The Mishandling of Kelly Rowland’s ‘Talk A Good Game’ Album

Kelly Rowland Talk A Good Game

Kelly Rowland Talk A Good Game

I just got off the phone with a girlfriend of mine, who has been dealing with a love triangle between her boyfriend and her cousin. Long story short and not to spread her business, I insisted she listen to Kelly Rowland’s “Number One,” lifted from her recent album, “Talk A Good Game.”

Her response to me suggesting her the track was quite humorous. “Number One? That wasn’t on my “Here I Am” album,” she said. After chuckling, two thoughts came to mind.

One, “Do people not know Kelly had an album out this year?” and two, “Why have fans and even Ms.Rowland, herself forgotten about the new album?”

Her fourth studio album “Talk A Good Game” (originally titled “Year of the Woman”) served as the follow-up to her moderately successful 2011 release “Here I Am.”

Now before we can talk about “Talk A Good Game” and its absence from the hearts and minds of fans, we must touch a bit on “Here I Am” an album that marked Rowland’s first release since her departure from long-time manager Mathew Knowles and her label Columbia Records.

Here-I-Am

The “Simply Deep” artist had trouble finding her niche with the album after receiving very little airplay with “Rose Colored Glasses” and “Grown Woman” in the US.  However, in April 2011, Rowland showed the world her sexy side with a Rico Love penned track  called “Motivation.” While the song was catchy, it was by no means stellar. Nonetheless, it helped the “Like This” singer notch a top 20 hit  (No.17) on the Hot 100 and reach No.1 on the R&B chart.

Now play close attention  because I’m going to hit the high points on how things crumbled for the “Here I Am” era. First, Rowland rode the coat-tail of “Motivation” for literally six months.Then after she getting the back-end from promoting it, she finally moved to her next single “Lay It On” me with Big Sean, which underperformed on the charts. The song peaked No.43 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and didn’t see the light of day on the Hot 100.

After reaching some success overseas with her international single “Down for Whatever” the project was swept under the kitchen table of “shoulda, coulda, woulda’s” when she returned to UK’s X-Factor, where she later resigned in 2012.

In a nutshell, we wouldn’t be discussing “The Mishandling of Kelly Rowland’s “Talk A Good Game” album if Rowland had continued promoting “Here I Am.” But I digress.

Any who, Rowland returned in July 2012 with “Ice” the original first single to her fourth album. She recruited Lil’ Wayne once again but unlike “Motivation,” “Ice” melted on the charts, only peaking No. 24 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and No.88 on the Hot 100. The song also failed to appear on the finished album.

It seemed Rowland had a potentially great single on her hands when  “Number One” released in December 2012. However, instead of going with the confident track as her lead single for “Talk A Good Game,” the “Can’t Nobody” artist waited until January 2013 to announce “Kisses Down Low” as the official lead single to her fourth studio album. kelly-kisses-down-low

Produced by Mike WiLL Made It, the seductive yet direct tune was right up Rowland’s alley as she started gaining a reputation for being an R&B diva who sung sex driven records.  During the first week of February, “Kisses Down Low” entered the top 50 of Urban radio at No.49 with 236 total radio spins. A month later, the song entered Rhythmic radio at No.49 as well.

Before releasing her lead single’s music video in March, Rowland changed the title of her album. During an interview at the 2013 GRAMMYs, she felt the  previous title (“Year of the Woman”) didn’t fit her new-found lyrical vocabulary.

“I recorded 50 songs and condensed it down and it tells a different story,” she said. “It’s way more intimate and a lot of it is some slick stuff that I’m saying out of my mouth, some things I can’t even believe I’m saying.”

After the video premiered and the single ran its course, the song peaked No.9 on Billboard’s R&B Songs, No.25 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and No.72 on the Hot 100.

To garner attention for her fourth studio album and to take the spotlight off the underperformance of “Kisses Down Low,” she announced Beyoncé and Michelle Williams would appear on her new album. “It’s not a Destiny’s Child track, it’s me featuring Beyoncé and Michelle,” said Rowland to Billboard.

