Billboard- October 16, 1999
Author: Chuck Taylor
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A WISH COME TRUE: Deborah Cox likens the platinum success of her second album, "One Wish," to the sentiment of her "love comes when you're not looking for it" No. 1 R&B smash single from earlier this year, "Nobody's Supposed To Be Here."
"Everything happened when I wasn't expecting it. There have been a lot of incredible surprises," she says. "It's been a year where I've been going nonstop, and I've enjoyed the process of it and seeing the end results."
That's because she entered the recording studio this time around with a greater sense of self and a focus that's difficult to nail with a debut project. The first, eponymously titled album "was the introduction of who I am as an artist, a musician, and a songwriter and [about] making sure that that was palatable," Cox says. "This album shows the growth between the two and the changes I've seen in my life.
"Everyone talks about the sophomore slump. In this case, it didn't apply I felt very comfortable, with a real vision and direction for what I want to portray" she adds. "I wanted the songs to take listeners through the different stages of relationships, from falling in love unexpectedly; to when a relationship is great, but there are still a few things to work on; to when you're in a situation where you don't know how to let a person go. I accomplished what I set out to do."
"People are really feeling Deborah Cox a lot more this go-round," says Eileen Nathaniel, assistant PD/music director of WHRK Memphis. "The first single, 'Nobody's Supposed To Be Here,' really connected with people. That's one thing that's making her go over this time. Everybody can identify with the songs she's releasing. I think she's grown a lot since the first album."
The fourth single from "One Wish," the elegant but bittersweet "We Can't Be Friends," a duet with Next lead singer R.L., topped the Hot R&B Singles & Tracks chart earlier this month. It followed the releases "Things Just Ain't The Same" (also on the "Money Talks" soundtrack), "Nobody's Supposed To Be Here" (which spent a record-breaking 14 weeks at No. 1 on the R&B singles chart and peaked at No.2 on The Billboard Hot 100), and "It's Over Now"
Cox and R.L. met at a club in New York just as her first album was hitting the streets in 1995. A year later, producer/music director Anthony "Shep" Crawford suggested matching the pair up for "We Can't Be Friends."
"It was such a pleasant surprise," Cox says. "Vocally he outshines everything he's put out so far. He really gave the song a tremendous amount of emotion and pushed me to go in a direction that was really heartfelt."
The song is meant to offer optimism to couples who are having difficulty seeing their way through trouble. "There is hope after you think the romance is gone, by realizing that without each other you can't get over a situation and [should] try to work it out," she says. "I've had people saying, 'Thank you, you've helped me.'"
Cox also has lent a hand to radio, which has embraced the 25-year-old because she so ably reaches R&B radio's female core. "There's just something about Deborah Cox that women are feeling. The honeys are just on it," says Doug Davis, PD of WJMZ Greenville, S.C., where "We Can't Be Friends" recently topped its playlist. "People want to hear reality stuff that hits the heart. We've all been in relationships where things may not have gone right. It's a feel-good record about a topic that's not too happy And R.L. does a really good job accompanying her."
Lionel Ridenour, VP of black music for Arista, also believes that Cox has hit home at radio because of her substantive persona. "She's succeeded without being on the trendy gimmicky side of things, with all style and no substance," he says. "Any shortcomings she may have had on the first album have been totally overcome by making a record that is classic. These are songs that will be redone 20 or 30 years from now."
Part of Cox's run of success, particularly at top 40/rhythm stations, has come by way of a handful of potent dance remixes, including "Who Do You Love" from the first album, "Things Just Ain't The Same," "Nobody's Supposed To Be Here," and "It's Over Now" The latter three all hit No. ion Billboard's Hot Dance Music/ Club Play chart.
Cox displays no discomfort at having her work refashioned to reach a wider demographic. "When we did the first dance mix for 'Who Do You Love,' I wondered if I was going in too many directions because it was my first time out, and I was getting acclimated to the music environment. But once it was out, it seemed so natural.
"I'm not afraid to try different things now; I want people to hear a record from Deborah Cox and think, 'It's Deborah,' not the R&B diva," she says. "I just want to be able to make music, like The Artist [Formerly Known As Prince]. It's been great, really, because I don't want to be locked into any one format. Longevity comes from giving people a taste of all your musical styles, and it's way more interesting for me as an artist."
"It's a good thing," says Nathaniel at WHRK. "Unfortunately radio tends to pigeonhole artists. Remixes give an artist more mass appeal and thus a greater shot at longevity Get as many remixes out there as you can and market to all music genres. Everybody ought to do it."
Adds Ridenour at Arista, "Obviously, the success we've had with Whitney Houston and her dance remixes has been tremendous for her career. You don't want to put yourself in one niche if you can keep the credibility of the lyric and allow a song to be uptempo and fun. We would be doing a disservice to Deborah not to put those kinds of records together."
Cox has also worked different angles as a participant in the last Lilith Fair tour with fellow Canadian Sarah McLachlan and her evolving ensemble. "It allowed me to be free artistically" Cox says. "I did some stuff on that stage that I normally wouldn't--a Stevie Wonder medley 'Angel' with Sarah, 'Everyday Is A Winding Road' with Sheryl Crow, 'Closer To Fine' with Indigo Girls, a version of Cyndi Lauper's 'True Colors.' There was complete unity musically and it was a wonderful experience."
Lilith was but one stop of what has been an awfully saturated schedule, from album promotion to warming up for the Isley Brothers, awards shows (including a nod for best R&B/soul single by a female for "It's Over Now" at the 1999 Soul Train Music Awards and for R&B/soul or rap song of the year for "Nobody's Supposed To Be Here" at the 1999 Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards), videos, and then a warm-up stint for R. Kelly. Cox is now preparing for more touring, with stops in Germany and South America.
In the meantime, Arista is readying her next single, the hip-hop-flavored "September," which Cox penned with New York producers Stevie J. and Gordon Chambers.
"I don't want to stop because I couldn't possibly miss out on these wonderful experiences," she says.
For the future, Cox intends to just keep on keeping on. "I've been extremely blessed this year. I can honestly say I'm happy" she says. "I just hope I can be a total artist in the sense that when you hear my name, you won't think of any one format. You'll wonder whether the next project will be dance, R&B, or jazz--like back in the day when it was all just music."
Author: Chuck Taylor
Typed by: Michele Knight
Photos: All Photos are not a part of the billboard magazine article, but rather, are photographs that were taken at lilith fair.