In the wake of the torrent of rappers clad in tall-sized white tees, sagging jeans and mineral encrusted molars, it’s difficult to fathom that New Orleans is the cradle of American music. Nevertheless, it’s the unique corner of the Earth where a confluence of cultural influences birthed jazz and grandfathered the blues and rock. With her debut, Gumbo, Voice shows that real hip hop, too, has a home in the Crescent City. And despite any preconceived notions to the contrary, that shouldn’t be so hard to imagine. But let’s not fool ourselves here, it is indeed a surprise.
With her penchant for near perfect diction and substantive lyrical content, Voice is indisputably the converse of the hood-repping, crack-rapping popular thug from “the N.O.,” or anywhere else for that matter. She is a renaissance woman by design, but perhaps not a design of her own. With a renowned jazz vocalist, who counts such luminaries as Horace Silver and Herb Mickman as mentors, for a mother, it was preordained that Voice would have a broad and discerning musical palette. And despite her father’s efforts to guide her toward a career in acting, the lure of hip hop proved to be too strong.
Much more than a mere compilation of songs, Gumbo is Voice’s stream of consciousness rant against, well…just about everything. With her syrupy, alto-toned conversational delivery, it’s not difficult to envision Gumbo as Voice’s opportunity to allow her inner-voice to speak freely. And what she has to say touches on the thoughts, musings and contemplations of practically every intelligent girl; and perhaps even the not-so-smart ones. On ‘Fantasy Pt. 1,” Voice castigates the misogynist record industry male for his relentless search for the video-ho Holy Grail at the expense of the woman who really loves him. She also throws in a few jabs at media outlets (we’re looking at you BET and MTV) when she queries, “I got ass. I got titties. What I wanna turn on TV and see that for?” With the chorus, “you don’t know me. I’m only here to bag your groceries,” Voice uses “Clock In” to vent her frustration with her 9 to 5, cognizant of the fact that it not only supports her family, but her musical aspirations as well. And the beautifully melodic melancholy of “Feel Good” finds the emcee lamenting the thug/gentleman paradigm.
The problem with Gumbo is that there’s only so much time you can spend in one person’s head. Tracks like “1000 Summers,” “Circus Tourist” and “Sunny Outside (in LA..)” are the musical equivalent of listeners catching Voice speechless or daydreaming. Additionally, several full listens to Gumbo have left me with the sneaking suspicion that hip hop perhaps is a means to an end for Voice. Could it be that this is an avenue back to acting? Some sort of resume builder? I hope not, because hers is a refreshing perspective that I hope will remain for some time to come.