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
It really doesn't matter whether or not you're riding for Hillary. She's proving (like Shirley Chisholm did back in '72) that it is indeed possible for a woman to tackle head-on the myriad issues that keep the rest of us up late at night. Clinton—a woman scorned and emotionally pounced on way harder than Dr. Dre did Dee Barnes back in '91—may have proven to be the perfect catalyst for women in rap. A severe drought in feminist thought has plagued hip-hop music like the dengue fever since her husband Bubba was in office. We're barely surviving a serious lyrical famine here, wherein serious time in the slammer and even temporary deafness still can't arouse anything beyond slight introspection in our sisters.
Take Foxy Brown's (belated) fourth album, Brooklyn's Don Diva, as the latest missed opportunity. Well, maybe not the latest: Not even a full month after being released from Rikers Island following an eight-month stint for violating the terms of her '04 probation, Brown's already made unflattering headlines on several occasions. The raptress, whose government name is Inga Marchand, is proving to be her own worst enemy. Brown's life so far, coupled with the mind-fuck that is our nation's current sociopolitical reality, makes great fodder for self-reflection and cultural criticism, a little sumthin' sumthin'. Right?
Though chock-full of contagious big beats that are as melodramatic as, say, anything on Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell, the narrative here whimpers in comparison. And that's a shame, because Foxy has managed to capture the hearts and minds of many a fan with her ability, as an all-too-human being with a crazy explosive temper, to bounce back. You may call her a spoiled diva or just misunderstood, but she is nevertheless a survivor. Which is why her obsession with frivolous things like Boucheron bracelets, as announced right up front on "Rumors of Fox," is such a drag—an underwhelming confession delivered amid news-report sound bites chronicling her laundry list of legal woes.
But that's also why "Star Cry," a brief glimpse into her inner vulnerability, is so redeeming: the indelible moment on Don Diva, and perhaps in the Ill Na Na's entire life so far. "I cry real tears 'cuz I'm a real person," she belts over a simple, synth-driven rhythm section in her signature sexy, potty-mouthed rasp. "Look beyond my fur coats and Chanel purses/Put aside my Christian Dior/And look inside my soul and see I'm just a little insecure/I'm just like ya'll but I probably hurt more. . . . "
And just like that, the moment is over. Substance takes a backseat, and the music drives the Maybach all the way to the bank; head-banging but empty-headed tracks that invoke the gulliest parties at Chelsea's now-defunct Tunnel nightclub take over. "Gangsta Love" featuring Lil' Mo, "She Wanna Rude Bwoy" featuring Demarco, and "Too Real" featuring Firm compadre AZ are predictably brash and could easily dominate urban radio waves. But so what? It's not enough at this point in Brown's career to simply get airplay. Foxy possesses what few women in the rap game do: longevity and life experience (she's not even 30!), both of which could've added to the feminist discourse of hip-hop. If only she'd given it a little more thought.
It's really frustrating. Even Jean Grae has been threatening to stop rapping because, as her manager said, "She's upset with the state of music." Taking the current state of affairs into account, could you really blame her if she stopped hinting and decided to go ahead and bow out gracefully? Not I, though I wish Jean would reconsider. But Don Diva won't make her.