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.

Antwane Folk is the editorial assistant at RatedRnB.com.

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4 Songs from Mariah Carey’s ‘E=MC²’ That Should Have Been Number One

Ten years ago, Mariah Carey’s faithful Lambs across the world were pulling out their TI-89 calculators to solve the equation E=MC², the title of her 11th studio album.

The album came three years after The Emancipation of Mimi, Carey’s comeback album and the best-selling album of 2005. The legendary diva won many awards for her 10th studio album, including three Grammy Awards. The accolades that probably meant the most to Carey were her two number one singles: “We Belong Together” and “Don’t Forget About Us.”

The latter tune helped Carey bag her 17th Hot 100 chart-topper, tying her with Elvis Presley for the most number one singles by a solo artist. She beat the rock and roll king’s record two months before the release of E=MC² with her sexually fantasizing single “Touch My Body.”

Speaking to the Associated Press in 2008, Carey praised herself for surpassing Presley.”For me, in my mind the accomplishment is just that much sweeter,” she said. “In terms of my ethnicity, always feeling like an outsider, always feeling different … for me it’s about saying, ‘Thank you Lord, for giving me the faith to believe in myself when other people had written me off.'”

What’s baffling though is that following the commercial success of “Body,” the five-octave Chanteuse pumped out three more singles (“Bye Bye,” “I’ll Be Lovin’ U Long Time,” and “I Stay in Love”) but none were fortunate enough to be inducted into Carey’s hall of fame of No. 1’s.

Yes, an artist’s name alone isn’t enough to sell a single. Without backing from radio stations and proper promotion, the chances of a single swimming versus sinking are slimmer than Carey’s ‘90s waistline.

But in all fairness: Carey’s E=MC² album potentially had the right formula to equate her 19th number-one single on the Hot 100 and continue her reign as the undisputed queen of the No. 1’s.

Now as we playback E=MC² (and mimic her iconic finger twinkle) on its 10th anniversary, here are four songs that should have topped the Hot 100.

1. “I’m that Chick”

Credits: Mariah Carey / Johnta Austin / Mikkel Storleer Eriksen / Tor Erik Hermansen / Rod Temperton (Writers); Carey and Stargate (Producers)

Who’s to blame for Carey’s dreamy number, “I’m That Chick” not being worked as a single and skating to the No. 1 spot on the Hot 100?

Revisiting the disco era and Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall,” the confident singer tiptoed on the dance floor to enjoy nightlife. Like Usher, Carey found love in the club and used some of the best metaphors to let him know she is everything and more. She also referenced two hip-hop legends Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G. to get her point across.

“Take this seriously / Like Pac, all eyes on me / That’s right you are intrigued (I’m that chick you like),” she sings lightly. “I do’s it naturally / Hypnotize like Biggie / But you ain’t havin’ dreams / I’m that chick you like.”

“I’m That Chick” had just the right amount of attitude to dance its way to number one.

2. “I’ll Be Lovin’ U Long Time”

Credits: Mariah Carey / Aldrin Davis / Mark DeBarge / Crystal Johnson / Etterlene Jordan (Writers); Carey and DJ Toomp (Producers)

It goes without saying that Carey’s flirty single “I’ll Be Lovin’ U Long Time” was shamefully robbed from basking in number one glory — and this was long before T.I. was enlisted for the remix.

Borrowing remnants of DeBarge’s “Stay With Me” for the hook and playful production, the jaunty love song heard Carey reassuring her then-husband Nick Cannon that it’s not a game and she’s here to stay.

From its timely release just ahead of summer to its proper video treatment and catchy lyrics, the cutesy tune had many qualifications to become a hit on the Hot 100. However, DJ Toomp co-produced ditty didn’t get close the top slot. It only reached No. 58.

3. “For the Record”

Credits: Mariah Carey / Bryan-Michael Cox / Adonis Shropshire (Writers); Carey and Cox (Producers)

Tell me one good reason “For the Record” wasn’t released as a single?

Bridging the sounds of a beautiful violin and a meek keyboard, Carey wanted to rewrite history with a former mate who foolishly let her go. Even though he’s moved on, she decided to let his mistake of leaving her sink in more by reminding him of how far her love went for him.

“For the record / You’ll always be a part of me, no matter what you do / And for the record / Can’t nobody say I didn’t give my all to you,” she sang.

As history shows, the New York native has an impressive track record with slow to mid-tempo songs (“Dreamlover,” “Always Be My Baby” and “Don’t Forget About Us”) leading the Hot 100. “For the Record” would have been in good company — just saying.

4. “Side Effects” featuring Jeezy

Credits: Mariah Carey / Jay Jenkins / Crystal Johnson / Scott Storch (Writers); Carey and Storch (Producers)

Carey has been fully capable rocketing herself to the top slot of the Hot 100 without any guest appearances. Out of her 18 number-one singles, she has 13 without a featured artist(s). But for her E=MC² era, we’re sure Mimi’s Lambs wouldn’t have minded her calling on hip-hop’s Snowman to release their blazing collaboration.

