The Streetrope Invasion


“Seven One Eight” (the area code, presumably) loops an old blues, a preternaturally distant and gorgeous sound, haunted, a woman’s voice, pang of the ages—and atop it you have the three Fannypack girls chanting “BK is you wit’ me, New York Cit-tay/Everywhere else you can suck up on my tit-tay/Eat a Big Mac and go to hell/And you know motherfucker, yo, it ain’t hard to tell/We got this party on smash/Now we gonna put you on blast.” And they’re on like that, the ghostly pang and spooky toms mere backup as the girls go blithely splashing across the Atlantic Ocean, like it’s their wading pool.

The three female rappers, two in their late teens and one in her early twenties, are doing a “girlie” thing but with adult knowingness. Girl sass, but with a woman’s capacity to take control. Their lapdance song is about demanding lap dances from the men, paying the guys but then snatching the money back. Meanwhile, the girls launch floating blobs of harmony. Beautiful. The group’s got two male Svengalis/ beatmen/impresarios who are also billed as part of Fannypack, which doesn’t put the men in charge but rather implies a collaborative effort all around. But the girlie thing is the unifying element, the one that jumps up front and in taking center stage allows sounds outside the spotlight to be eerie, menacing, complex.

First cut on See You Next Tuesday: coming attraction, cinematic sounds, chopper whoosh, sirens, noise, sinister melody, and the girls bratting and wagging all over the place. From there you’ve got an album full of girl shouts, hopscotch rhythms, playground chants, metaphors. “Let’s do it now, turn around/Get off, like a wedding gown.” Jumprope music, basically, but with sex and a whole cityscape included. They rhyme “wastin’ ” and “case in/federal court,” to the accompaniment of a doomy orchestra and beats like gunshots, doing crunk one better.

The first Fannypack album had been a nice breeze, with a couple of great songs (“Smack It Up” and “Hey Mami”), playful electro ideas that never quite found their beat. This time everything has coalesced and expanded, double the propulsion, twice the emotional range, the beats doing the ping and the boomerang. And Fannypack have learned the lesson of Timbaland: timbres from everywhere (e.g., a gorgeous woodbeat accompanying a yammering dancehall rap). The promo sheet had promised some r&b—a phrase that generally lays fatigue on my soul—but the girls, rather than attempting a cold Beyoncé gloss or leaden Christina melisma, simply insert dreamy melody into the overall brouhaha, or rap in harmony, adding some extra sing to the singsong without losing its character.

Fannypack are like M.I.A., who hops her own scotch and shakes her own jumprope, and they’re in a similar predicament, which is that they don’t quite fit pre-existing genres, dance or hip-hop, so they’ll have to do what Ben Edmonds said the New York Dolls needed to do in 1973: create their own audience. Fannypack and M.I.A. should hold a joint press conference and simply declare themselves a genre, invent some name, Jumprope or Streetrope or Boohall or Favela Bratty Beats or Bow-Wow Booty Bop or something. They do have one advantage over, say, L’Trimm, giggly girlpusses of the late ’80s and obvious Fannypack prototypes who had the support of a subgenre (Miami bass) but could only get over as a novelty. When L’Trimm’s second album, Drop That Bottom, tanked (greatest hip-hop album ever, if you’re interested), they had no sociological self-confidence to draw on. So they and their producers, Davis-Stone-Klein, changed the style to something intended to be more lucrative, and when that flopped, the act was dead. Whereas M.I.A. and Fannypack are in dance-club bohemia, which means on the one hand that they’ll be surrounded by preciousness, but on the other that, being bohos, they might stick to their vision, keep doing the jumprope not just for fun or for the moolah but for the art of it, persist long enough and obstinately enough to still be jumping when the world is finally ready to jump with them, sooner rather than later, I hope.