Now as Rowland plotted her next move, in April 2013, the “Train on a Track” songstress was recruited by Fantasia for her second single “Without Me” lifted from her album “Side Effects of You.” Later that month, it was confirmed Rowland and The-Dream would hit the road for a joint tour ( “Lights Out”) to promote their forthcoming albums.

Before ending the month of April, Rowland revealed the release date for her “Talk A Good Game” album – an album she felt channeled the early sounds of New Edition, Pebbles and Babyface. “[It] feels like everything I wanted to make as far as music and R&B,” said Rowland. “I wanted to make sure my roots were really pronounced on this album.”

In early May, Rowland unveiled a laundromat inspired video-teaser for her second single “Dirty Laundry.” The emotional song written and produced by The-Dream showcased a more vulnerable artist as she opened up about a stormy relationship with an ex-boyfriend. It also simplified her feelings toward Beyoncé after Destiny’s Child was put to an end. Kelly-Rowland-Second-Single

“Dirty Laundry” entered Urban radio later that month (No.49) and peaked No.14 on July 5. While the song caught the attention of many, it wasn’t enough to help it chart well. The song became a top 20 hit on Billboard’s R&B Songs (No.14), No.47 on Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and didn’t register on the Hot 100.

Along with the release of “Dirty Laundry” in May, Rowland dropped her collaboration with Beyoncé and Michelle Williams (“You Changed”) and was announced as the new judge of X-Factor’s U.S. edition.

*Side-note* [The announcement as judge on X-Factor will be the cause of a chain events].

Even though she became the new judge on X-Factor, she didn’t push back her album date from June 18. “Talk A Good Game” arrived as expected and debuted at No.4 on the Billboard 200, selling  67,886 in its first week sales. It became her lowest opening sales to date.

After five weeks on the Billboard 200, Rowland’s fourth studio effort had fallen from 4-11-19-23-45. During this time Rowland announced on her website KellyRowland.com, the next single would be “Gone” ft. Wiz Khalifa – which was unsuccessful in making an impact on radio or album sales. By the album’s eighth week on the Billboard 200, it stood at No.82. According to Chart News, as of December 7, “Talk A Good Game” has sold 176,000 copies since June 18.

Following my synopsis of  “Talk A Good Game” era –  I can now share my three reasons on why this album has been forgotten due to poor marketing and strategic planning.

Causes to the mishandling of  Kelly Rowland’s “Talk A Good Game” Album 

– The second single choice – “Dirty Laundry”
– New gig as X-Factor judge
– Lack of devotion to an album

Let’s address the single choice of “Dirty Laundry.” For starters, The Dream-penned single screamed album filler from day one of  its release. While it was touching to see Rowland express herself in a way we haven’t seen her before, it would have been appreciated to hear it once fans purchased the album – not blasting on the local station on a daily basis. She didn’t even perform the single on any daytime or late night television but performed tracks like “This Is Love,” Street Life and “Gone” though – all not singles at the time.

A suitable follow-up single to “Kisses Down Low” could have been “Gone” featuring Wiz Khalifa. Sampling Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” the Harmony Samuels produced track found the Destiny’s Child diva going with her gut and leaving her trifling man for good. The song had the urban appeal along with another crossover factor (Wiz Khalifa) to become a successful second single.  Then the remix performance of the track at this year’s  Black Girls Rock with Sevyn Streeter and Eve would not have been so – random. It would have been welcomed as it would have received spins on radio to help the original song chart higher.

Next, the announcement as a new judge on X-Factor. There’s nothing wrong with musical artists moonlighting but when you’re planning to release an album and have prior obligations set i.e. joint tours, it’s ok to turn down offers. However, Rowland wasn’t willing to turn down her X-Factor coins to fully promote her fourth studio effort.

