[16 February 2010]
People place a log of baggage and lazy description in the word “old school” in hip-hop. It’s a way to insult someone’s credibility, make a crude comparison or simply use free hand for “the way I imagine my youth”. I prefer to emphasize old school as the feeing you get when an MC does something spectacular from what falsely appears to be simplicity. Ra the MC Ra the MC has a double dutching tongue and fierce, self-assured charisma that emanates from the quick upper cuts of her flow. While the sample in “Lost Ones” is from Lauren Hill’s song of the same name, the reconstruction here conceives the song in curt knots of piano and percussion that booms and clatters, less backdrop and more of an announcement of Ra’s prowess. So few female MCs can manage to pull off hard feminity without resorting to overt violence, myna-masculinity or the suggestion of sexual accessibility. Ra brushes off roles with vison and earned bombast: she’s all defense and verbal ratatat layed out in checkmate architecture.
I admit that I have a weakness for the neighborhood tour video, a beautiful reminder that the best video interpretations of a song are those that engage with its context, its era, its scene, its source of passion. In this scan and span movements of the video there’s more life, verve, and sync with the song than there would be on a shoot filled with Aston Martins, champagne bottles and women synced in ass shake. Perhaps I’d rather have fantasies that simply magnify the real rather than simulate the discredited fantasies of money and the regal isolation of fame. In hip-hop, confidence can quickly morph into the despotism of the narcissist (Diagnosis: Kanye). Ra brims with seductive energy that doesn’t have to be amped up or tricked out in futuristic hooker garb. It’s hard to find easy touchstones for the way she shifts from hard dense lyrical cuts into easy, torn open, singing. A few obvious trendsetters come to mind: Bahamadia’s zen frame of phrase, Rah Digga’s weaponized delivery and even Jean Grae’s cagey intellectual poetry. This D.C. up and comer has few peers to stand in the way of her becoming a defining force among the new faces of hip-hop.