— by Alyssa Rashbaum, with additional reporting by Sway Calloway
She may be brand new to the hip-hop scene, but 19-year-old Brooke Valentine is coming out swinging with her debut single, "Girlfight" — and Lil Jon and Big Boi have her back.
The Houston-bred Valentine's single (which features Jon and Big Boi) is all about girls stepping to each other, and in the video for the song, Valentine accepts a challenge from a rival girl and ultimately knocks her out. Still, the singer says that when she was in high school, she wasn't one to pick a fight.
"I can't say that I fought a lot of girls growing up," she said. "A lot of girls wanted to fight me for some strange reason. Brooke had to do what she had to do."
Today, as Valentine steps into the ring to battle peers like Ciara and Keyshia Cole, she'll have to carve out her own niche in the ground that has been tread hundreds of times before her. But Valentine, who has taken control of her career every step of the way, says she's confident that it won't take much for people to recognize her talent.
"What makes me different from other artists?" she asked. "I have my own flow. I don't follow anybody. I just try to be myself, and it's not hard at all. I'm naturally different."
That bravado has been with her for a long time.
The singer found her voice in the very schoolyard that was the site of her battles. One day, during recess in fifth grade, she jumped into a circle of girls singing, and shocked them all with her vocal abilities. "I have no idea what got into me," she recalls. "I had the diva in me that day."
The experience gave her the confidence to keep singing and, later, to join the girl group Best Kept Secret. But it was Valentine's outgoing personality that led to her a record deal.
"I met [Subliminal Entertainment CEO, Deja] in the mall," she said. "I was with my friend and she was like, 'Girl, I saw this cute guy downstairs,' and I was like, 'Where?' "
Valentine started a conversation with Deja and the two became friends. When the singer found out Deja was a producer, she set out to prove to him that she was serious about making it as an artist. While they were working together, Deja moved to Los Angeles for business and Valentine, who started to feel that she couldn't write or be in the studio without him, followed him out west, where she scored a deal with Virgin Records.
Her debut album, Chain Letter — which comes out March 15 — is the product of her determination, with Valentine receiving either writing or co-writing credit on every track.
"Blah, Blah, Blah" — which features the late Ol' Dirty Bastard — is about being interrogated by a jealous boyfriend. The female character in the song, to whom Valentine says she can definitely relate, wants her man to "stop being nosy and asking so many questions."
"Girl Fight" was penned during a crazy Fourth of July weekend at Lil Jon's house in Miami. The atmosphere of the party, which Valentine called a "Don't step on my new shoes!" and "Back up!" type of vibe, inspired the track.
"Jon did the beat in 10 minutes, we wrote the song in five and we were done," she said. "We were ready to go party some more." Big Boi, who Valentine describes as "very professional," came on board for the video — but stayed out of the fight.
Valentine is up for just about any trial she might have to face in the future, and with expert coaching from Deja and Jon, she's a strong contender. The singer wants her fans to know, however, that despite her tough persona, she's still very much a teenage girl.
"I definitely don't agree with fighting," she said, "but if somebody walks up and hits you in the back of the head, what are you going to do? Yeah, Brooke did have to fight in school, but I don't like fighting. It messes up my hair."
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