With taking on the new role as X-Factor judge, it came with a high price. It caused many problems not only for herself but The-Dream. She agreed to co-headline a tour with the singer/songwriter but had it cancelled and rescheduled in a matter of days after the announcement to accommodate her. It went from a 22-city trek to dropping like the price of reduced milk to 5-cities.

While The-Dream may have supported his tourmate and her decision, this caused him not to fully promote his “IV Play” album as he planned.  Although, Rowland planned to return with a “bigger and better show” for her “RowlandStones” she has failed to deliver.

In September 2013, the third season of X-Factor premiered on FOX. Throughout the 22 episodes of the singing competition, Rowland hasn’t used one opportunity to grab the microphone and perform any songs from “Talk A Good Game.”  But that’s where the last and final reason for the demise of the album comes into place.

Rowland has no devotion to a studio album. According to RIAA,  her 2002 debut “Simply Deep” is her ONLY album to received album certification which was gold (selling over 500,000 copies). Her 2011 release “Here I Am” had the future to at least reach gold, however, she failed to capitalize on success of “Motivation” in a timely fashion.

The “Dilemma” artist has seemed to be shell shocked after the immediate success of  the latter tune to where she puts more time into chasing the hottest producer and trying to guarantee herself a hit. While there isn’t any wrong with following the latest trend to stay in heavy rotation on radio – there’s so much valuable time wasted with an album – by your label, your manager, musicians and producers and songwriters, among others.

These musicians and producers could have given these instrumentals to another artist who was eager to put it on their album and make the song a hit. Same for songwriters, their clever hooks and melodic lyrics shouldn’t be left on the back burner of your mistakes because you fail stay committed to a project.

Instead of creating an album – go with an EP or start releasing singles every now and then. Just stop getting your fans and yourself hyped for a moment in time to only let them and yourself down in the long run.

Hopefully Rowland will act like “Talk A Good Game” didn’t happen and take her time with her fifth album which may not be far away as she recently revealed she has a new project in the works.

Follow Antwane on Twitter @9thWonderOfPR .

12 Comments

  1. precisely. she’s lazy. tagg was much better than the album before that. hell, it’s one of the better r&b albums released all year. but kelly doesn’t put in the work to ensure she sells above 200k. yes, r&b is not the commercial force it once was, but that shouldn’t deter an artist from promoting. her future is very bleak, but all the best to her.

    1. Everyone has been saying that Kelly’s future is very bleak from back in 2002 and called her lazy..yet she is still around in 2013..very relevant and about to create a 5th studio album…all of you so called Fortune tellers can have a seat..Not every artist is even allowed to have the luxury that she has…while this article is a great insight on opinion..no one knows the facts…. and FYI to the writer of this article..do more research on Kelly Rowland’s achievements before you criticize her failures..so criticize all you wish..but Kelendria will always be around

      1. Well this article wasn’t about her achievements. It was to point out the reasons why yet another one of her albums underperformed. So thanks for reading the facts.

    2. She’s far from lazy, She’s just prioritizing her time to focus on the most profitable career moves. She stays working. That’s why she’s been a judge on both the US and UKs X factor for several seasons now. She’s probably making more money doing those gigs and releasing random singles than putting out full length albums.

  2. I don’t know why she keeps going in the studio, if she’s not going to promote and perform the music everywhere she can. Just save your money, raise your family, and get your coins in other avenues. I love you girl, but this is disappointing.

  3. You don’t make money from music anymore.With the way recording contracts are written, even if an artist goes platinum they could still end up owing the record label after all the costs of promotion and recording are deducted. Even the biggest music stars like Rihanna and A Beyonce are making more dough from touring, endorsements, and other ventures than the sale of their actual music. Those ‘coins’ (probably a few MILLION a season ) that Kelly gets from judging all those X Factor Shows are probably more than she would’ve gotten from the proceeds of all her solo albums combined.

