Review Summary: On Here I Am, Kelly finally embraces her early Destiny’s Child roots with overwhelming confidence as a solo star.
It’s amusing how Kelly Rowland handled her music career over the years. From playing second-fiddle to Beyoncé to sharing credits for the #1 global smashes “Dilemma” and “When Love Takes Over”, the American songstress has finally found a way to escape the shadows of her superstar girl group and managed to find mild success as an artist. If things go well in her direction, she could be the next big thing - a successor to the likes of Alicia Keys, Aaliyah, and Mary J. Blige - that league of status that have manned a pretty consistent, solid following from urban and rhythmic-leaning music fans.
The only problem that I have with Kelly Rowland is her inconsistent image as a pop star. One minute, she’s the muse of every established European DJs churning club hit after another, and then on the other strike - she swags on an R&B track with a rent-a-rapper verse. Thank goodness for her third studio album Here I Am, Kelly finally came to terms with a single, focused path: embracing her early Destiny’s Child roots with overwhelming confidence as a solo star. Here I Am, her newest album in 3 years, is a contemporary R&B record sprinkled with sensual punch and hiphop oomph, the kind of output Ciara or Nicole Scherzinger wouldn’t mind doing right now. There’s less of the dance diva persona here, reducing the club-centric tracks to only two songs, the Guetta-produced “Commander” and the quite underwhelming “Down For Whatever.”
There are a couple of stand-out tracks on Here I Am, especially those that tackle fierce, sensual appeal and attitude. “Motivation”, inarguably the biggest urban summer smash of 2011, delivers a knock-out hook that sums up why we fell in love with the new Kelly Rowland in the first place: it’s sassy, smooth, and secured of its sexiness. In it we find Kelly fully comfortable with her womanhood and sexuality, cooing over suggestive lyrics and minimalist beats like a seasoned pro. “Lay It On Me”, which features Def Jam rapper Big Sean, is a sleekly produced, midtempo jam that’s just oozing with come-ons and sing-songy moments. The Ester Dean-penned “I’m That Chick” sounds more like a female-empowered Beyoncé track, but she adds a different touch to it - a layer of defiance and testament of how much a sexy, confident force she is.
The other tracks are pretty generic in nature, some of it bathing in uninspired production and dated, recycled beats that once hover familiar R&B records in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. “Work It Man” is trite and forgettable, and “All Of The Night” suffers from uniformly bland rap verse from Rico Love. The quiet storm ballad, “Keep It Between Us” is probably the worst kind and puts a snore fest out of a should-be exciting Kelly Rowland. Kelly, however makes up for the roundly mediocre tracks by dishing out the penultimate dance track, “Commander” - a departure from her urban roots, and a make wave for her Ray Of Light-era Madonna meets Donna Summer alter-ego. It’s not as exciting as “Motivation” or as sassy as “I’m That Chick”, but it’s a fair reminder of the versatile artist she is, someone who can adapt to different music templates and genres, moods and feelings, regardless of the danger that it might cause to her image and career. When Kelly sings, “From here on out I’ll be your commander”, you can just feel the star in her - a bearing she would most likely carry on her future releases with a steel might.