March 22, 2010

Category: Best Of, Grooves

GROOVES: Esthero’s “Black Mermaid”

I met Esthero 10 years ago. We were both at a professional crossroads. Do we go left, right or do we stay? Unsure, I stayed. Esthero or Lil Dukes Up as she is affectionately known was a brave bird even back then and took a leap, giving the finger all the while flying through the air. From that moment on I wanted to be just like her.

It was late summer 2000 and the best label (and last label) I ever worked for, The Work Group, had shuttered very unexpectedly. I had only been there for about four months, but was very aware that I was working for a stun-gun of a label. They had the illest roster boasting names like Fiona Apple, Jamiroquai, Youssou N’Dour, Eagle Eye Cherry, Ben Taylor, Cree Summer, Jennifer Lopez & Esthero. Esthero’s debut, Breath From Another, had dropped a couple years before to critical acclaim and I was told she was in the studio recording her follow-up when the label folded. I was devastated and had heard that many of the artists were also reeling. Would they be asked to stay with Sony? Would they even want to? Meanwhile I was asked to assist the President of Epic Records, Polly Anthony, while HR decided where to place me. One day while working in Polly’s office Esthero and her manager walk in for their update meeting. I told her that I used to be at Work and she asked me what I was doing now in Polly’s office. I said, “Being her assistant.” She asked if that’s what I wanted to do and I quickly replied “NO!” I asked her would she be staying on. “Well I’m meeting to discuss just that, but I doubt it,” she responded. “You doubt it,” I exclaimed. “What are you talking about?” But Esthero, nee Jenny-Bea Englishman, had a feeling.

On her way out, she stopped by my desk to tell me goodbye. As I walked her to the elevator she gave me a recap: Polly offered her a deal but she didn’t like the terms and was ready to move on. She didn’t have any other offers, but was confident that she would be aight. I remember her saying that she would always have her music and that was enough for her to be happy. I can’t really remember, but somehow we ended up having a serious, albeit brief chat about shoes. She gave me a big hug and her phone number and like that she was gone. If only I had been ballsy enough to walk out with her. Instead I stayed and ended up being placed in a bloody awful position in administration. All paperwork. All numbers. All the time.

Meanwhile in true Capricorn workaholic-style Esthero went back to making music. She didn’t get a deal right away, but that could have easily been a result of industry pollytics. In 2004 she released the bad-as-a-mutha cut “O.G. Bitch,” which had the tenderest of B-sides– “I Love You.” Then like a crock bubbling over she released (through Warner Bros. Records) a ton of blazing joints– “We R In Need Of A Musical Revolution,” which blasted MTV, R. Kelly and the monotony of radio, “Gone (w/ Cee-Lo),” “I Drive Alone,” “My Torture” and “Junglebook” (w/ Andre 3000).

Esthero is bold, gutsy and mouthy like the tough girls in my hood. But she’s also vulnerable, sensual and silly like the girls in my hood. Seeing her live a few years ago at Irving Plaza made my Top 5 of all time best shows ever. Many of you know she is friends with former labelmate and fellow Canadian Cree Summer and Lilakoi Moon (aka Lisa Bonet) and down with their Pirate Crew (Esthero’s The Pink Pirate). But did you know she was the last person to record with Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes before her fatal car accident? Yeah, with Esthero anything is possible. Like co-writing three tracks for Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak including the smash “Love Lockdown.”

Now it seems that Jen B is surrendering to Inspiration’s grasp again and producing a new CD. “Black Mermaid” is the song that actually got her back in the studio. Esthero says:

‘black mermaid’ is a special song because i wrote it with jahi sundance, and we wrote it for my sister Cree Summer to sing. I tried to write it from her perspective. I never had any intention of recording it myself, but after a lovely night with Chin Injeti, we all rolled back to the studio, i whipped out the guitar and played this song…Chin said “i don’t give a fuck who this is for, you need to record this song” and though i protested, i eventually caved in…and boy am i glad i did, because this is the song that spurred the rest of the album that i have just spent the last year making. This is the song that started it all. This is my first exercise in simplicity.

“Black Mermaid” is classic Esthero. A sensual soul flow laced with a sticky sweet tart cherry flavored trip-pop groove. If you haven’t caught my drift yet, Esthero amplifies like a Black blues woman. She calls you ‘honey’ and will love you fiercely, but will cut you clean and deal with being alone if you so much as look at her cross-eyed. She’s a homegrrrl sonically and in my head.

Here’s Black Mermaid— read the lyrics, take a listen and tell me what you think.

If you’ve never heard Esthero’s music check out this sampler.

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6 Responses to “GROOVES: Esthero’s “Black Mermaid”Comment RSS feed

  • t.tara
    March 23rd, 2010 11:47 am

    capricorns in the house! i love this, girl. thanks for posting. it’s also so good to remember when we all have crossroads in our lives and reflect on their influence on us. fantastic.

  • sharon
    March 23rd, 2010 12:06 pm

    LOVE Esthero! So glad she stayed true to herself. Thanks for the update.

  • dja.
    March 23rd, 2010 4:17 pm

    OK. Nicole.
    First of all, Thank you so much for sharing. And PLEASE share with your dear friend that she has SO many fans in the world waiting for the next Esthero album. Second, I never knew it was HER name. .i was aware of “this band” called Esthero. . and that they only made one album and dissapeared. When “Breath From Another” came out I went on one of my first tours with Momix 10 years ago. We did ballet class before the shows to that album for a year! My husband and i fell in love to “Country Living” playing on the cd player in cars we rented as we drove aimlessly through Brazil and Chile w/ only a map and the smell of the sea as our guide. What a wonderful talent, gift to the world and incredible musical part of MY life. So excited to hear her latest. SO happy that a true artists is surviving and gracing us w/ her voice again. LOVE

  • Sun
    March 24th, 2010 10:46 am

    Nice, chica! I loves me some Esthero and her music…thank you for the insightful read!

  • dee
    March 25th, 2010 11:12 pm

    Your writing is so vivid and descriptive! Love your use of adjectives!

  • Bilqis
    April 6th, 2010 12:38 am

    Wow, this brings back the dopest memory of you and I seeing her perform together! You put me on to her back then and found her again for me now. Thanks Nic! Black mermaid is beautiful! I can’t wait to hear the whole album!