When it came time to record her debut album, Make it Hot, hip-hop singer and rapper Nicole wanted it to express how a 17-year-old girl -- such as herself -- sees the world.
"We're just trying to touch base with kids my age and people who can relate to my songs," Nicole (born Nicole Wray) said from her New York City hotel room. "[We're] trying to keep it young, keep it positive, keep it hip-hop, keep it real. ... Being 17 is a once-in-a-lifetime thing."
On Make it Hot, against a backdrop that shifts between warm, R&B sounds and more vibrant hip-hop textures, Nicole sings about boys who don't behave themselves, boys you've just got to have, boys who get too jealous, boys who move too fast. Yet beyond the reflections that make her sound like a typical boy-crazy teen-age girl, Nicole's songs also explore being self-assertive and positive.
Most of the numbers, including the successful and soulful title track (RealAudio excerpt), were written by or in collaboration with Nicole's mentor, platinum-selling rapper Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott. Shortly after her cousin introduced her to the California-born and Virginia-raised Nicole, Elliott -- who heard Nicole sing at Elliott's parents' home in Portsmouth, Va. -- began writing songs for Make it Hot.
"I knew automatically she had a different kind of voice," Elliott said in a statement issued by Elektra. Make it Hot, which hit record-store shelves on Aug. 25, is the first release on Elliott's GoldMind Inc./East West label.
Nicole said Elliott -- who also produced the bulk of Make it Hot -- has become her mentor in life as well as music.
"She's always telling me to watch out for the crowd I hang out with, to stay positive, watch out for different kind of guys," Nicole said. "Missy knows me, she knows my vibe."
The album's title track -- on which Nicole performs with Elliott and fellow hip-hop artist Mocha -- put the young singer on the charts, debuting at #20 on the Billboard Hot 100. (Make it Hot debuted at #42 on the Billboard 200 albums chart.)
Propelled by sultry beats and soulful vocals, "Make it Hot" pivots on the call-and-echo chorus "I got what you want/ got what you need." Other standouts on the album include the funk-laden "Curiosity," the gentle R&B ballad "Borrowed Time" and the smooth-groove ditty "Raise Your Frown" (RealAudio excerpt).
Already writing the follow-up to Make it Hot, Nicole said her second album will reflect "a little more me," although she will continue collaborating with Elliott.
Planning on a long career in music in the vein of soul legends Patti LaBelle and Aretha Franklin, Nicole said she hopes to work with such current leading ladies of hip-hop as Lauryn Hill and Mary J. Blige.
"What makes [Nicole] so real is that she's ... anxious to keep up on what it is teen-agers do," Elliott said. "After we'd record, she couldn't wait to go out with her friends, and you know, talk and hang. [She's] such an accomplished singer and rapper, sometimes I forget she's still a teen-ager."