Album Reviews

Ursula Rucker – Ma’at Mama

(!K7) UK release date: 30 January 2006

In an age when adolescent girls wear Playboy merchandise and hip-hop videos see young women as pimp fodder for power-wielding hip-hop superstars, its fair to say this world needs an Ursula Rucker.

That it also requires the moral apparatus of a Kemetic (pre-historic Egyptian) religion in order to belabour misogyny, capitalism, sexism, state defence, pornography, and gun culture, as Ms. Rucker does in Rant (Hot In Here), is another matter entirely. And when the phrase ‘sodomy’ is thrown in amongst the party pack of shibboleths listed above, the moral highground of Ma’at Mama becomes a tad dubious.

Mother-of-four Rucker is, one presumes, an approximation of the titular ‘Ma’at’ figure, an extension of the Kemetic deity of singular truth, personified in orthodox Kemetic teachings as a woman. Regardless of the hubris implied, Rucker’s spoken incantations have the force of hermetically sealed conviction. The Earth Mummy has returned.

Whether firmly intoning a morgue-resting list of afro-american greats (Libations), unflappably rejecting race/gender stereotypes (I Ain’t (Yo’ Punk Ass Bitch)), or dreamily inhabiting the mind of a dispassionate US ghetto girl who lives just to get a ticket for the Jay-Z show (For Women), this is the hardline according to Ursula.

Already something of a veteran of that narrow terrain between Broken Beats (think King Britt, late-period 4 Hero) and the bohemian end of hip-hop (occasional collaborators The Roots), Rucker’s third album manages the tricky feat of nailing the fiery colours of saturnine condemnation to a mast of steely textures and mercurial rhythms.

Rather than allowing Rucker’s Afrocentricity to speak for itself, producers Anthony Tidd, Tim Motzer, Rob Yancey III, and Sonke Duwer have woven interlocking patterns of smouldering horns, neo-industrial downbeat digitalia and 21st century post-funk that recall the ambitions, if not always the questing styles, of Jazz existentialists Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders. Phased seamlessly into Rucker’s firm stanzas, it’s a potent mix, and one equipped to embrace the shifting emphasis within Rucker’s voice.

A dialogue of troubled bass, cogitative keyboards and ashen trumpet soundtrack Rucker’s brazed whisper on Uh-Oh, the emotional stasis of the protagonist and impassioned air of despondency and estrangement making it a near-cousin of Bjork‘s Possibly Maybe, with a similar flagging up of spiritual enervation conjured on the aforementioned For Women.

Snares and hi-hats combine for the epithet reversal of Poon Tang Clan, but its Rant (Hot In Here)’s percolating percussion and guitar stabs that most loudly and forcefully combine for the hardest hit of all. Amongst the cavalcade of societal ills, Rucker’s very literal didacticism sums the modern US empire up as ‘How Roman Empire, how First World’ – nothing original there perhaps, but the choice of words are deliberate for one who talks like an Egyptian.

With slowburn meditations on desire (Black Erotica – “the longest minute in cunnilingus history”) and didgeridoo prophecies (Spiri-Chant) a full measure of Ma’at Mama might just be a draught too intense for any raised on the teat of alcopop flavours. For everyone else, Rucker and company have shaped a record that in its musky and defiant self-assurance will be difficult to top, whether you hold with the hardline or not.

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Ursula Rucker – Ma’at Mama