Valentino has the seductive power of soul

Music Notes

July 21, 2005|By Rashod D. Ollison

IT'S LIKE his words are sticky with molasses . They come slow and unhurried. It's that slightly slurred Southern way of talking you hear down in Atlanta, the place where Bobby Valentino grew up. The epicenter of crunkness and So So Def-ness, the city is still his home.

"It's real soulful here," says Valentino, who's calling from his beloved hometown. "What I learned from living here is just how to be very soulful."

If you've paid any attention to urban radio lately, you've surely heard the urgent crooning of this short 23-year-old pretty boy. His charming hit, "Slow Down," topped the R&B charts last month and helped catapult his debut, Disturbing Tha Peace Presents: Bobby Valentino, to No. 3 on Billboard's Top 200 album chart. In five weeks, the CD sold more than half a million copies. The singer's appearance on Scream Tour IV: The Heart Throbs -- featuring Bow Wow, Omarion and Marques Houston -- certainly won't hurt his rising profile among urban-pop audiences, particularly among the starry eyed teen-age girls who flock to such concerts. The show stops at 1st Mariner Arena Sunday night.

Valentino (real last name: Wilson) is a little different from the other youngbloods appearing on the Scream Tour. He's unassuming: well-groomed, a little on the preppy side, gentlemanly. He doesn't come off as an overly slick dog -- the kind of punk who'd turn your baby sister out then gleefully stomp her heart. (I don't know him. But something tells me you wouldn't want Omarion slithering around little Keisha.) Valentino strikes me as a decent dude even your old Bible-toting, jacked-up-wig-wearing maiden aunt would approve of.

Sounding a bit sheepish, he says, "I'm low-key, you know."

His stage name tells you something else: He's a stone romantic. Throughout his album, Valentino concentrates on sweetly seducing the object of his desire, laying a mack down over sparsely layered, beat-heavy arrangements. You don't believe him when he tries to do the soft thug, gangsta thing on a few songs. But when he pledges his unwavering devotion on "My Angel (Never Leave You)," the Mississippi-born singer sounds so sincere.

"That's what the world needs now pretty much: love," he says, sounding like an old Dionne Warwick record. "In the world today, there's a lot of negativity, a lot of violence. And this album can bring love to people. I'm trying to do my part in the music."

For as long as he can remember, Valentino has wanted to perform. His parents -- mom is a doctor in general practice; dad's a horticulturist for the city of Atlanta -- thought it was cute the way little Bobby would impersonate Michael Jackson. And they were supportive when, as a teen, he joined the short-lived '90s boy band Mista. The group had a small radio hit with 1996's "Blackberry Molasses." But soon afterward, the unit dissolved. Valentino then entered Clark Atlanta University and majored in mass communications. He squeezed in his pursuit of a solo career between sports and classes.

"Everyday when I got out of baseball practice, I was in the studio working on songs," Valentino says. "It would be late. I'd sleep in the studio, wake up early to go to class."

After graduation, he started shopping his demo, which eventually made its way to Ludacris. The quirky rapper-producer (one of my favorites) signed Valentino to his Disturbing Tha Peace label. So far, he's the only R&B singer on the roster.

"One day, I want to have my own label," the performer says. "I want to be an actor. I want to be a consistent artist so that people know when my album comes out it's automatically gonna be hot."

Check out Bobby Valentino on Scream Tour IV: The Heart Throbs at 1st Mariner Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St., Sunday night at 7. Tickets are $23-$40.50 and are available through Ticketmaster by calling 410-547-SEAT or visiting www.ticketmaster.com.

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