Rhythm & Views

Lucille Bogan

A half-century before there was explicit, sexually corrupt rap music, there was the unheralded, foul-mouthed blues singer Lucille Bogan, whose shameless, in-your-face, pornographic lyrical expression would make most hardcore gangsta rappers hang their heads in shame.

Bogan's defiant, unruly delivery was reminiscent of her predecessor, Bessie Smith, though her style was more rural. On these 20 surprisingly crisp and clean-sounding, rare (including previously unreleased versions and demos) ARC label recordings dating from 1933-1935, Alabama-reared Bogan (aka Bessie Jackson), accompanied by uncomplicated pianist Walter Roland, sang material laced with double-entendres or stacked with candid, triple-X lyrics. Though the never-before-released, no-holds-barred versions of the rough sex depicted on "Shave 'Em Dry" and "Till the Cows Come Home" (an allegory for sexual fortitude) were basically written for her own enjoyment, Bogan spews forth a fusillade of four-letter words unprecedented for her era, so sexually explicit they'd even make Blowfly blush.

Other songs like "B.D. (bull dyke) Woman's Blues" candidly embrace lesbianism and female liberation; "Baking Powder Blues" alludes to the use of snuff; and "Barbecue Bess" addresses prostitution ("I'm talkin' 'bout barbecue, only thing I sell," Bogan preaches. "And, if you want my meat, you can come to my house at 12"). And listen carefully to the downplayed erotic pleasure alluded to in the metaphors for food and groceries in "Stew Meat Blues" and "Groceries on the Shelf," and you'll finally comprehend how Sam the Butcher "delivered the meat" to Alice on the Brady Bunch.