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1. The Lil' Wayne method. Most in-the-know bloggers who are on to hot mixtape cuts mere hours after they leak aren't Northern State fans. In the 1990s, rappers like these three could get away with accusations of no flow and corny rhymes. As the hiphop crowd turned to the cool 'n hard sounds of Snoop, Biggie and Wu-Tang, the alt-rock audience embraced the Beastie Boys, Arrested Development, PM Dawn and most importantly, Luscious Jackson, who formerly held the "female Beasties" title as protégés of the New York trio'. Credibility is more important than ever in rap, which is also more male-dominated than ever. Eve's moved on to acting, Missy Elliott's content to make dance music for the rest of her life, Da Brat's on the Surreal Life and Left Eye's dead. The underground is no more femme-friendly; only Jean Grae's managed to make a name for herself among the knowing, and that's mostly from talking a lot about how hard it is to make a name for herself. Dipset, Lil' Wayne, The Game... that's the radar. There's no longer a niche for the flow-deficient and corny. They want to play with the big boys, rip these ladies. How come they don't know when to quit?
2. The liberal guilt method. Look, trios of female rappers with redeemable politics of any race only come along once a decade (the aforementioned Luscious Jackson was the last shot), and look at all the high-minded stuff they name-check... Chekhov and Snoopy in the same couplet. And give them credit for trying to exhume some legends... Pete Rock, DJ Muggs, and this time, Adrock, who co-produces with Shitake Monkey's Chuck Brody. Their flow might be clumsy, and hopelessly sugarhigh, but that's what makes them human, right? At least they're not doing track #7656885 about cooking crack.
It's hard to argue with either approach. I mean, it is bad that the only rappers of note right now are bragging of fostering a now 20-year-old pestilence on the black community. But that doesn't make their music any less exciting, or their rapping any less dexterous. And while one's idea of good-flow/bad-flow is subjective, Northern State's meters never leave the same basic ABAB slow rhyme pattern that only the Beasties and Reverend Run still spark. Their last album was confusing; the rhymes were mostly forgettable, but some of the hooks and beats really stayed with me, like the violin screech of "Ignite," and the juicebox disco spurts of "Summer Never Ends." I'm inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt on that flow issue.
To their credit, Hesta Prynn, Spero and Sprout are trying to weld themselves to the music instead of awkward old-school karaoke here. Which means, yes, singing. And it's pretty good; evokes a kid's vision of Le Tigre, which means it kind of sounds like the Blow with guitars. Can I Keep This Pen? finds hooks in Dust Brothers-style drum loops and little electro bloops. It's just mild enough to fit their weightless rhymes (Substituting the classic "Can I kick it? Yes you can!" riff with "Mother may I? Yes you may!"), suiting them better, even with stronger beats on 2004's All City. Listening to that record just made you wish Raekwon or Cypress Hill were the ones riding the faux-RZA beats. "Cold War" and "Battery Already" could use some of Kathleen Hanna's bite (they brag about "riding my bike all over this city" and threaten to "spin you like rotisserie"). It's all a bit hedged to finally break them, though the planets are finally lined up for kiddie-flow rapperettes, what with the recent popularity of CSS, Bonde Do Role and Yo Majesty.
As always with this group, the moral highlight is the hardest to listen to: the ridiculously immature "Suck Motha Fucka," as you'd expect from the title, throws the wrong insults at the right people. I'll take the musical highlight: "Things I'll Do," hooked to a whistled synth-slurp, and hey, the humorous lyrics aren't that stilted, either.
They can't be accused of not making spirited music, but Northern State are still looking for the right words to express their sensible worldview. Which, for rappers going on album four, isn't exactly a good sign. Career saver: a song about cooking crack. Really, ladies. Sleep on it. SEE ALSO: www.northernstate.net
SEE ALSO: www.ipecac.com
Dan Weiss is the music editor for LAS. Formerly an editorial intern at CMJ and creator of the now defunct What was It Anyway?, his work has appeared in Village Voice, Pitchfork, Philadelphia Inquirer, Stylus and Crawdaddy among others. He resides in Brooklyn where he enjoys questionable lifestyle choices and loud guitars.
See other articles by Dan Weiss.
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