Wig parties. Plastic surgery. Baby-mama drama and wedding plans. Long before there were the ‘bourghetto' Real Housewives of Atlanta, Kandi Burruss was already successful in entertainment as a member of the platinum-selling R&B quartet, Xscape, and a history-making songwriter responsible for hits like TLC's "No Scrubs" and Destiny's Child's "Bills Bills Bills." Since Kandi was the first African-American songwriter to win R&B's Songwriter of the Year, there were high hopes for her studio solo debut, Hey Kandi..., but despite a pair of hit singles ("Cheatin' on Me," "Don't Think I'm Not"), it failed to put her over the top. Ten years since Hey..., thanks to the growth she's experienced since then, fans who championed her from the jump or are just discovering her from the reality show will find her sophomore effort, Kandi Koated, well-rounded and more sophisticated than her infidelity-focused debut.
Just like her given name, Kandi can be super-sweet, sticky and downright flavorful: she takes charge with her desires on the lush mid-tempo, "I Want You," then spills the contents of her broken heart in the delicate "The More I Try": "I try to keep going like everything's still all good, I try to stop myself from driving by your neighborhood/ and I try to throw away your old letters but I just can't do."
Her vocals have also strengthened and evolved; a tender, lighter trill is displayed in the pro-love anthem, "I Just Know," and hip-hop fans will immediately recognize the hook from the super-catchy "Me And U," since its hook shadows Outkast's 1998 smash, "Elevators (Me & You)." Only a heartless mannequin could fail to empathize with the pain she channels in "How Could You...Feel My Pain," where she rails against the man who clowned her and the family for a sidepiece: "How could you take her out for folks to see...and have our business in the streets?/ Buy her all kinds of gifts and, take her out on all kinds of fancy trips, while I'm at home with your kids?" Kandi delivers the track with such raw emotion that the next logical step could be one of two places: an overnight jail cell, or the studios at TV's Snapped.
Kandi isn't exactly one-note though, since she dishes it out as well as she takes it; she tells a lackadaisical lover that she's looking at the front door in "Leave U," where she lists all the things he used to do before he got too comfortable: "Date nights, we used to do it, long walks, we used to do it....Compliments, affection and passion, you used to do it....whatever you used to do to get me boy, you gotta keep it up to keep me around/...Because I'm about to leave you, for a man who's doing the things you used to do/ I'm about to leave you, for somebody who'll do a whole lot better than you."
Beyond the expected tracks about love, Kandi keeps it from getting too maudlin by adding some tang and texture: the NC-17 cut, "Lucky," coyly portrays herself as a woman all-too-willing to be a chick-on-the-side because he's such a, well....you already know: "I know you got a girl and I know that I'm wrong, but a hard man's good to find/and she gets to have it all year long, so can I just get tonight?" She mourns her former fiancé ("Haven't Loved Right") and her eight-year-old daughter, Riley, exchanges verses with Mom on a self-titled interlude, but it's not as heart-warming as "Leroy Jones," an ode to the man who was, and remains, like a stepfather to her: "He was a role model and he was there for me, the first man to take me on a shopping spree/that's the type of man me and my daughter need."
Thanks to her elevated public profile, command in the studio, well-placed collaborators (Ne-Yo, Jazzy Pha and Bryan-Michael Cox) and her rich vocals, Ms. Burruss should do well this time around. It can become saccharine and overly-long in places, but it's still hard to resist this dose of Kandi Koating. Recommended.
By Melody Charles