Welcome back to TGJ Replay!
Designed much like our ‘Retro Rewind’ and ‘From the Vault’ features, ‘Replay’ is That Grape Juice‘s newest reflective segment to act as a written quest to re-spin the gems and jams of yesterday. Unlike its retrospective predecessors, ‘Replay’ looks to dust off and showcase entire albums (and eras) from a library of pop and Urban pop music hits.
Now, as fans ready themselves for the muchly anticipated follow-up to R&B diva Kelly Rowland‘s ‘Talk A Good Game,’ we reflect on the album that really put her on the genre’s map by her lonesome – ‘Ms. Kelly.’
“‘I wrote a lot on this album and I’ve had a wonderful time recording it. It’s a feelgood record; very intimate. It’s a sneak peak into my mind and heart. I listened to a lot of Whitney Houston for her vocals. I love her. I love Beyoncé’s voice, and I love Brandy. Those are three vocalists who inspire me. I love how different they are. I love how they take themselves to the next level.'” – Kelly Rowland, 2006
Join us as we flashback to 2007…
After a successful regrouping in 2004 with ‘Destiny Fulfilled,’ the next year saw the ladies of Destiny’s Child opt yet again to part ways to venture down respective solo paths. Group leader Beyonce would traipse back into the studio to put the finishing touches on her highly anticipated solo sophomore album ‘BDay’ and movies ‘Pink Panther’ and ‘Dreamgirls’ while Michelle Williams readied her heels for GAP and new forays into television and Broadway.
Unlike her bandmates, 2005 would see Kelly Rowland dodge another bite from the acting bug and go straight to work on her solo sophomore release, the follow-up to her 2002 debut album ‘Simply Deep.’ Lined with the moderate hit singles ‘Stole’ and ‘Can’t Nobody,’ ‘Deep’s gold U.S. sales – and later 2.5 million united moved worldwide – shone as proof of her viability as a solo star despite constant media and fan comparisons to the success of her former band and its hitmaking leader. This, in conjunction with stiffened competition in the form of Letoya Luckett, another of the group’s former members, who also landed a #1 album in 2006 with her self-titled debut project.
The ever-mounting pressure to succeed would finally be answered via ‘My Story’ – a mid-tempo and ballad-heavy affair reminiscent of ‘Fulfilled’ filled with deeply personal songs that, according to Rowland, were based on and collected from happenings in her life over the three years prior. Detailing the singer’s ‘love & relationship’ woes (a presumed reference to failed engagement to Dallas Cowboys star Roy Williams), the album – also like ‘Fulfilled’ – would be kicked off with an uptempo number completely unrepresentative of the body of work-at-large. Tapping ‘Gotsta Go’ as its inaugural single, the Da Brat-assisted jam would be unveiled at the year’s MTV Asia Awards ceremony.
Despite a warm critical reception, ‘Gotsta Go’ ended up living up to its own titling as Rowland found herself displeased with the general sonic nature of the tune and its parent album. Multiple unceremonious leaks of other material from ‘Story’ over the year not only repeatedly caused the album’s pushback, but sent the songstress back into the studio to rework its sound and concept to produce a fresher body of work.
Calling on the likes of Bryan Michael Cox, Scott Storch, Stargate, Rodney Jerkins, Robin Thicke, Tank, Polow Da Don, Rockwilder, and more, Rowland would (to some degree) ditch the “deeply personal” angle to put her artistic and vocal growth in the front seat. Acting as executive producer of the project, newly christened ‘Ms. Kelly,’ the album was set to show off the then-26 year old’s newfound confidence and creative maturity.
The first example of the aforementioned was found aboard the album’s new lead single ‘Like This.’
Launched March 2007, the tune – written by Sean Garrett – enlisted help from hitmaking rapstress Eve and was immediately lauded for its sassy lyrics and not-so-indirect jab at former-fiance Roy Williams.