Blended with a knocking beat and techno effects, Carey had taken her final dose of torture from her unruly lover. Although she finished her prescribed bottle of heartache and pain, she still had to deal with the aftermath of the dissolved love affair.

“I kept my tears inside ’cause I knew if I / Started I’d keep cryin’ for the rest of my / Life with you I finally built up the strength / To walk away don’t regret it / But I still live with the side effects,” she sings.

Mary J. Blige Covers Elton John’s ‘Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word’

Mary J. Blige loves her some Elton John. As part of his newly released tribute album, Revamp: The Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin, the R&B legend rendered her bluesy interpretation of his 70s song “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word.”

Speaking to Billboard, Blige explained why she covered this tear-jerker from the Rocket Man’s discography. “I specifically chose to sing ‘Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word’ because of how beautiful and sad the song is and it was also so cathartic for me to sing,” she said. “Elton and Bernie’s songs, so inspiring and powerful, will continue to stand the test of time.”

This isn’t Blige’s first time covering “Sorry.” She recorded the song for 2004’s Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason soundtrack, as well as performed it for John at the 2004 MOBO Awards where singer Brandy was shown in her feelings.

Listen to Blige’s updated version of “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” below.

10 Underrated Songs by Keyshia Cole

In February, we launched our new monthly feature, Underrated, with R&B legend Toni Braxton and her notable album gems as our primary focus. This time around, we are putting the spotlight on singer-songwriter Keyshia Cole, who is now a certified R&B vet.

The Oakland, Calif. native introduced herself to listeners in 2004 with her expressive voice and relatable narrative on the troubling tales of love and life. Now, seven albums into her decade-long career, the Grammy-nominated artist has a discography that has a few celebrated hits but an abundance of material that hasn’t gotten its rightful respect.

Take a look at our list of Cole’s 10 most slept-on records. We even share a love lesson or two about some of these records. (Sidenote: This list of songs does not include material from her Point of No Return album or her latest album 11:11 Reset, which she plans to repackage with three new songs.)

1. “Love, I Thought You Had My Back” from the album The Way It Is (2005)

Credits: Keyshia Cole, Randolph Murph, Ralph Eskridge, Clarence Johnson Jr, Frederick Taylor (Writers); Ron Fair and Toxic (Producers)

For an artist who sings directly from their soul, being pitch perfect doesn’t normally matter. Keyshia Cole proved this on fan-favorite and one of her best post-breakup anthems “Love, Thought You Had My Back.”

Sampling “Love Jones” by Brighter Side of Darkness, Keyshia finds herself interrogating love for not holding up its end of the bargain after her latest love-affair blew up in flames.

Now that the relationship has ended, Keyshia offers a word of advice to listeners who still believe in a happily-ever-afters. “You gotta know your focus in life / And if love is your focus /Then man pay attention,” she says.

2. “We Could Be” from the album The Way It Is (2005)

Credits: Keyshia Cole, Errol “Poppi” McCalla Jr. (Writers); Errol “Poppi” McCalla Jr., Ron Flair (Producers)

Have you ever wanted to take a friendship to the next level with someone? Keyshia found herself sharing those same feelings on this silky track off her debut album.

Over a slow-burning instrumental, and singing with unfledged vocals, Keyshia pictures a perfect life with a friend she wants to pursue a deeper connection with.

“If you’d be cool with me / You’ll see, that I’m all you need and all that you dream / And never would leave, you’ll be by my side forever / Swear to God we’ll grow old together, then reality would be you and me,” she sings.

3. “Fallin Out” from the album Just Like You (2007)

Credits: Keyshia Cole, Soulshock, K. Karlin, Tammie L. Harris (Writers); Soulshock and Karlin (Producers)

After sharing the spotlight with some of hip-hop’s OG’s (Missy Elliott, Lil’ Kim and Too $hort) on the first two tracks of Just Like You, Keyshia takes on “Fallin’ Out” by herself and unleashes a bottle of emotions on the way things used to be with her lover.

Starting off with dramatic strings, and a sizzling sound effect, the R&B veteran dwindles out of love with a man who isn’t who she first fell in love with. “I remember when, I’d be with my friends / You checked on me and made time to call / But how things have changed? — now I don’t hear from you at all,” she sings.

Many critics have deeded Keyshia Cole’s Just Like You album a daughter to Mary J Blige’s personal My Life album. This opinion holds some weight as “Fallin’ Out” slightly mirrors Rose Royce’s “I’m Goin’ Down,” which was made popular in the ‘90s by Blige. Keyshia’s song, however, takes a far deeper lyrical approach than Blige’s bluesy rendition.

4. “Give Me More” from the album Just Like You (2007)

Credits: Keyshia Cole and Scott Storch (Writers); Scott Storch (Producer)

Come through, drums! With producer Scott Storch still blazing, Keyshia called on him to bring the bass and co-pen this mid-tempo banger.

On the retro track, Keyshia thought she found someone special, but she was sadly mistaken when he started playing games with her heart. After experiencing a breakup, she requires a little “more” from her next man.

“Give Me More” allows Storch to put his musicianship on display as he lets loose with an electric guitar towards the end of the track.

