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Myth Master 

The fabrication of Ms. Foxy Brown

Wednesday, Feb 10 1999
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Foxy Brown is a chickenhead.

Regarding her creator, 19-year-old Inga Marchand, let’s reserve judgment, though she’s reportedly spit at hotel concierges, engaged in high-speed car chases pursuing hip-hop-magazine editors and swung blows at her fiancé (Tha Dogg Pound’s Kurupt) on the set of his own video shoot. Inga’s another story, and we’ll take it there one day, but for now, Foxy Brown the Persona is up for discussion. And she’s a chickenhead.

But maybe it depends on how you look at it. The universal chickenhead axiom seems to be "coochie for loochie" (to paraphrase Essence contributing writer Joan Morgan, from her upcoming When Chicken heads Come Home To Roost), a sentiment Foxy wholeheartedly supports. "You ain’t got dough, you can’t go with that Fox bitch," she tosses off on "Hot Spot," and she flips this notion about a dozen different ways all over her new album, Chyna Doll: platitudes like "What would you do if a broke nigga came by/Would you fuck him or would you deny/It ain’t like he don’t know what we like/Just a little bit of ice . . ."

Diamonds for ass? That’s chicken, and the definition holds as true for Foxy Brown and Lil’ Kim as it does for sexual robber baronesses Anna Nicole Smith and Marla Maples. Chickenheads, however, come in many breeds, and the Foxy Brown variety is a very specific strain. Women sidling their way into record-industry parties dressed in spandex, brandishing ample cleavage in lieu of entry laminates — that’s chicken, but not necessarily Foxy. Liquidacia, president of the Babymother Coalition, was a keynote speaker at the Million Chicken March featured on Redman’s latest, Doc’s da Name, but her concerns don’t jibe with Foxy Brown’s aesthetic any more than the groupie hoochies’ do.

Foxy Brown the Persona encapsulates a combustible admixture of issues. Critics carp that the sista has nothing to say, what with her meandering, materialistic obsessions, but her very existence could suffice to ignite an all-nighter debate be- tween Pam Grier and feminist scholar bell hooks. Foxy’s dark-chocolate skin tone alone is revolutionary, given her pop-star status and the racist reservations of the American standard of beauty. Has Foxy mastered the inversion of society’s sexist customs to her own end, empowering herself to platinum iconography by publicly reveling in her own sexuality, or is she the unsuspecting patsy of male Svengalis and her lyric ghostwriter Jay-Z? There’s a lot to unpack if one casts a critical eye beyond the cranberry lipstick, beginning with the beats and the rhymes.

L.L. Cool J is becoming somewhat of a has-been, a holdover from an older hip-hop generation. For this reason, Def Jam surrounded its veteran MC with young lions like Method Man, Canibus and DMX on his last album’s "4, 3, 2, 1." Two years before that 1997 release, L.L. was hot on the streets with "I Shot Ya (Remix)," mainly owing to the tag team of Keith Murray, Fat Joe, Prodigy and a precocious 15-year-old newcomer named Foxy Brown.

Foxy’s humble origins lie in guest-MC territory, shining on tracks by Case, Jay-Z and Nas before the release of her late-1996 debut, Ill Na Na. On her more focused follow-up, Chyna Doll, Foxy deals in self-mythologizing. Foxy Brown, in this new-ordered world-view, wasn’t born on the "I Shot Ya" round robin, but from the womb of bodacious blaxploitation badass Pam Grier herself — who, on "The Birth of Foxy Brown," puts in her own guest appearance.

"You know, Foxy," says Grier, "Mom ma’s been puttin’ it down in these streets for many many many years. I done run with the baddest niggas out here, what?! I mean, I own the hookers. I mean, I own the pimps. I mean, the streets is mine. But I got you, china doll. And now the streets is yours. I want you to get out there and make your momma proud. But remember — only one person can judge you. So, baby, live your life. And go out there and be like a gangsta."

Besides the impact of such maternal advice on the psyche of Inga Marchand the MC, more revelatory is the resemblance this intro bears to Ready To Die, the first album from the late Notorious B.I.G. Her crank-call-skit intro to "It’s Hard Being Wifee" also recalls Biggie’s death-threat telephone drama preceding Life After Death’s "My Downfall." Foxy’s attempting to craft herself into an icon of hip-hop culture, lacking the assurance that she already is one. She updates the Salt-N-Pepa staple "Tramp" (as she reworked L.L.’s "Rock the Bells" into "Foxy’s Bells" last time out), and transmogrifies the self-identified gangsta classic "N.W.A" into "BWA," featuring Mia X and Gangsta Boo as the bitches with attitude in question.

Chyna Doll partakes in its share of revisionist history, recasting archetypal hip-hop musical moments with Foxy Brown smack-dab in the middle. Even R&B nostalgia gets drawn into the mix, via teen ingénue Mya, singing the Gwen Guthrie "Ain’t Nothing Going On but the Rent" hook for Foxy’s "J.O.B." Inga Marchand, of course, lives with her mother in Brooklyn — rent is a non-concern. It’s perfectly feasible and apropos, however, for Foxy Brown the Persona to wanna see her money up-front, so to speak.

Foxy’s debut album beat Lil’ Kim’s Hard Core in the race to the 1 million sales mark primarily because of the recognizability and pop appeal of Track Mas ters–produced cuts based on familiar songs. "Get Me Home" was "Gotta Get You Home Tonight" by Eugene Wilde; "I’ll Be" was "I’ll Be Good" by Rene & Angela. (Lil’ Kim’s superior "No Time," on the other hand, was constructed around an obscure James Brown hook.) This time around, Fox Boogie chooses her outside references more strategically, to support the fabrication of her own mythos.

But what’s mythos without a bit of pathos? On the deliberately heavy-handed yet telling "My Life," Foxy spits these lines: "Con fused, I ain’t ask to be born/It was so dumb, shoulda used a condom/Asked Mommy every day, when Dad dy gon’ come/ But he never show ed up . . . Became de mented then/ Men? Re sent ed them/ Just the scent of ’em made me hurl . . . All I needed was love, all I wanted was love."

Nas, Foxy Brown’s partner in the Firm rap collective, says, "When I met her, Foxy hated writing her rhymes. I didn’t think she had enough confidence in the stuff she was writing, but the shit she was writing was pretty good. So I guess that’s why she took other writers in on her shit. I think she coulda wrote her whole album if she had the right guidance." Maybe Foxy’s ideas about having men do for her rather than doing for herself are at root here, but many of Chyna Doll’s tracks are lyrically co-credited between Fox, Jay-Z and J. Barrow.

The strongest tunes are those where Foxy pens her own lyrics and passes the microphone. "Baller Bitch" — a conversational Southern hip-hop-flavored romp between Fox, Too $hort and her brother Pretty Boy — comes hard; musically, it’s the deepest track. The "BWA" cut is a rowdy party, and "Ride (Down South)" parades Eightball & MJG in top form alongside Foxy and Juvenile, the prince of New Orleans’ ’bout-it Cash Money clique.

Chyna Doll rates as one of the best albums by a female MC, ranking alongside Hard Core and Queen Latifah’s All Hail the Queen, though clearly nowhere near the brilliance of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Considered on a genderless level hip-hop playing field, Foxy Brown’s latest ranks about average, with extra points awarded for her mythmaking chicken-head glam. Foxy brings the drama; she’s personable.

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