Vocalist/songwriter CANDI LYNN has often been asked whether she considers herself more of a rapper or singer, and the New Jersey native's response is that she likes to call her music "hip-pop." Combining pop, rap, R&B and rock, the 21-year-old Candi has created a style that is distinctive, original and individualistic rather than generic or manufactured - and her originality is impossible to miss on her debut album, ILLMissBehavin, available on Ill Miss Musick (the independent label she co-owns with her mother/manager).
Accessible yet adventurous and risk-taking, ILLMissBehavin is the work of a versatile artist who loves to have fun but also strives for depth and substance. ILLMissBehavin, which was produced by Chris "The Hitman" Conway (known for his work with Eminem, Capone-N-Noreaga, Run-DMC and many others) underscores Candi's hands-on approach. She co-wrote all 15 songs on the album and enjoyed much more creative input than most artists her age.
Stylistically, Candi has been described as a blend of Fergie, Pink and Britney Spears. Candi doesn't disagree with those comparisons, although she points out that ILLMissBehavin doesn't reflect anyone's musical vision but her own.
"My music has a hint of Fergie, a hint of Britney and a hint of Pink," Candi explains. "Fergie because of the rap element; Britney because of the sexy, fun, naughty element; Pink because of the rock element and the snarl and the raspiness that I sometimes have in my voice when I sing. I love Pink. She just says what she wants to say, and I love that about her. But I'm not trying to emulate any of them. I do my own thing, and I'm not trying to be anyone but myself."
As much rapping as she does on ILLMissBehavin - and as much as she has been influenced by hip-hop - Candi doesn't consider herself a hardcore rapper and is quick to point out that her music has as much to do with pop, R&B and rock as it does with hardcore rap.
"I don't compare myself to Eve, Jay-Z or Lil' Kim," Candi emphasizes. "Those artists are real rappers, hardcore hip-hop artists. I don't claim to be a hardcore hip-hop artist even though I have the ability to rhyme words together. I call my music 'hip-pop' because it is pop music with a hip-hop element."
ILLMissBehavin is full of fun, infectious party songs that are both radio-friendly and club-friendly, including "Luv Ya Body," "Naughty," "Jump on the Train" and the lead single "Hey Gurl" (with a naughty-but-nice school girl video boasting a cameo by rapper Mr. Cheeks of Lost Boyz fame.) But Candi's desire to have fun doesn't mean that she isn't edgy. That's especially true on "Why" and "Bitch Please," her humorous, in-your-face attack on what hip-hoppers call "playa-haters" - that is, people who resent those they are jealous of.
"Everyone has a hater, especially girls when they're young," Candi notes. "'Bitch Please' is describing something that every girl experiences at one point in her life."
The lifelong "Jersey Gurl" also is quite capable of delivering social or political messages, which is what she does on "Find Your Place," "Look to the Sky" and "No More War." Candi is as unpredictable musically as she is lyrically. The edgy "Why" incorporates a reggae beat, and hints of Middle Eastern music can be heard on the hypnotic "Just Wanna." Meanwhile, the sultry "Infatuation" is the album's most R&B-oriented offering. Candi doesn't rap at all on "Infatuation," which could easily appeal to fans of Beyonce, Mary J. Blige or Jill Scott. And the rock-influenced guitars flow freely on "MissBehavin,'" "My Body" and "So Sick."
Candi's diversity stems from absorbing an impressively wide variety of music growing up at the Jersey Shore near Long Beach Island, where her tastes ranged from Beyonce, TLC, Jay-Z and Eminem to Alanis Morissette, Christina Aguilera, Rise Against and Linkin Park. And along the way, different artists inspired Candi in different ways.
"Eminem inspired me because he just says what he says and doesn't care what people think of him," she remembers. "That's an awesome asset to have. Beyonce inspired me because she's so empowering and so real. Alanis inspired me because she's very knowledgeable and very deep as well."
Even though Candi didn't grow up in a tough inner-city area, she knows what hard times are about and what it means to struggle. Candi and her two siblings were raised by a single mother: Candi's manager Carrie Ariemma, a domestic violence survivor. Despite facing an uphill battle, Carrie beat the odds and went on to become a successful entrepreneur who owns a major nightclub in Atlantic City. Observing her rise above her struggles taught Candi and her two siblings a valuable lesson: perseverance.
"We had a hard life when I was growing up," recalls Candi, who was born in 1988. "My mom was in an abusive relationship, which she got out of - and we were living in battered women's shelters at one point. But we kept the faith and got through that. My mom is one of the strongest people I know. For her to be able to pull through the things she has and accomplish the things she's accomplished took a lot of strength. My mom has been such an inspiration to me. She made me the artist I am today."
Having witnessed first-hand the value of such intense determination, Candi wanted to send out a message of hope on "Look to the Sky" and "Find Your Place"- both of which encourage listeners to stay strong in the face of adversity.
"When I wrote the lyrics, I was thinking about the current recession," Candi explains. "I was thinking about how sad people are and how so many people don't feel beautiful when they look in the mirror. In that song, I'm telling people that anytime you feel down, just have that faith and keep your head held high. Any time you're feeling like you're knocked to the ground and can't get back up again, just look to the sky and keep your faith. Things will work out for you. And 'Find Your Place' is saying that you should find your place in the world and embrace it. You might feel down, but you're here for a reason - and there is a purpose for you. Keep going. Keep working at it. There will be hardships and craziness in your life, but keep going and keep working at it because doors will eventually open for you."
"No More War" is the most overtly political song on ILLMissBehavin. "It's heartbreaking when you turn on the news and hear that ten more American soldiers have been killed in Iraq or that ten more Iraqi civilians have been killed," Candi asserts. "I know people my age who are coming home from the war in Iraq, and they're mentally distraught. 'No More War" is about how tragic war is."
Despite that hard-hitting subject matter, ILLMissBehavin is optimistic on the whole - and much of Candi's optimism was inspired by Ariemma, who did everything she could to encourage her daughter's interest in music. Candi was 16 when her mother urged her to participate in an open mic in Philadelphia, and the two of them went on to form Ill Miss Musick together. Now, in 2009, Candi has the support of a whole team of top music industry professionals that includes not only Ariemma, but also, booking agent, publicist, entertainment attorney, and radio and video promoters. Candi has been making in-store appearances at fye music retailers and Mandee, a popular East Coast women's clothing chain.
"My mom always tried to guide me, but she never tried to change me," Candi stresses. "She always wanted me to be myself."
Indeed, Candi's individualistic spirit is alive and well on ILLMissBehavin.
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