Systems function as they do with intent. That is to say, the inclusion or exclusion of a particular type of person[s] from a system isn’t an unintended byproduct. It’s by design. If one bears the “right” — historically Caucasian/Eurocentric— appeal, they can gain access to and thrive in just about any system. Even if and especially when that entry wasn’t gained on the basis of merit. For most, mediocrity doesn’t negate opportunity. And there’s only one instance in which excellence can deter opportunity. When an emergent talent threatens to offset the mode of person[s] the system in question deems worthy of facilitating wins for.
It’s easier for white faces to go places. Especially in pop. The pop machine has long been a system that extracts the latent content of music born from the disenfranchised. Their sound, diluted due to poor imitation, is packaged as innovation by a “palatable”, white pop star and profited from by white label heads. The continued burnout of musical trends often sees to a collapse in the popularity of the pop stars that were modelled after them. The takeaway? Breakdowns are imminent when pop stars aren’t programmed to prioritise versatility and authenticity – think the chronic mental decay of bubblegum pop star, Ashley O in the third and final episode of Black Mirror’s fifth season, Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too.
‘When we pull up its offensive/ Skin dark like the windows tinted’ — Bree Runway, ROLLS ROYCE (2020). Genre assimilates to Bree Runway. Whether it be glossy, bombastic bops or grungy, punkified pop. A foundational awareness of how to centre her music around her femininity — searing, her tongue — serrated and her heart —enveloping, have cemented her brand as Bree, Thee Genre Connoisseur. On the hyper-nostalgia of 2000AND4EVA Bree pays homage to the pop girls that paved the way, whilst demolishing the institutional boundaries that would otherwise dull the brilliance her Blackness brings to her music.
2000AND4EVA begins with a bang on the brag-laden bump of Apeshit. The track opens with a dizzying guitar riff and a chime denoting the use of a super move in Street Fighter. Ironically, the latter sound signifies that Bree didn’t come to play on this project; serving as a testament to music being Bree’s most prominent superpower. The repetition of her masterful hook knocks in tandem with the bass driven sample of Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s It Takes Two. Apeshit will have your shoulders rocking back and forth like your huddled round a rap battle in the Bronx, ‘this is for my niggas who ain’t shit, ain’t shit, ain’t shit, ain’t shit, ain’t shit, ain’t shit’.
Sonically, Apeshit gives the impression of being a hold over from Bree’s previous project. That is, until her vocal delivery — and the production — sheds some excess in favour of a supple, flirtatious coo during the bridge, ‘tell me what you want, girl, want yeah’. Being a pop girl is synonymous with making nostalgic references to the pop royalty that preceded you. Bree honours this trend, utilising Black video icons and pop stars to shine a light on her scrappiness, ‘no Teyana, but she ‘bout to catch a fade, bitch’, and her refusal to let anyone bite on her trendsetting art, ‘I paste, you copy and repeat it/ You can Michael Jackson, beat it’.
The snarling, apocalyptic grunge-pop of Little Nokia serves as a cautionary tale about linking a trapper. Initially, Bree is able to circumvent the trapper’s myopic perception of her by flexing her agency in tandem with his lifestyle, ‘he only hit me with a text/ When he want that Goddess-level sex […] baby’s always on the road/ Lemme dri-dri-dri-drive, dri-dri-dri-dri-drive’. A pathological liar, ‘every time he on his own/ Tell me lie-lie-lie-lie’, disillusionment with the trapper and his lifestyle soon sets in, prompting Bree to take her mums advice and dispose of him via a cheeky Britishism, ‘can’t trust him/ Yeah, mama said throw him in the dust bin’. The sole author of her narrative, Bree won’t allow anyone, trapper or media outlet alike, to infringe on or dictate her story, ‘boy you got me fucked up/ This ain’t good for press’.
