We know her since the late 90s when she was still one fourth (later one third) of one of the most successful girl groups, Destiny’s Child. Singing and dancing since she was a little kid and continuing to do so since today, Kelly Rowland, as her group name indicates, is indeed a child of destiny. Hit after hit while in her group, and literally gaining unexpectedly the same success as a solo act right after, when she collaborated with rapper Nelly on R&B duet ‘Dilemma’ (2002), charting number 1 around the globe. Together with her debut album ‘Simply Deep’ released that same year, as well as her follow-up single ‘Stole’ that addresses bullying in school, Kelly gained international recognition as a solo performer. Her second album ‘Ms. Kelly’ (2007), known for ‘Like This’ (feat. Eve), had a slow start due to postpones and slept-on label back-up, but eventually gained more attention internationally with the help of a Hindi-style remix for single ‘Work’ by English-Irish DJ duo Freemasons. A start in the euro-scene that eventually pushed her to experiment with different styles that lead her to collaborate with French DJ David Guetta. The chemistry of the two, most visible in ‘When Love Takes Over’ (2009), pushed the dance scene into mainstream, but she yet decided to stay true to her R&B roots later on, finding success back in the US with slow jam ‘Motivation’ (feat. Lil Wayne), taken from third LP ‘Here I Am’ (2011) that offered a certain mix of genres, then laid strong into urban music in 4th album ‘Talk A Good Game’ (2013).
Even though Kelly fought for her own right in the music industry, her collection of songs has sometimes not reached its potential. There are many reasons for this, like postponed album releases, not enough label support, or just a tough competition. Certain singles or album tracks still offer timeless allure, being catchy tunes that bring something different to the table, which makes it said that some of them are overshadowed. Or, sometimes only known in specific territories, like her collabs with European artists like DJ Alex Gaudino (‘What A Feeling’) or singer Tiziano Ferro (‘Breathe Gentle’) where Kelly even sings a few lines in Italian. Nevertheless, here are ten picks of underrated songs Kelly released throughout her career – single and album tracks that can still rock a playlist years after (the listed tracks are in no specific order).
A cover of a 1975 released song by Bobby Womack, Kelly released her version as a single for a deluxe re-release of her second album ‘Ms. Kelly’. Just like Womack’s 70s version, Kelly re-used some of the soul and Motown-esque vibes, then twist and turned it around with modern beats. Backed up with the raps of Gym Class Heroes’ lead vocalist Travis (now known as Travie) McCoy, his in-betweeners blend nicely with the song, even remind of pop culture references from when the song was released, like Paris Hilton’s short prison time in 2007 (“I’ll be back in three days like Paris’s jail sentence”). Travie then fills up the bridge nicely with funny lines: “Sleep is so foreign, TV is so boring / New York is New York, Travie is aight / The freaks come out of night like a vampire” – and both Kelly’s and Travie’s vocals blend perfectly together with their vocals and the sounds.
Redoing a soul classic is not always applauded, but Kelly’s modernized version keeps the charm from the original, yet makes it accessible for modern radio. A great listen, and while the song already passed the 10-year mark, it has proven itself with timeless allure. ‘Daylight’ therefore is maybe one of her best solo tracks she released throughout the years.
The song title speaks for itself when Kelly exclaims to “buy another ‘round” and ordering shots for everyone to let loose through the night. Lyric-wise the song has a parallel line with Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’. Only in Kendrick’s scenario, it’s the social pressure to drink, analysing the motivation of consuming liquor: “Some people like the way it feels, some people want to kill their sorrows, some people want to fit in with the popular, that was my problem.” In Kelly’s version though it’s literally the desire to kill off sorrows, using alcohol to numb the pain as her lover found another: “I can tear the whole world down, I guess it’s bad enough I’m drinking ’til I smile.” What’s really better is nothing, but it whatsoever presents a relatable life story.
In addition, the danceable beats blend as a mix of her urban roots with some sounds reminiscent of her David Guetta-days. ‘Turn It Up’ therefore perfectly fits her 3rd LP ‘Here I Am’, where the majority is R&B but offers some EDM flavors to the side.
