Rhythmic Quest Yields 'Just Whitney...'

Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

While recording the first album after signing her new $100 million Arista contract, Whitney Houston says she sought to create "a positive, feel-good, very soul-oriented album, something I felt was missing. I hear a lot of things on the radio, but I don't hear any R&B songs with a bold, new flavor... songs you can sing along to and love the melody. That's what I was looking for."

That rhythmic quest has yielded "Just Whitney...," which will hit U.S. stores Tuesday (Dec. 10). While her previous studio album, the 1998 set "My Love Is Your Love," found the crossover diva dabbling in hip-hop and reggae, "Just Whitney..." takes a decidedly more R&B approach.

The album is led by the commercial single "One of Those Days," which Arista is working to U.S. urban, rhythmic, and pop radio outlets. Utilizing the melody from the Isley Brothers' top-5 1983 R&B hit "Between the Sheets," the midtempo, Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs-produced tune is No. 35 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart and No. 94 on Billboard's Hot 100.

The new album marks several milestones for Houston. In addition to it being her first studio album in four years and the first under a renewed contract, "Just Whitney..." is Houston's first album without mentor Clive Davis. It is also a reunion with Arista Records president/CEO Antonio "L.A." Reid, with whom she worked briefly on the 1995 "Waiting to Exhale" soundtrack and extensively on the 1990 R&B-oriented "I'm Your Baby Tonight." Key in crafting the new album was how the two worked together on overall direction and song selection.

"This was a very loose process," Houston says. "With Clive, I was used to getting the song and knowing what I was going to do on a day-to-day basis. This time I walked into the studios and listened to tracks. L.A. would recommend people and say, 'If you like it, I'll hook you up.' I really enjoyed the process, because I got some really great creative material that I probably wouldn't have gotten otherwise."

Reid says, "I asked her to go in and experiment with different producers, which is something she hadn't done in the past."

In addition to Briggs and Reid, Houston worked with such producer/songwriters as Missy Elliott (who contributed to Houston's "My Love Is Your Love"), Teddy Bishop, Gordon Chambers, Rob Fusari, Troy Taylor, and longtime collaborator Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds. Guest artists include husband Bobby Brown (on the duet "My Love," their first since the 1992 song "Something in Common") and The Gold Mind/Elektra artist Tweet, who does background vocals with Houston on "Things You Say."

Reid is also considering using Santana on a single version of another album track, the rock-tinged "Tell Me No."

Like "Tell Me No," another song that seemingly belies the album's R&B direction is a remake of Debby Boone's 1977 hit, "You Light Up My Life." Given a gospel feel here by Babyface, the song was chosen for its appeal to Reid and Houston.

Although Houston describes all of her albums as "very personal; whatever song I put my voice on is with a full-heartedness that I give to every album," it is difficult to ignore the assertiveness that runs through nearly half of the album on such tracks as "Tell Me No," "Try It on My Own," "My Love," and "Unashamed."

Then there is the Brown- and Muhammad 2G-produced "Whatchulookinat." Given a lukewarm reception by radio this summer, the song-which Houston co-wrote-chastises the media for its preoccupation with her private life and personal travails. For her part, Houston says the reaction is "what I wanted it to get. It's sassy and elegant and says what I've been asking for a long time. I mean, come on now. Enough is enough."

Yesterday (Dec. 8), Houston delivered a free outdoor performance in the plaza at New York's Lincoln Center that will air tomorrow on ABC's "Good Morning America." Arista is also setting up appearances on MTV's "Total Request Live" and BET's "106 & Park," as well as online chats and other appearances into 2003.

A CD/DVD that is limited to 132,000 units arrives in the U.S. the same day as the album. Priced at $22, it features two videos -- for "Whatchulookinat" and "One of Those Days" -- plus special artwork and a mega-mix of Houston's hit videos that also contains behind-the-scenes footage from the making of the "Whatchulookinat" clip.

With this album just out of the gate, Houston and Reid are looking ahead to more projects together. Calling herself a "gospel girl," Houston -- who is the daughter of gospel/R&B singer Cissy Houston, and began honing her award-winning vocals in church -- says she would like to do a gospel album at some point and more songwriting. Musically, for her it is -- and always will be -- about "carefully chosen and carefully felt songs. I have to feel it, love it, and live it. Music isn't supposed to bring you down; it's supposed to bring you up."

Excerpted from the Dec.14, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.

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