Producers are now so central to R&B that I've got to ask, who are you working with on your new album?
Irv Gotti; Rodney Jerkins; Babyface; Mannie Fresh; Brandy's husband, Robert Smith; and the Neptunes.
It's hard to imagine the Neptunes' chaotic sonics with your voice.
It's really hot, very James Brown–sounding, actually. Great producers make tracks for the artist -- not for themselves.
What do you make of young R&B stars like Ashanti?
I think Ashanti -- who co-wrote a song on my new album, by the way -- has reminded people of just how fly R&B can be. I'm also really into rock right now. When I see the lead singer of Puddle of Mudd, oh, Lord, I need a drink.
So many of your songs are about broken relationships and wronged women -- will that change?
You know, I was going to do a bunch of happy songs, but Babyface said, "You can throw one or two in there, but please don't make the whole album that way."
Audiences seem okay with Mary J. being happy -- why not you?
I guess it's my voice. It's that huskiness, that heaviness I have -- that just doesn't work with optimism.
So your new project won't be a radical departure?
No. But I think I'm better at what I'm doing, so that will come through. I wanted to call the album Amplified, but then L. A. Reid reminded me that Q-Tip had an album called Amplified. Is there a Spanish word for "amplified"?