Not every producer or songwriter needs to put a face to the name.
When Kanye West came from behind the production booth, we tilted our hats. When The-Dream thought it would be profitable to extend his “ella-ella-eh-eh”s into full songs, we put a couple of coins in his charity cup. Even when Timbaland inserts his monotonous, constipated groans into his hits, we look the other way.
What do all of the above have in common? They have all successfully traversed the border between producer/songwriter and recording artist. However, with this sudden surge of border-crossers, what makes behind-the-scenes extraordinaire Keri Hilson believe that she can stand out of the crowd?
For starters, it was because of Hilson’s songwriting that Britney Spears was able to “Gimme More” when all that her mental breakdowns gave her was a bald head and two kids who are now in the custody of Mr. Trailer Trash 2008. It was also because of Hilson that Timabland’s version of Diddy’s Press Play, Timbaland Presents Shock Value, spawned a second hit, “The Way I Are”. And some of this excellence has leaked onto her debut album.
“Turnin’ Me On” features an awkwardly annoying distortion of Hilson’s voice confidently delivering lyrics that match, if not surpass, those of auto-tune legend and self-proclaimed alien Lil’ Wayne. In “Return the Favor,” Timbaland tries to remake “Promiscuous,” failing to make it catchy but compensating with an adventurous beat and lyrical substance. Hilson teams up with “Playa Cardz Right” Keyshia Cole and “Da Baddest Bitch” Trina and proves that these divas are the female versions of hustlers in “Get Your Money Up.” Current single “Knock You Down” is the album’s shining moment, flaunting Hilson’s songwriting genius next to that of Ne-Yo (see Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable” and Rihanna’s “Take A Bow”) as well as College Dropout Kanye West.
Slow jams “Make Love” and “Slow Dance” show that even though Hilson may not have a voice as powerful as Whitney Houston’s, the lyrics and people behind her can deliver. In “Intuition,” “How Does It Feel,” and “Alienated,” Timbaland’s production drowns out Hilson altogether, with her lyrical prowess barely keeping afloat.
The rest of the album could have been scrapped altogether, as some of the b-sides floating around the internet (i.e. “Hey, Girl,” “Quicksand,” and “Happy Juice”) make the songs that finish out In a Perfect World look as impoverished as Wall Street without the stimulus plan. That said, this sneak peek into the world of Keri Hilson at least shows more promise than the Jonas Brothers’ promise to God that they’ll stay pure until marriage.