Monday, September 18, 2023

"Better Day (Ghetto Girl)" by 702 (2003)

The cover art to Star (2003), 702's third and presumably final studio album.

It felt bug earlier tonight reading that Irish Grinstead, homegirl from 702 (who's standing in the middle of the above pic), passed away at the age of 43, because I've actually been listening to a lot of 702 lately.  I won't go as far as to say that I was fan of this group during their heyday.  But some years later I came across the "CN Remix" of 50 Cent's In Da Club, which is interlaced with a track 702 dropped titled No Way (2003), and it instantly became like my favorite Fiddy song, largely due to the girls' vocals:

So that prompted me to later seek out the original version of No Way, which I ended up enjoying even more than that remix:

One thing I'll give to 702 is they have the sweetest voices of any R&B act that I can readily think of.  The problem, in my opinion after listening to more of their songs, was with their production.  The lead singer, Kameelah Williams, has a really nice voice but not a lot of vocal range.  So their songs tend to sound better at times when Irish and her sister, LeMisha Grinstead, are backing Kameelah up.

That's the strategy that their production team should have utilized throughout most of their tracks, like they did on No Way.  But instead, they seemingly relied more on the traditional formula of letting the lead singer go it alone in the verses, with the backup singers only really representing in the chorus, which sometimes worked for 702 and sometimes didn't.  But that said, these days whenever I feel like listening to music with a girlish sound this is the act I gravitate towards since, as stated earlier, they were really good at harmonizing while sounding distinctly female.

Also the latter part of their album Star, beginning with track #11 No Way and concluding with #15 Jealousy, is actually a pretty good listen.  And that's where I found this hidden gem, which is called Better Day (Ghetto Girl):

Usually, I'm not a big fan of these smile-in-the-ghetto type of songs.  I feel that the message should rather be more along the lines of 'get out of the ghetto'.   But the lyrics do sorta conclude that way, with the final chorus noting that the "little ghetto child", the one who has gone through all types of depression and BS (as most clearly illustrated in the second verse), did successfully 'turn her life around'.  And I understand the overall value of songs like these, as positivity thinking tends to be advantageous no matter what type of setting you find yourself in, or something to that effect.  And also, we can all use an infusion of faith from time to time.

This track follows that same traditional music-group formula mentioned above, the type that I argued doesn't always fit 702's strengths.  But what really makes this track exceptional, outside of its message (as opposed to 702's usual romantic fare), is its instrumental.  And here's something really interesting - Better Day was co-produced by Faith Evans, aka the widow of Biggie Smalls.  The other producer is a New Yorker by the name of Buckwild, who's a long-standing member of the Diggin' in the Crates Crew alongside the likes of Fat Joe and Lord Finesse.


Star is actually 702's most recent studio album (out of three in total), also presumably being their last.  So these days, the only time you hear about 702 is on gossip sites or when something like what transpired today happens.  It was both sad and shocking reading about the death of homegirl.  But maybe her passing will bring about a renewed interest in 702, an act that never really achieved monumental chart success but was an intrinsic part of the 1990s' R&B scene nonetheless.

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