Hive Talkin'

Bahamadia, the gifted rapper from Philadelphia, burst onto the hip-hop scene in 1996 with her credibility already spoken for. She was the discovery of Guru and DJ Premier of Gang Starr, generally considered one of the most musically innovative hip-hop groups of the past decade. Stocked with Premier's edgy beats, Bahamadia's debut album, Kollage, provided her with an ideal forum to show off her lyrical wit, her deep, assertive voice, and her butterscotch-smooth flow.

She barely skipped a beat on that recording. She didn't play off a flashy persona, which so many rappers do, unfortunately. She was instead what walking hip-hop encyclopedia Guru would refer to as an "ill" MC: direct, creative, bulletproof. But as quickly as she made her mark on hip-hop's landscape, she disappeared into its underground, depriving fans of a chance to see a rise to the stardom she seemed more than capable of achieving.

Now, after four years, she's resurfaced with BB Queen, a seven-song sophomore effort on the Net-savvy label GoodVibe Recordings (distributed through the online label Atomic Pop). Though it's short — a running time of just over 25 minutes — the album is a testament to Bahamadia's versatility. Her voice is so smooth, it can sound soft on one song and bold on another — even if she uses the same inflection. Moreover, the album's also as musically soulful a collection as any hip-hop record this year, grounded in the Gamble-and-Huff TSOP tradition that asserts the groove is the thing. (Clearly, this new one is not a DJ Premier record.)

The sounds make for a great dichotomy, since Bahamadia is anything but romantic. The R&B and funk touches allow her to sneak in her brand of braggadocio. She's clever on the uptempo posse cut "Special Forces," upstaging Planet Asia, Rasco and Chops of the Mountain Brothers. Sample from her verse (notice the great Nas pun): "I never bit/ Kept it in suspense/ Like a scene outta 'Scream'/ Legacy like Nasir Jones/ I'm repping for queens." Chops, whose earthy work on the Mountain Brothers' Self, Volume One set him apart as a hip-hop producer, does fine work here, as the track on "Special Forces" (RealAudio excerpt) is firmly rooted in soul, with dense keyboard work offset by chimes and light-as-air strings.

Meanwhile, on "One-4-Teen (Funky for You)" (RealAudio excerpt) Bahamadia turns cocky: "This jam hit on/ Like ve-hic-u-lar smash with Mack truck/ Bassline banging as fuck/ S.V. be on the hook/ Shook up the critics cuz I switched my shit up." Hey, at least she can back it up, and again works with a producer talented enough to let her intelligence come through. Ronald "Ron E." E still serves up the album's most faithful R&B slice; it's so plastered with electric keyboards and hand-clap-drum effects, Al B. Sure should be singing backup.

The album's final song, "Pep Talk" (RealAudio excerpt), is a real revelation. Produced by Soulfingerz, the track is pure drum & bass, complete with skittering percussion programming and echoing background-vocal effects. A dramatic keyboard loop gives the song grounding, though, and Bahamadia approaches with a relaxed cool, hitting a rapid-fire cadence without any forcing or shouting and turning the whole song into a soul strut. Hey, the more things change, the more they stay the same.