"Welcome II Nextasy"
Keeping it up all night may be some kind of achievement, but boasts about bedroom stamina come cheap. Call some would-be stud's bluff and he's, what, embarrassed? Meanwhile, the lady is left with a limp lump monopolizing the blankets and wheezing a self-satisfied snore. You're likely to hear both sides of the story on urban radio. But while the hip-hop hard boyz spin endurance fantasies about boning on and on till the breakabreakadawn, the R&B artists ply the ladies with ingenious proposition, unexpected delight and a flick of the tongue instead of a thrust of the crotch.
Of course, even if you're a vocalist as supernaturally transporting as Al Green or Marvin Gaye, that sort of enticement requires imagination -- the kind of imagination that comes from hours of adolescent musing about what you'd do if a real live girl accidentally wandered into your bedroom, the kind of imagination that the Minneapolis trio Next demonstrated on their 1997 debut, "Rated Next." On that album, R.L., Tweety and T-Low promised to nuzzle your corn-free toes on "Butta Love," then topped that chivalrous vow with "Too Close," a tale of dance-floor erection hooked by the single entendre "You're making it hard on me." Their idea of risky romance was a dirty joke whispered into your ear during a slow dance, and it was a winning one.
"Welcome II Nextasy" ups the freak quotient, with production again from Naughty By Nature's KayGee adding a hip-hop bump to the smoothed-out groove. "Jerk," about taking sexual matters into your own hands, is already making the dance-floor rounds. "I make the decision/To handle my own business," R.L. boasts. "Back in forth in a rhythm/Till I make the jism." And while the gushy "Cybersex" starts out merely goofy, "I want your PC/Sit on my laptop," by the time it broaches the ridiculous ("Download all over me") it draws the dirty-minded giggles it intends.
But it's disconcerting that Next's two squishiest tunes don't have any women in them. Nor does "Let's Make a Movie": after a steamy shooting session the boys have you in their video library; what makes you think they're gonna bother hitting you back when you page them? By comparison, the nicey-nice first single, "Wifey," while modestly tuneful and a tad more sprightly than the midtempo R&B love dedication norm, comes off as a bland, vague commitment to cohabitation.
Of course, smart women and honest men have always known that R&B's softcore come-ons are well-meaning lies at best. The most you can expect are interesting lies. And though they remain admirably oral in their intentions (though a bit self-congratulatory about that fact), no cunnilingual acuity can make up for "Beauty Queen," a blast of virulent misogyny camouflaged as ghetto moralism. The story: Fine young thing runs with older men in high school and winds up pumping out babies, sucking on the crack pipe and turning tricks, while the male narrator -- who certainly isn't jealous, not him -- follows her decline with a vicious sense of superiority and satisfaction.
That's the trouble with imagination, after all: It's hard for any mere female human to be able -- or, for that matter, willing -- to live up to those dream-spawned ideals, and disappointment tends to turn the callow kid in search of something freaky real mean, real quick. And ladies, you might find, "Girl I'll pay your bills/If you freak me like I want" a more mercenary, limited definition of "What U Want" than you expected. Like so many lover boys before them, Next talked a sharper game when women weren't throwing themselves at them. And they told more clever lies to hustle up some action when they couldn't afford to pay for it.