[23 June 2006]
Two mice fell into a bowl of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and he crawled out. Gentlemen, as of this moment, I am that second mouse.”
—Catch Me If You Can, Frank Abagnale, Sr. (played by Christopher Walken)
In the 1960s, meteorologist Edward Lorenz was experimenting with weather data (because that’s what meteorologists do) when he figured out that changes in the information you input into your processes, even infinitesimal changes, would virtually guarantee changes in your output. Lorenz’s observation is known as the Butterfly Effect, which has been famously analogized to the varied results in weather patterns in one part of the world caused by the ever-so-slight flutter of a butterfly’s wings in a different part of the world.
Naturally, you wouldn’t expect this to be such a big deal. After all, any cook or chef could’ve told you the same thing—if you double the recipe, you get twice the cookies. Nevertheless, the Butterfly Effect forms the basis of Chaos Theory, the ideological framework for finding patterns among apparently random outcomes. For hip-hoppers, not only is it the title of a rap album, it might also help us find the elements we’ve been missing for quite awhile now.
You see, hip-hop, particularly for those of us in the United States, is in dire need of two things: (1) female emcees and (2) an international perspective. Regarding the first, there just aren’t enough female rappers. As for the second, some (but not all) of us in the States aren’t aware of the multitude of talented rappers, DJs, and singers outside our borders. Often, our desire for information and music outpaces our access—if you’re not in a city with an international flavor, you’re not likely to hear about a British DJ, a French rapper, or a sista who’s a Nottingham emcee. Consequently, we aren’t even given a chance to sleep on “foreign” artists; we’re simply unconscious of them.
On these fronts—gender and international awareness—who knew that the answer to both could be in the form of a powerhouse emcee in her mid-20s from Nottingham in the United Kingdom? That’s right, Nottingham—or “Notts”—the land of Robin Hood, and home of D.H. Lawrence and Lord Byron.
Her name is Simone Buchanan and she goes by the stage name C-Mone (pronounced like her first name). She started out with the Out Da Ville crew. Then, after some guest spots and a couple of EPs, she organized her own Dark Whisper Records label. Now she’s on the map with her full-fledged debut on Son Records, and it’s crazy hot. To my US ears, she’s got an accent, but it’s not like Slick Rick’s, perhaps due to her residence in the East Midland region. With her golden voice, intelligence, lyrical wit, and charming good looks, she could very well be the flutter of the butterfly wing that will help change the overall hip-hop climate.
Boosted by engaging production from Nick Stez, Smiley, the Marga Boyz, the P. Brothers, and Barbie Analogue (isn’t that last one a cool name?), The Butterfly Effect blazes its way through your speakers. All the beats are tight and on point, all the scratches (thanks to DJ Fever) are right where they need to be. Then comes C-Mone and, right out of the gate on the aptly titled “Catch Me If You Can”, you can understand why she was named 2005’s Best Female Emcee at the UK Hip Hop Awards.
She’s a dope emcee, period, bar none. Listen to her tell a story on “Nightvision” that takes you back to the days of MC Lyte’s “Capuccino”. Then watch her get comfortable ripping the track in straight-up battle mode on “Stan Bac” and “Second After Second”. On “Article 5”, she digs into serious territory—from “guerilla armies” to government illegalities to racial profiling—in a style that is so very deliciously U.K.-meets-Dirty-South. Considering the fact that Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights guarantees “everyone” the “right to liberty and security of the person”, the title of her song is more than appropriate.
On the seventh song, “The Magnificent 7”, C-Mone reps her town of Nottingham like KRS-One giving big-ups to the South Bronx. She’s accompanied on this posse track by her homies Pariz I, Cappo, Matic, Smiley, Cizzigrim, Pijim, and Midnyte. Other guest spots include Nina Smith on “The Nina C-Mone Theory”, a bonus track, as well as the Marga Boyz on the hidden track “Handz of Time”.
While she fancies aggressive battle rhymes, C-Mone has more facets to her persona than merely a hard edge. She celebrates family on “Disfunktional” without reverting to typical greeting card sentimentality. Instead, she channels her experiences into perceptive observations and cogent rhyme schemes. Although it might be the most ordinary track on the album, “Ode to Hip-Hop”, featuring P. Brothers and Big Trev, displays C-Mone’s musical knowledge and appreciation.