Bree oozes extravagance on money grabbing anthem ATM. Bolstered by a slinky production that synthesises the aural opulence of the Art Deco era, Bree employs the Herculean currency of her complexion, ‘pretty bitch, chocolate, like some D’usse’, to be decked out in ostentatious fashions. Paid for by a would-be-sugar-daddy hoping to secure her, ‘you know what I need and there ain’t nobody finer/ Shoes, top, skirt, bling, purse all designer’. Bree’s certainty in obtaining and maintaining a moneyed man is derived from an active awareness of her allure and worth, amplifying her WBSD’s obsession with her, ‘you know a girl like me cost […] And I stay on his mind like a toupee’. Reaching the bottom of her satirical birkin, Bree closes her verse out with an epithet that’ll bruk the bank. Emotional depth is for broke bitches, ‘I don’t really worry ‘bout getting too deep/ ’Cause he really know how to work that machine, yuh’.
With an honorary doctorate in gold digging, Missy Elliot is primed to give Bree an assist in assuming control over a WBSD’s purse strings. Missy is unafraid to openly appreciate eye candy, but capital is a requirement to gain access to her goods, ‘he was so fine, asked, could he call me/ Yeah probably, if you spend your money/ But if you don’t got a job, get the hell up off me’. The physical attraction between Missy and her WBSD is palpable, ‘my type of boo, them Jamaican dudes’, and she revels in his bedroom prowess, ‘…boom-boom-boom you across da room’. But as far as foreplay goes, Missy is turned on most by a man whose generosity extends to her bank account, thereby encouraging her generosity in the boudoir, ‘put some cash all in my deposit/ Make it shoot out, boom like a rocket’.
On DAMN DANIEL Bree, and her sister-doling-out-blisters, Yung Baby Tate, join forces to dick over a duplicitous lover. Sampling the soaring synths of Van Halen’s Jump, conceptually, DAMN DANIEL is the spiritual successor to Brandy and Monica’s The Boy Is Mine. Sonically, however, the song channels the unabashed, sugary syncopation of Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. Flourishing in their prolific sexuality, Bree and Tate command the attention and affection of the men around them with ease, ‘these niggas jaw dropping when I turn around and park it […] I just let them fall like Humpty Dumpty’. Averse to their self-confidence, their new beau, Daniel, habitually reframes their high standards as evidence that they’re high maintenance, ‘[’cause] any itty-bitty problem and he say I’m a lot’.
Once the girls clock that Daniel only claims them privately, ‘he told my mama he got plans, plans/ but he never post me on the gram, gram’, and that he’s quick to withhold affection, ‘don’t send me heart eyes, now he treat me like crap […] Danny probably laid up with another trick’, they see him for the disingenuous dickhead he is. Bree ties her hair up in retaliation to this betrayal, ready to go on the attack, ‘he must’ve thought we was some dumb bitches or something/ Lemme tie up my weave’. But not the kind that would align her with something as contrived as the ‘angry Black woman’ narrative. No, Bree’s attack takes the shape of a cunning ploy she’s devised alongside Tate: outing Daniel as a fuck boy so as to thwart his would be conquests, ‘he didn’t know that we had plans, plans/ Now he looking stupid on the ‘Gram, ‘Gram (Damn!) […] If you fuck with him, he’ll fuck all your friends’.
Bree soaks in the extravagance spilling from her ride, her skin and her lifestyle on the gun cocked charge of ROLLS ROYCE. Much like the cars she’s bought outright, ‘we in the rolls and it ain’t rented’, Bree is carving out a place of permanence in music history. Better still, she has every intention of offending those that would rather she — and Black disruptors like her — couldn’t enter these high profile spaces, much less gain access via their own clout, ‘when we pull up its offensive/ Skin dark like the windows tinted […] We pull up, we get a table, we them rich niggas’. Bree may love expressly, but she doesn’t give love freely, especially where men are concerned, a notion gift wrapped in her entrancing coo, ‘say love, no we/Never say love, no we’. Somehow my ears always interpet the aforementioned lyrics as ‘sell-out, no we/ Never sell-out, no we’. As if Bree is subliminally speaking to the fact that her burgeoning place in pop history will be secured because of her Blackness, not in spite of it.
