The Sequence/Vertical Hold/Angie Stone
Reviewed on this page:
Sugar Hill Presents The Sequence - The Sequence -
The Sequence Party - A Matter Of Time - Head First - Black Diamond - Mahogany Soul
- Stone Love
Pioneering New York label Sugar Hill Records (home of Grandmaster Flash) launched the first female rap group, The Sequence, in 1979, and they immediately hit with the good-time "Funk You Up."
The lineup was Angie B (Angie Brown Stone), Blondie (Gwendolyn Chisholm), and Cheryl The Pearl (Cheryl Cook), and they managed a couple of minor hits over the next couple of years before fading
away. After a decade of odd jobs including singing backup for Buckwheat Zydeco, Stone made high-tech yet smooth R&B - no more rapping - as part of the trio Vertical Hold, hitting in 1993 with "Seems You're Much Too Busy."
Still later, Angie recast herself as a neo-soul singer along the lines of Erykah Badu, and released a fine 1999 solo debut,
largely self-written and self-produced. I'm not as crazy about her followups, but she's worth keeping an eye on, if only because you can never tell what she'll do next.
The 1979 hit "Funk You Up" wasn't included on any Sequence album; it's prototypical Sugar Hill: a funky Doug
Wimbish bass line and light-hearted boasts (many of the rhymes are repeated from the Sugar Hill Gang's "8th Wonder," in fact). (DBW)
Sugar Hill Presents The Sequence (The Sequence: 1980)
Mostly party-hearty rapping over basic funk grooves: "Simon Says" sounds like the single and includes a remarkable verse on unwanted
pregnancy, though "We Don't Rap The Rap" has the best individual rhymes and "Funk A Doodle Rock Jam" has the one spellbinding riff.
"Funky Sound" is a retitling of "Give Up The Funk," perhaps the first hip hop borrowing from George
Clinton. For a change of pace, there's a ballad ("The Time We're Alone"). A couple of cuts are uninvolving ("And You Know That," "Come
On Let's Boogie") and almost everything runs too long, but this is clear proof that there was more to Sequence than "Funk You Up" -
in particular, anyone who thinks hip hop was a reaction against funk and R&B should take a listen.
Musicians aren't credited, but I assume it's the same house band that backed their other LPs; everything is written by the three vocalists,
often with Sylvia Robinson, who produced. Around this time, the group backed up Spoonie Gee on his hit "Monster Jam."
The Sequence (The Sequence: 1982)
Heavier on ballads this time, including the fine single "I Don't Need Your Love" and an endless version of Skip Scarborough's "Love Changes" (sung by Angie);
"Unaddressed Letter" is spoken but equally slow and sorrowful. The stretch is admirable, but the material is a bit flat; the party jams
("Funk That You Mothers," a cover of "Cold Sweat") aren't up to par either.
Aside from Wimbish, the rest of the band is Skip McDonald (underused on guitar), Reggie Griffin and Dwain Mitchell (keyboards), Dennis Chambers and S. Powell (drums), Eddie Fletcher (percussion),
and some fine though uncredited horn players. Unlike the other LPs, Chisholm doesn't have any co-writes here, though Stone and Cook do; produced by Sylvia and Joey Robinson and Cook.
The Sequence Party (The Sequence: 1983)
Rapping backed by live instruments is the backbone of the LP:
the title track is a rather weak attempt at another "Funk You Up," with a ridiculously banal keyboard hook; "Fi-ya Up That Funk" is an amusing marriage of rap and funk; best is "Here Comes The Bride," using
Wagner's "Wedding March" to anchor a rousing horn-backed examination of the consequences of being married to The Funk... it puts the Digital Underground's "Tie The Knot" to shame.
Elsewhere the trio tackles some different styles: a slow ballad ("Where Are You Tonight"), a bouncy sock hop number ("Angels Playing Hooky"). Through everything, the three women are boisterous, occasionally serious, and full of life -
enjoyable though the singing isn't exceptional and there's no hint of the depth Stone would later show. Worth owning because it's one of too few records that display Wimbish at his peak: a stinging attack without a harsh tone, continually slipping in hot
licks without destabilizing the groove.
Same musicians as the previous record, except that Craig Derry replaces Powell.
Produced by Sylvia and Joey Robinson and Cook; all the tunes are co-written by the three vocalists, mostly with one Robinson or other.
Chisholm and Cook haven't done much since the group folded, but Cook has cowrites on many Sugar Hill hits like "Apache" and "8th Wonder," so one would hope she's still getting checks.
A Matter Of Time (Vertical Hold: 1993)
An Urban Contemporary trio made up of Stone (vocals), David Bright (drums) and Willie Bruno (keyboards). Almost everything's synth-based, including lush, Angela Winbush-style ballads
("7, 6, 5 (For Love)") and jarring uptempo dance tracks ("A.S.A.P."). The soothing "Seems You're Much Too Busy" was a single, with Stone doing her best Chaka Khan impression.
