Cut Chemist -- by Mildred C. Fallen, November 2006
Psalm One's Rhymesayers debut, Death of a Frequent Flyer, is miles away from her former gig as laboratory chemist.
The MC and former food chemist who shed over 50 lbs since high school gives numerous impressions, but "high-maintenance" isn't one.
Chances are, most female artists who are in the middle of trying on clothes at Nordstrom's wouldn't stop shopping to do an interview, nor would they find another spot in the mall with clearer reception if they sound like alphabet soup coming through the phone. But Psalm One did both.
She doesn't need to say she's more dedicated to being an MC than acting a diva, even if it's for a photo shoot. In the small Chi-town arts and news monthly, UR Chicago, Psalm One posed as a bad ass who mugged like she'd shank you on the train if you approached her wrong. Slouched in an oversized, white button-down, pulled open to expose her black Rhymesayer tee's cracked skull, she sizes up the camera with this half-smirk that almost reads, "Step up, if you wanna get hurt."
The photo's frankness illustrates the same tone this MC uses when she rebukes women who rhyme because they couldn't cut it as strippers. But Psalm One doesn't take issue with how they get down; it's their lack of depth. The quiet-storm sampled, "Rapper Girls," chock full of snaps targeted at their transparent, Cat in the Hat flow (Yeah, you bleed/but you can't rap/ period) is undoubtedly a lyrical and production standout on her ambitious Rhymesayers debut, Death of a Frequent Flyer.
"I know chicks need to stick together," she says with a laugh, "but sometimes, they need to be checked."
Though she tells these "chicks" to go home and practice their "spread eagle," the Southside Chicagoan also opens up and holds a mirror to herself. Death of a Frequent Flyer lets you meet Cristalle Bowen, an aspiring rap star who finally quits her day job as a chemist to pursue rap full time. She's pictured in many elements, moonlighting as an MC who forgot to change out of her holey, chemical-stained lab pants before she hit the stage (The Living), and as a "loner, a rebel/a stoner, a pebble" who got pelted with fat jokes as a kid. On "Beat the Drum" she's flamboyant with a triple-time flow that two-steps busily around a Latin rhythm. Riding "The Nine," she's both a scared teen who sat behind the conductor and a rebellious one that found herself in the back of the train, selling squares to the "cool kids," getting dry humped and getting into scraps. When she didn't feel defending herself, her riposte was, "Leave me alone, I'm writing."
Psalm One's knack for vulnerably honest storytelling shows a softer, feminine quality often seen in the work of Lauren Hill, Jean Grae and Queen Latifah, all of whom she admires for the same reason. "There's something intrinsically feminist about doing rapping, and doing it well," Psalm One says. "There's a certain amount of respect I command because I give it."
Not to say she doesn't bring the freak out. Her thinly veiled metaphor for "bumping uglies" comes across as "Macaroni and Cheese," where Psalm One enjoys giving her man a "mean bowl" of it. Like Trick Daddy did with "Sugar," she shares the imagery tastefully but the tomboy still hikes up her skirt.
"I try not to flaunt it," she says of her sex appeal. "I just work with what God gave me. I know I'm a bit of a cutie to some people, so I do okay."
You can't help but question if Psalm One was all about flaunting T&A, would it have taken since 1998 for her to be noticed outside of the cipher. It wasn't like she didn't make the most of her time. She dropped some silently released CDs that you probably never heard (2001's EP, Whipper Snapper, 2002's Bio: Chemistry, 2004's Bio: Chemistry II) but they made URB smell her and put her among their Top 100 list of musicians to watch. After opening this summer for Atmopshere, she's currently in the midst of a 21-city tour with Hieroglyphics' HNIC, Del the Funky Homosapien. Her nonstop grind would be back breaking for lazy, hoeing MC's but Psalm One's a hustler with an incentive to perform.
"It's really grueling. You get sick; all kinds of crap can happen when you out on tour," she explains. "But I work out, and try to eat right, record and keep out of trouble. ‘Cause I'm self-employed now," she says, chuckling. "It takes a certain amount of discipline to maintain something like that."