  4. This article was a very accurate description of Kelly Rowland. I think Kelly’s biggest issue is that she had yet to discover her own voice in music. Every album is a mesh of other artists, and has to be “played for Beyonce”. Kelly doesn’t trust her own ear and is very unsure of a musical direction, which is why her music is all over the place (that last album was full of fillers).
    She should go somewhere and learn how to self reflect, write songs and play music. I think she has a testimony and really needs to focus on one task at a time. Until then, she should stop wasting people’s time and money recording in studios.

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Kelly Rowland and DJ Camper Hit the Studio

It’s been four years since Kelly Rowland last put out an album but don’t count her out — she’s working. The 36-year-old singer was spotted in the studio with producer Darhyl “DJ” Camper.

Camper has been contributed to some of the hottest R&B projects this year including Ledisi’s Let Love Rule, H.E.R.’s H.E.R. Vol. 2 and Mary J. Blige’s Strength of a Woman. This is already a great sign for Rowland who hasn’t released an album since 2013’s, Talk a Good Game, which missed the ball in a successful album roll out.

Rowland released a snippet of a song titled “Conceited” last year but a full version hasn’t surfaced. But like they always say, “Out with the old and in with the new.”

Photo Courtesy of DJ Camper’s Instagram

Who is ready to hear the heat DJ Camper and Kelly Rowland are making? 

10 Years Later: A Retrospective of Mary J. Blige’s ‘Growing Pains’ Album

Bryan-Michael Cox, Johnta Austin, Jazze Pha and Ne-Yo exclusively share some of their memories working on the timeless album with Rated R&B.

On Dec. 18, 2007, Mary J. Blige released her eighth studio album, Growing Pains, the follow-up to her chart-topping 2005 LP, The Breakthrough.

Surpassing the commercial success of The Breakthrough — which debuted at No. 1 with 727,000 copies sold in the first week — could have added pressure to Blige while creating its forerunner, but it didn’t.

Before releasing Growing Pains, Blige told Target in a press interview, “The Breakthrough wasn’t done to be critically acclaimed. It was done for the love of my fans and what I dealing with. Yes, we love all the glory and the success but the follow-up will be smooth because now we know exactly what to do and where we’re going. I’m serious about my fans so I’m not even worried about making the hottest record in the world. I’m worried about making something that will connect with my fans.”

Although Blige was determined to share songs that would resonate with her fans, it could be well argued that her then label, Geffen Records, was focused on nabbing another profitable single like “Be Without You.” The love anthem topped the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart for 15 weeks and spent 75 weeks on the chart, making it the most successful single in the history of the chart. The question everyone wondered, “Could Blige beat its success?”

Bryan-Michael Cox, songwriter-producer of the monstrous single, exclusively tells Rated R&B, “I think it’s always a little bit of pressure, especially from the label, to duplicate that success. You always want to outdo the last one. We don’t live in a space of where we are basking in the glory of one record. We want to make the next one better than the last one.” Blige did just that … far beyond chart achievements though.

After adjusting to the overwhelming but deserved attention of The Breakthrough, a rejuvenated Blige reappeared on popular FM radio stations with “Just Fine” in the fall of 2007. Supported by cheerfully synth playback and rosy lyrics, the new record steered vastly away from the colors of her past works.

As early studio sessions began with Blige, Terius “The-Dream” Nash, Christopher “Tricky” Stewart and Jazze Pha, the latter contributor vividly remembers the day he found out it would be the lead single. “When I was playing the drums for the beginning, she was like, ‘This is my single. This is what I need. I’m feeling happy,’” says Pha.

“Fine” wasn’t the pilot to Blige’s blissful music shift. Her 2003 release Love & Life heard a spiritually augmented Blige professing a new perspective. Despite that optimistic transformation, however, it wasn’t as chirpy as “Just Fine” and the music that followed.

While Blige’s choice to shy away from her music norm rattled some of her core fans, “Just Fine” contributor Jazze Pha recalls why she opted to make this artistic change. “She talked about how people always want her to be depressed Mary. She wanted to let people know that she wasn’t somewhere around here crying. At that time she was happy. She was alright, living life.”

