Best known for his work with Alicia Keys, songwriter/producer Kerry "Krucial" Brothers is stepping out from behind the boards with his own solo rap project.

Best known for his work with Alicia Keys, songwriter/producer Kerry "Krucial" Brothers is stepping out from behind the boards with his own solo rap project. But this is not "another R&B producer-turned-rapper scenario," Brothers insists. "It's the other way around."

It was at open-mic sessions around New York where the journeyman MC first met Keys. Their friendship branched out into a fruitful creative partnership as co-owners of Krucial Keys Enterprises. Now Brothers feels the time is right to shift back into his original rapper mode.

An eight-song introductory EP featuring Brothers and 18-year-old protege Illz will come out around the end of February by way of Krucial Keys subsidiary Krucial Recordings. A full-length album, "Take Da Hood Back," is planned for June.

Mixing conscious tracks, party jams, boom beats and smooth cuts for the ladies, the album represents "what hip-hop is about," the Queens, N.Y.-bred Brothers says. "Too many artists are getting caught up in being one-dimensional. There's more to my music than can be put in one little box."

But don't look for Keys or other special guests on the EP. "That would be the easy thing to do," Brothers declares. "It's not about trying to use hype. That's not what this is about."

Currently considering several distribution proposals, Brothers says he chooses to remain on the indie side despite his major-league connections. "In the future, if [a major] understands my vision and agrees -- even after we cut the deal -- that might be an option," Brothers says with a laugh. "But with the knowledge I have and with today's technology, being independent is the best way to get my music out the way I need to."

Also on tap in the coming months for Brothers is work on a new album from rap icon Rakim plus the debut set from Brooklyn, N.Y., rapper Illz's album debut next year. "He rhymes more sense and depth than guys twice his age," Brothers says.

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