After a series of ill-timed false starts, neo-soul innovator Joi is hoping the release of "Star Kitty's Revenge" -- her third solo album (due Jan. 29, 2002, on Universal Records) -- will garner her th

After a series of ill-timed false starts, neo-soul innovator Joi is hoping the release of "Star Kitty's Revenge" -- her third solo album (due Jan. 29, 2002, on Universal Records) -- will garner her the recognition that has eluded her since she debuted with 1994's "The Pendulum Vibe."

Likening the album to a "rock opera," Joi says "Star Kitty's Revenge" -- a title culled from her nickname/alter ego -- is about truth and realizations. "The revenge part," Joi explains, "is really me finally having my say, having my moment. I tried for a minute to write outside of myself, and I just wasn't able to do it. I had to just go ahead and write what I had learned. With each record, all I can really do is try to tell the truth as I know it."

Joi wrote 18 of the set's 19 tracks. She says longtime collaborator Dallas Austin plays a smaller role on "Star Kitty's Revenge" than he did on her previous albums "The Pendulum Vibe" and 1997's "Amoeba Cleansing Syndrome."

Austin does, however, contribute the lead single, "Missing You." It's a soulful, mid-tempo tune that Joi, known for her eclectic style, says "is as radio-friendly as I'd like to get. I'm hoping I won't have a whole lot of difficulty getting it added [to radio station playlists]. But if it's going to be difficult, then I'll just have to walk that thing through myself, endear myself to those [program directors], and convince them as to why they should take a chance on the record."

A five-city tour with a six-piece acoustic band that will include stops in New York and Los Angeles is part of the plan to win that support. "Our aim is not to move her away from her alternative audience," Universal product manager Eve Marsan says, "but to solidify her brand of music with the mainstream pop and R&B audience."

In addition to Austin, "Star Kitty's Revenge" features collaborations with Andre Betts (Madonna, Living Colour), Sleepy Brown (OutKast, Organized Noize), and Lucy Pearl's Raphael Saadiq. The album's only cover is Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan's "I'm A Woman," a song Joi says is appropriate for her at this stage in her life: "Based on all the stuff that has happened and that I've experienced, I've become that song."

The album includes a guest appearance by Joi's husband, Big Gipp of Goodie Mob, as well as a stirring tribute to her late father, National Football League great Joe Gilliam. It is also sprinkled with interludes that Joi says help explain the songs.

Joi, who joined Saadiq and Ali Shaheed Muhammad in Lucy Pearl earlier this year (replacing former En Vogue member Dawn Robinson), says her role in the group allows her to "show people that I can be normal. I decided to [join Lucy Pearl] because I thought I needed as much mainstream help as I could get. It put my name on some minds and lips that it hadn't been on before. I just thought it might be another step in opening the door for me. And I was upfront about that when I joined the group."

Rico Brooks, Atlanta area manager for Peppermint Music, believes "Star Kitty's Revenge" will be the album that finally gives Joi her due. "She came out before Erykah Badu and Jill Scott, but she hasn't had that big commercial hit to take her over the top," Brooks says. "This album definitely packs a big punch."

Joi admits that it was difficult to watch the success of other genre-bending vocalists like Badu and Macy Gray while she was on hold, but she remains philosophical. "It's been what I call a real character-builder," she says. "I've had to really do some evaluation, really ask myself, 'Why?' Obviously, there's another plan for me, and my role is a bit deeper than I thought it was. It's not just about being first.

"It just has to be right," she continues. "The time was not right [before], because if it was, the Creator would have let it happen."