Keri Hilson: No Boys Allowed (Album Review)

For an album called No Boys Allowed, there sure are a lot of boys that came to play inside Miss Keri Baby‘s clubhouse.

Though she’s tried at length to explain her new album’s title–that No Boys Allowed a “no bitch ass-ness” kind of empowerment collection about ditching the little boys and uplifting women, it’s hard to drive that point home when the album’s guest-list is exclusively filled with men–especially when one of them is Chris Brown.

But putting the album title-content conflict aside, Miss Keri Baby has produced a worthy follow-up to her excellent and underrated 2009 debut, In A Perfect World… with No Boys Allowed, released on December 21.

As one of the more prominent pop songwriters of late (her writing credits include Omarion‘s “Ice Box, Ciara‘s “Like A Boy” and Britney‘s “Gimme More”), Keri Hilson’s industry ties have afforded her the opportunity to compile another heavyweight producer-packed record, including contributions by Polow Da Don (“The Way You Love Me”), Danja (“Toy Soldier”), Stargate (“Lose Control”) and longtime collaborator, Timbaland (“Breaking Point”).

With No Boys Allowed, Hilson finds her groove in a variety of beats and influences, including the horn-heavy Southern swagga of “Buyou (feat. J. Cole),” the preachy church organ of “Breaking Point” (arguably the worst choice for lead single from the entire record), and the major empowerment anthem, “Pretty Girl Rock.”

As the torchbearer of No Boys Allowed, “Pretty Girl Rock” is the embodiment of the Hilson’s supposed intentions for this record, perfectly marrying cheeky self-encouragement (“All eyes on me when I walk in, no question that this girl’s a 10 / Don’t hate me ’cause I’m beautiful”) with a banging, piano-tinged modern beat. The result is a feel-good, groove-good uplifting anthem that packs as much of a punch lyrically as it does musically.

At the same time, Hilson kicks her heels back with a wash of Caribbean rhythms on tracks like the meandering “Bahm Bahm (Do It Once Again)” and “Lose Control (feat. Nelly),” which will surely go down as the greatest rip-off of Rihanna‘s “What’s My Name?” ever produced. (Note: Not an insult!)

Penned by the same hit-maker (the ever amazing Ester Dean, scribe of “Rude Boy”), “Lose Control” comes a bit too close for comfort to Ri’s superior radio smash, which is probably why it’s almost as infectious. “Shake, wind and roll,” Miss Keri Baby commands across the song’s dark, electro-tinged groove. Even Nelly’s feature on the track–apart from the unsettling rhyming of “famous” with “anus” (Oy! Leave it to Ke$ha, please)–proves an enjoyable addition to the song’s mesmerizing beat.

Hilson also takes care to revisit to the spacey, electro-R&B sound that colored much of her 2009 effort on cuts like “One Last Stand (feat. Chris Brown),” “Gimme What I Want” and “Beautiful Mistake”–the latter two being glowing highlights of the record.

Also of note is the album’s closing moment, “All The Boys,” a gorgeously introspective mid-tempo that will almost surely go overlooked: “After all the boys I thought I loved before, I didn’t know what love was until you knocked on my door,” Keri sweetly croons on top of the song’s big beats and twinkling piano riffs. Not only is “All The Boys” refreshingly stripped production-wise, but the songstress herself seems to be emoting more than ever during the album’s final moment. It’s beautiful, truly.

Of all the uptempo tracks on No Boys Allowed however, nothing bumps nearly as hard as “The Way You Love Me,” the raw, raucous Polow Da Don-produced sex romp that finds Miss Keri Baby shedding away the cutesy flirt of “Pretty Girl Rock,” stripping down and literally screaming into the chorus: “Fuck me, fuck me / It’s the way you fuck me!” (or perhaps more accurately, fuck-may, fuck-may!).

Even though she’s caught some (unfair) heat for the album’s sexually charged third single (largely due to its salacious video, which features Ms. Hilson working her hips against a giant safe in a way never before caught on film), it’s the song’s carnal energy, juicy bounce and fiercely lewd lyricism (“Yeah, it’s me, that’s where you want to be / I got the kind of pussy that’ll keep you off the streets”) that makes “The Way You Love Me” easily one of the year’s baddest tracks (in the best way possible).

Much as with In A Perfect World…, Miss Keri Baby’s brought a variety of soulful treats to the table on her sophomore attempt. While the No Boys Allowed female empowerment motif doesn’t exactly hold throughout, and there aren’t as many standout single-ready tracks on this album as with her debut, there’s still enough catchy cuts to overcome its thematic shortcomings.

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