While Nivea's 2005 sophomore effort, 'Complicated', features up-to-the-minute beats, high-profile guest artists (R.Kelly, the ubiquitous Lil' Jon), and attitude to spare, there is something extra that sets her apart. Perhaps it's the sincerity of songs penned with her husband (Terius Nash), particularly the 80s-era title-track ballad (complete with expansive guitar solo) or maybe it's the retro nature of many tunes here, exemplified by the Stylistics-sampling hook of the engagingly sweet 'I Can't Mess with You'.
Nivea's voice naturally hits each note at the perfect angle without over-adorning her songs. She can take a requisite Lil Jon club banger like 'Okay' and infuse it with a surprisingly delicate spirit, and just as easily turn a Jermaine Dupri beat into a smooth seduction, as on 'Parking Lot'. Blessed with both a strong voice and the wisdom to effectively use it, Nivea makes good on the promise of her debut with 'Complicated'.
Back in the '80s - when rap was the new kid on the block - there were plenty of urban contemporary stations and R&B singers who wanted nothing to do with hip-hop. But times have changed, and these days rap and urban contemporary are joined at the hip. Just as an electric blues/classic soul mixture works well at a blues festival, an urban station might play Destiny's Child one minute and Jay-Z the next. Nivea's self-titled debut album is a perfect example of how hip-hop-drenched R&B has become; from the production to the lyrics, this CD frequently underscores hip-hop's influence on modern R&B. Nivea doesn't get heavily into the neo-soul trend à la Mary J. Blige, Jaguar Wright, Alicia Keyes, or Jill Scott, although one does hear some '70s sweet soul influence on the slow jam "Laundromat" (which R. Kelly wrote and produced). Nivea is much more girlish than the neo-soul divas, which isn't to say that her material lacks bite. In fact, Nivea provides a likable blend of girlishness and grit on catchy, hip-hop-minded offerings like "Ya Ya Ya" (another Kelly contribution) and the single "Don't Mess With My Man" (which was produced by Bryan-Michael Cox). Nivea can be teen-friendly, although not in a bubblegum way; in Nivea's case, teen-friendly doesn't mean teen pop. Like a lot of younger urban contemporary artists who record for major labels, Nivea works with different producers and songwriters on different songs - and of course, she is at their mercy. Most of them serve her well, especially Kelly and Cox. There are, however, a few weak tracks. But if Nivea's debut is slightly uneven, it still has more ups than downs and is - thanks to the more on-the-ball producers and writers - worth the price of admission.