R&B's Kieran is 20, and love is in the air

Music Notes

Music: in concert, CDs

April 15, 2004|By Rashod D. Ollison

YOU SEE, he's on this mission. He's been hurt by love and he's not afraid to let us know that. Kieran (that's Ka-ran), a newcomer to the R&B-pop scene, wants us all (specifically the ladies) to feel love again. In his music, Kieran wants to show us his "realness."

"I'm offering a more sensitive guy who's only 20 years old," says the Brooklyn singer, who's calling from his home in the New York borough where he was born and raised. "I'm trying to show women that I'm a guy who's been through a lot of pain and I'm real with it. In my music, I'm bringing back the crying that used to be on records. I'm bringing back the softer side."

And I'm rolling my eyes, wishing this brotha would spare me the sensitive-mack-daddy jive. His self-titled debut, which hits the streets later this spring, isn't exactly an open, tear-stained letter. It is every bit a conventional, hip-hop-beat-driven, radio-friendly pop-R&B album. And there's nothing wrong with that. But it's not all about the polished, trend-conscious production, Kieran tells me. The lyrics center mostly on the drama of relationships. The performer says it's all about returning to love. Romantic love. Candy. Flowers. Getting-on-your-knees-and-begging-for-it kind of love. The artist says he's had enough of the hard thug attitude that has permeated much of urban music for nearly 10 years. "I grew up with hip-hop, but at the same time I don't think there are many hip-hop cats showing love out there," he says.

It's easy for Kieran to sell us romance. His name in Swahili means "handsome one," and it definitely fits. The dude has the sculptured face, toned, taut body and funky-fresh gear that style-conscious guys dream about. (And I'm not gonna lie: When I saw his promo pictures, I immediately felt what Mary J. Blige calls "hateration." My eyes turned a vibrant shade of envy green.) I wasn't even gonna play his CD. But after a few days, I gave it a listen and it's not bad: a slick, mostly melodic set of pounding programmed tracks with occasional strings and acoustic guitars. His choirboy tenor has a sweet, yearning quality that recalls Michael Jackson back when he was brown-skinned and rocked a Jheri Curl. Kieran's range is limited. But the music and simple lyrics compliment him well.

Already, the singer-songwriter is generating a buzz on radio. His first single, the throbbing, just-right-for-the-club joint "R U Awake," has received frequent spins in his native New York (WBLS 107.5) and several college stations along the East Coast and in the South. But the real showcase for Kieran is on the album's Quiet Storm ballads: the Tony! Toni! Tone!-reminiscent "No More" and the silky "Breathe."

"I want people to appreciate my art, especially the writing," Kieran says. "It all comes from an honest place, you know."

Kieran's career, so far, has been a family affair. His father -- Linwood Roberts Sr., a banker and real estate investor -- owns the singer's label, Black Rain Records Inc., an independent company in Brooklyn. Roberts established Black Rain in '98 when Kieran was 15. It was around this time that the high school track team member and basketball player expressed a deep interest in music and songwriting. His father had built a recording studio and was working with an urban act at the time. But when the group broke up, Roberts turned his production attention to his son, who honed his vocal talents in the church choir. After a year at Fordham University, Kieran decided to concentrate on music full time.

For his eponymous debut, Roberts, who helmed the CD, enlisted the songwriting skills of Mary Brown, whose credits include Jaheim, Wyclef Jean and Destiny's Child, and Phillip "Sun" White, who penned Aretha Franklin's recent Grammy-winning single "Wonderful." On the phone, Kieran is a likable guy. He's got the charm, the looks, the Hot 100-ready beats -- all the ingredients he needs to blow up. But that's not guaranteed in the oh-so fickle pop arena. In the meantime, Kieran just wants to keep it real, to keep it soft and romantic in the music.

"We need love now more than ever," he says, "especially with the black cats my age. Our egos get in the way and we don't show our sensitive sides, you know, that side that's vulnerable. We got to love our women more, man. There's got to be some kind of resolve in the music, which is what I'm trying to bring."

Good luck with the mission, brotha. I mean that.

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