Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.
Despite critical acclaim and grassroots support for her debut collection, 2001's "Chapter 1: Love, Pain & Forgiveness," Jive Records singer/songwriter Syleena Johnson admits to being ultimately disappointed by its lack of commercial success. She's hoping the Nov. 26 release of her sophomore set, "Chapter 2: The Voice," will finally see sales figures that match her critical plaudits.
A no-holds-barred soul woman who lyrically wears her heart on her sleeve, Johnson possesses a voice steeped in classic R&B tradition, a la Betty Wright and Shirley Brown. But the Chicago native and daughter of famed bluesman Syl Johnson realizes that in the current market, her brand of soul is a tougher sell than the light-voiced, video-friendly hip-hop/R&B dominating the airwaves.
"It's a constant challenge," she says, "but I'm trying to stay calm and focused on what's important. The biggest challenge has been trying to get radio acceptance and get the amount of spins of other successful acts."
With that radio target in mind, Johnson is wrapping up a primarily East Coast-based promotion tour on behalf of the album and its first two singles. In August, lead single "Tonight I'm Gonna Let Go," which employs Busta Rhymes' "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See," was serviced to U.S. radio outlets. The set's second single is the R. Kelly-written and -produced "Guess What," which was sent to radio late last month.
Lyrically, "Chapter 2: The Voice" is a more rounded affair than its predecessor, which was produced by Bob Powers and largely influenced by a bad relationship that Johnson had experienced. The new collection utilizes several up-and-coming producers, among them Bastiany, Carvin Haggins & Ivan Barias, and Mike Dunn. Besides the gritty "Guess What," highlights include the summery, feel-good "Now That I Got You" and "I Believe in Love." Johnson wrote 13 of the 15 tracks, which include the Kelly-produced remix of "Tonight I'm Gonna Let Go" and a cover of Alicia Myers' playful early-'80s gem, "If You Play Your Cards Right."
"The most important thing this time was not to concentrate on anything negative," says Johnson. "I wanted to focus on something positive. I wanted to write about my growth spiritually and as a woman and how I'm coping in this industry."
Johnson has plans to join Faith Evans and Deborah Cox as a performer at the Dec. 8 Aids for AIDS benefit in New York, an event co-sponsored by Vibe magazine. She's also on the bill of the Dec. 29 WGCI Chicago Big Jam, which will also feature LL Cool J, Nelly, Dru Hill, Musiq, and B2K, among others.
Excerpted from the Nov. 23, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.
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