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Yo Majesty - Futuristically Speaking: Never Be Afraid

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Artist: Yo Majesty

Album: Futuristically Speaking: Never Be Afraid

Label: Domino

Review date: Oct. 6, 2008

Perhaps most notable about Yo Majesty, the female Tampa hip-hop duo, is Jwl B’s tendency to perform her concerts topless. As she succinctly put it in an interview with the International Herald Tribune: "I got stretch marks, and I’m fat, and I’m wildin. But your boy 50 Cent does his show with his shirt off. Why can’t I?”

That quote sums up Yo Majesty’s music, captured on the group’s debut full-length Futuristically Speaking . . . Never Be Afraid, more succinctly than this reviewer ever could. Yo Majesty’s music is, essentially, about confrontation – and not just in its overt, arms-crossed posture. For sure, as a defiant song like “Never Be Afraid” proves, Jwl B and Shunda K are aggressive in tone and content. But the confrontation goes one step further: In mimicking the conventions of hip hop, especially in its more hardcore forms, Yo Majesty is challenging the genre itself.

Most obviously, it is Yo Majesty’s sexuality – both Jwl B and Shunda K are out, and outspokenly so – that is at odds with hip hop’s unyielding hetero masculinity. As “Get Down on the Floor” proves, they are as obsessed with ladies as are their male counterparts. But when the lothario – or, at least, the pole-dancer’s admirer – is a woman, the results become askew and normal assumptions we take for granted are problematized. When lesbians can readily incorporate hip hop’s alpha-male crotch-grab, what does that say about the gender roles that hip hop promotes unquestioned? At the very least, Yo Majesty helps reveal, if even for a moment, some of hip hop’s charades that are transmitted as genuine. Futuristically Speaking is, literally and theoretically, hip hop queered. And the genre, which too often is as orthodox as a popular form of music can be, will be better for it.

Of course, Futuristically Speaking isn’t a thesis, and Yo Majesty is a far cry from academic provocateurs. They might provoke, but they aim primarily to entertain. “Grindin’ and Shakin’,” a world-beat number that owes more than a little to MIA, and “Blame It on the Change,” an electro blast that is as timely in style as its title is in this presidential election year, are two of the stronger moments on the album.

Other points do not hold up as well. “Fucked Up,” Futuristically Speaking‘s abrasive opener, and the acoustic strumming of “Buy Love” are both less than convincing. Songs like these resonate as if the duo were more interested in pushing boundaries than in producing material of the highest quality.

This final tension – between the desire to exceed perceived aesthetic limits and the reality of the artists’ own limitations – is one that is present throughout Futuristically Speaking. Jwl B and Shunda K are, as of now, stronger conceptually than they are in execution. Ambition is no sin. Failing to meet it – especially when there is so much promise – may be.

By Ben Yaster

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