In 2008, it seemed like Nikka Costa had finally found the ideal home at Stax Records. The loose-limbed, retro soul album Pebble to a Pearl allowed the self-proclaimed Funky White Bitch to show off her considerable chops in a way her two major label efforts rarley had, but it still wasn’t the star-making turn that it should’ve been. So now Costa has started her own label, and she explores the newfound freedom that brings on her Pro*Whoa!, which is far and away her most adventurous, freewheeling release to date.
Lead single “Nylons in a Rip” starts off innocuously enough, skittering along a multi-tracked percussion line and simple little clavinet backing. But it’s a clever bait and switch, as Costa comprehensively dresses down a no-good lover in the snarling, cacophonous refrain. The song explodes into its hook, with devastatingly heavy electric guitars laying down one hell of a funk groove as Costa spits some of her most ferocious anti-love shit. It would do Betty Davis proud.
The title track boasts a similar aggression, as Costa half-raps lines that compare her artistry to getting fucked stupid, and she runs roughshod over hostile, punk-inspired guitars. If “Pro*Whoa,” which she pronounces as “P-awruh-O-whoa,” is more than a little strident in its boasts, Costa at least has the swagger to sell it with conviction. Costa’s a dynamic, versatile singer, and Pro*Whoa! is a tremendous showcase for her talents. She puts her sensual upper register to good use on “Head First,” which plays out as one long come-on, and she recalls Rufus-era Chaka Khan on the smoldering “Never Wanna C U Again” and the mysterious “Chase the Thrill.”
“Stuff,” with cheesy cash-register sound effects, is too on the nose in its writing and production to make for effective satire, and it’s the only real misfire here. Still, Costa’s songwriting is particularly sharp throughout the rest of the EP, her vocal performances, which have always been the main selling point of her records, are more uninhibited than ever, and the overall tone of Pro*Whoa! is fierce and purposeful.