A prophetic title?
Reports and rumors have been circulating for months now: Foxy Brown was deaf in one ear, or she was having sudden ear surgery, or she had some kind of Pete Townsend situation going on where you had to yell for her to hear you. But the reality is worse than any of the rumors: at a press conference yesterday, Foxy revealed that she can’t hear. At all. Hasn’t heard anyone’s voice other than her own in six months. None of the news reports about the press conference say anything about why she’s lost her hearing, whether it’s been ten years of clubbing and recording and being around loud noises or whether it’s just a sudden anomalous medical thing. She’ll undergo surgery to repair her hearing next month, and her doctor, Laura Arias, has said that she’s a “strong candidate for restoration,” though the success and recovery time of the procedure varies from patient to patient.
This affliction couldn’t come at a worse time for Foxy, who’d been on the verge of making a long-awaited comeback. She hasn’t released an album since 2001’s Broken Silence, a title that’s become weirdly poignant since. The album wasn’t much of a success, and she spent a few years beefing with her label, taking up the same Universal shelf space as Redman and Joe Budden and every other artist who ever dared to publicly say that maybe their label wasn’t working all that hard to keep their careers going. She was only in the news for bad reasons, like the continuing repercussions of her ancient beef with Lil Kim, a beef that set in motion a chain of events that landed Kim in prison earlier this year. Foxy looked like she was on the way back up when Jay-Z re-signed her to Def Jam as soon as he became the label’s president last year. Not a whole lot has come of the Def Jam signing as yet; she had a strong guest verse on Jay and R. Kelly’s thoroughly mediocre Unfinished Business album and a before-the-fold appearance on Jay’s ridiculous Oval Office XXL cover, but that was it. Still, she was well-positioned to retake her place as one of the only female rappers who can be both a serious commercial threat and, like, a good rapper. She was in a good place. Rap comebacks are truly rare things, but she seemed likely to actually pull one off. Beyond the obvious pain and confusion that hearing loss would cause in any of us, she now has to deal with the sad reality that the comeback may not happen.
But whether her doctors are successful at repairing her hearing, it’ll be interesting to see how her hardships will affect her work. Foxy has always been a good rapper but never a great one. She had an admirable toughness, a voice so thick and deep that she always sounded kinda like a dude, but she never strayed far from sex-guns-money talk. Plenty of great rappers talk about this stuff, but they become great rappers either by talking about this stuff so well that they eventually transcend them or by using them as a foundation to talk about other stuff. Foxy never did either (or if she did, I haven’t heard it). Maybe she will now; she’s certainly going through an experience that could give her a new depth and urgency. Because here’s the amazing thing: she’s still rapping right now, even though she can’t hear. Allhiphop.com quotes Doug E. Fresh talking about watching Foxy record: “[People had to] tap her shoulder to keep the beat.” Not to be melodramatic, but this is incredible. I can’t imagine that too many people would have the reserves of focus and determination on hand to keep recording when they can’t hear the beat, and I would dearly love to hear what she’s saying and how she sounds under conditions as insanely averse as these. But so let’s say worst case scenario, Foxy’s doctors are unable to restore her hearing. Would she keep recording with people tapping on her shoulders? Could she still keep her career going? It would be virtually impossible, of course (for one thing, she’d have to find someone she really trusts to choose her tracks). But could you imagine? It would be heroic.