Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

In 2001, Blu Cantrell scored immediate success with the Dallas Austin-written and -produced single "Hit 'Em Up Style (Oops!)." The quirky, jazzy anthem for scorned women spent two weeks at No. 2 on Billboard's Hot 100 and earned Cantrell a Grammy Award nomination. The 2001 album from which it was taken, "So Blu," proved to be a credible start for the Rhode Island native, who now calls Atlanta home. According to Nielsen SoundScan, "So Blu," which peaked at No. 8 on The Billboard 200, has sold 603,000 units in the U.S.

Despite the success, Cantrell is aware that there are no guarantees the second time around. "[Debut success] was a big surprise," says the artist. "But I feel this business is like a grab bag. You never know what you're going to get, so you should expect the unexpected. I have a passion and a love for what I do, and that gets me through. I love the fans and making music."

Cantrell's stellar follow-up, "Bittersweet," is due Feb. 11. Lead commercial single "Breathe" -- another tongue-in-cheek piece, this time written and produced by Andrea Martin and Ivan Mattias -- reached No. 83 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart. Other highlights include the melancholy ballad "Unhappy," the breezy "Home," and the dramatic Shep Crawford-written and -produced "Sleep in the Middle." Joining returning producer Stewart on the production dais was the team of Soulshock & Karlin. Cantrell co-wrote many of the selections.

"Most of the songs are tracks that have been presented to me," she continues, "and I'll write to them right then and there. Sometimes I'll be presented with a song written by someone else that I just love, like 'Sleep in the Middle.' That's something I would have said myself."

Though not strictly autobiographical, "Bittersweet" contains songs Cantrell feels she and her audience can relate to. "I challenge myself with every song I sing to make it exceptional. There are a lot more uptempos on this album than the first. This is a chapter in a story. If anyone's having issues in their relationship, this album is for them."

"Blu has really come into her own on this project," Arista executive VP Lionel Ridenour says. "'Bittersweet' gives her fans a closer look at who she is, both as an artist and a woman, through introspective songwriting and strong vocal delivery."





Excerpted from the Jan. 18, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.

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