Thursday, December 29, 2005

Rise of the Dirty South & are Hip-Hop 'Girl Groups' a Thing of the Past?

Watching this year’s Vibe Awards, I was reminded of something- I really don’t relate very well to the current generation of rappers and R&B singers.
Most of the rappers in attendance- Mike Jones, Paul Wall, Young Jeezy, Lil’ Wayne, etc., were from the south. After years of neglect, southern hip-hop can claim dominance over both coasts. It’s great that hip-hop’s regional diversity hasn’t stalled. Still, I can’t front, I really don’t buy much southern rap at all. As much as I love the now old-school Geto Boys, they’re almost the only southern rap act I’ve really latched on to over the years. Fellow southern rap pioneers 2 Live Crew had any number of street hits, but I never bought a record from them—but I do have a copy of Luke’s Uncle Luke CD that I literally found discarded on the streets. Out of all of Outkast’s LPs I only have Speakerboxx/Love Below. If Goodie Mob has a best-of set, I might cop that.
David Banner has a college degree, but during his set he has all the dancing girls in aerobics leotards (like a certain Mr. West’s "Workout Plan") while he runs through "Play". Dave—unlike Kanye, you’re the college graduate—you don’t need to ape his routine!
On the R&B front, as cute as Keyshia Cole and Ciara are, I’m not really into their music that much. When it comes to the current generation of teen-idol type guys- Omarion, Mario, Marques Houston, etc., I’m generally under-whelmed. The older, ‘neo-soul’ leaning guys- Maxwell, D’Angelo, Kem, Musiq, are fine enough to listen to on the radio, but I’m just not a neo-soul dude in terms of being interested in buying their records.
So what is it that I don’t like? Is it the southern twang? Maybe partly—but in all fairness, plenty of Midwestern and West coast rappers have a similar semi-country cadence, only more pronounced. On TV, to hear some of these guys talk in interviews—gah! I’d like to think if they took out the chandelier fixtures in their mouth they’d sound better, but who knows (I was at one of Russ Simmons’ Hip-Hop Summits last year—please, no one put Lil’ Scrappy on a roundtable panel ever again!). On top of that, most of southern rap—like rap in general, really—has focused on themes of the thug-player-hustler lifestyle, with guns, haters, strippers, gin, juice, weed, syrup and rims in tow. I’ll have to remind myself to check out Little Brother, since it’s said that they’re a step above the average. I still don’t think I’ve heard them on the radio, though.

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according to All Hip-Hop.com, Florida rapper Trina has a sitcom confirmation on the Black Family Channel. As attractive as she is, I’m not really a fan of most of today’s female rappers. I think the last LP of original material I got from a female rapper was Lauryn Hill. In one of Chuck D’s recent Terrordome editorials, he laments the lack of female rap groups in today’s scene. I feel the sentiment, though I’m not sure exactly how many genuine female groups were doing their thing back in the so-called ‘golden era’ of the mid-80’s to the early 90’s. Chronologically, I guess the short-lived Sugarhill Records act Sequence counts as the first to do hip-hop on wax; then there was Sha-Rock in the first multi-gender crew on wax, Funky 4+1 More. Fast forwarding to the mid-80’s, obviously Salt N Pepa were the first female group to hit it big on the urban radio and pop charts and have enduring success. But if memory serves, most of the female acts to come out in their wake were basically solo. Roxanne Shante’, Real Roxanne, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Monie Love, MC Trouble, Isis/Lin-Q, etc. There were only a handful of lady groups I remember having impact:
To start, JJ Fad and Oaktown’s 357—I think the Supersonic LP may have gone gold on the strength of the single, but I don’t think the follow-up LP went anywhere, and I think JJ Fad broke up shortly afterward. I enjoyed all the early singles from Hammer’s girls 357- "wild & loose", "juicy gotcha crazy", "here we go", etc. But I’m thinking when the 2nd LP came out, it didn’t catch on with radio & video like before. I do have some threadbare memories of the Cookie Crew- at least, seeing some of their 12" singles in stores- some other female rap acts, like Wee Papa Girls, She-Rockers, I have no audio/visual memory of at all. Ooh, a few more just came to mind- Silk Tymes Leather, who I think were the first group that Jermaine Dupri produced; I think they came and went after their first LP; and then there’s the gangsta-bi*ch groups, who its fair to say are the thematic predecessors to, well, most of today’s female rappers- BWP and HWA.
The Bi*ches With Problems made one album (on Def Jam!) and the Eazy-E affiliated Hoez With Attitude made one album and an EP. In the case of both acts, they failed to get any mainstream urban radio attention, and the thug-broad & strip-club chick aesthetic lay in direct contrast to the more balanced female rap portrayals of the time. In the mid-90’s, I don’t remember there being much out there in terms of female rap acts- I do remember seeing an LP from some Ruthless act called MenaJaTwa (or something to that effect), and seeing what was I guess their first video on The Box. Oh, and there was this Motown (!) signed act, 69 96. UNLV- Unfortunately No Longer Virgins (hello!) came out on Ichiban circa ’94 (this is not to be confused with the early proto-Cash Money group of the same initials- but presumably a different meaning). Paris came out with the Conscious Daughters in ’96, and it looks like they’ll finally come back sometime next year on his label, as well as having a guest-spot on the Rebirth of a Nation LP.
around '97, there were two girls who did a cover of "The Breaks", Nadanuf; around the same time, there was this Southern Bass cut, "Shorty Swing My Way", by KP & Envy.. Oh, and Columbia/Sony briefly had a similar group on their hands, Dis N Dat. I think the one hit they had was "Freak Me Baby"..
As I’m writing this, I may very well be missing out on various regional acts that have cropped up to drop singles, EP’s and LPs over the years- scholars on those scenes can feel free to chime in.
I’m not sure of all the reasons why there are not really any female groups representing now. Of course, the music biz has been traditionally a boys’ club, and usually there’s some type of male producer/manager in the mix whenever a solo or group female act comes out. So that’s one obstacle. Lack of female label execs with the power to greenlight female rap acts is another problem (of course, depending on their personal/professional philosophy, many might not consider it ‘their job’ to bring out a female rap act for its own sake, and just seek to stay afloat by following current trends—but alas, that’s hardly a gender-specific trait). Another issue, and at the risk of stereotyping- nowadays, would a female rap group even get along well enough to maintain a career? Judging on certain interviews, plenty of today’s female MCs are quick to say that they don’t really hang with chicks too deep or roll with a female crowd on the regular, for the usual jealousy/hater concerns. Going for dolo is kind of the default steez for any double-X chromosome party looking to spit rhymes for a living. Also, just look at how many male rap groups splinter after one or two LPs. And looking at the R&B/pop world, it is rife with female acts splitting up, for various reasons, external and internal. Not everyone’s meant to be a Diana Ross, but damn it if they ain’t gonna try.
I do know that Jean Grae is much lauded in underground circles—over the years, I’ve been somewhat neglectful in picking up indie rap—I’ll have to check her out.

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