The song was fierce, a bizarre banger with an odd Indian vocal sample riding the groove of B.T. Express' "Do It ('Til You're Satisfied)." Truth Hurts' "Addictive," produced by Dr. Dre and DJ Quik with a smoothed-out rap from legendary rhyme spitter Rakim, was one of the biggest crossover hits of 2002. The video, replete with hip-shaking Indian-inspired dance sequences, stayed in frequent rotation on MTV and BET. The joint thumped from countless radio and club speakers and hit No. 1. In the mix of exotic beats and shrill melisma, Truth extolled the man of her dreams:
He's so contagious, he turns my pages
He's got me anxious, he's what I waited for
He keeps me guessin', spon -- tan -- ne -- ous ...
After "Addictive" fell off the charts, it looked as if Truth would join Anita Ward ("Ring My Bell"), Devo ("Whip It"), Bobby McFerrin ("Don't Worry, Be Happy") and numerous others on that long, long list of one-hit wonders. Her debut, Truthfully Speaking released on Dre's Aftermath label, charted high but disappeared rather quickly without producing another sure hit.
Now, after two years away from the scene, Truth is back with her sophomore effort, Ready Now. Calling from a promotional stop in Detroit, the woman born Shari Watson says, "I evolved into what I wanted to do musically on the new album. This is more of an interim record, but it's a great record. I wanted to put out something before people were like, 'What? She's gone?'"
Before recording Ready Now, Truth made some professional changes. Because of creative differences, the singer cut her studio ties with Dre, her mentor of five years, and she left his label. Truth signed to Pookie Records, the independent label owned by Grammy-winning singer-musician-producer Raphael Saadiq.
"I hooked up with Raphael through mutual friends in the industry," she says. "I've been wanting to work with him ever since he was with Tony! Toni! Tone! I was just waiting for the opportunity basically."
Truth says she learned a lot from her time with Dre, who gave the singer her stage name because of her upfront attitude.
"We're still cool," she says. "There's no beef at all. I still work out at his gym."
But with Saadiq, she feels more open to be herself and experiment a little with her approach.
"Dre was the kind of producer to grab you by the neck and get involved with the production," Truth says. "Raphael is more of an executive producer, allowing me to be me and coming in later to smooth the edges."
Because Interscope / Universal distributed Aftermath, Truth had to deal with major-label issues regarding money ("The money they put in the album -- they wanted to see that back fast," she says.) and image ("Since they wanted their money back so fast, they were like, 'We're gonna dress you like this. You're gonna sing this.'"). All of which frustrated the St. Louis-born artist. And like so many in the game, she's trekking down the independent route because "you reap the returns faster," she says. "And the freedom is important if you're a real artist."
Ready Now is a sexy, beat-driven record of many moods: a little My Life-era Mary J. Blige, sleek modern funk, atmospheric mid-tempo jams. Truth's saucy vocals flow through the 11-cut album. This time around, the productions -- some more impressive than others -- generally leave more room for her seductive, appealing voice.
But with all the talk about being a free artist, Truth doesn't take many artistic risks. Lyrically, the focus is mostly on the usual: the rollercoaster methods of modern love. "Lifetime," a ballad in which she dials up the chick who's been sneaking around with her man, recalls Shirley Brown's 1974 classic "Woman to Woman." "Phone Sex" is perhaps one of the steamiest urban cuts since Aaliyah's "Rock the Boat" with its throbbing, undulating rhythm. Musically, the album coasts on spare and sometimes intoxicating beats and loops. Overall, the album is radio-friendly and club-ready, the songs tightly structured. But nothing as immediate (or as addictive) as "Addictive." Still, Ready Now showcases the blossoming skills of a talented artist. Truth had a hand in writing and producing the album.
"This record is just a sign of growth," she says. "It was a different process. But what matters is that I feel good about what I'm doing now."