Boasting slick choreography and a sexiness all but teased in the days of ‘Destiny Fulfilled,’ ‘Like This’ would further catapult the singer’s ascent into divadom by reshaping her image and see her slowly, but surely, shed the “safety” of her previous hints at sexuality.
By the time she regrouped with her DC3-bandmates for a one-time BET Awards performance of the number in summer 2007, it had already risen to #30 on the Hot 100 (where it peaked) and #7 on R&B charts.
The BET showing came afront a slew of media appearances and performances to promote the project across the globe. And, by July, the album’s first week chart performance proved those efforts far from futile.
On one hand, critics praised ‘Ms. Kelly’ for being an urban affair that flirted with fusions of progressive R&B, pop, crunk music, and rhythmic dance with a sonic diversity that was enough to keep Kelly’s “growth” familiar to fans without ever wandering into lanes of inauthenticity. More importantly, despite citing sounds from Beyonce, Brandy, and Whitney Houston as direct influences for those found on the album, Rowland’s inspiration was never lost on grounds of replication.
On the other hand, said critical reception manifested itself into a respectable inaugural week chart showing as the project soared to #6 on the wings of 86,700 sold. The feat not only gave the songstress her first top 10 on the Billboard 200, but the numbers remain her best first week sales to date.
To keep up the momentum, Rowland & co. originally tapped the seductive ‘Come Back’ as the follow-up to the album’s leading top 40 smash. That plan was later dashed, however, as label execs favored the Snoop Dogg-assisted ‘Ghetto’ instead.
The move not only came as a lowlight of the era, but also a huge misstep overall as it missed the Hot 100 entirely. To date, it is her worst performing single on the Hot 100 tally.
Rebound, however, proved itself only a few heel taps away as the team selected ‘Work’ as the album’s final international release. Unknown to some, ‘Work’ was originally due to be ‘Ms. Kelly’s leading single before the songstress requested ‘Like This’ be serviced to radio in its place. Initial fears that it lacked commercial viability were seemingly long gone by the time the song – lyrically and, to degrees, sonically reminiscent of her group’s 2004 comeback single ‘Lose My Breath’ – saw its rocking music video hit the airwaves.
A boost, in the form of an Indian-inspired remix by popular British production duo Freemasons, would skyrocket the single to even higher heights internationally. Working its way to the top 10 in England, Turkey, France, Switzerland, Greece, Italy, and more, it would only improve the songstress’s already sold solo impact on the European market and become her fourth most successful international release to date.
Stateside fans cried foul after ‘Work’ (its original and remix version) were both denied release in the US and the promotional buck ultimately stopped. While never officially released, Rowland was able to shoot a music video for the ever-sexy ‘Comeback,’ yet it too – alongside other intended single ‘Still In Love With My Ex’ – saw no support from Columbia.
When the dust settled, with no Grammy nomination, no top 20 singles, and barely 220k sold in the U.S., the album was considered by many to be a commercial failure. Alas, let us tell it, the record was a professional “investment” of sorts. Indeed, in its ability to not only increase Rowland’s social stardom on both sides of the pond, it birthed a number of professional ventures (see: ‘X Factor,’ endorsement deals) that have kept the singer’s name in mention with the genre’s leading ladies.
Additionally, as her last album under Columbia and the management of Matthew Knowles, it would allow her the creative freedom and control to locate a new label home that would treat her project (and the promotion thereof) as more of its priority. From there, as we know, the story would lead her to Universal Motown where she would birth her biggest hit to date – ‘Motivation ft. Lil Wayne.’
Lastly, the critical praise lent to ‘Ms. Kelly’ finally demonstrated the diva’s ability to stand on her own, give wings to a distinctive sound, and finally carve the individual niche that would separate her sonically from DC3 and, more importantly, Beyonce. For that, despite being one of the year’s most criminally underrated efforts, we salute the sophomore release of Kelly Rowland and look forward to what album #5 will bring later this year!
Now, while we still bump ‘Every Thought Is You’ (which clearly deserved to be a single), tell us: