When the discussion of greatest female emcees comes up, names like Latifah, Lyte, Lauren Hill, Salt N Pepa, and even though I think it’s a bit premature, Nicki Minaj, are often thrown around. One name that should be thrown into the conversation and is often overlooked is the artist of today’s subject. Yo-Yo.
South Central L.A. native Yolanda “Yo-Yo” Whitaker was discovered by Ice-Cube, after word spread around the area that she had the gift to spit. Cube got a chance to hear her, liked what he heard, and featured her on “It’s A Man’s World” from his debut solo album Amerikkka’s Most Wanted. The song was never released as a single but it was still a fan favorite, as she and Cube’s chemistry was undeniable on the record and she proved to the world she could hang with the fellas, even if she didn’t write all her rhymes (most of the top females in hip-hop had help writing their rhymes, so she’s not alone). Thanks to that song, her flow and being backed by one of the most respected emcees in the game at the time, Yo-Yo inked a deal with East West and released her debut album Make Way For The Motherlode, in ’91, which was overseen and co-written by her mentor Ice Cube. Yo-Yo, who was very attractive, didn’t rely on her sex appeal to gain attention, but instead, like her mentor Cube (pre-new millennium Cube) her sound was conscious, Afrocentric and hardcore, as she dubbed herself the strong intelligent black lady and rolled with her crew IBWC (Intelligent Black Women Coalition). Make Way For The Motherlode didn’t move a ton of units but is was a critical success, forcing fans to pay attention the blonde-braided black bombshell.
Yo-Y0 would return in ’92, releasing her sophomore effort Black Pearl. Even though Ice Cube is credited as the executive producer, Yo-Yo would have complete creative control this time around, including writing more of her rhymes. Ice Cube’s right hand man Sir Jinx and DJ Pooh (the sight of his name brings a smirk to my face, as I will always associate him as Red trying to get his beach cruiser back from Debo in Friday) would handle the majority of the production duties, with contributions from a few others. A surprise to no one, Black Pearl didn’t do well commercially but it was also considered a critical failure.
Yo-Yo would go on to release two more album on the East West label, and recorded a third one that was never released (Ebony), due to issues with getting proper clearance from the labels of the artists who made guest appearances on some of the album tracks. Yo-Yo would soon grow tired of the industry and walked way from the game for good, hanging up her mic before the start of the new millennium.
The No Intro – Ice Cube is the first voice you hear on Black Pearl, as he introduces Yo-Yo on an intro, that according to the title, shouldn’t exist.
Home Girl, Don’t Play That – DJ Pooh builds the opening song’s instrumental around a loop from Isaac Hayes’ “Joy” (next to James Brown, Isaac has to be the most sample artist in hip-hop history). Yo-Yo uses the solid production to instruct the ladies on how to survive the mean inner-city streets (rule#1 is pretty hi-larious). Ice Cube affiliate Threat is credited with penning this one for our host. Decent start to the show.
So Funky – Pooh borrows a loop from another hip-hop favorite (Zapp’s “Be Alright”) for this instrumental. Yo-Yo uses it to “talk her shit” over, and proves she can hold her own on the microphone.
Black Pearl – Over a r&b tinged instrumental (with the production credit going to Down Low Productions), Yo-Yo dedicates this one to all the sistas out there, encouraging them to press on and be courageous in spite of all the challenges black women face in this cold world. Big Bubba(remember him? the lead singer from the short-lived, late eighties/early nineties, r&b group Today?) stops by to sing the hook on this uplifting record. Some might find this too soft, but I actually like this one.
Cleopatra – Down Low Productions gets their (his? her?) second consecutive production credit of the evening, and this one has a much rougher sound than its predecessor. Yo-Yo’s on her “intelligent black woman” ish as she displays how a strong black woman handles the mic. This was cool.
It’s A Long Way Home – DJ Muggs (from Cypress Hill) gets his only production credit on Black Pearl, as he hooks up a mid-tempo instrumental build around an Otis Redding loop, that has that Muggs signature dusty, slightly drunken sound written all over (matter of fact, he used this same loop for another song, though I can’t think of which song it was at the moment). Yo-Yo uses it to address those suffering from, what I like to refer to as, the Clarence Thomas syndrome: negroes who, with help from others, succeed and make it out the hood but then look back and negatively criticize those who haven’t made it, nor do they bother trying to help others. I like Yo-Yo’s intent, but she sounds like she’s trying to cram too many words into her verses, and Muggs’ borderline boring instrumental, kind of drowns out her voice.
You Should Have Listened – Yo-Yo is back on her soapbox, scolding hard-headed females, who despite being warned of the impending consequences, still make bad decisions. I had to double check the production credit on this one, as Sir Jinx’ instrumental sounds nothing like the harder stuff he used for Cube’s solo work. Yes, this record is soft and squeaky clean, but it’s still decent.
Woman To Woman – This one opens with Yo-Yo getting a phone call from an upset woman (with her friend co-signing in the background) who apparently found Yo-Yo’s phone number in her man’s pants pocket. For the next two verses, Y0-Yo quickly puts sista girl in check, reminding her the person she should really have a problem with is her man, as she sarcastically rhymes “how did I know that’s your man,? It wasn’t like he had a sign in his hand”. The DJ Pooh/Bobcat/Rashad concocted instrumental wasn’t bad, but Yo-Yo’s concept and flow carrier this one.
Hoes – Threat drops in for this duet with Yo-Yo, as the two swap verses, similar to what Cube and Yo-Yo did on “It’s A Man’s World”. The DJ Pooh instrumental sounds like a slowed down version of the instrumental for BDP’s “Sex And Violence” (though they used different samples: BDP’s loop is from Booker T & The M.G.’s “Boot Leg”, Pooh’s is from the Bar Kays “Humpin'”), and its pretty nice. No, it doesn’t hold a candle to “It’s A Man’s World”, but its decent, and it was nice to hear Threat put his nimble flow on display.
I Can’t Take No More – Yo-Yo comes from the perspective of a battered woman who finally finds the strength to leave her abusive man and begin a new life. Props for the intent, but Yo-Yo’s execution, the chorus and Sir Jinx garbage instrumental send this song crashing in fiery flames.
A Few Good Men – On this one Yo-Yo challenges the brothers to step up and be the strong positive role models the black community needs them to be. Lench Mob affiliated Kam, is credited for writing Yo-Yo’s lyrics on this one. But not even Kam’s pen and Yo-Yo’s voice can hide the mediocrity of DJ Pooh’s instrumental.
Will You Be Mine – Yo-Yo closes Black Pearl with a cheesy love rap, over a sappy r&b tinged instrumental, courtesy of Sir Jinx. This was corny.
Black Pearl is not a terrible album. A third of the songs are fast forward material, but at 12 tracks and a total run time of only 38 minutes, none of the songs run too long, which makes listening to even the bad songs, bearable. I’m sure Yo-Yo was excited to have creative control of Black Pearl, but looking back, I’m sure she would even admit it might have benefited from a little Cube Vision.