It's a sound that's swiftly showing up everywhere, like a suddenly trendy drink embraced by the masses as the perfect tonic for the times. A bracing mix of tough and tender, sweet but street, that somehow makes everybody feel aa-ight in these strange, uncertain post-9/11 days.
Switch on the radio, and there it is: the sweet, breathy female voice cooing reassuringly that she's "always on time," sexily declaring "I'm real," or simply asking with concern, "What would you do?" Then, jarring us out of our complacent love vibe like a slap upside the head, comes the gruff-voiced, thuggish male rapper, letting us know this is one tough world where sentiments like "all you need is love" are so September 10th.
"What's love got to do with a little ménage à?" bellows Fat Joe between new R&B buzz girl Ashanti's melodic proclamations of "It's about us, it's about trust."
"I know you got issues," interjects the rotund rapper. "But you need to understand that you got sumthin' wit you."
Flip the dial, and there's J.Lo singing gently, "Maybe we can be friends/La da da da da da," while her pal Ja Rule eyes her famous derrière and growls, "If it get any fatter, man, the Rule gonna have to get at her!"
It's a he said-she said interplay worthy of its own UPN sitcom. We roll with the emcee's bleepin' rants on world issues and horny R-rated solutions to every problem, knowing his boo is coming back in the chorus to serenade us with more sweet nothings that somehow become more essential after each rough rap from her world-weary man.
The rocky marriage between rough-edged rapper and refined soul songbird is popping up on remixes and album tracks by everybody from R&B divas like Janet and Toni Braxton to newcomers Alicia Keys and Tweet. And the sound has already produced its own star in the form of 21-year-old Ashanti Douglas, the angelic-voiced Glen Cove, New York, beauty who's made a name for herself providing standout melodic relief on the choruses of rap hits like Ja Rule's "Always on Time," Fat Joe's "What's Luv," and the studio-resurrected Big Pun's "How We Roll." Her first solo single, "Foolish," has skyrocketed to number one on the Billboard singles chart with help from a video casting her as a married-to-the-mob moll in a GoodFellas sendup co-starring some of her raucous Murder, Inc. labelmates. And while every word the soothing chanteuse sings on her debut album, Ashanti, is wholesome enough to work as background music on Disney's Proud Family, the CD earns a parental advisory sticker thanks to the raunchy rhymes of her gangsta guests and a couple of spoken skits that crank up the drama between the good, fine woman and the big, bad man.
"We cater to the ladies," explains long-time Fat Joe associate and local DJ Khaled. "The girls are really the ones that buy the records. Every rapper says [that] when you have a record about a girl that's on a positive note, you attract a lot of girls. More girls, more record sales. You have a lot of girls in the club, you'll have a lot of guys. Girls is who you need to please."
It's not just the girls Khaled will be looking to please, though. "It's a good time to network," says the bullhorn-voiced DJ of the weekend that has so many Beach residents quaking in their Kenneth Coles. "Everybody is in town, from New York, from L.A., from Atlanta. Me being a Miami DJ, this is my prime moment. I'm gonna be at home. I'm gonna tear it down." Just make sure Ashanti or J.Lo is on hand with enough luv to help build your nest back up again.
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