[23 March 2011]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Shunda K does identity politics like Michael Bay does film explosions: there’s nobody better, but it’s all a little exhausting. She’s a black Christian lesbian Southern rapper with a hyper-fast flow, a potty-mouth, and a predilection for Euro-club beats. Check check check check check check, aaaand check. Two or three of those elements together would be enough to sustain multiple press junkets, if not an entire career. Shunda tries to cram them all into every song. When that approach works, as it does for a song here and there on her solo debut The Most Wanted, you feel you’re listening to music that’s fantastically new. But alas, you can see where this is going…
The Most Wanted is ultimately a failure of production and editing. This album boasts 14 different producers for its 20 tracks. You know how there’s often an inverse relationship between the quality of a movie script and the number of people who wrote it? (Michael Bay’s movies tend to have three to six writers apiece.) The same principle applies to Wanted. Only a couple of its songs could have made it onto Futuristically Speaking… Never Be Afraid, Shunda’s wonderful 2008 album with Yo! Majesty, the finest defunct lesbian rap group in all Christendom.
Futuristically had plenty of production help, but seven of its songs were helmed by Hardfeelings UK, and those tracks were more delightfully varied than Wanted’s entire hodgepodge. Ironically, this album’s full of dime-a-dozen electro stomps with forgettable hooks. You’d think white-hot up-and-comers like Sick Rick and Blac Waldo could manage one memorable beat apiece, especially given their pseudonyming abilities, but no. Since Wanted was executive produced by Lashunda Flowers, aka Shunda K herself, the blame for this glut falls squarely in her lap.
The only producers to score three tracks here are L.A.’s Raspberry Cocaine and Atlanta’s ConeyGurl. Cocaine’s songs are standouts; they include the pretty synth-blues “Who’s Gonna Stop Us Now”, the nice try “Rock & Roll”, and the empowerment anthem “Art and Music”. The latter is a freedom-through-God-and-music manifesto worthy of Lady Gaga, only with better rapping. Shunda bites its warbled hook from Yo! Majesty’s own “Never Be Afraid”—one of the few rap songs in 5/4 time, it’s worth noting—and adds the irresistible line, “Dumb, dumb, deaf, and blind, and I been RAISED UP, to let my light shine!” A couple listens to that and there’s no getting it out of your head.
In fact, when her songs don’t work, the one person you can’t blame is Shunda K the MC. She does the flipped-syllable trick as quickly as Outkast or Field Mob, rolling off effortless triplets and streams of doubletime mumbo jumbo without lapsing into dumb virtuosity. Her verses are full of attitude and little rhythmic hooks that tug you along with her, even when you can’t understand what the heck she’s saying. (The lyric sheet’s really hard to follow, too.)
When you can understand Shunda, she’s a mixed bag. Her basic lyrical paradox, of being liberated by the love of Jesus to create profane party music, is certainly thought-provoking enough. After a while, though, all her messages of godly uplift, self-empowerment, and making dat pussy hers tend to blur together. And anyway, her conception of an all-comforting, all-approving God basically equals Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Slumber Party Theology”, as espoused in Eat, Pray, Love, only without the redeeming narrative thrust and food descriptions. Which is great—everybody needs to hear Shunda’s message sometimes. But it’s hardly sustaining over the course of TWENTY SONGS.
Here’s one likely response contour of listening to The Most Wanted. At first, it’s really impressive and you wonder whether she can keep it up. After a while, you get tired and wish she’d do something different. A while longer and you just wish it’d end. But oh no—there’s still 10 more songs to slog through, and they’re not catchy at all. Shunda K deserves to be your favorite Christian lesbian rapper, but this is no way to put together an album.