Last fall, a 22-year-old white emcee from Birmingham, England, calling himself the Streets brought such a vivid sense of place to his music that he trumped Stateside rappers, many of whom wear their neighborhood allegiances like shiny gold chains.
Ms. Dynamite—a rapper and singer from the UK—isn’t nearly as potent a rhymer as the Streets, nor does her music possess his deeply personal sensibility. But like the Streets’ Original Pirate Material, Dynamite’s debut, A Little Deeper, reminds us why so much American hip-hop and R&B—so obsessed with gangsta posturing and dominated by Hallmarky male-female duets—feels so undernourished.
Dynamite is preachy to the point of a PSA; she takes on bad boyfriends, aids, the evils of the diamond trade, often in the same song—but she hits her targets with thrilling precision. “We leave this world alone,” she sings on “It Takes More,” “so who gives a fuck about all the things u own.”
What gives A Little Deeper its heft, though, is Dynamite’s voice: She can hold a word so long it almost floats in the air, and she purposefully embellishes her girlish, almost kewpie-doll-like whine to deliver her most stinging rebukes. The strategy here—a pit-bull persona behind a pretty voice and face—was perfected by Lauryn Hill. But Dynamite, still young and working within the confines of protest music, has yet to approach the love and loss of Hill’s Miseducation. Perhaps next time she’ll offer the sort of self-examination promised by A Little Deeper.
It’s edifying to hear a love song as great as Wayne Wonder’s “No Letting Go” (from his new CD, No Holding Back). A singer from Franklin Town, Jamaica, Wonder has a generous, sweet croon that resembles the “lover’s rock” of seventies vocalists like Horace Andy. There’s nothing retro about the song, which mixes furious stomps and hand claps reminiscent of African-American step-dancing crews and the aqueous bass lines of dance-hall reggae. “No Letting Go” rescues love from the hands of pop’s sentimental opportunists.
A Little Deeper (Interscope).
No Holding Back (VP/Atlantic).