March 26, 2009

Test Spin: Keri Hilson

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In 2007, Keri Hilson neared the top of the charts as a featured guest on label boss and mentor Timbaland’s “The Way I Are.” Already an established songwriter, the major pop crossover success of the song was intended to launch of Hilson’s career as a solo artist, as she quickly prepped her debut record for a late 2007 release. However, this release date, as well as subsequent ones, came and went, as label budget cuts and two underperforming singles delayed the project indefinitely. Finally, with the success of third single “Turnin’ Me On” — a flirtatious, swaggering romp adorned with an inspired Lil Wayne guest verse — In a Perfect World… was officially released, a mere 18 months later.
While the album’s long-delayed status may have signaled a lack of strong material, the resulting record is the contrary, as In a Perfect World… gleams with vibrant vocal execution and buoyant production helmed by A-listers Timbaland, Danja and Polow Da Don. After the aforementioned current single jump starts the record, the club thumper “Get Your Money Up” sizzles with feminine ferocity, featuring a triumvirate of vocals from Hilson, Keyshia Cole and Trina. Follow-up single “Knock You Down” is a monster hit in the making, a tour-de-force anthem featuring the ubiquitous Ne-Yo and a boisterous verse from Kanye West (“keep rockin’ and keep knockin’ whether you Louis Vuitton-it-up or Rebok-in”). The Akon duet “Change Me” too is a dramatically effective affair, colored by anguished vocals and a lingering drumbeat.
Even though the record is thoroughly professional, not everything works here. The Timbaland duet, her failed single, “Return the Favor” lacks the same sprightly spark that characterized their first collaboration together, and the record’s ubiquitous slow jams “Make Love” and “Slow Dance” come off a bit hackneyed. Nevertheless, Hilson truly shines when she shares the spotlight with no one, as is the case on the melodic mid-tempo bounce of “How Does It Feel” or on the haunting “Alienated.” In a perfect world, this record would have been out over a year ago. Still, it’s good to finally hear from Hilson. Better late than never.