On GUCCI, a beguiling ballroom-bop, Bree proves that if there’s one thing the gays and the gworls have a penchant for, its pushing the needle forward in fashion and music. Backed by luxurious, escalating synths and snappy, coquettish trumpets, Bree’s vocals toe the line between lithe and dramatic, functioning like an aural credit to the vogue style of ballroom legend Leiomy Maldonado. Even with her emergence as an apple of the fashion industry’s eye, Bree is all things blasé when detailing her status as the hottest commodity around, ‘Gucci like a girl they can call […] Hella propositions on my phone’. The recurring echo of ‘Gucci like a girl they can call’ in the bvs gives the distinct impression of Bree’s posse hyping her up. What’s more, these bvs assert that co-sign or no, no-one is a bigger fan of Bree, and her Blackness, than Bree herself, ‘Black skin, j’adore’. A fellow-fashun-hoe, Maliibu Mitch joins Bree to pop it like a hot commodity, commanding her representatives to notify the top designers that there’s a new It girl on the scene, and that they’d be foolish not to drip her out in their latest fashions, ‘I need Gucci, Fendi, Prada/ Tell ’em to holla, I got a thing for designer’.
2000AND4EVA reaches a brief but affecting denouement on the luculent pulse of 4 NICOLE THEA & BABY REIGN. A tribute to the loss of a dear friend and their unborn child, Bree needs some time, no matter how minuscule, to shed her steely resolve. To process the loss that lingers in her heart so that she might purge it one day, ‘just for a minute, uh huh/ Lemme say how I’m feeling, no […] This pain I know will pass us by/ I know that all these tears will dry, I’. When the impermanence of life threatens to break Bree, she finds solace in the safety Nicole and Reign’s ascent guarantees them, ‘I know that y’all gon’ be alright’. Metamorphosing into a guardian star, Nicole and Reign shine their safeguarding light on Bree as she goes about optimising her greatness, all the while knowing that someday, they’ll lead her back home to be alongside them, ‘When I look up high, I’ll see your light, I/ I’ll see you on the other side’.
A true born pop girl, Bree doesn’t seek out permission, nor validation in being one on the indignant, metallic mosh of NO SIR (FREESTYLE). A true original, Bree is unapologetic as she barges past naysayers and haters alike to take up her well deserved space in the pop stratosphere, ‘you ain’t never seen a girl like me before […] I ain’t a cold serve/ Real pop girl shit like the posters’. She needn’t feign innocence in the hopes of appearing palatable, ‘you know I ain’t wholesome/ I got two of them niggas like the Olsens’, because Bree isn’t concerned with being easily digestible. Only with making music for outliers like herself by honouring the edges of her sound and persona in equal measure to her curves.
2000AND4EVA closes out with a remix of LITTLE NOKIA. The guitars are still rollicking, still turbulent here. Escalating to a crescendo that threatens to lacerate listeners that aren’t fully engaged with their potency. This time around punk-rap lord and fellow genre outlier Rico Nasty, is here to aid and abet Bree, ensnaring us with her unfuckwittable flow. Rico’s intuition reigns supreme, alerting her to play bois before they even enter her line of sight, ‘I could see a fuck nigga even with my eyes closed’. Bree too is possessed of an inviolable intuition, rescinding all contact with her ex trapper because their relationship no longer serves her, ‘I’m sorry can’t come to the phone/ Hit you with the busy tone, yeah’.
There’s something to be said about Bree ending this project with another Black woman. Both of whom are intent – and content – with disassembling the boundaries of genre. One an aPOPcalyptic empress. The other a rockstar raptress. Both dancing in the wreckage of an ideal they’ve had a hand in decimating: that Black people – women – are only fit to make certain kinds of music. In the aftermath, as Bree and outliers like her build a lane — one that offers many a divergent path — for the female and queer artists that’ll follow them, a few things are certain. That being a genre outlier should be the standard in pop music. That being one doesn’t make you a try hard or disengenious. That artists of Bree’s calibre should be celebrated for so fearlessly capturing how prone the facets of human identity are to renewal. To mobilising. To evolving.