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-- Shaheem Reid, with additional reporting by Sway Calloway

Shari Watson speaks with the unabashed frankness of a character in one of those Terry McMillan fem-powered novels like "Waiting to Exhale" — hence her stage moniker Truth Hurts.

"I've experienced a lot of lies and bullsh-- with people in the music industry," she said last month at Dr. Dre's Burbank, California, recording studio. "It's not truthful and honest at all. I got to a point where I was fed up with that. When you're an artist you feel like, 'This is the only thing I have,' and you want to push forth. ... Just going through the bullsh-- sometimes makes your art not worth it."

Truth's still a little jaded from her years of toiling in the music industry, but with her debut single, "Addictive," buzzing, maybe all the "nonsense" (she uses that word a lot when describing things she doesn't like) was worth it. Maybe her mentor and good friend Dr. Dre was actually on to something when he convinced her to give it another go on the mic and not just continue to write songs with her former partner Mario Winans (who has since moved on to become P. Diddy's right-hand man in production). She's being talked about in the same breath as singers like Ashanti, Tweet and Sharissa as a potential heir to Mary J. Blige's queen of hip-hop soul crown.

"Her album is scary," proclaimed DJ Quik, who knows Truth from back in the day. "I'm sitting up here looking at this Mary J. Blige 'Behind the Music' — it's almost like she's a West Coast Mary. Just like kind of the same [vibe]. I used to tour with Mary, and I see a lot of Mary in Shari. Shari is on some soulful, street sh-- and she ain't no punk broad. She's strong and she's different."

"I think a lot of the music the female artists are putting out right now is kind of bubble-gummish," Dre said. "Not to take anything away from the female artists that are out there. They're doing their thing, but that's their thing. I wanted a singer that can really sing, but do the type of music that my audience is gonna buy. I don't think that's been done so far. It's been done with singers singing on rap records, what have you, making it edgy. But nobody just came for themselves, making an entire edgy R&B album. And I think she did it."

The first sample of her edgy R&B is "Addictive." Quik, who produced the song, passed the beat to his homegirl after trying it out with several rappers and misfiring.

"I was like, 'Man, I've never heard anything like this,' " Truth recalled. "I took it to Dre that day, and he was like, 'This changes the game right here. Tell Quik to call my phone right now.' Quik called him, and he was like, 'I love this track. I think it's gonna be her first single.' "

"The song is really simple," Dr. Dre said. "All it is is a drum track, bassline and this Indian girl singing. And it was incredible."

It was about time something came easily for Truth. She had to put up with a lot on her rough ride to the Dr.'s office. She was inspired to sing at age 11 by watching her father, a show promoter, bring talent like the Pointer Sisters and Phyllis Hyman to St. Louis. Her mother wasted no time in making sure her child got the right start and enrolled Truth in operatic training, which she continued through high school.

"That is the best training you can possibly have," she said. "It gives you the resonance, the depth of singing right."

From there, Truth got started grinding and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to pursue a singing career as Shug of the group Shug & Dap. The duo dropped a single, "Anotha Man," in 1994 but disbanded soon after due to their label, Giant, folding. It also didn't help that Truth had become pregnant with her daughter, whom she now credits with inspiring her to talk about "real things."

Leaving a shady industry and going into "mommy mode" wasn't a hard decision to make. But a few years ago, Truth, who was earning a living by writing songs, was coerced by Dre to take up singing again.

"When I first met Truth she was writing some songs for an artist we had a couple of years ago," Dre said. "When she came in she had to sing the song down. And I was like, 'I'm feelin' her.' She was kind of crazy."

"Dre appreciated my character from the beginning because I think I walked in with a bottle of white Zinfandel. [I was dressed] in my lounge gear like, 'Lets get it started.' I didn't give a damn who he was, I was like, 'I'm here to write, I'm here to make my paper, gotta take care of my baby. Now what?' He was like, 'I love her, she's cool.'

"I learned everything I need to know from working with Dr. Dre. I love him for being a perfectionist and knowing what it takes to do this sh-- for real. Not just throwing out some nonsense. He's a master at this game."

We'll get to see how few missteps the master and his pupil make on June 18 when Truthfully Speaking is released, peppered with production from Dre, Quik, Hi-Tek, Organized Noise, and Tim and Bob.


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 Truth Hurts
Truthfully Speaking
   Photo: Interscope