Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Yo Yo

  • Make Way for the Motherlode [EastWest, 1991] A-
  • Black Pearl [EastWest, 1992] A-
  • You Better Ask Somebody [EastWest, 1993] A-
  • Total Control [EastWest, 1996] B-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Make Way for the Motherlode [EastWest, 1991]
By loosing Roxanne Shante's tough talk on Queen Latifah's leadership seminar, Ice Cube's no-shit sister doubles her chance of teaching "intelligent black women" how one respects oneself. Her most salient theme is an ass she's not inclined to give up on the first date, and when she succumbs she lives to regret it at speeds that'll set you on yours. Sir Jinx's soul-thick, jazz-inflected production suits her gritty drawl and wayward mouth. And if they should split she'll figure out another way to get over. A-

Black Pearl [EastWest, 1992]
Foreshortening Stax-Volt or Zapp or "Strawberry Letter 23," the nervous propulsion and unreleased tension of her funk agitates mind-body-spirit, only to be put right by a voice that's gotten kinder without even thinking about going soft. Advising the downpressed or dissing fools, her lyrics are smarter throughout and stunning on one that makes a battered wife's bizness its own. But yo, Yo--the title cut and the love ballad are not "East Coast." They're nowhere. A-

You Better Ask Somebody [EastWest, 1993]
Her voice has always suggested the honeyed grit of an Irma Thomas or a Jackie Moore. Here it gets richer as her timing gets sharper, and the beats could make you squeal. Eschewing soul steals, her latest production crew samples straight-up funk and other rap records, as in the corkscrew funk of "Givin' It Up," built off a reconstructed Mtume riff, and the easygoing sing-along of "Pass It On," which credits Cypress Hill and "Poison" as well an obscure Webster Lewis track: five Intelligent Black Women pass a blunt and a mic, boasting about how fucked up they get in the kind of morally retrograde one-off that's given sin good word of mouth since snakes could talk. And then there's a Yo Yo lyric Ice Cube couldn't come near. "Letter to the Pen," in which a loyal gangsta bitch risks her neck keeping her imprisoned "soldier"'s "pockets fat" as his buddies outside play him and his buddies inside swear she's fucking him over, is as touching as love songs get. It's not "reality"; it may not even be realistic, though I doubt it. But it evokes a reality, one that remains poorly documented after five solid years of hardcore--a reality in which even the hardcore faithful somehow live through the shit. A-

Total Control [EastWest, 1996]
As distasteful as I find Lil' Kim, who conveys even less pleasure in sex than that tragic sensualist Eazy-E, and Foxy Brown, who isn't subtle enough to shroud her vicious fantasies in an aura of mystery, at least they break new ground in candor and aggression. And Yo Yo's East Coast counterpart Lyte has gained in wisdom and principle, while the self-appointed Intelligent Black Woman has gone soft. The beats are a case study in the banality of G-funk, and where once she was a proud, tough-minded observer, here her only winning moments come when she pledges allegiance to her ordinary G and fantasizes momentarily about having babies. These dreams die, she don't know why, and soon it ain't nuthin' but a party where she can find her dream guy--"nice and thick with more dollars than sense." Hey, didn't she steal that line from Julie Brown or somebody? L.A., what a town. B-

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