by Ed HoganBad Boy/Arista recording artist Carl Thomas' major label debut was certainly Emotional. The buzz caused by the airplay of the not-available-to-retail single "I Wish" -- not to be confused with the Stevie Wonder classic -- from the urban R&B singer's Emotional album was such that the release date was moved up to April 18, 2000. Speaking of Wonder, Thomas used excepts from "Summer Soft" from Wonder's 1976 two-record/bonus EP set Songs in the Key of Life on his own "Summer Rain." A hit on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks, the mid-tempo groover "I Wish" is a great introduction to singer/songwriter Thomas' soulful vocals and substantial sense of great lyrics (lyrics that speak to a keen observational and empathic view) and that recall the heydays of R&B/soul music. Thomas wrote or co-wrote 11 of the album's 15 tracks. He also co-produced several tracks for Emotional, whose lineup of producers also includes Mario Winans, Mike City, Derrick Angeliti, and Heavy D. "Giving You All My Love" is a duet between Thomas and Kelly Price and simmering strings from Isaac Hayes' "Wherever You Are." Other highlights on Emotional are the lilting title track, the airy, exotic "My Valentine," the confrontational imagery of "You Ain't Right," and the interesting spoken word interlude performed by Malik Yusef on "Trouble Wont Last." The Chicago native's influence included other Midwestern-related talents like Motown's Marvin Gaye, Ray Parker, Jr., the Clark Sisters (Detroit), and one-time Chicagoans Donny Hathaway and Nat "King" Cole, as well as Sting, James Taylor, and Steely Dan. Thomas sang around Chicago, joining some groups and doing some recording. Feeling the need to test himself in unfamiliar waters,Thomas trekked to New York and began singing during open-mike nights at various clubs. Bad Boy CEO Sean "Puffy" Combs caught one of his performances and signed him to the label in 1997. Thomas can be heard on over 20 rap/hip-hop releases such as Notorious B.I.G.'s "The World Is Filled," Noreaga's "I Love My Life," and "Jasmine" from Black Rob's Life Story. As well as touring with Puffy, Carl Thomas has also filled in for fellow Chicago native R. Kelly on "Best Friend."