Hailing from and representing Chicago, Melisa Young a.k.a. Kid Sister is an electro-rapper in a similar vein to Ellie and Amanda Blank. Kid Sister has a better flow than Ellie and a firmer grasp of the fusion between dance and hip-hop than Amanda Blank. What this means is that with the help of very talented and under-used producers like Yuksek, Sinden, Herve, and DJ Gant-Man, UltraViolet boasts tight lyrics and an amazingly fresh sound that makes the album work anywhere.
Dance and hip-hop fans would argue this point, but I find that the two genres aren't so different that combining them doesn't make sense. And seeing people groove to tracks like Estelle's "American Boy" shows that both audiences are receptive to the fusion. I always say that hip-hop songs make for some of the best remix targets. The rhythm and rhyme of hip-hop flows very well over dance beats. And despite what sounds like a slow arrangement on most hip-hop tracks, the tempo is often comparable to most dance tracks. This makes the crossover appeal for artists like FloRida and Pitbull very obvious, when you consider these similarities. Also take into account remixes like Benny Benassi's Grammy-winning remix for Public Enemy's "Bring the Noise." Now with Will.I.Am and the Black Eyed Peas jumping the genre fence whenever possible, it's apparent that others obviously feel the same way. The two genres complement one another wonderfully. Rather than making dance tracks with hip-hop rhymes, Kid Sister has creatively pitched the two against each other in a duel to the death, allowing her producers to work with two genres in almost each song. Not only does this make the dance segments even more frenzied and energetic than dance typically is, it allows the listener to immerse themselves in each separate sound. A musical Yin and Yang.
The Battle - Round 1
The first thing that struck me about UltraViolet was just how engaging it was. From the hyper-charged opening trance synths of "Right Hand Hi" it was apparent that this was a different listen than I could have expected.
"Right Hand Hi" flows from trance to hip-hop almost joyously. The switch isn't subtle; the sound of a cocking gun signals the transfer, and also provides the clearest example of this deathly duel. The energy is high on this track, both the rapping of the verses and the singing in the chorus are well-executed, and Kid Sister decided that the energy wasn't going to stop just because the track ended. One of the best things about this album is that every track naturally flows into the next one. There is no gap unless it makes sense. The following track, "Life On TV," starts on the next beat after "Right Hand Hi" ends. In fact, I had initially wondered if the opening track had changed gears before I realized it was a new song. It is a great effect in that it does not impact any singular track. You could lift "Life On TV," for example, right off the album and it would sound just fine. The track doesn't abruptly, jarringly, and awkwardly end where the next track would start, it ends as it should. It's an excellent idea that works perfectly for maintaining the energy but allowing for future singles without future editing. While we're on the topic, "Life on TV" is a party jam with an 80s freestyle vibe, a processed hand-clap beat, and minimal use of synths during the chorus. And true to form, it falls straight into the lap of "Big N' Bad." This track is grittier, grinding down into the ground before jamming out with a hands-in-the-air chorus. The transfer between hip hop and dance is smoother than "Right Hand Hi."
The Battle - Round 2
Joining on "Step" is Estelle who is finally getting the attention she rightly deserves. This track sports freestyle jams as well, and while it is far from the best song on the album, the energy is hard to ignore. Now I can't speak to any earlier version, but "Let Me Bang" is labeled as a 2009 version. The arrangement is fairly consistent and mellow compared to the rest of the album, and showcases the most jarring disparity between Kid Sister's rhyming delivery and the music. "Pro Nails" featuring Kanye West is a fan favorite but I can't stomach it. The third guest star on Ultra Violet is Gnarls Barkley singer Cee-Lo who provides his unique vocals to the soundtrack-worthy "Daydreaming." This track has uplifting strings during the chorus and an overall hopeful and dreamy feel, and I found it immediately appealing. I love hopeful tracks. DJ Gant-Man produces and raps on the super-caffeinated, hectic, and oh-so-funky-fun "Switch Board." This cut is just so crazy, continuing the ongoing theme of clashing hip-hop against dance to see who wins, before dropping out and allowing "54321" to take the reins. Now this cut is hot, almost the hottest one on the album. There is so much tension and drama in this track and it is pure excitement to listen to. This track doesn't face dance and hip-hop off, but melds them beautifully together with consistent flow. The beat suits hip-hop, never descending into the four-to-the-floor beat that defines dance music but the synths and vocal editing supports the dance feel.
The conversion from "54321" to "Get Fresh" might sound awkward. "54321" ends
with an old-style countdown from 10, and the "1" is the beginning of
"Get Fresh," a track with an irresistible beat and flow. This track
is more outright hip-hop than any sort of pitched battle or fusion,
but it has some synths and pop sensibilities, and is one of the
strongest tracks on the album. Conversely, "You Ain't Really Down,"
with Kid Sister singing over a freestyle jam, comes across as one of
the weakest. I enjoy Kid Sister singing but I don't need a whole
track of it, especially when she tries to Diva out. "Control"
valiantly ends the album, and is also one of her strongest offerings.
TMobile G-1 customers may recognize this track as devices came
pre-loaded with the glitchy and hyper cut.
Summary - Who Is Victorious?
I was so pleased with this album. Dance is doing so well these days
that, as with every genre's time in the spotlight, we are overwhelmed
with offerings. And not all of them are quality. So it was nice to
find something refreshing and new that could reinvigorate things
rather than sound like everything else. That being said, Kid Sister's
biggest issue is the length of her tracks. Most songs on Ultra Violet
are 3 minutes or less, bringing her 12 track album to a staggering 37
minutes in length. I enjoyed it so much I wanted more. I hope she
can offer longer tracks on future albums without pumping them up with
collagen or silicon, but keeping them meaty. Who wins the battle, you
ask? You'll have to find out for yourself.
Released Nov 2009 on Downtown Records