Rap culture is going through a crisis of consumerism, but Eve isn't playing. "I keep it real," says the Philadelphia-born rapper. "I don't find enjoyment in talking about jewelry." Instead she raps about strength, success, her struggles with the music industry, broken relationships, and her problem with the way so much rap music is fraught with surface and materialism. "Some of y'all ain't writin' well, too concerned with fashion. . . . A lot of y'all Hollywood, drama, passed it/Cut bitch, camera off, real shit, blast it," she raps on the MTV staple "Let Me Blow Ya Mind" (featuring No Doubt's Gwen Stefani) from her sophomore album Scorpion. Elsewhere on the same album, she makes her goals even clearer: "Realness, real shit, spit reality," she raps on "Who's That Girl?"
Eve, formerly known as Eve of Destruction, makes no apologies for her quite feminine image. On "That's What It Is," she boasts of her intention to "stay ladylike." But make no mistake: Eve Jihan Jeffers, the only female rapper who's part of the Ruff Ryders collective (where she holds her own against hardcore heavyweights DMX and the Lox), is one tough bitch.
A small sampling? "Nigga get a life/Go on and find a wife/Get the fuck out my face 'fore I go and find a knife" ("You Had Me, You Lost Me"). So while her sartorial style may be Fifth Avenue, her rapping style, edge, loyalty and boasting are from the streets.
It's for all these reasons, all the seeming contradictions, that she's one of the most respected female hardcore rappers. She's tough but ladylike. Introspective but not weak. Sexy without being overtly sexual ( la Foxy Brown or Li'l Kim) and tough without denying her femininity ( la Queen Latifah or Missy Elliot).
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Perhaps her biggest contradiction, though, is the way she criticizes fellow rappers for materialism and then seems, at times, to be guilty of the same thing. But she excuses it thusly: "I ain't work this hard not to ball and live lavish," she raps on "Cowboy." On "Let Me Blow Ya Mind," she declares, "I respect the cash route." And on "Who's That Girl?" she raps, "Exec to my own shit, dawg, I'm ownin' dot-coms." It seems the difference between her boasting and the boasting she finds empty is that when she boasts about financial success, it's shorthand for power and independence. It's never just the flashy car; it's that she was able to buy her own flashy car.
I would argue, though, that this money-equals-power sentiment is the subtext of all rapping about material things. And that, unlike a bunch of rich kids talking about their new Mercedes—which is materialism at its most glaring and represents nothing more than the way ruling-class money stays in the ruling class—a gangsta rapper boasting about his possessions is sort of, kind of, maybe a tiny bit revolutionary.
It's also part of the culture. Eschewing wealth is the province of the very comfortable. Calling an artist a sell-out and measuring it based on the amount of success he or she achieves with music is the pastime of privileged white kids with liberal arts degrees. In the ghetto, modesty gets you nowhere.
Eve performs on MTV's TRL tour, featuring Destiny's Child, Nelly, Dream and 3LW, at Verizon Wireless Ampitheater, 8808 Irvine Center Dr., Irvine, (949) 855-2863, (949) 755-5799 or (949) 855-8096. Sun., 6:30 p.m. $28.75-$48.75. All ages.