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Keyshia Cole: Soul Survivor

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From her childhood as the daughter of a drug-addicted prostitute to her rise to platinum-status fame, Keyshia Cole’s life story is filled with heartbreak and determination. On the eve of her sophomore album, Just Like You, the 26-year-old songstress sat down with ESSENCE senior writer Jeannine Amber to share her thoughts on life, love and being compared to Mary J. Blige.

ESSENCE: Were you always going to be a solo artist?

KEYSHIA COLE: Well, actually, I was gonna be in a group with these two girls. We were in Los Angeles and we were working with Damon Elliot, who is Dionne Warwick’s son, and he was like, “Keysh, if you wanna sign with the girl group, you can; but I’ll sign you solo.” And I was like, I’d rather be solo because I do everything in the group anyway. They’re just pretty. We were gonna get, like, a $30,000 advance and split it ten/ten/ten; but I figured, "Why should I give them my $20,000 when I can get it myself?" So I told them, “I’m sorry, but I can’t.” Then I recorded a couple songs with Damon and one of them was (the hit single) “Love.”

ESSENCE: Early in your career you went to Los Angeles and met legendary music producer Suge Knight and Tupac Shakur. What was that like?

COLE: My brother was close with Pac, he got records with Pac and everything. And Pac’s mother is really cool with my brother and me. So to me, Pac was just like a big brother. That time was like one of the biggest moments in history, and I saw everything. I was with them in Malibu and Vegas and I stayed in the “big house” by myself. I knew the world, the whole industry, everything. I was only fourteen.

ESSENCE: You recently got out of a serious relationship. How’s that been?

COLE: After my ex-boyfriend told me to go on and live my life, I saw him at a place with another girl. I was pissed! I tried to rip her head off. Then he was like, “Dude, you broke up with me.” But that’s just what it is.

ESSENCE: Your sister, Neffeteria, who plays a big part in your BET reality show, The Way It Is (premiering October 30), seems to have had a pretty difficult life. What advice do you give her?

COLE: I’ve told her, “You need to work on you.” After going through so much, you really gotta worry about yourself first. Everything else is secondary. Everything else. Husband, kids…well, not the kids, ’cause she takes care of those babies very well. But really, you gotta work on yourself first. If you don’t, you ain’t gonna be able to deal with people.

ESSENCE: How do you feel about constantly being compared to Mary J. Blige?

COLE: I feel like we are very similar based on everything we’ve been through in our personal lives. It’s helped make us sing the way we sing. Because she didn’t have a vocal coach, and neither did I. And when I met her I told her, “You winning all those Grammy’s—congratulations—it gives me inspiration to this day that maybe I can do the same thing.” You know, it’s just a real big life circle. I think there are a lot of things that she could tell me that’d help me. I’m not trying to take nobody’s place or nothing like that. But I’m just saying, as a woman—as a young Black woman—if she knows some of the answers, Give ’em to me!” (Laughing.) But she said that I could call her anytime. I just haven’t done it yet.

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