Music

Angie Stone: Mahogany Soul

Mark Anthony Neal

Angie Stone

Mahogany Soul

Label: J
US Release Date: 2001-10-30
UK Release Date: 2001-11-05
Amazon
iTunes

Brown-Skinned black. Pleasingly Thick, by all measure of contemporary standards, ghetto-fab or otherwise. The voice -- recalling Betty Wright in her prime. "Tonight is that night that you made me a W-O-M-A-N"-- uh, huh Angie, you all woman (quick shout to the white chocolate Brit Soul of Lisa Stansfield). Brown-skinned Black, like (that honey) Gladys in her prime, which by the way extends into this century. "My Sunshine has come . . ." and we take a trip back on that midnight train to Georgia -- "Neither one of us . . . wants to be the first to say . . ." -- and it is that Stone sista (let the congregation say "sista Stone!!"), with some Stone Soul--"surray down, that stone soul . . ." somebody say Amen! (and another shout out to that white chocolate Soul from the last century Ms. Laura Nyro). Soul from that sista Angie ("when they come is the morning, Ms. Davis"), Angie Stone who makes it all relevant -- connected -- for real like them pain-killers during those first days of that monthly transition . . . (holla at me if you feeling her on this). Real music -- Soul Music -- for what my homie-mentor-scholarly mama Masani Alexis De Veaux calls "Newmerica." Or in others words, music for those for which "tragedy" and "misery" was a real taste in their mouths well before September 11th and who ain't go no joy 'cept for that brown-black woman, with the big ass 'fro, sassing and shaying with some Mahogany Soul.

Angie Stone has literally been in the "game" since 1979, when she completed a trio of hip-hop-ettes known as Sequence. A decade later she was fronting the ground-breaking trio Vertical Hold, having already served as a saxophonist in Lenny Kravitz's touring band and a writer for Jill Jones. By 1999, Stone was perhaps best known as the muse and "baby-mama" of D'Angelo. But Stone's obscurity would end with the release of her platinum selling debut Black Diamond and its infectious lead single "No More Rain (In This Cloud)". Driven by a loop of the percolating Fender Rhodes from the Gladys Knight and the Pips's classic "Neither One of Us (Wants to be the First to Say Goodbye)", "No More Rain" is arguably the most recognizable single from the quartet of post-soul divas -- Stone, Badu, Jill Scott, and India.Arie. While the popularity of the original song helped introduce "No More Rain" to older audiences, the recording is less an appropriation of and more so a legitimate and distinct remake of "Neither One of Us," as Stone's bold "Soul Mama' vocals, which recall those of both Betty Wright ("Tonight is the Night") and a young Millie Jackson, soar. Unfortunately despite the single's success, Stone was not granted the overall acceptance experienced by the aforementioned divas. It was perhaps Stone's good fortune that she was one of the bargaining chips that BMG Entertainment used to entice Clive (Mr.) Davis to accept his own label after he was deposed from Arista. Backed by a mogul who has for more than 30 years defined the term "record industry maverick" Mahogany Soul is a stunning follow-up to Black Diamond.

It is with Mahogany Soul's opening track that one senses that Stone is more fully confident in her skills, as the track "Soul Insurance" offers a challenge to so-called "neo-Soul" fakers ("too many of people trying to do this, half of ya'll ain't really true to this"). Borrowing the opening from Labelle's "Lady Marmalade" (Hey sista, soul sista) Stone openly addresses her peers asking "how many ya'll done did it/did it before/freak somebody's shit, knowing that it ain't yours?". According to Stone the song was inspired by a real life experience of folks trying to steal her ideas. In publicity notes Stone specifically suggest that "Soul Insurance" is "dedicated to all those folks try to do what I call 'commercial soul'." She is even more lucid in the song's lyrics as she sings "Some were born to sing, so weren't, but baby that's okay 'cause I've learned, if you really know Soul music, you'll be around for a awhile, but if you taking lessons from the leaders, baby kiss your ass goodbye." According to Stone's lyrics the "leaders" are the "real brothers who I call the leaders of the pack . . . you know who you are . . . you set it off baby", no doubt a reference to the first generation of neo-soul which includes Lenny Kravitz, D'Angelo, Eric Benet and Maxwell. The objects of Stone's scorn are not simply those who have "bit" her style but those she derisively describes as "imitating and beat stealing and melody trying to find . . . " With her later "naming" of legends such as Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, "my mellow" Curtis Mayfield, and Betty Wright, who Stone describes as the "true pioneers of Soul music", it is clear that "Soul Insurance" serves as a neo-Soul manifesto.

