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Soul Jazz Compilation
Fly Girls! John Doran , February 5th, 2009 10:22

There's a glaring anomaly on this excellent album. 'Take Yo Praise' by Camille Yarborough is by no means a bad track. Her honeyed tones were made ubiquitous by Fat Boy Slim's 'Praise You' and now the original is a staple on “spot the sample” collections and television adverts. This languid aqueous funk almost pants with post-coital satisfaction. It's true that Yarborough, a distinguished Afro-centric scholar has a background in griot (or praise) singing which has tangential links to rap but this bout of rapturous submission stands out like a sore thumb here. Not only are men not fawned over elsewhere on this record: they are barely mentioned. Apart from the odd eyelash-curling jibe at sucker DJs, the boys are merely there to be tutted at while the subject of lyrical praise (or gallons of rhyming bile) are various B-girls, lady rappers and their friends.

So it's a shame we didn't get to hear some of the roots of girl-powered old school hip hop in Ms Yarborough's Tales and Tunes of an African American Griot but we do get a primer in the form of Nikki Giovanni's 'Ego Tripping', a rampant and funny, recontextualizing of mythology from an Afro-feminist perspective. There is no sane reason why Giovanni isn't as well regarded as The Last Poets or Gil Scott Heron or any of the other proto-rap rhymers who were radicalized by the Black Power movement of the late 60s. (Blackalicious may agree, given that they rerecorded this track with her for their 2000 album Nia.) All of the above sentiments can be equally applied to Sarah Webster who is featured on 'Glimpses'.

Of course at the outset of hip hop as a recognized phenomenon, there were no rules. It was a new frontier and ladies who took, received. Female rappers like Sha Rock and the Mercedes Ladies were busting rhymes before hip hop records even existed. And when they did exist? Well a lot of notable efforts were put out on Sylvia Robinson's Sugarhill Records. In among the landmark tracks and major hits (Missy Elliott 'The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)', Queen Latifah 'Ladies First') and some coverage of the Roxanne Wars (there is practically an album in itself waiting to be compiled) there are some real gems. Not the least the proto booty bass, hype-scraching monster 'Pump Up The Bass' by Princess MC, the social positivism of MC Lyte's 'Cha Cha Cha' and JJ Fad's hilarious Roxanne Shante broadside 'You're Going Down'.

Even notable is Lady B's badly recorded 'To The Beat Y'All'. It may start by making Debbie Harry's "bar", "car", "man from Mars" atrocity sound like Sister Souljah, but then you are won over by her unhinged flow which takes in Mickey Mouse, Superman, Lois Lane and a cast of hundreds of unlikely characters. She ends with the admirable sentiment: "When I die, bury me deep / put two turntables at my feet / Put my mixer near my head / So when you close the casket I can rock the dead." In fact this cut from 1979 was more important than first glance might seem, being one of the first hip hop hits recorded outside of New York by a female rapper DJ who was partially responsible for kick-starting the careers of Public Enemy, Schoolly D etc.

One can only hope that this proves to be another rich seam for the Soul Jazz label to mine; there are several artists on this disc that we'd be extremely happy to see anthologies of.