Album Review: Nicole Wray, Make It Hot

Nicole Wray

Make It Hot (released August 25, 1998)

Today, we’re turning back the clock for a rare Retro Review to revisit an album the classics and underrated gems that built our fandom.

A couple of weeks ago, I shared with the world a graphic featuring my 100 favorite albums of all time.

Feel free to check it out here – but keep in mind I said favorite albums, not BEST. The Stevie Wonder Warriors and 2Pac-etbooks have been yelling at me nonstop ever since.

Of all the albums here, two seem to have generated the most conversation from onlookers:

“Bubba Sparxxx’s Deliverance? Really?” and “Why is that random Nicole Wray album here?’

First off, mind your business and make your own list.

Second, I know you children think that Lil Nas X invented hick-hop, but it was perfected long before that guy was even an embryo. Deliverance is not just an excellent Southern hip-hop album, it also features some of the best production of Timbaland’s career. But that’s a discussion for another time.

Thirdly, and most importantly, let’s talk about my love for Nicole.

Many fans have a very personal connection with the artists they love and the music they create. Their songs become soundtracks of their lives. It’s why my mentions looked like Chernobyl when I said Brandy’s most recent album was meh and Jagged Edge’s new album was a two-hour disaster film – when I come for their faves, it’s like I’m coming for the fans personally. But for me, in most cases, my enjoyment of music is rarely tied to personal experiences.

I’m a cold, emotionless android when it comes to these music reviews, y’all.

But Nicole’s album is a huge exception.

Make It Hot, the debut album from Missy Elliott’s protege, dropped in the summer of 1998, a turning point in my life:

  • I was just starting my sophomore year of college, so I was really feeling myself and my independence.
  • My parents had just moved from my hometown of Portsmouth, Va., to build their beautiful dream home way out in rural Zuni, Va. – about an hour away from my school. Make It Hot became the soundtrack of many road trips.
  • And, of course, Nicole was directly involved with the Supafriends, the imaginative collective led by Missy and Timbaland. The Supafriends were my favorite crew in music at the time. Also, both Missy and Nicole are P-Town natives like myself and I went to grade school with Nicole’s brother Kenny so Make It Hot felt like a family reunion.

I’ve talked before about how I believe 1998 is one of the best years in hip-hop and R&B history – read all about it here. For reference, Make it Hot dropped the same day as Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation of Lauryn Hill – one of the greatest albums of the era – and a couple of weeks after Kelly Price’s Soul of a Woman – TILL THIS DAY my favorite album of all time.

So yeah, I’ve got a lot of love for Make It Hot and this era of music.

As album, does Make It Hot stand the test of time in the fickle days of 2020? Well… yes and no. But trust me, this one is a lot better than it gets credit for.

And that’s Reviewer Edd speaking, not Nicole Stan Edd.

The biggest draw, obviously, is the title cut – surprisingly, the sole record produced by Timbaland here. “Make It Hot” features Timbo’s signature dark, haunting bounce that defined his late-90s hits. Missy’s bizarre verse is still a highlight (“Me without Timbaland is like Puff with no Mase” sure hits differently in 2020) and Mocha’s intro is just as memorable. What ever happened to Mocha Latte anyway? She was all over these Missy releases in this era before being sucked into the Phantom Zone with Gina Thompson, Torrey Carter, ol girl from the reality show and the other forgotten Missy proteges.

As much as I love “Make It Hot,” though, this song would never fly in 2020. Nicole’s man treats her like garbage and cheats on her so her solution is to be MORE SEXY to win him back? Y’all would cancel Nicole, Timbo, Mocha (if you could find her) and everyone Missy shouted out at the end of the song.

The glossy Brian Alexander Morgan single “I Can’t See” might not have gotten the buzz of “Make It Hot” but it’s an equally fun summertime track, right down to the beautiful prelude that blends seamlessly into the proper cut. The video was WEIRD – basically hip-hop Alice in Wonderland – but it was the 90s, that was par the course. If this video dropped today y’all would be think piecing about how problematic it is for the dancers to be dressed like roaches but whatever.

Third single “Eyes Better Not Wander” is more fondly remembered, and is truly one of the hidden gems here, thanks to writing and production from both Static Major and Smokey from Playa. In fact, their fingerprints are all over the second half of the album, with “Raise Your Frown” being the most underrated cut of the entire set. Static is often celebrated for his chemistry with Aaliyah but the triple threat of Static, Smokey and Nicole could have produced just as much magic if given more time.

Speaking of writing and production, most of Make It Hot is handled under the watchful eye of Missy Elliott, with lots of help from Lil Mo, who was coming into her own as an artist at the time as well. “Seventeen” and “In da Street” are both really solid selections cut from the usual Missy cloth. Lil’ Mo switches up the formula a bit for “Curiosity” and it’s a ton of fun. Mo’s flirtatious back-and-forth banter with fellow guest Dent never fails to crack me up, it’s 90s dating at its most awkward. “Say what, playaaaaaaaa/It’s just the things we do” sounds like a line from a WB sitcom. Mo also helped pen the sturdy slow jams “Silly Love Song” and “Borrowed Time,” the latter remaining in my playlist rotation for 20 years and counting.

Does Make It Hot Hold Up?

Now, if you’re going into this album cold with only a 2020 point of reference, you likely will be disappointed. There are no bad songs here but some definitely feel more dated than others, especially the writing. But if you enjoy the late-90s Timbaland/Missy Elliott/Static Major sound and missed this one the first time around, you’re in for a treat.

Make It Hot is far from a perfect album. In 1998, with albums like Miseducation and Soul of a Woman dropping literally weekly, it was bound to fly under the radar. But more than two decades later, listening to tracks like “Curiosity” and “I Can’t See” takes me away from the days of COVID and stupid social media slander and transports me to a time of 98 cent gas, college parties, long road trips, my hometown and my favorite era of music. I can’t help but smile.

It’s my favorite writers and producers linking up with my hometown homie to create the type of music I love.

That makes this album perfect for me.

Best tracks: ALL OF EM

Best tracks: “Make It Hot,” “Raise Your Frown,” “I Can’t See”

50 stars out of 5

4 stars out of 5

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4 Comments

  1. I liked this album better than One In A Million. I’m mad she didn’t really get too much of a push on Roc-A-Fella.

  2. Great review! And I’m happy to see you liked my joint, I Can’t See.

    Working with Missy and Nicole was amazing. And I knew then, we were in a special era. Thanks for doing this review!
    Brian Alexander Morgan- #BAM b_a_morgan

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