Thursday, April 11, 2013

U.S.A. (United State of Atlanta)
Blender, late summer 2005

by Simon Reynolds

“Wait” is, no contest, 2005’s most striking single. The track’s radically emaciated structure--just that four-note sequence of 808 bass-thud, a few fingersnaps, and a faint rustle of hi-hat--eclipses even previous pinnacles of minimalism like the Neptunes-produced “Grindin’”. Yet many who dig the Ying Yang sound recoil from the words as mere sexual-harassment-with-a-beat. You don’t have to be prudish or PC to flinch at lines like “I’m gonna beat that pussy up”--less a would-be seducer’s come-on murmured into a lady’s delicate shell-like than the boast of a schoolyard bully about to go on a nerd-crushing rampage, surely?

If “Wait” pushes beyond your personal comfort zone, prepare to be outright traumatized by “Pull My Hair”, the stand-out track on the Ying Yang Twins’ fourth album. Built, like the bulk of U.S.A., by the Atlanta duo’s audio-svengali Mr. Collipark, the track is absolutely stunning, from its low growling bassline and spare snare-clicks to the eerie spatial placement of the vocals, whose sculptural vividness verges on psychedelic. What comes out of D-Roc and Kaine’s mouths ain’t pretty, though: “look, bitch/you’ve been talking a whole lotta shit/but wait ‘til you see my dick… your ass is in trouble… fuck you ‘til you crack”. Creepier still, the album implies that domination and degradation is what women “really want” by framing “Wait” and “Pull” with “Sex Therapy” skits, in which female callers tell a radio host how they like to be approached (“step up with swagger… and take control with me”) and what turns them on (“I can’t lie--I likes its rough”). Forming a triple-X trilogy with “Wait” and “Pull”, “Bedroom Boom” is more softcore, all caressing harpsichord ripples and baby-oil vocals from Avant. But clunker lines like “spread your legs like a bald eagle” show the Twins have got some ways to go before they truly master the Keith Sweat mode.

Just as you’re thinking that D-Roc and Kaine should go get lessons in love-making from Al Green, “Long Time” turns up, its gorgeous chorus borrowed from the Reverend’s “Belle.” Gospel-crunk featuring neo-soul singer Anthony Hamilton, the track is U.S.A.’s only song of devotion, but tellingly, the object of adoration here is masculine (the Almighty Lord). “My Brother’s Keeper” likewise reserves its tenderness for man-to-man relationships, wrapping the lyrics (about fraternal loyalty in the face of adversity) in a dreamy swirl of sound that recalls Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”. But U.S.A. does spare a scrap of empathy for Womankind on “Live Again”, an uncharacteristically compassionate portrait of a single mom stripper struggling to escape the clubs. Maroon 5’s Adam Levine (fresh from cameoing on Kanye’s new LP, he’s clearly the new Michael McDonald, the whiteboy rated “soulful” by African-Americans) croons sweet’n’sad about how the girl's existence is as confined as “a little box”. As these gestures toward depth and range suggest, Ying Yang Twins also chafe at the fetters of genre. But soon they’re back toiling at the crunk grindstone, rasping out song after song in praise of ass, thongs, and female compliance. It may not feed the soul, but it clearly pays the bills.

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