Released as a firestarter, ‘Flashback’ was first put out as a bonus audio track on Destiny’s Child’s ‘Live in Atlanta’ DVD, and also used as sophomore CD teaser for the planned ‘My Story’ album that originally was expected for a 2006 release, but pushed back for additional recording sessions, renamed ‘Ms. Kelly’ and released in 2007 instead. Even though the track was put out more than a year prior to the album release and one from her early album sessions, ‘Flashback’ still made it into the album. Rightfully so: The crazy scribbled sound effects that somehow translate nicely with piano and emotional lyrical content, is just too exceptional to ignore. In addition, the song-lines about holding on of a past relationship creates sympathy: “These flashbacks, I don’t want that / I just wanna go back where you messed up and erase that.” The outro then throws in some guitar strings to carry the song to an end, and even though it seems like a lot is going on, ‘Flashback’ stays on a steady line. Nice track.
Just like ‘Flashback’ was ‘Still In Love With My Ex’ another one from Kelly’s early ‘My Story’ sessions – eventually made the album when it was renamed to ‘Ms. Kelly’ in 2007, but leaked a year before the actual release. The lyrics continue where ‘Flashback’ ended, only turning to the next level: Still stuck in a past relationship, but so distinctive that Kelly eventually passes away a marriage to her next lover, admitting still being stuck with her ex: “Honesty (Check), Conversation (Check), A shoulder I can lean on anytime I’m feeling stressed (Check) […] Was about to say ‘I Do’, but I know it wasn’t meant.” The lyrical content – feeling stuck in a good relationship because of still holding on a former lover – rarely exists in that direct matter, and therefore makes for an interesting theme.
In addition, the track is especially a fan favorite for its (probably) unofficial remix that features rapper Yung Texxus. Put out on the internet before the album’s release, it was speculated to be a single mix for the album but was never officially released – neither on CD, iTunes, or any streaming services like Spotify. Sad for it’s potential, as the reworked version offers urban flavors with Texxus’ clever rap-lines: “Mi amore got issues galore, sure.” The mix can still be found online, like on YouTube or SoundCloud, and stays timeless to this day.
The late 2000s to early 2010s created new pathways for Kelly in the form of dance-pop: First the Freemasons Hindi remix of ‘Work’ in 2008, then a year later her collab on David Guetta’s breakthrough hit ‘When Love Takes Over’. The new euro-style she and Guetta pushed to radio was supposed to prominently be featured in a scheduled album, and eventually became ‘Here I Am’ (2011). The album’s first single ‘Commander’, released in Europe and featuring Guetta as well, acts as an introduction of a new era with an aggressive dance sound. Then, her follow up pop singles ‘Rose Colored Glasses’ and ‘Grown Woman’, while sounding catchy and promising, were slept on. ‘Forever and a Day’, a single released afterwards, unfortunately, suffered the same fate, but still managed to enter the UK’s Top 50. A happy tune with dance-pop influences, the single was promoted with a fun music video featuring an iPad interface as view, clicking on different app-shaped squares that feature several summer and street parties Kelly’s present in. What attracts most attention though is her creative way of singing the song’s title (“foreveranda…dayyy”).
Even though Kelly rolled down the carpet with EDM and pop singles at first, the album’s focus was eventually changed back to her original roots, R&B, with ‘Motivation’ as a new lead. Two dance tracks stayed on the album but promised a more prominent direction in dance music for the European market which was however scrapped without explanation, releasing four extra tracks for the international version instead who were all released prior (including ‘When Love Takes Over’ and ‘Forever And A Day’). Sometimes the artist does not have control about certain decisions or happenings, but it’s still a pity that promising tracks were pushed to the side. Let’s hope that Kelly at least will still continue to bring out ‘Forever And A Day’ in future performances.
When Ludacris expressed his desire to have “a lady in the street but a freak in the bed” in his rap part of Usher’s ‘Yeah!’, it almost feels as if Kelly unintentionally throws back a response a decade later with ‘Freak’, the opener of Kelly’s 4th LP ‘Talk A Good Game’. As ladylike as she is, Kelly opens up a party for two when the curtain closes, putting love and sex to a different kind of level with expressive lyrics: “Mirrors on the ceiling, cameras on the corners of the bed […] Don’t need no television, I’ll just watch your body going down.” The uptempo version of ‘Motivation’, basically. The daring and bold content is then underlined with its message in the hook by saying ‘Everybody’s somebody’s freak’, a statement that makes it okay to outlive fantasies.