While she’s at the club, a lady might enjoy a good seductive chase, as in “Watching U” (She offers a taunting, “I’ve been watchin’ you watchin’ me, boy”), and, later on, a lady might need to get home, like in the song “Ride”. Of course, there’s the uplifting song for gender equality with the ominous title, “Black Widow”. It’s a topic that’s been addressed several times in hip-hop history (Queen Latifah’s “Ladies First”, for example). C-Mone’s exploration into the subject is a worthy addition to the canon.
The absence of a substantial female presence in rap is almost inconceivable when you consider that hip-hop is arguably the most democratic of all musical genres. With little more than a turntable, a microphone, and some recording equipment (nowadays a computer can do it), artists can crank out full-length albums. Nevertheless, hip-hop’s do-it-yourself aesthetic and get-yours appeal hasn’t made it any less of a male-dominated industry. On the contrary, chauvinism in hip-hop is still heavily debated and, at present, Lil’ Kim and Missy Elliott are basically holding down the fort for the ladies. I compiled a list of the top 10 female emcees of all time, which should be lively enough to spark debate. Mostly, it’s interesting to note how many are no longer relevant to today’s market:
1. Queen Latifah—She may be a Cover Girl, but I doubt she’s forgotten her punchlines, smooth flow, and her ability to rock an Afrocentric vibe. The woman who put out “Ladies First” gets top honors, but will ever she bless her Queendom with another hip-hop release?
2. MC Lyte—One of the best voices ever in hip-hop, male or female, Lyte could bring it smooth or hardcore, and do it with style. She’s ventured into acting, where the contracts are milk-and-honey compared to major recording deals. Would she consider a comeback?
3. Lil’ Kim—Still in her prime, the Queen Bee kicks a Notorious R.A.P. and plays her Mae West card to the hilt.
4. Lauryn Hill—Don’t let that croon-over-phat-beat version of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” fool you. One of the sharpest minds in hip-hop, L. Boogie’s got mad skills on the mic. I predict she’ll eat her Wheaties, get her groove back, and return with a mighty vengeance, doing more rap than R&B.
5. Salt & Pepa—I don’t know if they count as one emcee or two, but I’m counting a Salt with a deadly Pepa as a single unit. Together with Spinderella, they made history on sassy hits like “Push It” and “Tramp”, while promoting an enlightened agenda for women (“Independent”) and HIV/AIDS awareness (“Let’s Talk About Sex”).
6. Monie Love—This British-born rapper worked with Afrika Bambaataa and Native Tongue emcees and went on to craft her classic album Down to Earth. Monie has been heard in Philadelphia, hosting 100.3 The Beat’s radio show “Monie & Pooch in the Morning”.
7. Missy Elliott—Get your freak on and then pass the dutch. Missy’s a major creative force in the game. Her Cookbook album showed she had the recipe for rocking microphones.
8. Foxy Brown—I know, I know, I know—how dare I put Ms. Brown ahead of some of those honorable mentions?! But I have a weakness for that husky voice of hers (ignore the Chyna Whyte album) and her blazing guest appearances on albums by Nas and LL.
9. Boss—Quite possibly the hardest emcee, male or female, to ever clutch the steel. With partner Dee, Boss’s “Born Gangsta” album is a cult favorite.
10. Eve—The Ruff Ryder can hold her own doing songs with Teena Marie, Gwen Stefani, or Prince. Versatile, smart, and sexy, she’s got mass appeal.
Honorable mention: Antionette, Bahamadia, Charli Baltimore, Da Brat, Jean Grae, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez, Nikki D, Remy Ma, Roxanne Shante, and Sistah Souljah. I’ll even throw in poets Nikki Giovanni and Jayne Cortez for their jazzy spoken word records.
Unfortunately, it’s slim pickings for female emcees, which is why C-Mone’s debut holds so much promise. In my book, The Butterfly Effect is already essential listening for 2006. At this pace, C-Mone is well on her way to becoming one of hip-hop’s elite.
C-Mone - Live at NoStress Party 12