By Bob Ruggiero
By Hilary Hughes
By Peter Gerstenzang
By David R. Adler
By Devon Maloney
By Brian McManus
By Jessica Hopper
By Harley Oliver Brown
Marie Laveau the First, celebrated Nawlinze voodoo queen, returns to Gotham after a 113-year sleep in deepest, darkest Africa. Her earliest stop is at a Harlem soul kitchen recommended by the Spirits. The Last Great American Witch needs to revive her two-headed practice, but first of all, a sister's gotta eat. She finds her alternate universe somewhat altered but still hip in essentialsnamely a perfectly pitched jukebox featuring selections from this strange, wondrous new era's most avant-garde sonic conjurewomen: Joi, Kelis, and Meshell Ndégeocello. MamzelleMarie awaits her plate of hoppin' John and macaroni and cheese, shimmying and shaking involuntarily such that her signature four-point tignonhead wrap threatens to topple. She is a host enlivened by these, her musical descendants, heartened by how they invoke the Mysteries in their arrangements. Joi Gilliam-Gipp covers Saint Chaka's "I'm a Woman," and it ain't just a womanist manifesto but a stone-cold hoodoo, too. Joi's sexy ass makes the deathless Mamanwanna groove, bang, and jive around.
The Queen recalls a 1972 Stones tome, wherein writer Robert Greenfield described Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg as the "undisputed king and queen of funk and inner space." Greenfield might have been more aptly describing their heirs in crunkBig Gipp (of Goodie Mob) and Joi Gilliam-Gipp. The royal couple of the Dirty South maintain a complementary balance in their relationship, despite residence in a protean, edgy, gypsy-like world of their own creation. In a time when even Madonna seems to partake in a squeaky-clean pop marriage, the Gipps keep it real as icons of American Badass. Recent Gipp days have yielded the Stanklove tour and the current fine Dungeon Family album. Now it's the Lady Gipp's turn to shine. Joi, a/k/a Star Kitty, a Southern belle Amazon born and bred in the country bastion of Nashville, displays her Dixie-fried outlaw manners by going about in transparent mesh tops, fur muffs, tie-dyed stiletto heels, and (sometimes) a mullet. Our groovy Georgia peach returns with Star Kitty's Revenge, the third installment in a saga that began with 1994's Pendulum Vibe and 1996's much bootlegged Amoeba Cleansing Syndrome. Like Sweet Sweetback, she's back to kick lyrical ass and take names. Like her kozmic predecessor on the one, the Star Child, she's a millennial Prometheus bringing light to the Mass.
Rockbitch Joi arrives like a succubus inspiring not nightmares but wet dreams. She could have single-handedly obsessed an entire salon of gilded-age decadents with her trickster sensuality and razor-sharp ideas (where's the now John Singer Sargent, influenced equally by Aubrey Beardsley and Pedro Bell, to immortalize her in portrait form for the Met?). Dig: Whether or not Joi's explicitly recognized as a rocker, her energy and aesthetic is the likeliest boon for chick fans of the genre. With Star Kitty's Revenge, you can exhale.
Marie Laveau is not a fan of the feminine voice in the rock-pop continuum, bar a few exceptions: Janis, Letta Mbulu, Laura Nyro, Lydia Pense, Betty Davis, Stevie Nicks, Aisha Kahlil, Boy George, Jennifer Herrema, Caron Wheeler, Dionne Farris, Res. Along with this litany's latter three sistagirl fairy godmothers, Joi is a fleet-footed herald of a golden age for black rock chick expression. On first encounter, Joi seemed the sepia doppelgänger of Royal Trux's Jennifer Herremaboth are long and lean, provocative enough to catch Stephen Meisel's eye for the early-'90s cK One campaigns, possess an inimitable sartorial style, and important, have thrived socially and artistically in live-work relationships with "alternative" icons (Gipp and Neil Hagerty, respectively). Upon further reflection, Joi appears also to be the disciple of trash titaness Millie Jackson and too-long-forgotten Betty Davisthe Nasty Gal can almost be construed as the invisible Charley Patton to Joi's Robert Johnson. Stepping toe-to-toe with trifling men of her era in silver thigh-high platform boots, Sister Betty was too much even for her ex, Miles Davis. Today, with such forthrightly sensual songs as "Lick," "Crave," and the Bootsy-spawned "Munchies for Your Love," Joi fulfills the same function. She's a Witch With Attitude. And she ensures her spell's triumph by fostering the next generation of bitch divas: Daughter Keypsiia Bluedaydreamer closes the album.
