Picks and Pans Review: Black Pearl

UPDATED 09/14/1992 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/14/1992 at 01:00 AM EDT

Yo Yo

If politicians ever get the crazy idea of listening to rap before judging it, they might learn an interesting lesson or two, particularly if they pick up Black Pearl, the second album by this 21-year-old woman who grew up in a single-parent home in South Central Los Angeles.

Yo Yo understands that a complex world cannot be reduced to slogans. Her life and her lyrics are full of contradictions. Never attacking any racial group, she writes rhymes that boldly speak out against drug dealers, gang war, unsafe sex and teenage motherhood. Rapping about a cocaine-addicted mother in "Cleopatra," she scolds, "Eight months knocked and she still hits the rock/ Had a baby that's addicted to crack/ Dumb trick/ You can get smacked for that." Yet Yo Yo shows compassion for those who can't follow her rules. In "I Can't Take No More," she adopts the voice of a battered unwed mother who thinks she can't break out of her destructive relationship but finally does.

Just as Yo Yo's message has become stronger on her second release, so has her language. She fills her rhymes with enough sex talk and vulgarity to make Dan Quayle pop a blood vessel. Conservatives might dub her a bad influence, but they miss the point. Amid Yo Yo's curses, she makes an unwavering call for self-respect that reaches her young urban audience as no polite pre-election speech could.

Offstage, Yolanda Whitaker does volunteer work in South Central and is the founder of an advocacy group called the Intelligent Black Women's Coalition. Unlike Sister Souljah, who is known more for her extremist comments than for her music, Yo Yo never lets her thoughts drown out her beats. She rhymes with charm and mischievous attitude over the funky, dance-able rhythms of some top street producers. On several tracks she drops her social causes to have fun, breaking into raspy laughter as she spews out sassy insult rhymes about men. Yo Yo doesn't need to trade jibes with a presidential candidate in order to earn respect from rap fans. Her spunky rhyming and positive message, backed up by action, will suffice. (Atco/Eastwest)

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