My knowledge of Cassie before she dropped a mixtape last week called RockaByeBaby was practically naught. That’s fair, given that the heiress apparent to the sensual R&B throne (long since abandoned by Rihanna for pop) has had more than a few false starts to her career. Cassie Ventura, primed as the next Ciara or something, put out one album in 2006 which did relatively well, before failing to follow it up. And when I say ‘failing’, I mean she released three singles with the likes of Lil Wayne, Akon and Diddy on features duty and not one managed to chart. Whether that’s a case of bad management or bad timing, Cassie soon switched labels and found herself on Interscope, home to Eminem, 50 Cent and Kendrick Lamar. She also decided, on advice from her mentor Diddy, to release a free collection of songs to showcase her ‘grittier edge’, which is marketing terms for ‘talk about sex a lot and get guest artists who threaten to kill people.’ As it turns out, it’s a suit that she wears well, and having looked into her back catalogue, these are easily the best songs she’s ever written. And she’s giving them out for free. I hope there’s a detailed business strategy in there somewhere.
Unlike male R&B, which has in recent times benefited immensely from lush live instrumentation – hello Miguel, et al – it seems to still that the only vocals the public want to hear from young, mixed-race females in this space must be parsed over synths and drums from the year 3013. This has been the case with Ciara, Ashanti, Tweet and Aaliyah, not to mention girl groups like Destiny’s Child and Mis-Teeq, which all had backing tracks that sounded way ahead of their time. Cassie’s rolodex of producers on this mixtape include the guys behind Kanye’s ‘Mercy’, Ace Hood’s ‘Bugatti’ and other bass-heavy future-jams, plays perfectly into this formula, allowing her to use her distinctive, robot-sounding alto to really make the tracks her own. It’s also stacked with heavy hitters, like Meek Mill, French Montana and Fabolous. It’s all so wickedly overdone and completely unrealistic that it’s hard to choose one track to feature, but the sinewy ping-pong synths of ‘Paradise’ make it quite a lot easier.
‘Paradise’ is pretty much the exact intersection between the high-flying ambiance of The-Dream and the bottom end of Maybach Music Group. Those trap snares and incredible bass free falls could only come from the mind of the immense dude who spends his day getting in and out of cars with suicide doors, with production coming from Da Internz, who helped assists Nas’ return to form on ‘The Don’, and Rob Holladay, who has previously worked with Drake. It’s so techno-influenced, yet so smooth, with Cassie’s sultry lead line merging with the groove seamlessly. Sure, she’s not winning points for advancing the cause of feminism, but if we’re allowed guilty pleasures from our male stars, surely we can allow a little indulgence here. By making an impossible world possible, Cassie’s f-bomb-dropping fembot somehow comes off a bit more believable than her sizeable base of peers. It may be the kind of music you’d expect in a cut scene from Fast & Furious, but those movies continue to make serious money for a reason.
This entire track is just so slick that it defies explanation. Through out the fades and the swishes and the hip-hop shiny wrapping, there’s still a distinctive voice coming through there, which Cassie is to be commended (and hopefully rewarded) for. Even Wiz Khalifa, known to us for detracting from a song simply by existing, puts in an admirable verse that helps evoke a fantasy-land where girls blow thick plumes of smoke out of their mouths all day (in bikinis) and never, ever get cancer. You can use computers to auto-tune voices and brighten up guitars, or you can throw out the baby with the bathwater and create a new world for someone’s ears. This is the latter.
Good job, RockaBye Baby. You may have your second coming yet.
Cassie ft. Wiz Khalifa – ‘Paradise’