Keyshia Cole - The Way It Is Music Album Reviews

Keyshia Cole - The Way It Is Music Album Reviews
Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit Keyshia Cole’s 2005 debut, a scrapbook of too-real breakup anthems from a pivotal moment in R&B.

Keyshia Cole has likely caught a boyfriend cheating a million times, but one particular indiscretion set her life in motion. It was 2002, and she was 21 years old, broke, running on pure instinct and faith. Fed up and feeling defeated, she packed her belongings and fled from her hometown of Oakland to Los Angeles on a whim. Within a few months, she’d gotten a demo track to A&M Records’ then-president Ron Fair and scored a label deal, unknowingly building a hero’s arc around her ex’s deceit.

Cole’s first two singles weren’t overtly messy. A Luther Vandross remake featuring Eve, “Never” was happy wedding-reception music featured on the soundtrack to Barbershop 2: Back in Business. The follow-up, “I Changed My Mind,” an upbeat termination letter for an ex, produced by a young and hungry Kanye West, brought Cole closer to success in a cluttered R&B scene, but it wasn’t a mainstream hit. A&M’s artist development exec, Michelle Thomas, suggested a more vengeful approach. How about a record where a pissed-off Cole considers cheating on an unfaithful, guilt-tripping partner who’d accused her of cheating?

“I Should Have Cheated” was Cole’s life story and, incidentally, the only song she didn’t write on her debut album, The Way It Is. Daron Jones of 112 produced the track and co-wrote it with bandmate Quinnes “Q” Parker, originally for another R&B singer-songwriter, Nivea. Fair later added spaghetti western-style harmonica and keys over soapy strings and landed a Top 40 hit that pushed sales for Cole’s debut from a meek 89,000 U.S. units in its first week to platinum in nine months. Of course, the subtext of the song was that Cole probably didn’t have the heart to retaliate. “I Should Have Cheated” was more of an emotional chess move than a winning strategy—something every R&B fangirl at the time wished they could say and actually mean.

That type of emotional warfare fit the mood of a new pop decade flooded with empowerment anthems from Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and Destiny’s Child. By the mid-2000s, “male-bashing” was a go-to, stereotypical label for women singing about stupid love. Released in June 2005, The Way It Is arrived amid an influx of suave soul stars like John Legend and Anthony Hamilton and upstarts like Chris Brown and Trey Songz who made sex-driven R&B. Mary J. Blige was deep in marital bliss by then, five months before releasing her seventh studio album The Breakthrough. Cole emerged at a time when the genre needed a fresh authority on heartbreak to speak to millennial women coping with hurt before the current golden age of therapy in pop culture.

More than just an avatar for pain, Cole saw herself as a voice for Black girls who could barely fathom love, let alone talk about it. The same week The Way It Is dropped, I interviewed for a dream job (which I didn’t get) and discovered my boyfriend of three years was in love with someone else. After a night of crying, I emailed a friend, writing dramatically: “I was so happy just a few days ago and now I don’t know what to do with him. I told him I never wanted to see him again.” She suggested I listen to Keyshia Cole.

Girls like Cole aren’t just repairing the damage of men in their lives but also dealing with family dynamics that lead them into broken relationships. “The girls I sing to is in the hood,” she said in a 2005 interview. “They’re in predicaments that I’m sure it’s hard to get through, to be focused and try to be in school and try to keep a job, try to keep their minds straight. Those are the types of girls that listen to me.”

Like Blige, Cole was never into smoke and mirrors. Unable to hide her discomfort, she often looked visibly over it (meaning everything) in interviews. As recently as last year, she apologized for showing up late to her Verzuz battle with Ashanti and seeming irked half the time. In fairness, back in 2005, the industry was expecting studied professionalism from a twentysomething with a history of abandonment who later said the attention she received from fans was a love she’d never felt.

