Letoya with Mary J. Blige at the Molson Amphitheatre (909 Lakeshore West), Tuesday (August 22). $45-$75. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Destiny kicked poor Letoya Luckett in the ass.
Most folks know the nu-skool R&B diva as one of two erstwhile Destiny's Children who was quite literally erased from the quartet when their Say My Name clip first hit airwaves back in 2000. The unexpected ousting spiralled into a bitter feud with the remaining members and Beyoncé's dad, Mathew Knowles, resulting in a court order demanding neither faction shit-talk the other side in public.
But over half a decade later, in the wake of Destiny's dissolution and Beyoncé's Jay-Z-assisted solo flight, Luckett's suddenly sampling the sweetness of success - and man, does it ever taste bootylicious.
In addition to running a thriving Houston ladieswear boutique (Lady Elle) and following up a sporadic string of singles with the release of her self-titled solo release, Luckett has become the first Capitol/Virgin artist to debut at number one since MC Hammer touched gold 16 years ago.
"Oh my gosh, that's so crazy for me," gushes Luckett of the dubious honour en route to Dallas, where she's opening for Mary J. Blige in a few hours. "Golly, a couple weeks before my album was released, the people at my label told me Hammer'd been the last person to start out at number one, and it made me even more excited to put out the record. I wanted to be there so badly!"
You'd think Luckett might be a bit apprehensive about grabbing the torch from an icon remembered more for his parachute pants and status as an urban-music joke than for his tunes. Nuh-uh.
"He wasn't a one-hit wonder," she protests. "He had three albums out!"
And now he's a celebrity reverend presiding over the vows of, like, Corey Feldman. Different strokes, I guess.
At least Luckett's had a good long time to let her album ferment. Many of the tracks on LeToya first saw daylight as one-offs and clever additions to demographically strategic soundtracks (Coach Carter).
The album's been buffed by a host of high-profile producers (Scott Storch, Jermaine Dupri) and features enough H-town heavies (Paul Wall, Slim Thug, Bun B) to add club to street cred, but it still errs too much on the side of downtempo ooey-gooey ballads-to-romance-your-Boo.
What saves it from falling completely into second-rate Cherish territory are the moments of hometown pride in the form of thugged-out dance-floor-ready Southern bounce, especially the entertaining Gangsta Grillz, which finds Mike Jones and Killa Kyleon lurching and rhyming like they're all hopped up on Dimetapp.
With that in mind, it's weird when Luckett explains one reason for the delay in the album's release (it was supposed to come out last year) was a difference of opinion over the first single.
"I needed to make sure the single was right. My label wanted to put out an uptempo hit-the-clubs thing, but I wanted something slower with a message that would touch people, not something that'd hit 'em up right away."
She won, and the result is the wan 'n' whiny Torn, about that universal existential dilemma - to paraphrase the Clash - "Should I stay or should I go?"
Now that she's won the battle of the single, the album's finally on shelves and people are saying LeToya's name in reference to a rising solo artist and not just a deposed member of Beyoncé's posse, it'd be safe to assume Luckett's days of wrestling Destiny are all behind her, right?
Not so fast. If you believe the rumours, Beyoncé fiddled with the presale and release dates of B'Day, her sophomore effort, in order to go head to head with Luckett. Knowles père and fille have issued an official statement insisting the claim is nothing more than a mean-spirited rumour.
"What?" Luckett barks in response to my query. There's anxious muttering in the background. "What? Huh? We're having a bit of a situation!"
I repeat the question: Is there any truth to the assertion that Beyoncé changed her record release to directly compete with LeToya?
"I just would hope not," Luckett says stiffly. "Beyoncé doesn't need that - she has her own fans, people who love her.
"And that's all I have to say about that."