Young artists will have the R&B new release racks to themselves this week, with debuts from Ruff Endz and Jessica hitting stores on Tuesday, along with the second effort from poppy trio Cleopatra.
Love Crimes, the first album from Baltimore duo Ruff Endz, looks to make a strong showing, based on the hit single "No More" (RealAudio excerpt), which sits at #2 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop singles chart.
The duo, Davinch (born David Chance) and Chi (born Dante Jordan), both 23, say their group's name and some lyrical content were inspired by their rough experiences growing up on the mean streets of west Baltimore.
"[That] was basically the spot where everything happens, everything goes on ... a lot of shooting, a lot of people hanging out on the corner," Chi said.
The duo credit music particularly the songwriting of R. Kelly, Stevie Wonder and Diane Warren with giving them inspiration to avoid some of the destructive traps they saw their peers step into. They said they took their own experiences, as well as those observations, into their own songs, including "Missing You" and "Apologize" on Love Crimes.
19-year-old Jessica (born Jessica Betts) grew up in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood, on the city's south side, a neighborhood that she said was rough but also a strong community.
"Everybody watches out for each other," she said from the steps of her old elementary school earlier this month. "It was a great neighborhood to grow up in."
A star high school basketball player, Jessica got her first shot at the spotlight when the girl slotted to sing the national anthem at one of her games got sick. "I told the coach I'd do it, but she didn't want me to lose my concentration for the game," she said.
She sang anyway, and not only did her team win the game, Jessica got the attention of a talent scout, who signed her in 1997 to Boyz II Men's now-defunct record label. Her debut album, You Can't Resist, is a mix of uptempo dance numbers, such as "Get Up," and ballads, such as "Don't Give a Damn," all of which highlight the teen's husky, powerful vocals.
Hailing from the working-class port of Manchester, England, Cleopatra sold more than 300,000 copies of their 1998 debut, Comin' Atcha. Their second album, Steppin' Out, features production from Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and Darryl Simmons. It highlight's the teen trio's Destiny's Child-like mix of pop hooks and club-friendly production.
(Correspondent Rhonda Baraka contributed to this report.)