jeudi, mars 22, 2007

Such would astound you

"Some peep the exterior and think inferior..." -Mecca Star, "3 Tha Hard Way," Kollage

From Afro215's Flickr Photostream

I can't say that I believed in women rappers before Bahamadia. I certainly thought women capable but I hadn't heard anyone completely credible. This was '95 and although I was an avid fan, I was young and I'll admit my knowledge was limited. I had never heard of Sequence or Sha Rock, my knowledge of Sweet Tee was limited to "On the Smooth Tip" and to me Jazzy Joyce was just Digable Planets deejay. What I knew was the rotation of KCMU's Rap Attack, BET's Rap City, Yo! MTV Raps and whatever shit I stumbled upon at Orpheum or Tower on the ave when it was still populated by the homeless and runaways. So hearing Bahamadia completely blew my mind. She was opinionated, playful, witty, as or more lyrical than any of her contemporaries, boasted a distinctive smoky tone and was rocking over Premier beats. She was equally adept at party records and harder fare. I can't tell you how exciting it was to see a woman performing on that level. Up until then all of my favorite rappers were men so for me Bahamadia made hip hop co-ed. And she overcame some substantial hurdles: she had kids, she was older, she was not conventionally attractive, she wore her hair natural. Who could have predicted her temporary ascent?

I'm pretty sure I first heard Bahamadia on "Proceed III." An R-Kelly type record store clerk was fond of my best friend and regularly gave her cassette singles including The Roots' "Proceed." We actually used to sing "Proceed" on the way to school. It was incredibly well suited to the middle school commute. Anyway, her verse played on song titles from Nas and the Roots and concluded with a shout out to an up and coming fellow Philladelphian woman rapper whose career never had the opportunity to jump off, Shorty No Mas (who I interviewed at length for a brief profile a few years back).

Then there was "Respect the Architect" from Jazzmatazz Vol. II which convened some of my favorite people. I absolutely adored Gang Starr. Guru's verse on "Who's Gonna Take the Weight" was pivotal in my rap fandom and with regards to Premier, I'll just say that I shrieked when I encountered him outside SOB's a few years back. Ramsey Lewis who was featured on the record was the only jazz pianist of whom I'd heard primarily because he dibbled and dabbled in gospel, smooth jazz and soul. And "Respect the Architect" is my favorite song from the entire Jazzmatazz series. "Lifesaver" was piercing and "No Time to Play" cute and catchy but "Respect the Architect" singularly achieves the stated purpose of the Jazzmatazz experiment; it feels jazzy and hip hop. While Guru certainly held his own, Bahamadia was spectacular. The mp3 is still streaming on my XXL guest post and you can check out a pretty good transcription of the lyrics over at OHHLA but here's a little excerpt:
Never flip folklores, only realness
Coincide with the rhythm like I did with "Total Wreck"
Respect the Architect in this division
Rhymes written to be hitting like anti-proton collisions
Rap newest edition, bringing the feminine renditions
in rare form, defined as optimal for my pedigrees
in skill three like three-sixty degrees as in well-rounded
Leaving the competition dumb-founded
For when I catch wreck, I astound

1996 brought with it Bahamadia's full length debut, Kollage, a very good album that garnered three singles with videos and all. "Uknowhowwedo", the anthem which was first released as a 12" in 1995, "True Honey Bunz" a parable on fallen women in the familiar hip hop tradition and "3 Tha Hard Way" a sick display of skill by Bahamadia and two lesser known woman rappers, K-Swift and Mecca Star. Mecca Star, in particular, kills. Just take a look at the video:

Of course after Kollage, Bahamadia's record label folded so she kept herself occupied with a features, some radio work and who knows what else. She returned to a much dimmer spotlight with the Dwele'd out EP BB Queen in 2000. It's lead single (I believe) "Commonwealth" should have blown. She was/is so good at making real life shit rock. Like shopping at Nordstrom Rack or sporting a G-shock watch in lieu of an Audemars. In this interview with hip hop site The Elements in March 2001 she elaborated on the track:
'Commonwealth' represents the type of female that I am, an everyday chick, a person who's conscious of operating within the perimeters of a budget, juggling a lot of different things. Everybody's not flossy. It's just dedicated to females like me…It's not to knock anybody that's doing what they choose to, because that's their own personal preference. But as for me, I'm just a cheap chick, not cheap in morals and values but financially. I'm going to be that way even when my money starts to come in. I'm still always going to be conscious and always looking for a bargain because that's how I am.
Speak on it. (More anthems for cheap chicks and less songs name dropping expensive Swiss watches. "Red Velvet" anyone? "Got", even?) Bahamadia's values may not not be mainstream but she's always boasted a radio ready sound, which is much more than you can say for many of her peers. I've only seen her perform live once at an NYC Beat Society at the Knitting Factory. She was as gifted as ever but was clearly emotionally troubled on some Lauryn Hill crying on stage shit. She confessed a number of perceived moral failures and implored the audience to get right with God. I thought it as indicative of her unknown travails as it was of the burdens borne by some progressive women rappers. They seem to be uniquely guilt-ridden for having at times not lived up to what they spit. I just don't see any male rapper having a breakdown on that account. And I'm hoping this personal conflict has since been resolved because she remains an impressive talent.

Here are two tracks from Kollage:

Rugged Ruff
Word Play

Edit: Bahamadia's got a MySpace page with some more recent output, 2006's (Good Rap Music, which to my knowledge was never officially released stateside) and further evidence of her newfound religous devotion. Question: Anyone know if she was ever muslim or did she just play with islamic imagery, e.g., "Da Jawn."

This post was inpsired by a parenthetical dismissal of Bahamadia by Nikhil at Oh Word.

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