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A-Love - From The Heart

Author: Cyclone
Monday, 3 December 2007
There’s a paucity of female MCs today, even with hip hop crossing over as never before. Queen Latifah has switched to movies, the troubled Foxy Brown is in jail, the saucy Lil’ Kim has been low-key since her stint, Eve is sidelined, and Lauryn Hill is simply disillusioned. As for Jean Grae, she’s battling obscurity. This sorry scenario is changing in Australia at least. Sydney has the seasoned MC Trey as well as Maya Jupiter. Now, in addition to the eccentric Macromantics, Melbourne has A-Love. 3D’s Cyclone caught up.

A-Love has bided her time in dropping an album. However, the femcee’s debut, Ace Of Hearts, is worth the wait. Most surprising is the LP’s soulfulness, with A-Love’s humanistic lyrics complemented by a musical backing that should charm devotees of Common’s vintage hip hop.

The Italian-born Antonella Formosa belongs to a musical family.
A-Love’s father, Ric Formosa, was an early member of Little River Band, while her mother is an RnB singer. Their influence was profound. “My earliest memories are of my Dad carting me around to different studios to these sessions, and playing on pool tables in old studios,” A-Love says. “It’s been a massive part of my life.”

Nevertheless, she doesn’t have the romanticised outlook on the music biz that some fledgling artists do. “I’ve always been cautious of it over the years,” A-Love says. “Things can get pretty hectic and personalities change and all sorts of things happen. It’s a fickle industry.”

Formosa sang when younger but then she discovered hip hop. “Rest assured, if I was a better singer, I’d be a soul singer!” she laughs. “[MCing] was just something that I fell in love with in my teens. I’ve always been heavily into lyricism, no matter what kind of musical style I’ve been interested in. The fact that hip hop let you just not mince words and be really direct and cram so much more content and originality into your lyrics than singing was the biggest thing for me.”

Only lately has A-Love plucked up the courage to resume singing, realising that, like Lauryn Hill, she can do that and MC.
A-Love once performed grunge covers in an all-girl band. They sounded “awful”, she recalls. The trio didn’t gig beyond her parents’ garage. “We learnt three chords – and went for it.”
In 2002 A-Love attracted unprecedented attention after she won the Nescafe Big Break competition – attention that was, at times, overwhelming.

Formosa began to invest her prize money into an indie label, but soon resolved that her best strategy was to focus on music and allow others to handle the business. She values the platform Nescafe granted her. “I don’t think I went into it knowing how much publicity would be drummed up from it, but it helped in the sense that it gave me leverage. But, at the same time, I was pretty young, so it was difficult to keep that momentum up after everyone had left. It was just like, OK, what do I do now-

“I really concentrated on getting the admin and strategic side of the label going, but it just proved to be a bit too hard. I knew that it was either gonna be the music that went or the label – which is where we are now.

“That money helped me do this album over the last couple of years.”
A-Love aligned herself with Melbourne’s Crookneck Records. She’s remained grassroots. Formosa holds two jobs. Indeed, hip hop don’t pay the rent.

Ironically, the Melburnian recorded Ace Of Hearts with Adelaide’s hip hop contingent – notably Mnemonic Ascent’s BVA, who acts as executive producer. She also teamed with Suffa from Hilltop Hoods.
A-Love travelled back and forth to Adelaide, invariably writing under pressure. Yet she dug the “laidback vibe” of the city’s hip hop fraternity.

At any rate, A-Love has avoided creating a mixtape that masquerades as an album, “scrapping” subpar material. Ace Of Hearts is inherently musical. “I think the fact that the majority of the album was produced by BVA and F&d [Funkwig & deNorthwode] in Adelaide had a lot to do with that, as well as just the fact that, given my musical background, I always gravitate to stuff that has a lot more melody and a lot more feel and rhythm to it.”

A-Love, who’s collaborated with Mystro in the past, continues to demonstrate an affinity with UK hip hop. She sought Yungun for the single So Easy, already popular with hip hop heads. And then she delivers Bittersweet, a track comparable to Common’s famous ode to hip hop, I Used To Love HER.

Formosa jokes that when her partner heard Bittersweet he asked indignantly, “Is this about me-”

The MC is open to a cross-spectrum of urban music. She loves the Detroit sensibility of Slum Village, the Philly scene with The Roots, and “crossover pop” artists like Mark Ronson. A-Love admires the underrated Lily Allen, who she reckons has brought smart lyrics back into pop.

More unusually, Formosa doesn’t shun the ‘F’ word - feminism. A-Love has a MySpace blog in which she wonders why the strongest women succumb to body angst. If anything, Formosa is a post-feminist – a humanist.

Still, she’s at a loss to explain why, although contemporary hip hop can produce a white superstar in Eminem, it has few female MCs.
A-Love finds Grae – and Canada’s Eternia – inspirational, but admits they’re “underground”. “I do get asked this question a lot and I’ve had different answers to it from when I started to now.

“I think ultimately it rests in the fact that the balance of power still doesn’t exist with women in general – let alone women in hip hop. It’s one of those last frontiers.

“People often try to push female MCs into certain directions – whether it be to wear skimpy clothes or have a particular marketing plan around them – so it’s a daunting area to get into.

“I probably had even more balls as a young MC – when I was 18 or 19 – than I have now, ’cause you just do it and you don’t really look at what’s around. It’s a tough rap for a female MC – or even a female artist – to make it in such a cutthroat musical industry.

“It’s all about the balance. A lot of people have trouble finding a balance between traditional femininity and that masculine edge that you need to be able to rap and to hold your own against other people who are criticising you.
“You could attribute it to a whole bunch of different factors in the end – and they all come out one at a time.”

If A-Love has issues with food, she’s conquered them. The MC is “a massive foodie,” divulging that, during the phone conversation, she’s prepared a meal. Her appreciation of the finer things is evident on The Main Ingredient, a highlight on Ace Of Hearts featuring Crookneck’s Raph Boogie. “Whenever I can mix hip hop and food, I will – in any way possible.” Serve it up!

WHO: A-Love
WHAT: Ace Of Hearts out through Shogun / plays the Factory
WHEN: Now / Friday 7 December