Most people realize it takes a small army of stylists and production personnel to create the sexy, glamorous look of those slick hip-hop and R&B videos in high rotation on the music stations. For most of us, just finding a clean shirt to wear in the morning is tough enough. But when you're a rising star on the music scene who's poised to be the next urban diva, well, you'd better work it. So it's no surprise that everything about Kreesha Turner is perfect when she arrives for a lunch interview, from her impeccably ringleted hair to her subtle yet defined makeup.
Chances are you've already heard her hit single, "Bounce With Me". The infectious, summer-ready tune is the reason the 23-year-old singer, who was born and raised in Edmonton, is attracting significant interest. Aside from burning up the radio and TV charts, the song has popped up all over the small screen recently in popular shows like "Entourage", "Gossip Girl" and "The Hills".
The song is also what got Turner a record deal in the first place. Two years ago, she won a talent contest hosted by Edmonton radio station Bounce 91.7. The prize was time in a studio, where she recorded "Bounce With Me". She and her mother hired promoters to push the track to radio, and the gambit worked: the tune caught the ear of influential Toronto manager Chris Smith, who has worked with such artists as Nelly Furtado and Tamia. Soon, Turner was signed to EMI Music in Canada and Virgin in the United States.
Turner is a bit of an anomaly at a time when labels are cutting back their budgets—and their rosters. She's clearly a priority for both labels, and is being groomed as a major breakout artist. Her album Passion is slated for release in Canada in August, and in the U.S. in September. Though she honed her vocal chops in Edmonton's hip-hop scene for a few years, Turner still considers herself a relative newcomer to the music scene and knows she's being given a platform to launch her career.
Although label marketing and the upbeat rhythms of "Bounce With Me" might suggest Turner is being positioned as another urban pop ingenue à la Rihanna, Passion consists mostly of slower R&B fare that shows off Turner's sultry soprano. The album blends all of Turner's stylistic influences into 13 sleek tracks that run the gamut from the Euro-funk vibe of "Don't Call Me Baby" to soulful ballads like "Always (Lovin' You)" (a modern take on Minnie Riperton's "Lovin' You"), with Turner's supple, emotive vocals taking centre stage throughout.
"When people just hear 'Bounce With Me', I don't think it gives them a full definition of me as an artist," Turner says. Soft-spoken and prone to wide-eyed enthusiasm, she comes across in person as tinier and more approachable than the confident starlet who shimmies through the "Bounce With Me" video. "Yeah, it's an attention-grabber that gets people dancing—it's a bit light and fun. But a lot of people have said that when they heard the album, it wasn't what they expected."
Turner seems to thrive on defying expectations. Starting off as a dancer when she was young, she didn't begin singing until, at the age of 16, she went to Jamaica, where her mother is from. "Music is infused in their culture—everybody sings," she says. "My friends [in Jamaica] encouraged me to audition for the choir… When I came back, I became the girl in school who sang the anthem."
She continues, "When I graduated, I said I wanted to do music. But since there was no R&B scene [in Edmonton], I integrated myself into the underground hip-hop scene, which worked to my advantage because I was the only woman, only vocalist. So I developed a following that way."
Though she absorbed the performance style and beats of hip hop, Turner's first love has always been jazz, which is evident from her slow-burning vocal style on Passion's many ballads. She says, "I just get these urges to listen to jazz. Something about it puts me in a trance -- I get very calm. I also love listening to more chilled R&B -- the Jill Scotts and Erykah Badus of the world."
About the sound of her music, Turner says, "I like to say I'm Canadian R&B, but my jazz influence is undeniable, I think -- though a lot of the songs have more influences from one spectrum or another. I just tell people, 'You have to listen to the whole album, and then you'll get the picture.' I think these days people don't listen to albums, not just because of technology, but because there are so many albums with only one good song. But if you have enough good songs, the goal is to have an album where people want to listen to the whole thing."
Passion features Turner collaborating with some of the biggest names in the business, including Grammy Award-winning songwriter Harold Lilly (Alicia Keys, Janet Jackson), producer Devo Springsteen (John Legend, Aretha Franklin) and songwriter/producer Jon Levine (the Philosopher Kings, Nelly Furtado). Never having co-written songs before, Turner was nervous but excited to try to distill her vision of what her debut should sound like into tangible tracks.
"All I knew when I approached it was that we're incorporating R&B, we're incorporating jazz, we're making pop music—so it was all about finding the right balance with my influences," she recalls. "As far as writing with professional songwriters, it was an exciting experience -- definitely a learning experience. I came in with a very open mind, because there are all sorts of approaches. Some write the melody and then build the words, while others do it differently. It was a great opportunity for me to see how different people approached the creative process."
With the album's upcoming release, Turner is preparing for the inevitable endless promotional push and extensive touring. Despite not having performed live for some time, she's eager to get back on stage.
While the hype continues to build around this self-proclaimed "everyday girl from Edmonton", Turner is taking it all in stride, and is clearly still basking in the glow of making her first record -- not to mention one that's going to get widely heard.
"I just want to be able to support myself off what I love doing," she says. "The bonuses are getting to perform in front of thousands of people, to collaborate with some of the living greats, and to represent Canada in the world. It's just about being exposed to different opportunities. We wanted to give the album a very international flavour. I hope people from all over, and from all walks of life, will be able to find something in it."
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