According to Natalie Stewart of the British-originated, Philadelphia-based hip-hop act Floetry, U.K. rappers have something to teach their American cousins.
In England, she explains, “There are no millionaire rappers, no Rock-A-Fellas or Bad Boys. It’s all underground emcees and deejays. So it’s about lyricism and beats. Here it’s about ego and danger -Jay Z going at Nas and Ja Rule trying to go at DMX. It’s irresponsible and uninteresting.”
At least the American hip-hop scene is financially fat enough to support a counterprogrammed “progressive” rap act such as Floetry.
The duo, comprising rapper Stewart, 25, and singer Marsha Ambrosius, 23, made their debut in Billboard’s Top 20 last week with their first album, “Floetic.”
A major thanks is due to MTV, which three weeks ago put their effects-laden video in its “Buzz” bin.
In the clip, the women rap and sing their touchy-feely, Fugees-like views, while tenement buildings vibrate and cars dance.
The setting is Philadelphia, the birthplace of neo-soul and the city that gave these transplanted Londoners their launching pad when they moved there four years ago.
They weren’t getting any breaks back home.
“The industry there is like a blockade for hip-hop or soul artists,” Ambrosius says.
They got a better reception in Atlanta during a trip several years ago to visit a friend.
There, they took part in some poetry slams.
When visiting another friend in Philly, the women found a large enough neo-soul scene to inspire the trans-Atlantic move.
Floetry soon played key gigs at Black Lilly, an Afro-Philly answer to the Lilith Fair.
There they were discovered by J. Erving, son of the basketball legend Julius Erving, who became their manager.
The duo first were noticed within the music business as writers.
Songs they wrote, while waiting to cut their own album, were covered by Jill Scott, Whitney Houston, Bilal and even Michael Jackson, who cut their “Butterflies” for his last album.
“I kept calling my parents, saying, `Michael’s manager is very interested in our song,'” Ambrosius explains.
“My parents said, `That’s not going to happen.’ I called them from the studio with Michael and said, `Guess what? We’re here cutting the song.'”
Because the duo first came to attention via the Philadelphia connection, listeners tend to think they’re American.
They also lump them in with the neo-soul movement.
But, Ambrosius asserts, “There’s nothing neo about soul. It must be the oldest thing on the planet.”
Ultimately, the duo don’t want to be lumped into any urban categories. “We’re rock stars,” Stewart insists.
“Not in the genre sense, but in terms of being real musical artists, the way OutKast are, or the Roots.”
And those standards hold true no matter what country you come from.
(c) 2002, New York Daily News. Visit the Daily News online at https://www.nydailynews.com/ Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information.