Seeing Keri Hilson release her sophomore album is both a surprise and a relief after the struggles and constant push-backs surrounding her debut, In A Perfect World…

Keri is back with a harder hip-hop-ish sound, drenched in a more sensual persona and new-found swag, which No Boys Allowed showcases effortlessly. In a nutshell, it is her underrated release ‘Slow Dance’ gone way past the tease.

‘Buyou’ is a superbly crafted crunk-tinged midtempo, with a homophone play hinting at Hilson’s southern origins; it is very urban, stating independency and demanding materialistic placidness. ‘Pretty Girl Rock’ is simple but brilliant, simplicity and its lack of overproduction does it justice and flatters the conceited nature of the track, resulting in a lush thumping beat and consistent piano keys.

‘The Way You Love Me’ reveals a swaying Keri and its utmost crass, yet it surprisingly sounds so honest and uncontrived (it is hard and shameful to admit) it is quite engaging. Keri’s fast paced vocal delivery is terrific; the production is ace and dancefloor ready. ‘Bahm Bahm (Do It Once Again)/I Want You’ proves Rihanna wrong when she stated she wanted to make island flavored records she could only do, as Hilson rides a Caribbean beat with a thick and sassy accent to tone the saucy-ness of the track marvelously; the eh-eh sung hook is infectious. The following interlude is a soft make-love request sung in a half finger-snapped beat; Hilson has truly found a new sexy side to herself, and her steady coos and sex kitten sonic guise are quite convincing.

Hilson fully channels Rihanna in the Stargate produced ‘Lose Control’ featuring Nelly, which bears similarities with ‘What’s My Name?’. Even if it follows the steps of the aforementioned ska number, ‘Lose Control’ is a drop dead dancey tune, which will have one shaking, winding and rolling in no time; it just screams hit in the making.

‘Toy Soldier’ is an enthralling epic ballad of love gone wrong, with a faint drum roll intro with gripping vocals, tackling at never losing one’s guard. Hilson shines in the song and transcends its simple production into something else; she sounds hurt and feels it as she sings. ‘Breaking Point’ is woman empower to the fullest, encouraging women to swing their fingers at their man faces and tell them how it’s done; it sounds a little Lauryn Hill, but plain. In fact, ‘Toy Soldier’ carries the message Keri intended to deliver in ‘Breaking Point’ more effectively than ‘Breaking Point’ in itself. ‘Beautiful Mistake’ is a happier and flirty approach to a break-up; the production is very poppy and bouncy, though it still retains an R&B trace. Hilson soothes in the breezy track, giving the sense of a summer day while bobbing one’s had to this with the windows rolled down.

‘Gimme What I Want’ brings in another banger, where Hilson declares she wants it all, without a tease, hesitation, nor restriction. Ciara would have killed to have this track on one of her own records. The album closer ‘All The Boys’ might seem sappy and corny, but interestingly is an amazing ballad, which has Keri confessing one true love, with a compelling vocal delivery.

Lyrically, Keri Hilson could do no wrong (putting aside the fact she is part of one of the best writing teams out there, The-Clutch). Hilson’s record is filled seductive witty metaphors in the midst of lustrous production; No Boys Allowed shows maturity in both vocal and songwriting skills.

Hilson’s drastic image switch might seem forced and fake, if not phony and desperate at the beginning, but after going through the whole record, the persona she is introducing to the listener is quite genuine and unexpectedly likeable. She makes her interests more than crystal clear in ‘The Way You Love Me’ and ‘Buyou’, strokes her ego in ‘Pretty Girl Rock’ and expresses vulnerability in ‘Toy Soldier’, yet ultimately conveys how comfortable she feels as a woman, and being able to break through the constrictions of being a female, by allowing herself to be shallow for once, naughty, and engage in and say what a man would without being judged.

By mere looks, Hilson may seem as a feminist siren throwing shade at men, but she takes feminism into a positive approach of celebrating womanhood instead of striking back at the male condition. No Boys Allowed is R&B mixed with a little pop and bits of hip-hop, making up for a consistent body of work, coherent with its theme of not allowing boys throughout, but real men; it is sassy and very ‘Rihanna’, but in a good way; Keri really makes this style her own. It is a breath of fresh air to see Miss Keri working with several other producers other than Timbaland only (no wonder the weakest song in the album, ‘Breaking Point’, was produced by Timbaland).

Whether sex sells for No Boys Allowed is not the question, but whether Keri could actually sell it; there are no questions asked: this girl is a ten. Hilson crafted an amazing enjoyable record which scratches off sophomore slump from her list.

★★★★

C.Perez