Take Prince and add dash of Janis Joplin, and you get Nikka Costa, a music veteran who returns with the first of many planned EPs, Pro *Whoa!, a collection of edgier rock and soul which may surprise fans with its harder sound.
Born in 1972, the daughter of famed arranger/producer Don Costa grew up surrounded by artists (Her godfather: Frank Sinatra) and gradually developed her own voice. By 1981 she released her first single, a cover of Irene Cara’s “(Out Here) On My Own,” which became a hit on the European charts. She subsequently released successful albums in Europe, Israel, Central and South America; by her mid-twenties she relocated to Australia and enjoyed more critical acclaim. Years later, now a seasoned veteran, she decided to break into the American market, signing with the Australian label Cheeba Records. Her 2000 single, “Like A Feather,” was largely ignored until it appeared in a Tommy Hilfiger ad campaign. Virgin Records took notice, and by 2001 the label had reintroduced her with a memorable music video and a full-length album, Everybody Got Their Something. The album enjoyed moderate success, reaching number 120 on the Billboard Album Charts and 63 on the R&B Album Charts. While she released two more albums, in America she remained known chiefly for her sultry dance moves and strategically placed scarf in the “Like A Feather” video.
Now on her own label, Gofunkyourself Records, Costa displays a flair for experimentation on Pro *Whoa! Fans expecting the straight-up funk of “Like A Feather” may be surprised by her edgier sound, particularly evident on the title track. Rapping throughout most of the song, she tells of her vast experience in the music business. “I’m a 100lb fighter with a heavyweight past,” she spits out, and she proves it by furiously rapping about how she began when she was “singin’ in my diapers,” and later smoked crack as an adult. But, over a feedback-laded guitar, she assures listeners that they’ll now “Fight for tickets to my show then tweet the people ya know/You’ll say you can’t believe you never seen me live before.” The tune’s frenetic pace underscores that these days she is, in fact, “the baddest of bitches.”
Costa succeeds most when she features her blues-drenched voice on tracks such as “Nylons in A Rip,” a grinding blues/soul track that should play very well in her live shows. The snarling rock guitars and thumping beat never drown out Costa’s confident vocals. Overall the songs recalls Prince in its seamless fusion of rock and funk. “Head First” also contains Prince’s fingerprints, with Costa using the upper ranges of her voice. As with Prince tunes such as “Do Me Baby” and “Kiss,” Costa’s high, almost whispery vocals add sensuality to the multifaceted track.
In addition to funk, Costa clearly favors a 1960s-era sound, evident in “Never Wanna C U Again,” which faintly resembles a Motown-type beat with a touch of swirling organ-like swirling effects. The midtempo “Chase the Thrill” should accompany a future James Bond film, as it echoes the retro-feel of Tina Turner’s “GoldenEye” or Garbage’s “The World Is Not Enough.”
Most of Costa’s experiments with different sounds pay off except for “Stuff,” an overly obvious commentary on materialism. Just in case listeners miss the message–trying to fill your broken heart with money and material things is bad–cash register sound effects punctuate the refrain. A synthesizer riff toward the end further emphasizes the song’s dated quality; in other words, “Stuff” is about 20 years too late.
Otherwise, Pro *Whoa! represents a turning point in Costa’s career, one where she moves slightly away from her trademark funk sound and toward a harder edge. While this different side may puzzle fans who remember her from 2001, Pro *Whoa still demonstrates that a talented artist is constantly evolving and developing her gift. Rock and soul fans alike should appreciate her now harder-to-define music, and it will be interesting to see what other surprises Costa may have in store on future EPs.