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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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The Best You Never Heard: Kelly Rowland, The Saturdays, Mary Mary & Mariah

best u never heard 3 The Best You Never Heard: Kelly Rowland, The Saturdays, Mary Mary & Mariah

This week’s edition of Best You Never Heard features little known gems by Kelly Rowland, The Saturdays, Mary Mary and Mariah Carey.

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Kelly Rowland – Love Again

Though the label handling of the re-release of Kelly Rowland‘s ‘Ms. Kelly’ in 2008 left a lot to be desired, the fact it yielded the stunningly beautiful ‘Love Again’ made the whole project worth it IMO. Without question, the best the 28 year old has sounded on track to date, the stripped back, sparse production really allows for the force that can be Kelly’s voice to soar to emotive heights I hadn’t previously thought possible (in being 100% honest). If ever there was a little known track I wish could be included on her forthcoming project, it would be this, so as for the masses to really see that my girl has got pipes! Here’s hoping there’s similar sounding tracks, which showcase her vocals to their full potential, on her hotly anticipated 3rd solo album.

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The Saturdays – Fall

Lifted from The Saturdays’ self-titled Platinum 2008 debut, stirring ballad ‘Fall’ hands-down serves as one of the ladies best offerings to date. Though overlooked as single in favour of the album’s more popier/radio-friendly cuts, this Ina Wroldsen penned number really drove home the potential the group have beyond the Pop niche they’ve fallen into. With lyrics which give a refreshingly darker take on a a relationship break-up, as well as stellar vocals (largely from lead singer Vanessa), this is a must-have for one’s music collection. Awesome track!

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Mary Mary – Believer

As mentioned previously, I have a soft-spot for crossover Gospel (aka Gospel music which sounds like everything else I usually listen to!) Sister duo Mary Mary have carved out a niche for serving up such gems since bursting onto the scene in 2000 with their smash ‘Shackles’.  One of the pair’s best tracks IMO is 2005′s ‘Believer’ from their self-titled LP released the same year. Perhaps the most lyrically engaging and thought-provoking song I’ve heard in…well…forever…this ultimately is made even better by such lyrics are over a banging beat. This one knocks!

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Mariah Carey – Melt Away

Though somewhat a controversial statement, ‘Butterfly’ and ‘The Emancipation of Mimi’ aside, Mariah Carey actually hasn’t released much in the way of a solid album from start to finish IMO. Instead, each of her LP’s boast stand-out cuts which further enhance the quality of her extensive back-catalogue. One of my all-time favourites comes in the form of ‘Melt Away’ from her 1995 album ‘Daydream’. Produced by Babyface, the breezy mid-tempo stands as one of Mariah’s first forays into outright R&B – and arguably one of her best. An updated take on this sound is the sort of music I’d happily lap up from Mimi for her next LP.

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The Best You Never Heard: Jennifer Hudson, The-Dream, Stevie Wonder & Brandy

best The Best You Never Heard:  Jennifer Hudson, The Dream, Stevie Wonder & Brandy

This week’s edition of Best You Never Heard features little known gems by Jennifer Hudson, The-Dream, Stevie Wonder and Brandy.

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Jennifer Hudson – Invisible

As seemingly one of the few who didn’t wholesomely enjoy Jennifer Hudson‘s 2008 self-titled debut, for me ‘Invisible’ – alongside lead single ‘Spotlight’ – stood far and above the rest of the album’s material. Produced by The Underdogs, the anthem-esque mid-tempo ballad is delivered with such conviction, rawness, emotion that one can’t help but ‘feel’ what Ms. Hudson is singing – the testament IMO to a great song and a an even better singer. Awesome track.

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The-Dream – She Needs My Love

2007 saw the emergence of songwriter The-Dream into the limelight with his smashing debut LP ‘Love/Hate’. Full to the brim with box-fresh hits, the album is best described as one of those where almost every track could have viably been a single – especially the steamy ‘She Needs My Love’. Put simply, the song is audio-fire! From the catchy hooks, to Dream’s trademark layered vocal arrangements, to the production (sparse cowbell driven verses which launch into a rousing chorus), this still goes hard today.

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Stevie Wonder – So What The Fuss

The legendary Stevie Wonder served up more of his classic brilliance, this time with a modern twist, with 2005′s ‘So What The Fuss’ (lifted from his ‘A Time To Love’ LP). Featuring Prince on bass and EnVogue on background vocals, this raw slice of funk re-positioned Stevie as a legend whose new music can stand effortlessly beside today’s chart-topping hits, whilst preserving the high quality we’ve come to expect from him.

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Brandy - Camouflage

R&B vocalist Brandy served up one of, if not ‘the’, best album of her career in 2008 with the release of the criminally underrated ‘Human’ record. Despite its lack of commercial success, the album will be best remembered IMO as serving up track after track of sheer brilliance – especially ‘Camouflage’. Produced by Rodney ‘Darkchild’ Jerkins and penned by Claude Kelly, Ms. Norwood entered new territory with this markedly Pop, organic guitar-heavy cut.  Yet she manages to ride the track flawlessly, really capturing the essence of what the song is about – a celebration of human  fragility and imperfectness. Great track.

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The Best You Never Heard: Michael Jackson, Wyclef / Claudette, Kirk Franklin & Teedra Moses

best u never heard 2 The Best You Never Heard: Michael Jackson, Wyclef / Claudette, Kirk Franklin & Teedra Moses

This week’s edition of Best You Never Heard features  little known gems by Michael Jackson, Wyclef and Claudette Ortiz, Kirk Franklin and Teedra Moses.

