Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.
In an industry saturated with young, beautiful, talented female artists, Brooke Valentine knows that she has to come out swinging.
This makes the 19-year-old's first single, "Girlfight," particularly fitting. The uptempo club song, produced by Lil Jon and featuring OutKast's Big Boi, steps into the uncharted territory of how girls physically challenge each other.
The Houston native wrote the song in 10 minutes at a Lil Jon party in Miami. "I had a couple fights during my day," Valentine says. "But no one has really touched on the subject of how girls fight. [The inspiration] could have even come from the girls or the vibe at the party."
Valentine wrote or co-wrote all 15 tracks on her March 15 Subliminal Entertainment/Virgin Records debut, "Chain Letter."
The singer has been clicking with fans; "Girlfight" is No. 25 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart, while "Chain Letter" is new on The Billboard 200 at No. 16 and on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart at No. 3.
Valentine's career started in 1998 when she met Deja, president of Subliminal Entertainment in Los Angeles. He executive-produced "Chain Letter," along with Virgin chairman/CEO Matt Serletic and Virgin A&R exec Josh Deutsch.
Deja put Valentine in a girl group called Best Kept Secret. When the act disbanded, Valentine began work on her solo career.
A couple of Valentine's songs ended up in the hands of Serletic, who flew to Los Angeles to hear her.
"Her live performance wowed us and got us really interested in signing her," Serletic recalls. "One of Brooke's strengths is that she is not limited by a narrow genre. She is a very powerful, engaging artist with a wide range of musical tastes."
From "Blah, Blah, Blah," a fun, bouncy song about nagging lovers featuring the late Dirt McGirt (aka Ol' Dirty Bastard), to "I Want You Dead," a sinister, scorned-woman anthem, Valentine's album leaps among genres ranging from pop, rock and alternative to dance, hip-hop and R&B.
"I love all types of music," Valentine says. "I have fun dibbing and dabbing in all genres."
Alanis Morissette, Anita Baker, Blondie, Pat Benatar, Al Green, Luther Vandross and Tina Turner are just a few of the artists who have influenced Valentine's music. Her dream collaboration would be with another influence, Sade. However, Valentine is quick to dismiss those who try to categorize her music.
"I am not a crunk'n'B artist. I am not an R&B artist," she says. "I do it all. Do not put me in a category, because you are going to get disappointed every time."
Virgin hopes that audiences will embrace the diversity of "Chain Letter."
"Hopefully, people will respect her for doing something different, and that will separate her from the norm," says Jermaine Dupri, president of Virgin's Urban Music Division. He worked with Valentine on the album track "Playa."
Other producers on the project include Soul Diggaz, Bink! of One Shot Deal, Solomon of Conjunction Productions, Heatmakerz and Bloodshy & Avant of Murlyn Music.
The variety in Valentine's music could make it hard to promote in this pigeonholed world, Serletic admits, but the label is fine with that. "It might be difficult, it might take longer," he says. "But at the end of the day, some of the greatest artists ever were those who combined different types of music."
Valentine's maturity and edginess continue to prove that she isn't your conventional teenager.
"If I wasn't singing, I would probably be teaching," she says. "There aren't enough health and sex education classes."
Excerpted from the April 3, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.
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