he knows what she’s talking about because she’s come from there. She started off with So Solid Crew but as soon as they started breaking chicks’ jaws and shooting each other up she jumped ship like the wise little street rat she is. And it was a good move, deuce, stepping into a name for herself that had been waiting for herself since, well? Since Lauryn Hill went dull, since Marvin Gaye went boom, since, you know, a long time...
“Thanx to da Almighty 4 givin me da life,” say the sleeve notes, txt spk is the new prayer and Ms. Dynamite is the new bad gal brit-hop bass chompin’ ragga lickin’ spokes-Ms. for a generation of kids grown up with no next-door neighbours but upstairs neighbours and downstairs neighbours instead, and now she’s taken it on herself to guide them all through it. And if it was just down to the music, man, she’d be doing a great job.
A Little Deeper is a great album. It’s phat, it’s hooky and it’s got tune after tune after tune of stylish, contemporary urban ragga-soul for 60+ minutes, all wrapped round with a voice like socially-aware and really angry honey. Beats that pat you and soothe you and beats that shake your ass slow and firm and round and force your hands up in the air. The last 18 months in the UK have seen The Streets and Roots Manuva reign critical supreme, but Ms. Dynamite is their equal and then some, unashamed to be populist and positivist, unburdened by Mike Skinner’s impotent masculine angst or Roots’ sometimes alienating dub soundscapes, yet just as English as their raps about cheese on toast and lukewarm pints. Musically and spiritually she’s much closer to their varied beats-work and lyrical commentary than the shameless braggadocio garage of So Solid Crew or the empty sex-swing two-step of Craig David.
“Dy-na-mi-tee” is THE single of last year, hands down, an irresistible groove sent over on a lolloping bassline and taken somewhere transcendently joyous by a set of lyrics about having “macaroni, rice and peas, chicken and pineapple” for lunch at grandma’s house, an urban lifetime squeezed into 4 minutes of dancefloor-slaying pop. “Put Him Out” takes a slice of Santana and turns it into a stomping femme anthem that slaps down pimps and picks up sisters. “Sick ‘n’ Tired” chugs in on rare-soul groove, slinky wah-wah guitars and a hip-shake that disdains and refuses the takers and stands up for itself. “It Takes More” ties something akin to the disconcerting accordion theme from Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys to a spiel putting down negativity and materialism, all underpinned by beats the size of Brixton.
Time and again Ms. Dynamite is placing herself into the arena as an aspirational figure, as someone to be admired and who can set a wholesome example to a generation grown up on bling bling and a dead God. AIDS is warned against, greed is damned, God is praised, families are loved, violence is abhorred and loveless sex is denied. Dead friends are remembered to a background of looped strings and clipped harps on “Afraid To Fly”. It’s clear she’s been through a whole heap of shit at a young age and wants to help prevent others traversing the same gauntlet. And so she sings about what she sees around her, in the hope that maybe if people hear the truth they’ll understand and try to affect a change. It’s a pure and natural instinct. But then we find that Ms. Dynamite is pregnant at 20, the role model talking others into avoiding traps teetering on the edge of one herself. Is it a mistake? Has she got herself caught up in one of the things she’s been so vocal about escaping? Given her many public proclamations of awareness and spirituality, you have to ask yourself now if she was just posing for affect before. The answers aren’t clear. The consistency of mood and tone on the album (if not quality – it dips slightly in the later stages, causing our attention to wane that fraction) suggests that she’s sincere, but to pause a potentially stellar career so early on in order to have a baby would seem to be a mistake, and pregnancy-as-oversight is no way to bring a child into this world, particularly for one who had seemed so clued-up and wise thus far. She claims that “it takes more to amuse a girl like me / it takes more to confuse a girl like me,” but maybe we were expecting too much of her. Maybe the naivety of youth is as inescapable as the idealism of youth. But the real shame of the situation is that we’ll have to wait even longer for a follow-up to this brilliant and classy document of urban British soul.
Reviewed by: Nick Southall
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01