A GOOD NIGHT IN THE GHETTO by Kamaiyah
Genre: West Coast Hip Hop
Favorite Tracks: “Out the Bottle,” “How Does it Feel,” “Mo Money Mo Problems,” “Freaky Freaks”
Hip hop has a depressing lack of female MCs, and if you look for MCs who lead with their rhymes rather than visually showcasing their sexuality, there’s even fewer. That’s not to dig at rappers like Nikki Minaj and Azealia Banks (or their fans) — they’re both talented in their own right and obviously more than free to express and flaunt their sexualities in any way they please. However, part of the freedom to flaunt sexuality has to be complemented by artists who distinctly don’t have to flaunt their sexuality to gain notoriety and respect. That’s not to say up-and-coming Oakland MC Kamaiyah is wary to rhyme about her sexuality (quite the opposite), it’s just that she raps about her sexuality in terms of her sexual prowess and ability to get laid, rather than her physical attributes; like a male MC, in other words. But while hip hop desperately needs a contemporary rapper like Kamaiyah, it’s difficult to say if she’ll really take off in contemporary rap.
Let’s clear one thing up from the start: Kamiayah herself isn’t really at fault for this record. She can hook up a rhyme and spit bars with a satisfying competency, and to add to that, her production is a pure throwback to 90s West Coast G-Funk. However, this approach to her sound leaves her in an unfortunate corner. She sounds too old school for hip hop fans always looking for something bigger and better, and she never quite delivers on that old school sound well enough for hip hop heads who are looking for that Dre inspired banging groove. Part of what makes hip hop the most exciting genre of music to keep up with is how competitively and quickly it progresses and changes. If you want to make a banger, it’s gotta hit harder than anything that came before it, and if you want to just sit back and chill, you’ve still gotta chill harder than anyone else. Kamaiyah unfortunately chooses the middle way on almost every track, never really dropping a banger or laid back, introspective stoner raps. There’s a huge range of styles and sounds available in the school of rap, but whatever an MC chooses to do, they’ve got to do it huge, and Kamaiyah never quite does.
Even the lead single on this record, “How Does it Feel,” plays it too damn safe to really grab anyone. The central question of the chorus sort of accidentally goes against the whole ethos of hip hop: “I’ve been broke all my life, now wonder, how does it feel to be rich?” Kamiayah’s not stating her right to get paid, she’s not professing how much wealth she’s gained from rhyming, she’s simply taking a step back and wondering what wealth will eventually feel like. While that’s actually a pretty interesting inversion of hip hop tropes, it’s hard to exactly feel satisfied by it either.
It’s impossible to hear to Kamaiyah and not instantly compare her to the diva queen Missy Elliot, who she’s clearly drawing a huge inspiration from. She’s striving for Missy’s level of unapologetic female swagger and confidence, but she just never attacks the mic with the same audacity Missy so consistently did. While there are plenty of decent tracks on here, it’s hard to see any of them getting anywhere near the plays “WTF (Where They From)” got a few months ago. This album is a perfect example of just how much delivery and flow make the difference between a good MC and a great one. On paper, Kamaiyah probably stacks up with Missy Elliot, but on the actual record it’s really difficult to hear her stepping into Missy’s Adidas. Hip hop is cutthroat, and at the end of the day that’s why most of us like it so much, and if an MC can’t deliver when they get a chance to step to the mic, it’s hard to really lock in with them.
There’s a whole discussion to be had on whether or not hip hop is becoming too reductive if it’s not able to accept someone who sounds like Kamaiyah. There’s an interesting conversation to be had in terms of rap’s inherent sexism if it doesn’t have room for someone like Kamaiyah. In the worlds of underground and alternative hip hop, there are a lot more tolerant and patient fans, fans who will gladly listen for nuance and craft, but it’s hard not to hear Kamaiyah trying to appeal to a more mainstream audience, and that audience just isn’t going to be interested in what she has to offer.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend