Ciara Brings It Back

December 12, 2010 | by —meghan blalock | Pursuits

Ciara demands attention well before she commands the DJ booth at her album listening party at Veranda in the West Village, where she politely asks the crowd to ignore their cell phones while the album plays. The 808 kicks in, the bass drops and soon Ciara—who, at barely 25, is one of the youngest women in the R&B/hip-hop game—is dancing to her own music.

“I called this album Basic Instinct because it really is about taking it back to basics,” she tells me over the bass line of “Gimmie Dat,” the latest single off the record, which drops December 14. “I wanted to make something for the die-hard Ciara fans, something with that street edge to it.” She smiles, flips her hair over her shoulder and adds, “It’s also about fitting in with the hard rappers—being a female in that arena.”

The album stays true to that vision: Every song stresses female empowerment. The standout is “Yeah I Know,” the only track not produced by production power team The-Dream and Christopher “Tricky” Stewart. When it plays over the speakers, Ciara shouts, “This is my jam!” before taking the floor. She bobs as her recorded voice serenades, “I’m too qualified to waste my time/There’s a man out there who knows how to treat me/Boy, you’re not used to a girl of my kind.” Ciara calls herself “the princess of the A” on “Ride,” featuring Atlanta rapper Ludacris, and the album honors its home with heavy bass, lots of high-hat and a healthy mix of dance beats and R&B songs.

The production influence of The-Dream (of “Single Ladies,” “Umbrella,” and Justin Bieber’s “Baby”) is most evident on “You Can Get It” and “I Run It,” the album’s two über-slow jams. But even on tracks about love, Ciara purrs assertions of female dominance: “The next time they ask you/Tell ’em that I run it/Boy, you know I run it/It’s mine.” And underscoring the masculine themes, an off-hand sports reference: “If you’re ready to go/We can hit this thing off like first quarter.”

The most out-there track on the album is the reggae-infused “Wants for Dinner,” and after the party, I sit across from Ciara as she eats hers: fried chicken fingers, fries, and salad. As she makes a special request for a side of barbecue sauce, I urge her to continue our conversation about what this album means for Ciara’s female fans. “Men are naturally more aggressive,” she says. “As a female, you’ve got to hold your own, have self-respect and be confident.”

She adds that in crafting the album (a rarity amongst pop stars, her name appears in the liner notes of every song), she aimed to maintain a consistent message and sound. “We started this record from scratch, so everything comes back to the same place,” she says. “My fans are the most important people to me, and they always have been. I want them to really enjoy the album, to feel connected to it.”

In a post-Lady Gaga world, with Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna donning kaleidoscopic wigs, makeup and fashion to shift the public’s views of successful female artists, Ciara brings it home. The album is fun, yes, but it’s also Ciara holding her own in arguably the most male-dominated segment of the music industry. In one breath she encourages, “Girls, get your money/All my girls, get your money,” and in the next, “Don’t flash them dollars/Thinkin’ I’m gonna holler/Don’t play me for a dummy/’Cuz it ain’t all about the money.”

So Ciara contradicts herself. But in a world accustomed to cultural representations of women as the more one-dimensional of the two sexes, Ciara makes no apologies. If Jay-Z can wear a Che Guevara T-shirt with a platinum-diamond necklace, then she can tap the tile in six-inch stilettos and allow her talent to speak for itself. Ciara demands the respect she deserves, and with Basic Instinct she’s letting her fans know that they’re allowed to as well.

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