When Special One of the Conscious Daughters raps, "And I know all my folks been patient for this shit" on the Oakland female duo's new track "A Moment In Rhyme," she ain't kidding. It's been 13 long years since she and partner-in-rhyme CMG released their last album, 1996's Gamers (Priority). So long gone were the previously high profile pair that in 2007 Nas invited the Daughters, along with other forgotten Left Coast vets such as Kam, King Tee, and Threat, to appear on his homage track "Where Are They Now (West Coast Remix)."
The Nutcracker Suite, released in February on longtime associate Paris' Guerrilla Funk label, is Conscious Daughters' third album in 16 years. It's a refreshing return to form for the female duo, who burst onto the national rap scene with 1993's Ear To The Street (Priority), led by the Paris-produced, funk-fueled riding anthem "Somethin' to Ride To (Fonky Expedition)." Striking a perfect balance between political hip-hop and street mobbin' music, Special One and CMG have always won over discriminating rap fans.
"You can call it what you want we just back," laughs an unfazed Special One, when asked if the new album and upcoming performances should be called a comeback. "It's a comeback to everybody else, but we never went anywhere," adds CMG. "We been recording and making music the whole time."
The Conscious Daughters pick up right where they left off with The Nutcracker Suite, which includes production by Paris, Rick Ross, One Drop Scott, Fred White, and newcomer Steven King. The album opens with the head-nodding hard funk of "Not Bad But Good," an updated riding track about "the Town" (Oakland). But a few tracks later it veers into thought-provoking territory, with songs that tackle topics head-on from a female perspective. Domestic abuse and California's spiraling incarceration rates are on the lyrical agenda. "And Arnold keeps building these correctional facilities for youth, women, and crooks and thieves with disabilities," Special One raps in the song "Issues."
Having spent a short stint behind bars herself ("for pot") Special One speaks from first-hand experience. "There's women, their grandmothers, their aunties, mothers, nieces, and sisters in the penitentiary, just like there are men in the male penitentiary," she says.
One of the new album's more poignant songs is "Dirty Little Secret," in which the duo urge domestic violence victims to "Get the hell up out that situation before you get killed."
"We have friends who have gone through this for many years, best friends who won't even tell you [about their abuse]," CMG says when discussing the emotionally-charged song, told in the first-person voice of an angry victim who fights back. "Even though our song is pretty deep about getting this guy back, we are saying what a lot of women want to actually do, and helping them get their frustrations out by listening to our song."
In practice, as well as in their lyrics, Conscious Daughters demonstrate solidarity for their sisters: Nutcracker Suite features cameos from several Bay Area female hip-hop talents, including Mystic, Marvaless, and Goldee the Murderist, whose death last summer from a blood disease was sudden and tragic. Special One says that it's important for females in hip-hop to look out for one another, since they already have the chips stacked against them. "It's always harder for women," she notes, "Most female rappers have to balance a career and their family."
Another longtime fellow East Bay female hip-hop talent, DJ Pam the Funkstress of the Coup, is joining Conscious Daughters when they embark on a national tour later this year.