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Kelly Rowland Discusses Lil Wayne, New Single, ‘X Factor’

Maury Phillips, WireImage

The weight of expectation can be crushing. Yes, there is the undeniable springboard of being a former member of one of the most successful girl groups of all time. After all, during Kelly Rowland‘s time in the multi-platinum-selling trio Destiny’s Child, success became almost a foregone conclusion. Starting with their self-titled 1998 debut, the Houston-based act went on to sell roughly 50 million albums. But Rowland’s career post D.C. has been a classic hit-or-miss exercise in stardom. Inevitably, the questions start to loom. How do you compete with the ghost of past commercial triumphs? Is it possible to find success on your own terms at the same time when Destiny’s Child frontman Beyonce Knowles rules the music landscape as a world-beating, pop supernova? Will Kelly Rowland ever become a solo star?

The answer to the latter is, yes. That much is clear judging from the immense it-girl coronation that Rowland is currently experiencing with the mammoth chart and radio success of her single ‘Motivation.’ It’s nearly impossible to avoid the omnipresent Lil Wayne-featured track, which finds the cutesy Rowland in a frisky, sex-kitten mood. With the recent July 26 release of her buzz-heavy third album ‘Here I Am,’ the underrated vocalist seems to have found her mojo. The BoomBox sat down with Rowland to discuss how having patience pays off, why she loves Weezy and Kanye West and judging alongside Simon Cowell on ‘The X Factor.’

Your career journey up to this point has been filled with highs and lows. Now you are experiencing an across-the-board hit like ‘Motivation’ as a solo act. Do you feel critics and music fans are finally starting to see you as a talented solo artist beyond your work with Destiny’s Child?

I think it speaks to hard work. I have a great team around me, and I’ve watched so many artists for years have so many different opportunities. I would look and them and say, “Oh my Gosh… I want to do that style of music… I want that record.” For me it was really about being honest with myself.

In what way?

It was me saying, “Kelly, are you really working hard enough? Are you really going the extra mile?” That’s what you have been seeing from me. I’ve been working extra hard. I now have the proper team around me. That’s what happened with ‘Motivation.’ Above anything radio has been so incredible. And my fans have been very supportive. I can’t say that enough. They call the radio stations up and text and tweet and go on Facebook and every other social network that you can think of that I probably don’t even know exists [laughs]. I have the best fans. I am so incredibly blessed.

When you first heard ‘Motivation’ did you know it was going to be a hit?

I knew that I loved it and I knew that I wanted everyone to love it the way I did. That was my only thing. You only hope that you people love your song the way you love it.

Were you at all worried about the suggestive nature of ‘Motivation?’ It’s become an unofficial strip club anthem.

[Laughs] Well, for me, being in Destiny’s Child, we were very much about female empowerment. And that was because other women had come before us and empowered us in different ways. So I felt like I was in a place where I was coming into my own sensuality. There’s nothing wrong with that. Sensuality is a very empowering place as well. It makes you feel strong sexually.

There’s an undeniable chemistry between yourself and Lil Wayne, who appears on ‘Motivation.’ It sounds like you guys could even record a full album together. What is it about Wayne that makes him such a transcending presence on that track?

You know what, Wayne brings a lot of sex appeal to that record. With the things that he says and the fact that he is giving you the whole play on everything. He proves that your imagination can go anywhere. He’s great with that, at telling stories. I just love Wayne because he’s a true artist.

He seems to be really intense in the studio, huh?

Yes. When he loves something he just goes for it. He’s not a Hollywood-type person. He believes in music and artistry. I just really appreciate that about him. There’s no Hollywood B.S. about him.

When you were working on the ‘Here I Am’ album what was your frame of mind in terms of your artistic direction?

This record ‘Here I Am’ is all about the title. I’m showing that I’m very happy in the place that I am. I’m coming into my own — where I am in my life as a woman and as an artist. You can hear it.

In past interviews you have given a lot of credit to your producers for lighting the spark of creativity on ‘Here I Am.’ Can you elaborate?

Well, it all started with Rico Love and Jim Jonsin in the studio. We recorded ‘Motivation.’ And then Rico was getting tracks from other producers. He would tell me, “Oh, I got ‘All Of The Night,” which is another song on the record. Then I worked with Tricky Stewart and it was just like we had known each other for years. And I was able to work with Rodney [Jerkins] again, and we made magic together with ‘Work It Man’ and ‘Turn It Up.’ It was just awesome watching everything just kind of mold itself together. That’s exactly what I wanted.

Were you aiming for a sexy, conceptual album?

I was just aiming for a strong album. I wanted to build a record where people would say, “Oh, she’s here. She’s not playing.” When I started to play the record for everybody they were like, “Oh, my God… We’ve been waiting for this album.” And I’m like, “Thank you! So have I.” [laughs].

There was a time when it seemed like you would never make that out-the-ball-park Kelly Rowland album, especially coming off the immense success of your single with Nelly (‘Dilemma’). Why do you think it has taken quite a few attempts for you to completely break through as a solo artist?

I completely believe that timing is everything. And my timing has not always been the best timing. I truly believe that God’s timing works way better than mine. Everybody is just really excited. I think a big contribution has been the fact that everything is different from my first record ['Simply Deep']. I have a great support system. There are people who come up to me, who I don’t even know, and they tell me, “I’m so proud of you!” And I’m like, “What?” [laughs] That feels really, really great. I want them to know that I am definitely here working hard. I feel blessed. I appreciate the support.

Have you already decided on the next single?

The next single is this record I did with Ester Dean and Hitboy called ‘Lay It On Me.’ Big Sean is featured on it. And I love Big Sean. Love, love, love him.

You spoke of your love for Wayne and Big Sean. If I were to check out your iPod, who would be some of the other MCs that I would find on there?

Of course, you all know I listen to big brother Jay [Jay-Z]. But also I’m a huge Kanye West fan. I love Kanye and I’m so excited about what him and Jay are doing together. I can’t wait for the ['Watch The Throne'] album.

Wow. Kelly Rowland is the all-around American girl?

[Laughs] I’m into everything. I’m looking forward to doing a tour in support of the record. Right now I’m in the U.K. I’m actually one of the new judges for ‘The X Factor.’ It will be running until December. I’ll probably be working and doing spot dates up until ‘The X Factor’ ends.

Sounds like fun. Don’t let Simon Cowell intimidate you.

Oh, no. Simon is really cool. The funny thing about him is he really does want people to win. He wants to bring the best out of people. I’m really excited.

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