In modern-day hip-hop, women are too easily dismissed in possessing credibility, since the front-line ladies embrace the degrading sexual stereotypes that routinely stifle the progression of gender equality in the genre. These poster girl fems find unsettling solace in flash-fried weaves, over-powdered cheeks and cosmetically enhanced bodies, pushing image to the forefront of their overall persona and leaving lyrical skill as an inconsequential afterthought. But at the opposite end of this hyper-sexualized spectrum, femcees are indistinguishable from the platonic males that put them there. In a nutshell of generalization, these women are often dressed in oversized and gender-graying clothing, and as part of their crew, they must arm themselves with lyrical warfare to provide listeners with the sole option of valuing skill without a visual counterpart, conveniently whiting out their femininity.
Voice, a rapper with collective roots in New Orleans and Los Angeles, is not necessarily a pioneer in terms of breaking past the two roles, as she often slumps into the latter guise on her full-length debut Gumbo, but whereas those female rappers sacrifice their sexuality to focus on their craft, Voice simply uses her abilities to convey the hardships of being a woman in everyday life. As she soars through tracks with working-class honesty and enviable social clarity, it becomes clear that Voice is common, someone without dazzling skills or an inflated obsession with appearance. She merely uses her rhyme and poetry to convey the idea that real life is devoid of glamorously dripping diamonds and rare fragrances, and that black women in an evergreen oppressive society should never feel ashamed of a life of mediocrity and struggle to stay afloat, both mentally and financially. In this way, Gumbo is precisely what its metaphorical title suggests in relation to reality: a conglomeration of the everyday ingredients that blend to make our bland lives a whole.
Whereas some female rappers focus more on themselves than their audience, Voice is deliberately forceful in blending the two by targeting her tracks for the working class community—going so far as addressing this factor on a number of rhymes—in order to fortify the bonds of relatability. On the twirling “Medicore”, Voice conveys this method of delivery over a shiny piano beat, produced by Marc Mac. She raps, “My demographic is for those stuck in traffic, or chilling / Anybody interested in listening? / I cater to the average / ‘Cause to keep it moving everyday ain’t nothing extravagant.” While downplaying the lyrical fantasy that clouds the majority of female rap, Voice refrains from polishing her life to display her commonality for her audience’s sake. In this way, tracks like “Clock In”, which outlines the tedium of bagging groceries, and “Baby Boy”, where Voice laments the testosterone-driven intentions of men, comfortably coalesce to paint an accurate portrait of “real” life.
Although part of Gumbo is aimed at capturing the tedium of ordinary life, another portion is focused on pointing out the contradictions and hypocrisies of the rap industry. Because of the genre’s gender inequality, Voice critiques the successful alpha-males as a therapeutic way to trace such injustice. “Fantasy Pt. 1”, with its ethereally candescent beat produced by Arch Typ, features Voice exercising her criticisms by pointing out the superficialities of male rappers in their attitudes towards women. In her laid-back style, she ponders “Where would hip-hop be if god took away the women? / A bunch of hard-up dudes posturing / Or rather show the real, like an emcee struggling,” later critiquing successful rappers by generalizing that many “act like a fucking monkey for the money.” Other tracks on the album take the same scathing route, like on the seemingly atonal “Total Eclipse” where she slings the epithet of “slut for bucks”, and on the flute-bending “Necksnap”, a track with equal trepidation.
While Gumbo is exactly what the title suggests in terms of diverse subject matter, the album is has almost too many ingredients to provide the album with a solid foundation, a blight that often affects the preparation of the soup. The album may be musically consistent, with its jazz and hip-hop helix and beats from unknowns Moonstarr, Murr and The Incubator, but Voice includes too much for the album to have a wholly digestible focus. She is undoubtedly skilled in the art of rhyming with content and toying with delivery, as every track on the album proves, but like any common person, she still can get lost in herself, like on the overdrawn “1000 Summers”. But as Voice spends her time rapping about real life, the album is as diverse as the components of reality are, and in the same way that life can be overburdening when there is too much going on, Gumbo is that same breath of overstuffed honesty: something that you can try to avoid, but cannot ignore.
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