Tom Lea of Local Action on why he fell for Cassie Ventura.
“Rain puts me to sleep.” – @officialcas, 12:07 AM Dec 19th via ÜberTwitter
It’s midnight, I’m jetlagged, and I’m thinking about Cassie Ventura. I’m not thinking about Cassie because I want to fuck her (I don’t, really), but because a couple of months ago, Dummy asked me to write a love letter to her. Because I organised a compilation of Cassie remixes, tributes and covers called Skydiver. And because, even before Skydiver, Cassie seems to hold throne as the premier r’n’b muse of that increasingly-less-but-still-mostly-UK-orbiting, famously hard to classify underground dance scene that was birthed from a love and dissatisfaction with garage, grime and dubstep.
Mélé, Brackles, Brenmar, Shortsuff, CFCF, Lunice, Jacques Greene, Altered Natives, Hovatron, Kastle, 8Bitch, Svpreme Fiend, Slackk, The Blessings, Deadboy – all these and more have remixed or heavily sampled Cassie in the last two years. Robin Carolan from Tri Angle Records has a Cassie tattoo. Sinden has a drop from her on his radio show from years back, and he still plays it. Numbers’ Jackmaster recently picked an unreleased Cassie song as his record of the year on Boomkat.
This might not seem strange. Mainstream r’n’b and hip-hop infiltrated the bloodstream of that aforementioned, still hard to classify scene more than ever before in 2010. Joy Orbison’s tracks are full of r’n’b and hip-hop samples, as are James Blake’s, while Girl Unit’s ‘Wut’, Deadboy’s bootlegs and Kingdom’s ‘Bust Broke’ speak for themselves. It’s always been there in grime and garage – less so dubstep – but this year it seemed to bubble to the top thicker than ever. It makes sense that there’s a muse like Cassie. What’s peculiar is the fact that muse is Cassie.
Cassie, if you wanted to be cruel, is kind of a one hit wonder. That hit, the Ryan Leslie-penned and produced Me & U, is one of the most iconic r’n’b tracks of recent years, but the singles that have followed (Long Way 2 Go, Official Girl, Must Be Love and Let’s Get Crazy) have been commercial flops by comparison. Cassie’s taken flak for her supposed weak voice, for her supposed reliance on original mentor Ryan Leslie, and for her supposedly shaky live performances. Her second album, Electro Love, has been promised for three years now, frequently pushed back amid rumours that Bad Boy have dropped her. Frankly, things don’t look promising.
And for Cassie to be kind of a one hit wonder is kind of a tragedy. Must Be Love is pure heartbreak, and features arguably the best vocal performance of any of her singles (if the “I think about you all the time” line doesn’t make you melt on sight, you’ve been on the internet too long). Official Girl showcases Cassie at the perfect crossroads between vulnerability (“I wanna be your official girl”) and authority (“be a shame* to say you lost me / but if you want that it’s a wrap and I won’t look back)”. It’s that perfect juxtaposition between hard and soft that makes so much R’n’B work.
But Cassie’s excellent singles – bar ‘Let’s Get Crazy’, which is garbage and couldn’t suit her less – is only half the story. The tracklist for Electro Love will apparently be pulled from a pool of over 50, many of which have leaked online, and represent some of her best ever work. Electro Love has the potential to be an absolute classic, and several fan-made versions, picking and choosing from the leaked material, feature more good music than you’ll hear on 99% of albums. But it’s also got the potential to be severely fucked up, and then, I imagine, that’ll be the last many hear from Cassie.
There are several reasons why the UK underground, and others besides, find Cassie so appealing. It could be the lack of confidence that hindered her early live performances, and lurks under the surface of ‘Me & U’ – a shyness comparable with that of James Blake, Burial, Mount Kimbie and Balam Acab’s music. It could be the tension that’s followed her career in recent years – will she flop, or not – and seems to reflect a particularly British love of transient moments, whether that’s the flicker of pirate radio signals or people falling through pop music’s unforgiving cracks. It could just be that everybody loves an underdog. But more than likely, it’s because she’s made a ton of good music, most of which many will never hear. What follows is a list of five unreleased Cassie cuts that go some way to explaining my – and others’ – obsession.
*This lyric may be ‘be ashamed’.