Tomeka Williams is not the sort of artist you would normally expect to be associated with the guy who gave the world — among other things — what is arguably the most famous song ever recorded celebrating the female backside in "Baby Got Back."
Yet here it is.
Tomeka's debut album for Sir Mix-A-Lot's Rhyme Cartel label is bold, brassy, surprisingly innovative, and most of all a dramatic departure from the sort of bass-heavy, booty-licious jams Seattle's most famous rap export is famous for.
This is an album which speaks highly for both artists. Sir Mix-A-Lot proves himself to be both a great producer and a more than worthy collaborator for a new artist who could just prove to be an important new voice at a time when pop music is so sorely in need of one.
For Mix's part, it speaks volumes in terms of the much wider and far more diverse musical palette he apparently draws from than anyone familiar with his own work probably ever expected. Mix-A-Lot is a full-on partner-in-crime with Tomeka here. He not only co-produced the album with Tomeka, but either wrote or co-wrote fully seven of the albums ten tracks.
The first thing you notice here is the decided rock edge on many of the songs. While a song title like "Ho" might suggest some sort of gangsta' rap joint on its surface, the song actually owes more to the sassy empowerment of a tough rocker grrrl like Pink or Joan Jett, than it does to any sort of B-girl sleaze or misogynist hip-hop. The fuzzy rock guitars are front and center on this track, while songs like the equally edgy "Why" are powered by the sort of heavy electronics favored by guys like Trent Reznor or Thom Yorke.
The girl also has some impressive vocal chops though, as she amply demonstrates on the funky, Beyonce-like "Me Like." Listen up fellas' — when Tomeka breathes lines like "me like his lips/you should see where they kiss," you either wanna' be in that car next to her, or you simply don't have a pulse. Get the picture?
But Tomeka also shows a more socially conscious, and dare I say, even tender side on songs like "Heroes (A Letter to Obama)" and "Way Back Home," which finds the artist yearning for a more downhome and distant time and place. When Tomeka sings the lyrics "Stained glass sweatin' in a Baptist church/ Preachers in the pulpit spreadin' that word," you can feel the spirit moving in time with the gospel backing vocals.
The opening "What She Gave" paints a similar picture of simpler, less complicated times "when none of your loved ones died, playin' softball, and everyone had a Grandma." There is a lyrical depth in these songs that is, if nothing else, quite uncommon for such a new voice. Tomeka displays the same sort of lyrical depth on the title track, which finds her taking on, among other things, the "seeds left at home while Mommy chases glass." A point only further underscored by more of those ever-so-edgy rock guitars.
It would be easy to lump Tomeka into the sort of nice little retro-soul box occupied by say, Erykah Badu or India Arie. But to do so just wouldn't do her the justice she deserves.
They tell me this album should be in stores sometime in February, but for those who can't wait, it can be downloaded now at Amazon (among other places). My recommendation is don't sleep on this quiet and rather unlikely, but nonetheless powerful new voice. Tomeka is clearly an original, and I've no doubt we haven't heard the last from her.