Chicago rapper Strings hadn't even heard Sisqó's "Thong Song" when her label asked her to record an answer to it.
"I had to go and buy Sisqó's album," she said.
After getting up to speed on the rapper's musical tribute to panties (RealAudio excerpt), Strings (born Marinna Teal) struck a chord with "Tongue Song" (RealAudio excerpt). In the racy response rap, Strings details "what men need to do with what's in the thong."
The song has generated East Coast radio play and reached #13 on Billboard's Hot Rap Singles chart July 20. This week, the song is at #34.
"It's a cute song," said Theo "DJ Theo" Pisani, music director of Long Island, N.Y., hip-hop station WXXP-FM. Pisani said he drove to Manhattan after he heard the song on New York's "Hot 97" WQHT-FM this past winter and bought a bootleg that his station used to burn a CD. "[Strings] hit it at just the right time," he said.
"Tongue Song," produced by Steve Huff (Avant's "Separated"), uses the same catchy instrumental loop as Sisqó's hit, but replaces lyrics such as "She was livin' la vida loca" with "Put your face all in my chocha."
"The men tell us to do all kinda sh--. Back that ass up. Do this," said Strings, 24. "We, the ladies, need to be represented on that freaky, kinky sh--."
Vinyl copies of "Tongue Song" were hot items among East Coast club DJs as early as January.
"It was popular in the clubs for a minute," said Sonny D, hip-hop/rap editor for Gavin, a San Franciscobased radio trade magazine. "It's wild that it's doing so well now."
The song hit more airwaves in early spring, when Philadelphia's "Power 99" WUSL-FM began spinning it in the evenings. "It was really popular among the teens," said station operations manager Helen Little.
After the rap was released last month as a maxi-single, it reached its high mark on the Billboard chart.
But "Tongue Song" has since dipped in popularity in the New York area, Pisani and other programmers said.
The song will gain some national exposure with the November release of Strings' debut album, Black Widow. The disc, originally scheduled to hit stores in June, focuses on women's ability to control men with their sexuality, the rapper said.
Another Black Widow track, "Hey Ya" (RealAudio excerpt), also might earn radio play with its guest spot by Cash Money Records' Juvenile and the Hot Boys. In addition, producer Swizz Beatz (DMX, Eve, Jay-Z) flexed behind the boards on "Bounce Wit Me," "Treason" and "Raise It Up" which features Ruff Ryders associate Drag-On.
The album and single are milestones of a slow-building musical career. As a girl, Strings sang in the choir of a Chicago South Side church and won talent-show prizes, but she put her rap aspirations on hold when she became pregnant at 13. She moved to Oklahoma, where she became an exotic dancer to support her daughter, now 10, she said in the May interview.
After a chance meeting with R. Kelly and two impromptu auditions, she signed to the R&B singer's label. She then rapped on the remix to R. Kelly's "Gotham City" from the 1997 "Batman and Robin" soundtrack, and "Vegas" on R&B singer Sparkle's 1998 self-titled album.
Strings split with R. Kelly's label when it failed to release a solo project she recorded. She landed a deal with Keith Sweat's label in 1998, the year she recorded most of the songs for Black Widow.
In the meantime, Strings said, she has improved her craft and evolved her style so much that it's frustrating to hear the album's tracks.
"When I listen to it now it's like, 'Wow, I want to do this over,' " she said. "Hopefully, people won't feel that same way [when they hear the album]."
After Black Widow, Strings hopes to record an R&B LP. "I am in another place lyrically just on another level," she said.