Eve doesn’t need my support for this album, as it is sure to sell as ridiculously well as her debut. With that in mind I was all ready to give Scorpion a slating. Unfortunately, it’s only “okay” — not perfect by any means. But considering that it operates within the restrictions of commercial gangsta rap, it at least has more to offer than the usual publicity-hype might lead you to believe.
Not that the publicity is self-effacing. Far from it. Eve, we are told is a “true artist”. She sings as well as she raps (wow). She is “a multi-dimensional (?) woman from Philadelphia with a myriad of talents”. Eve’s own assessment of her particular contribution is that she “brings reality to the game”. How surprisingly original.
Scorpion is a “mature” album which in comparison “to the rampant boast of materialism that dominates the airwaves . . . comes at you with eye-popping intelligence”. A sample of said intelligence can be found on track two: “Where my niggers at ? Where my thugs at? Where my niggers getting stacks? Where my thugs at? Where my bitches at? Where my hos at? Where my bitches getting stacks? Where my hoes at?”. Anyhow, ignore all that promotional bullshit and enjoy an album of lively, catchphrase driven hip-hop that, if aimed at the juvenile end of the market ,at least has some neat touches and a definite panache.
Even if you were among the seemingly few who didn’t purchase Eve’s first set, you will probably be drawn to this album because of the success of one song. “Who’s That Girl” has been busting speakers in clubs around the globe for a while now. It is a perfect full-floor tune, guaranteed to get you punching the air. With a breezy cod-Latin feel and clever trumpet fills this assertive winner, like all the best cuts, has a hook that just won’t leave you alone. This song will be in DJs’ boxes for quite a while.
A similar intention lies behind the Dre produced “Let Me Blow Your Mind”, which is equally catchy and built around a reggae-fied “Love and Happiness” guitar riff. Likely to be the second single, this one sounds too pop to my ears. Interestingly, a Jamaican flavour remains prevalent throughout the album. Stephen Marley leads Eve through a note-for-note re-creation of the Dawn Penn (’90s version) rocksteady classic “No, No, No”. She sings it well enough, but it adds nothing to the original (literally). Elsewhere, a digital dancehall beat enlivens the aggressive “Cowboy” whose eye-poppingly intelligent lyrics are mentioned above. It’s a good track — rhythm courtesy of Ruff Ryder, Swizz Beats.
The Ruff Ryder connection is, of course, everywhere. As that outfit’s “First Lady”, Eve has aligned herself with the new “Rock n roll” face of Rap. This crossover probably represents the beginning of the end for hip-hop culture but there is plenty of creative gas left in the tank before it runs out entirely into rock. Ruff Ryder knows the power of a strong, easily chanted chorus. When they bounce, they bounce hard. Eve has made a shrewd move and adds energy and all sorts of female magic to the RR crew’s thug personae. “Scream Double RR” and “Thug In The Street” are the songs that are most overly indebted to that connection. They feature DMX, Lox and Dragon and are, as you would expect from their titles, charmless and witless — “Thug” particularly so. On the other hand “Gangsta Bitches” (co-starring Da Brat and Trina) is excellent — all slackness, attitude and bad girl poses. You may wonder where the much vaunted maturity in all this is. Me, too.
I think “Life Is So Hard” is supposed to be the grown up track. Though well-performed and dedicated to all who are struggling in today’s society, this turns out to be about the pressures of being a million-record-selling pop star and the importance of keeping “grounded”. Even the presence of the much-loved Teena Marie on vocals cannot prevent this song from slipping into banality. Eve is, as yet, best when she sticks to the “Pit Bull with a Skirt” stance. This format is every bit as shallow as the “grounded” attempt, but it allows her to really let rip. Her desire to stretch out, style-wise, is admirable, but I’d leave it alone for a while.
There are plenty of other tracks — some successful, such as the assured “That’s What It Is” — some not, such as the leaden “You Had Me, You Lost Me”. Nothing is as memorable as “Who’s That Girl”, but Eve gives her best shot to all the material: good, bad or indifferent. She has been criticised for being an inferior rhymer and a monotonous rapper. This doesn’t seem exactly fair as she rides the rhythms well and always gets her character across. When sharing the mike, as is often the case on this guest-heavy set, she doesn’t lose out. “Got What You Need” relegates her to a supporting part, but she stands her corner well. When the music is jumping her hard, her direct style always adds punch.
Stick with the up-tempo tunes and this is solid enough fare. The values it celebrates and the language it deploys may not be to everyone’s liking, but all you hear in a crowded club is the chorus and that’s where these sounds ideally belong. Ruff Ryders have a fresh sound and Eve makes good use of it. But I don’t think there is anything new lyrically, despite the various claims. It’s down the line gangsta business delivered by a woman with a confident personality. That personality has produced a very marketable image and one less reliant on sex and shopping than some other contenders for the current queen of hip-hop. At 22, Eve is still honing her skills, but she is definitely on her way.