Who is Nikki Jean? That's what Twitter followers were asking recently when Lupe Fiasco wrote, "I'm quitting Twitter . . . I'm gonna let @NikkiJean takeover [sic] my Twitter--go get that album."
That album is singer/songwriter Jean's S-Curve debut, Pennies in a Jar. The Sam Hollander-produced set then sparked a new round of queries when one of its catchy tracks--"La Di Da Di Da"--became the backdrop for Best Buy's just-ended campaign touting AT&T's HTC Status phone.
It's the latest step in drawing attention to talented newcomer Jean. The Sony/ATV writer was previously best-known for her singing/writing stints on Fiasco's The Cool, including "Hip-Hop Saved My Life." Then two-and-a-half years ago, Jean embarked on an ambitious project. She traveled cross-country to collaborate with some of music's most-revered songwriters (Billboard, May 16, 2009), a who's who that included Bob Dylan, Carole King, Jimmy Webb, Carly Simon, Burt Bacharach and Lamont Dozier.
The result is the July 12-released Pennies, whose 12 tracks artfully fuse pop's rich history with the present. For instance, Fiasco and the Roots' Black Thought guest on "Million Star Motel," which Jean co-wrote with country icon Bobby Braddock. The aforementioned "La Di Da Di Da" was co-penned by Luigi Creatore (co-writer of Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love"). The album debuted at No. 16 on Billboard's Heatseekers Albums chart.
"The experience hasn't really hit me yet," says Jean, who's been making the promotional rounds through appearances on "Late Show With David Letterman," Tavis Smiley, NPR's "Weekend Edition" and Daryl Hall's "Live From Daryl's House." "But I learned two key lessons. One, just do it. These people, who wrote songs we still sing to, approach this like a job; showing up to work every day. And two, write and rewrite."