A cover version (or re-do) of an album track of Jamie Foxx’s 2010 album ‘Best Night of My Life’, the track is upgraded with Kelly’s sensual vocals and producer Rico Love’s shoutouts in between. While Rico originally was taking the rap part in Jamie Foxx’s version, it was decided to let Kelly do the raps instead. A great decision, as she then is able to go deeper to the next level on her own: “Vases, chandeliers, glass of wine, can of beer / Alcohol can interfere / Here’s the wheel, can you steer?” The track goes urban/dance in a dark and serious package. That been said, Rico’s statement “I think that’s enough” at the end of the song does literally feel like this, too. You indeed get more than enough from steamy ‘Freak’.
Street Life (feat. Pusha T) (from Talk A Good Game, 2013)
“The hood ain’t ready, it’s the mentality of hate” – Kelly’s answer for city poverty and ghettos that get ignored. Linked to the recession and politics, with President Obama mentioned to let him know about the ‘street life’, who was still in office when the song was released. Lyric-wise it’s Kelly’s response in song form to address ongoing city problems where “the name of the game is money”. Produced by Pharrell Williams, the track was released for Kelly’s 4th LP ‘Talk A Good Game’, and features Pusha T to give extra flavors in street endeavor, suiting the song’s message and vibe, with Kelly bringing in some street slang. Offering something different, ‘Street Life’ is highlighted for creating an urban atmosphere with its style and attitude.
Catchy beats with handclaps that follow the pace of the rhythm: The hip-hop-influenced ‘Dumb’ is a must for every urban street party out there. What happened with the song itself, however, is a mystery. Leaked in 2015 and never officially released in any streaming platforms, a music video was then put out in late 2016, not on Kelly’s own channel, but on Frank Gatson Jr.’s, who is known for his choreographic work with En Vogue, Usher & Beyoncé, notably for Bey’s ‘Single Ladies’ that he choreographed with JaQuel Knight, and for being a notable dancer since being present in MJ’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ music video. Gatson worked previously with Rowland during her Destiny’s Child days, and later on ‘Chasing Destiny’, a 2016 docu-series aiming to find the next girl group where June’s Diary was eventually formed. The music video came out during the same time the two were working on their series and features singer and actor Trevor Jackson who’s known for his lead role in crime film ‘Superfly’ (2018). The two of them, both Kelly and Trevor, are seen on a podium wearing identical clothes – white button-ups, slacks, earrings and hats, showcasing a highly choreographed performance. A wow-factor, as the two have chemistry to light up a fire, offering class and swagger, and may be considered one of Kelly’s best dance performances she ever delivered. Definitely worth watching.
In ballad-style Kelly sings about the definition of true love: “Can you describe the moment when two people fall in love? / Some say the clouds will spin in circles and the rain will turn to dust / The poor will start to laugh, even the rich will start to cry / It can sneak up like a soldier, it can wake you up at night.” Kelly then links these elements for a love she found herself. The song is noticeable for its poetic lyrical content and its allure with simple instrumental music: Starting off with an orchestra, followed by acoustic guitar. Written and produced by Billy Mann, known for his work with P!nk, Josh Groban, Céline Dion, and many others, ‘This Is Love’ naturally brings positive feelings with its calm approach.
Indeed, confusing or not, Kelly did not only put out one track named ‘This Is Love’, but yet released another with the exact same song title five years later. Funny enough, this is not the first time this happened to Kelly: While the track title ‘Love’ can be found as a solo and as a Destiny’s Child track, the two individual ‘Gone’ releases, on the other hand, can best be differentiated by their rap features; one with Nelly and one with Wiz Khalifa. With ‘This Is Love’ it’s probably easier to characterize by the year of the release or the album it’s taken from.
Just like its name-twin from the ‘Ms. Kelly’ record, the 2013 released track has a similar vibe: Expressive about love like it’s new, but also underlining the enjoyment. Kelly already said it in her David Guetta-track: “When love takes over, you know you can’t deny.” That message literally glows in a feel-good package when listening to ‘This Is Love’ and is strengthened by Kelly’s live performance of the song when she mashed it together with a cover of Bob Marley’s ‘Is This Love’. The floating effects carried throughout the song build euphoric feelings and therefore makes it one of the standout tracks from ‘Talk A Good Game’. A jam to put on repeat.