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Who Isn’t Jill Scott?

Speaking of which, a prominent Atlanta rapper once expressed exasperation at hip-hop's often too-good-to-be-believed consciousness contingent. "Them vibe-y incense niggas," he called them, who "be giving you all this 'yes my brother' and 'yes my queen' shit but never have anything to say that relates to what's really going on." I was tempted to drop India.Arie into that category until the fifth workaday sista in the past three months told me that "Video" was the best thing to come out of pop music since Jill Scott's thick fine self. Which helped me realize that, despite the fact that it was just what we needed in 1992, I couldn't pop Acoustic Soulout of my player without pouring myself some amaranth flakes and soy milk to keep the ambience going. Arie is a "too damn likable to nitpick about" diva—likely why I won't point out that the video version of "Video" features more of the same writhing buttwomen.

Lyrically, Arie spends a lot of time in the kickboard end of the pool, with lines and themes that consciously avoid straining your brain: "Brown skin/You know I love your brown skin/I can't tell where yours begins/I can't tell where mine ends." And, but for the gentle antimaterialism of "Video," she doesn't preach, so her tunes don't run the risk of collapsing under their own pretensions. More often than not, Arie winds up addressing love notes to some unnamed soul mate in training. If she sometimes slips into triteness—the hippy-dippy "Nature," the outro that commits the nearly unforgivable sin of turning Stevie Wonder tune titles into bad one-liners—it's because she isn't reaching very far. And that isn't a bad thing, especially since Arie, like Costa, has good taste in support staff: multi-man Mark Batson and organist Larry Goldings. Add her lightly seasoned vocal soul, and there's enough to hold you for a while, just not to bring you back for seconds.

Pru is smarter than you.
photo: Kwaku Alston
Pru is smarter than you.

Details

Sunshine Anderson
Your Woman
Soulife/Atlantic

Nikka Costa
Everybody Got Their Something
Cheeba Sound/Virgin

India.Arie
Acoustic Soul
Motown/Universal

Pru
Pru
Capitol

Res
How I Do
MCA

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For a more balanced course, there's Pru, and her self-titled debut. A "smarter than you, but cool enough to let you figure that out for yourself" diva, she sings (correction: sangs) with a vaguely Houston-ish flair, and writes songs bristling with enough pop charms to make you miss some of her conceptual ornaments the first time around. Like the wistful "Sketches of Pain" (don't holler if you don't get it). On "Hazy Shades" (probably the only tune out there that nods to both Prince and Miles Jaye), she underpins the luscious slow groove with lyrics insisting that her lover "love me unclearly" and blurring the line between—as she says—madness, love, and genius. She comes close to overdoing it on the interpolation end, though her production and arranging are tight enough to blow quibbles away. "Candles" shifts into a Smokey Robinson quote, and she recasts "Smooth Operator" as a ghetto-fab drum'n'bass joint. Elsewhere, she and coproducers Abolitionist Productions dot the proceedings with the type of glossy, tightly compressed r&b that you thought fell off the scene with the old Vibehouse band. These high-fiber features give Pruserious legs. It was released to good reviews late last year, and sounds even better now—being a diva, after all, is not about following the times; it's about letting them catch up to you.

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