Ron Artest's label debut reveals the emptiness of modern girl-group R&B
Standing at 6-7 and 247 pounds, Queensbridge, New York native and Indiana Pacers forward Ron Artest is a seemingly troubled soul. There have been periodic suspensions, a request (only a few days into this regular season) for time off from the Pacers, and in some odd form of wish fulfillment, the omnipresent brawl in Auburn Hills, Michigan three weeks ago which provided Artest with 73 games of unpaid leave, courtesy of NBA Commissioner David Stern. In case you missed it, there was also his disturbing take on the recent Olympics in Athens: "I was one of the guys that wanted to be down there. If somebody would've let a bomb go off, I'd have been good! I would've got away from the bomb and I would've played the next day."
Much of the fallout from the recent fracas wasn't particularly surprising. The biggest story in sports this season before the melee was Monday Night Football and the NFL's willingness to present a cross-wearing, naked white woman jumping into the arms of Terrell Owens, one of the loudest and darkest brothers in the game. As Todd Boyd wrote in his now prophetic tome, The New H.N.I.C: "Yes, the threat once posed by the black male/white female scenario has been replaced by the newly emergent image of the black millionaire, and the hatred around these figures has escalated as the images have become more visible. From the basketball courts of the NBA to the recording studios of hip-hop, and everywhere in between, brothas with money have become easy targets for those who would prefer not to see them at all."
Allure first made noise in 1997 with an over-hyped, self-titled debut that featured production by the sample-obsessed Track Masters and heavy songwriting input from Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige. Allure was the initial release from Carey's now defunct vanity label Crave Records, and like many R&B discs of the '90s, it featured guest verses from a string of rappers; in this case fellow New Yorkers Nas, Raekwon, and LL Cool J. A syrupy cover of the Lisa Lisa classic "All Cried Out" yielded the group's biggest hit, which reached platinum status with the input of Atlanta's 112.
In 2001, the group returned - this time on MCA - with their sophomore effort, Sunny Days. Despite being more consistent, the album went relatively unnoticed and failed to separate them from the girl groups of their era: Changing Faces, Jade, Total, and Destiny's Child.
Ultimately, Chapter III's deficiencies cannot be attributed solely to Artest and Allure, but to a tired genre that has lost its way. Back in the day, as Lucy O'Brien's brilliant She Bop breaks it down, "The girl-group sound was clearly identifiable; like punk, it blasted the market before mutating, maturing and becoming assimilated into mainstream pop. It articulated the Zeitgeist, the fresh ebullient hope of the early '60s; it feminized rock and provided the basis for the '60s' best groups of the famed 'British Invasion.'" These days around-the-way artists like Ashanti, Beyonce, and Ciarra, are anything but ebullient and their product helps feed the crass misogyny that dominates commercial rap. Now more than ever, we need an anti-violence, pro-feminist resolution, and there is clearly no way we can count on Ron Artest for that. •
By M. Solis