Who Knew? (released February 23, 2010)
No, this isn’t a “Whatever Happened To…,” although it easily could be.
Poor Keke Wyatt is remembered for just two things – the girl who sings with Avant and the crazy lady who stabbed her man. That’s not what you’d call a lasting legacy.
In 2000, Keke blew our minds when she teamed up with Avant to remake Rene & Angela’s 80s ballad “My First Love.” A year later, Keke dropped her solo debut, Soul Sista. The album wasn’t bad – I still pop it in my car’s CD player from time to time – but many of the watered-down tracks didn’t complement Keke’s strong vocals. The best track, “Nothing In This World,” (again, featuring Avant), showed that she possessed lots of untapped potential.
Then, the drama.
Keke, fed up with her husband’s alleged abuse, got indicted in 2002 for stabbing him with a paring knife. She went back to him, but the abuse continued and she finally divorced him recently – nearly a decade later. Her professional life was just as tumultuous, as her two follow-up albums (’06’s Emotional Rollercoaster and ’08’s Ghetto Rose) are sitting in a warehouse somewhere with Dr. Dre’s Detox, never to see the light of day.
That’s right, I said it. Detox is never coming out.
But Keke’s future is much brighter with the release of Who Knew?, which is comprised of material from those two shelved albums.
The first thing you’ll notice is that her voice has become even stronger during her absence. For those of you who says radio won’t accept traditional R&B songs with strong vocals, I offer “Never Do It Again,” where Keke apologizes to her man for her ghetto outburst. It wouldn’t seem out of place on a playlist nestled between Alicia Keys and Melanie Fiona.
Keke demonstrates her amazing range on “Peace on Earth.” She’s simply backed by an acoustic guitar, which gives her vocals ample opportunity to soar without studio gimmicks. “Weakest” is one of those throwback slow jams that balances intensity and sexiness – never becoming overly crass or ridiculous (pay attention, Trey Songz).
Keke should have kept the extremely generic “So Confused” back in the warehouse. Ditto the jittery and jarring “Getting It” (and her knock-off Lil Kim flow). If she wanted more upbeat stuff, she should have stuck with energetic mid-tempo tracks like the single, “Who Knew.” It’s a better fit for the album.
Fans of Beyonce’s Sasha Fierce, or even Monica’s new one, likely will be bored by the lack of boisterous beats from today’s most sought-after producers. But I love how Who Knew? is a return to R&B’s roots. Let’s hope this triumph is just the first of many for Keke.
Best tracks: “Weakest,” “Never Do It Again,” “Who Knew”
4 stars out of 5