(11) Classic Sounds…

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Whatta group. Whatta moment in time. Whatta pioneering history. These 3  embody what a rap career is all about. Take notes aspiring duos, trios and female hip-hoppers abroad, this is how you leave a legacy.

It’s been argued that the point of Hip-Hop is to inspire, entertain, provide social commentary, educate, make others want to be like you, gain fame, more importantly fortune, and make your mark on music history by way of timeless work. If that is indeed the case, then consider Salt N Pepa‘s mission accomplished. They certified their status as a sociopolitical voice with the album before this one, delivering such singles as “Expression” and “Let’s Talk About Sex”. By doing so, they also crossed over to the world  of pop, introducing them a broader audience and resonating with young women everywhere, leaving behind impactful classics.

The brains and beauty ethic worked well for the group. It’s dismaying that alot of their design came from the genius of a man behind the scenes. Herby Azor, former boyfriend of Cheryl “Salt” James and producer for other notable acts such as Kid N Play, had a vision for Salt N Pepa and shaped it and guided it as far as he could. As the main in-house producer and writer for the group, Azor intended to present the ladies as relatable NYC girls who could dish it out as good as the boys and look great while doing so. Their ascension and message was all planned out. Much like TLC, they were picked to be the voice of the new woman, from the mind of a man.

And this is where you can cry  foul, because Hip-Hop prides itself on its authenticity and honesty. It makes you wonder, how much of a legend can you be when your whole career was orchestrated for you? Is the talent in the execution? If so, then there’s a Grammy that needs to go back to Milli Vanilli because at one long period in the music timeline their execution had us all fooled. Alot of female emcees who have reached iconic stature have gotten passes for not being the main people behind the pen. Is it a pacifying double standard? Or is it that all is forgiven once you’ve made classics?

Then again, that’s why we’re reviewing this particular album to begin with. Very Necessary was a milestone album in several ways, starting with the fact that it was the very first album that featured the members of the group handling the song-crafting on their own with little input from Azor. The relationship between he and the group was deteriorating and the words were finally coming from the mouth of now, all 3 ladies. With Dj Spinderella making herself a prominent presence on the mic and formally turning the tag team into a trio, the group was ready to blaze a new trail, and in the process, gave us their most successful album to date, and the most successful female rap album by a group ever.

Things start off excitedly and surprisingly with “Groove Me”, a dance hall inspired track that borrows from a popular 90’s riddim that was huge at the time and capitalizes off of the rap-reggae trend that was prominent then. What’s refreshing about it is that the group actually used a current proven hit to rap over as opposed to making some mock reggae attempt. This is one of two times that the group ventures into that territory, paying homage to Sandra “Pepa” Denton‘s West Indian roots, and allowing her to tap into that side of things and living up to the spice in her namesake. The other song being the sultry “Sexy Noises Turn me On”. Where Groove Me is playful and bouncy, this track finds the ladies describing their bedroom instructions, with a focus on the uhhmmAural pleasures of love-making. It’s a very direct and grown up approach to a sex song; Devoid of raunch or overt detail, and aimed in a way that addresses one lover to another, complete with an advisory “You know you gotta wear a condom right??!” quip at the end. The added dude on the track with the patois vocals is almost unnecessary here, but it doesn’t bring anything down. The spotlight is always on the women, and they have been Showstoppers from the gate.

In fact, the wackest moments on this album come from the various non-descript males that pop up on tracks adding vocals that could have been done without. It happens on songs like oh-so-famous “Shoop”, which started the 93-94 reign of Salt N Pepa as Mega Stars and featured some Pete-Rock look-alike spitting an 8 bar vamp at the end of the song that’s only memorable because the song itself is. The ladies made their point very clearly without him, and once again, while he doesn’t ruin the song, his presence makes Pep and Salt look like Eminem rapping with Gucci Mane. One track where the male vocals do stifle a bit is “No One Does It Better”, where the obvious early 90’s hip-hop ingredients are present; Rip-Off G-Funk vibes mixed with New Jack Swing takes on mid-tempo R&B. To overcompensate for the inevitable lack of soul that comes with that, the singer always is one of a more churchy variety more so than a pop-ready one. This leads to a style of singing that doesn’t really match the feel of the beat and lends itself way too much to ad-libbing and riffing. Straight from the outdated Aaron Hall school of extra! The saving grace here is that the ladies kill it with the verses and big themselves up on their skills of passion. Especially Salt and Spin, where you find the now reborn and super conservative Salt ironically rapping that she’s “better than the good book” and clever lines like when Spin starts with “Well that true, that’s why you never have no beef, cause when the bugle is blown, it’s all tongue and no teeth”. It’s this kind of slick innuendo at times that’s slipped in between the girls’ bluntness that made them so dope. They were free, but measured. Explicit, but discretionary. Even Pepa, known for having the most aggressive appeal on the mic, stayed in step and everyone kept with the uniformity of things. Spinderella in fact winds up delivering some of the more in-your-face lines. Pep’s force is mostly in her delivery. It’s difficult giving them all of this credit tho, as I’m not sure how much of this was Herby Azor’s doing and how much was theirs.

