All About Eve

It’s easy to see eve as a smart, tough older sister to the perpetually potty-mouthed Foxy Brown and Lil’ Kim. But while those two – currently engaged in a downward spiral of one-upwomanship – exist increasingly as crude caricatures, Eve has always been an uncompromising Everywoman.

The Philadelphia M.C.’s success has less to do with her rapping “skills” (both Kim and Foxy are capable lyricists) than with her willingness to show vulnerability. On her 1999 debut, Ruff Ryders’ First Lady, Eve smashed the prevailing archetypes of female rappers – the hypersexualized automaton, the gangsta moll – by rhyming about everything from unwanted suitors (“Gotta Man”) to a friend’s abusive relationship (“Love Is Blind”).

Eve’s persona is radical in such a regressive time for hip-hop, and she takes plenty of musical risks on her new album, Scorpion (Ruff Ryders/Interscope). The rapper’s collaboration with Stephen and Damian Marley revisits the slinky dancehall of Dawn Penn’s “You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No)” instead of a safe reggae staple. “Life Is So Hard,” a duet with R&B icon Teena Marie, taps into the raise-the-roof tradition of Aretha Franklin (or even Jennifer Holliday) instead of the trendier singsongy style of Faith Evans.

Like any superstar rap album, Scorpion also has its share of megaproducer star turns, but they’re better than the formulaic fare on most. Swizz Beatz (who nearly self-destructed on the second Ruff Ryders compilation) creates a gorgeous tapestry of piano stabs and Bomb Squad squeals on “What You Need,” while Dr. Dre crafts a pitch-perfect, twangy swing beat on “Let Me Blow Ya Mind.”

Stretched out over sixteen songs, Eve’s tough-gal persona starts to feel a little unrelenting, as though she’ll only show so many of the chinks in her armor. And the album’s few crass, battle-of-the-sexes moments, like “Gangsta B******” and “Scream Double R,” prevent it from upturning hip-hop convention the way Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation and OutKast’s Stankonia did. But Eve’s voice often almost dares you to deal with her power. It’s a strength that few M.C.’s, male or female, can summon.

On the surface, Daft Punk – parisian producers Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo – are dance music’s postmodern pranksters. They display an encyclopedic knowledge of dippy synth pop and woozy disco on songs like “Da Funk,” they make campy videos with Spike Jonze, and they often sport space helmets with LCD screens for interviews.

But the duo once also had a more serious side: They championed marginalized dancefloor sounds, from the “filtered” style (a production technique that gives beats an aqueous, underwater sound) of Chicago house-music labels like Dancemania to the defiant soul of New Jersey producer Romanthony’s “Hold On.” Bangalter even licensed the song from the singer-producer’s tiny BlackMale label and released it on his own Roulé imprint.

When “One More Time,” the first single from Daft Punk’s new album, Discovery (Virgin), arrived on dance floors before New Year’s, it seemed the pair might be forsaking their raised-eyebrow approach forever. Despite a vocoder-tweaked guest vocal by Romanthony, the shimmery song has the exhausted but elated feel of disco classics like Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” or Cher’s “Take Me Home.”

But Discovery is also awash in winking references, from the Gap Band-style funk of “Short Circuit” to the synths of “Digital Love,” which could have been lifted straight from Supertramp’s “Logical Song.” And their meticulous retro sensibility lacks any sense of emotional investment. Collaborating with Romanthony and Todd Edwards (the overlooked U.S. house-music producer who inspired England’s current “two-step garage” craze) is commendable, but where are the daring auteurs of Homework? Lost in irony’s unsatisfying embrace.

Scorpion (Ruff Ryders/Interscope
Daft Punk
Discovery (Virgin)

All About Eve