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Michael Jackson – Unbreakable (ft. Notorious B.I.G)

While the world unsurprisingly gravitated toward Michael Jackson‘s classic songs in the wake of his death earlier this year, I found myself doing the same, yet also reaffirming my appreciation for his ‘newer’ music. Taken from 2001′s ‘Invincible’, Jackson’s last studio LP -  ‘Unbreakable’ stands as one of my favourite of his more recent offerings. Produced by Rodney ‘Darkchild’ Jerkins and featuring the late, great Notorious B.I.G, this epic piano-driven cut oozes funk, with a MJ’s trademark stamp on it. Without a doubt, had ‘hit’ written all over it; interestingly this was initially supposed to be a single (accompanied by a big budget video), however contractual disputes with his label Sony K.O’ed such plans. Tidbit: R&B star Brandy features on backing-vocals.

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Wyclef & Claudette Ortiz – Dance Like This

Upon hitting ‘play’ on this one, many of you will immediately think back to Wyclef and Shakira‘s 2005 smash ‘Hips Don’t Lie’. Indeed, ‘Dance Like This’ (recorded a year earlier), which features former City High singer Claudette Ortiz on lead vocals, sounds almost identical to ‘Hips’ – only with different lyrics. With both produced by and featuring Wyclef, it appears he simply tweaked Claudette’s version, which featured on the soundtrack to ‘Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights’ (straight-to-DVD) for Ms. Shakira, Shakira. With ‘Hips’ blowing up and becoming the hit it did,  very few are in the know about the original – which I would argue is the better of the two versions; this primarily due to the superior vocals and all-round more logical lyrcial content. Randomness: Come to think of it, where the hell is Claudette, she’s so talented?

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Kirk Franklin – How It Used To Be

I’m a sucka for ‘crossover’ Gospel tracks, and few come harder on that front than Kirk Franklin, particularly on ‘How It Used To Be’. Said to have been produced by hitmaker Bryan-Michael Cox, this stirring piano-ballad has a ‘knock’ that would see it sit comfortably beside Mary J’s ‘Be Without You’ and similar sounding songs. More over, however, the vocals and vocal arrangements cut deep, really evoking emotion. Great, great song.

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Teedra Moses – Backstroke

Soulful songstress Teedra Moses served up an R&B classic in the form of her debut LP ‘Complex Simplicity’. As hard as I try, I cannot remember where I stumbled upon the CD, yet what I do remember quite vividly is playing it on my iPod one night in 2005, while laying in bed. The intention was to see what the growing underground buzz was about…let’s just say I started a love-affair with the album there and then, an affair which still holds strong today. A particular album stand-out is ‘Backstroke’, which is best described as sensuality epitomised. With it’s suggestive coos and convincing vocal delivery, this stands as testament to the undeniable talent that is Teedra Moses. Tidbit: Still waiting on her sophomore LP ‘The Young Lioness’!

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The Best You Never Heard: Madonna, Mariah, Leona Lewis & Metro City

best you never heard The Best You Never Heard: Madonna, Mariah, Leona Lewis & Metro City

It’s back! After being rested on the bench for almost a year, our much-loved Best You Never Heard feature returns this week. For new(er) That Grape Juice readers, The Best You Never Heard is a once weekly feature which showcases great songs which aren’t known (as much as they should be) to the masses. This week’s edition features little known gems by Madonna, Mariah Carey, Leona Lewis and R&B quartet Metro City.

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Madonna – Dance 2night (ft. Justin Timberlake)

Lifted from Madonna’s 2008 effort ‘Hard Candy’, ‘Dance 2night’ is a lush throwback to her Madegesty’s 80′s heydey. The Justin Timberlake produced (and featured) cut boasts a thumping bassline over a funky Electro-Pop groove. Why this wasn’t a single in some capacity really baffles me, as it’s hand-down the album’s best song next to ’4 Minutes’.

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Mariah Carey – For The Record

Though Mariah Carey’s 2008 LP ‘E=MC2′ was argued by many to be a let-down (myself included), it’d be unfair to deny that it features a song or two which can be deemed some of her best work. Indeed, the Brian M Cox produced ‘For The Record’ not only serves as the album’s biggest highlight, it stands as one of my favourite Mariah cuts ever.  A ballad with that ‘knock’, ‘Record’ easily completes the trinity of recent Mimi classic ballads (‘We Belong Together’, ‘Don’t Forget About Us’). From the lyrical content which makes you ‘feel’ what she’s singing, to her outstanding vocal delivery (I’m almost certain this was recorded during the ‘Emancipation’ era), this is – to it bluntly – the business. I’d certainly welcome more tracks in the vein of this for future Mariah releases.

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Leona Lewis – Take A Bow

Singing sensation Leona Lewis has taken the world by storm since hitting the scene back in 2006. While I feel some of her released material has been a bit hit and miss, when the East-Londoner knocks it out of the park she knocks it all the way out! This is perhaps best evidenced on ‘Take A Bow’, which featured on her debut LP ‘Spirit’. An edgier ballad than we’re used to hearing from Ms. Lewis, this one exudes a real epic aura, which is bolstered by her progressively soaring vocals. Awesome track.

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Metro City – Be Without You (Mary J Blige Cover)

Male R&B quartet Metro City, who I’m sure this is the first time you’re hearing of, delivered this stunning rendition of Mary J Blige’s ‘Be Without You’ in 2007. For the life of me, I cannot even remember how I stumbled upon this one, yet for a hot minute I played this more than the original. Unlike your typical cover version, this studio-recorded take on the song features tweaked lyrics, as well great (new) harmonies and arrangements. A winner.

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