It’s also a little tricky for me to tell you the extent of my affinity for this group. As a kid, they reminded me of my two closest cousins from Brooklyn, Limi and Rainy – who are sisters…Down to their voices and hairstyles. Same age and everything. Yet somehow, I always had a slight crush on Salt and it made me wonder if that meant I had a crush on my cousin (Yikes!!). Being that I was so young tho, I stayed away from their music because I thought they were doing too much. Little did I know what their pioneering in the game as female emcees would bring down the line…

Salt started sounding distinctively more nimble-tongued and Pepa started sounding harder at some point down the line after the second album when the 2 didn’t rely so much on the tit-for-tat rhyme style made famous by Run-DMC. And while I’m sure that the underlying differences that was the inspiration for their group name were always present from the onset, this distinction made it more apparent to the audience. You could now see why one complimented the other. But I’d go as far as to say that Salt out-rapped her partner on most of this album. Even if Azor was still behind a decent amount of the penning here, Salt’s delivery was refined to a champ level for rappers of that era, effortlessly putting words together and riding the beat like they were birthed at the same time. She sounds cool and confident on every go and incorporated more wit than the other 2. Whether this was done purposefully by the ladies to play up on the characteristics of their names, or whether it’s a measure of skill between them, I’m not sure.

In either case, the ladies work in harmony to get their messages across. In some cases however, those messages are mixed. Not so much contradictory, but definitely overlapping. As one writer named Geoffrey Himes who reviewed this album stated,

“With their explicit rapping about bedroom gymnastics, Salt ‘N’ Pepa are unlikely to be held up as role models in classrooms or churches anytime soon. For a sexually active teenage girl, however, the trio shows how you can get your pleasure without putting up with any disrespect”.

Perhaps that is the case, and songs like “Somma Time Man”, where the group describes a situation where an unreliable guy divides his time between them and other women, highlights that very questionable judgement. But this is not new territory for the group that busted out on the scene with the hit, “I’ll Take Your Man”. It’s not a shocker. It’s actually kinda ill to see them staying true to what they came in doing. It goes further on “None Of Your Business”, the Grammy award-winning single that finds the women being extra feisty and fiery about keeping nosy finger-pointers and categorizers at bay. They charter into deeper subject matter on “Heaven and Hell” and the closing skit, “I’ve Got Aids”. The former sees the group tying a string of cautionary vignettes together, to provide a commentary on the changing times and growing statistics, with Pepa taking the lead and shining thru the brightest on this one. The latter speaks to just how serious the AIDS and HIV epidemic had become, and the group touted themselves as proud unofficial spokeswomen for awareness at the dawn of the movement ever since the last album where they remixed their hit “Let’s Talk about Sex” and retitled it as “Let’s Talk About Aids”. These 2 tracks alone pack in so much depth, that they make up for the lack thereof on the other 11.

One thing that cannot be said about the group on this album is that they are redundant. For an LP that consists of mostly fare concerning garnering respect from the opposite sex and relations with them, they ladies manage to compartmentalize and approach different elements of those relations. So from bedroom behavior, to respect, to infidelity to appreciation, they break things down instance by instance, with a song for each topic and an endless supply of rules, demands and disses for men who aren’t on top of things. There’s no doubt that the battle of the sexes is in full effect here, but it’s best taken care of when the women ease off of the relationship drama and focus on what got them known in the first place; Their skills as rappers crushing the competition and pushing haters aside. They do it well too. Besides the song “Step”, my 3 favorite songs on here are “Somebody’s Gettin’ On My Nerves”, “Big Shot” and “Break Of Dawn”. It’s here, that you are reminded that before they are women, They are rappers.

It’s easy to forget that in the shadow of all that Salt N Pepa has done for females. Their angle has always contained tangents of feminist idealism, tho not exactly full-out rebellion against the basic dynamics of man/woman relativity. Their position was not to try to outdo or dominate men, as it was to stake their claim as equals with comparable abilities. As the aunties to TLC, they stood on the same ground, pushing buttons by placing controversial topics towards the forefront and turning out success by doing so and making it entertaining. They also God Mothered the act of using their sexuality as a means of empowerment, while not going as far as their subsequent torch bearers Lil Kim and Foxy Brown – who killed the art of balance that the group had perfected. The ladies always used just enough of their physicality to make you acknowledge their beauty as confident Black women, and more than that, to see the strength of their power to wield that as chosen. Yet they always chose to have limitations for themselves. And that’s the bottom line with Salt N Pepa… Through all of the mixed messages, the ever-present and non-changing theme coursing through their body of work has always been CHOICE. They wouldn’t be caught dead being the down-ass hustler’s wife smuggling drugs in their orifices, or the chic bragging about how much she can fit in her mouth for a new luxury car and brand name bag, but they would defend those women’s right to be that if so chosen. We know how I feel about feminism in general, and while I may not agree with that stance, or while Salt herself probably cringes at their old lines like “If she, wanna be a freak an, sell it on the weekend (It’s none of your business!)” and wishes she could take some back, you can’t deny their impact.

