Latifah rules ‘Persona’ with talent — but reigns a little too long
Flavor Unit Records
Queen Latifah’s newest release, "Persona," is two things: It’s a pop confection filled with ready-made hits for both the gay dance floors and Radio Disney. It’s also a painful reminder that we’ll never hear the breakthrough female rap and hip-hop Latifah burst onto the music scene with 20 years ago with "All Hail the Queen."
Latifah brings back the rap and proves immediately she’s kept her skills with the strong enough opener, "The Light." Unlike fellow Jersey-girl Whitney’s latest, where you can hear cracks in the vocal armor, Latifah’s rapping voice has stayed strong with no signs of wear. Her lungs keep it flowing and the beat plays out with strong hip-hop foundations while holding appeal for mainstream radio.
With a dance beat akin to an arena rock concert the song thrusts into becoming a club classic. "Cue the Rain" is so well executed, the need to move your body to the music is practically necessary. She sings about some strained love affair but really, who cares? The song is a success all over and ideal ear candy.
As if there wasn’t enough already going for the song, it was written by Stevie Nicks. You can see "Rain" as the distant cousin to Nicks’ hit, "Stand Back," another train of a song that was intended for the pop scene but became a dance classic.
These two songs were enough to satisfy — but there were 12 more tracks to go through.
Missy Elliot guest stars on "Fast Car." The song fits well in the party ambience of the disc but it’s a missed opportunity. It’s something to imagine these two titans, together however Latifah merely sings while Elliot raps. Did I miss something here? This could have been the Whitneyâ€“Mariah equivalent to hip-hop as a classic rap duet/duel but they opted to go the path of least resistance with each phoning it in. Elliot is always clever though with lyrics like, "Spread my love like the swine flu."
Cameos start to distract, however. It’s as if Latifah is shooting for street cred, but with the likes of other performers in her same realm. Busta Rhymes appears on "Hard to Love Ya" and Mary J. Blige sings on the 11th track, "People." Here, Latifah gets a little Will Smith on us by sounding overly preachy with a saccharinely positive message and PG rating. There’s nothing wrong with spreading a good word, but it comes off like the first lesson in Inspirational Lyrics 101: "People are just people / Leave it in God’s hands / Cause the devil is just lethal." Lame.
Her biggest misstep is the final track, "The World." She tries going an octave lower and fails miserably. She seems to have a handle on her talents but she should have known better than to end on this hot mess.
The point of "Persona" is apparently to display those varied talents but with an exhausting 14 tracks, it’s easy to stop caring midway through. It’s a workable blend of hip-hop, pop, R&B and rap with even some rock and jazz thrown in. Fortunately, Latifah keeps the ride interesting by never compartmentalizing the tracks into genres. But despite a strong start, "Persona" peters out by the end.
No doubt you were bombarded with Beyonce’s announcement that birthed her alter ego, Sasha Fierce. This seems to be a trend now. Follow if you can: Bat for Lashes is Pakistan-born Natasha Khan from England. BFL’s 2009 release, "Two Suns" is all from the perspective of Pearl, the alter ego of Khan … no wait, Lashes, no …oh, we give up.
Still with us? Because what you need to know is "Two Suns" is one of the better albums of the year that will draw comparisons to eccentric chick singers in the vein of Bjork and Tori Amos. BFL excavates depths in ethereality, mixes in her tormented emotions and composes a masterpiece. Despite being likened to the previous singers, "Suns" recalls Annie Lennox at her hauntingly best. Not bad for a second album.
How does she go about it live? You’ll get your chance to see when she comes to the Loft, a tiny enough venue to see an already big star in Europe. She’ll go a bit hippy chick on you but we hope those creepy dancers come out from her "Daniel" video. They were kind of scary.
The Loft, 1135 S. Lamar St. Aug. 20 at 8:30 p.m. $12. Ticketmaster.com.
No old timers here
Who would think that the Old 97’s could make growing older cool. Not in the Rolling Stones leathery skin kind of way, either, but in the graceful fashion so many gay men aspire to. Save for perhaps the band members’ wives. Still, we’re fine with that, because the alternative country band has their roots in Dallas and still deliver.
Of course, we’d be remiss not to say some people still swoon for founding member and lead singer Rhett Miller. It might be the perfectly tousled hair that brushes across his big blue eyes, although we imagine he’d prefer not to be objectified and reduced to the clichÃ© of lead singing pretty boy. He needn’t worry— his songwriting continues to display able talent with his latest eponymous release.
The Old 97’s are touring in support of last year’s release, "Blame It On Gravity," which pulled them out of a musical funk and offered some of their best material. Like ever. We like to think it had something to do with them coming back to town to record the disc.
Telegraph Canyon opens. Bass Performance Hall, 525 Commerce St., Fort Worth. Aug. 21 at 8 p.m. $25â€“$49. Basshall.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 21, 2009.