R&B Songwriter Andrea Martin Sings For Herself

Co-writer of platinum singles by En Vogue, Monica and Toni Braxton soon will release her first LP as vocalist.

You may not know Andrea Martin, but you probably know her work.

In fact, you may know her work better than you even realize. She's one of

the few singer/songwriters who can proclaim that she scored three platinum

(1 million copies sold) top-10 singles before her first album ever came out.

Along with her songwriting partner Ivan Matias, she's written such R&B hits

as En Vogue's "Don't Let Go (Love)," Monica's "Before You Walk Out Of My

Life," SWV's "You're The One" and "I Love Me Some Him" by Toni Braxton.

With the release of Martin's solo debut, The Best of Me (Oct. 14),

the Brooklyn, N.Y.-born and -raised artist is ready to formally introduce

herself.

"I was happy doing what I wanted to do, but I just wanted more," the

24-year-old Martin said, adding that she thought it was time to go beyond

writing hits for other people. "Ivan Matias was like, 'You've got to do

this if you want to do it. Put your mind to it, go to showcases, and it's

going to happen.' "

The road to her own record deal was paved with the demo tapes she sent to

Arista Records for other artists. Keith Naftaly, Arista's vice president of

A&R, said he could remember hearing Martin's voice on her demos and being

instantly attracted to what he called "the real Gladys Knight vibe she had,

something you don't hear so much anymore in R&B."

When it came to signing the singer to a deal of her own, Naftaly found

himself becoming a strong advocate for Martin in the face of some doubters

who he said strictly considered her a songwriter. But Naftaly thought

Martin's talent as a writer was a point in favor of giving her a deal of

her own.

"She's a self-contained artist with incredible songwriting skills," Naftaly

explained. "So many people get the gift of singing but can't write a song.

That's not the case with Andrea."

Naftaly also said that he was attracted to the reggae spin she was putting

on her R&B songs and that her songs would play to both pop and R&B audiences.

"[She's] unique enough to stand out and to break out," he said. "At

the same time, she had just as much urban credibility as R&B, crossover and

pop credibility. It's all there."

According to Martin, she was aiming for a sound on The Best of Me

that could appeal to R&B and pop audiences, her rationale being that her

songs had found success with other artists who used that same formula. For

example, the harmonies and pacing on the album's first single,

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Martin,_Andrea/Let_Me_Return_The_Favor.ram">"Let

Me Return The Favor" (RealAudio excerpt), don't sound far removed

from an En Vogue song. But the dancehall-reggae breakdown on the song's

radio mix may throw off a few listeners, especially since Martin doesn't

hand over the task to a rapper. Rather, she performs it herself.

"I really wanted to do the reggae chant myself, because I wanted to show

people that I was more than just an R&B artist," Martin explained. "It ...

puts you into another world, which is cool."

The remainder of the cuts on the 11-song album constantly blends genres.

Rock-guitar and dancehall-reggae breakdowns are laid over a slinky

funk-groove on "Share The Love"; acoustic guitar meets gospel-blues for

"Steepin' "; and Fugees kingpin Wyclef Jean produces a cover of folkie

Tracy Chapman's "Baby Can I Hold You" with a lazy reggae vibe.

Why would someone so excited about finally being able to release an album

of her own choose to cover a song? For Martin, it seemed like fate. Both

Naftaly and Matias suggested covering the Chapman tune within days of each

other. But Martin also did it, she said, because she understood that not

very many people would be aware of her previous successes.

"I watch movies, all right? And I don't really care who the writer is,"

Martin said. "It's just like whoever the star is, and you don't really get

into their background until they're a star like Leonardo [DiCaprio].

"I wanted to do it [so] if I went gold or platinum, I could explain to

people ... that I used to do writing songs for so and so, but now I'm doing

my own thing."

Martin continues to write for other artists, however. She's currently

working with Matias on composing songs that may be used by R&B diva Whitney

Houston on her next album.

"I just want to reach out," Martin concluded. "If [The Best of Me]

isn't a hit, I just want people to remember the album. I'm happy that my

songs were successful, but it's a little different this time, because it's

just me."