Twenty-five years after The Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" introduced the mainstream to a quirky New York subculture called rap, the line leading to the microphone in hip-hop's treehouse still seems to accompany an invisible sign reading "No Girls Allowed." That warning seems to go double for white women, but that hasn't stopped Long Island's Northern State, a trio of well-educated party-starters whose 2003 release Dying In Stereo won its members the unofficial title of White Women Most Likely To Succeed In A Black Man's Field. The album earned Northern State inevitable but apt comparisons to its fellow New Yorkers in Beastie Boys, who share its old-school ethos and its unabashed liberal politics.
Northern State used its major-label budget wisely on All City, roping in hip-hop heavyweights like Pete Rock, Cypress Hill producer Muggs, and high-profile fan ?uestlove, whose participation bestows the same instant credibility that Dr. Dre granted Eminem. All City kicks off with a jump-rope rhyme attesting to the group's lyrical prowess, fittingly setting the stage for an album where fun and unselfconscious female empowerment meld into a juggernaut. The disc's infectious first half keeps the energy percolating at near-delirious levels before segueing into a moodier, mellower second half highlighted by "Time To Rhyme" (which illustrates yet again why Pete Rock is rap's laid-back king of the chill-out groove) and "Summer Never Ends," which wraps the tight, largely filler-free album on just the right bittersweet note.
On All City, Northern State does what visionary rap acts have done throughout the genre's history: It re-creates hip-hop in its own image, molding it into a potent vehicle for singular aspirations, anxieties, and dreams. Rappers Hesta Prynn, Spero, and Sprout smuggle upbeat feminist sentiments into feel-good rhymes, favoring suggestion over sloganeering. With its old-school high spirits and inclusive humor, the album stresses the innate universality of hip-hop's utopian ideal, where questions of gender, race, and sexuality pale next to more important concerns like who has the dopest rhymes and who can rock a party 'til the break of dawn. Northern State spits party rhymes like it's got nothing to prove, and in a sense, it doesn't. Music this life-affirming is its own best justification.