Overall it's tuneful and pleasant but not distinctive enough to make much of an impression: Bruno plays a nice vibes solo on "Matter Of Time," and more unpredictable moments like that would have helped.
There's one Isley Brothers cover, "Don't Say Goodnight (It's Time For Love)"; otherwise everything is written by Stone, with or without Bright and Bruno.
Wimbish adds bass on two tracks; Lenny Kravitz plays guitar on "Magic Carpet Ride"; All A' Dat (a TLC-like trio) adds insouciant rap vocals to "You Got Something (I Want)," the only
rapping on the disc.
Head First (Vertical Hold: 1995)
Second and last Vertical Hold release, and it's even less individual than the first:
just one formulaic synth dance number after another, never unpleasant but never vital, vanishing into the air without leaving anything
behind - like watching a rerun of a sitcom you never really liked but watched often enough to grow familiar with.
Bruno barely participates - many of the tunes are by outside producers, either with Stone ("Now That It's Over" with Itaal Shur) or without
(Steve "Silk" Hurley's "Spend Some Time," which lifts its refrain from Rufus's "Stay").
D'Angelo co-wrote and plays piano on "Pray," but it's as toothless and indistinct as the rest.
Black Diamond (1999)
Stone's second reinvention, as a neo-soulster.
Too many retro R&B artists (Maxwell, Me'Shell Ndegéocello, et al.) forget that it's not enough to
build your tracks around Fender Rhodes and wah-wah: you need memorable melodies and strong lead vocals too. Stone has learned that lesson,
and her debut is stuffed with tasty tunes like the Ohio Players-style funk "Love Junkie," the lovely ballad
"Everyday," and the low-key interlude "Black Diamonds & Blue Pearls." On each track, the mood is established early but the arrangement
doesn't sink into a rut, and her voice is lush but powerful, like Chaka Khan at her most reflective. There are
few duds, but the cover of "Trouble Man" is a waste of time, the only real novelty being annoyingly
intrusive drum programming. Stone had a hand in writing and producing most of the tracks;
a couple more are contributed by producers normally associated with hip hop: Ali Shaheed Muhammad produced
the memorable if repetitive "Bone 2 Pic (Wit U)," and DJ U-Neek has a rare miscalculation with "Visions,"
which relies on a sample from EWF's "Sun Goddess" that doesn't fit the song's mellow mood.
The musicians are Chalmers "Spanky" Alford, Joe Belmaati, D'Angelo (Stone's then-husband), Iran, Jonas Krag, Kravitz, Aaron "Freedom"
Lyles, Mohammed, Joe Quindy, Rex Rideout and Craig Ross.
In 2000, Stone contributed a fine song, "Slippery Shoes," to the Bamboozled soundtrack.
Mahogany Soul (2001)
A disappointment, with a lot of dull tunes ("Mad Issues," "If It Wasn't") and obvious samples ("Wish I Didn't Miss You,"
based on "Backstabbers"; "Soul Insurance," quoting "Lady Marmalade").
Gerald Isaac's "Bottles & Cans" is absurd pseudo-romantic claptrap I can't believe any woman would sing in this millenium.
On the other hand, Stone's direct lyrics resonate when dealing with urban poverty and romance ("Pissed Off"), and her Earth Mother vocals are less Khan-clone and more
individual ("That Time Of The Month").
And there are some mellow but moving tunes recalling Black Diamond - Isaac's mournful "20 Dollars"; Eddie F and Darren Lighty's "More Than A Woman," a duet with Calvin.
Ivan Barias and Carvin Haggins's "The Ingredients Of Love," a mediocre duet with Musiq Soulchild, samples Freddie Hubbard's "Red Clay" (recently used by Trey Lorenz).
Aside from Stone, producers include Eran Tabib ("Soul Insurance"), Raphael Saadiq ("Brotha"),
Ivan Matias and Andrea Martin, Warryn Campbell, Ali Shaheed Muhammed and Aaron Freedom Lyles.
Eve and Alicia Keys guest on a remix of "Brotha."
Stone Love (2004)
I won't pontificate about the ethical issues of including a liquor advertisement ("Remy Red") on a neo-soul album, because there's so little artistic merit on display here that artistic integrity is basically a moot point.
Another steep step down, with almost nothing going on except for simple bass grooves ("Cinderella Ballin'"), impressionistic vocals ("That Kind Of Love") and overbearing samples ("You're Gonna Get It," based on the Delfonics' "La La Means I Love You").
"You Don't Love Me" manages to sample Curtis Mayfield, steal the melody of Rufus's "Sweet Thing," and still be boring. Since her voice is pleasant and the backing is unobtrusive, the record is never offensive, but that's a poor defense.
Stone produced most of the tracks with a variety of collaborators; Missy Elliott produced (and guests on) her contribution, "U-Haul."
Guests include Snoop Dogg ("I Wanna Thank You," perhaps the only catchy tune to be found), Betty Wright, Floetry and Anthony Hamilton ("Stay For A While").
The Art Of Love & War (2007)
Funk yourself up.