Thursday, 13 November 2014

Mia X - Good Girl Gone Bad (1995)

It would be a huge exaggeration to say that this album was why I gave up on rock music about half way through the 1990s, but it was definitely in there somewhere as one of a number of reasons why there didn't seem to be much point in listening to noodling guitar wankers with floppy hair ever again. I'm not sure how far Mia X's fame spread beyond American shores, or even how much it spread beyond her native Louisiana. Mama Drama, her third and sadly final album at the time of writing went gold, but I'm not really sure what that means. Anyway, however big she made it, she almost certainly deserved to make it a whole lot bigger.

You could probably call this gangsta if you really felt the need, but you'd be missing the point, which in Mia X's case rudely underscored Chuck D's claim of rap being the black CNN. You might even say she took it a stage further to something bordering on counselling. If the black man in America so often tends to find himself with the shitty end of the stick, then it seems to be the lot of the black woman in America to wash his pants after he's wiped his hands on them. Mia X, clearly no stranger to tough times, tells it like it was two decades ago and almost certainly still is for all those trapped in that demographic which usually makes it onto the telly as either a crime or poverty statistic. I know it probably sounds a bit wank to say she tells it like it is, but she really does, or did - unscheduled pregnancy, selling illegal substances in a bid to make ends meet, boyfriend led astray by ne'er-do-wells, chaps declining to go south, keeping your hand on your ha'penny when himself is in the stripy hole for a while, how to deal with the death of your closest friend, and there's not much room left for the make-believe stuff everyone always seems to expect from a record of this kind. If the subjects mean little, then it's possible that you may not be a young black woman and that these tracks aren't specifically directed at you, although that doesn't mean you shouldn't be able to appreciate them all the same. I can imagine there are a few young girls out there who really might have benefited from listening to this album at certain points of their lives in the absence of better advice or education. Come to think of it, the woman who lives across the road from me probably could have benefited from this one given her somewhat weird understanding of pregnancy and belief that contraception doesn't really make much of a difference.

All this hard-edged edumacation works so well on Good Girl Gone Bad because it's so obviously told from direct experience and without either sentiment, sermonising, or being blinged up as ghetto fabulous poverty porn; and because retired or otherwise Mia X remains one of the all-time greats of the genre, certainly one of the finest female rap artists ever to pick up a microphone. Furthermore, the album benefits from having emerged during a period when the No Limit label was still working with a low budget variation on that Bay Area sound - the tinny ping of Roland drum machines contrasting with the warmth of a deep, organic bass and that sort of understated electric piano that always seems to invoke slow moving vehicles, hot weather and raw menace. Every single track here is a killer.

Apparently Mia X herself now runs her own restaurant somewhere in New Orleans, so rap's loss is probably seafood's gain. It would be nice to hear her back in the booth, but I'm sure she's happy as she is. Not many people ever get to record a debut album quite so good or quite so enduring as this one.

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