On his debut EP, Tony Hussle wants to whet your appetite for the main course. Unfortunately, you might have had enough before you're done with the appetizer.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Tony Hussle is one of the most sincere artists in the music biz. His 25 minute, 7 track EP, Sexy Freaky Electric, shows Tony Hussle's ability to mimic his favorites. There's the Prince-like sexuality on "Come Again", his Jimi Hendrix impressions on "Wait" and "Your Girl", and a Curtis Mayfield-inspired falsetto on "Special". Of course, imitation itself isn't always a bad thing. After all, where would Prince be if his own delusions of Jimi Hendrix didn't lead him underneath the Purple Rain? What if there had been no Michael Jackson? Which artist would Usher and Justin Timberlake have imitated? Boy George?
For Tony Hussle, the problem isn't the fact that he imitates, it's that his ability to imitate is his main asset. Not that the man isn't talented. He might not have the strongest singing voice, but he's quite a musician. The album opens with his mother telling us about two-year-old Anthony Pearyer playing the piano, feet nowhere close to touching the floor. Now, I'm not about to argue with somebody's mama about what her little boy did or didn't do. Let's just say the lady is proud. And she should be, because the boy can play.
In fact, the man you meet on the cover of the EP, sitting Indian-style with his wooden guitar tucked under his right armpit, can make your head bob. He's got a slow croon accompanied by brilliant piano on "Come Again", a storytelling swagger on "She's a Virgin Too" (yep, you read that title right), and plenty of guitar hustle on "Your Girl". Truth be told, Tony's guitar work on "Wait" and "Your Girl" speaks louder and with more creativity than anything he says with his words. Tony's got a good thing going if you don't actually listen to what he's saying. In the end, it's his lyrics that make me want to use the CD for a coaster.
Dig, if you will, the problem: trite lyrics delivered without any credibility. At times, it's hard to imagine this guy expecting anyone to take him seriously. For instance, "In This House" explores a busy morning of lovemaking. But when he sings, "The bed board is shaking and the bed's squeakin' too / Under your neck I'ma put a hickie on you", the momentum he built in the song nearly turns into comedy.
Maybe, as in "Wait", he's too demanding when he laments his girl's no-sex policy. It's been three months and counting and homegirl still hasn't changed her mind. Hussle's high pitched "Whatchu mean?" during the chorus, which is simply the word "wait", makes you giggle rather than feel his frustration from having his butterflies all tied up.
Or maybe he's too bold, like in "Your Girl", when he's schooling other players on why they can't afford to be territorial about relationships: "You see, alotta y'all playas be holdin' on to these girls like they're cars / Like you got a registration and insurance and a pink slip / that say you own 'em too". He follows that up with an even more bold, "That's why I'm fuckin' yo' girl", and then this challenge: "I ain't gon' argue with you, punk / I'll beat yo' ass, you call my phone again / you can take that however you want". Although he's established that "your girl" wants to be wined and dined, Tony's solution is to have sex with her while admonishing "you" for not setting a wedding date. There's only one guy who could conceivably get away with this, and that's R. Kelly. Otherwise, this kind of talk should come with a disclaimer that says, "Don't try this at home" and a host of warnings in the fine print including "punches, ass kickings, stomps, mutilations, and beat downs".
Then again, maybe he's never satisfied, like on "Come Again", where he stands a good chance of winning the award for Most Sexual Encounters in an R&B Situation. The question keeps popping up, though: do we take this guy seriously, or leave him alone in a world that's so cold?
On top of all that, there's the usual contradiction that finds its way into so many albums. Artists are fond of "keeping it real" and standing behind the conviction of their work, yet they aren't always consistent in how they express the "reality". Tony Hussle is no different here. On the one hand, his girl is "so special", and then, on the other hand, he's busy stealing someone else's girl. On "She's a Virgin Too", he's telling stories of girls (one of which is thicker than "a pot of cold grits", if you can believe that) who hail from New Jersey, Miami, and Atlanta. Our traveling lover boy thinks they'll be going to bed with him, but they turn out to be virgins. Strangely, it's hard to tell if he's bitter, accepting, or frustrated about that turn of events.
Which brings me to the last criticism -- Tony Hussle's lack of depth. Sure, it's easy to say Prince had a one-track mind, but Prince was usually coy about it. Even at his most blunt, Prince at least gave the impression that he was conflicted over his wanton lust. As a result, Prince accentuated his contradictions and made you love him for wanting to lead sex fiends like Nikki into his Purple rainstorm. Madonna made her contradictions work. So did Tupac. And nobody wears the depth of his inner conflicts like Terrence Trent D'arby. So while Tony Hussle offers us heavy doses of sincerity, it wouldn't be a bad idea if he played hard to get a little more often. Look for his full-length debut to be released in March 2006.