Artists of the Year

When sharks have sex, they rip each other to shreds. They writhe against one another, wrapped tight in a blood blanket that slowly drifts away on a current when the act is done. Sometimes you want more than a handsome face and smooth moves. Music and movies have been pretty blah this year, while nature is always vicious and terrible and glamorous.

Lisa Carver is a columnist for Nerve (soon to be an HBO series) and the author of Dancing Queen and Rollerderby.

 

Patterson Hood
By Laura Sinagra

 

"And I never saw Lynyrd Skynyrd, but I sure saw Molly Hatchet," drawls Patterson Hood, kicking off "Act II" of the Drive-By Truckers' fourth album, the double-disc Southern Rock Opera. And if that lyric makes you laugh, then slide the metal end into the buckle and pull the strap, 'cause the rest is gonna make you cry.

Hood, Gen X Alabaman son of a Muscle Shoals bass-man, has gotten a rep for his compelling onstage banter as much as for his band's country-punk squall; his extended spoken intros and song lyrics wrassle with boredom, the bottle, and other more insidious Southern discomforts. Pizza Deliverance and the live Alabama Ass Whuppin' packed tunes about roommates with loaded guns, old swingers with blue intentions, macho-movie badass Steve McQueen, and the death from AIDS of a rocker friend. We learn that "18 Wheels of Love" was a wedding gift to his mom and an unlikely love-tamed trucker. On Opera, Hood's instinct to use the Skynyrd narrative as a map to revisit and reclaim his own private South evolves from crossroads exorcism into catharsis of empathy.

Backed by his longtime bandmate, picker-punk Mike Cooley, and by riff-twisting noise poet Rob Malone, Hood uses "Act I" to exhume pesky demons such as George Wallace, and "Act II" to conjure kindred spirits--boys who used music to transcend their backwater birthright. His doomed fantasy is a flash meeting of cultures, when Skynyrd "had New York critics and redneckers...eatin' out their hand." Songs such as "Life in the Factory" and "Shut Up and Get On the Plane" burst with the thrill of escape "from the swamps of northern Florida," and foretells the anguish that awaits in "the swamps just north of Baton Rouge." When Hood reaches Skynyrd's 1977 plane crash, there's no fire-and-rain self-pity, only fear and light--resulting in a shockingly lovely imagining of death. "And I'm scared shitless/Of what's coming next/It's angels I see in the trees/Waiting for me." And, of course, for you.

Laura Sinagra is a New York-based writer and a frequent contributor to City Pages.

 

Missy Elliott
By Melissa "Missy" Maerz

 

Think some skinny-ass hoochie gonna get ur freak on? Fat chance. Over the past 12 months, Gwynnie proved to be shallower than Hal, Mariah blamed her eating disorder on Joan Rivers, and indie rock's Mama Cass--Beth of the Gossip--pulled her shirt off during a concert in England and proudly shook her belly in defiance of the music weekly NME, who had recently ridiculed Missy Elliott for being overweight.

People, are we living in Renaissance times--believing that perfect bodies are signifiers of perfect souls? Why can't we understand that when it comes to breakin' down the beat, ain't nobody gonna slap! slap! slap! if baby don't got back? Thank goodness for the bump'n'grind-yer-behind of Miss E...So Addictive, which has a thick clubber thump that's even more bootylicious than Beyoncé. "Freak that! Come here baby, grab me from the back," Ms. Supa Dupa Fly sings on the breathy bouncer, "4 My People." After the kung fu of "Get Ur Freak On," the stank funk of "Lick Shots," and the diva believah that is "Minute Man," you're so worked up and ready to go that you'll grab anything that's not jiggling too fast.

Maybe what the riot grrrl movement always needed was Miss Demeanor to step in and say "C'mon, get crunk with me." So Addictive is about the same things Bikini Kill championed a decade ago: independent women and their unabashed pleasure (see also: Miss E's not-so-subtle Ecstasy references.) If pop is meant to be a pure indulgence, there's no use in MTV starlets starving themselves on a flavored breath-spray diet just to secure a spot on TRL. ("She hungry, I'll feed her fries," Redman raps on Elliott's "Dog in Heat.")

And to all you Timbaland fans out there: Elliott made her own damn fame. I never heard anyone insisting that Easy Mo Bee made Notorious B.I.G. into the heavyweight MC that he was. And if you wanna know exactly how the self-confident Elliott stands so proudly on her own, I'm sure she'd be happy to give you the skinny.

Melissa "Missy" Maerz is the music editor at City Pages.

 

Mary J. Blige
By Britt Robson

 

It's not enough to call Mary J. Blige "the Queen of hip-hop soul." No less than Kurt Cobain did with grunge rock, Blige has intuitively laid bare her internal conflicts with an honesty so riveting and immediate that she's catalyzed and defined a new genre of music, transforming new jack swing into hip-hop soul.

Blige's trademark use of melisma and minor-key modulations has made her the most imitated vocalist of the past decade, but it was her street-diva attitude and visceral connection to strife and scorn that gave her the credibility to reach across the soul/hip-hop divide. Overcoming the demons from her rough childhood in the projects and rebutting her well-deserved reputation for being abrasive posed a professional risk as well as a personal challenge. Despite occasional rumors and PR proclamations of a kinder, gentler Mary in the late Nineties, it was increasingly apparent that Blige either wouldn't or couldn't change.

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