LOS ANGELES Ask Mercedes about the provocative cover art on her debut album, Rear End, and the Detroit rapper/R&B songstress tells it to you straight.
The image of her leaning on her namesake car and flashing her barely clothed bottom to the camera is there strictly to engage your eyes.
"It's just to grab attention, that's what it is," the 21-year-old Mercedes (born Raequel Miller) said last week. "I took a lot of pictures, but that was the one that you knew ... would get some type of reaction, being negative or positive, so we went with it."
The same simple explanation goes for such sexually explicit numbers as "Pu**y" and "I Can Tell" featured on the album, a collection of R&B and hip-hop released Tuesday (June 29). "This is entertainment, so I'm gonna do something to grab the attention of the guys as well as represent for the females," she said.
In town to promote Rear End, Mercedes sat on the balcony of her suite at the Sunset Strip's Mondrian Hotel as she discussed her debut effort. Dressed in a baby blue top and matching skirt, Mercedes spoke in a soft tone that still bore traces of the upfront sass that characterizes her lyrics.
The album features the single "It's Your Thing" (RealAudio excerpt), which finds the rap songstress exploring what she says is an all-too-common scenario. "It's what a lot of females go through," she said. "They got a man, and they find the girl's number. ... They figure out the other girl's messing with their man. You can't stop the man from doing what he doing anyway, so you wastin' your time."
"It's Your Thing" was written by No Limit Label head and Rear End executive producer Master P, who wrote several other songs on the album. The hip-hop mogul (born Percy Miller) also performs alongside Mercedes on such numbers as "Talk 2 Me" (RealAudio excerpt), "Crazy Bout Ya" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Do You Wanna Ride." That song features a chorus taken from '80s R&B singer Pebbles' hit "Mercedes." Meanwhile, Master P's younger brother, Silkk the Shocker (born Vyshonn Miller), appears on "What You Need" (RealAudio excerpt), and Mr. Serv-On (born Corey Smith) rhymes on "My Love."
Most of the album was produced by Dez & Charles and Beats by the Pound.
Rear End makes No Limit history with the song "Hit 'Em" the label's first tune featuring exclusively female artists. The track puts Mercedes rapping alongside labelmate ladies Mia X and A-Lexxus. A-Lexxus, who will release her album Let's Ride later this summer, also appears on several other tunes, including "Chillin" and "I'm Down."
Music retailers aren't expecting the same level of sales for Rear End that other No Limit releases achieved this year, including Silkk the Shocker's Made Man, which hit #1 in its first week of release, and albums by C-Murder and Snoop Dogg, which each debuted at #2.
"I think [the urban buyers] are looking at it as a project to build up, [rather] than something that's going to come roaring out," Howard Krumholtz, at the Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard, said.
Mercedes recorded Rear End in less than two weeks. "Had I not prepared, it probably would have been hectic," she said. "It wasn't that bad because everything was done. We just had to lay the vocals and send them off."
Though she started singing when she was just 5, Mercedes said she didn't begin rapping until a couple of years ago. Her mother was the first person to notice her talent, and though Mercedes realized in high school that music was her chosen career path, she continued her education.
Mercedes, born and raised in Detroit, was in her sophomore year at Xavier University in New Orleans when identical-twin rappers Kane & Abel saw her perform Shirley Murdock's "As We Lay" in a talent show. Impressed by her performance, the No Limit MCs (born David and Daniel Garcia) invited Mercedes to join them in the studio. The timing was right, as Master P happened to be around that day. The label head asked Mercedes to sing "and I've been with them ever since," she said.
Mercedes thinks hip-hop is entering a promising time for female rappers. "They came a long way," she said. "There's so many out here now and they have so much to offer. I respect anyone who can dedicate [herself] to this business, because it's a lot of work. But it will pay off. I love it."
As for her advice to young girls aspiring to be rappers, Mercedes said: "Be original, keep hold, don't let nobody discourage you. Because if it's meant to be, it's gonna happen."