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Win or lose, Keyshia Cole chooses new, grown-up sound

Posted 7:48am on Thursday, Dec. 30, 2010

NEW YORK -- Keyshia Cole's new album, Calling All Hearts, just came out. It's the follow-up to her first three albums, all platinum-sellers that had multiple R&B hits.

But this time around, Cole's lead single has not created a buzz like the others have in the past. I Ain't Thru, which features Nicki Minaj, has only peaked at No. 58 on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop chart.

Cole says she made the decision to release the song -- though her record label disagreed.

"The label didn't really want to drop the record because they knew ... that people wanted a more intense, soulful record from me about love, and I really should have followed [their] direction," she said. "But I wanted that to be a statement record. It's like saying, 'I'm doing me,' you know. I don't have no regrets for nothing that I'm doing.'"

"There's no way to predict how people will respond to things," said Ron Fair, chairman of Geffen Records. "It's something that Keyshia really wanted to say."

Cole is following up the song with Long Way Down, which she says "people are gravitating more toward" because of its midtempo groove and focus on love.

Fair, who has been the executive producer for all of Cole's albums, says that although the pre-album buzz isn't as strong as it has been in the past, he's not worried about the new album's first-week sales.

"The record business is so perilous right now that it's always, for me, a case of the tortoise not the hare," Fair said. "What will be the ultimate judgment is where this record is in a year."

Return to form

Since 2005, Cole, now 29, has secured her spot in the R&B world, releasing hit songs about heartache and love lapses that were reminiscent of Mary J. Blige, helping make Cole one of the field's brightest stars. Her first album, The Way It Is, featured ballads like Love and I Should've Cheated. In 2007, she released Just Like You, a Grammy-nominated album that had No. 1 hits like Let It Go, I Remember and Heaven Sent.

Cole says that after that success, she wasn't interested in singing similar songs.

"I just think that people expect me to be, you know, an artist that sings about just love. But I'm always growing as an artist and I have to feed my artistry," she said.

With 2008's A Different Me, Cole switched up her style: The disc featured up-tempo songs that highlighted the singer's sex appeal. While three of the CD's songs cracked the Top 10 on the R&B charts, they didn't make a splash like those on her previous efforts. Cole's first two albums have sold 1.6 and 1.7 million units, respectively, while A Different Me moved 1 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. So on Calling All Hearts, Cole says she's returning to her signature style, while adding a "grown woman" twist.

Reality-TV uproar

Part of Cole's growth is due to the changes in her personal life: She disconnected with her family -- famously seen on the BET reality show Keyshia Cole: The Way It Is -- and she started her own. Cole had a son in March and is engaged to Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Daniel Gibson, who is seen in Cole's music video for Long Way Down.

"She's very much a different person having met this wonderful man in her life ... having a baby and, you know, having a stable home life in Cleveland," Fair said.

Cole, originally of Oakland, Calif., was raised by adoptive parents; her biological mother, Frankie Lons, was a drug addict. On Cole's reality show, which lasted for three seasons and ended in 2008, she was seen trying to balance life in both of her families while having a singing career.

Following the show, Cole's birth mother and sister, Neffeteria Pugh, launched their own BET reality show, Frankie & Neffe, which was produced by Cole and lasted for one season. Last year, Cole announced that she was separating herself from her biological family, saying she "needed serenity and peace to move forward." Cole is still in touch with her adoptive mother, Yvonne Cole, who sings on Thank You from the new CD.

The singer says she would film another reality show once the dysfunction with her family ends.

"I want my sisters and my brothers and my mom and me and us to show the world that you can change for the better," she said.

Cole says her change has started already.

"I had a bad attitude and ... I feel like it was a part of my life, a part of who I was at the time and I didn't really know no better," she said. "But becoming a woman, you handle yourself differently."

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