Cole was born in Oakland and lived alone with her mom, Frankie Lons, who struggled with addiction in the ’80s when crack cocaine hit cities like Oakland hard. When Keyshia was a baby, her grandmother took her from Frankie and put her into the foster care system. Already traumatized at age 7, she turned to music as an outlet, forming a singing-rapping duo with a neighborhood friend. Then at 12, she met M.C. Hammer through her brother and started singing background vocals for the hometown star, who later introduced Cole to another icon and early mentor, 2Pac. Those industry connections fueled her ambitions, but Cole was stuck in Oakland, dropping out of high school at 17 and running away from her foster parents’ home to live with the same boyfriend whose infidelity compelled her to retreat to L.A.

Despite her media allergy throughout her career, Cole was hardly closed off about her life. Less than a year after releasing The Way It Is, she premiered a six-part BET reality series with the same title. Besides being a relic of an unglamorous era in realty television, the series offered a close-up view of how addiction destroys families, documenting Cole’s strained relationship with her mother, who became a beloved pop culture fixture in her own right before she died of a drug overdose in 2021.

Reality TV made it easier to root for Cole, whose upbringing inevitably shaped her views on love. That attitude and weariness allowed her to emote from a deeper, agonized place on The Way It Is. Over mutinous horn stabs on opener “(I Just Want It) To Be Over,” produced by Krucial Keys, she describes a cycle of frustration and rapture with the wrong guy. On records like “Thought You Had My Back,” a classic ballad of resentment where she’s in conflict with two confounding ideas (men and love), she sounds equally youthful and hardened.

The Way It Is was less emotionally expansive and more redemptive than an album like My Life, where Blige bravely spirals into the depths of depression. Cole’s debut is missing the contours of grief that could’ve helped her transcend into a more progressive R&B lane. Still, the record is a worthy entry in the canon of breakup albums, a category too often trivialized because the music appeals largely to young women who believe they’ve failed at finding a lasting romance.

Underneath its series of kiss-offs, The Way It Is is also deeply sensitive. The stringy ballad “Love” has the voice-cracking melodrama of a girl who thinks singing with all her heart might bring back the love she’s lost. “You’ve Changed” flips the weeping Just Blaze beat on Jay-Z’s lovesick manthem “Song Cry.” In response to Jay’s reluctant pathos, Cole interprets the dissolution from her perspective, suggesting that maybe money made him treat a woman differently. Cole’s songwriting is too cosmetic elsewhere, oversimplifying drama. The mid-tempo “Situations” is about being caught in a predictably tempting triangle. On “We Could Be,” she courts a crush with bare-minimum wooing, singing plainly: “If we could be friends, baby, it’d be all I need.” Lines like these connect only when you’re in the most impressionable stage of adolescence, aggrieved but still forming language around amateur feelings.

Cole’s debut is a bridge between unconventional old-soul singers like Blige and Erykah Badu and a new school of SZAs and Summer Walkers, whose generation is even more artfully ruthless in the dating arena. “I’m so mature, I got me a therapist,” SZA sings on her latest album, SOS, while fantasizing about killing an ex. Cole once explained this emotional logic on the premiere of her now-defunct talk show in 2019 (fittingly, her first guest was a boyfriend who’s now an ex). She argued that women today have turned reckless out of a sense of hopelessness, and after reaching a boiling point, she said, “We decided to just be a savage.”

An episode of Keyshia Cole: The Way It Is, which aired for three seasons, features Cole in a studio session with Diddy. While recording the hook to his Press Play single “Last Night,” he coaches the singer to put more stank on her vocals—aka “that conversational shit that you specialize in,” Diddy says, later telling Cole she’s “one of the greatest vocalists I’ve ever worked with.” It’s true that her voice is uniquely tuned to convey a pain rooted in years of adversity. The Way It Is showcased that she can go to those deeper places when she wants to. She just has to feel it.

Additional research by Deirdre McCabe Nolan
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Keyshia Cole - The Way It Is Music Album Reviews Keyshia Cole - The Way It Is Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on December 25, 2022 Rating: 5


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