Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Singer As "Rapper"

In the video for the remix of "Touch It" by Busta Rhymes, Mary J. Blige manages to bring back a trend that pretty much died out in the mid-90s. That trend is none other than the singer who "raps."

Now, I'm not talking about people like Lauryn Hill or Missy Elliott. They are rapper/singers who can do both pretty well for the most part. I'm talking about singers, people who can only sing, who suddenly bust out with a rhyme in the middle of their song.

It seems like a lot of members of New Edition did it in their songs. Bobby Brown did it in "Don't Be Cruel" and Ralph Tresvant did it in "Sensitivity." I guess you could say that it's not really rapping so much as it is a faster version of the "breakdown" that happened in a lot of R & B songs. The breakdown was that part of the song where the singer would just start talking and plead/beg/hate to the person they were singing about. One of the all-time best breakdowns, in my opinion, is the one given by Oran "Juice" Jones in his classic song "The Rain."

Although the trend pretty much died out around the time Method Man and Mary J. Blige's groundbreaking collaboration happened (how ironic is it that Mary is bringing back the trend she helped usher out?), there were scattered times it appeared here and there. Both Monica and Faith tried rhyming on one of their songs. Usher did it at least twice on his My Way album ("Nice And Slow" and "My Way"). Also, R. Kelly brought his unique sensibility to the trend by creating a style that was not quite singing and not quite rapping. This style, which annoys me whenever he does it, was especially prevalent on those horrible collaborative albums with Jay-Z.

When I first heard Mary J. Blige rap on a song on Missy's album The Cookbook, I was surprised. It was kind of fun and unexpected. When I realized that she also rapped on her own album under the name "Brook," I started wondering. Now that she's appeared on the "Touch It" remix as both herself and Brook, I just have to say that I think it's a little odd. It just doesn't feel right for someone to suddenly do something so far out of their element. Mary may be the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, but the "Soul" has been a lot more important than the "Hip-Hop." I'm just glad that Mary is using an alias, although there is a chance that a Brook album would be the hip-hop equivalent of Garth Brooks's unsuccessful "Chris Gaines" experiment.

In the end, I guess I'd rather see artists pretty much stay within what they do best. However, there are times when bold experiments pay off. Queen Latifah is now a pretty decent singer and Andre 3000 certainly showed his range on The Love Below. I just hope that we don't see Ne-Yo suddenly start rocking out.

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