Melanie Fiona is, at heart, a performer. She tends to stick to songs that are crafted especially for the stage and which are high on energy. Such a tactic has resulted in Melanie acquiring fans but not a following – “fans” in the sense that anytime Melanie Fiona drops a new joint or project, they’ll flock loyally to the stores for it; but “not a following” because, as Melanie has often flown under the radar and her sound is not easily pigeonholed into pop or R&B, people who haven’t heard of her don’t flock to her music. This may explain why Melanie’s debut album, The Bridge, though buoyed by overplayed single “It Kills Me,” wasn’t as well-received as it should have been.

Sometime between The Bridge back in 2010 and now, however, Melanie Fiona started putting in major work. The Canadian songstress benefited greatly from appearances like that on Cee-Lo Green’s smash hit “Fool for You” and going on tour with Marsha Ambrosius. While initial single “Gone and Never Coming Back” almost ended up suffering the same radio overplay fate as “It Kills Me,” Melanie found redemption and caught a lot of eyes and ears with “4 AM.” After “4 AM” firmly established itself as the female counterpart to Drake’s “Marvin’s Room” and got a great visual treatment, it was just a matter of time until people started clamoring for Melanie’s sophomore effort, The MF Life. On March 20th, 2012, they would get their wish.

To its credit, The MF Life one-ups its predecessor in two major ways: first, it was much more heavily promoted than The Bridge, what with Melanie gaining fame, and the twitterverse supporting the project. Secondly, it introduces listeners to a much more personal and, perhaps, much more human “MF.”

Tracks like “Watch Me Work” and “Change the Record” (featuring B.o.B.) are damn near guaranteed to provide great live performances at a future Melanie concert. Features were one of the reasons this writer looked forward to The MF Life, and none of them disappoint. J. Cole shows up as a worthy counterpart to Melanie’s sassy side on smash single in the making “This Time.” Nas continues to have the best year ever with a strong appearance on the fast-paced track “Running.” And T-Pain collabos with Melanie to make a pleasant surprise in “6 AM,” kind of a sequel of sorts to Melanie’s “4 AM” and T-Pain’s own “5 O’Clock in the Morning” joint.

But it’s the ballads and slower tracks that Melanie especially shines on. Female listeners especially will enjoy The MF Life. “I Been That Girl” and “Wrong Side of a Love Song” serve as painful reminders that cuffing season is over, with the former’s old school feel perfectly matching the emotional pangs in Melanie’s voice. “Bones” is worth replay almost solely because of its instrumentation, but also because Melanie goes in on it. And “Rock Paper Scissors” (available on the deluxe edition) is absolutely going to be a break-up song leading into the summer. It’s easily one of Melanie’s best songs, propelled forward by a mournful guitar and such too-vulnerable-for-the-studio lines as, “I’m losing my mind/ I don’t even know if you’re wasting my time.”

The MF Life’s sole flaw, in my opinion, is that on some songs, the loud instrumentation sometimes takes away from and overshadows Melanie’s voice. So “Break Down These Walls,” for all its Prince-esque rock-n-B glory, suffers because it’s slightly hard to hear Melanie over the thudding drums. A similar effect happens – though not nearly as badly – on “Running.”

But The MF Life is a sophomore standout that should serve as Melanie Fiona’s emancipation from the shadows and into the spotlight that voice of hers rightfully demands. I especially recommend the Deluxe Edition of The MF Life, which bears the aforementioned “Rock Paper Scissors,” an amazing collabo with Snoop Dogg in the form of “Gone (La Dada Di),” and the superb 90’s RnB-sounding “Can’t Do This No More.” Melanie’s done her part with this album to establish herself as an emerging bad “MF” in R&B. Now, it’s on the fans, radio stations, and networks to do theirs.