When Kelly Price was nominated for a Grammy Award in the best female R&B vocal performance category last December, the nod caught many people off guard. Up until that point, Price hadn't released an R&B album since 2003's "Priceless." In fact, when she delivered the contemporary gospel album "This Is Who I Am" three years after that, most people assumed the soulful singer had chosen a new career path.
"It's never been a secret that I'm a preacher's kid," says Price from her Los Angeles home. "Gospel will forever be a part of my life; that's why I sing the way I sing. But I never said I was leaving R&B."
Now Price is adding an exclamation point to that declaration with the May 3 release of "Kelly" (My Block/Sang Girl!/Malaco). Not only does the project plant Price squarely back into the R&B scene, it's helped the singer achieve her first top 40 hit on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart in 11 years and sixth top 10 on Adult R&B: "Not My Daddy," featuring Stokley.
Price's sixth album also represents a career rebirth. In addition to partnering with producer Warryn Campbell's My Block Records, Price has hired a new co-manager, Devyne Stephens of Upfront Megatainment, as she eyes several brand-building ventures. In short, the artist known for belting out such hits as "Friend of Mine," "As We Lay" and "Heartbreak Hotel" is back with a whole new do-it-my-way attitude, ready to claim, in Campbell's words, "that big shot to show what she can really do. She's never had that look, in my opinion. But everybody needs to know how great and talented she is as a singer and as an amazing writer."
Price and her manager, husband Jeffery Rolle, began dressing the stage for her return three years ago when they relocated from Atlanta to Los Angeles. After the 2006 release of "This Is Who I Am" through Gospo Centric, Price continued performing, averaging between 200 and 250 dates per year. But the urge to return to writing-she had written songs for R. Kelly, Wynonna Judd, Ronald Isley and Faith Evans, among others-and expand into film and TV began to take hold. That's when her attorney suggested she move to L.A.
Three days after the move, Price contacted Campbell, who first worked with her in the late '90s when she began recording with Island Def Jam and later Def Soul. Their subsequent discussions led to Price teaming her Sang Girl! Production company/label with Campbell's My Block Records, whose roster includes Mary Mary, the Soul Seekers and Campbell's younger sister, JoiStarr.
"My hiatus [between albums] wasn't really an accident or on purpose," Price says of her chance to refocus and re-energize. "It just worked out that way. When my break came from Def Jam, the timing was good to do something more personal to me-the gospel album. And when I thought about going back to a major or doing something on my own, I thought I should have the opportunity to experience being in charge of my career-and benefit from it as well."
Price, Rolle and Campbell began testing the waters with "Tired," the anthemic ballad that opens "Kelly." At the time of its release, the trio hadn't yet secured distribution. But the single went on to earn a Grammy nod for best female R&B vocal performance (the last year for that honor in the wake of the Recording Academy's recent restructuring of award categories). And Price found herself competing against such peers as Faith Evans, Monica, Jazmine Sullivan and Fantasia, the last of whom won the statuette.
But that loss triggered bigger things, most notably the growing response to second single "Not My Daddy," featuring Mint Condition frontman Stokley Williams. Currently No. 9 on Adult R&B and No. 35 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, the compelling ballad expresses a frequently overlooked message: Don't forget to let love into your relationship. "You're not my daddy, you're my man/And I think it's time you understand/So just make me happy if you can." Its accompanying video, directed by actress Regina King, will premiere the week of April 25.
"Kelly understands the watchwords, the things that will turn your head," Williams says. "Just the title alone makes people wonder, 'What is that about?' But it goes deeper than that, and that's why it's resonating across generations with everybody."
Married since she was 19 and celebrating her 19th anniversary this year, Price says "Not My Daddy" came to her as she was cleaning the house. "I was literally singing something I didn't know. So I stopped, sat down and got the song out. It's not based on one particular incident. It stems from the experience of being in a long-term relationship and how easy that dynamic can change when kids come into the picture."
Price's "I'm every woman" outlook stands at the heart of the other tracks on "Kelly." Having overcome her own share of issues-from body image and teen pregnancy to family tensions (both her mother and late mother-in-law were stricken with breast cancer)-Price tackles everything from self-forgiveness ("I'm Sorry [My Apology]") and empowerment ("The Rain") to addictive relationships ("HimAholic"). She even gets into party mode ("And U Don't Stop").
In addition to Campbell and Williams, the singer/songwriter collaborated with songwriter/producers Shep Crawford and Jazz Nixon, who are also longtime colleagues and friends. "I'm grown; that's what this record says," Price says. "I've made a whole lot of mistakes and dumb decisions but I'm not beating myself up over it. There's a lot of resolve here but happiness as well. I've come of age doing what I know how to do: soothing myself through music and hopefully helping someone else."
Another longtime industry relationship recently blossomed into a new co-management arrangement for Price. Rolle is now co-managing his wife's career with Devyne Stephens, who heads Atlanta-based Upfront Megatainment. Its roster includes Akon, Kelly Rowland, Dave Hollister and Upfront/SRC newcomer Majic Massey.
"I've managed Kelly from day one," says Rolle, who'll still handle day-to-day responsibilities. "But now I don't have to do everything. In Devyne, I found someone who believes in Kelly like I do and someone who works just as hard as she does."
Stephens says, "Kelly is one of the premier vocalists and songwriters of this generation; someone like a Maxwell and Sade who can come back and still sell. It's time to take her brand to the next level, diversifying into TV, film and other projects."
Those other projects include plans for a summer tour with Hollister and Angie Stone, an upcoming TV pilot, a clothing line, an audio version of her 2005 book "Inscriptions of My Heart," a cookbook and her ongoing philanthropic work on behalf of breast cancer. In the meantime, Price is slated to perform at the 2011 Essence Music Festival in July and is busy collaborating on new songs for Massey, Hollister, Toni Braxton and Keke Wyatt.
"I don't get much sleep these days," Price says. "But that's OK. Everything is lining up. My prayers are being answered."