After chronicling her own gritty rise to fame on 2005's "The Way It Is" and 2007's "Just Like You," Keyshia Cole moves in a new direction on "A Different Me," due Dec. 16 via Imani/Geffen/Interscope.

After chronicling her own gritty rise to fame on 2005's "The Way It Is" and 2007's "Just Like You," Keyshia Cole moves in a new direction on "A Different Me," due Dec. 16 via Imani/Geffen/Interscope.

"The first two albums were more ... painful," she tells Billboard over lunch in Los Angeles. "It's a different me this time: a young woman who's still growing and finding myself, exploring life through different routes musically and in other areas. I wrote more about other people's situations than my own. I'm moving forward."

"A Different Me" features Cole collaborating with a combination of marquee names and newcomers, including Polow Da Don, the Runners, Neffu, Kwame, Orthodox & Ransom and the Trackmasters. On her previous albums, Cole worked with such songwriter/producers as Greg Curtis, Missy Elliott, Scott Storch, Bryan-Michael Cox, Rodney Jerkins and Sean Garrett.

"When I hear something, I hear it -- it doesn't take me three, four, five times to hear a song and say, 'OK, let's write,'" Cole says about her songwriting process. "If I don't write to it right off the bat, it's not working."

And while the pain quotient is definitely lowered on "Me," the emotional realness and accessibility that fans have come to love in Cole's music remain -- as do her searing vocals.

She's reflective and coy on the melodic lead single "Playa Cardz Right" featuring a posthumous Tupac Shakur; the track originally appeared on his 2006 album "Pac's Life," but dressed up with a new verse and arrangement by Cole and producers Fair, Carvin Haggins and Ivan Barias, the song has shot to No. 25 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart after only five weeks. It's competing with Cole's last single from her sophomore album, "Heaven Sent," which is No. 14 on the chart.

A girl-talk intro colorfully sets up Cole's duet with real-life friend Monica on "Trust," while Polow Da Don taps into Cole's upbeat side on the pulsating "Make Me Over." Cole further hones her ballad skills on the track "You Complete Me" and flashes a sultry side on a cover of R. Kelly's 1992 No. 1 R&B hit, "Honey Love."

As part of a 360 deal she recently inked with Interscope, Cole is developing a movie based on her life. A screenwriter has been hired to go on the road with the artist in 2009 to begin developing the script.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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