By Gili Malinsky
By Bob Ruggiero
By Hilary Hughes
By Peter Gerstenzang
By David R. Adler
By Devon Maloney
By Brian McManus
By Jessica Hopper
But hands down, the best new Bad Boy release is Total's Kima, Keisha, and Pam, though maybe because the bulk of it is conceived by r&b's other big dreamer, Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott. (And a genuine big-up to Missy for doing so many sides for a group outside of her camp.) Like fashion magazines where scantily clad women traipse alone and unscathed through exotic locales, Kima, Keisha, and Pam paints a mouth-watering, female-centered fantasy world of sexual indulgence and erotic possibility. It's the kind of world where you can fuck your best friend's man and justify it with "I know I'm wrong but I can't help it." And it's the kind of world where you can boldly say to someone else's man, if your girlfriend don't like it, "tell her she can come participate."
Overt homoeroticism has always been part of Total's appeal, with their videos often featuring Pam, the deep-voiced dark chocolate butch, slapping the ass of Keisha, the big-legged, honey-dipped femme. Total speak to a sexual fluidity that exists even within hip hoplike how all those brothas get down-low booty when they're locked down and how Queen Pen rhymes about ballin' girls on her album, then the next thing you hear she's fuckin' one of them fine Next niggas. Total also add a refreshing perspective to hip hop's seminal gender battle. When they sing "There Will Be No #!@ Tonight," it's not like Foxy Brown rapping "If we skip Prada/You get nada," a power play that still places the woman as the object of a game. Total hold out to heat you up, not cut you off.
Though producer Heavy D. crafts an infectious Prince-like funk thump on "The Most Beautiful," most of the album's musical kudos go to Missy, whose tracks are as sex-drenched as Total's vocals. On "Do Something," the start and stop, sputter, and steady drums trace the course of desire from slow pursuit to fervid sex to afterglow, while "Trippin'," the Missy-produced first single, teasingly pulls you crossways with frantic mad scientist trills against the slow descent of a synth bass. But since Puff is not about to gamble the success of this whole project on these radio-risky jams, the album is literally anchored for success by the last cut, "I Don't Wanna Smile," a Diane Warrenpenned, MTV Jams Countdown ready-made that's bearable mostly because it allowsas Missy raps"those Total bitches" to be such bad asses on the rest of the album.
Whether any of these new releases will finally give Puffy the dream weaver respect he deserves is doubtful. Nor is he likely to get a respectability payoff with new artists like Jerome, whose youthful charms fail to impress me any more than that older honey he's jockin' on Hits's "Too Old for Me," or Shyne, whose sounds-like-Biggie prerelease hype is dangerously reaching Canibus-like proportions. Since, like pornography, Puff plays to our most crass, materialistic, and selfish desires, he'll probably never get his due. But at least he'll be the most paid martyr in hip hop.