YoYo – Total Control (October 29, 1996)

By 1996, YoYo was a seasoned vet in the game, known mainly for her conscious messages, specifically focused on the upliftment of Black women, hence the formation of her Intelligent Black Woman Coalition aka IBWC. Under the tutelage of Ice Cube, the South Central L.A. emcee was able to string together three respectable albums (Make Way For The Motherlode, Black Pearl and You Better Ask Somebody) that would bear fruit to a few mild hit singles (see “You Can’t Play With My Yo-Yo,” “Black Pearl,” and “The Bonnie And Clyde Theme”). But in ‘94, Yolanda would raise her profile, after making a cameo appearance on the remix for Brandy’s debut hit single, “I Wanna Be Down,” alongside Queen Latifah and MC Lyte. YoYo has said in interviews that around the same time she was yearning for more creative freedom on her records and wanted to shed her “hardcore” persona and embrace her feminine side (“I wanted to be pretty, I needed make-up and hair, I wanted them to see the woman that I am…know that I don’t have a gat in my purse”), which would be the muse for her fourth release, Total Control.

As the title suggests, YoYo would have more creative control over the album. She’s credited as the album’s sole executive producer, and this would be her first outing that Ice Cube didn’t oversee. The underappreciated, Battlecat is credited with producing five of the album’s ten tracks, with a few other hands handling the rest, and YoYo would invite some special guests to appear on a handful of songs as well. Unfortunately, YoYo wasn’t able to build on her Brandy exposure, as Total Control would be a commercial failure and would be the last album YoYo would release into the world (there was a fifth album recorded, Ebony, which was shelved and would never see the light of day). Nowadays you can catch YoYo taking part in the buffoonery that takes place on the VH1 reality TV series, Love & Hip-Hop: Hollywood.

I found YoYo’s first three releases moderately enjoyable, so when I came across a used CD copy of Total Control, I had to cop. Not only to check out the music, but also to complete my YoYo collection. This is my first time listening to Total Control, so let’s see how things went without Cube’s vision or should I say, Cube Vision (*rimshot*).

One For The Cuties – YoYo kicks off Total Control with a MC Lyte duet that finds the two veteran emcees body shaming men, height shaming men, and sexually objectifying them. Lyte sets the tone with her opening line: “I keep ‘em on lock down but I gets around, he can tie me up, I’ll be damned I let him tie me down.” The ladies dedicate the hook to all the attractive big dick brothers with money, leaving all the ugly broke little dick dudes feeling like shit. Battlecat provides a breezy synth backdrop that works nice behind these two beautiful Queens, who sound like their having a ball (no pun intended) doing what male rappers have done to women in song for decades.

YoYo Funk – Battlecat (with a co-credit going to YoYo) interpolates Tom Browne’s “Funkin’ For Jamaica (N.Y.),” turning the classic record into a slower water submerged G-Funk groove that our hostess uses to celebrate her music, but more so, her body. The hook includes a Zapp-esque voice singing and Ruff Dogg (worst alias candidate) borrowing a line from “Bonita Applebum” (the classic Tribe record even gets a sample credit in the liner notes…Tribe Degrees of Separation: check). I didn’t like this one my first few listens through, but Battlecat’s beat, and YoYo’s funk are starting to grow on me.

Bonnie And Clyde II – YoYo and Ice Cube return with the sequel to one of YoYo’s biggest singles off the You Better Ask Somebody album. By ‘96, Ice Cube was deep into his movie bag, so it’s only right that he serves up a criminal script for he and his partner in crime that finds the duo involved in a drug heist that results in murder and a shootout with 5-0 (oh, how they have both fallen from consciousness). Battlecat lays warm synthesized notes over the drums from Zapp’s “More Bounce To The Ounce,” and this one ends up being mildly entertaining. Side note: During the break after the second verse, Battlecat slices up a bunch of vocal snippets, which includes an often-used Q-Tip line from “Hot Sex” (“Where Ya At?”). Just wanted to offer up a second option for Tribe Degrees of Separation in case the first one didn’t suffice.

Steady Risin’ – DJ U-Neek builds the instrumental around an interpolation of Cheryl Lynn’s “Got To Be Real,” as Yo talks her shit and rides the polished poppy beat, effectively. Shout out to Cheryl Miller and rip to Aretha Franklin, George and Weezy.

