When you hear her scrappy single "Girlfight," about two women duking it out over a man, it would be easy to dismiss 19-year-old newcomer Brooke Valentine as merely a Ciara clone. The song, which features a guest rap by OutKast's Big Boi, exploits the same trendy crunk sound that helped Ciara hit No. 1 with "Goodies." In fact, both tracks were produced by hip-hop's crunkmeister Lil Jon. As if that weren't enough, the partyjam "Taste of Dis," which follows right after the opener "Girlfight" on Chain Letter, boasts the same retro-'80s electro bounce as Ciara's hit "1, 2 Step," even including lyrics about stepping. Fortunately, though, the Houston native does much more than rip off Ciara's goodies on this promising debut. Indeed, Valentine easily eclipses her R&B-pop rival with a fun and feisty set that has a surprising alternative edge. Songs like the punky, spunky "Blah, Blah, Blah," which features guest vocals from the late rapper Dirt McGirt (a.k.a. Ol' Dirty Bastard), and the revenge fantasy "I Want You Dead," on which Valentine tells an ex, "I pawned your jewelry on the Net," bring to mind a cross between Pink and Kelis. Meanwhile, the southern-fried ballad "Cover Girl," one of 14 cuts that the singer cowrote, plays like a sequel to TLC's "Unpretty," addressing the beauty images with which young women struggle. "I know I'm not Halle Berry, girls from videos," she sings in her sweet, Aaliyahesque soprano. Of course now Valentine is one of those girls from videos. With this disc, however, she's clearly more than just another TRL hottie.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "I Want You Dead"