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Soulful songstress sings atop the charts

R&B singer Keyshia Cole blends hip-hop and soul on her album ‘Just Like You.’

How did a smooth, sultry crooner like Keyshia Cole beat out the (now proven) king of hip-hop Kanye West on the Billboard Charts last week?

After spending three weeks on the charts with her second album, “Just like You,” Cole claimed the top spot. Maybe 50 Cent needs to take some notes from this young California songstress.

Like Kanye, Keyshia found a successful blend of sugary pop, hearty R&B and raw hip-hop. Although she hasn’t perfected this recipe like Kanye, she strikes a tasteful balance on the upbeat tracks of “Just like You.”

The sophomore album garnered Cole her first number one hit on the Billboard Charts with the yummy “Let It Go” demonstrating her discovery of the special formula for cooking up success. The cut, which features Missy Elliot and Lil’ Kim, is the perfect mix of club energy and sing-along car ride lyrics.

With a beat pulled from “Juicy Fruit” by Mtume, better recognized in Notorious BIG’s “Juicy,” the song is bubbly and danceable. But with the legitimate femme triple-threat of Cole’s vocals, Elliot’s always impressive production and Kim’s rhymes, “Let It Go” shifts from a fun, flirty and weightless pop hit to a strong, filling force to be reckoned with.

Although the album features a handful of these well-balanced tracks, the rest of the songs are a predictable mix of slow jams about love and heartbreak.

That is not to say that Cole doesn’t have the vocal abilities to carry these tracks. She has a strong, sultry and slightly raspy voice with an impressive range that makes these ballads work; it’s a shot of Tabasco on a typically dull and sappy snore-fest.

On “Didn’t I Tell You,” Cole’s pretty voice burns an ex-boyfriend for his neglect. The song, which features fellow Oakland, Calif. native Too $hort, has perfectly flawless vocals, but gets edgy when Cole sprinkles on the picante. She declares to the ex that she’s done waiting at home; she’s going to an exclusive party he doesn’t even know about. So there.

Although Cole doesn’t have the vocal prowess or story-telling abilities of, say, Mary J. Blige or another female R&B great, she isn’t a completely vapid pop success story, either.

Many of Cole’s songs handle subjects of the heart, but she uses a ’07 version of girl power when addressing breakups, lovers and the rest of those familiar musical targets.

She’s sugary, lovey, pretty pop. She’s a soulful songstress with a voice to back up her good looks. She’s from the hood and doesn’t forget to rep her hip-hop upbringing.

Although Keyshia doesn’t have as much attitude as Kanye or as much vocal strength as Blige, she does have that special, saucy blend of genres that makes her ballad-heavy album edgy enough to cook up success on the charts.

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