Popmatters Live Review: Kid Sister in Chicago

This article originally appeared in Popmatters.

It’s been a long wait for Melisa Young (aka Kid Sister) since she released her first single “Pro Nails” via MySpace in 2007. It was a catchy track complete with sassy rhymes, a chopped and screwed chorus and guest appearance by rapper/producer Kayne West. Since then, the 29 year-old southside Chicago native has been waiting patiently until her debut Ultraviolet finally dropped via Downtown records in November.

All the buildup and excitement surrounding Ultraviolet made her show at the House of Blues in Chicago a celebratory homecoming. But something else was revealed too.

Watching her groove in sync with fans recalled the first time I saw Young perform when she opened for fellow Chicago hip hop duo Cool Kids in 2007. Back then her rhymes caught my attention because she rapped about the trials and tribulations of wooing (or dissing) her boyfriend. I was impressed with her approach to addressing the issue of superficial bling by empowering herself with a dose of glamorized girl power on “Pro Nails” and “Control”. So naturally, like others, I thought I was seeing the emergence of someone who could possibly fill the void of female rappers in today’s rap scene.

But something else emerged as Ultraviolet unfolded. Its blend of hip hop scratches, R & B crooning and electro-house beats demand booty shakin’ and dance floor groovin’, making it one of 2009’s best dance-pop albums. At times it’s hard to tell if Young is poking fun, mocking or trying to blend in or stand apart from her peers as she takes you through her collection of entertaining “clubventure” anthems.

Young can definitely spit a verse, and as she chronicles her clubbing experiences and boyfriend problems, she recalls all the great female emcees borrowing inspiration from MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Lil Kim, Mary J. Blige and Missy Elliot. This being her debut, Young isn’t quite on the level of those ladies. But she does dazzle when she switches tempos and gets funky with her breath control and cadence rapping about her struggles to make it as a musician and ditch the 9 to 5 retail jobs. Her storytelling is funny, believable and filled with relatable and lovable sassitude.

Though I expected her to show off her rhymes live, it wasn’t her lyrical or rapping skills that shined during the show. In 2007, Young’s show mixed a glamorous girl-next-door meets rap diva, with a sassy R&B attitude. But when she jetted on stage in a glittery short-skirted dress and sparkling high heels I could tell she had upped the ante and added more theatrical elements.

She enhanced the reality checking boob–tube satire “Life On TV”, by opening the song seated on a folding chair clicking a remote control, while two masked interpretive dancers pantomimed and posed each time Young “changed stations” with each passing verse.

Then the dance club diva fully emerged as Young got her groove on. Fans cheered, raised their glasses and roared as she dropped low to the ground and put on a dancing clinic during the turbulent “Switch Board”. Like a speed-juking queen her hips and thighs moved like lightning to percussive electro-bongos inspired by Chicago house music innovator Green Velvet.

Midway through the set, she reached in to the front row and pulled a male fan onstage to dance with her, playfully asking him if he was 18. It was an entertaining move that made the show feel like a club version of Dancing with the Stars. The two bumped hips and grinded before Young took the excited fan backstage as the song winded down.

A few moments later, without the fan, Young re-emerged clad in a new black dress and headed towards the show’s finale, capping the night off via the one-armed salutary club anthem “Right Hand Hi”. After seeing Young perform live for the third time I realized that I respect her rhymes because they don’t take things too seriously and they let us laugh at the silliness of club culture. But most importantly, I no longer expect her to be or remind me of the “great female rappers” as some might expect her to be.

Without a doubt, Young’s rhymes push the futuristic mix of hip hop and dance-pop beats of Ultraviolet’s story forward. Like she did during her theatrical live show, she clearly knows how to weave together flippant verses and catchy choruses chronicling dance club culture. Young’s at her best when telling heartbreaking tales of disappointment and letdown experienced during club-dating adventures with the opposite sex. At this point in her career, Young has developed herself into a gifted dance club diva who loves to rhyme up a storm for clubbers. She might not have the live emcee skills of the great female rappers as I hoped her to have. But if you get hung up on the absence of her live emcee skills, you’re going to miss the point and miss out. Don’t get me wrong, I hope she becomes a great rapper and live emcee too—she certainly has the skills to do so. But after this show I don’t think that’s what Ultraviolet and this tour are all about.

On one level, Young’s crafty dance-pop anthems and glittery stage show do make us think about our love for and addictions to dance club culture. But at their essence, Kid Sister’s tracks are solely designed to get the masses grooving on the dance floor for one more night.

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