When Kelly Rowland’s fourth solo album Talk A Good Game drops tomorrow, don’t be surprised if you already feel familiar with its much buzzed about tracks. “I wanted what it felt like for me to turn on my stereo in the late ’80s early ’90s, when I fell in love with R&B and hip hop,” Kelly said. We walked through the making of the album track by track with producers Pharrell Williams, Harmony Samuels and Kelly herself to find out how she achieved that nostalgia vibe and why Harmony thinks she’s ushering in the new wave of ’90s R&B.
Forget Destiny’s Child, British phenom Harmony predicts Kelly’s Talk A Good Game is going to be one of the brainchilds behind bringing R&B back. “She’s really coming into her own so perfectly: she works so hard, she’s an independent woman she’s strong, she’s passionate, she has a mind of her own, she’s calling the calls and making the plays,” he said. “We call her ’boss lady.’
Harmony’s not the only one foreseeing big things for Kelly’s solo career after the release of this album, either. Production giant Pharrell who already has two singles battling for #1 on the Billboard charts says Kelly hasn’t even scraped the surface of what she can do. “There are many different facets to her skill, tone and voice, so why her whole album is different, but my three humble contributions to that great album were completely different experiences,” Pharrell said. “She’s going to be a force for a lot of women with her approach.”
We couldn’t even begin talking about “Freak” without sweet, composed Kelly breaking out in a fit of giggles and blushing. The Danger-produced, Rico Love-penned uptown track practically pulsates with sexuality as Kelly growls over the beat celebrating everyone’s freaky side. “Doesn’t matter what [freak] is to you,” Kelly said. “It could be sexual. It could be how unique you are. It’s an anthem about the freaks.”
2. “Kisses Down Low”
It’s the song so nasty Kelly loves it. Nothing is hidden behind the lyrics Mike Will wrote. As K-Row put it, “There’s nothing wrong knowing what you want sexually. When you know, they know [and it] makes us all happy.”
The sassy, kiss-off number almost didn’t have a chorus. It took two days and a Janet Jackson reference before a Joni Mitchell was thrown in the mix. “[Kelly] kept saying, ’it just sounds like Janet and what would Janet do?'” Harmony said of the “Big Yellow Taxi” sample that ultimately made the cut. When Courtney Harrell began singing the hook from Janet’s Velvet Rope lead single, the rest was history, publishing costs be damned!
4. “Talk A Good Game”
“We’ve all been in that place where you want somebody to just be completely 100 [percent] with you and ’Talk a Good Game’ is just that,” Kelly said of one of four Kevin Cossum-penned records. The album’s title track is another one of Rowlands many self-proclaimed favorites and will likely be one of those pure mellow-vibe tunes that made friend and producer Harmony Samuels declare Kelly a general in the second coming of the R&B.
5. “Down On Love”
Things got a little deep when Kelly discussed what she calls a beautiful love song about a relationship status that is stuck on it’s complicated. We hear you, girl. Been there, cried that river. But don’t cry for Kelly too much, out of her heartache came a track she’s “in love with.”
6. “Dirty Laundry”
The Dream told Kelly from the outset that he wanted to “know what’s underneath it all,” according to the singer. “I feel like sometimes we skate on the surface as artists and we just organically started talking in the studio,” Kelly admitted. As everyone knows, a few of those non-music related conversations turned out an honest song, that left Kelly as exposed as she’s ever been as an artist.
Touching on everything from jealousy to domestic abuse in a beautiful 5:30 minute-long therapeutic release, the tune endeared her to thousands more fans who could now relate to the impossibly successful beauty they watched grow from Destiny’s Child to “a woman now twice grown,” as Kelly’s mother would say.
7. “You’ve Changed”
While the track reminded Kelly’s brother of a worthy sequel to 2005 DC3 fan-favorite “Girl,” it was actually Beyonce’s “Me, Myself And I” that was the inspiration behind the Harmony Samuels and Courtney Harrell track. In fact, for years it sat unused on his laptop as it was shopped to former Destiny’s Child member LeToya Luckett, Bey herself and Kelly’s management before K-Row heard the song she says, was given to who it was meant to be given. Harmony agrees adding, “It had to be a Kelly record, because we made that record in 2010 and for some weird reason I decided to play it for her. We had a member of Destiny’s Child in mind [to sing it].” Coincidence or destiny?
8. “I Remember”
The full-bodied, melodic music Rowland loves about this song that details a relationship in decline came from personal stories Kelly told Kevin Cossom who “flipped them” into a song. “The craziness, the ups and downs of relationships, gives you great songs,” Kelly said. When asked if she’s subscribed to the Taylor Swift head-first view of love, Kelly said, “Heck yeah. [Taylor’s] a smart girl. I’ll get a good song whether you love me or break my heart.”
9. “Red Wine”
What do you do when you’re all out of ideas and you need another heavy hitting R&B groove to stack your album with? Well, for Kelly and her team, including hitmaker and multiple Talk tracks contributor Kevin Cossum, the answer was uncork a bottle of red stuff and riff in the studio. The fermented result is a vintage song reminiscent of the ’90s with an that lulls you into a groove like an aural wine upon first listen as effectively as chugging the real stuff. “’Red Wine’ was a vibe in the studio,” Kelly said. “As soon as the music came on – thank God for Boi-1da – as soon as the music came on, everybody relaxed in the studio.”
10. “This Is Love”
The last song (out of around 70 tracks recorded) Kelly laid down for her album is also one of her favorites because of how everything from the lyrics to the arrangement acutely captures the feel of falling in love. Kelly gives all the credit to up-and-coming songwriter Myariah “Jane Handcock” Summers. “I remember looking at [Summers] like, ’girl you did this,'” she said. High praise coming from one-third of one of the best selling girl groups of all time.
11. “Street Life”
If you listen closely to social commentating, Pharrell-helmed record you’ll hear a rawness to Kelly’s vocals you weren’t expecting. That’s because she was sick as a dog when she laid it down. Most of us couldn’t hope to sound that great in the shower much less completely congested. Kelly says it was Pharrell’s reasoning inspired her to leave the grittier vocals on the master, while Pharrell insists it was all Kelly calling the shots while he worked around her greatness. “When you hear her voice and potential, there are so many different interesting elements to work with that I said to myself, ’Man, we need to do a social commentary record that is still a jam.'”
12. “Stand In Front Of Me”
Pharrell said he was going for the doo-wop style of the 1950’s and ’70s black ghettos when he composed the record. “When [Kelly] did it, we were all blown away by just the feeling of it.” Kelly adores the song for that feel as well along with the “take-charge, men” message of the tune. “Maybe it’s a Southern trait, but I just believe men should remember they should be men and be chivalrous,” Kelly said. I’m sure there will be plenty of men lining up to heed that advice if the reward is getting to “palm that ass.” Yes, ma’am!
Check back here all week where we’ll be giving you exclusive interviews, photos and more all week long to celebrate the release of Kelly Rowland’s album Talk A Good Game in stores now.
[Photo Credit: Lauren Weissler]