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Trina F. Keyshia Cole

One of the more genuine urban songstresses to emerge in the 2000s, Keyshia Cole worked her way up the industry ladder diligently yet quickly, making her major-label debut in 2004 at age 21. Born on the other side of the California Bay -- the often tough and troubled streets of Oakland -- Cole aspired from an early age to make music her life, so much so that she started working the angles while still a preteen. For instance, she did some recording with fellow Bay Area resident MC Hammer way back in the day, when she was only 12 or so. Her singing aspirations really began to take flight during the early 2000s, however. In particular, she sang on Messy Marv's "Nubian Queen" remix in 2001, and Tony! Toni! Toné! member Dwayne Wiggins featured her on his soundtrack to the film Me & Mrs. Jones, also in 2001.

Following Bay Area opportunities such as these, she began contemplating a leap for the big time: Los Angeles. So when she discovered that her then-boyfriend had cheated on her, she immediately packed her bags and never looked back. In Los Angeles she quickly impressed many with her golden soprano voice and thus made plenty of industry contacts, among them A&M Records president Ron Fair, who immediately signed her to a solo deal. And to work she went on her debut album, The Way It Is, co-writing a number of songs and working alongside a number of hitmakers: the trendiest talent in hip-hop at the time, Kanye West, collaborated with her on "I Changed My Mind," the album's lead single, and other big-name collaborators included 112 group member DaRon, Murder Inc. rapper Chink Santana, and veteran producer E-Poppi. Plus, she got the chance to collaborate with one of her inspirations, Eve, for a song on the Barbershop 2 soundtrack, "Never," which was released as a single in early 2004.

When Interscope/Geffen/A&M was ready to release The Way It Is in the spring of 2005, Cole found herself positioned alongside fellow young urban female singers like Brandy, Monica, and Beyoncé. Yet Cole had an edge over her peers -- a street edge. Having grown up in Oakland and lived there most of her young life, she knew life wasn't all glitter and gold like it was in Hollywood. She knew the streets, and that inner-city viewpoint informs many of her songs, which are generally a bit rougher and less naïve than those of your typical young female urban vocalist. Two singles released from The Way It Is, "I Should Have Cheated" and "Love," reached the Top Ten of the R&B chart, and the album eventually sold a million copies in the U.S. The wait for her second album, 2007's Just Like You, was broken up by memorable appearances on Diddy's Press Play ("Last Night") and R. Kelly's Double Up ("Best Friend"). The album was a smash, topping the R&B albums chart and missing the top of the Billboard 200 by one spot, and its release coincided with a BET reality series of the same name. Just after its second season started, in late 2008, Cole issued her third album, A Different Me. As with her previous album, it narrowly missed the top of the Billboard 200. Two years later, she released her fourth set, Calling All Hearts, which peaked at number nine. Woman to Woman, directed at her fans -- and her first album away from Fair, who left his position at Geffen -- followed in 2012. ~ Jason Birchmeier

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