“I am giving you a little taste of me,” says Kandi of her hotly anticipated sophomore album, Kandi Koated. “When I think of candy coated, I think of adding a little sugar to something and making it better.”
And that’s exactly what Kandi does with everything she touches.
Whether singing, songwriting, running her Atlanta-based clothing store T.A.G.S., raising her adorable daughter Riley, running her own production company or showcasing her life on the insanely popular Bravo reality show The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Kandi does it with trademark tenacity and an unstoppable grind.
“Whatever I think of and decide on, I do it,” she says with a charming confidence. Her quiet storm like drive propelled Kandi from a member of the 1990’s super group Xscape (their entire catalogue is platinum) to an extremely respected songwriter on the speed dials of every music label CEO and President.
“After Xscape broke up, I promised myself that I would never be in a situation again to where I was financially dependent on one thing or other people’s actions. That’s when Tiny (Tameka Cottle) and I started writing songs for our own album,” she says. “One of them was “No Scrubs.”
After landing on LA Reid’s desk, the song became one of TLC’s biggest hits and earned a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance for a Duo or Group with Vocal and a nomination for Record of the Year. “Executives from the labels started calling me on a first name basis. It went from just being, ‘She’s in a hot group’ to ‘Let’s sit down and talk business.’”
Kandi went on to write the #1 “Bills, Bills, Bills” and “Bug A Boo” for Destiny’s Child and several other hits for Pink, NSYNC, Usher, Boyz II Men, Fantasia and Whitney Houston. Riding the success of her songwriting career, she released her debut album, Hey Kandi (Columbia Records) in 2001, yielding a Billboard “Top 25” pop hit, “Don’t Think I’m Not.” Kandi ‘s songwriting skills have made history twice. She is the first African American woman to win the prestigious ASCAP “Songwriter of the Year” award (2000) and the first woman ever to win ASCAP’s Rhythm & Soul Music Award (2000).
“When I started writing songs, I knew I wanted to take it to another level.” Kandi remembers, “I always wanted to also be a business woman because being creative is not enough to keep your life flourishing.”
Her passion for life and business led her to reality television. Originally a member of the cast of the show that eventually aired as Tiny & Toya, Kandi was dropped, only to gain a starring role on The Real Housewives of Atlanta (the #1 show on cable for women 18-49). “Everything happens for a reason and the show has been great for me,” Kandi says. “But, in the beginning I had my doubts.”
The blogosphere instantly ripped into Kandi’s relationship with the now deceased AJ Jewell. The pressure was unbearable for the couple, whom were engaged. She toyed with not returning to the show. “I had a cool life before, so I quickly asked myself ‘Why am I doing this?’ I am not attention driven. The things that I do, I do because its fun. But, I realized I have the opportunity to show an example of a woman being an attentive mother and taking care and control of her own life and career.”
With Kandi Koated (on Kandi Koated Entertainment/Asylum Records/Warner Bros.) Kandi has taken the reins and delivered a cohesive album with everything you would expect from a singer who has helped create numerous songs that have served as the soundtrack to our lives. “The album is about love, relationships. It’s meeting someone. Falling for them. Falling out with them. Breaking up with them. Thinking about them. Getting back together. Moving on. Its all there,” she says of the project, which she almost completely wrote, with the exception of the impossibly catchy “Me and You,” written and produced by Ne-Yo, and sampling the Outkast classic “Elevators.”
“I Want You” (produced by The Justice League) is Euro-smooth and ultra-feminine, while “Leroy Jones” (produced by Blac Elvis) is the surefire single mothers’ anthem (“I am a package deal/You gotta love my child/Like its your own). “My stepfather’s name is Leroy Jones and he’s been there for my mother and me. This song is about where I am right now as a woman. If I can find a man like that to love me and my daughter, then I am good.”
Kandi’s long-time friend Jazze Pha collaborated on the soulful and explosive 808-filled break up hymn “Leave U” (“You gotta keep it up/To keep me around”) and she reinforces the importance of respect with “I’m Happy” with remarkable Deniece Williams-like vocal acrobatics. Up-tempo and aggressive, “How Could You (Feel My Pain)” is an incredulous look at her lover’s actions (“How could you break me down/When I lift you up?”) and “Lucky” is a look at the real-life situation of cheating (“She gets to have it every night/she’s a lucky girl/I know you got a girl/but…”).
In true respect to Kandi’s own personality and drive, the Tim Walls-produced “Let’s Get It” is motivation at its height (“This is for my fellas on their grind/and my girls with money on their mind/I’m gon’ get this paper/while you’re dreaming”). Smooth and hype all at once, it’s the female companion to Biggie’s “Juicy.”
“I knew I had to come back strong. I waited way too many years to return with something wack,” says the always busy Kandi, who also hosts the weekly Internet talk show “Kandi Koated Nights” (kandikoatednight.com) every Wednesday, and writes a blog, “Kandi Presents: The Bitter & The Sweet,” for the lifestyle website Hellobeautiful.com. “I love this album. It’s not stuck in a box.”
And with her mogul-in-the-making ambition, neither is she.