The hip-hop world doesn’t provide women with a whole lot of options. Femcees can, like Missy Elliott, downplay their womanhood and stay out of the beat’s way, or they can, like Jean Grae, fully embrace it, rooting their artistic identity in their femininity. On The Death Of Frequent Flyer, suburban Chicago femcee Psalm One, who’s got a degree in chemistry, opts for a middle ground between Missy’s production-heavy, uninspiring club tracks and Jean Grae’s feminista lyricism, and comes up a little short.
The intent on Psalm’s second full-length album is admittedly laudable. There is intrinsic value both in eloquence and being proud of one’s gender, and in immediately approachable and gratifying music, so why not combine all of these elements? The problem is that, as a rapper, Psalm doesn’t quite have the skills to be either a great wordsmith or entertainer, and her fusion of the two is decidedly underwhelming. Evoking a younger Murs, her easily intelligible, occasionally unwieldy flow plods from verse to verse, rarely missing but almost never veering from a steady, predictable pace. Lyrically, Frequent Flyer is more varied, running the gamut from bright sparks of brilliant wordplay and poetry to generic, ambiguous, and cringe-inducing rhymes.
“The Living,” a tale of a chemist-by-day, rapper-by-night who hates her boss (“My supervisor pissin’ me off/‘Cause I don’t share her dumb allegiance to reality shows/Reality blows…She just mad when I leave ‘cause I got somewhere to go”), is so insightful and engaging that it’s hard to believe its writer also penned “Standby.” While on “The Living” Psalm spits penetratingly and humorously about relevant—albeit played out—subject matter, “Standby” is literally about waiting around at airports and on airplanes, made none the better by talent-show rhymes like “Pardon my stone-evil expression/You bastards playin’ me/Got me waitin’ here plus I got felt up by the agency.”
The femcee-as-entertainer aspect of Psalm’s approach is similarly unrealized. Despite some sensational production from a team of unheralded local associates, she’s unable to complement the beats in such a way that would warrant repeated listens. With its searing blues guitar sample, “Macaroni And Cheese,” if it had a hook, could be a Chicagoan anthem, homage to a city infamous for its blues. Psalm squanders it by pedantically articulating, “I make a meal out of macaroni and cheese.” The same is true for “Rap Star,” an Indian-dancehall gem that’s mangled by Psalm’s intruding dual-tracked vocals.
The beats rightfully shine and Psalm certainly doesn’t ruin any of the album’s tracks, but she doesn’t display the personality or the instinct to make these songs bangers.
Given her noble commitment toward blending opposing notions of female musicians, this album’s narrow but crippling shortcomings are particularly frustrating. On her sophomore album, she can’t quite be either a champion vocalist or an irresistible entertainer. The Death Of Frequent Flyer isn’t a horrible album; it’s just not quite enough.