I’m an avid hip-hop fan with liberal music tastes, but R&B is the one genre that constantly moves me, admittedly to tears sometimes. It has the power to take me from love to heartache, and joy to pain in sweeping motions. One young singer who has grabbed my attention this year with her incredible voice is Keyshia Cole.
She’s 22, and this year released her first album, “The Way It Is.” At least once a week, I listen to this record in its entirety.
In the beginning of my favorite song, “Thought You Had My Back,” Keyshia sings: “Every girl’s gotta go through it, and every man’s gotta go through it. It’s this thing called love,” and on the song’s breakdown, she sings the word “love” in three different octaves that just seem to pierce through my heart.
These days such an ability to express sentiment in every single note is hard to find, although some of my favorite artists, such as John Legend and Alicia Keys, also convey unbelievable range and emotion in their singing. But Keyshia’s vocals are especially touching and relevant to young girls, similar to another of my favorites, Mary J. Blige. By mixing R&B with hip-hop and soul, Mary changed the nature of R&B in the ’90s. Keyshia, too, has such potential.
Her heartache transcends from her voice to my ears, and every inflection is a result of her experiences. You can tell she’s been hurt but she bounced back. At the same time, her voice sounds so young — like she just went through what she’s singing about.
Cole is from Oakland, Calif., and before being adopted, she lived in foster homes for much of her life. Once she realized that singing was her dream, she hooked up with ’80s rapper M.C. Hammer and started to record. Keyshia was even close with the late (extremely great) Tupac Shakur, who once told her that she would become a huge star some day.
Truly good music is really hard to find. But unfortunately, Keyshia hasn’t garnered as much attention as she deserves from music fans and followers, and her album sales have not been as high as many predicted (“The Way It Is” has sold 359,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan). But I hope more people discover her amazing abilities. The way she connects to both young people and adults is rare, and it’s something many young singers don’t do.
From her pain, Keyshia has come through with an understanding of what she wants out of love and life, and she’s become a stronger person. When I listen to her voice, I think about young girls who have been jaded by the misconceptions of love who are also listening and feeling relieved that someone is expressing how they feel.