Under-the-radar rapper TiRon Jeffries was nervous about approaching dream hampton, first female editor of The Source and co-author of Jay-Z's Decoded. But like a freshman boy in high school who somehow had a shot with the most untouchable senior goddess, he wavered while his friends urged him. Just ask her to be on the album! "Even though we'd shared a few pleasantries, I didn't know her. Finally I thought, I'm just gonna ask, all she can do is say no. I was soooo nervous," he remembers.
But she said yes, and that's how a couple of rappers in Los Angeles got the girl. But hampton didn't give TiRon and Ayomari just a line for their latest album, A Sucker for Pumps, which was released September 13th. She gave them an entire spoken word piece. "You can adore someone from a distance and with little action, but lovin' somebody is an up-close job," hampton says over delicate strings and crashing waves on "Denouement." Leave it to hampton to so succinctly summarize the dilemma that rules the entire album.
Why was recruiting hampton so important to them? Ayomari explains that they didn't want to be the kind of rappers that speak at women, reducing them to purely sexual beings. He and TiRon wanted to go beyond stilettos and silk sheets to the heart of relationships.
"I didn't want to give you a Trey Songz album, I wanted to give you an album about struggling human beings in hopes of finding out what it is to be a woman or a man in America," TiRon explains. "'Baby I love you, I'll take over the world for you,' 'I get bitches, I fuck mad hoes.' Okay, I get it, but is that real??"
While pop-loving teens have proclaimed Katy Perry to be a feminist leader, TiRon thinks there's a void for women who listen to hip hop. "Lauryn [Hill] isn't around, and Nicki Minaj's hyper-sexualized image isn't the strongest for making the average woman feel comfortable," he says.
It's a variation on the "sensitive rapper" theme, but in "Perfect," over snippets of plastic surgery and restaurant advertisements taunting a bulimic girl struggling to fit into the vixen role Minaj epitomizes, they redirect Q-Tip's question to Bonita Applebum -- "Why you wanna go and do that, love?" That's followed by "No Wonder," in which the guys describe the various ways they diss a girl, then ask "Wonder why she don't like me now?"
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This might be a little too heavy in less capable hands. But TiRon, who's originally from Kankakee, Illinois, and Ayomari, who's from Georgia, manage to explore themes intellectually while maintaining enough colloquialism to keep it relatable.
Besides, the sound of Sucker, courtesy of producers like Exile (who was just in the studio with Snoop) and Iman Omari (seriously, watch out for this one), alternates between soulfully spaced-out beats and lush, jazzy orchestrations.
Still, as everyone from ancient philosophers to Nora Ephron has discovered, the conversation always comes back to the male-female dynamic. Sure, Ayomari and TiRon might not have it totally figured out, but they're in good company.