In Praise of the Bad Bitch: Cassie’s ‘RockaByeBaby’ (Mixtape Review)
The last time we heard a full set from Cassie, officially speaking, was her self-titled debut in 2006, which included the icy electro-R&B masterpiece that’s singlehandedly kept her name relevant in music for over 7 years: “Me & U.”
She returned in February last year with the transcendent, Ibiza-lite “King Of Hearts,” and again later that year with a feature on Nicki Minaj‘s robotic “The Boys.” And now, after endless delays and setbacks, somehow—perhaps by divine intervention—it has finally arrived: RockaByeBaby, a conceptual mixtape that sees the R&B princess transforming into something much darker and rough around the edges than ever before—namely, a bad bitch.
Actually, it’d be a challenge to count the amount of times the words “bad bitch” are uttered throughout RockaByeBaby. Sure, she’s always been a bad bitch—she rocked the side shaved head way before Skrillex and Ellie Goulding made it a thing—but now, the music matches the tough exterior more than ever.
RockaByeBaby is what would happen if Rihanna was left entirely to her own devices on Unapologetic, without ever bowing to Top 40 pop-leaning sensibility: Murky and moody, high fashion-meets-street, Cassie’s set is consistently smug, featuring an overwhelming amount of ego-heavy rappers confidently swinging their dicks across the tracks.
The mixtape centers heavily around audio samples from 1991’s New Jack City: Gunshots (“That’s how a kill somebody!”), menacing cackles and shrieks ring out throughout. “Rock-a-bye-baby!” Keisha taunts over and over. “Rock-a-bye-baby!” The dialogue is as repeat-heavy as James Franco‘s ominous purring of “Sprang Brayk. Sprang Brayk forever” throughout Spring Breakers. The themes are sort of similar, too: Guns, dollars, drugs, illicit bedroom romps and ample amounts of reckless abandon. Cassie and Harmony Korine? One and the same. Why all this “Rock-a-bye-baby”, anyway? Well, because Cassie’s putting them haters to sleep once and for all.
While the electro-R&B’s still in tact, RockaByeBaby is still a much more aggressive experience than anything she’s ever done: “No shade, no hatin’, but if that’s your date then you need a replacement,” she wryly observes above the springy beats and electronic flourishes of “Paradise,” her collaboration with Wiz Khalifa that dropped earlier in the week. The accompanying video, smoking up on a porch with Wiz and riding around town with Karrueche Tran, gives us Cassie at her hardest. She’s about that life—or, at least, she wants you to think she is.
The bulk of the record is devoted to playing up the bad bitch motif: Making haters mad, stealing men, crushing spirits and never catching feelings. “I ain’t got time/Riding shotgun, and I’m killin’ it,” she announces on the title track—a middle finger in the air to just about everything in the world. She’s fresh out of fucks, quite simply.
She does, however, take a moment to clear up a few things with her haters on the slinky reinterpretation of 2 Chainz‘ “Got One,” the Mike WiLL Made It-produced “Take Care Of Me Baby” featuring Pusha T: “Crazy thing about it, I been getting paid/If you knew what I have saved, attitude might change,” she slowly purrs. Later on, she goes in further: “Paying all this attention, when I know they could use at least a couple more dollars/Meanwhile I’m cool, these diamonds keep me cool/They just mad ’cause you always take care of me baby.” You hear that, Diddy?
Where she’s not bragging, she’s banging: “Sound of Love” (not to be confused with her DJ Komori collaboration) is a slow-grinding, The-Dream-esque duet with Jeremih seems like a sweet seduction, but don’t get it twisted—this loving ain’t really romance: “I don’t know if I’m ready for love, so I don’t think I can love you right now,” she mutters in the song’s final moments.
The sleek, spacey Rob Holladay-produced “Addiction”—one of the many highlights—is a throwback to Cassie’s finest on her 2006 debut, albeit with a harder edge: “Heroin and cocaine/I know you’re not good for me, but I don’t want to go away,” Cassie purrs, turning narcotics into buttery-smooth foreplay. “I Love It” with Fabolous takes the action a step further across a minimal, drippy electronic beat: “Fuck me, fuck me like you mean it/Spank me, you know I been a bad girl/But every bad boy needs a bad girl,” she moans, her barely-there vocals hanging onto the spacey beats by a mere thread.
RockaByeBaby finds Cassie not only exploring new places lyrically, wandering into new sonic territory too—you know, something more urban: There’s chopped-and-screwed offerings (“I Know What You Want”—a remix of Kendrick Lamar‘s “m.A.A.d. City”), ample hi-hat trap action (“Do My Dance”)—hell, she’s even rapping (“RockaByeBaby”).
“Do My Dance” is unquestionably the mixtape’s most salacious diversion, a remix of Tyga‘s filthy original: From there, the David Doman-produced ratchet anthem unfolds for the freaky ladies and thirsty power bottoms everywhere, as Cassie jumps in on the action: “How much time it gon’ take?/Boy it’s time to take flight,” she commands, breathing heavy. Fuck it, fuck it right, boy!
Of course, there’s also the Ester Dean-assisted “Bad Bitches,” another highlight that feeds further still into the bad bitch fantasy (really, the “bad bitch” count is off the charts by this point): “A bad bitch like coke, she gets all the nose,” Cassie confidently declares above the four-to-the-floor hand claps, scorching guitar licks and a confident swagger. And then, the chant to end all chants: “Bad bitches to the flo’!”
With RockaByeBaby, you get the sense that Cassie’s just fine where she’s at: Flaunting her ridiculously toned body on the pages of alt-fashion magazines like i-D and Clam. Sitting front row flaunting her impeccable, edgy sense of style at Givenchy and The Blonds. Sending sweet Instagram nothings to Diddy. And, occasionally, hitting the studio to churn out a left-of-center electro-R&B sonic odyssey.
“Numb,” which required a few listens to click when it first premiered last week, now glides in effortlessly as a focal point of the mixtape—a dreamy, hypnotic escape from the gunshots and cocky rappers that often overpower and clutter the tender production. Cassie’s Uffie-like faux-rap style isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s all about that monotone chorus: “I make music to numb your brain,” she coos above the ambient sounds.
And that’s just it, really: Cassie’s not trying to become a star. If she was, she’d put out some of the clubbier tracks that leaked along the way (like the superb “Gimme That”), or she’d be hopping on top of a trendy smash by David Guetta. (As the first lady of Bad Boy Records, it’s not as though she’s without connections.) While some fans might be left craving something more similar to her uptempo work (a la “King of Hearts”), it’s evidently not where Cassie’s head is at right now.
“I just need to put something out that is relevant to me…my fans will either rock with me or not,” she casually explained of her 7 year hiatus to ASOS Magazine recently. Thus, the Cassie crux: She’s not asking much of us — this is her first release in 7 years after all, a free mixtape — and in return, her fans can’t demand anything of her, either. She’s going at her own pace, doing her own thing…because she can.
Luckily, she’s in the mood to make music—and, more importantly, let it see the light of day. Ride the wave.
RockaByeBaby was released on April 11. (iTunes)