In the world of female rap, where appearance and crew affiliation are as vital to success as actual talent, it is rare to find strong lyricism. While lyrically gifted but aesthetically challenged male artists like Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel can sell records and garner street credibility, skilled female artists who don’t fit industry beauty standards are often forced to the margins of rap society. In order to achieve mainstream success, female MCs are compelled to exploit their sexuality, assuming postmodern versions of historically stereotypical and controlling identities like Jezebel the temptress and Sapphire the emasculator. Those who exist along the periphery (underground) are forced to relinquish their feminine identities like the asexual mammy (e.g. Aunt Jemima), in order to obtain respect in hip-hop circles as a “real” MC.
Such an environment has resulted in an overabundance of lyrical lightweights who, to quote Eve, “ain’t writin’ well, too concerned with fashion.” In fact, most aren’t writing at all. The fact that the few female rappers who actually write their own rhymes constantly remind us of this fact on every track is a testament to the paucity of female lyricists in today’s superficial rap world. Nevertheless, on her debut album, Girl Interrupted, Ms. Jade proves that a sister can deliver (and write) real lyrics without surrendering to hip-hop’s identity politics.
As a protégé of Timbaland, Ms. Jade reaps the benefit of superstar production throughout the album. Backed by Timbo’s usual array of futuristic head knocking beats, Girl Interrupted is a sonic delight. Ms. Jade holds up her end of the bargain by bringing the lyrical goods on songs like “Jade’s a Champ”, where she spits braggadocious rhymes over a sick beat. “I put the weight on my shoulders where other bitches slack / Who else you know can breath life into a murdered track / I done seen what y’all can do, never mind that / Like the old mixed with the new, like a Philly throwback / Take your best shots, I promise I’m a throw back”. Other strong tracks include the hilarious “Get Away”, where Ms. Jade talks about the problems that inevitably emerge in female friendships. (Note: check the funny twist in the song’s last verse.)
While the album features many guest appearances, Ms. Jade leaves no doubt that this is her project. On the album’s hit single “Ching Ching”, Nelly Furtado’s hypnotic tones provide the perfect backdrop to Ms. Jade’s North Philly flow. Artists like Missy (“Really Don’t Want My Love”) and Lil’ Mo (“Why You Tell Me Like That”) contribute strongly but don’t overshadow Ms. Jade’s more than capable vocals. The only exception is the super hot “Count It Off”, where Jade is clearly outshined by Jay-Z. While Jade brings her own heat, her lyrical arms are clearly not long enough to box with the god MC, who demonstrates again why he has the flow of the century: “Niggas is homos really, but when they smokin’ on purple / They get loco, but you know I know the drilly / It’s for these positions, that’s why I keep the biscuits / You ain’t Tony Soprano, you pussy, sleep with the fishes / You know I’m reppin from that 7-1-8 / Shots to you f-in’ son, class over, lesson’s done”. Indeed. Girl Interrupted is one of the strongest female debut albums in recent years and hopefully represents a resurgence of talented female MCs. While she inevitably will draw comparisons to other rappers like Foxy Brown, Lil’ Kim, and Eve (to whose voice Ms. Jade’s is eerily similar), none of those comparisons accurately reflect Jade. While the aforementioned succeed with (at best) equal parts skill and sex, Ms. Jade’s biggest asset is her rhyming ability. Unfortunately, in today’s rap world that may not be enough.