Regarding how fans would respond to Blige’s sunny new recording, Pha tells us, “I already knew fans were going to love [“Just Fine”]. It was upbeat but it was still Mary. It didn’t feel like something she was trying that was out on the limb somewhere for her or her fans. It felt right in the middle for her fans. It was different … but it still felt good for them.” This statement proved to be correct.

The hopeful single reached No. 3 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and No. 22 on Hot 100. The gold-selling track also received two Grammy nominations, including Best Female R&B Vocal Performance in 2008 and Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical.

Although Blige didn’t win a Grammy for “Just Fine,” that didn’t stop her from giving it her all in every televised performance, especially during the 2007 American Music Awards that November. Rihanna, for one, couldn’t help herself from dancing and singing along.

With the official release date for Growing Pains concrete and “Just Fine” taking off, Blige’s then label released “Work That,” another empowering track. Co-penned by Sean Garrett, the Theron “Neff-U” Feemster-produced cut championed self-confidence and encouraged listeners, mainly women, to be themselves.

In mid-November 2007, Blige found herself and “Work That” attached to an iTunes advertisement for the latest iPod. Shortly afterward, Blige shot a music video for the sisterhood anthem, but it never saw the light of day.

Despite the “Work That” music video being shelved, the empowering homiletic attained Blige another top 20 single on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. The album rollout continued as well with Blige working the television circuit with major appearances.

One memorable TV moment showed Blige playing CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute on Dec. 6, 2007. Poised and vocally prepared, the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul introduced “Come to Me (Peace),” the closing track of Growing Pains. All about forgiveness and mending what’s been broken, the lyrics nabbed at the heartstrings of all six honorees and viewers at home.

After a few more daytime and late night guest appearances and performances of “Just Fine,” Growing Pains became physically and digitally accessible for fans. Occupied by crisper vocals, more modern but fitting instrumentation, and a refined view on love and life, Growing Pains cemented itself as her most polished album since 1999’s Mary. Simply put, it’s AN ALBUM.

We had the privilege of speak to a few songwriters, producers and contributors about four tracks from Blige’s Grammy-winning album. We also chatted with her makeup artist about the simplistically elegant album cover shoot.

Talk to Me
Written by Mary J. Blige, Eric Hudson, Johnta Austin, Verdine White and Robert Wright. Produced by Eric Hudson.

Out of the 16 tracks on Growing Pains, “Talk to Me” is the only record that includes a sample. Orchestrated by Eric Hudson, he used production elements of “Key to My Heart” by The Emotions for heart-piercing tune, co-penned by Blige and Johnta Austin.

Over this bluesy sample, Blige’s voice and soul shined, especially at the 2:19 mark, as she pleaded for her stubborn mate to communicate his true feelings. “Let’s break down all the barriers standing in our way. Get over yourself for me. I’ll get over myself for you. Let’s get over ourselves for us. Let’s start today, yeah.”

Co-composer Austin, he says his conversation with Blige for “Talk to Me” was similar to those they’d had during previous collaborations. “We would discuss where she was in life and how she wanted to convey a real emotion and description in the writing and everything built from that.”

If You Love Me?

Written by Bryan-Michael Cox, Johnta Austin & Mary J. Blige. Produced by Bryan-Michael Cox.

From “Till the Morning” to “Feel Like a Woman,” Growing Pains presented fans with a healthy balance of fast speed and moderate pace songs. Cox and Austin brought Blige to back to home court with “If You Love Me?”

Backed by hand claps, whispers of “yes” and a beautiful piano, Blige requested her helpmate to prove his love for her in his actions instead of his words. The hip-hop soul pioneer rides beat the second verse in classic MJB form, “Now for the past three weeks you’ve been dipping, slipping, running round. Through the city. Through the town. Wait, what you doing?”

