Like Beyonce, to whom Ciara is often compared because of her gorgeous voice and dazzling good looks, the singer began her career in a prefab girl group, Hearsay, before breaking out as a solo artist. At age sixteen, after a year of writing songs for other artists, she hooked up with Atlanta producer Jazze Pha and began cutting a record of her own. "Whenever I sing about anything, I think it's important that it's something I can relate to, something I believe in," she says of her frank, liberated lyrics about sex and relationships.
For a newcomer, it's telling to see the roster of hip-hop heavyweights lending their voices to Ciara's album: Missy Elliott, Petey Pablo and Ludacris all appear on tracks, and R. Kelly wrote "Next to You" especially for the songstress. "I definitely make sure that I don't have guest features that overshadow me," she says. "They spice a record; they add a little seasoning to it. I'm the dressing, and they put a little gravy on it." Whether weaving her sassy-sweet choruses around Elliott's spitfire verse on the break-beat-heavy dance jam "1, 2 Step" or infusing the crunked-out Ludacris track "Oh" with an "all my ladies"-style girl-power edge, Ciara infuses each song with a sound that is all her own.