Having made spotlight-grabbing cameos with Queen Latifah, De La Soul, the Jungle Brothers and Fine Young Cannibals, this London-born rapper (Simone Johnson) resident in the US leapfrogged to the top echelons of female MCs with a brilliant album of her own. Down to Earth follows Latifah’s example in mixing up soul, hip- hop and house in a tumult of musical variety all bound together by staunchly independent — and charmingly blunt — feminist lyrics. Love’s prickly charisma and sharp wit fills “Monie in the Middle” (an insidiously catchy putdown tale of high school romance and one of three tracks produced by FYC’s Andy Cox and David Steele) and the autobiographical “Don’t Funk wid the Mo.”
One of Love’s main topics is the mistreatment of women, and quite a few tracks — “Pups Lickin’ Bone,” “It’s a Shame (My Sister),” “R U Single,” “I Do as I Please” and “Just Don’t Give a Damn” — are powerful assertions of women’s rights and the need for self-respect in a hostile environment. Except for an over-the-top attack on pork (“Swiney Swiney”) and the irritable tone that occasionally creeps into Monie’s sing-song delivery (the repeated “move, damn it!” command of “Ring My Bell” really grates), Down to Earth is a spectacular debut. (The British vinyl release initially included a bonus EP of additional material.)
Love the second time, however, wasn’t so nice. Marley Marl, who co-wrote and produced most of In a Word or 2, strands Love’s increasingly bellicose relationship narratives in go-nowhere tracks — lazy assemblies of bass, snappy snare and jazzy accents that dig grooves and just lie in them. Untempered by repeated proud testaments to her motherhood, Love’s get-out-my-face antagonism and Marl’s slo-mo blandness cancel out the lively pop charm and uplifting righteousness of Down to Earth. Two numbers produced by Prince — the sappy title track and the empowering “Born 2 B.R.E.E.D. (Build Relationships Where Education and Enlightenment Dominate)” — aren’t much better. Only “There’s a Better Way,” a cautionary story about HIV, hits the right mix of music and mind.