Angie Stone Warms Up On 'Mahogany'

As she approaches the promotion of "Mahogany Soul," her second studio effort and J Records debut (due Nov. 6), R&B diva Angie Stone is notably relaxed and content. "Everything is flowing," she ent

As she approaches the promotion of "Mahogany Soul," her second studio effort and J Records debut (due Nov. 6), R&B diva Angie Stone is notably relaxed and content. "Everything is flowing," she enthuses. "I'm grounded spiritually and happy in my love life. [I'm] more at ease."

In the nearly three years since the release of her critically lauded 1999 Arista debut, "Black Diamond," the artist has faced a fair amount of life experiences.

"I was dealing with a brand-new baby -- a two-month-old sleeping in the studio as I played and recorded -- and postpartum blues, feeling sorry for myself. This album is the grits and the gravy."

Tossing aside any notion of sophomore jitters, Stone cooks up a tasty sequel to "Black Diamond" - - which to date has sold 774,000 units in the U.S., according to SoundScan, and earned her such sobriquets as "new soul queen."

Much like the dictionary definition of mahogany ("dark, heavy heartwood ... varying in color from yellowish-brown to deep reddish-brown"), the 17-track set draws from a contemporary soul palette whose rich light-to-dark hues uncompromisingly embrace Stone's gospel and old-school R&B roots. In many ways, it outshines her debut, especially lyrically.

"This package is warmer, with more heartfelt lyrics," declares Stone. She began recording the set last September, after nearly 18 months of touring. "It's a well-rounded, adult album, with youthful, street sensibilities. I write songs that deal with issues everyone can identify with. I may not be on point every time, but I think this time we hit the nail on the head."

The "we" Stone refers to includes contributing producers Warryn Campbell, Eran Tabib, Gerald Isaac, Raphael Saadiq, Eddie F,. and Darren Lighty, as well as Ali Shaheed Muhammad, the former A Tribe Called Quest member who played a role on Stone's freshman album ("He's my homeboy -- we've got good style together"). As before, Stone co-wrote and co-produced a number of the tracks.

That handiwork may be heard on the August-released lead single "Brotha," which goes against R&B/hip-hop's continually trendy male-bashing grain with the "I'm here for you forever" theme.

"I always tend to go left when others go right," Stone says with a laugh. "A lot of brothers look at us as male bashers. I wanted to go where no one has gone in a while."

The videoclip for "Brotha," directed by Chris Robinson, celebrates past and present black male icons such as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jordan, and others. It's already receiving airplay on BET and VH1.

From there, "Mahogany Soul" covers a lot of territory. Stone throws down the emotional gauntlet, shifting from serious and frank to lovingly playful lyrical themes. The former is exemplified by such tracks as "What U Dyin' For," which takes young adults to task for becoming suicidal over silly matters; "Mad Issues," about those who thrive on drama in their lives; and "If It Wasn't," about family members butting into others' business.

The latter vibe takes shape through the infectious hooks of "More Than a Woman," a duet with Calvin Richardson; the Swizz Beatz-flavored "Wish I Didn't Miss You," which integrates the O'Jays' 1972 hit "Back Stabbers"; "Bottles & Cans," which colorfully paints the extremes a person will go to for love ("I'd rather be pickin' up bottles and cans if you can't be my man"); and a love duet with Musiq Soulchild on "The Ingredients of Love." Sweetening the pot is an a cappella version of Curtis Mayfield's 1970 classic "The Makings of You."

"'More Than a Woman' is a wish that every man would come out of the closet and give you what you deserve, no shucking or jiving," Stone says. "As for 'Makings,' I didn't want to do it. When I sang background with [ex-partner] D'Angelo, he'd sing it live. So I was really in a tug of war over the song. But I regrouped, saying, 'I can't worry about that.'"

Despite her track record thus far, the former Vertical Hold member is still not a household name. Ron Gillyard, J Records senior VP of urban music, says changing that scenario means getting back to basics. "In the next few weeks, she's going to major market radio to talk about and play the album so people can hear how deep it is."

While station stops are still being mapped out, the itinerary thus far includes Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, and Houston. On Oct. 1, she bowed the "Brotha" video and performed several songs at New York's Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture. Additional showcases and tour dates are being planned. Stone will also make TV appearances (including "The Tonight Show"), and she will be featured in such magazines as Heart & Soul and Vibe.

"With so much good music out there," says Sam Weaver, operations manager/PD for KPRS Kansas City, Mo., "it's hard to stand out. As long as Stone continues to record strong songs like 'Brotha,' she'll have longevity. It's all about the song."

Longevity is something Stone talks about in "Soul Insurance," the opening cut on" Mahogany Soul."

"The neo-soul boat will sink," she predicts. "It's getting heavy because too many people are jumping on [to the detriment of] other artists. True soul music comes from within. It's more gospel vs. hip-hop. It encompasses that Marvin Gaye/Aretha Franklin kind of energy, hitting you hard when you put it on. That's why Curtis still sounds good. Today's sound will have been played out 10 years from now. But real soul never dies."

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