Keyshia Cole: It's Like That

Oakland-raised songstress Keyshia Cole got her first big recording opportunity from MC Hammer while she was barely a teenager. Growing up in Oakland wasn’t easy for her, but Keyshia managed to follow the right path to build a reputation in the Bay Area music scene. She was enlisted by the likes of Messy Marv and Dwayne Wiggins of Tony Toni Toné to work on projects before she reached 21, and later chose to move to Los Angeles to pursue music and life on a different scale.

Just like something out of a fairy tale, she was quickly discovered by the president of A&M Records and signed a solo deal. The 23-year-old singer has been working with prolific songwriters and producers like Daron and Q of the group 112, Kanye West, Mya, Eve, and Shyne on her upcoming album. Keyshia’s first single, “I Changed My Mind” features Kanye West, and it has been rising up the charts as she positions herself for the release of her A&M debut.

Keyshia took a few moments out of her busy promotional schedule to speak with Alternatives about her inspiration, and the pressure of being compared to other young women in R&B. Alternatives: How was it working with MC Hammer at such a young age?

Keyshia: It was cool. I had pressured [his office] to let me talk to him everyday, and finally he said, ‘Get this girl up here, who is she, and why does she keep calling me?’ After that he would let me come in the studio as long as my grades were good. It never phased me that he was MC Hammer, I never really cared.

AHHA: Most people start off singing in the church. Was that the case for you?

Keyshia: I started in the streets, but my mother is a pastor. She owns her own church. I remember singing back in the day with my brother and his friends when they were doing their album. We formed our own group then I started singing in church.

AHHA: So were you the typical rebellious preacher’s daughter?

Keyshia: Yeah, I ran away when I was 15 - I don’t know why I did. I wanted to do music and other things, but my mother wouldn’t have it. I would rather go away and do me than stay in her house and defy her.

AHHA: Did you come back?

Keyshia: Nope. I am here now.

AHHA: How did you survive?

Keyshia: I got a job, and my uncle let me move in his building. He owned three apartments. We shared rent, $250 apiece.

AHHA: Rumor has it that the song ‘I Changed My Mind’ is a true story. Is there any truth to that?

Keyshia: The actual song is about being with a guy, and the video is about being with another guy - I made the two stories one. The guy I got over in Oakland was what the video was about, and the actual song was about after I left him and I came to LA and got into another situation.

AHHA: So when you say situation, do you mean relationship?

Keyshia: No, it really wasn’t a relationship - he wasn’t my boyfriend.

AHHA: What is the concept behind the song ‘I Should Have Cheated’?

Keyshia: That is the one Daron and Q wrote from 112. It is something I felt from my heart though. It is one of my favorites.

AHHA: Are all your songs biographical?

Keyshia: Everything on the album is based on experience except for the ones I didn’t write. I wrote 85% of the album.

AHHA: Is there a lot of pressure writing so much on your first album?

Keyshia: No. My label is smart, they give me a lot of leeway. They respect me artistically, so it is real cool.

AHHA: What artists do you look up to?

Keyshia: Brandy. She really did it for me, because she did it as a child and at a young age. She made me feel like I could do it. Also Monica.

AHHA: You have been compared to Ashanti. Do you feel that is that the case?

Keyshia: It could be if you want to compare me with Ashanti writing-wise and vibes, because that is my style. The way she gets down as far as music is concerned. But as far as vocally, it would be Mary mixed with Brandy.

AHHA: What about style-wise? Were does your style come from?

Keyshia: I have been coloring my hair since I was 13. I first colored it blonde, then copper, then my stylist put a red over it - so probably that is why [people] thought I was doing the Kelis thing. But Kelis has a whole ‘nother style - she is like wild and crazy. I am from where I am from. I am not trying to be extra hood or ghetto - I am who I am. That is the way I deal with it.

AHHA: Has your new success made people around you change?

Keyshia: No. They are cool, but a couple of them are doing bad - I can say one is acting up already, but I am not trippin’. Pharell told me, ‘You are going to be real successful’, and I was like, ‘Why did you say that?’ He wanted to know if I was ready for what was about to come at me; friends, family, feelings… I told him that there is no way I could be prepared for that. It is a blessing that people like that have my back and are willing to help me out.

AHHA: Where were you at with Pharrell?

Keyshia: In the studio - we did two songs on Snoop’s Album.

AHHA: What can we expect from your album?

Keyshia: It is really soulful, but it is Hip-Hop and R&B. I have Eve and Mya [as guests on it], and really heart-felt moments I have been through.

AHHA: How did you get links with these big names so fast?

Keyshia: When we are all in the studio, it is very easy for me to walk in the hall and for the door to be open, and [people] want to know, ‘Who is that?’ Then they want me to do a track. That is how I did the songs with Kanye, Pharrell, Eve, Mya, Daron and Q. My manager hooked that up with Shyne because I didn’t know him.

AHHA: Do you ever get star-struck?

Keyshia: Hell no, because they are just like me. I have been around people like that since I was 14. I was around Pac when I was 14 - him and my brother were cool.

AHHA: Do you have any special memories of Pac you would like to share?

Keyshia: He was like, ‘You’re going to be really successful, mark my words’, and I would be like, ‘Whatever’. He also told me when I was much younger [that] guys are going to be all over me because ‘you’re so fine’. He saw me as his little sister, and he knew that because I am beautiful, guys are trying to get at me and break me down. ‘Stay focused and every time someone messes with you, you pick up a book and read because they can never take your knowledge away.’

AHHA: Did you take his advice?

Keyshia: A lot of the things he said came true, so I learned from him. He knew a lot of things people couldn’t see yet.

AHHA: Do you have any other aspirations?

Keyshia: Honestly, I just want to be a veterinarian and open up a chain of veterinarian hospitals. As far as my music, beats and writing - that is just what I am going to do.