Retro Fabulous 

Oakland sexpot Baby Jaymes channels Prince, tackles race relations.

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Similarly, the song "Miss Taboo," which opens Ooh, Mr. Farrakhan, you're gonna be so mad at me/I met this bad one, she was gray, but I just had to see/I pushed up on her, then I boned her/When I was through she thought I owned her/Okay, well I guess that happens when you young, hung, and mackin, represents hip-hop's new penchant for personal testimonials that end up sounding more pithy and self-deprecating than the old agit-prop stuff. (Though there's still plenty of "boning.") Given the genre's recent foray into songs about that forbidden fruit called "white girl" (Z-Man's raunchy "White Girls with Ass" comes to mind), it seems condonable now for MCs to talk about interracial relationships both as a cultural shibboleth and, in this case at least, a personal vice. (Indeed, Langston Hughes might have called "Miss Taboo" a testament to the raciness of race.) Reflecting on the lyrics, Jaymes says: "I'm not tripping that way. It's not necessarily my story, but it's very real."

Jaymes realized the reality of both the artistic and business sides of his chosen profession ridiculously early in life. At age four, the now 26-year-old Baby Jaymes became the staple entertainment at his family's Christmas parties and dinners: He'd crank up old 45s of his favorite artists -- Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Prince -- and lip-sync to them while sashaying across his mom's living-room floor.

A familiar image, but less than ten years later Jaymes was a dead-serious aspiring artist. In junior high he kept abreast of California tour dates for hot old-school stars like Smokey Robinson, the Temptations, and the Four Tops; whenever they came to the Circle Star Theater in San Carlos, Jaymes would call all the nearby hotels and pretend to be a business manager or PR contact to find out where the artists were staying. Then he'd take BART and the bus to San Carlos so he could drop his makeshift press package -- artist snapshots, CD demos, and a typed-up proposal for his pending book on the history of Motown -- under their hotel room doors.

In fact, Uglyfingers notes, "Jaymes would go to LA with no money, no place to stay, and the faith that he'd meet someone at a stoplight, and make a contact. He always did."

Actually performing live involved even more danger to life and limb. Geoffrey Pete, founder of Geoffrey's Inner Circle Club in Oakland, recalls that when Luther Vandross tried to hit it big himself, the star joked, "My memory of the Apollo is great, even if I was getting tomatoes thrown at me at the time." It takes a certain type of person to survive and thrive in an environment where people will boo you off the stage just for being boo-able. Jaymes knew he had the guts to withstand the sordid and unruly world of local talent shows, but he couldn't find many people his age who would cooperate. He sallied from one R&B group to another at El Cerrito High School, first performing in an all-guy outfit called the Bomb, and then in a doo-wop group called Soulfulistics. With the latter, Baby Jaymes started getting his feet wet -- Soulfulistics performed shows at local clubs, auditioned for record labels, and sang at San Francisco's Pier 39 on weekends, with a hat out to catch people's quarters.

Still, Baby Jaymes' old high-school brethren gradually began falling by the wayside. Thus, in 1999 the singer confided to Larry that he was tired of being cut adrift as his pals got tangled up in regular-kid things. His solution was to take the biz alone, and head-on, by performing solo and forming his own label, which he dubbed the Ret Network. "I can't find anyone who's really gonna stick with it," Baby Jaymes said to Larry, "so I guess I'll just have to do this by myself."

You'll understand why Baby Jaymes calls himself "the black Beck" when you see him onstage. Like the famed loser-boy icon, the singer has a kind of unflappable, impish charm that would make plenty of gals want to squish him into a Coke bottle and take him home. What's more, with his leather jackets, shades, and perfect Jackson 5 swagger, Baby Jaymes will have you wondering how, in a friend's words, "did such a big spirit get trapped in this little body?"

If you haven't already seen this guy perform at Shattuck Downlow, or Cues Lounge in Jack London Square, you need only imagine a half-pint Pootie Tang with an oozy falsetto voice, à la Raphael Saadiq. Jaymes seems most at home in Vegas lounge-style venues with rotating mirror disco balls and women in mink coats, but he'll occasionally play a benefit for Hard Knock Radio or Prison Activist Resource Center -- usually at Oakland's historic Sweets Ballroom or a Senegalese restaurant packed with Mission fashionistas. He'll be the most decidedly not-activist-looking person in the joint, usually playing solo (though he's been known to sing with a five-piece funk band on occasion), with his hype man Butta in tow, singing not-so-conscious songs about tarty ghetto girls and white chicks with Mandingo syndrome.

Such themes may be staples in R&B, but Baby Jaymes takes them in all kinds of funky directions. Not to mention he works the sexpot angle so adroitly, he'll have the Bay's most irony-deficient feminists swooning and howling.

Admittedly, Jaymes exudes a much stronger sex vibe than even Beck can manage. All the same, he still never approaches the barrio Lothario stereotype that characterizes so many R&B divas. Which is not to say his songs don't ever get lewd, but instead it's the primacy of race and social class in Jaymes' so-called "relationship" numbers that's more apt to turn heads than anything R. Kelly ever sings about. Apparently, unlike his contemporaries, Jaymes isn't a jump-in-the-haystack (or the chalet) kinda guy. He's bringing back an old form of relationship song that's more like telling a story, and blending it with a hip-hop-influenced ghetto perspective that connects the individual story to larger social narratives.

This is a more poignant and provocative kind of ghetto love affair, where interwining social issues are as much a part of the romance as intertwining bodies. For Baby Jaymes, aspiring superstar, nothing's sexier than social politics.

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