Basically… I don’t care how many records you sold, I don’t care what record label you’re on, I don’t care whose albums you were featured on, I don’t care who you’ve ghostwritten for, I don’t care who has ghostwritten for you, I don’t care who you’re friends with, I don’t care who you’re dating, I don’t care who makes up your fanbase, I don’t care about your looks, I don’t care where you’re from, I don’t care how old you are, I don’t care if you’re male or female, I don’t care about any criminal charges pending, I don’t care what you’ve done before rapping, I don’t care what car you drive, I don’t care what brand of clothes you’re endorsing, I don’t care how many platinum plaques you have at home, I don’t care how your video looks, I don’t care who produced your album, I don’t care if you can freestyle or not, I don’t care what radio stations are playing your songs, I don’t care what your underground resume is, I don’t care how many years you’ve been in the game, I don’t care whether you released ten albums or this is your first one, I simply don’t care. I just want… a good album, that’s all I’m asking for. Yup, it’s that easy. And yet so difficult, obviously. Of course you can and will make those matters the subject of your lyrics, and they will undoubtedly play into my perception of you as a rap artist, but I’ll say it again: I just want a good album. Because in 99.99% of all the cases I pay a good amount of money for it. I’m entitled to a satisfying product, like any other customer.

Whaddaya know, he’s introducing a Foxy Brown record review with this stuff. He will either trash it, saying: I don’t care how good you look, your album is still bad, or: I don’t care how good someone looks, I judge rappers and records based on how they sound. Well, I’ll have to go with the second one, as this is one of the better rap albums of 2001.

I’m not sure how it happened, but sometime during the ’90s the female rappers who had been in charge for several years faded away to make room for a new breed of Jills with skills. If MC Lyte and Roxanne Shanté represented the pioneering phase of the ’80s and Queen Latifah was the First Lady of conscious rap, their successors were more influenced by the ‘gangster’ flair prevailing from coast to coast. First there was Yo-Yo, then there was Boss, all still situated on the West Coast. Antoinette, who waged a war with MC Lyte, may have called herself the ‘Gangstress of Rap’ back in the late ’80s, but the New York of the ’90s unknowingly waited for someone to spit the female version of that ‘gangsta shit’. Pretty much simultaneously emerged two ladies, one Foxy Brown, the other Lil’ Kim. Given the fact that their male mentors were friends, everyone expected them to be friends too. Fast forward a couple of years to what many people thought was inevitable: Kim and Foxy were beefing. That was the situation when “Broken Silence” came out earlier this year. That’s why on this album you’ll witness more than a few side-swipes as well as some direct disses towards Lil’ Kim. Personally I think that Foxy wins this one by way of a better album. That is all the more surprising as I think “Hard Core” still outweighs “Ill Na Na” and “Chyna Doll” combined. But with “Broken Silence” it seems as if Inga Marchand has broken away from record label pressure and finally came of age. I always thought the difference between Kim and Fox was that from her first appearance on L.L. Cool J’s “I Shot Ya (Remix)” on Fox SOUNDED like a grown woman, while Kim had to try hard to put on her act of ‘Queen Bee’. I’m talking about voice, flow, intonation, but you could also link that to the fact that Kim had to rely on plastic surgeons to boost her appearance, while Foxy could be pretty sure of her feminine self. See, these are the kind of stupid comparisons rap listeners make, 5 minutes after they proclaimed they would ‘not care’ how a rapper looks.

Considering this, I got to give props to BOTH of these rappers for NORMALLY not exploiting their looks in their lyrics. They might have exploited them for their public appearances, but when Kim and Foxy rap, it’s all about what they can ‘do to ya’, as Biggie would put it. It’s not her looks that define Foxy Brown, it’s her attitude wrapped up in her looks. Just ask Pam Grier.

With this I haven’t even prepared you for the drama that’s going on on this record. Leave it to rappers to write their own biograpies and make their life seem as dramatic as any Hollywood flick. The album’s intro gives you the run-down on some of the real-life events that have fueled the making of this record. Being the cynic I am, I guess record labels love it when a rapper does a little harm to himself, if he doesn’t get himself locked up or killed. It helps selling records. But provided all these incidents are also true, they surely have shaped the person behind Foxy Brown, who in turn has reshaped the usually larger-than-life rap character. Fox closes the intro with the following words: “Well here it is, the whole truth, plain and simple / this’ll finally explain all the pain I’ve been through / and in no way, shape or form am I provokin’ violence / please try to understand my “Broken Silence”.” Then she goes into “Fallin'” with her brother Gavin on the hook. At first, she’s once again name-dropping designer brands. But then she lets go of the superficial status symbols and reaches for the next level:

“Fox Brown, Bonnie minus the Clyde
And today I’ma make this one promise to God
even if I go wood, I’ma keep it so hood
And I got chills when I signed my deal
and I shed tears when Biggie and ‘Pac got killed
It’s only one other broad that really got skills
she’s alright, but she’s not real
Brown, I’m hot with no rehearsal time
and I stays on tour like the circle line
Ain’t a bitch that could emulate my classic delivery
I rep New York like the Statue of Liberty
Mentally I’m in my own zone holding my spot
Fox, basically I’m the female ‘Pac
And it’s like my life is a thesis
sometimes I feel like I’m talking Swedish
y’all niggas don’t get it
and, yeah I’m ballin’, the streets keep callin’
Lord take my soul, I feel like I’m fallin'”

