splendid > reviews > 7/15/2003
Northern State
Northern State
Dying in Stereo
Star Time

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "A Thousand Words"

Buy me now
Three young college-educated white women from Long Island (one dubs herself "Hesta Prynn") rap about their lives in nasal local accents... By description alone, Northern State sounds like pure novelty act. But don't go dismissing them as one, or as nothing but a distaff Beastie Boys (although superficially, that comparison is apt). This mini-album (an expansion of Hip Hop You Haven't Heard, their four song demo) is, without overstating the case, nearly revolutionary; it's as important to women in hip-hop as Joni Mitchell, Madonna and Sleater-Kinney were to their respective genres.

Prynn (whose distinct tongue often renders her first name as "Hestah"), DJ Sprout and Guinea Love may name-check heroes as diverse as Dorothy Parker, Johnny Cash, Brand Nubian and Stevie Nicks, and they may quote sources as seemingly random as Simon and Garfunkel, Dolly Parton, Yes and Tom Robbins. They're not above dropping a silly rhyme like "The score is real, I was not cheating / I get more intellectual than Alex P. Keaton", but they're capable of wickedly clever ones like "I'm a break that shit up like Brenda and Dylan / I write funky rhymes and you know that I'm chillin'" and brilliantly heady strings of references such as "Keep choice legal / your wardrobe regal / Chekhov wrote The Seagull / and Snoopy is a beagle." But for all their love of pop culture, Northern State's main subjects are themselves. At one point, they simply, bluntly say, "I write what I know, and I know a lot."

The most admirable thing about Dying In Stereo is how effortlessly these women apply the personal to the political, constructing a feminist rap that's pertinent to an audience far beyond its immediate target. They'll make generalized statements like "Open your minds and rewrite your texts / cuz there's a lot you can learn from the opposite sex", but what gives them power is how they sit side by side with more intimate musings, such as this one from "Vicious Cycle": "I gotta stretch beyond my capacity / musically and mentally / I gotta spend less time watching MTV / Gotta use what I have and give the rest away." Such collisions make for well rounded, fully realized self-portraits that are rare in rap (or pop music, no less).

Oh, this is fun stuff, too. Just try to get the crisp, old-school beats and "Where you at? / Over here!" chorus of "A Thousand Words" out of your head; same thing for the title track's immortal, anthem-like call-and-response: "What's a girl like me supposed to do? / Just get on the mike you know you want to!" And "At The Party" flows with wit and incisive storytelling as the girls dis bad bashes and make a claim to their worth all over the Island and beyond ("Riverdale to Gowanus / true party people want us.") Recently signed to a major label, Northern State will hopefully continue to flourish on successive efforts with all of this little album's personality, spark and local color intact.



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