Aziza Miller - What’s On Your Mind? (2014)

Aziza Miller
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When I first played “W(Rap) It Up,” the second song on pianist, vocalist and songwriter Aziza Miller’s project, What’s On Your Mind?, I thought of a sign I saw while watching the protests in Ferguson, Missouri. “I can’t believe we still have to sing about this (issue).”

The (issue) – judging from the song’s title – is being sexually responsible, along with the consequences that result when people allow their desires to overcome their judgment. “W(Rap) It Up” is the type of cut that could have received airplay in 1988 or 1994, but will probably elicit eye rolls in 2014 – because, you know, everybody understands that the importance of being sexually responsible – right?

When I first played “W(Rap) It Up,” the second song on pianist, vocalist and songwriter Aziza Miller’s project, What’s On Your Mind?, I thought of a sign I saw while watching the protests in Ferguson, Missouri. “I can’t believe we still have to sing about this (issue).”

The (issue) – judging from the song’s title – is being sexually responsible, along with the consequences that result when people allow their desires to overcome their judgment. “W(Rap) It Up” is the type of cut that could have received airplay in 1988 or 1994, but will probably elicit eye rolls in 2014 – because, you know, everybody understands that the importance of being sexually responsible – right?

Well, I’m still seeing culturally specific billboards imploring people to get tested for HIV in my community. The disease disproportionately affects communities of color with African-Americans accounting for 44 percent of new cases in 2010, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Miller lives in New York, so she sees the toll HIV takes on a community daily.

Sadly, Miller’s musical PSA remains as necessary as protesting excessive force by police and all forms of violence afflicting the community. The title is a play on words that finds Miller rapping - and sounding a lot like a female Slick Rick – about the importance of condom use all while being backed a very funky band.

Miller brings that level of wittiness, fun and energy to much of the output heard on What’s On Your Mind?. “I Betcha” is another track that matches spoken word with funk. Thematically, the track will remind hard core funkateers of 1970 Funkadelic’s funk/rock classic, “I Bet You,” with Miller naming the unlikeliness of certain things happening before circling back to the one sure bet – her determination to land her man.

“Can’t tell a hawk how to fly/Can’t speak the truth if you’re telling lies/Can’t ask a question without who, what, where or why/Can’t stand another moment without you here in my life.”

“The Subway” is Miller’s unvarnished yet loving ode to one the most iconic features of New York’s landscape, and puts the artist among the ranks of writers, including Billy Strayhorn, Tom Waits and The Children’s Television Network, who have written songs about the MTA.

It’ s hard to listen to Miller’s eagle eyed, rated PG tune without hearing traces of the song that the Muppets performed as a skit on “Sesame Street” back in the 1970s. Both cuts contain observations of life on a subway train, and it’s easy to imagine Miller’s song being a musical number in a Broadway style play. The cut has a universal appeal because although “The Subway” describes life on New York’s transit system, anybody who has used public or mass transit anywhere in the country (or world) will nod in agreement when Miller sings “It’s fun to ride in limousines, but you’ll learn what survival means on the subway.”

Miller engages in another round of word play on O.A.P.T (Obsessed, Addicted, Possessed, and Twisted), a slow burning, and funk/blues hybrid celebration of having ones nose wide open. Vocally, Miller brings playful seductiveness to a track about a man who causes her to lose all semblance of control. The lyrics manage the trick of being fun and alluring without giving too much away.

“When it comes to you/I see no one else/When it comes to you I can’t help myself/You’re in the rear view mirror of my dreams/Getting closer it seems/I love you so much I can’t take it/I want you so much I can’t fake it/I need you so much I can’t shake it/Without your love I can’t make it/I’m obsessed, addicted, possessed, twisted.”

While not every track on What’s On Your Mind? Works (the spoken word piece “Diva” suffers from being too long, and too cliché), Aziza Miller delivers a project that adult soul listeners will find a breath of fresh air.  She manages to bring rap, R&B and jazz together on an album that that balances seriousness, fun and sensuality, as well as consistent lyrical quality. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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