From Destiny’s Child to full-fledged solo star, here she is

Although She is inevitably overshadowed by media darling and former bandmate Beyoncé since the breakup of R&B powerhouse Destiny’s Child, Kelly Rowland has been quietly and surely building an estimable career all her own. Worldwide sales of Rowland’s first two solo albums are approaching 4 million total, and her latest, Here I Am, looks primed to continue that success. Since 2002, when she memorably sang the hook on rapper Nelly’s chart-topping smash “Dilemma,” she has become a staple on R&B radio and racked up a list of awards that includes three Grammys.

All this on top of her contributions to her former trio, which she helped found alongside Beyoncé as teenagers in the 1990s (third member Michelle Williams joined in 2000). Destiny’s Child eventually sold more than 17 million albums in the U.S. alone, becoming one of pop music’s biggest acts for almost a decade before amicably splitting in 2006 to pursue their separate paths.

But now Rowland’s focus is rightfully on Here I Am. The new album reflects more than ever her own increasingly eclectic musical tastes, including a taste for techno—in fact, she plans to release a “more uptempo, dance-y” version of the album for the European market, where she’ll also be acting as a judge this season on the popular TV talent competition The X Factor. Recorded over three years with big-name producers and songwriters like Rico Love, Tricky Stewart, Rodney Jerkins and RedOne, Here I Am has endured numerous delays to make its way to an eager audience. “I wanted to make sure it was perfect,” the Atlanta-born Rowland explains. “Doing anything less wouldn’t have been fair to myself as an artist, or to my fans.”

How did you pick the track listing?

I went with my gut. I sat on a plane, during a six- or seven-hour trip, and listened to everything back to back and finalized the thing out of all my favorites. Then I sequenced them. Once the sequencing was right I was done with the album and was able to turn it in. I made sure everything told a story from one track to the next, and that it all sounds fun and the songs seem right going into each other.

Why save the more techno-style tracks for the end of the album?

It was just telling the story of the record. It made sense to me and to my fans. Everybody is like, “You take us through so many different emotions, and we get to have a party at the end.” That’s the best part. That’s exactly what I wanted to do. That was the goal. Because I made an album with dance music and urban music, nobody is going to put me in a box. No matter where I am in the world, I’m going to perform every song. It doesn’t matter where I am, because I love them all, and it’s a reflection of me.

Did any favorites get dropped?

I did a song called “Grown Woman” with [producers] Stargate. I wish that one would have worked, but it didn’t make it. It got leaked, and everyone heard it. [The song was eventually released as a stand-alone single.] A lot of the new songs that I recorded, fans hadn’t heard. I wanted people to still have that element of surprise, because they deserve that.

How do you pick producers?

It’s just about trying them out. Some producers I’ve worked with forever, like Rodney. Some producers I’ve only known in passing but then got a chance to go into the studio with them and organically create something, like I did with Rico. He challenged me the most. He would say, “Come on, Kelly, you’ve got to kill ’em this time!” He was a great cheerleader.

How else do they all differ?

All of the producers I worked with had some sort of atmosphere. I remember going into the studio with RedOne, and his whole crew was in there. They have the best energy. When the music starts playing, everyone is dancing. It’s like a party. Everybody I worked with on this album loves music and is so happy and still has a passion for it. I love putting together the vocals and even playing around with production, which I did on “Keep It Between Us.” I was learning different things, calling up Chris [“C4” Umana], the producer, and saying, “Let’s try this right here.” “This doesn’t fit, can we try this out?” “Let’s speed up the tempo,” or, “Let’s do this,” or “Let’s do that.” That was really cool to tap into this time around.

The single “Motivation” features Lil Wayne. How did that come about?

I collaborated with him with Destiny’s Child [on “Soldier,” 2004]. I saw him at a Miami Heat game right after I recorded “Motivation” and told him about the record. He invited me to the studio to play the record. He heard it, and got on it. It was just that simple. I love Wayne.

Some of the tracks are a bit risqué.

There was more of a sensual side that came out. That was about being in the studio and just trying it out, saying, “Oh my goodness, I’m really comfortable singing this song. I’m grown. I’m 30. I can definitely sing those songs.” My mom is like, “Girl, you’ve grown.” That’s always the first thing she says. She’s proud of me, and that makes me most happy.

Any advice for X Factor hopefuls?

Definitely have thick skin, but also remain focused and keep your eye on your goal. So many people tend to get off course when the cameras are there. Never lose who you are. Just think, “I’m here to win, period.” It’s a competition. It’s just that simple. It’s important to remain focused and have fun.

Did you ever try talent shows?

Destiny’s Child did, but we were called Girl’s Tyme then. We tried out for Star Search and actually made it on the show [in 1992], and we lost against an older rock band. I remember it just completely broke our little hearts. We went back and revamped everything and got better.

Is it important for you to be known as a solo artist?

That really is a great feeling. But it’s also not such a bad feeling for people to say “biggest female group of all time.” That’s an amazing title as well. I’m just so thankful I’ve been here for 15 years and I’m still here, able to put out records and able to have fans and gain fans as well. I’m so blessed. So when people bring up Destiny’s Child, that’s not something I run away from. That’s an accomplishment.

Will you ever reunite?

I know it’s going to happen, and I don’t trip off of it. Me and B have known each other since we were 10. We spent so much of our lives together. We’re comfortable in our spaces as women, and we support each other.

–Kenneth Partridge

‘Destiny’s Child is not something I run away from. We support each other.’

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