URSULA RUCKER at the Reverb, November 16. Tickets: $18. Attendance: 400 (sold out). Rating: NNNN
the rabid throngs tried to stay warm at the corner of Bathurst and Queen as they pressed to get into the Reverb last Friday. A wave of hype preceded Ursula Rucker's second visit to Toronto the Good, and the show, including K-OS, Jemeni and Dwayne Morgan, was the hot ticket. The club reached its capacity early in the night -- a full two hours before Rucker's midnight set -- and furious VIPs were left out in the cold. Inside, an array of beautiful, stylin' folk grooved in clouds of pot smoke to killer classic funk and soul tunes while anxiously anticipating the spoken-word diva.
Rucker's arrival made the hours of shivering worthwhile. The three-months-pregnant Frida Kahlo look-alike owns any stage she sets foot on, and her conscious lyrics are some of the finest literary poetry I've heard in quite some time.
She kicked off her too-short set with a power-femme dis to all the lowbrow oglers out to scope "scantily clad asses" while disrespecting strong-willed women, which ignited all the no-bullshit ladies in the house. Rucker followed up her feminist battle cry with lovelorn siren songs and triphoppy tales of crack-addicted baby-mamas and superfly supa-sistas.
The evening's highlight was What???, Rucker's seething attack on the wack MCs and wannabe playas responsible for the cliché-ridden state of contemporary black music. Soaring through a vicious verbal battle, she rhymed at lightning speed over sizzling breakbeats and shimmying bass riffs.
She may be pointedly political, but she's not preachy. Surprisingly soft-spoken when not waging spoken-word warfare, Rucker justified her indictment of her urban music contemporaries by explaining that, while far from infallible, she's committed to music with a positive message, and her targets' tunes are not only negative but "unimaginative, uncreative and boring."