By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
By Ray Cummings
By Nicholas Pell
Sister Eve you bless the whole scene, you're the queen of the team of cream, you're so Supreme. A blessing in disguise, open up your eyes.Snoop Dogg
We feel you, Snoop. It's not hard to love Eve. She's a polished stone, every facet reminiscent of something desirable and trapped in amber: Black femininity, hiphop, cosmopolitan style, the swagger of the self-possessed. Puns for album titles are never a good idea, and even worse if they're based on the artist's name. Eve-Olution doesn't redeem this conceit, but it fits her fineshe the Darwinian endgame of the female-MC line that began on wax with Zulu Nation's Lisa Lee and the Funky Four Plus One More's Sha-Rock, took on nutcrushing efficiency with Roxanne Shante, racked up mad gold with Salt-n-Pepa, gained BK b-girl authenticity with MC Lyte, got womanist (and all-media savvy) with Latifah, ladypimped-out with Lil' Kim, Afrocentrically supercharged with Lauryn. Hill went on to transcend the genre of female MC by becoming as important for us as a songstress, songwriter, social conscience, pop star, and lyricist. Nevermind her issues around appropriating but not adequately crediting some of her musical collaborators, or her current interest in becoming the greatest threat the world has yet seen to Tracy ChapmanLauryn, the Black Valkyrie, soars above terra ghetto, like Storm out this piece. But down here on the ground, Eve is The Woman in hiphop, right now. Top Ten album and Number One movie Barbershop? Even my a-materialist ass is impressed.
She arrived to us through Ruff Ryders, DMX's doggish clique, memorably singling herself out as the "pitbull in a skirt." But on her anything but jinxed sophomore joint she made her name bigger in brand-name visibility than her parent company. "Let Me Blow Ya Mind"her collaboration with Dr. Dre, Scott Storch, and Gwen Stefaniturned out to be a genius move, responsible for the second-most-perfect pop single and video of 2001. ("Get Ur Freak On," hello?) The album Scorpionproper was full of sweet spots that keep me coming back: the soaring first singles "Cowboy" and "Who's That Girl," her remake of Dawn Penn's "No No No" where she got to show off her singing and Jamaican chatting skills, and "Life Is So Hard," the overly dramatic mini-opera featuring Teena Marie. Not to mention the seduction dance in rhyme that is "You Ain't Getting None," notable because it catches her in Cartesian confessional mode, mind and body split around the age-old question of To Fuck Him or Not to Fuck Him. Hell, even the skits are still funny a year laternone more so than the one where she catches her ex using a friend to engineer a three-way call and blows up their spot with an ire and outrage that sounds too damn spontaneous. Said to-the-curb fella also takes a lyrical beating on "You Had Me You Lost Me," an exposé likely to cold shrivel up any potential suitors unsure as to whether their egos could survive the global reach, scorn, and wrath.
It's too early to tell, but Eve could be on her way to being the first MC since Ice Cube to build a noteworthy Hollywood résumé and be a playa at the same time. Eve-Olution, however, poses the question of whether she has anything else to say as a lyricist that she hasn't already said better before. She proves she can still spit battle rhymes with dander and aplomb, as she does with Truth Hurts on "What." She dominates the desirous with insouciant sensuality on her Prince revision, "Irresistible Chick," flirts with bad boys only to remain just beyond their reach on "Gangsta Lovin'" and "Figure You Out," then sets it off in vintage Salt-n-Pepa style on "Satisfaction." All these tracks are state of the art crunkwhen it comes to dibs on the freshest beats out the lab, Eve is on the A list, and as on Scorpion her ear for yummy-gummy ear candy keeps pop hooks and boom-poetics good and stuck up in your earhole. (If only the equally enthralling, industry-trashing, anti-imperialist-rhyming Jean Grae could afford productions as seductive.) For all that, Eve-Olution lacks its predecessors' element of surprise. There's a hint of poor-little-rich-girl pathos that suggests the lady doth protest a bit much. So call me a nitpicker, because on the other hand, for my money, Eve remains in the increasingly scant selection of MCs we don't mind spending an entire album with. And she has come to be an epochal refiner of what hiphop has become.
