Who's That Girl?

It's Eve at MTV's TRL Tour

Sometimes it's less dangerous to be an honest-to-God revolutionary than to quietly redraw boundaries. Eve, a.k.a. Eve of Destruction, has had to shoulder more than her share of next-big-thing hype ever since her 1999 debut album Let There Be Eve . . . Ruff Ryder's First Lady. And first lady she was -- if only by default -- as the sole female artist in the Ruff Ryders stable, in the company of thug-soaked personas like DMX, Jay-Z and Drag-On.

Whereas artists like Li'l Kim made a name by ferociously appropriating the "bitch/ho/dogs" vocabulary and throwing it back in the face of hard-core rap, and whereas Missy Elliott and Lauryn Hill simply refused to play by those rules and remapped the genre, Eve appeared early on to walk the tricky line between: to prove, for her own reasons, that female rappers didn't have to give up the dog in them to be a lady.

Thus we have Eve, the trash-talking ghetto girl who was recently comped a reported $20,000 in designer outfits just for coming to the opening of a SoHo Chanel boutique; Eve, the artist who delivers staggeringly accomplished indictments of domestic violence ("Love Is Blind," from her debut) and unreconstructed "where my niggas at?" choruses (on this year's sophomore release, Scorpion) without openly acknowledging any conflict.

However, she repeatedly shows herself to be aware of the obvious friction (as any self-aware female performer who was once billed as the "Ryde or Die Bitch" must surely be) in public interviews.

"I don't really pay attention to other people's lyrics," she recently told Vibe magazine, and then followed that up by saying, "They're guys, and I understand their lyrics, but I understand who I am, too. They will never disrespect me."

The hype surrounding Eve, minutely and copiously documented in her press kit, has also decided to walk a line. On one hand, there are goggle-eyed articles that play up her success not only within a male-dominated industry, but as a member of a male-dominated artists' collective. On the other, there are puff pieces that vibe off the seemingly contradictory layers of haute couture fashion on a plain ol' Philly girl. But the underlying theme in all of them is misplacement, the suggestion that Eve succeeds, somehow, because she survives where she shouldn't: on the runway, or in the "dawg"-house.

Both shortcuts do her a significant disservice. As Scorpion amply proves, Eve's lyrical and musical prowess (here she sings, and sings very well, in addition to rapping) puts her a cut above many hip-hop artists working today. As on her debut, on Scorpion she works with a variety of producers (Ruff Ryders' Swizz Beatz, companion Stevie J., and Dr. Dre, whose two cuts provide her with the album's most sensitive and complimentary accompaniment). But the fact that Eve's talents often shine through in spite of the generally conventional production -- often, until we hear her voice, Scorpion might be anyone's album -- shouldn't go unnoticed. That Eve lends such a distinct and gifted flavor to the Ruff Ryders' usual material makes one wonder how much more she could accomplish all on her own. And, more disconcertingly, it makes one wonder how often the stylistic conformity of much contemporary (mainstream) hip-hop stifles artists, like Eve, who are attempting to break the mold.

 
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