For Def Soul artist Case, recording his latest set - "Open Letter," due April 24 -- was a physically daunting task. The process was so strenuous that by the time he finished recording the last song, "

For Def Soul artist Case, recording his latest set - "Open Letter," due April 24 -- was a physically daunting task. The process was so strenuous that by the time he finished recording the last song, "Missing You," he had completely lost his voice.

"I'd lost my voice earlier in the week," he says. "But it got down to the last day, and we had to do the song. I went in there, sang it twice, and after I finished I couldn't sing or talk."

The stress seems to have paid off. "Missing You," the album's first single, currently stands at No. 13 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart. The song also appears on the soundtrack to Eddie Murphy's "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps." But that placement wasn't originally what the artist had in mind.

"Def Jam wanted me to do a song for the 'Nutty II' soundtrack, but at the time I didn't want to do a song for any soundtrack," says the artist, who scored his first hit with "Touch Me, Tease Me" from 1996's "The Nutty Professor" soundtrack. "We sat down and talked about it, and they convinced me that it would be a cool idea to do it. However, we stashed it so not too many people would know it was on there and saved it for the new album's first single.

"Touch Me, Tease Me" was "the exact reason why I didn't want to do more soundtracks," adds Case. "It was the first single from that soundtrack, which went platinum, and the single went platinum. So by the time my album [1996's Case] came out, we had already shot our load. I wasn't trying to do that this time, because I didn't want people to be distracted from this album."

Preparation for "Open Letter" began long before the New York native entered the studio. "I had the album title a few months before we started recording," says Case. "Every song is like me sitting down and writing a letter to somebody."

To drive his "letters" home, Case enlisted the help of such producers as Tim and Bob, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and Shep Crawford, among others. "It was cool because everybody I worked with was on the same page," says the artist. "It didn't take a lot of time to get the songs together."

Case is particularly fond of "A Song for Skye." "That's the most important song on the album because it's for my daughter," says Case of the song he wrote for then-2-month-old Skye. "She was at home with me, I heard the track, and the song just came out. I picked up a tape recorder and just started singing. When she gets old enough, she'll understand exactly how I felt about her then."

Def Soul is equally excited about the heartfelt emotion expressed on "Open Letter." "This time out it's all about the record," says Def Soul/Def Jam senior director of marketing Chonita Floyd. "This is a great album that really shows how much Case has grown since 'Personal Conversation.'"

The label launched a 12-city promotional tour April 2, during which Case will visit radio stations to hold exclusive listening sessions. Def Soul has also set up case.defsoul.com, where fans can get more information on Case's upcoming projects.

Case and the rest of the Def Soul roster will also participate in a BET.com-sponsored prom-date promotion. As part of a special retail promotion, "Missing You" was released commercially via limited-edition enhanced CDs March 27. The single features an exclusive remix of "Missing You," as well as "Not Your Friend," another "Open Letter" track.

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