While Stone has been coy as to the identity(s) of those she targets in "Soul Insurance", it is perhaps useful to note that at least two tracks on Mahogany Soul bear a strong resemblance to a track on Mary J. Blige's No More Drama. The competing PMS songs -- Blige's "PMS" and Stone's "bonus" track "Time of the Month" logically represent this fact. More telling though is that both Blige's "PMS" and Stone's "20 Dollars" sample one of Al Green's most underrated performances "Simply Beautiful." The lyrics to Stone's "20 Dollars" deals rather explicitly with the kind of trifling "round the way" folks who "borrow and spend" beyond their means ("Can you loan me twenty dollars 'till I get my check next week?" At the core of Stone's song is the exploitive nature of "ghetto" dependents as she replies " . . . Now honey I don't think so / Cause you ain't paid me back the ten spot from three weeks ago" and later asking in the song's bridge "what have you done for me? besides being too busy, busy, busy, stressing me constantly." In the context of Stone's lyrics "borrowing" becomes a broad metaphor for stealing ("Now I can see where your head is at. See I only got 20 dollars and you still want half of that") suggesting that Blige may be one of those who she addresses when she sings "bite somebody's shit and they gonna bite you back" on "Soul Insurance." Additionally, Stone ends the song with the lyric "Gerald told me you borrowed 10 dollars from him." The latter lyric is a reference to the song's producer Gerald Isaac, who incidentally wrote and produced Stone's "Time of the Month" making even more explicit the connections between the Blige and Stone "PMS" songs.

"Brotha", the lead single from Mahogany Soul is being "hailed" as a necessary alternative to the "brotha-hate" found in a range of popular R&B songs including TLC's "Scrubs", Blu Cantrell's "Hit Em Up" and of course songs from those budding theoretical feminists Destiny's Child ("Bills, Bills, Bills" and "Bugaboo") -- as if any of these songs have damaged black masculinity with the kind of malaise that songs like Dave Hollister's "Baby Mama Drama," or Guy/Aaron Hall's "Why You Wanna Keep Me From My Kid" have portrayed young black mothers. Produced by Raphael Saadiq (one of his best efforts) Stone's "Brotha" is one of the most wide-ranging celebrations (uncritical I might add) of black masculinity since Tashan's brilliant "Black Man" (1989). The video for "Brotha" features still-shots of notable black men (Nelson Mandela, Marvin Gaye, Jay Z, Arthur Ashe, Jim Brown, Ali, Ray Charles and Steve Harvey among them) and cameos by Will Smith, comedian Sinbad, actor Larenz Tate and singers Luther Vandross, Calvin Richardson and Raphael Saddiq amongst images of those who Stone refers to as the "wall street brotha . . . blue collar brotha, your down for whatever chillin' on the corner brotha, the talented brotha and.. every one of ya'll behind bars . . . " In the broadest sense the song is a passionate and thoughtful defense of black men as Stone sings "he's mis-understood. Some say that he's up to no good around the neighborhood. But for your information, a lot of my brothas have education."

