Cassie — “Me & U”

Released: 12.16.05

Peak: #3

Coolly intricate, vibrant yet disengaged, “Me & U” sounded like someone had smuggled an uncharacteristically popwise Junior Boys track onto R&B radio. The architect of that minimal electro skeleton was Ryan Leslie, a Harvard grad turned music biz hustler, and its seductive core was Cassie Ventura. Amidst that track’s swelling keyboard waves and curt electronic punctuations (including something resembling the Windows “crash” sound) Cassie’s whisper, more Ashanti than Aaliyah, hovered between shy and bored, seeking to dominate the track by passive-aggressive stealth.

Hers is a timbre particularly stimulating to certain nerdish membranes–she’s developed a devoted cult eager to interpolate a personality between her aloof murmurings. These diehards swear by the unreleased Connecticut Fever, just as diehards swore by Kelis’s Wonderland, though I suspect a certain crate-digger mentality seeping into pop, not to mention a gnostic faith that gatekeepers are keeping the truth hidden away. And the weakness of Cassie’s official follow-ups hasn’t made me eager to investigate: On “Long Way 2 Go,” Leslie’s electronics were as wan as Cassie’s quasi-rap, and it would take a more killer ballad than “Is It You” to compensate for her physical shortcomings.

Cassie bares a sharper attitude in her public life. After someone leaked nude cellphone pics, she tweeted: “STOP ACTING LIKE YOU HAVEN’T SEEN A TITTY BEFORE.” Then she shaved one side of her head as though to prove she’s hot enough to pull it off. But she and Leslie have since parted ways, his own limited fame obviating the need for a fly mouthpiece, and Cassie’s new handler, Diddy, hasn’t demonstrated a sense of what to make of her. So he’s latched her to obvious consorts (Wayne, Akon, himself) and even more obvious beats. The charisma that Cassie generated with “Me & U,” an alluring feat of shifting electronic veils and vocal feints, feels every day more like a wonderful fluke.

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