Welcome to Brooklyn

It’s always been curious to me how similar Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown are as rappers. They don’t really sound alike, but their basic understanding of what it means to be a female MC in rap music is remarkably similar and is basically built on the fact that they both overtly use their sexuality as a sense of pride and power. The characters they portray are characters that are strong, sexually experienced, sexually active, sexually comfortable, independent, rich, and—quite often—like giving head as much as they like getting head given to them. I’m not really hear to comment on the political nature of this strain of uber-sexual postmodern feminism and I really can’t say I’m familiar enough with either Foxy or Lil’ Kim’s work to say anything really interesting about the similarities and differences (surely there are some?) between them. I just find it interesting that yet again, these two women find themselves doing something extremely similar in two of their new songs: appropriating a reggae/dancehall aesthetic… and doing it rather well.

In “Come Fly With Me,” Foxy Brown recruits Sizzla to sing a rather uncouth hook, but the results are anything but so. Sizzla is without a doubt one of the most versatile dancehall dj’s today: he can sing a ballad as heartbreakingly beautiful as anything Sanchez has ever done; he can belt out strong, provocative, political roots tunes; or he can spit that raw, chi-chi man, gun-talk shit that still dominates the dancehall clubs stateside (his “Kopa” version is still my favorite from the rhythm LP). Foxy Brown does her typical Foxy thing, kicking sexual lyrics that are anything but subtle (“the na na na taste like rum punch”) in her Brooklyn Jafakin’-flow/Jamaican-flaux ripe with “Pull Ups!” and Patios. The beat is a slow burner that teeters along, feeling more like a slow 86 bpm trudger than the 96 bpm stomper that it actually is (and there’s something really energetic about beats that feel slower than they actually are–it builds a tension that transcribes itself into energy in a way that only music can perform). But, oddly enough, this song doesn’t feel like one of the failed mid-90’s (year, not bpm) attempts at dancehall/hip-hop crossover (i.e Bounty Killer and Mobb Deep, or Bounty Killer and NORE, or Bounty Killer and Jeru). It simply exists as a powerful Caribbean-influenced hip-hop song. Of course, this makes perfect sense given the huge Caribbean population in Brooklyn and given the ever-increasing popularity of Caribbean music amongst all black folk (whether Caribbean or not), but this might be one of the first really successful dancehall/hip-hop tracks of recent memory that feels like a natural marriage as opposed to simply a brief cross-over marketing venture attempting to appeal to more than one audience. And, got damn it, Lil’ Kim has gone ahead and done the same god damn thing… and is just as successful at it.

O-Dub posted Lil’ Kim’s “Lighters Up” earlier this week and wondered whether Lil’ Kim was attempting to take Lauryn’s place with this song. While I can certainly hear the Lauryn Hill similarities, I found myself thinking the same thing that somebody in his comments section was thinking: that this song is more “Welcome to Jamrock” than it is L-Boogie… and I ain’t mad at it AT ALL. Scott Storch comes through with a barreling beat that bumps with it’s heavy percussion and stabbing pianos that don’t really sound too Caribbean, but as soon as Lil’ Kim does her best Damian Marley impression, the song immediately beckons for a “More fiya! More fiya!” chant. Part of what makes this song successful is its unabashed reliance on the summer anthem “Welcome to Jamrock.” The rhythmic pattern that Kim spits is pretty much identical to the flow on “Jamrock” and Kim’s “Welcome to Brooklyn!” wail at the end of the second and third verses makes the connection anything but slight. But while the appropriation sounds somewhat dubious on paper, in performance, it works. Kim sounds comfortable and confident with her Patios inflections, and even the few bars in Spanish that she drops–something that would never have been done if reggaeton wasn’t the genre-of-the-moment–feel natural and effective.

So, what the fuck inspired these two artists to appropriate a very similar style at the same time? To be fair, Foxy Brown has a history of doing Dancehall influenced hip-hop (“Oh Yeah” with Spragga Benz, and the jawn with Shyne that samples Barrington Levy whose name is escaping me) so perhaps it’s not so surprising that she recruited Sizzla and put out this banger. But Lil’ Kim’s experimentation is slightly more surprising, isn’t it? I don’t mean to suggest that either artist is biting the other. In fact, I’m more inclined to think that both Kim and Foxy simply noticed the similarities between rap and dancehall, and didn’t find it uncomfortable to perform these similarities.

I tend to think that we’re simply at a point in hip-hop where black musics are colliding and finding more similarities with each other than they outwardly admit. A few days ago I posted about the unstated similarities between rap and R&B that are performing themselves more and more obviously these days. And, it seems that at least in part, that the success of these two songs (and of the increasing number of hip-hop/dancehall blends and party tracks) is based on the fact that black music(s) are toppling over themselves finding a great deal more in common with each other than differences. This of course isn’t a new realization per ce. Anyone who knows anything about black music knows that there are certain strains and stylistic traditions that can be traced back all the way to Africa. But the seamless combination of these black musics has never been so apparent. The seamlessness is making the connections obvious.

But, I can’t help but wonder if that will somehow preserve these black musics, or whether it will simply allow it to be consumed more easily…and irresponsibly.

Whatever the case, the music is fucking good and I’ll never be mad at that.

— Foxy Brown feat Sizzla Come Fly With Me

— Lil’ Kim Lighters Up

-e

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