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Kid Sister - Dream Date

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Artist: Kid Sister

Album: Dream Date

Label: Downtown

Review date: Nov. 21, 2008

The Chicago prodigy Kid Sister can trace her lineage on hip hop’s family tree to rappers like Missy Elliott and, especially in her kiddy singsong flows, the Pharcyde – playful figures who are not so serious or aggrandizing as to recognize that, despite their innovations, they’re making mostly party music. But Kid Sister shouldn’t be confused with a case of low expectations. Like her predecessors, she’s a performer who seems entirely aware of what she actually is: a producer of playlist ingredients. And at a time when our fascination with rappers is often for reasons secondary to the music they make – see exhibit A, Kanye West, Kid Sister’s peacocking don – it’s a pleasure to hear a hip hop record where someone fesses up to being a musician, rather than a cultural icon who happens to produce his own soundtrack.

Dream Date, Kid Sister’s debut album, is a remarkably unencumbered work, without back-story or baggage. The lack of pretense can be attributed to XXXChange’s direction in addition to Kid Sister’s execution. XXXChange, Spank Rock’s producer and an increasingly ubiquitous remixer and DJ, fills Dream Date with a mirth that is equal parts smile and smirk. Kid Sister’s songs move bodies with new-school grooves that, in their careful construction, can’t help but betray a knowing sense that these are familiar, well-practiced motions, repeated from club to club and from year to year. It is a sophistication that Kid Sister shares as well. When she chants “the bass, the bass / the treble, the treble” on the contemporary jolt “Life on TV,” her slightly mocking tone signals a realization that while she’s hyped as hip hop’s changing face, she represents a genre that remains much the same as it ever was.

Dream Date works according to three themes. Firstly – and primarily – Kid Sister is about pop anthems. “Pro Nails,” which features Kanye West, established Kid Sister earlier this year as a commanding, up-and-coming presence. The song’s combination of electro beat with chopped-and-screwed chorus – a conjunction that wasn’t totally novel but was perhaps the first to achieve mainstream reaction – is a giddy confection. Its prosaic nail salon subject only widens the song’s grin. “Life on TV” and “Family Reunion,” a good humored reworking of Positive K’s “I Gotta Man” featuring the irrepressible David Banner, are the flashiest and most pop-oriented points on Dream Date. As these songs prove, Kid Sister has the stuff of a legit star. Indeed, on “Family Reunion,” Kid Sister charisma threatens to shine too bright, glaring rather than illuminating after more than a couple of listens.

But this is a teeny quibble and shouldn’t detract from what are Kid Sister’s obvious sensibilities for crossover appeal. Of greater concern are her remaining two modes, classic hip hop bangers and techno-inspired ditties. When Kid Sister approaches either, Dream Date fails to live up its galvanizing potential. The problem with Kid Sister’s traditional rap tracks is that she’s not a particularly compelling rapper, at least on paper. Unimaginative lines like “I kicks it on the low end / Go ahead, get with the motherfuckin’ program / Show them how to shine / And do it on the dime / And go ahead and work it / I’m about to handle mine,” on “Don’t Stop Moving,” people Kid Sister’s raps. To her credit, she’s a strong orator with a real flair for cadence, which compensates for her underwhelming pen. But on skeletal songs like “Don’t Stop Movin’” and “Get Fresh,” where there isn’t the cover of melody or richer composition, Kid Sister’s delivery can only mask the weakness of her words so much. And as for the techno – let’s just be happy there’s only a couple of numbers that go this route. “Beeper,” which uses a classic four-on-the-floor beat and recurring beeper rings, irritates and little else.

Putting aside these two points of criticism, however, a good deal of Dream Date is inspired and successful. Though Kid Sister might lack some versatility, her club-friendly material is more than above average, and gleams colorfully if synthetically, like her outstretched hand of freshly painted nails.

By Ben Yaster

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