With "VYP," Lil Mama is out to prove she isn't a one-hit wonder -- and succeeds. (
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By Recordings Quick Spins
Tuesday, April 29, 2008




Lil Mama

Other than a shared affinity for fashions of the '80s, singer Santogold and rapper Lil Mama appear pretty different on the surface of things. Philly native Santogold (a.k.a. Santi White) has been heralded as an emerging talent, and her mostly stellar self-titled debut will only bolster that reputation. Brooklyn rapper Lil Mama (Niatia Kirkland) has been cast as a one-hit wonder who may never duplicate the success of her year-old mega-single, "Lip Gloss," but is releasing her first LP, "VYP: Voice of the Young People," anyway.

Lil Mama's new release is fortified by the mainstream sounds of T-Pain and Chris Brown. Santogold's first full-length album (a collaboration with John Hill, a former band mate in Stiffed) is filled with cool-kid producers and collaborators such as Diplo, Spank Rock's Naeem Juwan and former Bad Brains drummer Chuck Treece, and has everyone calling Santogold the next Maya Arulpragasam.

But those who think Santogold's creative twin is M.I.A. don't know much about Lil Mama.

After all, both Santogold and Lil Mama enjoy unnecessary acronyms (Lil Mama's dark street story, "L.I.F.E.," and Santogold's spectral, guitar-heavy single, "L.E.S. Artistes"). Plus, they both like sparkles: Lil Mama, as shown in her video for "G-Slide (Tour Bus)," a "Wheels on the Bus"-based dance track, likes to sprinkle inanimate objects with magical, transforming purple pixie dust, while Santogold, if her album cover is any indication, enjoys her glitter gold and regurgitated.

Most importantly, they both make pop music. Even though Lil Mama is a disciple of R&B/hip-hop pop, while Santogold repurposes bits of new wave, dub and anything else that strikes her fancy, there is a definite overlap in their styles. Now that hipsters have stopped ignoring the guilty pleasure that is recess rap, and more commercial artists are fooling around with various types of music, the distinction between the SXSW darling and the schoolyard superstar is not always so clear.

While Santogold has been collaborating with Ashlee Simpson of late, Lil Mama teamed up with Peter Toh, founding member of Long Island punk outfit the Stryder, for the ska-sounding "Truly in Love." The robotic Santogold track "Creator," provided by M.I.A. producer Switch, has appeared in an advertisement for some new flavored light beer from Budweiser, while Lil Mama has so far shielded her best-known track from being used to hawk lip balms, sticks, stains and the like.

Lil Mama's "One Hit Wonder," a jumpy synth track with bhangra influences and monastic chants that mixes rap braggadocio with a little indie rock self-awareness, would be perfectly at home on Santogold's disc, while the latter's "Unstoppable," with its childlike "la la la" noises and simple beat sounds akin to the soundtrack for a kids' clapping game, would kill on the playground.

"VYP" does have expected disposable dance tracks such as "Pick It Up," and the requisite joint with "shawty" in the title ("Shawty Get Loose"), and Santogold gives fans plenty to nerd out on with bizarrely captivating tracks such as the haunting "Starstruck" and the remix of "You'll Find a Way." But strange surprises on both debuts prevent "Santogold" from being classified as genre-hopping sounds and astral effects coated in the precious ore of indie cred, and "VYP" from being written off as sticky, quickly fading, berry-tinted commercial glop.

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