However celebratory and protective Stone may be on "Brotha", in the tight-spaces of relationships, Stone's critique of the "men" in women's lives is brutally trenchant. "Pissed Off" for example, deals with the reality of women in relationships with "damaged" black men as Stones admits to her "man" in the song's chorus that he is "So pissed off / Looking at life through the glass that you shattered / Little shit like love don't matter anymore . . ." In the context of this relationship, Stone sings "you need an enemy so your anger just release. I never meant to cause you pain but it was there before I came" highlighting the ways that domestic violence is often predicated on the damage done to black men in the "real" world as opposed to the "home" spaces they share with the women/men they love (see Rahsann Patterson's "Treat You Like Queen for a more gender ambivalent example). The possibility of such violence is made clear in the lyric "For reacting, you got me packing, trying to get out, before you get back in" as the dual meaning of the word "packing" suggest that she may have to face that cross-road of violent "self-defense" -- (i.e. sista "packing" just in case she gonna have to shoot his ass) if she doesn't "pack" her "shit" fast enough to get out the house. In one of the song's most brilliant moments Stone sings "I can't allow you to live rent free in my heart or in my head/Can't let you back in my bed." The lyric drops a nod to Gwen Guthrie's "Ain't Nothing Going on But the Rent", which is generally regarded as one of the most effective examples of "brotha-hate" in R&B, while making clear that the matter is not just that the "brotha" is financially bankrupt, but more importantly emotionally and mentally bankrupt.

Stone is even more clear about such "bankruptcy" on the track "I Wish I Didn't Miss You" as she sings "Memories don't live like people do / You said forever for me and you / Wish you'd bring back the man I knew was good to me." The song features a smart sample of The O'Jay's "Backstabber"--the 1972 single that announced that the emerging production team of Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff were ready to take R&B to some next-level-shit. In yet another example, "Mad Issues" finds Stone telling her man that "you got mad issues / and you tend to misuse / every opportunity to right your wrong . . . the time has come to leave well enough alone."

Stone's emotions with regards to the men in her life are perhaps most pronounced on the simply brilliant "More Than a Woman." The song is a duet with Calvin Richardson, whose 1999 debut Country Boy (Universal) can only be described as a rebirth Muscle Shoals containing a remake of Bobby Womack's "Trust Me So Much" (Richardson sounds like Womack is his daddy!) and a host of songs that sample tracks like Al Green's version of "For the Good Times", Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" and William Bell's "I Forgot to Be Your Lover" (See Dilated Peoples "Worst Comes to Worst" for another smart "I Forgot to Be Your Lover" sample.) With "More than a Woman" Stone allows Richardson the kind of forum that he lacked with his first release as she can be heard cooing at the song's opening "Calvin, now baby I believe it's your time . . ." The song is a passionate tribute to "black love" and the possibilities of faith and patience when things aren't going well as Richardson sings "told me not to be ashamed with what I got / Never mind them hatin' niggas up and down the block." Throughout the song Stone and Richardson sweetly exchange caramel coated lyrics as with the second verse where Stone sings "Look at us, what a lovely ring and I've been thinking maybe we should start a family / a girl for you and a boy for me" and Richardson responds "matching stones, separate guests, would you marry me?". But the passion and camaraderie (love maybe?) between the two are most powerful during the song's chorus featuring "love lyrics" that may be the best written in R&B in the past decade. The duo is simply chocolate magic as they sing:

Girl you must have lost your way from heaven
Could it be for me you've came so far?
Nothing like the ordinary woman
You're the very beat inside in my heart
Girl you're like a star, I feel so honored
Shining like diamond out in space
Girl you're like my mother, my sister, my lover
Irreplaceable, nothing can take your place

You're the blood in my veins
You're the air I breathe
On a hot summer day
You're like a shirt with no sleeves
What makes me a man
Any fool could see
You're more than a woman to me . . .

