88-Keys: “Show & Prove” (XXL 2008)

(Click photo to enlarge. Read below.)

Everyone knows sex sells, but producer-turned-rapper 88-Keys is hoping that it can still sell with some creativity. For his thematic solo debut, The Death of Adam, the native New Yorker tells the story of a how a fictional character named Adam dies in pursuit of coochie. “One of the beautiful things about the album, and the vagina in general, is that everybody can relate,” says Keys. “It’s basically about how the vagina wields a lot of power.”

After lacing tracks for the likes of Black Star and Beanie Sigel, Keys used his musical power to land a deal with Decon Records in 2006. He was supposed to assemble a typical compilation disc, but he noticed that two of the project’s standout songs were inadvertently themed around sex and the concept ballooned from there. Once Keys felt his opus was complete, he played it for longtime homie Kanye West, who was so excited about the album that he asked to executive produce it. ’Ye was also the one that suggested Keys step up to the mic rather than be a background voice on his own album.

“When I initially started the album, I didn’t want to rap on there, because I felt it would be too much stress and pressure for me to rhyme,” admits Keys. “But for Kanye, who’s the biggest critic, to give me the official stamp of approval [for my rhymes], I must have something.”

That much was evident when his Adam’s Case Files mixtape hit the Net in June and garnered critical acclaim. Now, with the Kanye-featured lead single “Stay Up (Viagra)” adding to the buzz, the stage is set for Keys to open more doors. “With this album I made a jump from just some dude with an MPC3000 who can make ill beats to someone who can pull people together and come with song concepts,” he says. “This is all fun, I just hope people will recognize my talent.” —William E. Ketchum III