Ursula Rucker Supa Sista

Spoken word is almost too clinical a term to describe the subtle lyricism of performance poet Ursula Rucker. Those familiar with her work from the Roots' first three albums know that her narratives of urban disintegration and violence are at once seductive, brutal and compelling. Because Rucker's recorded output is scattered widely over a number of hip-hop and jazz releases from the past six years, her first full-length, Supa Sista, could have easily been a collection of that work in one place. She chooses instead to delight with only new material, incorporating guest poets and vocalists and working with an array of producers, including Alexkid, 4 Hero and King Britt. It is a testament to her lucid writing that it all coheres so beautifully, as she turns her uncompromising critical eye towards childhood alienation, technology, self-actualisation and cultural appropriation. Supa Sista also sees Rucker pushing her craft further, collapsing disparate musical genres and experimenting, at times, with singing. Musically, the album travels through new jazz to electronic soundscapes and ambient R&B, with the 4 Hero tracks featuring processed beats and a string quartet. The choice to bring in additional voices signifies confidence and humility on Rucker's part, but aside from guest poet Daniel "Gravy" Thomas, on the leadoff track, the less inspired vocal performances of Vicki Miles and Ovasoul7 render their contributions forgettable. The weakest moments come early, as the overwritten "7" veers into schmaltz, with an inexplicably trite chorus, and "Letter to a Sister Friend" has latent Hallmark tendencies. Rucker more than redeems herself by following with "Digichant," a wry critique of computer dependency, and the stunning "What???," a biting invective against misogynist MCs that features a virtuoso freestyle over jungle breakbeats. Blessed with unerring poetic timing and a vocabulary to die for, Ursula Rucker's soft-spoken candour manages to both seduce the listener and inspire the requisite critical distance. (Studio !K7)