Columbia Records and Sony/ATV Music Publishing are taking a back-to-the-future A&R approach for the debut album by singer/songwriter Nikki Jean: They're pairing her with experienced songwriters.

That doesn't sound especially bold—except that the songwriters include Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.

The Jean project is "publishing in action," Sony/ATV chairman/CEO Martin Bandier says. "Too often, publishers wind up being passive, acting as a financial aid. That's OK, but it's only part of the job. The other part of the job is called 'artist development.' "

Best-known commercially for singing and writing stints on Lupe Fiasco's "The Cool," the 25-year-old Jean is a member of the Philadelphia-based indie hip-hop band Nouveau Riche. She's also a popular YouTube fixture thanks to original videos she posts on her nikkijeanproject channel. Despite her contemporary vibe, however, Jean is deeply rooted in the classics.

"My favorite writer is Irving Berlin," Jean says. Her other inspirations include James Taylor and Joni Mitchell.

The concept for Jean's album grew out of her discussions with songwriter/producer...

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