Breaking & Entering

Looking at acts breaking at radio and retail and entering the Billboard charts. This week: Goapele, Pharrell Williams, Guster and Milky.

A look at the latest acts that are breaking at radio and retail and entering the Billboard charts.

A CLOSER LOOK: After releasing only one album, Goapele's neo-soul stylings earned her comparisons to Jill Scott and Mary J. Blige. Yet Goapele stands apart from her R&B peers. Near the end of her self-released released debut, "Even Closer," she drops this bomb: "Red, white and blues / United, who stands for the truth?"

The nervy, anti-war song brings the album to a jarring end. The tune opens with disarming air-raid sirens, and descends into a bass-driven jazz groove before screaming electric guitars and out-of-control hip-hop beats bring it to a jolting close.

GoapeleLike Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu, Goapele's songs are filled with a socially aware lyrics. While plenty of the songs on "Even Closer" are dedicated to all things love, tracks like "Red, White & Blues," "Childhood Drama" and "It Takes More" make the biggest impression, with the latter two addressing child-rearing and class issues.

The native of Oakland, Calif., Goapele is the daughter of exiled South African political activist Douglas Mohlabane, and has routinely spoken out against racism and sexism. It's this background that she brings to her work, which glides by with a smooth, jazzy elegance. Her songs also have hip-hop credibility: Rapper Pep Love makes an appearance on "Ease Your Mind," and much of the album, released on Goapele's Skyblaze Recordings, was produced by underground hip-hop artist Amp Live.

Plenty have taken notice. In the past year, Goapele has been featured in Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Urb and Vibe. All the attention has helped "Closer" work its way up Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks tally. The cut peaked at No. 85 a few weeks ago, and was back up last week to No. 89, thanks to heavy airplay in L.A. and Minneapolis.

Pharrell WilliamsA NERD ON HIS OWN: As a member of production duo the Neptunes, Pharrell Williams is used to seeing his works penetrate the top of Billboard's charts. Williams and partner Chad Hugo have crafted songs for everyone from Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake to Jay-Z and Common. If you're an artist with a major label expense account, the Neptunes are who to turn to if you're aching for some radio play.

Yet while Williams has had no problem constructing chart-toppers for Nelly and N'Sync, he's had tougher going when his work isn't hiding behind the face of a regular on MTV's "TRL." Last year, Williams and Hugo released their first album for Virgin Records, under the moniker N.E.R.D. The work earned the two a bounty of critical accolades, but nary a hit did it contain. The album's "Lapdance" had to settle for a high of No. 85 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks tally.

Williams and Hugo are currently recording the follow-up to the N.E.R.D debut "In Search Of ...," and in the interim, Williams has decided to go it alone.

This time, he's called in a favor. Jay-Z, for whom the Neptunes produced the hit "Excuse Me Miss," has lent some name recognition to "Frontin'," the first single Williams has released under his first name, Pharrell.

The lead single off "Clones," a compilation album designed to showcase the artists on the Neptunes' Arista-attached label Star Trak, "Frontin'" has already gone where no other N.E.R.D. cut has gone before. Last week, the song was up 61-56 on Billboard's Hot 100, where it has been steadily climbing for the last five weeks. The song is performing even better on urban radio. It was up last week 25-22 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks count.

"Clones" is due Aug. 5, and also features work from Kelis, Dirt McGirt and Clipse, among others.

GusterBOSTON GUST: The breezy, folksy pop of Guster made the band a favorite on the college scene in the mid-1990s. With each album, the band slightly increased its fan base, and after 1999's "Lost and Gone Forever," Guster had become one of the better-known groups in the Boston area. Now after a four-year hiatus, Guster is back and making more noise than ever, at lease as much noise as a few violins and banjos can.

Previously, Guster had relied on college and NPR-affiliated radio stations for airplay. Yet in the time it took for Guster to record "Keep It Together," released two weeks ago via Warner Bros. imprint Sire Records, like-minded artists like Train, Jack Johnson and John Mayer have become mainstream stars. Guster's acoustic-driven melodies now are suddenly what pop fans are seeking.

It's clear that Guster is no longer an over-achieving underground act. MTV2 has embraced the band and "The Early Show" on CBS booked the group for a performance at the end of June. Last week, "Keep It Together" shot to No. 35 on The Billboard 200. Previously, the group had never been higher than No. 169.

Sales are strong on the East Coast, as expected, and the CBS performance seems to have nicely spread the band's name to the rest of country. For instance, nearly 10% of sales for "Keep It Together" sales came from the Internet, according to Nielsen SoundScan, a rather high percentage for a major label release.

Guster will be touring through the fall.

MilkyMILKY'S WAY: She may have been born and raised in Egypt, but Milky has clearly studied the smooth, techno-inspired grooves of Kylie Minogue. Her "Just the Way You Are" has a relaxed, easy-to-absorb beat, and it should make even part-time clubgoers feel confident on the dance floor.

The petite young artist was reportedly discovered by British A&R scouts while working toward a literature degree at the University of East London. Milky embarked on a budding modeling career and also earned some cash as a belly dancer before recording her debut single. With its sunny beats, and an abundance of irresistible "do-do-do's," even the most cynical of critics tagged "Just the Way You Are" as a "guilty pleasure," and it stormed the U.K. singles charts.

The single, which features a sample of "Streets of Your Town" by revered Australian pop group the Go-Betweens, was recently picked up for U.S. release by BMG imprint Robbins Entertainment. The cut debuted at No. 17 on Billboard's Hot Dance Single Sales chart two weeks ago, and was lodged at No. 22 in its second week. The single features remixes by Full Intention and Liquid People.

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