Although Hip-Hop and R&B have an inseparable connection to each other, it’s interesting to note the differences in how acts from each genre are talked about, presented, and judged. One of the biggest distinctions that I’ve noticed over the past few years is that in Hip-Hop, for better or worse, MC’s and producers can never escape from having a public identity that is attached to the region from which they came from. Despite doing music for Nas, Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Eminem, Young Buck, Scarface, Big Pun, Busta Rhymes, Raekwon, Devin The Dude and tons of other people from all over the country, Dr. Dre will always be considered a West Coast producer with a West Coast sound. It doesn’t matter what he does musically anymore, that’s just how he will forever be perceived. The same can be said for the above MC’s: despite working with producers and rappers from every coast, everything Jay-Z does is New York from top to bottom. It’ll never change, that’s just part of his identity. Yet that is not the case for R&B singers. Nobody has ever accused Beyoncé or Usher of having a Texas sound to their music. Personally, I think that a lot of this is due to the fact that rappers endlessly talk about where they’re from in their music, but unless your Alicia Keys singing a hook on a Jay-Z track, singers don’t really sing specifically about their home towns. In my opinion, this gives them a more universal appeal that has allowed artists like Mary J Blige to blow up across the world (she doesn’t have a single album or song title that mentions New York).
Not surprisingly this same phenomenon exists in The Bay. While our rap is so oriented specifically to where we’re from, and often times people in Northern California are fans of mediocre MC’s solely due to the fact that they rep the Bay hell of hard, there doesn’t seem to be any regional pride attached to our singers. As a result often times it is completely over looked that the Bay Area has had and continues to have a thriving R&B scene that has garnered millions of fans world wide. Most people (some even in The Bay Area) have no idea that En Vogue, Tony! Toni! Toné! (and thus Raphael Saadiq), or more recently Keyshia Cole and Goapele, are all from Oakland. This is largely because for the most part they don’t mention where they are from in their music, which has kept them from being put in that “Bay Area” box.
I’m not 100% sure how I feel about this issue. On the one hand I take genuine pride in where I’m from, and I love to see talented people do the same, but on the other I think undying loyalty to our region is pretty uninteresting and not relatable to the rest of the country/world, and therefore is a large reason why truly talented rappers never make it out of the Bay. I guess for me, if you’re from the same general vicinity as I am, and you are genuinely talented, I’m going to rep you whether you rep our home or not.
That ridiculously wordy introduction is relevant, because today I’m writing about Netta Brielle’s newest mixtape Love, Pain, & Music, which she is giving away for free at her bandcamp page: www.nettabrielle.bandcamp.com. For those not in the know, Netta is a bay area R&B singer that balances her universal appeal and the influence of where she’s from better than most. While you won’t hear her belting out odes to her home town of Berkeley, she does utilize the talents of many of the best local producers The Bay has to offer including: Traxamillion, Bedrock, and Money Alwayz, and you will find her doing remixes to local favorites like The Jacka’s Traxamillion produced hit “Glamorous Lifestyle”, singing hooks for local MC’s like Oakland’s Fly Street Gang, playing the lead role in Erk Tha Jerk’s video for “The Perfect Mistake” , and doing a grip of shows at local venues like The New Parish. That balance, matched with her exceptional voice, if combined with a drive to get her music heard throughout the country, could make her one of the only bay area R&B singers to break into the mainstream yet still be repped to the fullest at home.
While I have to admit that I am not fully versed in Urban Pop and modern R&B, one listen of Love, Pain, & Music makes it pretty clear that Netta is not far from making music that is at a quality level of the industry standard. For one, she has great voice that makes singing sound effortless, despite her willingness to really let loose on songs like the Traxamillion produced “Screamin’”. While we are on the subject of “Screamin’”, despite the serious slap that Traxamillion brings with the drums, at no point does Netta sound overpowered, which can be a real problem for a lot of singers and rappers who want their music to have trunk value. Another thing that stands out about Netta, is that while she is all about being sexy, she does it in a classy way. Despite the fact that songs like the Bedrock produced “Tonite” are about potentially racy topics like one night stands, there’s none of the raunchy factor that is found in a lot of popular music. There are no demands that her man’s dick has gotta be so big, or that his tongue’s gotta start waterfalls, and she ain’t bragging about being able to swallow Coke cans either. This makes her music presentable to the masses. It’s club ready, radio ready, TV ready, and kids can play it around their mom and dad and not be embarrassed or get chewed out. That presentability will be crucial when it comes to taking her music to the next level. Finally, although I wasn’t in love with every cover she chose to include on this album (the “Deuces” one was kinda weak, it needed more than her doing just one verse to be memorable), when she covered songs well they were great. I’ll take her and Rafael Casal’s version of “All I Want Is You” over the original from Miguel and J Cole, and while it would be blasphemous to say she outdid Natalie Cole, Netta killed “Inseperable”.
Yet this wouldn’t be a true review if I didn’t talk about the room for improvement as well. To my ears the mixtape starts really strong, but hits a rough patch in the middle. Only including the chorus to The Jacka, Kafani, and B-Town Mac’s “Try To Let Go” comes out of nowhere and kinda breaks up the flow of the tape. That track in my opinion could have been omitted. Then comes Netta’s version of “Deuces” which I already said needed to have more of her, but that point is even more applicable to “Dance With You” ft. R.O.D. and produced by Marc Garvey. I’m feeling the beat, and despite the auto tune R.O.D.’s verses sound legit, but Netta only provides part of the chorus. She does a good job on that hook, but if she isn’t going to have a verse, or at least the entire chorus, then I don’t really see the reason for including it on the tape. The point of the project is to focus on her, not someone else. “Strobelite” is pretty forgettable, but then with “Takeover” things seem to be moving back in the right direction, only to be broken up again by the a cappella radio drop “I’m In Love With The DJ”. The middle of most albums is when the listeners start to give up and do something else, and the above missteps could definitely contribute to that happening with this project as well. Also, as much as I was impressed by the musicality of Netta, the actual content of her songs can be quite generic. After listening to Love, Pain, & Music, I didn’t really get the sense that I learned a lot about who Netta is as a person. Instead I feel like I got 50 minutes of songs about loving someone, breaking up with someone, or wanting to get with someone, none of which was written in a way to shine new light on this overly covered subject matter. Netta’s voice is so compelling, I would lover to hear it matched with lyrics that are equally grabbing as well.
For someone who does not listen to a lot of modern Pop or R&B music, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Netta B’s project. A pretty voice with beats that slap is a winning combination, and I can definitely appreciate that. Additionally, as I stated above, I have serious respect for her ability to incorporate and support the local talent without having it be alienating to listeners who are not from California. As long as she and Golden Mean Management continue to push hard, and do their best to attract a national audience, I can envision big things from the girl who started out at 5 years old, in the studio with Pac and on stage with MC Hammer.