By Lou Bethany

       Kelli Williams has always been ahead of her time. At age 16, when most girls' minds are occupied with thoughts of driver's licenses, dream dates, and the perfect dress for prom, Williams was recording her first major label album. Before her 20th birthday, Williams had already had two hit albums, a top 10 single, and opened a 100-date tour with superstar CeCe Winans. Not exactly your average adolescent.

       But that was then, and her third and latest release, In the Myx, is definitely now. Williams, now 21 and married, is no longer a child prodigy. But having been influenced through her youth by some of gospel music's greatest talents, she emerges on In the Myx as a mature artist with a solid grasp of who she is and the music she wants to make.

        "In the Myx allows me, first and foremost, to express myself as a Christian," says Williams, "but also as a young person who wants to reach other young people with a message they need to hear, delivered in music they can relate to. I'll always draw from my traditional roots in different ways, but I think God is really doing a new thing in the way He's using contemporary music to reach the world."

       Under the direction of acclaimed R&B producers 5.0 and T. Boy (better known as recording artist Tonex, who also wrote most of the cuts on the album), In the Myx brings a solid, cutting-edge mix of urban, groove and dance music to the modern gospel table. The title song, as well as the hard-hitting "Fall Down 2000" and "Remyx Me," might strike chords of recognition with fans of Janet Jackson, TLC, and others, while the title song, "Over and Over," and "The Greatest" are powered by smooth-but-smoldering funk and R&B.

       But as Williams is quick to point out, each song resounds with a message of timeless Gospel truth in its own unique way. The title cut carries a dual meaning that only serves to heighten its power musically and spiritually. "The actual mix of the song is crucial to the impact it has when you hear it," she says, "and being right in the mix of whatever God is doing in your life is crucial to your walk with Him. This was the first song we picked for the project, and it kind of set the tone for what was to come."

        "Fall Down 2000," a remake of Tramaine Hawkins' hit, was also a very special song for her to sing. "'Fall Down' was a huge R&B hit for Tramaine Hawkins in the 1980s," she says, "and it hasn't lost a single bit of its impact and power since then. It's about God coming into your life and cleansing your heart. I just sang my heart out, and Tonex added his own creativity to make it funky in a '2000-kind-of-way.' I've always loved the song, and I want a new generation to hear it. Plus, it's my tribute to Tramaine, who has always been one of my major heroes."

       She says they went into the studio well prepared for the album. "I felt a sense of peace and assurance from the Lord about what we were undertaking. That turned out to be an even greater blessing than I'd realized at first when we cut 'Remyx Me.' It's definitely out on the edge compared to anything else I've done before, and it's not a song where I use my 'proper' voice. It demands performance with an attitude! It made me truly see that I have grown. I'm not 'little Kelli' anymore-and that's a good thing. God wants us to grow! So we just went for it, and it came out very cool."

       Even as In the Myx ushers Williams into a bold new phase of her career, she freely admits that her strength has come from a source much bigger than herself. "I'm just like anybody else," she says. "My natural tendency is to fear the unknown and fall back on the familiar, so I can hold onto my pride and pretend that I'm in control. But in my lifetime alone I've seen more than enough to know that God will never forsake me-that He loves me, and that love is unchanging and eternal. Above anything else, that's what I wanted to tell people when I was 16, and it's still what I want them to know now. The music may change, but His love goes on and on forever."

Reprinted by Permission, Release Magazine.