If you’re a diehard music fan like me, I’m sure you can easily prattle off a list of your favorite albums on demand. And on that list, I bet there’s at least one album that would raise a couple of eyebrows.
My list is no different. Tucked between albums from The Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Jay-Z and, of course, my man Keith Sweat, sits Nicole Wray’s sole album.
Yes, Nicole Wray.
I’m sure 99% of you are totally baffled – either confused that I’d love an album from a random one-hit wonder or because you have absolutely no memory of Nicole.
I’ll gladly remind you. Isn’t that why you come here?
Maybe my Nicole fandom stems from the fact that we share the same hometown, Portsmouth, Va. Coincidentally, it’s also the hometown of music industry trendsetter Missy Elliott.
Can I just take a moment to brag about the amazing musical talent in my homeland? Along with Nicole and Missy, the Hampton Roads area (affectionately known as the Seven Cities) has produced Timbaland, the Neptunes, Clipse, and Lex Luger (the producer, not the wrestler). And oh yeah, Magoo.
Don’t hate, Magoo can outspit nearly every rapper stumbling around on today’s radio stations.
Venture out slightly further and we can claim D’Angelo, The Lady of Rage (and her Afro Puffs), Trey Songz and, yes, my crazed Cousin Chris Brown. Va is a breeding ground for superstars.
Whatever is in the water there, Nicole has been sipping it. After wowing Missy with her vocal prowess she was signed to Missy’s label, The Goldmine, in the late 90s.
In the summer of 1998, Nicole released her debut, Make It Hot. What I expected would be a decent debut blew me away and wound up being one of my favorite albums ever. And that’s not just nostalgia talking – I still listen to it regularly and I don’t skip a single track.
Why do I love the album so much? I have no idea. But maybe because it’s just a perfect storm of writing and production. Timbaland’s signature bounce on Make It Hot’s title track made it a summer smash. The song climbed to No. 5 on the Billboard charts and eventually went gold. “I Can’t See,” with its infectious energy and ridiculous Alice In Wonderland video, embodied everything that fueled Missy’s rise to stardom. Nicole easily stepped into that role. And “Eyes Better Not Wander” was the product of R&B soul stars Playa, one of the genre’s most underrated producers and performers.
Nicole essentially stood on the shoulders of my favorite ’90s artists. No wonder I love that album so much.
The Make It Hot album was a modest success but the title track was a runaway hit. Nicole seemed to have a bright future.
So who turned out the lights?
After a few guest spots, including Missy’s “All N My Grill” single in 1999, Nicole turned her attention to Elektric Blue, her sophomore album. “I’m Looking” was much more subdued than her earlier work but I was a fan. The video popped up a few times on BET’s Midnight Love, then vanished. Soon after, Elektric Blue was shelved before ever being released. Boo.
Nicole parted ways with Missy and Goldmine and then signed a deal with Damon Dash.
Yeah, yeah, in 2013 you’re better off signing a record deal with PaRappa the Rapper than Dame Dash. But in 2004 it was a good move. “If I Was Your Girlfriend “ was the first single from her debut with the Roc, Lovechild. But that album never saw the light of day.
I’m as shocked as you are. She should have signed with PaRappa.
You gotta believe.
Undaunted, Nicole remained loyal to Dame, following him to Dame Dash Music Group when he
was kicked off of Roc-A-Fella decided to pursue new ventures. Nicole continued to trickle out music on various mixtapes and soundtracks, but there was still no album in sight. “I Like It” was set to be the first single from her revamped sophomore album, which was renamed Kill Cupid or Ms. America depending on the day of the week, I guess. It wasn’t a bad track, mostly thanks to the 2pac sample, but again it languished in obscurity.
At this point, Nicole’s sophomore album might as well be called Detox. It’s on the same timetable as Dr. Dre’s imaginary album.
Should She Come Back?: Actually, Nicole HAS staged a comeback. She teamed with UK soul singer Terri Walker to form Lady, which harkens back to Motown soul. Check out their single “Get Ready.”
Lady’s OK but I still kinda want a sequel to Make It Hot – only if Missy, Timbo and the remaining members of Playa are on board, though. But maybe Make It Hot was just a moment in time – the product of being in the right place, with the right team, at just the right time. It’s probably best to leave the memories alone.
For more on your favorite forgotten artists, visit our “What Ever Happened to…” archive.