In Eve's lifetime, hiphop has evolved from a people's culture to a self-conscious artform to a pro-Black enterprise to a cheesy capitalist tool. From folk art to commodity fetish in two shakes of a rat ass. Eve as artist, sex symbol, Philly homegirl-feminist icon, and fashion plate embodies and encapsulates all those stages of progression and regression. She's also creating the mold as she goes of the one woman in hiphop who can ride and rumble with the hardcore guys and be uncomplicatedly embraced and not considered an embarassment by the Official Culture of African American Women.
Trina, Diamond Princess
As for Trina, I don't know if she'll be invited to the Essence Awards this year. We're not a minute into her "Hustling" before she answers a query about how to steal a man from his current flame with "wait for his biutch to leave, Ms. Trina got a trick up her sleeve, open up the door and walk straight in the house, put your man down and put my cock in his mouth." This transgendered tidbit precedes shakedown advice that will find the mark/john robbed in his sleep of money and credit cards and left to confront roughnecks with shotguns should he cop an attitude.
What's ironic about Trina is that she actually was on her way to the Essence Woman ideal before she got in bed, the gutter even, with this hiphop trick. According to an interview in the ever informative Sister 2 Sister, Trina has a college degree, a real estate license, and an upwardly mobile AT&T gig on her résumé, and comes from two enterprising middle-class parents. She was also dating Trick Daddy's brother Hollywood before he was murdered, a sad backstory to her entrée into the game. She and Eve share a history as strippersexcept, where Eve danced during her fallow teenage runaway period, Trina's stripping stint began after a waiting-to-exhale party with girlfriends where she took on a dare to dance nude at a local club, walked out with $1000, and developed something of an addiction to the adulation and loot. She also speaks of being driven to tears by the stories of the woman she met, one of whom spoke of being raped by her brother and one of his homies. And she tells the tale of shutting down a recording session after she realized her mother had shown up unexpectedly, and was on the other side of the booth appalled by her daughter's spew of bad language.
Another reviewer recently wrote of Trina's rhyme skills as oxymoronic, and he'll get no rebuke here. I never paid her no mind until she turned up in Missy's "Get Ur Freak On" video. I can't recall a damn thing she had to say but this problem does not extend to Trina as junk-in-the-trunk visual. Be that as it may, albums remain an aural medium, and though a little bit of Trina goes a long way, all the tracks are crunk enoughespecially "B R Right," which features Ludacris and a female singer dueting with a galvanizing gypsy violinist in a manner that appropriately brings to mind Funkadelic's "No Head, No Backstage Pass" Except today, reminds Trina, "Pussy power is in control." Missy and producer Supa reprise the 'Freak On' formula for her guest spot 'Rewind That Back"; Eve's obligatory appearance on the brand-name-dropping 'Ladies First' serves her version of pro forma hardcore but sets Trina up to deliver the ultimate deflationary no-scrubs lyric: "my man's money got to be longer than his dick."
See, in today's hypercapitalist hypersexualized hiphop, some sisters have gone way beyond pimping it for themselves. Now it's about proferring fantasies of driven business mavens who define themselves as the financial power behind their punanny-thrones, an iconic portrayal of Black female sexuality writ large and in check-writing charge: Obliterating hoary dominance-and-submission gender codes as they go; more daunted by fears of being broke than of being labeled unrespectable; buying out haute couture stores and auto dealerships like there was no tomorrow in the name of the good life; pointing up how capitalism's original commodity fetish, the dispossessed African booty, has now become the ultimate commodity fetishist; deriving more visceral pleasure from status-symbol consumption than they might from sex, love, family, justice, or plotting revolution.