Nicole Renee

Nicole Renee

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Comparing the soul music of the 1960s and 1970s to the urban contemporary of the 1990s, many Baby Boomers would tell you that R&B isn't what it used to be -- and, to be sure, 1990s R&B was full of faceless automatons who went for a cookie-cutter, assembly-line approach. But 1990s R&B wasn't a total waste, and sizable talents like Mary J. Blige, Lisa Stansfield, En Vogue and Lauryn Hill indicated that R&B wasn't something you could close the book on. One of the more promising R&B debuts of 1998 was this self-titled release by Nicole Renee, an interesting singer who often favors a nasal style of singing but can bring to mind Deniece Williams and Ron Isley when she hits the high notes. Renee did most of the producing, arranging and writing herself, although she had some help from Lamont Dozier and Arif Mardin here and there, and even though she uses some samples and drum machines, real instruments are prominent on impressive originals like the alluring "Strawberry," the sentimental "Seems Like Yesterday" and the Isley Brothers-influenced "Let Me Down." Most of Renee's songs are about romantic relationships, but addresses social issues on "Cocaine Lane" and "Ain't Nothin' Changed" (which reflects on the hopelessness and despair of a poor neighborhood). Striving for the organic instead of the mechanical, this album made it clear that Renee had a lot of potential.

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