Psalm One: The Death of Frequent Flyer

[6 September 2006]

By Mike Schiller

She’ll make you smile, she will.  She’s been in the game for over five years, and she’s only 24.  She majored in Chemistry at the University of Illinois, supported herself as an honest-to-God chemist, even, while she was getting her start as a rapper.  Her name’s Christalle Bowen, she calls herself Psalm One, and she’s ready to invade your stereo with the highest profile release she’s yet attached her name to:  The Death of Frequent Flyer, on Atmosphere’s Rhymesayers label.  And she’s totally worth hearing.

The extent of Psalm One’s skills aren’t immediately evident on The Death of Frequent Flyer, the blame for which falls squarely on the pedestrian production that mars much of the album.  Most of the loops have a vintage soul feel to them, all thick strings and horns with simplistic beats and middle-of-the-road tempos.  For the most part, it’s production that sounds decent enough for the space of a track or two, but these are the types of beats that can easily lull a listener into a sense of complacency, a pleasant sound that hardly changes, allowing for very little dynamic development as the tracks go on.  The only exception?  A guest spot by Ant, on the fantastic, brutal “Standby”, where it sounds like some actual attention was put into enhancing the still-rather-simple beat by giving the instruments some percussive qualities of their own via some clever rhythmic programming.

Indeed, it is “Standby” that breaks the listener out of his slight stupor and alerts said listener to Psalm One’s impressive, unpredictable flow.  Brother Ali shows up to add some testosterone to the track, but as it turns out, he’s not really needed—his verse is fine, but Psalm One blows him out of the studio, delivering the most scathing attack on airport delays that may ever have been penned.  “You can’t be serious, complementary coupon? / Free night’s stay at HoJo up in Tuscon?” she says in one of her more lucid moments, eventually calling names (“Honey roasted peanut-eating fetus!”) and generally sounding like somebody you do not want to screw with.

So after that little bit of well-placed everyday rage, it’s a little easier to hear the appeal in what Psalm One is saying—she’s able to take the minutiae of everyday life and turn them into things that she deeply cares about, like her cooking skills (“I make a mean bowl of macaroni and cheese”), balancing the daily grind with a second life as a rapper (“Openin’ act rap with the baby bottle / I see right through kids with the safety goggles / Sweatpants holey from the hydrochloric / I smell like chemicals but I try to ignore it”), and riding the bus (“In recent years I chill and practice my lines / I cop a friend and talk with them all on the back of the nine”).  That’s not to say she’s boring by any means; on the contrary, she presents herself as a well-rounded everywoman, which makes her story far more interesting than 90% of the hip-hoppers out there.  Ms. One even takes the time to work in a solid diss track on the fiery “Rapper Girls”, verbally undressing the rappers who should “go home and practice [their] pole dance”.  Ouch.

The best part?  She has the flow to match her lyrics, expertly navigating a 6/8 or busting out with a few lines of double-speed action just as easily as she takes down a typical 4/4.  Her voice isn’t particularly distinctive, but her sheer charisma makes up for any deficiencies in her sound.

Some people will tell you that they just don’t like female rappers.  Something about the idea that the females don’t have enough fire, they don’t have as many unique attributes as the males, whatever.  Obviously, that’s a load of hooey, and Psalm One is living proof that a female rapper can be just as badass as a male one, that ‘female’ can be dropped altogether as a qualifier so that she can just be a rapper.  Hook her up with some slightly more competent producers, and she’ll fly.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/psalm-one-the-death-of-frequent-flyer/