Keke Palmer | Awaken

Album Review: Keke Palmer | Awaken Mixtape
By Peggy Oliver

Keke Palmer started chasing her dream of becoming a double threat entertainer since she was in grade school. And she had the advantage of developing her voice in her mother’s home recording studio. Once the very gifted Palmer (born Lauren Keyana ‘Keke’ Palmer) ventured out to make her dream reality, she went through the motions of various rejections, including her audition being edited out of American Idol’s short-lived spin off series, American Juniors. Though Palmer was signed to Atlantic Records in 2005, she first won the hearts of many moviegoers for her portrayal of a teen who prepares to win a national spelling bee in Akeelah & The Bee. Her debut single, “All My Girlz,” was also featured in that 2006 film. Her contributions to soundtracks were many, including Disney’s Jump In!, the dance-themed film, Make It Happen and Night at the Museum. Though primarily identified with tween channels Disney and Nickelodoen, she displayed her full range of acting roles as a young pregnant girl in the Ludacris & Mary J. Blige video, “Runaway Love” and appearances on ER, Tyler Perry’s House of Payne and The Cleveland Show. Though her acting performances earned several awards, including the NAACP Image Awards for Akeelah & her current TV series – True Jackson, VP, how would Palmer fare in the recording studio with her own full-length project?

Palmer’s debut in 1997, So Uncool, featuring high energy positive based urban and pop that perfectly suited a young teenage audience, was received with sweet reviews but not so impressive record sales. She also demonstrated her songwriting ability co-writing several songs, including one of her popular songs - “Bottoms Up.” Despite So Uncool biting the dust in a short time, Palmer decided to continue her solo singing endeavors by moving from Atlantic to Interscope Records.
As a teaser to her upcoming disc tentatively due in the summer of 2011, Palmer releases a mixtape entitled Awaken. Her fan base should recognize several tracks from So Uncool such as "The Game Song," "Bottoms Up" and "Keep it Movin’. In addition, the now seventeen year old singer/songwriter mixes in new material which expands her musical territory with more rhythmic R&B crossovers (a la Rhiannon and Keri Hilson) and touching more on love relationships (“The One You Call,” “Keke’s Love,” “Hard to Breathe”). On “Superjerkin’ (On the Floor),” Palmer leans a bit towards the Timberland/Missy Elliott type grooves while exercising her rap skills and there’s a surprising old-school synth R&B/pop ballad, “Top of the World.”
Overall, Palmer’s crystal voice is pleasing and soulful. As for the music on the Awaken Mixtape, the production is clean yet there are several auto tune spots and just so-so background vocals in certain places, which seem par for the course in today’s urban market. Thus, the question is not whether Palmer has very good vocal capabilities.   It is a matter of whether her music at this point can stand toe to toe with the more prolific urban vocal talent hitting the charts today.
Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene


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