Talk about a sign of the times: Earlier in the decade, Neneh Cherry was a peripheral member of the postpunk warriors the Slits, then played anarchic funk with Ríp Rig and Panic. Now, on her solo debut, Cherry reappears as a hip-hop adventurer. Raw Like Sushi is an artsy interpretation of current dance styles that recognizes the music as today's most inventive and self-expressive form while attacking the social attitudes that commonly accompany it. The twenty-four-year-old Cherry has made an album that, intoxicated with rhythms and rhymes, is funny, timely, inventive and thrilling.
"Buffalo Stance," the year's best and boldest hit single, indicates her motives. Opening with a scratch, it proceeds as a vibrant collage of tambourines, synths and raps. But Cherry is no stock B girl; she uses these hip-hop tricks to address the selfish machismo of rap posses and to dispute the gold-chain priorities of boy rappers, as she declares, "No money man could win my love."
Cherry is attracted to hip-hop as an expression of black pride and culture, but, like De La Soul, she seems to regret the music's attendant stupidities materialist villains reappear in "Phoney Ladies" and "Heart," and in "The Next Generation" she baits crotch grabbers whose greatest pride derives from "the size of your dick."
Cherry's tongue wags but never drags. The album's potency mainly comes from her lyrics, which scramble sharp phrases throughout even a well-worn sexual pun like the orgasm travelogue "So Here I Come."
But don't mistake the kinky submissiveness of "Outre Risque Locomotive" for dance-dolly compliance. She insists on having orgasms and respect. In "Manchild," a spooky, minor-key ballad worthy of Dionne Warwick, Cherry raps in a reference to Otis Redding's "Respect." Cherry manages to pair her maternal concerns ("Inna City Mamma" and "The Next Generation" attack abusive parents and negligent government policies in defense of children) with ultratough raps.
Produced by a shifting team of young musicians, the most established of whom is Tim Simenon of Bomb the Bass, Raw Like Sushi never runs out of tricky beats. Whether incorporating Latin freestyle ("Kisses on the Wind") or go-go percussion ("Inna City Mamma"), the production ensemble eschews the easier option of sampling for its own catchy thump and consistently matches Cherry's bravado with episodic surprises. During the last several years, many musicians have built retirement funds by imitating the musical and sexual paths of Prince and Madonna. Neneh Cherry may be the first newcomer inspired by them who also poses a threat to their preeminence. (RS 558)
(Posted: Aug 10, 1989)
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