I won’t close out this review without mentioning the MONSTER hit, “Whatta Man” ft. En Vogue. I don’t really need to say anything about it, just good to see that the women could take a break from their instructions to show love to the real men. And Whatta man am I for giving this album its recognition as a true Hip-Hop Classic?? Yes. I’m patting myself on the back right now.

I give this album 8 Candles out of a possible

4812 or 16.

4(Classic Just because where it stands in Hip-Hop, whether it be the time of it’s release, it’s influence, or the popularity of it’s singles overall)

8(Classic because it was solid for it’s time, but may be a little dated or less than amazing by today’s standards)

12(Classic as a complete release and probably celebrated widely on the surface, but possibly lacking one key element – be it one song that doesn’t fit, a wack guest appearance, lyrics, lack of depth or beats)

16(Classic all around)

It’s becoming a trend with the last few reviews for me to give these interval ratings, but if I could, I would give this album 10 Candles. It’s pretty damn solid for what the group wanted to get across. Time frame considered.

 

BITCH Calls TDJ out by name!!

You guys should know by now…I’m always bigging up my homegirl and former founding contributor to this site, the infamous TDJ.

One of the many facets of the multi-facted Ms. Jackson is her expertise as an accompolished videographer, producer, screenplay writer and director – which I guess is technically more than one if you break it down.

This time last year, as both a Grad-school project (Yeah, she’s a student as well) and one of her own, she filmed the short, entitled The Field Trip, which she entered into numerous film festivals in the 2010 season and garnered much acclaim. And the acclaim keeps rolling in as this has gotten her recognition in BITCH magazine’s write-up this month on females in the horror genre. Check it out here http://bitchmagazine.org/post/horror-show-women-horror-directors-to-watch

Now, if you’ve been reading, then you know how I feel about feminists, feminism and pseudo feminists and pseudo feminism – and BITCH is a Feminist mag. However, the more amazing women I have and come across in my life, the more I see they may pop up in this publication, so I may just have to keep a close eye on a BITCH every now and then…

16’s Candles shouts out TDJ and wishes her much more future recognition for her many hustles and talents as she never stops grinding. Neither do we…

Single Black Chics – Are you being Attacked??

My Ex’s must’ve really been in their thinking man poses on Monday because they both managed to cross my paths with some thought provoking shit. The 2 youngn’s were gettin a tad deep in their own rights out there and pondering the stats of worldly concerns.

While Ex number 1 was sending me Newsweek links about the damaging and erasing effects of global warming, chock with 100 beautiful photographs, Ex number 2 was posting figures on Facebook about the plight of Black Women (which would be all one/half of her) and their quest to find equally suited/matched Black men and how she may have to settle.

Well, in the little compilation of comments and commentary that followed, one of her Facebook friends attached this link to a feminist slanted blog where a guest writer had taken the time to share her frustration with what she calls an “attack” on the single Black woman in America. The Guest Writer’s name being Diane Lucas. Here’s that post http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2010/06/21/the-media-v-black-women-the-peculiar-case-of-the-media’s-obsession-with-unmarried-black-women/

You can guess from the onset that I was going to disagree with alot of  what this post had to say, just because it’s esteeming itself as coming from a feminist angle, on a self proclaimed feminist blog. And you know how I feel about feminists.

Ms. Lucas sounds like a highly intelligent person who is still warping her logic around an emotional base, as most feminists do. She’s saying the same old defensive rebuttals that have been heard before by Black women. Instead of addressing the issue itself, her approach is to offset the notion and diffuse it by declaring it a non-issue and berating those who have dared to identify it as such. It’s an inverse mechanism of embracing and endearment that a Black woman at this point of hearing and having the same conversation would naturally take on, as all scrutinized peoples have done at some place in time or another…‘why should I think something’s wrong with me??’ ‘It’s not me – it’s You! I’m fine the way Iam. There is no problem, society is the problem!’

Sound familiar? We’ve heard this before, countless times. Fat people do it everyday. Doesn’t change the fact that they are fat.

Self-love is not the issue here. We’re talking cold hard facts and figures here. That’s how this whole topic of conversation began. Getting into the blame game or the psychological ramifications makes things especially cloudy. Let’s deal with the fact that the issue exists. No one is telling Black women to shame themselves for being independent, successful or Black.

