Cole is a multiplatinum star who had a hit reality show and recently became a mother. But the Oakland diva's fourth album is by no means a celebration: Cole is a heroine who thrives off tales of conflict, betrayal and survival. Her voice is as grit-flecked as ever, chewing through blaring beats and going pound-for-pound for ferocity with fellow bruiser Nicki Minaj ("I Ain't Thru").
Whether attributed to the downward trend in album sales or its very title -- one that likely made instant skeptics of those who didn't want Keyshia Cole's sound to change -- the merely-gold-selling status of A Different Me must have greatly impacted the makeup of Calling All Hearts. There are no upbeat pop-oriented songs, and stylistic diversions are not part of the program, either. It is something of a refinement of Cole's first two albums, and yet it involves a revolving door of songwriters and producers.
For fans of mid-tempo 90s R&B hungry from something new, Keyshia Cole is about as close as it gets to Real Love - or the kind of resilient anthems that aim to empower the soul, not just the body, with complex harmonies and life-affirming lyrics. Top-tier talents Timbaland, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League produced Cole's fourth album, which starts with the one-two punch of I Ain't Thru, with its bouncy beat and girl-power guest rap by (who else?) Nicki Minaj, and standout single Long Way Down.