“Real recognize real, so if you see me in the streets, stop and say ‘Hello!’…”
If you have a twitter account, ideally, you’ve been following one of the most distinctive voices on these internets – Amanda Diva. Affectionately referred to by many of her fans as “Deev,” Amanda Diva is best known for being briefly associated with former R&B duo Floetry and, before that, TV appearances on Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam and the short-lived Nickelodeon show My Brother and Me. Diva’s been hustling since then, managing two creative, entertaining webseries – “Diva Diva Y’all” and “Technicolor Lover” – and showcasing her sheer artistry through Diva’s Works of Art.
One of the best qualities about Amanda Diva is her knowledge and passion for things hip and hip-hop. However, her 2009 EP, Spandex, Rhymes,& Soul (SRS), certainly didn’t sound like hip-hop (or at least, not contemporary hip-hop). It’s hard to pigeonhole the project’s sound – and that was probably Deev’s intention – but if you had to choose a word, SRS was definitely different (my iTunes listed it as “Hiptronicsoul”). In the midst of the mixtape game experiencing a takeover of mostly marijuana-motivated artists and songs, and the female presence in (mainstream) hip-hop lacking save for an up-and-comer nicknamed after Mr. Clinton’s intern, SRS was refreshing. Its tracks ranged from finger-snapping, head-bobbing smooth cuts – “Neon” – to old-school flavored joints with a new-school twist (“It Ain’t Real”). Those who stumbled upon it got their ears blessed, and Spandex, Rhymes, & Soul made me as big a fan of Diva the musician, as I was of Diva the tweeter.
So when I heard back in April that she had a new EP on the way, I got overhype. After all, it had been two years since Deev’d last dropped and I was hungry for more “Spandex, Rhymes, and Soul”… especially more “Soul,” what with Marsha Ambrosius setting a serious tone for female vocalists for the year with Late Nights, Early Mornings. On April 27th, Amanda Diva released Madame Monochrome. My expectations were high. Were they met?
Madame Monochrome opens up, like most albums do, with an “Intro.” However, where the “Gettin’ Started Intro” of SRS was light and featured Deev vocalizing, the “Madame M. Intro” has Amanda Diva spitting in a way that’s too musical to be spoken word, yet flows too smoothly to be called “rapping.” On it, she decries the critics that want her to be monochrome (that is, in black and white/the typical one-dimensional artist). The second track, “Brand New,” which opens with a soulful sample, is just Diva showing off – she switches between singing on the chorus and bridge and flowing with purpose on the verses. The next song, “Manchild,” couples neo-soul instrumentation with Deev’s exceptional vocals when applied to a slow set. On “Manchild,” Diva laments a brother who she wants to be with that she sees so much potential in; but because he doesn’t see it in himself, she has to step away from him. “I can’t hold you back,” she croons.
The fourth track, “Babies,” is a social commentary of sorts. Deev employs her penchant for great storytelling to both express regret at and caution the youth who are essentially “babies having babies,” often neither prepared nor equipped to handle the responsibilities of parenthood. The sobering nature of “Babies” makes one thankful for the next track, “I Can See,” a feel-good motivational anthem that, in its chorus, makes a hip-hop remix reference to the Johnny Nash classic, “I Can See Clearly Now.” The sixth track, “Trendsettas,” is a catchy number on which Diva’s flow is phenomenal and in damn near perfect pace with the subtly pronounced riding instrumentation in the background. The “Little Things (Remix)” is next. As the title implies, it’s the remix of SRS’s “Little Things,” and truthfully, it’s best to listen to the original and then immediately listen to the remix after. The Remix is the subtly sexy older sister compared to the original’s neo-soul sound, a drum-accompanied ode to a lover that stands out as my favorite track on Madame Monochrome.
“We can do this right now/ Whenever you’re ready, I’m ready to be yours…”
At this point, the album approaches its wind-down point, and it’s kicked off by “Right Now.” It’s an awesome love song whose vulnerability is almost hidden by the smooth instrumentation. “Catch Me” is next on deck. It’s a love song, too… but a love song for hip-hop. In a sense, an easier-on-the-ears version of Common’s “I Used to Love H.E.R.,” “Catch Me” is definitely a song for those who believe today’s efforts in music just don’t measure up to the way things were. Deev, if ANYBODY feel you… Typo-Critical does. Which is why after all this buildup, when Amanda Diva closes the album with the “We Are Outro,” I’m disappointed. It’s nice, but much too short a close for me.
Ultimately, Amanda Diva’s Madame Monochrome is outstanding. Buoyed by nice production from James Poyser and Ski Beatz amongst others, it’s great listening from start to finish and you gotta love Deev’s
references throughout to, for example, Claude Brown’s literary masterpiece and Miles Davis’s musical one. You can download it as a FreEP, but you have the option to buy it (with a “recession friendly” name your own price option). If you dropped money on “Pink Friday,” you have no reason to not pay at least a little something for quality music like this. Cop it here.