In 2002, Kelly Rowland teamed up with rapper Nelly to record the chorus and vocals on the track "Dilemma" for his album Nellyville. Released as the album's second single, the song became one of the most successful singles of the year, topping the charts worldwide. Originally scheduled to be released in early 2003, the success of the collaboration caused the label to extend the release date of Rowland's debut solo album Simply Deep, which Rowland rushed within three weeks to get done and featured a mixture of alternative-R&B and rock music. Released in the United States in October 2002 and internationally in 2003, Simply Deep was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and sold 602,000 copies in the US. Released to an even bigger success in international territories, the album topped the UK Albums Chart and became a gold-seller in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, resulting in worldwide sales total of 2.5 million copies. The album yielded three singles. "Stole", a rock pop-influenced mid-tempo track about loss, was released as the album's lead single and became an international top-ten, peaking at number two in Australia and the United Kingdom. In the US, the song failed to capitalize on the success of "Dilemma", reaching the top-thirty only.
After a three-year hiatus that involved concentration on individual solo projects, Rowland rejoined Beyoncé Knowles and Michelle Williams for Destiny's Child's final studio album Destiny Fulfilled, released in November 2004. Meanwhile, Rowland had started work on the conception of her second solo album. She began collaborating with songwriter-producer Bryan Michael Cox, partner WyldCard, and production duo CKB. Some of their early recordings, including "Bad Habit" and "Flashback", were later included on Destiny's Child's final studio album as well as the group's live DVD Destiny's Child: Live in Atlanta (2006), respectively. As she was anxious to avoid hasty productions as on her previous album, which Rowland felt was less personal, she took a wider role in the production of the album; the singer co-wrote the majority of the songs and shared ideas in which one to produce. "I wrote a lot on this record [...] and it's especially from me [to my fans]," she told CNN of the album. "It's a feelgood record; very intimate. It's a sneak peak into my mind and heart of the past three or four years."
After the rock–dance sound which dominated her previous album Simply Deep, Rowland felt she was still struggling with finding her sound as solo artist, and instead of capitalizing off its international success, the singer and her management settled on "a more urban approach" with her second album. Commenting on her decision, Rowland later told MTV News, "in general, I'm going in the urban, more R&B route. Of course, that's what I started with Destiny's Child, [but on] my first solo album I did more of a pop-sounding record. So I wanted to go back to my roots and dibble and dabble with some beats." Consequently, Columbia Records consulted a wider range of contemporary R&B and hip hop producers and artists such as Big Tank, Patrick "J. Que" Smith, Rockwilder, Rich Harrison, Rodney Jerkins, and Robin Thicke to work with Rowland on the album. Female rappers Remy Ma, Eve, and Shawnna also lent their voices to guest parts.
Lyrically, love, independence, and maturity became reoccurring themes throughout the album. With songs such as "'I'm Still in Love with My Ex" and "Better Without You" inspired by Rowland's former relationship with American football player Roy Williams, most of the tracks Rowland recorded were relationship-driven, something she said she was not hesitant about discussing. "I just went in the studio and just did me, because I think that's when you get your best product. That's when it's just natural. It just flew out of my mouth and came out in lyrics [and] I had great writers involved." While recording her vocals, Rowland was inspired by several singers, citing former bandmate Beyoncé Knowles, and singers Brandy and Whitney Houston as major inspirations, "I listened to a lot of Whitney Houston for her vocals. I love her. I love Beyoncé's voice, and I love Brandy. Those are three vocalists who inspire me. I love how different they are. I love how they take themselves to the next level."
Opening song and lead single "Like This", which features rap from Eve, was one of the last songs recorded for Ms. Kelly. Noted for the use of a cow bell in its melody, the single was first released in March 2007 to mixed reviews and became Rowland's highest-charting solo success since 2002's "Stole". Second track "Comeback" is one out of two tracks Scott Storch contributed to the album. Planned to be released as the album's second single at times, Rowland shot a music video for the track with director Philip Andelman in July 2007. When a single release failed to materialize, the clip premiered on Rowland's official YouTube account in early 2008. "Ghetto" is set as the third track and features rapper Snoop Dogg. Originally recorded for the shelved My Story, the crunk-influenced track was released as the album's second single in North America in August 2007, where it achieved minor success, reaching number nine on the U.S. Billboard Bubbling Under R&B/Hip-Hop Singles only.
The album's fourth track, "Work", was written after returning from a night out in Miami and rushed in "like twenty minutes." An up-tempo composition featuring funk production and go-go elements, it was released as the album's second international single during the first quarter of 2008 and enjoyed major commercial success, emerging as the highest-charting single off the album. Synthesized "Flashback" is the fifth track of the album and had previously appeared on Destiny's Child's 2005 DVD album Live in Atlanta (2006). Released to generally lukewarm reviews, the San Francisco Chronicle called it "positively lackluster." "Every Thought is You", a ballad produced by Rockwilder, garanered positive critics, with About.com noting it "a classy, well-sung mid-tempo track about healthy infatuation."
