Unless they have a schtick, angry black women with microphones tend to fade into obscurity. Lady of Rage, for example, had a lot of heart and made afro puffs on a grown ass woman seem fly. Boss was similar: her reputation as a former homeless drug dealer made it okay for her to rock a bandana and all black and spew expletives, even if she only had one hit single. You couldn’t mess with Yo-Yo either, who always looked mad, but she was too damn pretty to keep it gangsta for long, at least on the surface.
At first glance, Flo Brown seems like she might inspire the cognitive dissonance Yo-Yo did.
But the long curly locks and girlish smirk on the inside jacket of her independently released debut album, Whateva Comes to Mind are misleading. Brown, who hails from Newark, New Jersey, looks like a fresh-faced Brick City babe with sweet metaphors and delicate verbs slipping off her tongue.
She rhymes from her gut, like if she can’t tell you what’s on her mind right now, she’s damn well going to tell somebody soon. As she rhymes on “Ghetto Abnorm (Whateva Comes to Mind)”: “I’m a lady / But I got a nigga in me”.
To be honest, as a person who rarely likes independent releases, I expected a string of arrogant and overly-intellectual rants over spare beats. But Whateva Comes to Mind is refreshing as a slice of life album, complete with portraits and critiques of the streets, reflections of a woman’s experience in the ‘hood — a black woman and yeah, sometimes an angry black woman.
What Brown has going for her that other pissed off female emcees usually don’t is versatility. Her raps are poetic windows on a grimy world, but they’re confessions and testimonies, too, and she’s not afraid to be vulnerable.
It takes practice to walk that line, and before releasing Whateva Comes to Mind , Brown had plenty: she’s been rocking stages since her days at Howard University and has toured with the likes of the Roots, performed with R&B duo Kindred the Family Soul, and spit on DJ Jazzy Jeff’s The Magnificent (the latter also produced a few tracks on her album), and otherwise paid rhyming dues.
The result is an album that reveals a poetic style, which is at its most effective when Brown lets her Brick City roots show.
On “Ghetto Abnorm (Whateva Comes to Mind)”, featuring Scratch, she delivers an earnest manifesto: “I rhyme for the niggas that dwell in the streets / Rhyme for ghetto bitches / Spit verses for the weak”, and defines herself as “The Brick City vagabond predestined to shine”. Her delivery here is assertive and peppered with a little vulgarity: but she switches up on “Smile for Me”, a laid-back and nostalgic song.
She’s at her best when she combines her aggression as a “feminine guerilla” with a touch of sensitivity, as she does on “Callin’ Me”, an exploration of self-medicating emotional pain and her search for mental freedom. The hook explains her purpose, which is essentially to be honest with herself through her work: “I wish I could clear your mind / Set you free / Give you fantasy like you see on TV / Keep you medicated in a dream / But I can’t / ‘Cause the truth calls me / So I speak”.
If there’s an imbalance on this album, it’s that every song doesn’t complement Brown’s otherwise sharp style. “It’s a Wrap” is the standard sorry-ass-man track, and as such, comes off as mediocre — it sounds like a track Eve abandoned. But that’s a rare, disappointing few minutes on an album layered with potential and thought-provoking passion. Pretty locks or no, pissed off or sweet, Flo Brown has a unique talent that probably won’t disappear anytime soon.