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Northern State - Can I Keep This Pen ?

  by Paul Raven

published: 8 / 8 / 2007

Northern State - Can I Keep This Pen ?
Label: Ipecac
Format: CD


Sharp and intelligent old school hip hop from all girl New York trio, Northern State

Here's a breath of fresh air from an unexpected quarter – Northern State have come to redeem hip-hop. And let's face it, it needs all the help it can get. A far cry from the genre's early days as a lively and inventive scene where lyrical flair and cut-and-paste production ingenuity were the marks of greatness, the shambling mass-marketed monster that stalks the world in its place is an edifice of thuggish misogyny and money-worship. To each their own, perhaps, but most of it does little for me but nauseate. Northern State are almost the polar opposite in every respect. Take three sassy girls from New York City; equip them with lyrical flair, a sense of humour, and a love for the old-school block-party vibe. Throw in some elements from pop and rock, add a sprinkling of celebrity producer magic (Chuck Brody and Beastie Boy Ad-Rock) and what do you get? A cheeky bouncy little album, full of material with a very feminine edge, but that doesn't depend on the artists marketing themselves as sex objects. I know; seems almost implausible, doesn't it? But here it is, and it works. And no, it's not pure hip-hop – but I'm not sure it's possible for such a thing to exist any more, anyway. Hip-hop has been around for long enough to become a style rather than a homogeneous scene, and as much as the Northern State girls plainly have a lot of love for the classic tropes of beats, rhymes and street culture, they're not boxing themselves in to a corner. So alongside the sharp and clever rap attacks are a few numbers with indie-rock guitars and singing, and a couple of slower more atmospheric pieces that you might even qualify as love songs of a sort – though a far cry from the saccharine syrup that clogs the charts. Best of all, it's actually fun – and funny too, at times. There's no shortage of humour-based music these days, but it's rare to encounter material that manages to raise itself above the level of 'novelty record'. Northern State have the balance sussed: the chuckles are balanced out by skill and intelligence, and the girls assert their femininity without surrendering their integrity. Alongside sly political jabs like the portrayal of George Dubya in 'Cowboy Man' and classic hip-hop self-caricature like 'The Three Amigas' are songs like 'Things I'll Do', which is a suggestively sexy song about relationships whose power comes from its complete avoidance of blunt innuendo. Northern State, if there's any justice in the world whatsoever, deserve to be huge. If I had a daughter, this is exactly the sort of stuff I'd be proud to find her listening to, and Spero, Hesta and Sprout are exactly the sort of strong-minded independent girls I'd be happy for her to idolise. And from my own personal perspective, 'Can I Keep This Pen ?' is full of the sort of intelligent and accessible pop music I wish there was more of in radio and TV schedules. Of course, justice is in short supply, especially in the music industry – but Northern State have the talent and brains to stay afloat, even if they can't rise to the very top. And all things considered, that's achievement enough.

Track Listing:-
1 Mic Tester
2 Better Already
3 Oooh Girl
4 Mother May I?
5 Away Away
6 Good Distance
7 Iluvitwhenya
8 Sucka Mofo
9 Cold War
10 Run off the Road
11 Things I'll Do
12 Cowboy Man
13 The Three Amigas
14 Fall Apart

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