The last time we convened to discuss a Kelly Rowland album I had no choice but to talk about the Jordan Effect, in which a star player in their own right becomes historically handcuffed to their even more famous teammate. You can talk about Jordan without bringing up Pippen, but no discussion about Pippen can go for more than a minute without MJ’s name coming up. It was exactly the circumstance that Kelly found herself in with Beyonce, and at the time (circa 2007) it looked like a permanent situation. But - dare I say? …
DJBooth Album Review
Whether because Beyonce has distanced herself from her Destiny’s Child days, or because Kelly has increasingly established herself as her own artist or the simple passage of time (probably all three), Kelly’s gone from “the girl next to Beyonce in Destiny’s Child” to “the singer who did Dilemma, Work and Motivation. And oh yeah, remember when she was in Destiny’s Child?” It’s been a long road, on her two previous albums we never felt like we truly knew who Kelly Rowland was as an individual artist, but on her new project, the boldly-titled Here I Am, her creative intentions are starting to become clearer. It’s still a little out of focus, a little hazy, but clearer.
Everyone I know had the same reaction the first time they heard Motivation; damn girl, I didn’t know you could do it like that. We’d heard Kelly flirt before, but we’d never heard her like this. Her breathy, sultry delivery instantly opened the world of babymaker jams to Kelly, a world that was before largely closed to her. Here takes a couple more shots at striking R&B slow jam gold, but the more PG-rated All of the Night doesn’t have the same heat as Motivation; there’s not much sexy about holding your lover tight and whispering in their ear “we’re having some fun in the bedroom,” and unfortunately Rico Love doesn’t deliver the album’s only sub-par guest verse. (We’ll get to that later.) By contrast, while Keep It Between Us is more romantic than lusty, it does contain the subtle emotion that Night lacked – it’s exactly that emotion that I need more of, and she gives it to me on the otherwise bouncing Feeling Me Right Now. It isn’t easy to bring some soul to an uptempo song, but Rowland can pull it off nicely – or at least she does here. We don’t need carbon copies of Motivation, but there’s obviously something on that song that people connected with, and Rowland would be wise to figure out what it was and amplify it.
The rest of Here I Am is divided evenly between made for radio hip-pop anthems and house-influenced dance jams. While you won’t find me sweating at 3AM on the dance floor to David Guetta, I actually prefer Rowland’s club-focused leanings. Commander and Down for Whatever aren’t exactly groundbreaking, but they deliver exactly what the genre demands. Unfortunately the same can’t be said of her radio jams. The Big Sean-assisted Lay It On Me isn’t great, but it’s harmless hip-pop fun, as is the more banging Im Dat Chick. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for Work It Man. There’s really no nice way to say this, it’s terrible. Or more accurately, the beat and Kelly’s hook are fine, but Lil Playy doesn’t belong here. I thought this was a grown, sexy and fun album for the grown and sexy Kelly? Why bring a kid to the party?
For those keeping score at home, that means we’ve got three different iterations of Kelly on the album. The R&B songrstress (Motivation), the hip-pop hook singer (Lay It On Me), and the club queen (Commander), a range that feels a lot more like searching than versatility. Only a writer would notice that the album’s title is Here I Am, not I Am Here, but I’m a writer. While I Am Here is a declaration, Here I Am is a presentation, a submission awaiting approval, and while sometimes a name is just a name, it’s an apt metaphor for the album. While Rowland continues to define her own sound, it still feels like she’s giving us who she thinks we want to hear, not who she is. Of course, that would mean she would have to know who she is, and no one else can help her with that. But I can tell you who she’s not. Kelly Rowland is not Beyonce’s sidekick. Kelly Rowland is now, simply, just Kelly Rowland.
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 07/25/11
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