Beatcomber

Stepping Up the Game

Last we heard from Urban Mystic, the rising R&B star was pulling away from Cooper City's 2005 MLK Day celebration in a white stretch limo. A year, a new album, and countless performances later and some things have changed. Some things have not.

"We still traveling in the white stretch," Urban says. "But right now, we stepped the game up — we got the shrinkwrap trucks now, an Expedition and a Chevy riding around with my face all over it. 99 Jamz actually has a truck with my face on it. We have big posters, big billboards around now. There's a lot of things going on right now, steadily stepping the game up."

Like much of the past year, the 20-year-old upstart is currently on the road, winding through the hills outside Lynchburg, Virginia. "Out of the last 12 months, I've probably spent three at home," he says. This is from the kid born Brandon Williams who was born and raised in Fort Lauderdale and sang in his church choir since age 5. His friends all still live in his old neighborhood. Even his record label, SOBE Entertainment, which just released his sophomore full-length, Ghetto Revelations II, is located in South Florida. You can take the kid out of Broward, but... you know the rest.

"Oh yeah, ain't no place like home," he says. "It's always good to go back home. But I'm good out here on the road too. I'm here with my people — they take care of me, so I have fun when I'm out here. Sometimes it gets to me a little bit, but you just gotta buckle down and keep it moving."

"Stepping up the game." "Keep it moving." These are the phrases that Williams lives by, and they come up numerous times in our conversation, like affirmations or motivators that keep the young man focused. Beyond his work ethic, their effects are heard all over Revelations II,which showcases a powerful, versatile vocalist who's a little gruffer, a little deeper, a little bolder than he was a year ago. Seems maybe Williams has matured, both in his voice and in his art.

"I definitely agree with that," Williams says. "Being able to work with more major producers on this album such as Scott Storch, Mike City out of L.A. — it was a challenge for me to have to step my game up because I'm working with these platinum, million-dollar producers. That means I gotta come across with a platinum, million-dollar voice in the song. So it challenged me to step my game up and, you know, I can definitely see I did that."

Revelations II is further diversified by guest appearances, including a quartet of well-known Miami rappers. Labelmate Stack$ makes a strong showing on the bangalicious "Bounce Wit Me," and Smitty's turn on "I Got That" makes for one of the hookiest, most playful tracks on the album. "Smitty came and represented real well with me on that," Williams says of the song, which he later found out shares an identical structure to Ashanti's recent single. "For the record, I didn't hear her track until after we had pressed the album up and everything," he explains. "I was like wow, it's the same exact track — the format is the same, the rapping is in the same spots, the singing is in the same spots. But all that does is make me know that I'm up on my game."

Along with Trick Daddy, the other major guest spot belongs to Pitbull, whose Spanglish flow on "Can U Handle This?" rocks the sexy, Scott Storch-produced floor-filler. "Pitbull, he got the Spanish crowd on lock, so I had to go out there and get the Latino crowd. Scott Storch referred him, being that it was his track, and Pit has a good relationship with him as well. And being within this area, the track itself appeals to the Latino crowd, so we just worked around with that."

Those saucy, hip-hop-flavored numbers are smoothed out by a few signature, slow-burning ballads. "I Refuse," for instance, is the lead single off the album, an old-school R&B woo that lets Williams dig deep into his loverman persona. Williams contributes songwriting to several numbers, but like much of the album, "I Refuse" was written by one of a handful of freelance hitmakers. It's a luxury that the national success of Ghetto Revelations,Urban Mystic's debut, afforded him. And the fact that he can segue from a "fuck song" like "Can U Handle This?" to a warmhearted tune like "I Refuse" is an asset that Williams uses to the fullest.

But even in all his sexual swagger and romantic confidence, Williams still hasn't graduated — or hasn't admitted to it, at least — to any rock-star escapades. When pressed about the craziest experience from his year of shows and hits and touring, his response is pure vanilla.

"There was one time I had to go and get an outfit, a quick outfit for a show, and I ain't but so big, and they didn't have my size in the store," the diminutive singer says. "I'm used to getting my stuff tailored. But we got the outfit, and we had to pin it up behind me. No one noticed it, but I knew it, and my people knew it. It was kinda crazy, but we made it work. After the show, I took the big shirt off and just kept my tank top on. It was cool, you know." Either Urban Mystic isn't taking full advantage of his charm, looks, and success or he really is the pious R&B star his name implies. And that's a rare breed indeed.

"I can see a difference and a change. My music, the way I sing it, the way I perform it, it's just a growing matter," he says. "I'm gonna continue to grow."

 
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