Saturday, September 25, 2021

Keyshia Cole & Damon Elliott: The Way It Wasn't

I don’t think anybody can come close to equaling the passion and grit of Mary J. Blige in her early years but out of all of the new contenders to come on the scene in the 2000s, Oakland girl Keyshia Cole came pretty close with her saturnine tales of life’s hardships, deadbeat men, betrayal and heartbreak. Somebody that was instrumental in her earlier career – although seldom ever mentioned – was Dionne Warrick’s son, music producer Damon Elliott. He was the one who discovered her in 2003, signed her to his imprint and helped get her major label distribution for her debut album “The Way It Is”. Sadly, by the time the album hit the shelves, his role had been all but erased, snuffed out due to label politics and temper tantrums. Only two songs of Elliott’s “Love” and “Down N Dirty” (both of which he co-produced with Greg Curtis) ever remained on the disc and to make things even worse his role was reduced to little more than an afterthought. Instead it was Ron Fair that discovered her, he that mentored her… Though I thoroughly enjoyed “The Way It Is” for its fearless emotion that seemed to defy her age at the time, some of these early tracks with Elliott are splendidly roughneck. Tracks such as “Snatch Yo Wave Out” and “Dumb Sh..” probably couldn’t be pulled off by just anybody but her while “Streets Is A Motha” tells of the harsh reality of her tough upbringing. I found the song in its entirety on You Tube back in 2013 where it falsely said it was taken from her 2004 mixtape “Team Invasion Presents: Keyshia Cole”. Another track “Get Up” went on to appear on the Biker Boyz soundtrack while “Love”, “Down N Dirty” and “You’ve Changed” later made the cut to her eventual album with “Love” going onto become her first platinum single. “You’ve Changed” is in its demo form here; the production is essentially the same but it’s more stripped down, in a slightly different key and has a slightly different vocal take. A further unreleased track “Talk To Me” appears to feature Mya on backing vocals. Seeing as Elliott was also working with her at the time on her third album “Moodring”, it is not entirely beyond the realm of possibility that she did backing vocals for him. She may have also co-written it as she also co-wrote “Get Up” as well with Elliott. Altogether a great – albeit short - CD that I didn’t even know existed and some fascinating insight into Cole’s earlier career that not many people know about.

So Alone    1:34
You've Changed    4:21
Streets Is A Motha    3:58
Down-N-Dirty    4:05
Love    4:35
Get Up    3:24
Talk To Me    3:11
Dumb Sh...    2:42
Snatch Yo Weave Out    3:22
Trifflin    1:24