Surprisingly, the song wasn’t originally written for Blige. “That was actually a record that we did for Monica,” Cox tells Rated R&B. “I played it for Mary at one of our sessions just by accident. We had held the record so long that I forgot that Clive [Davis] had it on hold. When I played it for Mary, she was like, ‘I want that song.’ She cut the song, then I remembered I was like, ‘Oh snap, we did this song for Monica.’ It was kind of like Mary wanted it right then, so we gave it to her and she killed it. She flipped a few things, changed some lyrics here and there, but she killed it.”

Now that Blige had “If You Love Me?” in her zipped album folder, Cox had to break the news to the After the Storm singer. “When it went down, that was my problem to fix,” he says. “Of course, Monica is my sister and she knew that Clive was holding that record for no reason. So, through conversations … of course, I had to go and make it right, and we made Still Standing.”

Shake Down (feat. Usher)

Lyrics and Melody by Mary J. Blige, The-Dream & Usher Raymond. Produced by Christopher “Tricky” Stewart and Jazze Pha.

In addition to “Just Fine,” Jazze Pha contributed to two other tracks, including “Shake Down,” featuring Usher. Using metaphors powered by passion and favorable love rulings, the vocals of the two music titans blend easily over the colorfully eccentric production.

Ahead of the mastered version of “Shake Down,” the Atlanta native flashes back to Blige being front and center during the makings of the record. Something she had never witnessed, according to Pha. “With all those records that she’s made, she had never sat there while [producers] made the music from start to finish. She said, ‘Even when she worked with Puff, all the song were already ready when she got to the studio.’”

While Pha had a beat in mind prior to their session, he says, “I stripped it down and revamped it with the new music. I started the drums, and of course Tricky [Stewart] came in with the keys on the record. Then The-Dream started writing to it before it was complete. Tricky built the music around what The-Dream had done vocally.”

Looking back on whose vision it was to get MJB and Ush on the same track, Pha believes, “It was The-Dream’s idea. We were already working with Usher at the same time as Mary for his Here I Stand album. It made sense.”

Stay Down

Written by Mary J, Blige, Bryan-Michael Cox, & Johnta Austin. Produced by Bryan-Michael Cox.

Succeeding the release of Blige’s official singles “Just Fine” and “Work That,” it appeared Geffen Records marketing compass needed batteries. Dre & Vidal’s “Hurt Again,” a 70’s-themed melancholy ballad served as the intended third and final single. Gaining enough radio airplay to peak at No. 55 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, the single was quickly replaced by Cox and Austin’s soul-stirring ballad “Stay Down.”

Earlier listeners couldn’t help but express their opinions on how “Stay Down” mirrored the writing blueprint of Blige’s award-winning single “Be Without You.” Although this fan theory still causes some unpopular criticism, Austin offers a simple rebuttal once and for all. “Maybe in some of the cadences and flow of the melody, but we definitely weren’t thinking about ‘Be Without You’ when writing [“Stay Down”],” he tells Rated R&B. He continues, “Moments like ‘Be Without You’ are sometimes lighting in a bottle and you can’t create in a way that forces trying to catch it that way again.”

Cox adds, “What’s crazy is people were a little critical then but now people go back to that song and talk about how much they love that song. It’s kind of interesting to see how a song ages.”

Contrary to “Just Fine” and “Work That,” the Cox-produced track didn’t see top 20 or much success on radio formats. But Cox renders his explantation for its underperformance on the charts. “I think the label just didn’t prepare properly for [Growing Pains] in general,” he says boldy. “I think they just thought it was going to ride on the fumes of The Breakthrough. I don’t think they really thought they had to really work these songs. [The label was] going through a transition at the time. Ron Fair was exiting. There were some things happening inside of the building that I think affected the actual performance of the album and the single per se.”

Despite the absence of promotion for “Stay Down,” Growing Pains went on to win Best Contemporary R&B Album at the 51st Grammy Awards.

Album Cover Photoshoot

 

Making an album cover that stands apart from other artists’ discographies in a record store can be a deciding factor to a buyer purchasing an artist’s full oeuvre. Blige caught the attention of buyers with her regal Growing Pains cover.

