Just as Mary J. Blige idolized the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, 23-year-old Keyshia Cole grew up worshipping the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, Blige. At its best, Cole's debut recalls the raw emotion, gritty realism and street beats of Blige's landmark first album, 1992's What's the 411? Like Blige, Cole excels at singing about pain over pleasure, from "(I Just Want It) To Be Over," which punctuates the romantic drama with horns, harps and rumbling percussion, to "You've Changed," a smooth mix of bitter sentiments and sweet soul. Cole, who overcomes technical imperfections with her from-the-gut delivery, really tells it like it is on the ballad "I Should Have Cheated," on which she informs a jealous lover that "I might as well have cheated on you as much as you accused me of cheating." Although the disc fails to break any new ground and falters toward the end, Cole shows that she is more than just another pretender to the throne.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "I Should Have Cheated"