Music

Various Artists: Fly Girls! B-Boys Beware

A monster collection of female hip-hop from its most empowering to its most dispiriting.


Various Artists

Fly Girls! B-Boys Beware: Revenge of the Super Female Rappers

US Release: 2009-01-27
UK Release: 2009-01-26
Label: Soul Jazz
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Uncorked and capped by two crucial battles from the bloody 1980’s melee known as the “Roxanne wars”, the unstoppable musicology label Soul Jazz’s Fly Girls! B-Boys Beware compilation isn’t all “Revenge” as its subtitle, Revenge of the Super Female Rappers, insists. It’s far more of a party album, with ass-kickin’, booty shakin’, fast speakin’, name-takin’ Afrocentric females with authority MCing.

J.J. Fad do the first of the two Roxanne raps, a subgenre named after the plethora of both light-hearted and vitriolic creativity arising out of the reaction records fashioned in response to Roxanne Shanté’s “Roxanne’s Revenge”. This phenomenon pretty much constituted the inception of the dis record, which was a female creation, for good or ill. J.J. Fad, known for their Grammy-nominated, platinum-selling Supersonic album, deliver cold and relentless catty jabs at Roxanne via their “Ya Goin’ Down” (misnamed here as “You’re Going Down”). Over a sweet psychedelic wah-wah funk melody and hordes of turntablist textural scratching, the three ladies of J.J. Fad proceed to slander their target with every backwards-ass superficial schoolyard taunt their minds can conjure. In more or less words, they call Roxanne a ho, intimating that she has slept with not only Mc Shan, but her producer Marley Marl, who is referred to as a “pimp” who needs to “slap you silly”. They imagine ways to “strike a dyke on the mic” and refer to Roxanne as “cracked out”, a “washed up clown” who has “never seen the world” and who has done “112 inches but never made the pop chart”. Perhaps worst of all, they harp incessantly on Roxanne’s appearance, calling her a “heffer”, “butterball”, and “fat girl” who is “as big as whale” and so ugly that when she dies “it’s gonna be a closed coffin”.

That J.J. Fad launched their careers with the production assistance of the original Niggaz With Attitude crew should come as no real surprise. Inventing the new vernacular and redefining the role of women in hip-hop (to the point where musicologists today often forget that women were coming up in a big way in rap music before the rise of gangsta), Dr. Dre, DJ Yella, Eazy E, and Ice Cube (who produced “Ya Goin’ Down”) seem prime candidates for tracks that overemphasize the dirtiest and most egregious aspects of young womanhood. Roxanne Shanté’s entry into the war journal, which bookends this double album, proves to be not much more enlightened than J.J. Fad’s, though neither track is even close to being the most brutal or puerile thing to emerge from the Roxanne schoolyard battleground.

Somewhere in the middle of this jumble is Queen Latifah’s “Ladies First”, an energetic and compelling slice of sax-squelching feminism that promotes unity, equality, and positivism. On the now-emblematic track, Latifah and Monie Love seek to lead by example, proclaiming black women of the hip-hop generation to contain multitudes. “Some think we can’t flow/ Stereotypes they got to go”, Latifah says.

It’s somewhere between these two poles of Latifah and J.J. Fad that the women of hip-hop have found their ground for the past 30 years. Women were around at the inception of hip-hop, in gender-integrated groups like the Funky Four Plus One, all-female rap squads like The Sequence, and working as producers like Ann Winley of Paul Winley Records and records executives like Sylvia Robinson at Sugar Hill. They’ve been there at every step since as well (though Fly Girls mostly emphasizes the period before the 1990s). Yet, every time a wealth of double X chromosome talent begins to be recognized in the genre, their output is either treated as something of a novelty or a revelation by the music press. Meanwhile, as Fly Girls roundly illustrates, an alternative history could be easily written with groundbreaking females on top throughout, never faltering or even missing a beat in this so-called boy’s game.

In fact, the ladies of Fly Girls are so intimately linked with the major players of hip-hop that it almost detracts from the collection’s agenda. Nearly every strong female voice here is tied to a powerful man behind the decks. Sweet Tee is produced by Hurby “Love Bug” Azor, the alchemist whose decks made Salt N’ Pepa stars. Two Sisters are assisted by Raul A. Rodriguez, architect of seminal stunning electro cuts by Jonzun Crew and Man Parrish, whose clubland perspective set the stage for Hi-NRG and Freestyle. Missy Elliot’s longstanding partnership with Timbaland is well-documented, and both are in fine style here with her first hit “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”. The Bahamadia track included is produced by The Roots, the She Rockers cut comes courtesy of Public Enemy’s Professor Griff, and Dimples D is mostly remembered at this point as the launching vehicle for her then-boyfriend Marley Marl. Perhaps most impressive of the collaborations is the hypnotic and epically psychedelic “Jazzy Sensation (Manhattan Version)”, Tina B’s flip-side to Afrika Bambaata’s nearly identical “Brooklyn Version”, written by West End Records hitmaker Kenton Nix, mixed by 80s go-to remixer Shep Pettibone, and produced by the inimitable Arthur Baker, who would later marry Tina B.

But Fly Girls is not muscled by testosterone, it’s just crowded with talent. In fact, at times, the party feels a bit too congested. Spoken word poets like Nikki Giovanni and Sarah Webster Fabio, as well as narrative soulsters like Camille Yarborough, are all deserving of their own respective Soul Jazz compendiums, but they feel a touch out of place here. Maybe this is because the much harped-upon link between the song-poets and their influence on hip-hop has always seemed a bit forced. Yes, hip-hop’s vocal delivery is generally announced rather than sung, but there’s a significant divide between the wild style of the street prophets and the razor-tongued approach of the Black Arts movement. The latter were likely more useful for rare groove raw materials than for specific inspiration to first wave hip-hop crews. Nevertheless, their appearances here as “spiritual heirs” shouldn’t be completely dismissed as their additions are fine ones, though certainly incongruent.

Fly Girls avoids trying to define a single narrative for these tunes, which is wise since each of these tracks comes from a distinct persona, even if taken together they all make a pretty righteous mix. From the Miami Bass of Princess MC to the freestyle verse of Philadelphia deejay Lady B to the haunting dub minimalism of Bahamadia’s MC Lyte cover, this brief incomplete segment of the story is essential for what it does capture, as well as what it anticipates in its potential sequels. The music is also enough to make up for the interesting but frustrating historical booklet included, which is plagued by editorial errors and mis-sequenced blurb and graphic order. Even if the story can’t be told, it now can be, and demands to be, heard.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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