The joyous, playful and loving exchanges between the two in the song's lyrics are reminiscent of a "grown up" version of Clint Holmes "Playground in My Mind" ("My girl is Cindy, when we get married, we're gonna have a baby or two. We're gonna let them visit their grandma, that's what we're gonna do") No doubt on the strength of his duet with Stone, Richardson was recently signed to Davis' J Records, with a 17 track project already in the can for a early 2002 release.

Other major highlights from Mahogany Soul include Stone's remake of "The Makings of You". Though the song is generally associated with Gladys Knight, who recorded a version of the song with The Pips for the soundtrack to the film Claudine (1974), the song was originally written and recorded by the late Curtis Mayfield on his first "solo" recording Curtis (1970). Stone's version of the song, which features stunning harmonies with the assistance of background vocalists Tenita Dreher, Stephanie Bolton and Sherina Wynn, is both a tribute to one of Mayfield's most beautiful melodies and another reminder of Stones affinity with Knight. Like Knight and Mayfield's versions of the song, its scant two minutes of length can leave listeners literally groping for more. Another standout track "Easier Said than Done." Produced by Warryn "Baby Dubb" Campbell, who was the force behind Mary, Mary's debut and Luther Vandross's "Take You Out" the song swings like a high-stepping gospel march. The aforementioned Gerald Isaac, who was largely responsible for the production on Calvin Richardson's debut, is behind the boards for "Bottles and Cans" which is a little slice of countrified Soul.

Musiq Soulchild joins Angie Stone on the overly contrived "The Ingredients of Love." In many regards Stone outclasses Soulchild, whose lack of range and vocal imagination are becoming increasingly apparent, as witnessed recently by his simply dreadful performances during BET's tribute to Patti Labelle. The song comes to life though, courtesy of a bouncy sample of Freddie Hubbard's "Red Clay." Stone aims a cautionary tale at the hip-hop heads ("what you dyin' for . . . Stupid?") on the Ali Shaheed Muhammad produced "What U Dyin' For". On the funny-ass "If It Wasn't" Stone makes note of her man's intrusive family members suggesting that things would be fine "if it wasn't 4 yo momma never thinkin' I was good enough / If it wasn't 4 yo brotha always checkin' every move I gave you / If it wasn't 4 that witch-bitch down the block . . ."

Mahogany Soul is an accomplished piece of R&B music -- notable in a year that has been dominated by some standout debuts by Bilal, Res, and Alicia Keys. Stone's attention to fine lyrics as well as smart samples that allow her to legitimately add to the original versions and a casual down-home sass suggest that Stone may be the first of this generation of Soul artists, that who really understands "Real . . . Soul Music."


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

West London's WheelUP Merges Broken Beat and Hip-Hop on "Stay For Long" (premiere)

West London producer WheelUP reached across the pond to Brint Story to bring some rapid-fire American hip-hop to his broken beat revival on "Stay For Long".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 4: Stellie, The Brooks, Maude La​tour

Today's playlist features the premiere of Stellie's "Colours", some top-class funk from the Brooks, Berne's eco-conscious electropop, clever indie-pop from Maude Latour, Jaguar Jonze rocking the mic, and Meresha's "alien pop".

Culture

Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia in East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.

Music

Electrosoul's Flõstate Find "Home Ground" on Stunning Song (premiere)

Flõstate are an electrosoul duo comprised of producer MKSTN and singer-songwriter Avery Florence that create a mesmerizing downtempo number with "Home Ground".

Music

Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.

Music

Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.

Music

The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.

Music

Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.

Books

For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?

Music

Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Becky Warren Shares "Good Luck" and Discusses Music and Depression

Becky Warren finds slivers of humor while addressing depression for the third time in as many solo concept albums, but now the daring artist is turning the focus on herself in a fight against a frightful foe.

Music

Fleet Foxes Take a Trip to the 'Shore'

On Shore, Fleet Foxes consist mostly of founding member Robin Pecknold. Recording with a band in the age of COVID-19 can be difficult. It was just time to make this record this way.

Books

'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.

Film

Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.

Music

3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".

Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.