There's two sides to every story and the R&B siren knows both of them.

This feature originally appeared in Complex's August/September 2009 issue.

Maybe Keri Hilson should have adopted a stage name before she became a pop star. It’s not that her birth name doesn’t befit an R&B diva (it’s better than, say, “Tweet”), it’s just that there’s a Jekyll-and-Hyde thing at work. The gorgeous 26-year-old nestled in the lounge in New York’s Hudson Hotel couldn’t possibly be the same chick on TV in tights and stilettos, trading verses and personal time with Lil Wayne and Kanye. The one right now is streetwear wifey supreme: a Canal Street T-shirt paired with jeans and Dunks. Hates getting her nails done, never kisses and tells. In-person Keri is just as appealing as video Keri…so why the dichotomy?

Because, simply put, she recognizes game. At 14, when most of her peers were playing dress-up in local talent shows, Ms. Hilson had a record deal (with the defunct girl group D’Signe). By the time she entered college, she had writing credits on major-label records, and would eventually—along with her songwriting crew, The Clutch—pen hits for Britney Spears (“Radar”), Ciara (“Like a Boy”), and Omarion (“Ice Box”). So yeah, with more than a decade in the game, not only does she know exactly what pop stars are supposed to look like, she knows exactly how they’re supposed to sound.

That’s why she enlisted mentors Polow Da Don and Timbaland for her debut album, In a Perfect World… It’s also why she blessed us with a glimpse of her perfect legs—she has no problem putting on for the camera, as long as it’s in a professional setting. (But there won’t be any private photos leaking. No shots!). And it’s why we sat down with her to ask the reason it’s still trickin’ if you got it, what she does at night, and why Kanye got to slap her ass on stage. With stunts like that, we don’t care what she calls herself.

 

My very first check was for $25,000. My family was like, 'What the hell is this?'

 

How do you feel about your album and the way people are receiving it? It’s tough out here right now.
It’s doing very well. Especially given this industry—even though the business is hurting, the album is still achieving its projections. I’m proud of the album, but you can never expect how the world will receive you or your music.

So far, your biggest hits have been performed by other artists—Britney Spears, Omarion. Does that fact bother you at all?
No, it’s money in the bank. That’s my means of living. There’s two sides of me, and neither takes preference. One is just a dream that I fought long and hard for. Songwriting was my Plan B. My whole life, I’ve fought to just do this. I didn’t know that I’d be able to take off as far, or as fast, as I did, but I knew I had a talent and that I should pursue it, because there’s money in it. When I wasn’t able to perform, and lost the record deal, I took the path of Plan B, and now I love them equally. I can’t have one without the other. Even at my biggest, I want to be writing for other artists. Even at my peak—the highest I can be as an artist—I always want to be keeping my creative juices flowing, keeping money in the bank, putting my intellectual property out there.

Your singles, “Energy” and “Turnin Me On,” are remarkably different from each other.
I was very wary of that. Years ago, I wanted to be like the girl Ne-Yo. You know, with the mid-tempo ballads—I come from the Babyface era. But that’s not trendy, that’s not hip-hop. These days, you have to play it a different way. “Turnin Me On” did things that “Energy” could not have done in this day and time.

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