This Ashanti song really isn’t very good. ‘Still On It’, released in 2005, came after what I consider to be the high-point of her career (involvement with Ja Rule and R Kelly on 2004’s ‘Wonderful‘ – so good that I crashed my bike into a car jamming to it back in the day) but before she joined Nelly and Akon to play sex object on ‘Body On Me‘ in 2008. One takes their Ashanti history very seriously. But regardless of whether she was whooping it up alongside Ja and Kellz or later, mere eye candy for Konvict and Nellz, it seemed that after those halcyon days of 2002 when ‘Foolish‘, ‘What’s Luv‘ and ‘Always On Time‘ were all top ten in the US for the same week, Ashanti faded to something of a second-class RnB citizen. Statistically, the phenomenon doesn’t make sense. Having sold over 27 million records and singles worldwide to this point, Ashanti ended the decade as the highest-selling RnB proposition after Beyonce and Alicia Keys. In the latter half of that decade, though, either her heart wasn’t in it or someone in production didn’t get the memo because no amount of Method Man, distorted bass or cute glockenspiel could save ‘Still On It’.
That’s okay, though, because as fate would have it, Ashanti and this second-rate track have been rescued from the hungry grilled-up jaws of Paul Wall obscurity with a little help from a surprising third party. Michael Imperial might sound like a bad porn name but certainly doesn’t sound like a bad porn flick. Instead, channeling post-dubstep vibes, chopped-n-screwed vocals and spacey synths, Canadian local Imperial has revived this Ashanti vocal on ‘Feenin’, delivering a track which is simultaneously twitchy and soulful in a combination he likes to call ‘Toronto Bump’. Whether or not Toronto Bump is a legitimate classification (and if it is, Hipster Runoff’s ‘Genre Tshirt‘ is going to have to look at expanding into muumuus), Imperial has undoubtedly added something intriguing to the constantly-evolving realm of skippy, funky, vocal-driven electronica. Released almost in December last year, ‘Feenin’, from his ‘Secret Drugs’ EP, continues to hold up remarkably well – a good litmus test in the high-turnover context of such tunes.
Perhaps what is most impressive for me is the way Michael Imperial has managed to define ‘Feenin’ so that thematically, it ends up sounding like a fair approximation of what it says on the box. So often with vaguely esoteric beats that riff on a particular snippet of transmogrified human voice, the name of the track seems an afterthought, something inspiring and ambiguous that might well fit the song well but just as often doesn’t. With ‘Feenin’, Ashanti’s vocals about craving someone are sonically manifested in the urgent way they’re cut up and spat out, the restless drums skittering back and forth close to the top of the mix and the way the whole piece ceases to let up, pushing unsettled sentiment relentlessly for 3’30”. The result is a track that doesn’t embrace the chill vibes of so much else out there but instead, remains a slightly challenging listen with constant demands of the listener. It’s not everyday you get Ashanti repurposed with such vision. If that sentence isn’t enough to make you listen, I don’t know what is.
Michael Imperial – Feenin