Paqman fever 

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Ron Artest plays record mogul, with the group Allure.

Ron Artest's label debut reveals the emptiness of modern girl-group R&B

Standing at 6-7 and 247 pounds, Queensbridge, New York native and Indiana Pacers forward Ron Artest is a seemingly troubled soul. There have been periodic suspensions, a request (only a few days into this regular season) for time off from the Pacers, and in some odd form of wish fulfillment, the omnipresent brawl in Auburn Hills, Michigan three weeks ago which provided Artest with 73 games of unpaid leave, courtesy of NBA Commissioner David Stern. In case you missed it, there was also his disturbing take on the recent Olympics in Athens: "I was one of the guys that wanted to be down there. If somebody would've let a bomb go off, I'd have been good! I would've got away from the bomb and I would've played the next day."

Much of the fallout from the recent fracas wasn't particularly surprising. The biggest story in sports this season before the melee was Monday Night Football and the NFL's willingness to present a cross-wearing, naked white woman jumping into the arms of Terrell Owens, one of the loudest and darkest brothers in the game. As Todd Boyd wrote in his now prophetic tome, The New H.N.I.C: "Yes, the threat once posed by the black male/white female scenario has been replaced by the newly emergent image of the black millionaire, and the hatred around these figures has escalated as the images have become more visible. From the basketball courts of the NBA to the recording studios of hip-hop, and everywhere in between, brothas with money have become easy targets for those who would prefer not to see them at all."

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Artest brings his Paqman persona to the new Allure CD.
Which brings us back to Artest, a ghetto youth who earned his Tru Warier handle on the pavement of the Rucker Park Entertainment Basketball Classic. Despite success at St. Johns University and the NBA, Artest quietly fostered a dream that had nothing to do with big-time athletics. He wanted to become a record-company mogul, the next P. Diddy or Damon Dash. He even dubbed his music-biz identity Paqman. As lazy journalists continue to blast Artest for what they perceive to be his "rap-music debut," he brazenly promotes Allure, an obscure all-female R&B trio whose aesthetics stand in stark contrast to his brawler image.

Allure first made noise in 1997 with an over-hyped, self-titled debut that featured production by the sample-obsessed Track Masters and heavy songwriting input from Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige. Allure was the initial release from Carey's now defunct vanity label Crave Records, and like many R&B discs of the '90s, it featured guest verses from a string of rappers; in this case fellow New Yorkers Nas, Raekwon, and LL Cool J. A syrupy cover of the Lisa Lisa classic "All Cried Out" yielded the group's biggest hit, which reached platinum status with the input of Atlanta's 112.

In 2001, the group returned - this time on MCA - with their sophomore effort, Sunny Days. Despite being more consistent, the album went relatively unnoticed and failed to separate them from the girl groups of their era: Changing Faces, Jade, Total, and Destiny's Child.

Artest quietly fostered a dream that had nothing to do with big-time athletics.
For the already-struggling, Artest-produced Chapter III, Allure has shuffled its lineup and returns as a trio. The inviting vocals of Alia Davis, Akissa Mendez, and Latisha McLean remain the foundation for a solid R&B album that leans more toward Chantay Savage than Chante Moore. The trio benefits from production by Presidential Campaign on "Hate 2 Luv U," and guest turns from Elephant Man on the bouncy club anthem "Uh Oh," and Joe Budden on the remix to "I Think I'm in Love." Artest wisely limits his presence to the obligatory "Intro" and generally tolerable "I Feel So," which includes his utterly weak rhymes: "You love it when I rub you/love it when you rub mine's/spine twirls when you touch me/like I'm chewin' on necks/trust me, girl, I'm the best."

Ultimately, Chapter III's deficiencies cannot be attributed solely to Artest and Allure, but to a tired genre that has lost its way. Back in the day, as Lucy O'Brien's brilliant She Bop breaks it down, "The girl-group sound was clearly identifiable; like punk, it blasted the market before mutating, maturing and becoming assimilated into mainstream pop. It articulated the Zeitgeist, the fresh ebullient hope of the early '60s; it feminized rock and provided the basis for the '60s' best groups of the famed 'British Invasion.'" These days around-the-way artists like Ashanti, Beyonce, and Ciarra, are anything but ebullient and their product helps feed the crass misogyny that dominates commercial rap. Now more than ever, we need an anti-violence, pro-feminist resolution, and there is clearly no way we can count on Ron Artest for that.

By M. Solis


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