Originally expected for a March 2006 release, the album had two title changes and three unofficial releases until its dropping the following year. Initially scheduled for a July 11, 2006 release, the album' original draft, entitled My Story, was eventually shelved in favor of a revamped version with a different vibe. Although manager Matthew Knowles initially insisted that the decision to push the release date from July 2006 was because more time would be needed to properly set up the project, Rowland later admitted that she had been unsatisfied with the album's direction, and thus, she asked to rework with a stable of new producers on the project. Speaking of the delay, she told Billboard, "it was basically a list of songs that I put together about the past three years of my life, with love and relationships," she said of the original track listing. "And I remember listening to the record, and I was just like, 'I don't want this to be too deep to where, you know, [I] lose people.' And the record was too full of midtempos and ballads, so I wanted to bring it up a little bit."
Her decision led to the cancellation of the album's original leading single "Gotsta Go", a collaboration with rapper Da Brat that she premiered on the MTV Asia Awards Bangkok on in May 2006. Rowland eventually consulted new producers to collaborate on the album, including Mysto & Pizzi, Sean Garrett, Scott Storch, and Atlanta-based Polow da Don, who contributed the single "Like This," a duet with rapper Eve, to the album. In addition, the singer decided to rename the album. "I really put my heart and soul into this record," she said, "and not only am I excited that everyone's going to hear the music, I'm looking forward to people getting to hear the real me. That's the reason I called the album Ms. Kelly. Because the title is all about respect, being an adult and that's how I feel about my life, and my music."
Recorded late into the production of the album, Rowland and her management chose "Like This" as the lead single off Ms. Kelly. Moderately successful on the charts, the song reached the top ten in Canada, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, and dominated the US Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart. "Comeback" was sent to urban radio on July 30, 2007, as the album's second US single, while "Work" was released as the second international single and achieved greater success than "Like This". Pushed by a newly produced Freemasons remix, it reached the top ten on the majority of all European and Oceanic music charts. "Ghetto", featuring Snoop Dogg, followed with minor to no commercial success stateside. The album released previously unreleased "Daylight" as fifth and final single; it became a top twenty success in the UK and helped introducing the Diva reissues. Although never released as a single, Rowland shot a music video for "Comeback" back-to-back with the video for "Work". The track was originally planned to be released as the album's second single alongside ballad "Still in Love with My Ex".
The Ms. Kelly Tour was Rowland's first North American tour. She had previously headlined an exclusive European tour, the Simply Deeper Tour, for her debut solo album, Simply Deep. The Ms. Kelly Tour was originally scheduled to hit fifteen cities between October 2007 and December 2007, with a three-night finale in Las Vegas. However, three scheduled tour dates were cancelled with no ticket refunds. R&B crooner Mario was the tour's opening act.
Ms. Kelly received generally positive reviews from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted mean rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 70, based on 10 reviews. Alex Macpherson of The Guardian gave the album four and a half stars out of five. He complimented Ms. Kelly as "poised, dignified and completely lacking in the hysteria normally associated with R&B divas giving vent to their feelings" but felt that "the emotions simmering beneath her glassy, controlled tones are as raw as any Mary J. Blige classic." Ben Williams of the New York Post referred the album as a "mostly upbeat record that soulfully delves into contemporary funk", while Entertainment Weekly found that "after a blah solo debut with 2002's Simply Deep, Kelly Rowland — assisted by producers like Scott Storch and Polow Da Don — brings the noise and the funk to her vibrant follow-up. Newsday writer Glenn Gamboa remarked that with Ms. Kelly, Rowland "doesn't dabble in various genres. She doesn't try to push the envelope. Rowland does what she does best: She cranks out one potential pop hit after another. Ms. Kelly shows that Rowland knows her strengths and that she intends to keep playing to them."
Andy Kellman from Allmusic found that Ms. Kelly "sounds like an album where Rowland is mostly sorting through some deeply personal relationship issues with a couple relatively lighthearted songs thrown in for variety." He noted that "all-around, the album does provide a stronger set of songs than 2002's Simply Deep. The material tends to be kind of insidious, rather than hitting you immediately or going through one ear and out the other." Giving the album three stars out of five, he also remarked that "the lyrics [...] are direct and specific, going beyond basic breakup material." Slant Magazine's Sal Cinquemani stated that, "this time around, both the production and lyrics are stronger." He praised the "bona fide club jams" on the album. Billboard wrote that while "Rowland may never upstage her superstar groupmate Beyonce, but she certainly has the vocal chops and charm to stand on her own stiletto-clad feet. Compared with her gospel-fueled 2002 solo debut, Rowland appears confident and dominant on foot-stompers [and] though still short of career-defining, Ms. Kelly finds its author opening up more while welcoming the possibility that destiny may just find another star.
