); lyrics which Jade, Amelle, and Heidi do an awesome job of delivering – truly capturing the essence of the song. There’s no doubt this could easily be a hit for the ladies should they release it, or any other act for that matter.

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Ciara – Tell Me What Your Name Is

Song leaks and bad strategy brought Ciara’s ‘Fantasy Ride’ to an abrupt halt last year. However, despite its shortcomings, the project did yield winners such as the Dr Luke produced ‘Tell Me What Your Name Is’. A well-produced, breezy mid-tempo, with much in the way of playful sensuality.  One of Ms. Harris’ best offerings to-date.

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Smokie Norful – Run To You (Cover)

Gospel heavyweight Smokey Norful put his own spin on Whitney Houston’s classic ‘Run To You’ in 2006. Norful’s interpretation not only does the original justice, its tweaked lyrics open the song up to a whole new audience, while capturing an audience already familiar with the original. A skilled vocalist, whose tone favours John Legend, yet whose power is incomparable to contemporary secular acts, Norful turned in an amazing performance with this one.

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The Best You Never Heard:Ashanti, Fantasia, Alexandra Burke & Mario

best u never heard 4 The Best You Never Heard:Ashanti, Fantasia, Alexandra Burke & Mario

After a brief rest on the bench, our Best You Never Heard feature returns this week with little known gems by Ashanti, Fantasia, Mario and Alexandra Burke.

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Ashanti – You’re Gonna Miss

Ashanti‘s criminally underrated LP ‘The Declaration’ (2008) housed many a hit, with one of its best offerings being ‘You’re Gonna Miss’. Produced by LT Hutton, the 80′s inspired Synth-Pop meets R&B cut had ‘winner’ written all over it; which makes the lacklustre performance of the album (due to industry politics etc) all the more unfortunate. Still, regardless of the record’s eventual fate, we’ve still been gifted gems like this. Awesome track.

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Fantasia – Til My Baby Comes Home

The incomparable Fantasia served up the hotness on her remake of Luther Vandross’ ‘Til My Baby Comes Home’ from 2005. Lifted from ‘So Amazing…An All-Star Tribute To Luther Vandross’ compilation, the American Idol alum took the song to church and beyond! Passionately sung and really capturing the essence of the track’s lyrical narrative, Ms. Barrino’s version, IMO, gives the original an undeniable run for its money. Some 5 years later, I cannot get enough of ‘Tasia’s vocal runs and riffs on this one. The business.

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Alexandra Burke – Nothing But The Girl

It’s a given that X-Factor sensation Alexandra Burke has a level of talent which positions her as world-class. However the material on her otherwise successful debut ‘Overcome’ didn’t really provide her the firmest of foundations to showcase that (though she ‘s making the best of what’s she’s been given and nailing each and every live performance). The album does indeed boast a few gems though, one of the biggest stand-outs being ‘Nothing But The Girl’. Penned by Ne-Yo, the song is a delicious slice of Electro-Pop, with a side helping of R&B. If there’s any justice in the world (or her label lol) this has to be a single at some point in the albums shelf-life.

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Mario – Music For Love

R&B crooner Mario delivered his strongest offering yet with 2007′s ‘Music For Love’. Featured on the 24 yea old’s equally as great  ‘Go!’ LP, the track is a metaphorical nod to the art of making love. Though such a topic is much-treaded on territory in R&B, the song separates itself from the masses with ridiculously clever wordplay, which makes for it to sound sensual as opposed to sleazy. Some may call it a stretch, but this is a modern day R&B classic, which most certainly should have received the single treatment. Interestingly, a video was in the pipeline, yet was axed for unknown reasons.

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