September 26, 2008
Futuristically Speaking...Never Be Afraid
7 / 10
Sent as if a gift from the God they namecheck so often to confound the easily shocked, Yo Majesty are White Van Man’s idea of the typical government arts funding recipient made flesh. Black, Christian, lesbian rappers? You couldn’t make it up. If you were expecting something tokenistically righteous, po-faced or ranting you’ve come to the wrong women. Yo Majesty have the odd lesson to impart, for sure, as the ‘White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)’-update of ‘Night Riders’ proves, with its first-hand tales of hard times and disillusion. First and foremost, they’re here to teach by example, and their curriculum centres around how to, as Jwl B puts it on the baile-tinged party rap of ‘Grindin’ And Shakin’’, to "go ’head, with your bad self". Make no mistake, this is a party record. From ‘Club Action’’s spare feel and squidgy bassline to ‘Party Hardy’ with its lurching, Missy Elliott-ish electro sass, Shunda K and Jwl B are cruising the scene, giving it some attitude and crowing, “I look too good to be in this club… I just laugh and smile ’cos your bitch say she wanna come home with me”. It’s underdog ire capering behind stock braggadocio to create fresh, fun outsider music that isn’t going to ask nicely to be invited to the cool parties.
Deconstructing their rhymes via gender politics is less rewarding than you might expect, though: you get the feeling Yo Majesty are too busy being awesome to bother with such problems, the struggles they must have faced pushed back to make place for positivity. Their lusts and rages are presented straight-up without politicising. Particularly open is ‘Fucked Up’, a restraining-ordered cousin of Kelis’ ‘Caught Out There’, Jwl B yelling about how she wants her lover to knock her teeth out, leering, “I can’t stand the way you breathe/But I like the way you fuck me”. As bunny boiling goes, it’s haute-cuisine rabbit stew.
Moving from the loony to the lusty, the Basement Jaxx-produced ‘Booty Klap’ is cheekily saucy. ‘Hott’ is downright rampant, as blush-inducingly raw as Spank Rock. ‘Never Be Afraid’ is hypnotically crunkish, while ‘Blame It On The Change’ conjures a few 8-bit bleeps and parps Crystal Castles wouldn’t kick out of bed. But rather than sounds, their innovation is their voice: as confident, witty and no-nonsense as ESG or Salt’N’Pepa. That said, sometimes you wish their sonic trousers were as big as their mouths; compared with say, The Cool Kids, the loose blend of dance and party rap with hints of Baltimore club and crunk is hardly bleeding edge, most likely a result of their sound originating with producers Hardfeelingsuk, with assistance from others around the world including Radio Clit and CLP. As their choice of touring partners (CSS, Gossip, Peaches) might indicate, this is crossover hip-hop for people who aren’t insiders.
The album is over-long, too, and a few songs less would have made it a leaner, meaner, more KAPOW-ing beast. All that said, when Jwl and Shunda’s flabbergasting spit is on form, it’s as compelling as a new, untired voice in rap always is. The only thing token here will be your resistance.
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