City High – “What Would You Do?”

Released: 5.1.01

Peak: #8

City High could have been custom-designed for me. I’ve always gone on about the idea of pop as conversation, of disparate voices–male and female, black and white, young and younger–articulating their prerogatives wrt sex and money and personal identity. And these three Wyclef-shepherded teens vented, ever so slightly, the judgmental morality-play structure of TV talk shows to let in a breath of moral ambiguity. Each problem vignette had a slight twist, often gendered–“15 Will Get You 20,” f’rinstnace, warned women against jailbait, and on “Why” it’s the guy who takes the stronger stance against post-breakup sex. And they’re from my very own home town of Willingboro, NJ.

Rapper/songwriter Ryan Toby begins “What Would You Do?” with a suitably Afterschool Special question: “Boys and girls, wanna hear a true story?” And if the confrontation that follows isn’t factually true, it’s a damn sight realer than most gangsta ish or teenpop melodrama. At a “real wild party” with his boys, Toby encounters a junior high acquaintance among the evening’s entertainment, and the double-standard-bearing jerk criticizes her for stripping. Claudette Ortiz, the gal in question, retaliates that she needs the cash to feed her fatherless little boy.

Of course, as the internet hammers home every day, “conversation” more often means talking over, past, or around than to one another. And “What Would You Do?” deliberately refuses to resolve its issue. Ortiz’s explanation is definitely more appealing than the sanctimonious Toby’s bootstrap self-motivation speech, but while she may get to sing the chorus, he’s allowed to lecture over the bridge, which breaks unaccountably into Dre’s “The Next Episode.” During the final chorus, you can envision the whole cast turning to face the TV screen to ask what YOU would do.

City High’s follow-up, the Ortiz showcase “Caramel,” was a sharper girl-power tune than India.Arie’s “Video,” if only because it was franker (“I ain’t a virgin that don’t mean I’m having sex with ya”). And though the trio went the way of Melky Sedek after that, I originally thought the City High saga had a happy ending, with Toby (now a working pro songwriter) happily hitched to Ortiz. But there are some online murmurs that Ortiz recently gave birth to another man’s baby. I don’t know any details (what if CH third-wheel Robbie Pardlo was the dad?) but sounds like that story would make a great song for City High 2.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • mary  On March 7, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    Thanks for this rundown, I do my best to post everything I can on my blog about great music.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: