[26 January 2006]
The quest to find an identity in the male-dominated industry of hip-hop has become primary for virtually all femcees, often causing them to attach themselves to a gimmick in order to catapult themselves into hip-hop culture. Because image has become the foundation, many of the women have sacrificed their intellectuality, collapsing any shred of dignity they could have brought in order to represent for others. Some women have gone the sexual route by exposing breasts and dressing like pin-ups, restricting any possible advancement. But the femcees who have managed to gain (and maintain) credibility have been the ones focused primarily on lyrical content, allowing listeners to formulate an image based on lyricism.
This movement is arguably led by Jean Grae, with her ironic lyric-twisting and gruff deportment, but it’s her masculine qualities that set her apart from the pretty girls. By attempting to gain respect in this way, she is labeled by the hip-hop community as trying to be like a man, which then hinders any mainstream exposure by pitting her against hundreds of nameless male emcees.
Canadian MC Eternia is aware that she’s in an awkward position, stuck in purgatory between exploitation and unnecessary self-deprecation, so she floats in hip-hop androgyny. Instead of exploiting her physicality, she covers her body and doesn’t necessarily pretty herself. In turn, she isn’t one of the guys, but is rather a woman who surrounds herself with few but respectable male colleagues.
Eternia’s androgynous persona permits her to appraise hip-hop culture from a sociologically neutral perspective. To do this she created It’s Called Life, an impressive debut that rests on its premeditated plotting. Every track on the album boasts a one-word title that showcases Eternia’s weaving critique around a given subject.
The album’s single, “Evidence”—based on an inspired reinterpretation of the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations”—is an aggressively confrontational tirade against the vexation in hip-hop society. Eternia’s evaluation comes from a level above rap’s groundlings, prompted by the knowledge gained from having “put this rap shit on hold” to “study [her] craft”. By taking the time to have reasonably analyzed hip-hop culture, Eternia has learned to defend herself while pushing off and dumbing down the traditional rap conformant. She recognizes the double-edged hip-hop sword with impressive lyrical tumbles:
“And that’s the ironic part of this thang,
Like you can’t get respect in this game
Until you’re paid
You can’t make a name for yourself
Until you’ve laid
Tracks down with Kanye”
While Eternia is cerebral in attending to the state of hip-hop, she remains on the defensive even in her own being. On the calculated “Family”, Eternia extrapolates on the importance of peripheral kin, or the lack thereof. In swapping verses with Helixx C, Eternia reveals that one of the core constituents of her societal exile is a result of the double-crossed actions of her extended family. But she does hold her true family close, and values the sacrifices they have made for her, as explained on “Love”. Over solid flute trills and expansive oboe lines, Eternia reveals an emotive edge by relaying the pain her pregnant mother endured from her father. “Love” also features a chorus by her sister, Jessica Kaya, who expresses the same maternal adulation through lines like “When I’m not sure of myself / I think of your love / It lifts me up”.
The lyricism of It’s Called Life can proudly wear the “poetic” title as well. On the spoken-word “Death”, Eternia plays with rhyme as if it were a toy, turning the English language over with casual word-matching and appropriate dramatic pauses. Eternia laments death with witted words:
“Minds collide in time when the devil kissed my
Formed third eyes that closed when you died.
Took a shot to my brain and stitched up my
With rusty needles.”
Throughout It’s Called Life, Eternia remains stern and doesn’t ever break character. She tackles subjects from the most meditated angles, and creates an overall intelligent critique of hip-hop culture. By the end of the album, Eternia separates herself from the legions of unrespectable femcees by garnering the listener’s respect. She doesn’t ask for it, either; she demands it, and inevitably ends up representing the “everywoman”. And though she may be part of the Jean Grae movement in hip-hop, It’s Called Life stands as a grittily rational endeavor that honestly captures the current state of the rap industry.