When it comes to bullies, physical strength isn’t always the end-all be-all. Sure, some pre-pubescent wannabe intimidators from middle school days pumped iron for the football team, but strength is really all they ever had going for them. Real bullies, on the other hand, have this remarkable ability to make entire lunchrooms go quiet without lifting a muscle, because they go for emotional rather than physical pain. A black eye will last a week, but biting remarks or a verbal beating will sting for months.
Listening to Northern State’s debut, Dying in Stereo, is like going back to middle school, with Hesta Prynn (Julie Potash), DJ Sprout (Robyn Goodmark) and Guinea Love (Correne Spero) being the head bullies. They taunt, they incite, they push around and they gang up. But instead of alienating me as a listener, Northern State pulled me in, creating camaraderie between the music and me.
I could blame my double-X chromosomes on the bond, as the Long Island trio focuses on gender inequality throughout most of the album, with rhymes such as, “But we make half as much for working twice as hard/ I walk around in summer need a bodyguard,” driving home their message. I could also point out Northern State’s references to literary figures, such as Wendell Berry and Dorothy Parker, proving the girls transcend the “Hummers and ho’s” rap culture. But what is most appealing about Northern State is that they never take themselves too seriously, deftly weaving political and intellectual messages with pop-culture commentary, such as, “Keep choice legal/ Your wardrobe regal/ Chekhov wrote the Seagull/ And Snoopy is a beagle.”
Northern State has the ability to influence girls just as the Britney Spears did only a few years ago. But this Beastie Boys/ Salt-N-Pepa love child is just too smart to allow any marketing machine or big corporation bully it into a corner. Small things began to irritate me, like Prynn’s voice, which stumbles into overly nasal territory a few times. And be forewarned: If you’ve donated large sums of cash to the “Bush 2004” campaign or you like your bling-bling rap with a side of bling-bling, Northern State isn’t for you. But for those who like something with enough spunk and spirit to last longer than the average albums’ shelf life, this self-proclaimed trinity is the type of group you once hid from but now like to pretend you are a part of. Who knows, reciting a few lines of Northern State’s verbal shots may get you that bully status you’ve always dreamed about — without the detention slips.