Same Ol’ Thang (Everyday) – Yolanda gets off three verses about three different male suitors or boyfriends: Guy one, she meets at a club and all he wants to do is spend money on her, which for some reason is a problem for our hostess. Guy two is a hardworking man who works so hard he doesn’t have the energy to spend quality time with her, or as she hi-lariously puts it: “This Al Bundy ass nigga treatin’ me like Peg, never wanna bring his workin’ ass to bed” (random thought: I never understood why Al treated Peg like that. Her wig was kind of goofy, but she looked alright in them leggings and heels). And guy three is a loser drug dealer who still lives with his mom but for one reason or another, YoYo can’t seem to get enough of him. I’m not sure what the hook (which heavily borrows from Cherrelle’s “Saturday Love” and is sung by a lady, simply credited as Dori) has to do with the verses, and honestly, I’m not sure what the purpose of this song was.

Tre’ Ride – YoYo celebrates the West Coast car culture and dedicates this one to her souped up ‘63 Chevy Impala. The whole notion that YoYo drives around South Central L.A. hittin’ switches and three-wheel motion sounds a bit unbelievable, but the soft slightly seductive tone she uses during this song makes her adventures in dippin’ through the hood sound appealing. Even more appealing is the Moe Dee/Lea Reis concocted smooth funk groove that’s punctuated by seductive guitar licks, courtesy of Ricky Rouse. And shout out to MC Breed (rip) for using his soulful gravelly voice to provide the dope and catchy hook.

Body Work – The listener is immediately greeted by clapping drums, a cheesy Casio keyboard melody, the late Teena Marie singing adlibs, and YoYo shooting down a brother’s attempt to get the draws, before quickly caving in. The rest of the song consist of YoYo flirting with said dude, repeatedly inviting the lucky young man to “Slip it in and press play,” boasts of having a bomb box, only to sound super insecure seconds later when she asks him how good her box was (“Was it better from the back on every track? I won’t be offended if you say the shit is wack”). Teena Marie is a legend and God bless the dead, but she has been known to miss a note or two during her lengthy career. At certain points on this record, some of her adlibs and runs sound horrendous. But in her defense, the hook is so cheesy I don’t even think Whitney Houston (rip) could have made it work. This record is an absolute train wreck.

How Can I Be Down – Rough Dogg returns and joins YoYo on this duet that finds the two exchanging generic clichés and cheesy one-liners (Rough Dogg wins cheesiest line of the song with “You got my meat, harder than concrete”) over a happy synthesized backdrop with an imitation Roger Troutman singing the hook. This is bubble gum rap at its finest.

Thank You, Boo – YoYo plays the role of a woman who’s found out that her boyfriend has been cheating on her and she spends the rest of the song masking her hurt and pain with fake gratitude (by the way, if you claim to have “the best pussy in the world” and your man is treating you like his “number three girl,” your pussy might not be as good as you think it is). Treach peaks in for a quick second and gets off half a bar towards the end of the song (he also receives a writing credit in the liner notes, and the hook reeks of his pen). I’m sure at some point over the past twenty-seven years this song has been a source to help some heartbroken young lady heal, but I’m not her and this one didn’t do much for me.

YoYo’s Night – Our gracious host closes out the album with a remake of Kool & Gang’s hit record, “Ladies Night.” Warren G provides a smooth but slippery G-Funk groove that YoYo uses to proudly boast about her thigh gap and being “thick as tree trunk” (yummy to both of those attributes), but ultimately, she’s looking to let her hair down and have a good time. Similar to “YoYo Funk,” this was a pretty unimaginative record, but I still enjoyed it. And shoutout to the uncredited vocalist who did her thing on the hook.

With YoYo at the creative helm, Total Control definitely has a different sound than her previous three albums. Gone are the Black woman empowerment themes and positive messages. Instead, Yolanda spends the bulk of the album discussing relationships, dick and her vagina (without sounding crass or vulgar), often rolling all three topics into the same conversation. Along with the change in content, the production on Total Control has a polished contemporary R&G-Funk sound that isn’t spectacular or horrible but falls somewhere in between the two extremes.

I think it’s fair to call Total Control YoYo’s sellout album. The heavily R&B seasoned instrumentals and the easily accessible pop remakes paired with her dumbed down content are clear indicators that she was chasing commercial success this go round. And even with crossover aspirations, Total Control isn’t a bad album. It just doesn’t have enough meat or memorable moments, and without a strong single, it’s easily forgettable.


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