Take three Long Island-bred white girls, send them to Vassar, Oberlin and NYU, then bring them back together in New York to make some hip-hop tracks. Sounds like a recipe for precious, pretentious and potentially offensive disaster, right? Well, Northern State has been pulling this off since 2000 with mostly positive results. With two solid albums and an EP to their credit, Hesta Prynn, Spero and Sprout have proven themselves as more than a novelty act. The trio specializes in old-school, pass-the-mike raps peppered with erudite, bourgeois bohemian references. On this latest effort, however, Northern State mixes straightforward hip-hop with unsuccessful forays into pop, electro and indie-rock territory. When they play to their strengths, as on "Mic Tester" or the Adrock-produced "Sucka Mofo," the women of Northern State inspire plenty of rump-shaking and sly smirks, but Can I Keep This Pen? contains far too few of those moments and far too many experiments with Luscious Jackson-esque hip-pop, making for an extremely uneven and unsatisfying album overall.
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