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Pop Music | Hip-Hop Report

In This Battle, It's He Raps, She Raps

Feisty duets are gaining ground for marketing and artistic reasons.

February 25, 2001|SOREN BAKER | Soren Baker is a regular contributor to Calendar

Male-female tension has long been a staple of pop music, from Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks' "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" to Meat Loaf and Ellen Foley on the former's "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" to Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond's "You Don't Bring Me Flowers."

Hip-hop has a taste for this brand of dialogue too--the breakout singles from such rappers as Jay-Z, Trick Daddy and JT Money all featured the male star rapping back and forth with a feisty female.

The latest example of this tradition is Project Pat's single "Chickenhead," which features guest vocals from fellow Memphis rapper La Chat and Three 6 Mafia's DJ Paul and Juicy "J." The song is on Pat's second major-label release, "Mista Don't Play," which comes out Tuesday on Hypnotize Minds/Loud Records, and it showcases an exchange between Pat and La Chat that sounds like a conversation between warring partners.

She: I thought you said you had your girl on the light bill.

He: Always in my face, talking this and that. Girl, I had to buy some rims for the Cadillac.

She: You ride clean but your gas tank is on E. Be stepping out, ain't got no decent shoes on your feet.

He: That's just the meter broke. You don't know what you're talking bout. Anyway, them new Jordans fin to come out.

"One thing that hip-hop thrives on is the way it portrays real-life situations," notes Kim Osorio, associate music editor of the hip-hop magazine the Source. "With those male-female situations, it's just another way of hip-hop artists' representing what goes on in the community. What they talk about in those songs, more or less, is what really goes on in real life between men and women."

In the process, rap, which has long been attacked for being misogynistic, is finally starting to allow women a chance to respond--within a song--to attacks from the male side. The practice has become more popular over the last several years, but it's as much about balance as it is about marketing.

"Having La Chat on there adds a woman's point of view to the song," says Pat, who is an affiliate of Three 6 Mafia, Memphis' leading hip-hop group. "I put her on the song because a lot of people are digging her sound and are feeling her. We've got Chat and Gangsta Boo, and it adds a little spice to the music, a little extra cheese to your cheeseburger."

Adds Ludacris, who featured female rapper Shawna on his hit single "What's Your Fantasy," "When you get two different opinions, you're trying to make as many people as possible relate to your song, which makes fans feel like they're a part of the song. And stuff like that sells. There are two kinds of people on this Earth, men and women, so when you get the perspective from both of them, it's just like a battle of the sexes."

Women in particular seem to enjoy this type of battle song. After being silent partners during hip-hop's ascent to pop prominence, some female acts feel as though these male-versus-female songs give them a long overdue chance to retaliate.

"It holds something special to me because I really get to get down on the [men] like I want to," says La Chat, who is scheduled to release her own album, "Murder She Spoke," later this year. "It makes me mad when I ride down the street and see a guy with a nice car who thinks he's going to be able to speak with me just because he's got a clean car. With this song, the guys are hearing it now."

And the trend is unlikely to fade. Gangsta Boo, Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, Angie Martinez and Ms. Toi have done it on their earlier records, and are likely to pit themselves against male rappers again on the albums they're due to release this year.

Pat has actually tried the formula before. His first single, "Ballers," featured Gangsta Boo and was a hit in the Southeast in 1999. The remainder of his debut album, "Ghetty Green," was a soulful collection focusing on life in the South. Its detailed tales of deceit and debauchery were balanced by a number of reflective examinations of his at times less-than-honorable life.

Despite its merits, "Ghetty Green" failed to reach the 500,000 unit sales plateau that is normally the benchmark for success. So Pat--whose real name is Pat Houston--decided that he needed to revamp his music to make "Mista Don't Play" more commercially potent.

"It's just when you do something that you're really into, you try to look it over and say, 'Could I have done this better?' " he says. "So I just checked myself. When I did, I realized that I could have come harder. I made it my business to come real hard on the next one. I'm going to come straight street."

CITIZEN KANE: While Project Pat may be enjoying success because of the appearance of female rappers on his songs, revered rapper Big Daddy Kane owed a portion of his success in the '80s and early '90s to his substantial female following. "The Very Best of Big Daddy Kane," a greatest-hits collection from the New Yorker (due in stores March 6 on Rhino), will showcase such Kane staples as "Smooth Operator" and "I Get the Job Done," both of which played up the rapper's sex appeal.

But make no mistake: Kane wasn't an empty sex symbol. At one time he was viewed as one of hip-hop's best rappers. Such landmark tracks as "Raw" and "Ain't No Half Steppin'," both of which were released in the late 1980s, put him on a par with Rakim, Public Enemy's Chuck D and Boogie Down Productions' KRS-One in the eyes of many hip-hop followers.

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