As a songwriter, Keri Hilson has cranked out hits for today’s biggest stars (”Gimme More” for Britney Spears, ”Take Me as I Am” for Mary J. Blige). But now the 26-year-old stunner, who recently snagged a BET award for Best New Artist, is center stage herself with the top 10 single ”Knock You Down” featuring Ne-Yo and Kanye West, off her debut In a Perfect World…. Here, a primer on the Timbaland protégée, who’s set to take on Europe this summer as the opening act for Ne-Yo.
1) Even Hilson can’t pin down her sound.
”It’s a super-dope mix of all kinds of things,” she explains. ”You might hear a Middle Eastern influence, soul, R&B, alternative. I like lots of different music.”
2) She’s a perfectionist.
Hilson recorded more than 200 songs to whittle down to the 14 that appear on World. ”It sounds like a lot, but that’s not hard to do when you’re a songwriter.”
3. She thinks some things are worth waiting for.
As the release date for World kept moving back, some pointed the finger at Interscope head Jimmy Iovine, who’s notorious for shelving albums. Hilson demurs: ”It was [me and Timbaland]. We wanted to make sure the world was ready.”
4) She plays well with others, like Timbaland.
On her partnership with the music supernova, who exec-produced World: ”We take what we do very seriously, but we also let the session breathe and just have fun.”
5) She won’t apologize for her famous friends.
”I’ve been called ‘favor-dropper,’ but these people don’t owe me anything,” Hilson says of World‘s all-star collaborators, including Justin Timberlake and Lil Wayne. ”They wanted to be a part of the project and made it happen.”
6) There could be more J.T. in her future.
Hilson and Timberlake co-wrote ”Slow Dance,” which appears on World — and a few others that don’t. ”Maybe they’ll see the light of day, maybe not.” She adds, teasingly, ”The others are hot.”
7) She had fun with Usher…but not that kind.
Her role as Usher’s sexy costar in his ”Love in This Club” video got the gossip going. ”People take visuals so seriously, like there’s something actually going on. We had a lot of fun filming it.”
8) She’s a team player.
Along with j.Que, she founded the writing team the Clutch. ”It’s a producer-driven game,” she explains. ”We own half of the song, but we were not getting the same respect nor the same monetary compensation.”
9) She’s not giving up her first job.
”I always want to be writing for other people,” she says, citing Ryan Leslie and Jazmine Sullivan as being on her wish list.
10) She may add another hyphenate soon.
The singer-songwriter, who majored in theater at Emory, will tackle the big screen…eventually. ”It’s not time just yet,” she says, ”but I’ll definitely be doing it.”