Sporting a sharp-cut bob, an oversized tunic dress and colossal gold earrings, the simple yet elegant artwork catches Blige holding her head on a pedestal of confidence.

Celebrity makeup master D’Andre Michael reflects on his first cover shoot with Blige. While Michael knew photographers Markus Klinko and Indrani would nail the artistic direction, he strived for his own excellence. “All I kept thinking is I wanted to make sure it was perfect,” he tells Rated R&B. “I know I wanted her to have dewy skin which was focal point.”

Pleased with cover art and other shots captured for the Growing Pains booklet, Michael does remember stepping out of his comfort zone to please the photographer who didn’t like makeup artists to use foundation. While Michael won’t reveal his hidden makeup technique for this shoot, he did what any great face painter does — improvise.

Another striking moment for Michael from the Growing Pains photo shoot is what brought them there — music. “My most memorable moment was enjoying Mary’s music choices like the Jones Girls, Michael Jackson and René & Angela. Still we build our “dressing room playlists” together as we get ready for a show. We listen, dance, cry, laugh, sing along and enjoy.”

Although Growing Pains did not spawn a single as huge as its predecessor’s lead-off, “Be Without You,” Pains proved to be more famed than its build-up though. Sure, the album increasingly revealed that Blige still dealt with some uncomfortable luxuries (i.e. self-esteem, insecurities) of being a woman. What can be appreciated though is she that she wasn’t looking just through her lens when she wrote this record.

Unlike previous releases where Blige implemented her own personal walk of life, this collection of melodies ushered in a spirit of selflessness that finally gave her feelings some rightfully due privacy.

Famed music influencer Ne-Yo, who co-penned and co-produced four tracks on the album, concurs that Growing Pains at last aided Blige in living outside of her songs, namely on “What Love Is.”

“Every song, though not always in first person the way you’re accustomed to hearing Mary testify, was a journey into the place of self acceptance and fearlessness,” he tells Rated R&B. “That place that allows you be OK with the fact that you’re not totally ‘OK’ just yet. To the point where you can focus on love and it’s overall meaning, not just what it is in the realm of you … but the world.”

Reflecting back on his candid studio sessions with Blige during this era, the Non-Fiction artist calls them “therapeutic” for not only Blige but for him too. “There aren’t many sessions I’ve done that have been personally fulfilling and emotionally triumphant as the sessions for the Growing Pains album. I love MJB forever for allowing me to be apart of this growth.”

We’re happy to have been apart of this growth too, Mary.

Top 5 Tracks from Rihanna’s ‘Unapologetic’ Album

Rihanna Unapologetic album

Rihanna has been, is, and will always be a hit maker; There’s a reason why she has fourteen No. 1 singles spanning all the way back to her second album (and just for the record, her debut single “Pon de Replay” peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.) Coming off her Talk That Talk album in 2011, which featured international hits “We Found Love” and “Where Have You Been,” it was time for Rihanna to take it up another notch when it came to her next album. Working with fresh blood in producers Mike-Will-Made-IT and Labyrinth while enlisting pop mainstays David Guetta and Stargate, the result was Unapologetic: an eclectic mix of EDM, trap, dance, R&B, and pop songs that scaled the musical and lyrical landscape. If this album was an avatar, it’d be “The Last Genre-Bender.”

Unapologetic marked two things: Rihanna’s first artistically complete album and first No. 1 album. While Rated R and Talk That Talk had some “woah” moments, this album found Rihanna elevating her musical core to new heights. She’s still Bad Gal RiRi, but with more wisdom, more vocal strength, and with a newfound sense of artistic confidence. It’s no wonder why it won a Grammy award for “Best Urban Contemporary Album.”

