In Defence of… Cassie

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The music industry isn’t too hot on long-term memory. It’s a sick machine that got food poisoning from Britpop and is too busy regurgitating Robin Thicke’s from one end and shooting One Direction’s out of the other to consider digesting anything new. Unsurprisingly, then, some well-deserving artists get washed up, forgotten or simply disappear with alarming regularity, but there are some things that just don’t make sense. For example, what the fuck is up with the world not tripping on Cassie?

Yeah, you remember Cassie Ventura. The model-turned R&B star responsible for the slick n’ sassy 2006 anthem ‘Me & U’ that may or may not have been about giving head (really though, what isn’t?).

Although she was the one voice dripping from the walls of every club for an entire year, people really did not like Cassie. At one point, there was an online petition begging Bad Boy Records to drop her. “This chick is taking up space for true talent in the music industry”, it said – an opinion that a string of awkward interviews and mad weak live performances did nothing but back up.

Following the success of her debut album, Bad Boy, Cassie spent the next few years laying low, occasionally breaking her silence to drop a commercially unsuccessful single and relentlessly pushing back the release of her sophomore album (which still hasn’t arrived). Eventually, she was shelved by the industry and fobbed off as a one-hit wonder with a pretty face.

But, as usual, the industry is wrong as hell (not about the face though, good LORD). Outside of the Billboard chart, Cassie has been accumulating a hefty underground audience and making ridiculously great music. It might be that her petitioners got things backwards – it’s the music industry that’s taking up too much space for Cassie.

Cassie’s is the kind of voice that demands your attention without caring whether or not it gets it. It’s spacious, seductive and borderline melancholy, which is why her material has been heavily sampled and remixed by an endless list of artists and producers (Jaques Greene, Deadboy, Lunice etc). It’s simple and affecting, but “simple” simply doesn’t fit in the world of Beyoncé’s technical assaults, Nicki Minaj’s circus of ferocity and Rihanna’s monopoly on all things sex. Still, somewhere between her commercial disappearance and the release of a Weeknd-style mixtape trilogy compiled by The Cassie Collective in 2012, it began to feel less like Cassie had failed to break the industry and more like she had been throwing her own never-ending party this whole time and nobody else was invited.

In April last year, Cassie dropped ‘RockaByeBaby’, an official mixtape which features some of the best hip-hop material of 2013 that nobody heard (alongside Rhapsody and Noname Gypsy. Seriously, what is it with women getting sidelined so hard in this racket?). While the media is riding a hype wave mobbed by The Weeknd, Drake, Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar it’s surprising ‘RockaByeBaby’ didn’t get more attention beyond the obligatory Pitchfork review. Coasting between dark, atmospheric R&B to bubblegum pop to straight up trap, Cassie’s vocals on RockaByeBaby are unreal. She’s no longer a coy, sing-a-long kind of pop-star. Somewhere along the line, our girl got game and flow in equal measure.

I know that ‘Flawless’ is supposed to be like the feminist manifesto of the 21st century or whatever, but there’s a powerful display of female sexuality at work on RockaByeBaby that shouldn’t be ignored. It makes basically the same point as Rihanna dry-humping a chair except, y’know, with words (both are cool, mind). Whether she’s eyeing up someone in a club or a bedroom mirror, Cassie’s narratives play out like a series of intense fantasies as she righteously stomps all over the concept of women as “love makers” with a personal motto of: “This ain’t love, this here is fitness”. Also, she looks impossibly cool while doing so; oozing just as much power reclining fully clothed in the back seat of a Maybach as she does thrusting her barely-covered crotch in Nicki Minaj’s face.

Truth is, Cassie isn’t on the same level as any of the female artists mentioned in this article. She’s doing entirely her own thing and, in many ways, does it a hundred times better than any of them ever could. R&B’s ice queen with a voice like foreplay and an Aaliyah-attitude, Cassie hasn’t been able to break the charts in a major way for almost a decade, yet has an homage to her first single tattooed on Robin Carolan of Tri Angle Records, which is a pretty unusual shift in circles. She dropped out of Pop School and graduated with first class honours from the University of Bad Bitches without so much as a twerk-related controversy. Bow the fuck down.

Originally published on Noisey here.

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