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Standout Track: No. 4, “Black Magic Woman,” in which the vocalist compares a feeling of musical hypnosis to the sensation of a voodoo ritual. “Makes a straight-laced righteous woman come out of her clothes,” Youssef moans, playing high priestess over a bayou blues stomp of drums, tuba, harmonica, and slide guitar.
Musical Motivation: Youssef wrote the song after watching the movie Cadillac Records, which chronicles the careers of rock ’n’ roll and blues legends Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, and Etta James, among others. She then visited producer Nottz’ studio in Norfolk, where he matched a blues sample to the melody. But Youssef wanted a rawer sound, and asked some musician friends to re-create the song from scratch. She then wrote the lyrics in just 30 minutes. “When I wrote it, I was like ‘Dang, should I say that?’ because this isn’t something I’d say in general conversation,” she says.
Under the Influence: While Youssef, 26, is known for her huge singing voice, she’s just now releasing solo material. As a teenager, Youssef landed a spot performing with rap duo Dead Prez at Dave Chappelle’s Block Party. In 2006, she sang the hook to “Don’t Feel Right,” The Roots’ Grammy-nominated single from Game Theory. Don’t expect too much singing on her forthcoming full-length, scheduled for a June release. As long as the beats are tight, that is. “If it’s right, I’ll definitely rhyme,” she says. “I’m real particular about my music—to a fault, probably. A lot of times, MCs don’t get the most out of their music.”