Although Joi sounds like a superheroine, recollect that she must also suffer the petty quotidian plaints of Maman's hairdressing/hoodoo clientele. Still, she is a culture heroine with a genre-bending mojo untamed even by famed producers Dallas Austin and Organized Noize, her range expansive enough to extol space-age playas ("Techno Pimp"), wrestle with vice ("17 Inches of Snow"), and eulogize her NFL hero father ("Jefferson St. Joe"). All that stands in her way are everyday blues and the multiple jeopardy that plagues all women of color. Joi's gift is how she uses her art to circumvent that ever present reality of being at the bottom of the barrel. On "It's Your Life," faced with the hard bop that it takes "nine damn months to make you [but] it only take one second to take you out," the Star Kitty's call to arms against conformity is: Shake what ya mama gave you.
If Joi has returned to fly the flag of freaky-deke, then she's got Kelis and Meshell Ndégeocello flanking her on her crusade. By Southland estimation, Harlem-dwelling Kelis would be Joi's bratty cousindat kaleidoscope-haired gal who lives down the red dirt road a piece in a trailer with mirror ball and zebra-skin decor. She digs Black Bottom anthems of the "Lemme See Your Tootsee Roll" variety, the audio archiving of the Neptunes, and monster truck shows. That's the picture presented by Wanderland, out since last fall as a Virgin import and supposedly due out eventually in some form or other under the Neptunes' Star Trak imprint here. The video for "Young, Fresh n' New" renders Kelis a 21st-century Pied Piper of Hamelin, urging multi-hued youths with Technicolor hair to hop aboard her truck emblazoned with flame decals, and "run away from home!" The angry young woman of her debut now spurns a "Popular Thug" and seconds Cuz Joi's "You're a Whore" emotions on the heated "Get Even." Kelis is a vainglorious digital diva, promoting flight, freakout, and "electric love" through an extended symphony of sinuous beats and blips.
Mama Meshell is the Old Crone of this lot, dispensing hard-won wisdom and acid critique in equal measure on Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape, finally slated for release on Maverick in June after being held for nearly a year. Like her sister sirens, Meshell aims to free yo' mindaided by guests ranging from Wheeler to Kidd Funkadelic Michael Hampton. She attacks mental slavery, poverty, and racism in an intense tapestry comprising "Akel Dama (Field of Blood)," "GOD.FEAR. MONEY," and "Dead Ni**a Blvd. (Parts 1 & 2)." Her lessons are interspersed with sampled science from warriors like Dick Gregory, Angela Davis, and Gil Scott-Heron. Ndégeocello takes up where Tocqueville left offaction-painting the state of the union and brilliantly exploding his notion that no serious, deep art could ever emerge from this backwater colony. The Go-Go Goddess is as slap'n'pluck happy as ever, still committed to courageous jazz and blues improvisation, applying the string-drenched dark veil of 1999's Bitter to fashion a layered, visceral funk opera.
Marie Laveau, finishing her hoppin' John now, is pleased by the leaps of faith these voodooiennedisciples have undertaken. She darkly recollects how local Nawlinze white power and the original Doctor John the ultimate 19th-century rock starconspired to shut her operations down. Maman's new rocker acolytes are eluding the patriarchal whammy in its artistic guises. Fortunately for the 21st century, Joi and her peers seem strong enough to penetrate the bad boys' rock bastion and delve into its secretswhich they then indelibly put at the service of their own sonic and mystic liberation. Strutting jauntily out onto sunny X Boulevard, Mamandances the Buzzard Lope, celebrating the vengeance of all these Black Queens.