Album review: Namie Amuro - Queen of Hip-Pop

Album review: Namie Amuro - Queen of Hip-Pop | Random J Pop

Namie did what many artists of the 2000s did when R&B started to emerge as the go to sound; which was to jump on R&B sounding joints with zero regard of their original sound or trying to have the two meet half-way. But as all good artists do, they realise what works for them after they've been stared in the face by a string of albums which don't yield the level of success that one hopes for. And out of that came Queen of Hip-Pop. The beginning of the return to glory. And my introduction to Namie Amuro.

Queen of Hip-Pop featured a bunch of sounds which were completely new to Namie Amuro at the time. Many of the songs still retained that US R&B element that she sought on the three albums and Suite Chic project which preceded it, but in a different gear. By enlisting the help of songwriters and producers T. Kura, Michico and Nao'ymt; the three had found a sweet spot. Queen of Hip-Pop succeeded in providing Namie with a sound which had enough breadth for her go in different directions, whilst still staying true to her Pop roots and her current love of R&B. Queen of Hip-Pop did this so well to such a point that it would set-up every album that Namie would release after it; right up until her final studio album _genic. Play was the album that built the house of Namie that we would continue to love, but it was all because of Queen of Hip-Pop having set the foundations.

However, Queen of Hip-Pop wasn't perfect. And whilst the album did stick a landing that Namie had been trying to make for years; there was still a sense of trying to figure out what truly works for her. And in the midst of this, Namie was also trying to rediscover herself. Namie had gone through many life changes within a short period of time on the lead up to Queen of Hip-Pop. It was only around the production of this album that much of the dust had began to settle. Queen of Hip-Pop was in many ways a reset and a fresh start. A woman entering a new phase of motherhood, womanhood and her professional career. But surrounding all of this was also a rebuilding of confidence that Namie had lost along the way, which gives this particular album title more meaning than her others.

This building of confidence led to Namie going ahead with some songs than many probably would never had expected her to. For better and for worse.

It's unfortunate to say that the album title track "Queen of Hip-Pop" is a travesty. A title like this is a statement. It's a declaration. You really need to come through and show that you are THAT bitch, or at least fake it. But Namie doesn't do that, and the production of the song is so weak that it doesn't pick up her slack. The sound of the song itself doesn't encapsulate the album title as well as some of the other songs do. To open an album titled Queen of Hip-Pop with an album title track which is so tepid and void of command was a complete misfire. "Want me, Want me" is just utter filth and I love it. But hearing Namie sing about how she wants a man to split her pussy in two and to make sure he has the condoms ready is so bizarre. Especially when she look so deadpan in the music video and like she gave up on dick the moment she divorced her husband 3 years prior. I love the contrast and how none of this shit fits together. It's a mess. A glorious one. But still a mess. I genuinely wonder if Namie had any idea of what she was singing. I don't think she did. Namie was out here advocating women being dick go-getters and promoting safe sex and she didn't even know it. "WoWa" felt far too cutesy a song for Namie at this point in her career. The song was catchy and the Pink Panther branding was cool. But Namie just wasn't at a point in her life where she could give the type of energy a song like "WoWa" needed. She looks so fucking fed up in video and that energy is matched with how she sounds on the song. She barely attempts to sing some of the harmonies on key. As with "Want me, want me", I kinda live for how many fucks Namie does not give. This type of energy would be what kept me a fan and why I really liked her. But that doesn't negate the fact that Namie doesn't bring the right energy to the song, which is a shame, because it's got a good beat behind it and a catchy hook.

You can definitely tell with songs like these that Namie is still trying to find her footing and settle on a style that works, and I'm not mad at a bitch. Even in the misalignment, she delivered great songs, which further down the line would push Namie and lean into these 'misalignments' of sounds. I'd be a lying-ass-bitch if I said that I don't work my whole neck and back on the cross trainer to "Want me, want me" and that I didn't want live my booty-shorts and roller-skate fantasy to "WoWa".

Album review: Namie Amuro - Queen of Hip-Pop | Random J Pop

There are many expected moments on this album, but that doesn't make them any lesser than. After all, the purpose of this album was to find a formula in the songs that works and it manages to do that. "I wanna show you my love" is a standout because of the earnestness of it being dedicated to her fans. It's the one song on the album where it doesn't feel like Namie is playing any form of character of hyper extension of herself. It's nice to hear Namie talk openly about her love for her fans and on a song that actually slaps no less. "I love you" is one of the albums defining moments. Namie may look like she has a piece of coal where a heart is supposed be (bitch, same), but when she sings I love you in 3 different languages, she sounds just about believable. Namie seems the type to tell you that she loves whilst having her glasses half-way down her face reading a book with no eye contact, but still wholly mean it. That's this song. It also foreshadowed Namie's eventual foray into working with European and US based producers, as the song is produced by a young Tricky Stewart before he exploded as a result of his work on Rihanna's "Umbrella", which led to him working with the likes of Beyoncé ("Single ladies"), Mariah ("Touch my body" and the entirety of Memoirs of an imperfect angel) and Christina Aguilera ("Desnudate" and "Glam"). Then there's "Girl talk", "Free", "Alarm" and the hidden track "Yes", all bops and great encapsulations of the sound that Namie would hone for her next few albums.

Namie has never been much of a vocalist, so I'm not going to get too deep into critiquing her singing style. Queen of Hip-Pop is one of Namie's first albums where real care was taken with the vocal production and arrangements. There is a definite style in the way in which Namie sings on this album and how her vocals are layered. Something which may go over heads and seem so small in the grand scheme of things to some, actually makes many of these songs. "I wanna show you my love" features a bunch of Janet Jackson style vocal layering and harmonies which help elevate what would have been a near non-existent chorus without them. And much like Janet Jackson; what Namie lacks in vocal prowess, she makes up for with having a tone and singing voice which just sounds great when heavily layered. Then there's the patience to bother with that shit in the first place, because laying down harmonies and as many vocal layers as Namie sometimes does takes TIME. What Namie lost in vocal power (don't laugh) as time went on, she made up for in smoothness and a cool delivery. Something that she started to own on Style, but really got here on this album.

Queen of Hip-Pop may not be as distinct an album as Play and everything that came after it, but it holds significance for being the chrysalis for the Namie that would go on to reign in J-Pop, take her career on a whole new trajectory and send wigs into the exosphere. It showed that Namie's dip into R&B was not in vain and that it would eventually pay off. Queen of Hip-Pop was the first taste at Namie owning this new sound as opposed to letting it own her. It was also the one album which truly transitioned Namie into this new sound and phase of her career in a way that Style wasn't quite able to.

Queen of Hip-Pop doesn't feature as much character as it should have with the types of songs it has and all of the Pink Panther branding. (Again, a lack of alignment). But it definitely pushed Namie out of her comfort zone in a way that she needed to be in order to get to a place where she could give us albums like Play, Past < Future and everything that came after. And unlike Genius 2000, Break the rules and Style, Queen of Hip-Pop on the whole hasn't aged too badly. The songs that are good still sound great and the ones that are bad were always bad and had no shot at redemption.

Queen of Hip-Pop? Yep. I'd say so.


RATING: 6.5 / 10

Album highlights:
■ Want me, want me
■ WoWa
■ I wanna show you my love
■ Girl talk
■ Free
■ I love you ★ J's fave
■ Alarm
■ Yes



☕ Other Random J Pop Namie album reviews:
Play | Past < Future | Uncontrolled | Feel | _genic | Finally

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