It is just possible that Kandi Burris is the most significant lyricist on the pop scene at the moment. Not the best, certainly not the most likeable, but if pop music is still about capturing a particular set of attitudes in three-minute chunks, then this former Xscape singer is an observer of teenage mores in the tradition of Berry, Goffin and King or early Brian Wilson.
If you have been intrigued, charmed and then increasingly irritated by TLC’s “No Scrubs” or Destiny’s Child’s “Bills, Bills, Bills” and “Bugaboo”, then you know Kandi’s world. Crass, materialistic, sexy, self-assured, female, young and determined never to get played—its appeal to young women, black and white, is huge and hard to ignore. Now the songwriter has emerged centre-stage to deliver an album length take on her version of modern life.
The key factor in Kandi’s philosophy is to always be in charge; money first, sex second, sadness and failure not on the agenda at all. The album opens with a jaw-dropping piece of self-promotion where in the guise of an attack on the singer we learn how many platinum records she has sold and all the famous people she has written for. This is followed by a jolly little number, “Hey Kandi”, a paean to desire, which contains the telling lines “I’ve been feeling this brother like I love my checks / Him and my checks are about neck and neck / Hold up you know I’m joking / To choose him over money I would have to be smoking.” Young love, eh?
The next five songs concern said brother’s infidelity and the correct responses. The downtempo “Cheatin on Me” is a straightforward caught you out number and brother gets the brush off. The Miami-bass led “What I’m Gon’ to Do to You” has the sweet refrain “Revenge is a must when my heart you crush / You know I’m gonna burn your house to dust.” Finally, “Don’t think I’m Not” reminds the hapless boyfriend that the second he wanders Kandi is straying too. “And I catch a bone when you’re doggin me” is how she demurely puts it. And so it goes on. Relationships are a battlefield, no tears just don’t be on the losing side.
Lest anyone should confuse this variant of Girl Power with feminism, in these pieces every other woman is a ho (or potential ho) and in “Talking About Me” (a characteristic song title) Kandi sets out the woman’s role, “As a woman it’s my job to make sure my man is happy”—until he errs—and proceeds to elaborate on her skills in the kitchen and bedroom (both considerable apparently). All in all, its a depressing picture of reactionary sentiment and self-righteousness.
And yet it works—not as realism but as a well-constructed fantasy. It is a fantasy of power and, because it is cleverly done, a beguiling one. Kandi offers her listeners a glimpse of self-assertion and material luxury that is seductive and convincing. It is a Jerry Springer/Ricki Lake level philosophy but it is sharp and witty and backed by the tight and bouncy production from She’kspere (Kevin Briggs) produces excellent and very catchy pop/R&B. She has a pleasant voice and, particularly on the uptempo tunes, displays the necessary sass and spirit that her persona demands. Witty lyrics, contemporary references and good hooks—always an irresistible combination.
When the album tries to be deep or genuinely emotional the results are disastrous. The ballad “Just So You Know” and the lament to her departed (real) brother “Easier” (which of course is about surviving not mourning) are both trite. When the album stays in the shallow waters it is fine, funny and funky. Just don’t confuse this stuff with real life.
Kandi Burris will undoubtedly be under pressure to mature and will, I hope, resist the temptation. As the chronicler of a particular consumerist, young, black middle-class or wannabe middle-class female lifestyle she has carved out a nice little space for herself. It is a place one might not want to visit too often but it is perfectly-formed and mostly good fun. How history will regard it should worry Ms. Burris as little as it will bother her sizeable young market.
// Notes from the Road
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