Here at Rated R&B, we’ve compiled what we consider as the best tracks from Rihanna’s seventh studio album. Check out the list below:

“Loveeeeeee Song” (feat. Future)

Future always shines when paired with female artists, but his “Loveeeeeee Song” collaboration with Rihanna might be his best duet to date. The Luney Tunez-produced cut finds the two artists flirting with idea commitment, but being temporarily satisfied with the current arrangement of keeping things purely physical. “I don’t wanna give you the wrong impression / I need love and affection / And I hope I’m not sounding too desperate / I need love and affection,” they sing. On this album full of hard-hitting choruses and club-ready bass drops, this smooth late-night thumper stands out in the best way. Rihanna’s verses and Future’s bridge eventually explodes into a lush, beautifully crafted final chorus between the two of them. If you think “Kiss it Better” is Rihanna’s best bedroom banger, then “Loveeeeeee Song” definitely gives it a run for its money.

“Get It Over With”

While the album spotlights an array of emotional lows and insecurities, there’s a silver lining thanks to this instrument-laden track. Written by Ms. Fenty, Brian Kennedy, and the ever-talented James Fauntleroy, “Get It Over With” is the ballad of broken dreams, but also a song of hope. “It’s dark in the day / I’ll say now don’t complain / Look up the sun is just a cloud away / You’re so afraid to cry / But your heart be feeling dry / It’s time to change,” Rihanna sings in the first verse. Fauntleroy is a master of stacking vocals, so it’s no surprise that we find Rihanna’s background vocals more than on point here. Paired with snaps and solemn violins, this song is the perfect mixture of resilience, strength, and sadness, which is why it makes this list.

“What Now”

Rihanna has mastered the art of emoting over the years, and “What Now” is just one flash of brilliance in her extensive discography. Co-written by fellow Bajan Livvi Franc and British producers Nathan Cassells and Parker Ighile, the song explores the dissatisfaction one feels when they’ve settled, whether that be in love, career, or life in general. “Whatever it is/It feels like it’s laughing at me through the glass of a two-sided mirror/Whatever it is/It’s just laughing at me/And I just wanna scream,” she sings. The lyrics cut just as deep as its smashing chorus, but what really elevates this song is its climax where Rihanna repeats the cadence “I don’t know where to go/I don’t know what to feel/I don’t know how to cry/I don’t know, oh-oh, why!” The winding guitar, raw emotion, and pounding bass culminates into one of the best musical moments on the album.

“Nobody’s Business” (feat. Chris Brown)

Although this collaboration didn’t make as much of a splash as their “Birthday Cake” remix, Chris Brown and Rihanna still shocked fans by linking up on this groovy duet. Co-written by Rihanna and long-time collaborator The-Dream, the song finds the ex-lovers proclaiming their love for each other, and telling off nay-sayers in the process. “You’ll always be mine / Sing it to the world / You’ll always be my boy / I’ll always be your girl / Ain’t nobody’s business / Ain’t nobody’s business / Ain’t nobody’s business / But mine and my baby,” they sing. It’s no surprise that this track contains an interpolation from “The Way You Make Me Feel,” because this euro-dance joint feels like a new-age Michael Jackson record. Breezy and Rih trade parts effortlessly; their natural chemistry is apparent. Even five years later, this song feels fresh, yet timeless, which is why it lands on this list.

“Stay” (feat. Mikky Ekko)

There’s always something special about an artist’s voice over a grand piano, which is more than clear on this tender ballad. Written largely in part by featured artist Mikky Ekko, “Stay” is almost like the continuation of “Loveeeeeee Song,” except with more feelings and time invested. “Not really sure how to feel about it / Something in the way you move / Makes me feel like I can’t live without you / And it takes me all the way / I want you to stay,” Rihanna sings. Even though the song is obviously brilliant, the reason it makes this list is because of Rihanna’s vocal showing. While her voice holds the same type of raw emotion as “What Now,” Rih wields it quite differently, drawing the audience in and pulling away with each sharp breath, vocal crack and sustained note. This all lends itself to the push-and-pull of the actual relationship that the song speaks of, which really speaks to her growth artistically and dedication to the edgier, tougher vision for Unapologetic. Major props go to Kuk Harrell, who is the vocal engineer and producer on this song as well as the entire album.

Stream Unapologetic on Spotify below.

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