Release Date: Sep 13, 2011
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): R&B, Contemporary R&B
This London dance-music fixture is only now taking her remarkably confident debut to the States. She's an ideal ambassador from her homeland's ever-expanding groove universe, with a diva-next-door voice that brings every body-moving subgenre her producers serve up - from bleeding-edge dubstep and so-called U.K. funky to good old-fashioned house and jungle - into the pop realm.
Sometimes it can be hard to keep up with all the musical genres and sub-categories that are knocking around. For those of you who like your music ordered neatly, Kathleen Brien – better known as Katy B – fits into the box labelled “UK funky.” If you don’t know what UK funky is, you could always ask Katy herself, as she wrote an essay on the subject while studying for a degree in popular music. I’m no expert myself, but presumably it’s different to US funky, which I imagine to primarily consist of Bootsy Collins, George Clinton and Nile Rodgers jamming non-stop for three days aboard a spaceship made entirely of hallucinations.
Last year, Katy B was widely credited for bringing vocal finesse and feminine pop appeal to an increasingly aggro dubstep-crossover arena. She dropped a fantastic Benga-backed debut single, "Katy on a Mission", that vocally wrung out both elation and longing over his abrasive, buzzing stutter-step. And she kept that streak going with a couple of guest spots on Magnetic Man's self-titled record: The eerie come-on "Crossover" and the ecstatic jungle throwback "Perfect Stranger" were album highlights that proved her voice could breach the barrier of heavy-duty bass and plant its feet firmly atop it.
The increasingly ubiquitous dubstep sound may have originated from as far back as the late '90s, but it's taken over a decade to produce its first genuine pop star capable of competing in the charts with the likes of Rihanna, Britney Spears, and Kesha, all of whom have incorporated its wobbling basslines and sparse, syncopated rhythms into their recent material. South Londoner Katy B, a by-product of the Brits School which spawned Adele, Leona Lewis, and Kate Nash, is just that artist. Bursting onto the scene in mid-2010 with her Benga-produced debut Top Five single "Katy on a Mission," a hypnotic blend of buzzing synths, chunky beats, and soulful, cooing hooks, the Goldsmiths College graduate could have joined the plethora of one-hit wonders the dance scene produces every year.
Katy B's debut LP sees the 21-year-old UK songstress thoroughly exploring the faces of dance music, sounding fresh and effectively repurposed since her last North American outing. She lends her coy, inviting vocals to everything from deep house on Hard To Get, to dubstep on the title track, trip-hop (yes, really) on the fantastic Disappear and UK funky on Lights On with Ms. Dynamite.
Commercial dance music isn't often a hive of longevity, but no one enjoys a career as brief as the featured vocalist. They're the expendables of pop, the singer or rapper plucked from the shadows by a producer, heading straight back to those shadows once their single starts to slide down the charts. Sometimes, that's understandable.
On A Mission, as much as it’s a sterling debut album, is also a bit of a gnawing dilemma. That is to say, it confirms Katy B as an artist who’s especially tricky to frame: over 55 minutes, her voice rides atop maybe four or five identifiable subgenres, without being betrothed to any of them. Assuming you have a passing affinity with the London-raised Kathleen Brien, and the brains you were born with, you’ll realise she’s not actually 'the queen of dubstep' (a title which, distressingly, seems to have legs), but neither does On A Mission specifically carry a banner for its stepchild, UK funky.
Of all the acts tipped to make waves in 2011, only [a]Katy B[/a] appears to be bulletproof. Fairly or no, the anointed likes of [a]Jessie J[/a], [a]James Blake[/a] and [a]Jamie Woon[/a] have all undergone backlashes of varying shapes and sizes since tastemakers hailed them as future idols way back in January. But somehow, the 21-year-old from Peckham just keeps on trucking.It might not seem so weird, if the ammunition wasn’t already there for her to go down in a hail of harshly worded bullets.
As the coolly altered colors of the cover art indicate, Katy B’s On a Mission is euphoric without aggression. It’s awash in the newness of discovery, and represents the perfect confluence of elements that all but transcends any single camp. This isn’t merely a house album, a pop album, a dubstep album, or an R&B album. It’s a bright, cheerfully mainstream-friendly record that’s almost completely built from the ingredients of much darker, grimier dance music subcultures in a way that recalls the sunnier moments of Basement Jaxx, or Kathy Diamond’s Maurice Fulton-guided retro jaunt through the Loft on Miss Diamond to You.
Like many a UK talent before her, Katy B (the B stands for Brien) attended the superstar academy the BRIT School, known for supplying the likes of Adele and Jessie J with the skills needed to navigate the performing arts world. Unlike some alumni, however, Katy B rose to stardom in the UK through use of a fairly new sound and a refreshingly ordinary image. Katy has earned scads of acclaim for integrating UK club beats into fairly straightforward pop songs, and has been pegged as both the queen of dubstep and one of the best and brightest of the new bunch of UK pop divas.
A new breed of pop star, Katy B could be your favourite chart-conquering poster-girl. Natalie Shaw 2011 It’s easy to believe that Katy B was born to be a chart-topper. That giant beaming grin, the boundless impishness of her vocal; how she stamps her personality all over her music with such ageless excitement. On her debut album On a Mission, she sprints towards the PA for its entire 55 minutes with such a natural thrill that only those with hearts of steel won’t find something to love.
KATY B “On a Mission”. (Rinse/Columbia).