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Sealed With a Kiss-Off

Teairra Mari’s Not Just Another Summertime R&B Girl Crush

CLOSE YOUR EYES AND THINK OF DETROIT: Teairra Mari proves today's R&B is a woman's world.

By Bret McCabe | Posted 8/10/2005

Another summer, another young R&B diva: Even with Jay-Z introducing the arrival of Teairra Mari on the lead track of Roc-a-Fella Presents Teairra Mari, it’s easy to lose her in the sprawl. The name alone sounds like “Teena Marie,” and the stripped-down bump ’n’ grind of her lead single, “Make Her Feel Good,” recalls the breathy beats of Ciara’s “Oh” and the slow-rolling comfort food of Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together.” The pace and cadence of each track maps the same sleepy seduction, a late-night pulse over which each singer purrs silkily to the dudes—Ciara getting gully with the boys getting crunk up in the club, Carey admitting that when he left she lost a part of herself, and Mari lamenting, “Why every answer to my question is a question?”

Now, try to ignore Mari’s current slow-motion single, “La La,” just for a moment. Its tinkling keyboard gurgle peppering a threadbare backbeat only further folds Mari into the current wallpaper of R&B gals. The downplayed production and multitracked harmonies courtesy of Sean Garrett (who has worked with Destiny’s Child) amplifies the sweetly pretty in Mari’s buttery voice, capable and versatile, and the lack of overkill makes her sound very Kelly Rowland.

Instead, proceed directly to the second track on the lean, bustling 45-minute debut album from this coolly confident 17-year-old Detroit gal. Powered by a hand-clap snap and bass-drum whoosh, “No Daddy” is an ass-rocking call to “all my girls from a broken home/ when you’re feeling all alone/ and you feel you can’t go on/ call me.”

In her sweet, smooth glide, Mari swings through the hook’s setup, a Bikini Kill-caliber rally: “I know plenty of girls like me/ That done been through hell just like me/ Keep what ya mama teach ya/ Don’t let cheat or deceit defeat ya.” And then Mari sheds her voice’s nice for the hook, snarling the sassy, “I ain’t have no daddy around when I was growin’ up/ That’s why I’m wild and I don’t give a huh/ Y’all think cuz these jeans fit I’ll give it up?/ Don’t let my cute face fool ya.” Just to make sure everybody knows who this track is aimed at, a man’s voice strafes the background in the song’s first few seconds, a choked shout: “Y’all making my life real difficult right now, you keep telling me what I can and cannot do.” “No Daddy” may not be the first middle finger from single-mom-raised gals to their absentee dads, but it’s certainly the most instantly ass-flattening. This shit is Teairra: T-E-A-I-R-R-A.

More than anything else, such spark-plug pith is what elevates Teairra Mari above the usual summertime R&B cutie and may save her from one-hit wonderland. At its crisp running time, the album’s balance of such market-tested radio-ready relationship jams—“Make Her Feel Good,” La La,” the flamenco-colored “Act Right”—and feisty riffs on the norm breeze by without ever feeling generic. A falling cascade of pipe notes sets up a medium-tempo relationship kiss-off like any other until Mari gets to the chorus, where she waves him away with the radio unfriendly “I’m so over you boy/ I’m on some new shit” in “New Shit.” Mari is young enough to want to tweak with everything to make it her own and has the voice to make such youthful arrogance work.

Check her take on the you’re-my-man song, “M.V.P.” An opening flourish of “Crazy in Love” horns gets excised at the first break, the song from then on little more than a Champagne-bubbly beat with two keyboard chords marking the loop, a quick-wash spine for Mari to use a SportsCenter vocabulary to talk about great she is—she’s the franchise, the one he can’t deny: “I’m the MVP, your No. 1 wifey/ That’s why you always running back to me.”

But the real gems are when the life lessons of a young woman too familiar with fast-talking men inform the songs. A springy ping-pong bounce puts a rubber-band jiggle into the will-I-or-won’t-I? back-and-forth internal debate of “Confidential,” where her body’s saying “take me” and her mind’s saying “slow down, don’t be fooled” by the things he says. She admonishes her girls to “Get Up on Ya Gangster,” about the randy ways of men who only call at 3 a.m. tipsy off Hennessy: “Do you even know where he lives?” she asks. “Probably got a girl and some kids.”

It’s a storytelling streak that culminates in “Phone Booth,” a downtempo epic as melodramatic as any one of R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet” installations, and much more effective. Over a swell of strings and rainy-day sad beats, the song’s young female narrator escapes to a phone booth to call her man after having a knock-down fight with her mother about dating him. Mom wants her to ditch the dude who she thinks is going to do nothing but hurt her, and she collect-calls him looking for him to offer her any reason to trust the voice in her head saying that she loves him. “Boy you better hope the future that you’re promising me/ is as real as the 45 up under your seat,” she tells him, imploring him to come pick her up from where she’s placing the call. And that’s where he—and the song—leaves her: all by herself, crying in the rain, searching for an answer to a question, wondering if the next set of headlights is his. The ending is open ended but the tone makes you suspect he’s gonna no-show. And while it’s an overemotional image to resort to, you can bet that in Teairra Mari’s hands, the club banger that that abandoned young woman writes is just gonna be hot hot hot.

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