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Album Review: Love And War, by Tamar Braxton, and Rebellious Soul, by K. Michelle

September 13, 2013
By

Tamar_CulturelistThe latest Billboard 200 album chart saw a #2 debut for Tamar Braxton, the Severn, Maryland-raised singer heretofore known as one of ’90s superstar Toni Braxton’s less famous younger sisters. In August, another R&B singer who’d been kicking around the industry for years with little success, K. Michelle, also enjoyed a #2 chart debut. Both impressive sales figures would probably not have been possible without one common link: reality TV. WE’s Braxton Family Values and VH1’s Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta, which K. Michelle recently left the cast of, are both cable hits that raised each woman’s profile significantly over the past couple years, setting the stage for those sales coups.

Once upon a time, reality shows were only a career option for two kinds of musicians: hopefuls and has-beens. An unknown singer might become famous on American Idol, and a fading star might be able to collect a paycheck on The Surreal Life and raise their touring profile, but there wasn’t much opportunity in television to nourish a recording career still in progress and make hit songs. In recent years, that’s changed. The title track to Braxton’s Love And War has been one of R&B radio’s biggest and best hits of 2013, and K. Michelle’s “V.S.O.P.” has been climbing the charts since before her album Rebellious Soul started selling. They may have built their audience with reality TV antics, but now there’s a bona fide fanbase for their music, which they leveraged with Twitter followers buying up their singles and eventually getting them on the radio.

The rise of Braxton and Michelle comes at an interesting time for women in R&B, when there’s something of a stardom vacuum. Although Beyonce, Alicia Keys and Mary J. Blige aren’t going anywhere, they’ve all been on commercial declines for years, and no new female R&B artist has emerged in the last decade with any major staying power (save for Rihanna, a pop star whose biggest hits often aren’t even played on R&B radio). At the ripe age of 36, Tamar Braxton sold 114,000 copies of her second album (following a long forgotten 2000 debut) in one week, a better number than far more established artists like Ciara, Keyshia Cole, Fantasia or Kelly Rowland did with their latest albums. And it’s not just women – Love And War outsold new albums by John Legend, Jaheim and Raheem DeVaughn released in the same week.

Tamar Braxton could have made an album that follows through on the promise of “Love And War,” with lush, emotional ballads that show off how she has both her big sister’s sultry tone and a range that soars higher. And about half the time, she does, with equally impressive songs like “Stay And Fight” and “Where It Hurts,” which was co-written by longtime Toni collaborator Babyface. Unfortunately, there are also several half-baked, ill-fitting tracks that make the album feel muddled and confused. Halfway through the album, Braxton strains to sound sassy on the noisy, Diplo-produced “One On One Fun” and the ‘turnt up’ Rihanna-style track, “She Did That.” That each track runs less than two minutes long is just about the only good thing about them.

Where Braxton’s attempts at an edgier sound feel forced, K. Michelle is brazen in a way that feels true to herself. Rebellious Soul is the rare major label R&B album with an explicit lyrics sticker not earned primarily by guest rappers (the only MC on the album is Meek Mill, who barely curses at all in his brief verse). K. Michelle first gained fame a few years ago when she was mentored by R. Kelly, but the material he penned for her was a bit bland, lacking in the personality and X-rated sensibility of his own songs. Kelly didn’t work on Rebellious Soul, but it feels like she’s picked up a little more of his approach since then, singing about sex and relationships in frank, sometimes filthy terms.

Rebellious_Soul_album_coverThe week Rebellious Soul was released, #KMichelleSongTitles was a trending topic on Twitter, lampooning her ‘ratchet’ personality as seen on VH1 and occasionally in her lyrics. Ultimately, though, she’s not saying much that male R&B singers, from Kelly to more recent acts like The Weeknd and Ty Dolla $ign, haven’t been saying for ages. And Rebellious Soul would feel like merely an amusingly foul-mouthed novelty if not for the fact that K. Michelle can sing circles around many of her contemporaries. With not just a large vocal range but an extremely loud style of singing, she sounds a bit like if Jennifer Hudson had been raised in Memphis and cursed like a sailor. That she demonstrates that impressive ability on an interlude like “Coochie Symphony,” in which she sings in an operatic style about her broken coochie, could either be considered squandering her talent or simply applying it in an unusual way. That she puts those moments of levity alongside sincere (and explicit) songs about love and sex and family, all sung with the same conviction, puts her in a unique position in a genre where well-behaved women haven’t been thriving much lately.

  • Sheda

    K. Michelle did that!!! She got that ‘hood girl swag’ that a chick like me (from Compton) can relate to!!! I love this album on so many levels

  • ririlove

    tamar braxton has the all round super star quality that k michelle lacks .Tamar Braxton has what it takes to be the next big thing she has Super Star quality .K michelle does not have that commercial world wide race breaking appeal she is a good singer and it takes more that that to make is tamar braxton got the full package its what she does with it .k michelle is not on her level so tamar should ignore her and keep it moving

  • Ya I said It

    Sorry (but not sorry) to all the K. Michelle fans but Tamar is levels ahead of K. Michelle. She sounds better, she has more star quality and she’s more famous. Tamar sings about Love and K. Michelle just sounds (SNS) like a hoe.