In a mixed review for About.com, Mark Edward Nero characterized the album as "basically one by someone with the persona of a backup player who's been thrust in a lead role." While he praised songs such as "Work" and "Like This," Nero felt that the album contained too many "weak songs" and that Rowland, "although she may feel comfortable in the role, can't carry the full weight — just like Scottie Pippen never could with the [Chicago] Bulls." Dotmusic`s Jaime Gill called Ms. Kelly "old-fashioned", writing that "Rowland's big problem is that she has the lungs but not the voice [...] She can holler like Beyoncé, growl like Kelis or swoon like Aaliyah, but has little to no natural style of her own." Ken Capobianco's review for The Boston Globe was more emphatic dubbing it "a solid if somewhat safe set of grooves, but the album never takes full flight to become something special."
Ms. Kelly was listed for thirty-three weeks in nine different charts. It made its first appearance on the Irish Top 75 albums chart, Dutch Top 100 albums chart and Swiss Top 100 albums chart. Its highest peak position worldwide was number six on the US Billboard 200, selling 86,000 units in its first week and becoming Rowland's highest entry on the chart. The album spent eleven weeks inside the chart. As of July 2011, Ms. Kelly has sold 222,000 copies in the United States.
Outside the United States, the album failed to enter the top forty of the majority of the charts it appeared on, except in the United Kingdom, where it debuted at thirty-seven on the UK Albums Chart. The standard edition of the album sold 24,424 in the United Kingdom as of 2008. In Brazil, the album opened at thirty-seven; it also peaked at number ten on the Japanese International Albums Chart. The album struggled to appear in the top-fifty of the ARIA Albums Chart in Australia, peaking at number forty-four after several weeks on the chart. However, the album reached the top ten on the Australian Urban Albums, peaking at number eight.
The reissue, titled Ms. Kelly: Diva Deluxe, charted for three weeks on the top seventy-five UK Albums Chart, entering the chart at number twenty-three. It charted significantly higher internationally, peaking two weeks later on the European Top 100 Albums chart at number eighty.
Following the original album's lukewarm sales and reception, Rowland re-entered recording studios to collect new songs for a reissue of Ms. Kelly, including production by Stargate, Jeff Dawson, CKB and Mark Feist. She was also expected to record with producer Danja, but deadline pressure prevented from happening; a new track by J. R. Rotem did not make the final cut. "The sales weren't as good as I wanted them to be and to be honest, I did feel sad about that for a little while", Rowland stated in 2008, still blaming the final track list for too many midtempos and ballads. "I didn't realize it while I was recording it. After it was released [back in June] many fans said the songs would rock if they were more upbeat." Branded with the name Ms. Kelly: Diva Deluxe, the US re-release received a digital release only on March 25, 2008, containing seven tracks — five new songs and two remixes of songs found from the standard edition of the album. The international version of the Ms. Kelly re-release was released physically and digitally in May 2008, retitled as Ms. Kelly Deluxe. It removed eight tracks from the original release and replaced them with six of the seven Diva Deluxe tracks, as Rowland "wanted to have another view on the record and close the Ms. Kelly chapter" with the re-release. Previously unreleased song "Daylight", a Bobby Womack cover and collaboration with Travie McCoy of Gym Class Heroes, served as the reissue's new lead single.
Credits adapted from the liner notes of Ms. Kelly.Notes
^[a] signifies a co-producer
^[b] signifies an additional producer
David Angell — violin
Craig Brockman — piano
Christopher Farrell — viola
Anthony LaMarchina — cello
Carl Marsh — conductor
Pamela Sixfin — violin
Mary Kathryn Vanosdale — violin
Kristin Wilkinson — viola
Executive producers: Mathew Knowles, Kelly Rowland
Vocal producers: J. "Lonny" Bereal, Jason "Poo Bear" Boyd, Montina Cooper, Huy Nguyen, K. Rowland
Vocal assistance: J. "Lonny" Bereal, Montina Cooper
Engineers: Wayne Allison, Chris Jackson, Colin Miller, Brian Sumner, Rommel Nino Villanueva
Assistant engineers: Vadim Chislov, Gelly Kusuma, Kobla Tetey
Mixing: Jason Goldstein, Jean Marie Horvat, Tony Maserati, Dexter Simmons, Phil Tan, Andy Zulla, Mike Fraser
Mixing assistance: Christian Baker
Mastering: Tom Coyne, Chris Gehringer
Art direction: Fusako Chubachi, Erwin Gorostiza