The year was 1996, the label was Bad Boy Entertainment and vocal quartet 112 released their self-titled debut, becoming its first ever---and most successful---R&B group. With their lush harmonies and multiple style influences, the Atlanta, GA natives Marvin Scandrick (Slim), Daron Jones, Quinnes Parker (Q) and group founder, Michael Keith, won a Grammy Award, sold millions of CD's, scored hit after hit ("Cupid," "Only You," "Peaches And Cream," "It's Over Now," "U Already Know") and toured with the likes of Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson and the Isley Brothers, just to name a few.
But even their enviable success couldn't innoculate them against music industry politics: by the time a diminished Bad Boy left its parent company (Arista) for distribution through Universal Music in 2003, 112, like many of the other flagship acts before them, had vacated the label. Two CD's later, internal pressures led to Daron's temporary departure from the group, but in 2008, Michael Keith left for good amid rumors of monetary mismanagement. Fans of 112 may still have to get used to them performing as a trio these days, but should still find gems to enjoy in Mr. Keith's self-titled and satisfactory, if not sensational, debut.
Although his vocals aren't as recognizable as Q's or Daron's, Mr. Keith does possess a sinewy, self-assured tenor, which he applies to the songs (all of which he ambitiously co-wrote and co-produced) with verve.There's nothing unexpected in the collection as far as sound---he stays firmly in the R&B lane---but Mr. Keith does show unexpected flashes of depth beyond the bump-n-grind. "Ain't Feeling You" is a club-ready uptempo kiss-off, aimed at a woman who once left him for greener pastures and now wants to jump back to his side of the fence. "Love" is a pulsating, vulnerable plea for insight, and "All On You" makes the lady the aggressor as he offers himself up for ravishing during their latest sexcapade, contrasting the mack-daddy mode displayed in "Off In This Bedroom." As bold as those selections are, Mr. Keith will definitely raise brows with the salacious "Shawdy Red," where a to-the-point groupie seduces him and he flips the script on her down the road: "Thought I was the only one in her world, 'til I caught her in bed with another girl: she thought I'd kill her but instead, I said 'Move over Shawdy Red.' " Well alrighty then!
Overall, Michael Keith's CD could've been filled with by-the-numbers 112 retreads (some songs come close, like "Ain't Feeling You"), but instead, he went the extra mile and infused passion and perspective, especially into the unblinking autobiographical 'Father,' where he forgives the biological who didn't bother and even thanks him for...well, doing nothing: "Looking back on my life, Man I have no regrets, I can truly say I'm a better man, and it's because of your neglect." There's not a lot of flash or big names thrown around, but for anyone championing genuine effort, raw talent and the underdog, Michael Keith is worth the listen.
By Melody Charles