See, this is a trouble zone. And this is where things get murky because anytime you venture near the territory of saying anything less than flattering about Black women as an enclave or group of people, you risk being metaphorically castrated, tarred and feathered and chased with pitchforks and torches by a mass of females. The most unfortunate part of all of this tho, is that a good majority of the time, the women who respond and react with the most vigor, are those who have not heard or read the comments or articles themselves, or in their entirety.

Slim Thug could attest to this perfectly in light of the drama that he’s just gotten himself into recently by making comments urging Black Women to be less expectant, more supportive and comparing them to their Anglo-Saxon Counterparts. You can peaceably debate, even express your likes and dislikes, but pick your battles.

What we’re dealing with here is layers and layers of strategic, post-slavery division put in place to keep African-Americans at a socio-economic disadvantage. True enough, nobody wants to hear the same old “The Man” diatribe, but looking at what we have in front of us everyday in the face of the basic Black family infrastructure, it’s painfully obvious that the effects are still hauntingly blatant and very much so long-lasting.

How many movies? How many Essence articles and Beauty Shop conversations? This is Ms. Lucas’ main gripe; she’s asking why is this such a prominent topic?? She’s particularly perturbed and confused with all of the seemingly sudden coverage by non-Black media outlets. But her phrasing here is a bit extreme. She chooses to frame the topic as a skewed concentration or passive assault on her and her kind. She even goes so far as to suggest that it may be some mild form of conspiracy in the post-Obama election era to discourage Black women from hoping to attain that sort of Michelle and Barack union that is publicly perceived as harmonious and ideal.

Perhaps the fact that this topic is making headlines on primetime national news forums and publications is more of an aid than a detriment. Maybe this takes it beyond the sister-girl chats and Tyler Perry movie monologues and Terri Mc Millan books and makes it a legitimate conversation that the rest of the world can have some insight into. Instead of thinking of Black women as a spectacle or specimen, maybe this just reflects them in the light of all women and connects them more so to show that across color lines, this is the challenge faced by most upwardly mobile females in their single lives. Lord knows those Sex & The City broads look like a bunch of glorified tramps, but chics eat that up. What makes the Black situation different tho, is that for a Black woman to be accompanied in her romantic life by a Black man as a partner, the odds seem stacked against her…literally.

Why our Ms. Lucas would be tired of hearing this fact is beyond me. Ignoring won’t help it. Sure, there’s way too many articles out there that make mention of the number of incarcerated Black men, and many of them depict jails, like prisons are just this tireless beast that sustains it’s diet by seeking and chewing up innocent young Black males. They also too often tend to  make Black men seem overly victimized by the system. There is not too much argument that the Black man is the most down-beaten and broken group of Men in the world. The African-American male in particular has the worst rates of everything and is often looked down upon by Blacks of other nations. This doesn’t excuse the poor mishandling of our responsibilities as being men first in the last 5 decades. I personally think Black men have transformed our once nurturing, more docile and ride- or-die female population into it’s current incarnation through a vicious cycle of temptation and abandonment dating back to Post -Vietnam era recklessness and confusion. Alot of this has to do with how our concepts and definitions of manhood have been augmented and re-defined over time, by others, and ourselves most importantly. Prison time just doesn’t occur. We can argue that disproportionate sentences and streamlined laws have been designed to punish minorities at larger numbers than others, but there is no debating that crime gets you in jail in the first place. Niggas really just need to stop doing fucking crime!! Isn’t it a little played out the whole ‘I didn’t have no other choice‘ routine? Really??

Still and all, the fact remains…these numbers are these numbers. The number of Black Men in jail IS alarmingly high, Black Women DO outnumber Black Men, and there is an increasing divide between education levels between Black Women and men. This doesn’t excuse the men, but if the original issue is that Black women face quite the hurdle of trying to find their match within their race as they achieve continual financial and educational success, why and how does any amount of media coverage of this make it any less of a real dilemma?

What Black Women choose to do in the face of this attention is where more focus needs to be put. Do you aid in shaping your men up?? Or are you just sick and tired of that because you’ve done that already? Do you feed into this invisible power struggle that has increasingly torn Black men and women apart for half a century now? Or do you reverse the pull by emotional healing? Or do you do What Ms. Lucas has apparently done, and told yourself that you’re fine by yourself? That you should re-focus your energy off of partnership and companionship and pat yourself on the back for all of the other successful areas of your life? Do you do what Regina King and Chilli have advocated and date outside of your race? Or do you accept the present depressed state of things and settle because the pickings are slim if you want to stay within your own race?

What a conundrum indeed…

So in the wake of what is the anniversary of the break-up between me and the very Ex who’s Facebook post layed the fertile soil for this whole fuss, I ask…

Is today’s Single Black Women being attacked?? Or just worried about?