Stephanie McKay – ‘Tell it Like it is’

July 17, 2008 § Leave a comment

Published: The Vine, July 16, 2008.

Stephanie McKay
Tell it Like it is
(Muthas of Invention/Inertia)

Bronx funkstress Stephanie McKay has been lurking around the neo-soul and hip-hop communities for years now, popping up for impromptu guest slots and plying her prodigious vocal smarts to cuts for a rollcall of the scene’s finest. Having once worked as a guitarist for Kelis, she has worked extensively with Brooklyn Funk Essentials, the RH Ractor and recorded sessions for everyone from Talib Kweli and Mos Def to Tricky and Amp Fiddler.

Her second solo album Tell it Like it is is a relatively straightforward affair. McKay drops soaring, attitude-laden, pitch-perfect verses over stunningly produced soul, funk and break-beat.

Cuts like the wrangling 70s funk of opener and title track ‘Tell it Like it is’, the shimmering Bronx reminiscence of ‘Jackson Avenue’, the swooning, break-beat-strewn swagger of ‘Oh Yeah’ and the raw, organic soul of ‘Say What You Feel’ (expertly produced by Sydney fella Katalyst) glow with rare kinetics, while the sexed-up groove of ‘Kinky’ and bounce-heavy beak of ‘Fiya’ add another head-nodding intonation. Where she falls down is her attempts at balladry. While you get the feeling the pop world would love them, ‘This Letter’, ‘Where Did Our Love Go’ and Willy Mason cover ‘Oxygen’ come across as overly earnest and all too palpable.

There’s nothing genre twisting or particularly groundbreaking here, but McKay makes up for it with sheer verve and street-level posture. Even if you’re not a fan of soul and its derivatives, it’s hard not to appreciate the nuance and polish of her product. Her voice is stupidly good.

The NYC vernacular has been dominated by chest-puffed male MCs for so long, it’s just refreshing to hear some street-level stories and accounts from a female perspective.

Dan Rule

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