  • MARKEL

    #Tamartian!!!!!

  • Kennedy

    TAMAR BRAXTON WON!!! HER ALBUM IS EVERYTHING AND I DO MEAN EVERYTHING. SHE DOES NOT SOUND “FORCED” SHE IS POPPIN HONEY. PROPLE GONNA HATE BUT JUST AS MANY PEOPLE ARE GONNA LOVE. THANK YOU TAMAR FOR SAVING MUSIC. I HAVE NOT BOUGHT AN ALBUM SINCE 2010 .. I RAN OUT TO BUY THIS ALBUM FIRST THING THAT MORNING. ..IM PROUD TO SAY I HAVE NO REGRETS… #TEAM TAMAR

  • Tamar Fan

    K Michelle or whatever her name is cannot compete with Tamar Braxton.

  • Nika

    Tamar won, point blank and the period

  • TruThBeTold

    Sorry, but nothing about Tamar B. sounds forced!!!! She out did herself on the whole album because every track is sung very well, plus it has that real grown R&B feel to it! So please give credit where credit is due….HATERS!!!!

  • Laschell

    K. Michelle wins!!!!!!!!!!!! Hands Down……. Just love the Honey in her songs that i can relate too, if you look past the adult language this girl has been hurt deeply and chooses to express her self through her music. I enjoyed K. Michelle’s entire album, but Tamar’s only has a few tracks here and there that I like…….

  • Robert L Gillum

    A lot of you guys are haters K. Michelle is doing her thing and you all are not. Stop hating and start congratulating. Tamar can sing but she writes shit, and K. Michelle writes which like Mary, India, Jill, will make her more money and not marring an obese man…..

  • Nikia

    She’s making more money than K donkey ass right now. Writing songs doesnt equate to good music. Her vulgar music isnt staying power. Here today gone tomorrow. I dont see K on any shows really promoting her music like Tamar. I would rather be with Vince than someone that beats me. Love to a big man is better than that drama in K Micelle’s life. Her ratchet but cant even keep a man.

  • Robert L Gillum

    We all are entitled to our opinion it’s like an ass we all have one; however, K is probably making more money than all of US and we are talking about her and she isn’t talking about Us. Now put that in your pipe and smoke…… Puff Puff Be Gone

  • Robert L Gillum

    K Michelle is making more money than all of US and we’re talking about her and she isn’t talking about you. Puff Puff Be Gone

  • Danielwinfrey

    I don’t know why there r not friends r cool with each other they have been through the same things like both been beaten by a man in past relationship both sing R&B both on Reality TV both had music out in the pass that didn’t do to good and both got a damn child now I like both of there albums I like k Michelle more..on Tamar album I could have done without the “ratchet ness” songs and I love the fact that she have a “thank you lord” on her album it’s been a long min since it have been done

  • Joyce

    In my opinion they both did their thing, they have two different sounds so you can’t really compare them to each other, I LOVE both of their albums

  • momoney

    Really Tamar is not that good,she is a drama queen.She was horrible on the awards show..all of her DRAMA!! ..and her HUSBANDS made her famous.and to be honest im tired of her crazy ass attitude

  • Dee

    I just watched the braxtons and I no tay is a pain but her sisters need to be fair. They should have thrown her a party. she has been whole heartedly wanting this for years. and its sad that they did not personally congratulate her. they always congratulate Toni on everything why not tay.

  • Mama V

    You made a Real Statement and this is her Moment and Few People haten but Most enjoying her. Her music is R&B and K music is almost like Country Blues but if I had a 16yr old she would not be able to Listen to K album but she would be able to Listen to Tamar album and #she’d that# !!

  • Mama V

    Yes months later and I just want to reply to Robert a singer to another singer K writes about her life but with Bad Adjectives but I can say Tamar can Sang and she writes Damn Well remember she won the A&S Songwriter Award Chaka K R&B Award and Best Song other people that Matters thought T was Better and Is. Reason K did not get nominated for a Grammy due to her Songwriting now who writes @?$#%! Listen!! Now why do you have to name call people when you don’t know Vince at least he is an overweight lover (RICH) MAN with a J.O.B. so give all artist their credit and Moments!! Now u Puff Puff away? It’s call Entertainnment and what you like. If I had a 16yr old she would be Banded from listening to K Album but she could listen to Tamar because it’s Clean and don’t have to skip tracks. That the different what you like and what others like!!

  • Antonio

    I can’t with y’all saying Tamar can’t write good songs when she has songs like Love and War, All the Way Home, Pieces, Where It Hurts, Sounds of Love and Stay and Fight but K has generic R&B songs like VSOP, The Right One, Can’t Raise a Man, Coochie Symphony and Kiss My Ass… Y’all mad because Tamar’s album got overwhelming positive reviews, was nominated for major industry awards and sold over 400,000 while K’s basic, ratchet mess flopped and barely got any real recognition outside of your local inner city beauty salon