Rated Love (released April 22, 2016)
I’ll keep an old candy-coated, valentine
Memories of you, you when you were miiiiiiiiiine
It only took two lines from her show-stealing debut with Avant to make me fall in love with KeKe Wyatt. Well, that and her hilarious run on TV One’s R&B Divas, a show we still quote ALL THE TIME around Bowser’s Castle.
She’s just too likeable — and way too talented — to root against. You want KeKe to win. And with her magnificent vocals, arguably the absolute best in R&B’s current landscape, Rated Love gives her yet another shot at stardom.
If the album’s title wasn’t enough to clue you in on this album’s themes, the tracks themselves tell the story: “Love Me,” “Dumb Love,” Still Have Love,” “Love Reigns” — KeKe’s fourth album is an audio love letter, with the mistress of ceremonies simply narrating life’s emotional rollercoasters.
And while the themes certainly don’t break new ground, once again it’s KeKe’s voice that commands your attention.
The album opener “Anything” is a lesson for any young vocalist — and even veterans who still haven’t learned to use their gifts properly. KeKe has amazing range but, more importantly, she knows how to control it. Her vocals soar only when need to — for emphasis or when the track demands it. There’s no over-the-top yelling or sing-songy psuedo rapping, just well-crafted melodies.
KeKe finds her groove on mid-tempo cuts like “Love Me,” where she yearns for the days before drama and arguments. But even when she swerves into the pop lane, on “It’s Reigning” and “On Repeat,” she’s still in control — she doesn’t dumb down her vocals for the sake of lighter production.
First single “Sexy Song” is a showcase for KeKe’s sultry side, the aching R&B that became her calling card in those duets with Avant. The song’s first verse is “set the mood, it’s just me and you” and she wastes no time following suit. Those vocals switch from desire to displeasure on “24 Hours,” when KeKe becomes a woman fed up. Her frustrations bleed from every note. Again, the production and vocal performances work in perfect harmony — the production starts slowly and muted, only escalating when KeKe’s notes demand it. It gives her voice room to breathe, and allows for greater appreciation of it.
That’s also why KeKe sounds so great when backed by a gentle acoustic guitar of “No Peace.” Her voice becomes the showcase and it doesn’t disappoint. “I Know” is of the same vein but even more infectious, thanks to the intentional repetition of the verses. It’s subtle but very catchy.
KeKe’s voice is obviously Rated Love‘s biggest draw but, as mentioned earlier, the album fails to put a unique spin on the dynamics of love and gets bogged down revisiting well-worn themes. “Dumb Love” is the typical “love don’t make no kinda sense” track that we’ve heard a trillion times before, as well as the “let’s stick it out” message of “Still Have Love.” I’m also surprised that Rated Love failed to include a couple of hip-hop inspired efforts. Some of the best work on her 2014 EP was in that vein and would have helped to diversity Rated Love’s playlist even more.
Still, Rated Love is a solid addition to KeKe’s catalog, proving that she’s almost peerless when it comes to vocal performances. There’s plenty of love to go around here.
Best tracks: “Love Me,” “24 Hours,” “I Know”
3.5 stars out of 5