album reviews

Wikked Lil' Grrrls
Reprise (2005)

After Esthero's outstanding 1998 trip-hop debut, Breath From Another, and the subsequent split from her collaborator Doc, she vanished. Sure, she popped up here and there on soundtracks and collaborations (notably, with the pre-Fergie Black Eyed Peas), but a follow-up album seemed unlikely at best. And so the release of Wikked Lil' Grrrls after seven years is a surprise, but the sonic change associated with a lengthy separation from the studio was no shock (see also: Liz Phair).

While Esthero's sultry voice sounds the same (albeit a little more upbeat and a little less brooding), she's still struggling to find her style. Unfortunately, Wikked suffers as a result, and its potpourri of stylistic experiments immediately suggests other artists, whether Esthero intended to or not. She channels Ani DiFranco with spoken-word poetry ("Dragonfly's Intro"), Poe with sampled answering-machine messages ("My Honeybrown," "Brave Bear Woman"), and even Christina Aguilera's girls-can-be-naughty-too sass on the booty-shaking title track. And, much like Phair, Esthero inserts unnecessarily blatant sex talk into such songs as "If tha Mood," an ex-boyfriend seduction romp with a raunchy rap by Shakari Nite.

Esthero's style-jumping is jarring: a mostly up-tempo collection of songs hits a roadblock with the sluggish love ballad "Gone," a funereal-paced collaboration with Cee-Lo Green. It's that inability to stick to and develop one style that is Wikked's biggest downfall. Unlike Breath's unified whole, Wikked is a portrait of a girl still fighting to discover her niche.

-Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: the Baltimore CityPaper: 27 July 2005
.: Wikked Lil' Grrrls on