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Heather Victoria's Graffiti Diary 

(Jamla Records/ IWWMG)

This isn't the first time that Eastern North Carolina has given us a righteous female vocalist worth a clamor. Remember Keisha Shontelle? And while the state's longtime soul mainstay, Yahzarah, ostensibly considers throwing in the towel on her recording career, there might just be some extra space for a new diva. Introducing Heather Victoria ...

A Jamla recording artist, Victoria is a freshly minted, B.E.T.-black songstress trying to repave the bridge that R&B icon Mary J. Blige built from soul to hip-hop. On Victoria's recent debut street LP, Graffiti Diary, she's not shy about wanting to mimic her idol's musicianship or taking us back to the day when acts like SWV, R. Kelly and Jodeci pumped out black love by the pound. Given the comparisons to Mary J., E. Jones plays the heir apparent to Puff Daddy, in the sense that he styles Victoria's attitude around streetwise beats, letting her voice do the rest of the heart-solving. On "Don't Ever Take Your Love Away," Victoria's voice blooms over a sweet-spotted field of deep bass pads and affectionate background vocals. Graffiti Diary boasts down-ass, around-the-way-girl sexiness that accompanies the three stages of young love—puppy lust ("Go" and "Greatest Love of All"), ride-or-die truisms ("Your Lady") and self-help ("What I Need"). Those phases work.

But Graffiti Diary loses its mojo in places like "When I Dream" and "Time is the Teacher," where Victoria opts for hackneyed diatribes instead of the juicy stuff. We don't mind our R&B singers baring their souls, but we'd prefer if they didn't disturb our groove in the process. Still, if Victoria's beat handlers of 9th Wonder and E. Jones can help her achieve R&B staying power, we'll be glad to sit through all of the drama just like we did with Mary J. Blige. It's just that Victoria's around-the-way-girl appeal needs to give her the kind of constant power that has kept her predecessor around for so long.

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