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Showbiz Today Star of Tomorrow
(CNN) -- What do you get when you combine rock, soul, throw in some rhythm and blues, some spunk and spirit, and then top it off with some serious attitude? You get someone called Kina, who's released a debut album of the same name.
Her music cannot be easily described; nor can she.
Three years ago she was performing with Brownstone, but she wasn't feeling true to herself in the R&B group. After much soul searching, she went off on her own. The next year, Kina was battling poverty and trying to shrug off the naysayers.
Then she was discovered by DreamWorks SKG record executive Benny Medina, and everything changed.
Now, Kina -- her full name is Kina Cosper -- is on the fast track to stardom. Critics love her album, audiences love her show, and Kina finally loves herself.
But life is still not easy for the singer, a 20s-something performer currently in the middle of national tour. Her time is precious, which is why CNN had to meet up with her during one of her rare quiet moments -- getting a pedicure.
CNN: Touring is an exhausting business.
Kina: One of the few times I get to relax.
CNN: People may not know that you're not new to this industry at all. About five years ago you were a member of Brownstone.
Kina: I left because, you know, I grew up listening to all kinds of music. I had sort of a varied musical experience, so I had to express that.
CNN: You grew up in Detroit; you were a huge fan of Whitney Houston.
Kina: Huge fan of Whitney Houston -- a fanatic. I knew every every ad-lib, every move, every hairstyle, every hoop earring.
CNN: People are calling you Tina Turner meets Lenny Kravitz; Whitney Houston meets Macy Gray. Is it amazing to you that your musical style is being compared to a woman to whom you looked up to a decade ago?
Kina: It's really a compliment. To me, she is still the best singer that there is. My music is a combination of my experiences and my musical experiences, and my lyrics sum up my life's experiences -- or a lot of them. ... I can't wait for the day until I'm not compared to anybody and I'm just Kina -- until somebody is compared to me. It's an honor being compared to these people; it's a compliment. But I want to stand on my own.
CNN: Which brings us to your self-titled debut. Why did you decide to call it "Kina"?
Kina: Well, I thought that it was kind of fitting because all of the lyrics are somewhat autobiographical, and the experiences are varied, but they are pretty much all experiences that I've been through.
CNN: When people listen to it, they should get a pretty good idea of who they are, too.
Kina: See, it's a people record. Everybody goes through the same things.
CNN: OK, let's talk about "Girl from the Gutter." It's all over MTV and VH1, playing at all the top-40 stations. The song has wonderful crossover appeal.
Kina: When I wrote that song I was mad. I was bitter and angry, mad at people in the industry. It stemmed from people in the industry, because a lot of people underestimated me and my talent, and I felt somewhat counted out and I needed to write a song about it, and I wrote one.
CNN: Now how do you feel?
Kina: It's so funny. I wrote the song two-and-a-half years ago; it was one of the first songs that I wrote for this project. And when you're in something, it seems so important, but here I am -- two-and-a-half years later -- and the people I thought were so important I don't see, I don't think about.
CNN: What was it like the first time you heard it on a radio station?
Kina: My drummer called me and said, "What are you doing?" and I'm like, "I'm just sitting here watching TV. ... Are you listening to my CD?" And he's like, "No! You're on the radio!" So you know, I sat and I listened to it and I got a little teary-eyed, and I jumped up and down in my room. I had varied emotions.
CNN: Do you have a favorite song on the album?
Kina: My favorite song on the record is "I Love You," and it's my favorite because it's a love song. But it's not your typical ballad.
CNN: Did you write that song for anyone in particular?
Kina: Everyone asks that. I didn't. ... I love the connection to the people. I love when they are feeling the music. I love the performing part.
CNN: When you left Brownstone, was it difficult for a black woman to try and transcend the R&B genre?
Kina: Definitely. It's harder. Thank God the press has been really receptive; radio has been, and MTV has been receptive. I'm thankful for that. But it's still harder for me. I think that if I weren't a black woman and had done this record it probably would be doing a lot better than it is now. And that goes both ways. That goes for black radio. It's interesting to have shows in places like Philly and D.C. (where) black radio won't play my record but Top 40 will.
CNN: Why do you think that is?
Kina: It's just not R&B. It's not considered R&B. It's crazy. (M)usic is so racially divided on both ends -- it's not just white radio, it's black radio, too. You have to sing a certain type of music to be on certain stations. Hopefully, we're moving to a stage where that's changing.
I think people like Macy Gray have helped. Of course, Tina Turner helped a long time ago, but Macy Gray has been successful at it.... I think that helps, and the road is definitely opening for us to do what we want to do -- for everyone to do what they want to do, you know?
CNN: Do you have an opinion on Napster?
Kina: I think Napster is wrong. I think that there should be a way that it's regulated because it's unfair. I was a student and I was broke and I would have loved to have downloaded free music, but it's not fair to the artist. ... Say you get a budget for $500,000 to do a record; that's a loan that you've got to pay back. If everybody downloads the music, then I'm just taking out $500,000 loans to give people free music.
CNN: Are you nervous at all about the potential notoriety that awaits when people start buying your albums and you're touring more, and when you release a second album and you can't go out without people following you around?
Kina: That's the only thing that I worry about. My freedom ... feels so good. I'm very private and I like my private time sometimes, and I'm just starting to get recognized. It's great, but I can't imagine being a Michael Jackson or not being able to go out and just go to the store -- you know, throw on a baseball hat, no makeup, look horrible, and just go to the store to get some Haagen Dasz. I can't imagine not being able to do that.
I want to be a huge, huge superstar, you know. I didn't when I did the record; I didn't really think about that. But I just wrote how I felt and didn't really have a plan, but now I want to be huge and I want to go for the stadiums (concerts). I want to go for legendary status, and that takes years.
I think that music is sort of my path to do other things. I am moved and very passionate about the environment and kids in Africa with AIDS and education, so I want to make a change. So whatever difference I can make is what I what to do.
CNN: So this album is just the first journey we're going to see you go through?
Kina: Oh, it's just the beginning.
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