Blend the old‐school R&B sound with a quirky hybrid of hip‐hop and pop and you get Little Jackie, the creation of genre‐defying singer‐songwriter Imani Coppola and multi‐instrumentalist Adam Pallin. With a nod to the soulful Motown rhythms of the past and a sneer to many of the social and cultural issues that consume the public today, Coppola has crafted an album of musical sugar and spice, filled with sweet, saccharine‐tinged melodies and spicy, bold commentaries.
Coppola had an early brush with fame when a demo she cut with Digable Planets producer Michael Mangini during her freshman year at the State University of New York landed her a record deal with Columbia Records. In 1997 the 19‐year‐old music composition major’s debut record “Chubacabra” earned radio and MTV buzz with the cheeky, Neneh‐Cherry‐reminiscent lead single “Legend of a Cowgirl” and her dynamic NYC persona was introduced to mainstream America.
That mainstream success, however, was short‐lived and due to creative differences Coppola was dropped before the release of her second record.
“I was young, completely arrogant and totally unappreciative of having a label supporting me ‐‐partly because I felt like I had so much to offer artistically than they were allowing me to do,” she candidly recalls.
During her decade out of the spotlight, the self‐admitted potty‐mouth singer became a fixture on the Brooklyn music scene and released several independent albums, often distributed through the internet, including 2004’s self‐released “Afrodite.” In 2007, Coppola, who cites Billy Joel and Stevie Wonder as influences, was picked up by rock icon Mike Patton’s Ipecac Records, which released “The Black & White Album,” her eighth release. That punk‐pop record includes “Raindrops from the Sun (Hey, Hey, Hey),” featured on an episode of ABC’s medical melodrama “Grey’s Anatomy.” Coppola also opened for Gnarls Barkley as a singer and violinist for Patton’s avant‐funk project, Peeping Tom.
Little Jackie is the 29‐year‐old’s return to center stage. The Long Island native, who was raised in a musical household by a black mother and white father who were both always playing and performing music, named the project after a mischievous little boy named Jackie who set her family’s backyard on fire and fittingly after the Lisa Lisa Cult Jam song “Little Jackie Wants to Be a Star.” “A serious amount of humility and humbling myself, forgetting my past, starving a little and really wanting it this time,” Coppola says, is what led her to the Little Jackie project.
“It’s definitely feel good music, but bittersweet,” Pallin says of the Little Jackie collaboration. “My interest in this project was to bring back positive soul songs like the Motown era. But Imani takes what I’ve come up with and does her own thing. She’s clever and always surprising. It’s inspirational to vibe off what she’s doing.”
Coppola met Pallin, a Boston native who grew up listening to hip‐hop and the golden oldies’ his parents cranked during car rides, through Mangini. Pallin, who’s worked on projects for Tom Jones and “American Idol” finalist Elliot Yamin, programmed and co¬wrote the Little Jackie tracks with Mangini (who also produced the tracks), while Coppola wrote the melodies and lyrics, and produced the vocals.
On the surface, “The Stoop” is a catchy pop album. But lurking beneath Pallin’s doo¬wop echoes and Coppola’s honey‐dipped vocals, you’ll find the singer’s undeniable hip‐hop swagger, biting, riot girl lyrics and strong, unapologetic persona.
For instance, on “Black Barbie,” Coppola pokes fun at celebutantes like Britney, Paris and Lindsay who’ve become more famous for flashing their crotches, going to rehab, and getting arrested than for any discernable talent. She sings, “I live the simple life/I am a socialite/Ain’t got no appetite/And got no cellulite/Got a disorder/I eat all the time /I’m part Ethiopian/That’s why I stay so thin.” Coppola boldly points a finger at the media on this one saying, “This song is a sarcastic commentary…the media is so committed to exploiting these young female celebrities.”
Similarly, “28 Butts” is rife with sarcasm and describes a reflective night at home for this single girl: “I really know how to party/Reminisce about the day while I'm swiggin’ my Bacardi/28 butts in the ashtray/‘Cause it’s just me/Keepin’ myself company.”
Coppola calls the album’s first single, “The World Should Revolve Around Me,” her “anthem,” explaining, “being an artist isn’t conducive to having a healthy relationship. I’ve made a decision to be committed to my artistic ways instead of to a relationship.” Coppola defiantly sings, “I've had a lot of failed relationships/I don't get involved cause I'm not equipped/I believe that the world should revolve around me/ I don't see the point of a partnership/It won't be long till they start to trip/Yes‐sir‐eee the whole world should revolve around me.”
Taking an opposite approach to the isolated and drunken songwriting technique she used for “28 Butts,” Coppola literally stepped outside and wrote the title track while sitting on the steps of her apartment building in the alternately beautiful‐and‐ominous Bedford‐Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.
“I live in a very lively neighborhood, with a constant undercurrent of danger that makes it even more electric,” she says. “I tried to come out and be all introverted and write in my journal, but that doesn’t work in the hood. There’s almost a militant expectation if [a brother] walks by and says hello, he will not go until you respond. You gotta come off your high horse.”
With her music, Coppola has created a space where she’s free to be herself. Fitting in has always been a struggle. “I have a unique take to look at both races,” she says. “The only thing I can really speak for in this life is as a woman.”