Young Gavin, the man who claimed he produced Nas’ “Hate Me Now”, also laid the beat for “Fallin'” (together with Livin’ Proof), and his arrangement of strings matches the sentiment of superiority expressed by his sister. Even a better match-up of beats and rhymes can be found on “Oh Yeah”, the more than ragga-tinged single featuring Spragga Benz. In a refreshing move she unveils her Carribean roots, interspersing her Brooklyn slang with bits of Trinidad twang. Like those before them this new generation of female rappers has managed to steered clear of the clean-cut cutie pie image and successfully mixes the street with the sexy: “Niggas say I’m too pretty to spit rhymes this gritty / fuck y’all thought, be dancin’ around in suits like I’m…?” Hm, what rhymes – rather coincidentally – with ‘gritty’… Diddy? It’s true that portraying the Foxy Brown character, Inga Marchand has somehow ‘kept it real’, meaning she stayed true to the format. So she is right when she says: “I’m just hood, been like this from the fuckin’ start / since I bust my gun in ’96 / y’all never see me flick up with them fake-ass chicks / bitches smile up in your face, turn around and pop shit / you a industry bitch, I’m a in-the-streets bitch.”

These BK bitches are “never takin’ shorts cause Brooklyn’s the borough”, as Guru once put it. Like Ms. Melodie and MC Lyte before her, Fox’s got a song dedicated to her home turf, “B.K. Anthem”. Due to Robert Kirkland’s unspectacular beat and her over-emphasis on drugs and guns, this is really a low point of this album. M.O.P. have flipped that type of anthem much better. But she picks herself up with the touching “The Letter”. Maybe y’all remember her “Letter to the Firm” on her debut album. Instead of the fiction she steers for the facts this time. This letter is divided into three parts, one addressing her mother, the next one her brother (with a nice little segue going “I’m sorry this happened / please pass the letter to Gavin”), and the last one her baby (brother?). If you follow her, you’ll see that something drives this young woman, let’s just hope it doesn’t drive her mad. “730” was written with exactly that thought in mind. Producer Lofey came up with the perfect melody for this looney tune. To me she sounds perfectly sane:

“Some bitches always holla
how they don’t spend a dollar
but that’s cause they ain’t got it
now tell me where’s the logic?
And if I talk it, I done did it or about to do it
I’m makin’ anthems, got a million niggas bouncin’ to it
Bust your guns, and if that ain’t enough then bust again
I’ve been thuggin’ since B-i-z made “Just a Friend”
matter of fact, ever since Flava Flav was rockin’ clocks
and even then there was no bitch that could compare to Fox”

That’s right, in “730” she again throws a few darts at Kim (“I’m never duckin’ dames, y’all know just where to find me / I woulda killed her, but it just wouldn’t be fair to mommy” or “You’re not on my level, and I won’t stoop / and I’m the one that got you kicked out your own group”). And as far as Jay-Z writing some of her lyrics at the beginning of her career, she boldly states: “I write my shit, it’s not a fuckin’ game / so what he wrote some songs, I blew him up the same.” And if that wasn’t enough, she even talks about the difficult relationship with another known rapper she’s in. Now that’s candid. Not be confused with “Candy”, her collaboration with Kelis and The Neptunes. Forget Mariah Carey, she doesn’t have lyrics like these:

“Now let me paint y’all a picture
Fox pimp hard, just quiet like a whisper
don’t get it mixed up, bad little sister
not bad meaning bad but bad meaning good
…damn, I’m so hood
You should see me in them jeans, it’s hard to describe
and being cocky is just a part of my vibe
I might stop to holler and pop my collar
maybe a little conceited but that’s always needed”

“Gangsta Boogie” is a break from the usual Neptunes routine and the song itself is not as lame as similar joints from “Chyna Doll”, but presenting her as “King Bitch” that reigns even over the Queen Bee. To my surprise her duet with Mystikal, “‘Bout My Paper” does not involve Pharrel and Hugo. Instead Ski came up with a nice flute that along with Mystikal’s pimp talk takes you back to the ’70s, as Fox runs with the rhythm, repeatedly puttin a smirk on my face with her lyrics. To the delight adds “Run Yo Shit”, where Robert Kirkland does his best Swizz Beatz impression and CNN come through with their own brand of comic thug rap.

However, what’s good in small doses can easily turn to an overdose if not applied reasonably. “Tables Will Turn” sounds way too much like something the Ruff Ryders already put out, so Baby Cham is definitely wrong when he says: “We on another level, Fox Brown ah set the trend.” And eventually, the tough talk gets tired, no matter if it gets even tougher, like in “Run Dem” (again w/ Baby Cham). Then, I’m kinda uneasy about the whole Arabic vibe of “Hood Scriptures”. I hope the vocal sample matches in any way what she spits. “Na Na Be Like” sounds like an obligatory act if I ever heard one. I’m not too excited to hear a white version of Foxy Brown (Kori/Chyna White) either, especially not over a shitty beat like that of “I Don’t Care”, and Clue and Duro as well as Foxy leave me cold with “So Hot”. The Island element keeps falling in and out of “Broken Silence” as Wayne Wonder provides the hook to the otherwise poppy “Saddest Day”, a reckoning with a cheating partner. Relentless about ruining her reputation, this song again has all types of sexual references. Parents beware of the CD’s your kids buy.

That leaves us with the closing title track. Musically, this is based on “Broken Wings” by ’80’s pop band Mister Mister. Yeah, the same song that was used on the released version of 2Pac’s “Until the End of Time”. At this point of the album my expectations are already on a steady decline, so I’m not really disappointed by what she pulls off here. It’s not bad, but it could be better. Unfortunately, the same can be said for the whole of “Broken Silence”. An album that continually loses air until it runs on flat tires. Still, if first impressions are what counts, then I’m still impressed by “Fallin'”, “Oh Yeah”, “The Letter” and “730”.

Foxy Brown :: Broken Silence
7Overall Score