5. “Erotic” from the album A Different Me (2008)

Credits: Keyshia Cole, Ron Fair, Theron Feemster (Writers); “THE-RON” Feemster (Additional Production by Ron Fair) (Producer)

Following the multiple Grammy nominations for her Just Like You album, Keyshia decided to make a drastic artistic shift, leaning more towards a universal sound for her follow-up, A Different Me.

Backed by an eerie sci-fi production, “Erotic” begins with a weird message from an unidentified life form. Don’t press skip though. Keyshia owns her experimental journey, as she shifts vocally like a five-speed sports car in-between the lanes of the futuristic beat.

6. “This is Us” from the album A Different Me (2008)

Credits: E. Bogart, V. Horn, J.T. Miller (Writers); Ron Fair and Jason T. Miller (Producers)

If there was one record from Keyshia’s A Different Me album that had the ability to reach a more mainstream audience, it was her country-inspired song, “This is Us.”

Supported by an acoustic guitar, a timid drum pattern and sugary analogies on an imperfectly perfect relationship, Keyshia showcased that she was able to tap into new genres of music and sound outstanding.

Allegedly, “This is Us” was expected to be released as the fourth and final single from A Different Me. Keyshia’s pregnancy probably played a huge factor in the failure to move forward with “Us” as a single.

7. “Tired of Doing Me” featuring Tank from the album Calling All Hearts (2010)

Credits: Keyshia Cole, F. Taylor, M. Quaham, D. Babbs (Tank), J. Franklin, R. Newt, J. Valentine, K. Stephens; Toxic**, Ron Fair, N8**, and Song Dynasty (Producers)

Keyshia is never afraid to share an R&B moment with artists she admires. She invites Tank to help her explain the emptiness of being alone after realizing the value of finding that special person.

In separate verses, the R&B General recounts his life as a bachelor while Keysh explains why she was hesitant about falling in love again. The two singers find a happy medium on the bridge, accepting that “doing me ain’t working no more.”

8. “What You Do To Me” from the album Calling All Hearts (2010)

Credits: Keyshia Cole, Chink Santana (Writers); Chink Santana (Producer)

Caught up in the rapture of love with then-husband Daniel “Boobie” Gibson, Keyshia tried her luck at making some “grown-folk” music. She succeeded with this intimately composed ballad.

On the sensual track, Keyshia paints the ultimate love scene in her head about how her man makes her temperature rise. “I can feel you kissing me, oh so softly / Making love baby, I can feel your heartbeat / Baby, don’t stop,” she passionately sings.

She is vocally excellent on this song, using the right breathing techniques to set the mood just right for love-making. This record is perfect to play for an anniversary or a just an “I love you” moment for your significant other.

9. “Who’s Gonna Hold Me Down” from the album Woman to Woman (2012)

Credits: Keyshia Cole, Kuk Harrell, Guordan Banks, Jessyca Wilson, Isaacs Hayes (Writers); BINK! Humble Monsta (Producer)

“Shaft!” is the immediate phrase that comes to mind when the funky instrumental starts off the track. Keyshia does Isaac Hayes’ “Shafts Theme” justice with this four-minute conversational tune on recouping after the dust settles from an unsuccessful romance.

On the BINK!-produced track, Keyshia uses her speaking voice to informally elaborate on the painful accuracies of how we repeatedly let our lovers hurt us but always managing to find it in our hearts to give them one more chance. Most times we convince ourselves we need them when we actually are better off without them. “When I’m with you, my heart skips a beat / Oh, I want you back I need you bad / But I gotta get over you, “ she sings.

Thankfully, she gathers feelings towards the end of the deluxe edition record, leaving us with a final realization. “Guess you gotta let that go / If it ain’t yours, it ain’t yours / You gotta let it go / I now it’s hard but you can do better,” she preaches.

10. “Next Move” from the album Woman to Woman (2012)

Credits: Keyshia Cole, Kuk Harrell, Guordan Banks, Jessyca Wilson (Writers); BINK! Humble Monsta (Producer)

After a lukewarm response for her Calling All Hearts album, Keyshia came strong with Woman to Woman. Her hard work shows on this slow-paced ballad featuring background vocals from Robin Thicke.

Being in a relationship without a title two things: mixed feelings and heartbreak. To limit confusion, simply making the “next move” and asking the hard but seriously needed questions, “Are we going to be monogamous or should we just see other people?”

If we don’t have this conversation early on, we’ll probably end up like Keyshia does on the second verse. “I hate the fact, we never set the rules / So I can’t even trip when you want to act brand new / But I still get mad when you walk out the room / But the truth is: I’m not the only one loving you,” she painfully remembers.

HONORABLE MENTION

“Same Thing (Interlude)” from the album Just Like You

Credits: Keyshia Cole, T. Rey and C. Brown (Writers); T Rey and C. Broan (Producers)

Serving as a transition between songs “Heaven Sent” and “Got to Get My Heart Back,” this nearly two-minute tease makes us want to fight Keyshia. While she pours out her emotions about the redundant behavior of her two-timing ex, she indirectly plays with ours. This interlude deserved more. We wanted more.

Did we get this list right? Let us know in the comment section.

Follow Antwane @9thwonderofPR

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