Amerie Reaches With 'Touch'

Excerpted from the magazine for

Last December, Amerie and co-manager Lenny Nicholson decided to leak her new song "1 Thing." Some four months later, the pair's gamble is paying off.

"[The label] had had the record since last spring," recalls Amerie (whose last name is Rogers). "But they didn't want to put it out. Lenny and I thought about it a lot and decided it's do or die."

"1 Thing" percolated to the top of Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Heard on the soundtrack to the Will Smith box-office hit "Hitch," "1 Thing" -- referring to the one thing that attracts one person to another -- also claimed No. 8 on The Billboard Hot 100.

The Rich Harrison-produced song also sounds the charge for Amerie's sophomore Rise/Columbia/Sony Urban Music album, "Touch," which arrived in stores April 26 and debuts this week at No. 5 on The Billboard 200.

The dance track's sound can be traced to Amerie's roots in Washington, D.C., home of the percussion-driven musical style known as go-go. The funk subgenre appears to be undergoing a resurgence: Go-go pioneer Chuck Brown recently debuted at No. 46 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart with "The Best of Chuck Brown." (In 1978, Brown & the Soul Searchers topped the R&B chart with the go-go anthem "Bustin' Loose, Part 1.")

Such contemporary acts as Jennifer Lopez (with "Get Right") and D.C.-based go-go band Rare Essence (reworking Ashlee Simpson's "Pieces of Me") have also mined the same vein.

"I wanted a different feel this time," Amerie says of her new album, and "1 Thing" in particular. "We did midtempo go-go on 'Need You Tonight' from my first album. But '1 Thing' is more high-energy, infectious."

Though she and Harrison have what Amerie calls a "Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis/Janet Jackson" chemistry, she also enlisted a diverse slate of producers, including Lil Jon, Red Spyda and Dre & Vidal. Intertwined in that endeavor was the singer/songwriter's quest to assert herself.

"I'm more confident now about what I want," the 25-year-old says. "And while wanting to diversify my sound, I also wanted one constant to remain -- making sure I stay true to myself as an artist."

Cases in point include the smooth Dre & Vidal ballad "Just Like Me" and the album's second single, "Touch." The latter, produced by Lil Jon, helps debunk what Amerie calls people's perception of her as a goody-goody.

"There's a sensual, sexual side going on here," she notes. "I'm saying, 'Don't be afraid to touch me -- I am a human being.' I'm just not an in-your-face personality. Additionally, in naming the album 'Touch,' I wanted to show that vocally, lyrically and sonically there are more sides to me."

Those sides include actress and TV host. Last year, Amerie made her film debut in the Katie Holmes movie "First Daughter," directed by Forest Whitaker. In 2003, she began hosting BET's weekday afternoon entertainment series "The Center," a gig she will repeat this year. A summer concert tour is also planned.

During the three-year break between albums, Amerie and Nicholson began ramping up their Feenix Entertainment venture, which they are patterning on Overbrook Entertainment. Overbrook, whose principals include Amerie co-manager James Lassiter, is the production and management home of Will Smith.

"Right now, we're looking at different artists," Amerie says. "We may go into clothing. However, it all goes back to one thing, and that's where my head is at: controlling my destiny."

Excerpted from the May 7, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to subscribers.

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