Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Northern State

  • Hip Hop You Haven't Heard [Northern State, 2002] A
  • Dying in Stereo [Northern State, 2002] A
  • All City [Columbia, 2004] A
  • Can I Keep This Pen? [Ipecac, 2007] ***

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Hip Hop You Haven't Heard [Northern State, 2002]
Three white-girl voices from the farthest reaches of Nassau County: Hesta Prynn angular and willfully ill-bred, Guinea Love zaftig and a touch guttural, the misleadingly handled DJ Sprout well-rounded and sometimes pretty. Their aesthetic is old-school; they quote Roxanne Shanté and cop an all-time beat from Hitman Howie Tee. But their live bass is as hooky as any sample on two of the four tracks on this EP they think is a demo. There's none of that self-abnegating underground minimalism about them, and plenty of regular school, always a reassuring complete disclosure in artists who've been to college: "Keep choice legal, your wardrobe regal/Chekhov wrote The Seagull and Snoopy is a beagle." Twice they boast about their "optimism," and I love them for putting it so literally. Optimism is always the secret, after all. Not only do they believe in their own talent, they're blessed enough to enjoy it. Life isn't eternal. But as long as it renews itself we can pretend. A

Dying in Stereo [Northern State, 2002]
The whitegirl hip hop trio's second Web-and-gig EP in under a year was diverted from indie retail by label-deal dreams; three of its eight tracks remake songs that surfaced on the four-track collector's item Hip Hop You've Never Heard, which I prefer for no better reason than that I heard it first. So don't worry--you won't regret this flyer even if it's subsumed by that label deal. Hesta Prynne is angular, self-made, just-don't-give-a-fuck yet caring too; Guinea Love's Long Island grit has earth-mother in it; DJ Sprout projects rounded, earnest, well-bred. The three form an essential unity--call it "The Trinity," since they do. And though their beats beat Stetsasonic's, their commitment to their well-bred side will dog them for as long as they strive. "Don't blame me 'cause I voted for Gore" is a great line because it's straight in the sense of candid and a revealing one because it's straight in the sense of normal. I bet Hesta actually did work for the president's wife--licking envelopes, probably. How many rappers can make that claim? And how many rockers? A

All City [Columbia, 2004]
Feeling they have nothing to prove and plenty to get right, Hesta Prynne, the retagged Spero, and a funkier Sprout throw themselves into what they love with no discernible concern for cred. Except insofar as all voices are different, which counts, the music on this feisty, funny rap album isn't new--just irresistible, like the regional pop crossovers of the pre-Hammer/bling era, the same golden age underground sobersides remember as the heyday of obscure Eric B. soundalikes. DJ Muggs, Pete Rock, ?uestlove, and the High and Mighty all pitch in on a record that calls up memories of Hitman Howie Tee and ends with an LFO rip that shoulda conquered Z100. Hip they're not, I know. Can't be because they're female, or white, or suburban. Right? So figure it's because they're sane--so sane they invoke John Kerry's square name. A

Can I Keep This Pen? [Ipecac, 2007]
Three fine Long Island witches, whose words ace their music, sing more and rap less ("Things I'll Do," "The Three Amigas"). ***

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