While Janet Jackson struggles to find her footing on the rocky (or, rather, hip-hoppy) surface of 2006, newcomer Cassie is climbing straight past her. The model-singer’s debut single, “Me & U,” is a slinky, vintage-sounding track with a hypnotic, snake-charming whistle that has garnered an endorsement from Janet herself (the video even evokes the impromptu solo dance rehearsal of “The Pleasure Principle”). But while she’s got an army of handlers that includes Tommy Mottola, Diddy (“Me & U” has single-handedly revived his ailing Bad Boy imprint), and up-and-coming producer Ryan Leslie, Cassie’s got nothing on Janet at her decade-long peak—and Leslie is no Jam & Lewis.
Still, Cassie’s self-titled debut isn’t just one nostalgic hit and lots of filler. The album’s second single, “Long Way 2 Go,” is a sassy smash-in-the-make that should prove popular with fans of Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous.” Cassie raps the verses in a nonchalant, dispassionate tone, as if she’s dismissing the advances of a poor boy while simultaneously blowing on freshly painted fingernails: “I love it when they try to get intimate/Even though they know I really ain’t into it.” And the juxtaposition of live harp and the grinding synths Leslie is so fond of makes for a delicious backdrop on “Just One Nite.” Leslie, who found it necessary to guest on several songs, raps on the track, but one can imagine a more established MC like Jay-Z elevating “Just One Nite” to a whole other level.
There are a few missteps, of course: Despite Cassie’s youth, “Ditto” is just too cute for its own good (it’s something you’d expect to hear on a Hilary Duff record), while the rocky “What Do U Want” takes its time revealing itself as a “Hollaback Girl” knock-off. But like Janet, Cassie is likeable in a way artists like Ashanti and Ciara aren’t, which makes such minor offenses forgivable. And the album, which is only slightly longer than half-an-hour in length, plays to the singer’s strengths, maximizing her limited range by keeping the songs short and the production simple.