Hil St. Soul, Copasetik & Cool

Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

By Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Copasetik & Cool

Hil St. Soul

She was born in Zambia and lives in North London, but former biochemistry major Hil St. Soul (born Hilary Mwelwa) has always purveyed a distinctly American style of music — "Street Soul," as her name would have it, the kindly British term for hip-hop-influenced, jazzy neo-soul. 2002's Copasetik + Cool follows up her first solo album, the excellent Soul Organic. Barring the title track with Roots Manuva guest-rapping in his British brogue, she sounds more American (including a breezy cover of the Isley Brothers '"For the Love of You"), but less street, even with a pillbox's worth of tracks where beats hit hard with UK hip-hop crunch, courtesy producer Victor Redwood-Sawyer. Hil's tone, a warm, thin alto, lurks somewhere around the Macy Gray/ Angie Stone range, though she's far more conservative with her embellishments, vibrato and melismatic curlicues, riding mostly on straight-shooting delivery and lyrical verisimilitude — modest expressions of love, distress and poverty. She shines, though, when she lets loose, aiming straight from the diaphragm on the gorgeous, regretful chorus of "Pieces"; the wilting harmonies of "Mad Love"; the sky-gazing optimism of "Lonely Road."