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Toni Estes...

[From Billboard]

What's The '2-11' On Priority's Estes? - Co-Writer Of Whitney Houston's 'Okay' Hit Makes Her Debut (Billboard - August 19, 2000)
BY TODD DAVIS

SAN FRANCISCO-Toni Estes has already left an indelible mark in the music world-even before the release of her own debut album. The gifted singer/songwriter co-penned Whitney Houston's Grammy-nominated "It's Not Right But It's Okay." Now the Tulsa, Okla., native is hoping to capture her share of success with her Priority album, "Two-Eleven," which bows domestically and internationally Sept. 26.

"When I was younger, I just sang around the house," says Estes about her musical calling. "Then I actually did a couple of shows with my dad, who's a drummer, opening up for people like Gladys Knight and Natalie Cole. That  seemed like a cool job, so I [began to] pursue a record deal when I was 16." 

The chance to write for Houston came about through Estes' work with super-producer Rodney Jerkins. "I was doing some singing for Rodney when he said he wanted me to work with him on Whitney's next project," she says. "He called me two years later and said he was ready."

Following that beneficial exposure, Estes-who's also written for singer Laurnea and is managed by her father Billy-signed with Priority. Citing Bobby Womack and Frankie Beverly & Maze as two major influences, the artist describes "Two-Eleven" (the address of the house where she grew up) as "young and soulful. It's a mixture of a lot of different things."

Estes, who's published by Mic'l Music/Universal (ASCAP), wrote eight of the album's 12 tracks and worked with a production line-up that includes Teddy Riley, Jon Jon (Babyface), Teddy Bishop (Monica), Warryn Campbell (Dru Hill), and Brian Cox (Ideal). The set's being formally introduced by the single "Hot," which also appears on labelmate Ice Cube's "Next Friday" soundtrack and bows commercially Aug. 15.

John Rotella, Priority's VP of marketing, says, "Toni's not a metropolitan artist. She's very organic, very real, and loves to tell a story. She's basically spearheading Priority's re-entry into R&B. This is a long-term commitment and not about first-week sales. She's a strong female artist."

Priority A&R director Mark Brown concurs, saying, "The one thing I recognized was her great voice and overall talent. In putting together this album, we wanted to make something that could really relate to women. It features real-life stories that Toni's writing about from personal experience. It's a strong album that will relate to men as well."

In terms of marketing, the label has staged live showcases in New York and Los Angeles for Estes, who's booked by the William Morris Agency's Jeff Frasco. Additionally, says Rotella, Estes filmed a promotional spot with a company called Right Between the Acts that's been airing during intermission at the Rhythm of Love tour (featuring Will Downing, Chant Moore, Gerald Albright, and Phil Perr), which wraps at the end of August.

The label is also distributing 20,000 cassette samplers, pairing Estes with labelmate/U.S. newcomer Stephen Simmonds (Billboard, Aug. 5), at the Rhythm of Love shows as well as at the Honey Nut Cheerios-sponsored concert tour (with Gerald Levert and others), which runs through September. Complementing that push are several other projects, including the placement of three album tracks on Vibe magazine's subscriber-only "Summer Jam" sampler.

"As long as they market her right, she'll do well," says Darryl Huckaby, assistant PD at WKYS Washington, D.C. " "Hot' is something radio can work with-there's a need for uptempo music." Adds Samuel Suston, owner of Los Angeles' Midnight Records, " "Hot' is a strong, uptempo song. And "Two-Eleven' is an album that can be worked for a very long time."

[Thanks Lopez]

NEWSFILE: 12 AUGUST 2000

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