Ursula Rucker: ma'at mama
!K7 Records

Bold, brash, proud, defiant, militant—sound poetess Ursula Rucker brings fearless attitude and generations of deep African-American experience to her provocative ma'at mama. Poetry and music intertwine on this third album (following 2001's Supa Sista and 2003's Silver and Lead) by the Philadelphia mother of four boys: over backings drawn from hip-hop, soul, jazz, and blues, Rucker pontificates on weighty matters like slavery, misogyny, and identity (“I know who I is,” she declares in the hip-hop dirge “For Women”). And though her uncompromisingly honest portrait of society is bleak (fueled by a fiery guitar riff and funk rhythms, “Rant (Hot in Here)” itemizes a laundry list of societal ills including poverty, gun culture, sexism, racism, war, and AIDS), she ends the album with a plea for positivity (“On this day there will be no talk of war, or politic, or disaster, or death / Love is alive today so we will speak only of love”) while elsewhere encourages disgruntled citizenry to “start a … revolution.”

Though it's hardly retrograde, the album's roots are in the ‘60s, a time of free jazz, black power, sound poetry, and revolution. Consequently, the album naturally includes dramatic spoken word pieces (“Humbled,” “Uh Uh,” “Spiri-Chant”) with the most powerful the bluesy dirge “Children's Poem” whose spectrum of moods encompasses bitterness (“My mama said 'slavery is alive and well' / I didn't believe her… but she was right”) and hope. Elsewhere, Rucker presents “the longest minute in cunnilingus history” over in a ‘60s jazz backing in “Black Erotica” and takes shots at shallow pop culture (“I ain't your hollablack girl”) in “I Ain't (Yo' Punk Ass Bitch).” A couple of caveats: at times her material is too burdened and heavy-handed, and you long for her to lighten up, plus it'd be nice to hear more of her singing, given how good it sounds on “Broken.” Even so, you've got to admire her outspokenness, or, as she herself puts it, “Why am I so raw? ‘Cause I don't fuck with protocol or propriety.”

February 2006