The secret to the success of vocalist/reality-TV star
K. Michelle's second record is revealed in the triumphant "Drake Would Love Me," in which she dresses down her boyfriend by explaining how she needs to be loved. The track has the kind of vulnerability and rubbed-raw tension rarely heard in R&B today, and that honesty, defiance, and sensuality filter throughout these 12 songs. Michelle gets beneath surface platitudes about love, burrowing into contradictions and complexities. On "Cry," a retribution track ("you are going to pay me in tears"), the hurt and determination are so palpable that the song becomes as much an affirmation of self as it is a warning. Michelle has made a major leap as a vocalist; every emotion is earned, and she goes big ("Maybe I Should Call") without resorting to histrionics. Thankfully unburdened with MC cameos, her songs are formula-free, with an emphasis on narrative and musicality. Conflicted yet confident, Michelle truly finds her voice here. (Out now)
ESSENTIAL "Drake Would Love Me"
Ken Capobianco can be reached at email@example.com.