Give Sista's Debut All Of The Awards


By the time Sista released their promotional single “Brand New” in the summer of 1994, the subgenre that is Hip-Hop Soul had already gained popularity. I would be born a few months later, and was therefore too young to witness the rise of artists and groups like Mary J. Blige and Jodeci, whose successful fusion of rhythm and blues/gospel singing over Hip-Hop beats would top the charts. Nonetheless, a quick glance at the Billboard charts or the latest release by one of our favorite artists in the present asserts the impact the convergence of the two parent genres has on our music today. Yet despite its impact as a genre and its influence on modern music, Hip-Hop Soul remains largely understudied. And when you consider how the subgenre functions as a key site for the construction of Black women narratives you know how important Hip-Hop Soul is. How important the album 4 All The Sistas Around Da World is. And why it sucks that it was shelved.

The R&B quartet, which featured a young Missy Elliott, signed with DeVante Swing of Jodeci under the Swing Mob imprint after sneaking backstage at the group's concert and singing for him. After inking the deal the group and Timbaland were all moved into an apartment in Newark, New Jersey where they got to work on their debut album. Their single “Brand New,” which would peak at Number 84 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart, found the ladies singing about a partner that makes them feel exactly what the title says. On it Missy raps “You’re so fly and I’m gonna make you mine…Cuz it’s the sex that I get that makes me in love with you.” The song’s music video, which featured cameos from Ginuwine, Static Major and DeVante, saw Sista dancing and singing on a high-rise rooftop in between shots of Black people hanging out on the streets of their neighborhood. There was no extra fanfare, no gimmicks. Just the group and their music.

This same thesis is present on the album’s cover, which features the women outfitted in baggy pants, a hooded sweatshirt and plaid vests crouching on a porch in front a graffiti-painted wall seemingly playing a game of dice. This Hip-Hop style of dress, present on other iconic 90s acts like Aaliyah, Mary J. Blige and TLC, did not ask the audience to look away nor did it intend to distract them. Their garments instead positioned women as the rightful authority on the relationship between them and clothing, and affirmed that “boundaries” placed between sex, gender and what you wore could be crossed with gratification.

Throughout the album, the women built upon traditions of storytelling when it comes to Black womanhood. In If You Look in My Life: Love, Hip-Hop Soul, and Contemporary African American Womanhood Treva B. Lindsey writes that Hip-Hop Soul women address abandonment, affairs, casual sexual trysts, sisterhood, men, romance, desire, etc. All themes that allow Black women to engage with and interrogate the world around them. On “I Wanna Be With U,” a cut that flips the classic Isley Brothers ballad “Footsteps in the Dark,” the women harmonize about what sex with the person they want would be like. “Out in my Jeep so I props up my two feet/Pull out my sheets so I can keep my seats neat see/Me and you can get it on until we have to break/Slide it in and out like some damn skates,” raps Missy. The lyrics were original, fresh and hypersexual, and fell right in line with the kind of storytelling their soul foremothers used to engage with gender and sexuality.

Then there’s "Sweat You Down," an upbeat and relatable groove about being “in like” with someone but not wanting to sweat them; "Feel of Your Lips," on which the women and a new artist by the name of Mary J. Blige sensuously crooned about their lover; “Sista Mack” which flips the nursery rhyme “Miss Mary Mack” and takes the listener back to their grade school days; and "Good Thang," a smooth track that sampled “Who Can I Run To?” by The Jones Girls before Xscape, with whom the group was rumored to have beef at the time. (On "Hip Hop" Sista sings: “you know you was dead wrong to use that song” and “why you tryna imitate and duplicate,” a supposed dig at Xscape for copying their style and music.

Despite being restricted in their progress as a group, the women of Sista were untethered in their music. They were equally authoritative and prone to feelings of longing and heartbreak. They created songs about pleasurable sexual encounters, men, and sisterhood and built upon traditions of storytelling when it comes to Black womanhood. They were multidimensional just as Black women were, are and will continue to be. Give their debut all of the awards please.