Ruben Studdard is so stoked about the music he's recorded for his debut album, he's not the least bit disappointed that a planned collaboration with Missy Elliott fell through.
"We may have to save it for the second record," the laid-back crooner said during a break in a New York studio last week, a year to the day after he first stood before the "American Idol" judges at the Wild Horse Saloon in Nashville. "Both of our schedules were just so hectic."
Studdard seems like the kind of guy who rolls with the punches regardless, but it's probably easier not to sweat about Elliott because of the other guests on Soulful, due December 9. In fact, the album has more high-profile rappers, singers, producers and songwriters than Kelly Clarkson, Justin Guarini and Clay Aiken's albums combined.
Most recently, Ruben completed a track featuring Ja Rule called "What Is Sexy."
"I actually didn't get a chance to meet Ja. I think he did the track before in New York while I was in L.A. working on some 'American Idol' stuff," Studdard said. "But I got with Irv [Gotti] in L.A. and did the song and we had a ball, man, we cracked on each other all day."
Other collaborators who have worked with Ruben include producers Swizz Beatz, Jazze Pha, Harold Lilly (Alicia Keys, Monica) and Warren Campbell (Sisqó, Kelly Price), songwriter R. Kelly (see "R. Kelly, Missy Elliott Working On Ruben Studdard's Soulful Debut"), gospel singer Fred Hammond and rapper Fat Joe. The track with the latter, "Can I Get Your Attention?," is a front-runner for the first single.
"Hopefully we'll get a chance to shoot the video for the song in Miami 'cause it's really just a real fun song," Studdard said. "I enjoy Fat Joe every time I'm around him. We have nothing but fun and he's been nothing but a blessing to me, teaching me the ins and outs of the game. ... His whole crew, the Terror Squad — we actually all went to dinner together on my birthday and had a good time."
The other strong contender for the first single is "Take the Shot," which Swizz Beatz produced.
"It's talking to people, mainly women, and telling them if you got a dude you really wanna stand behind, you gotta take the shot," explained Lilly, who was sitting next to Studdard in the studio. "You gotta put it on the line, you know what I mean? It's a reference to basketball. A line says, 'I'm down by two and a three can win the game/ So what you gonna do girl/ Make a move girl/ Take the shot/ Win the game/ You already got me/ Just seal the deal.' Ruben really performed on the record, it's a great record."
R. Kelly wrote two songs for Ruben, "Send Me an Angel" and "Closer to You," but the two have yet to meet in the studio, so the songs may be saved.
The Birmingham, Alabama, native has been in the studio with Pha (see "Jazze Pha Working On Tracks For Ruben Studdard, Busta Rhymes"), where they finished two songs, "Poetry" (which Ruben co-wrote) and "Play Our Song."
"It kinda reminds me of the music I used to listen to with my mom on Saturdays, while we were cleaning up," Studdard said of the latter. "Marvin Gaye-type stuff."
One of Lilly's favorites is a song he produced called "No Ruben." "It's a record about how the show is the show and the show is over with," he said. "His career is starting right now. It's a record letting people know that he was a star before the show, people just didn't know it. ... It ain't no loop and rhyming words here, he's really performing."
"The hook of the song says, 'If it weren't for the block, the 'hood, the boulevard, the church/ If it weren't for you/ There would be no Ruben," Studdard added. "I think the fans are going to love it 'cause I give them a shout-out."
A track list has yet to be finalized, but songs certain to be on the album include Donny Hathaway's "For All We Know," the Bee Gees' "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart," a gospel duet with veteran Hammond and the previously released "Superstar" and "Flying Without Wings."
Other possible titles include "Don't Quit" (which Lilly wrote and produced), "After the Candles Burn" and "Reminisce," which Studdard wrote and Bam and Ryan Bowser (Nelly and Kelly Rowland's "Dilemma") produced.
"This album is just really an extension of who I am," Ruben said. "I tried to do a lot of different things with the record. ... I wanted to have a record that everybody could listen to and I think I've accomplished that."
—Corey Moss, with additional reporting by John Norris