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Thug Rife

R&B Loverman Ginuwine Can't Tell Where His New Hard-Core Image Will Lead, but Soulster Donnie Knows it's Not the Life for Him

No G-Love Lost: Genuine soul man Donnie deconstructs Ginuwine's new jack R&B thug.

By Felicia Pride | Posted 6/4/2003

The Senior

The Colored Section

While the mantra "I'm real" circulates the airwaves like a 50 Cent song, the line between reality and fantasy remains ridiculously fuzzy. Hip-hop artists swagger in the forefront of this illusory "realness" movement (behind J.Lo, of course), and are now being joined by R&B cats wanting to cash in on the street fairy tale. The more street, the better the tale, no matter how ludicrous it pans out to be.

Ginuwine, with his substantial female fan base, is desperately trying to overcome his pretty-boy role and gain street acceptance. To prove he isn't a punk, but is an R&B thug (whatever that is), his new album, The Senior, begins with Mike Tyson cosigning Ginuwine's manhood, authenticating his streetness, and silencing doubters. With that backing, Ginuwine got rid of the cornrows, chose the inconspicuous low fade, and urges nonbelievers in "Get Ready" to prepare for the impact of his thuggedness: "Niggas get ready it's time to explore/ The world of the real one/ Niggas get ready."

But here comes Donnie, a singer who isn't interested in portraying a stereotypical role in the mainstream mayhem, looking like the outcast stepson with his wooly hair and offbeat interests (equality, consciousness, self-love). He views his R&B peers' street machismo more as a jail than a selective fraternity. Instead, he seeks a positive reception as an "American Negro male" without blunts, Hennessey, or a chromed-out Hummer full of women. His debut album, The Colored Section (Giant Step Records, 2002), recently rereleased on Motown, is certified soul music that blares heavy thoughts against the grain. In "Beautiful Me," he disputes, "I'm not a nigger/ I'm a Negro/ When I become a nigger/ I'll let you know."

Truth is, most R&B songs these days follow hip-hop's footsteps right into a pit of pop redundancy and emptiness. Even songs from the so-called neo-soul movement are banal, though the soulsters generally dedicate fewer verses on the size of their rims. What binds and divides modern-day R&B and soul is the influence of hip-hop, with its cultural accessories and economic promise. The way artists react to that influence is what makes a Jaheim notably different from a Glenn Lewis. In this case, Ginuwine is attempting to pool hip-hop's ruggedness alongside his "oh, baby"s, while Donnie has chosen to extract hip-hop's provocative social commentary.

So now it's time for Elgin Lumpkin--aka Ginuwine the Gizzle--to graduate from his days as the little man with the "Pony" to the big man packing on campus. He's letting cats know in "Get Ready" that he's serious, despite how silly he sounds singing "Don't make me pop them thangs/ 'Cause I gets off the chain/ You don't know me/ But you're 'bout to/ It's the real me/ And I thought you knew." If Ginuwine is popping thangs, what's next? R&B beef songs?

"In Those Jeans" should give Ginuwine some props with the fellas by providing another tasteless line to replace R. Kelly's "Move your body like a snake, ma." And you ladies don't have to spend entire paychecks on jeans anymore, because Ginuwine has spoken: "I wanna say that them jeans looking good fitting right/ Baby damn those jeans/ Any kind doesn't matter you could win 'em/ You look fine."

Speaking of the first, self-proclaimed R&B thug, R. Kelly wrote and produced "Hell Yeah," further certifying Ginuwine's tough image and giving him a hackneyed club banger. Perhaps Ginuwine should take notes; with Kelly's impending criminal charges, the thug image he created for himself is much more realistic now.

The Senior's first single, "Stingy," is signature Ginuwine, another of his usual lukewarm love songs. But it is appealing--which is why there are four other tracks on the album just like it. Between his sweet, need-you-girl hooks, which are as catchy as an Ashanti song, and the stripperlike gyrations that make his videos tolerable, Ginuwine excels with the smoothed-out stance. His new attitude just doesn't fit him.

The most blatant and failed attempt to appeal to the street-cred police is the nine-minute skit in which Ginuwine catches a murder charge after he "represents for D.C." and kills an unruly fan trying to get at him. At the height of the trial, the skit fades out to the song "Locked Down," in which Ginuwine croons about how life would change if he had to go to jail. The most poignant line in the jail-time blues addresses the foolishness of his journey toward thug life: "But what type of life is this to live/ For an R&B singer?" If only the rest of the album was as clairvoyant.

Ultimately, the depth of Ginuwine's new image is best summarized in "Sex." As he pays tribute to his proclaimed addiction, he reveals that he's not just an in-and-out man; he circles, too. And there you have it, Ginuwine in a nutshell.

Donnie, who hails from the same Atlanta scene as India.Arie, wants to break down what Ginuwine is trying to build--the superficial thug image that haunts and celebrates the black male artist. The Colored Section is an honest exploration of society's faults and fallacies that engages everybody from the powerful to the powerless. In "Wildlife," Donnie keenly questions, "Who knows what tomorrow brings in a world where the greedy survive/ and survival of the fittest is your alibi?" The candid "People Person" explores the infectious cycle of judgment: "Well I know this dude who's a preacher/ You can feel the anointing when he meets ya/ But I refuse to ignore he be lusting for the deacon board."

Donnie's vocal agility shifts from rock one minute to ragtime the next. And he rips, too, accelerating his lines only to slow it up and break it down, letting his lyrics ricochet in the mind. The powerful messages of The Colored Section are not packaged in pretentious, better-than-thou placebos; rather, Donnie wraps his lyrics in the various spices of soul, jazz, R&B, hip-hop, and gospel.

And despite the proverbial word on the street, where a consensus is measured in sales figures, there are audiences that crave diversification and have welcomed Donnie's arrival with open arms of sanguiness, touting him as a vicarious force for the voiceless. Without theatrics, Donnie challenges the popular "if you can't beat them join them" attitude, steps out on his own two feet, and uses his music to liberate not stagnate. How's that for hard core?

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