The Original

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Sarai's obvious distinguishing characteristic and selling point as a rapper is that she is a Caucasian, a 20-year-old "strawberry blonde" from Kingston, NY, working with the production crews of Atlanta. But by the time she gets to "Black & White," the concluding track on her debut album, The Original, she is justified in defying those who would suppose she can't rap because of her race. Clearly, a lifetime spent watching MTV and an older brother who lends you his N.W.A. albums can work wonders even with your average suburban mallrat. At the same time, Sarai is not justified in declaring in the same song, "I'm breakin' out stereotypes." Rather, she has only succeeded in trading one set of stereotypes for another. The Original proves to be ironically named, simply because there is nothing original about it. Sarai turns in a collection of generic raps. Four -- "I Know," "You Could Never," "It's Official," and "Black & White" -- are the usual boasts of rap prowess. "Ladies" is a standard-issue dance track. "What Mama Told Me" is the de rigueur sex song. "Pack Ya Bags" is a cliché-ridden kiss-off to an ex-lover, and "Swear," performed with Beau Dozier, trades typical romantic insults. (Despite the presence of a sample clearance person in the credits, the chorus of this song, "O.K., I believe you," is lifted without credit from the Harry Belafonte song "Jump in the Line.") The only raps that show a glimmer of personal commitment, however clumsily handled, are "It's Not a Fairytale" and "L.I.F.E.," both of which concern teen pregnancy, and "Mary Anne," which is about a childhood friend who was a victim of domestic abuse. Sarai's undeveloped raps are not assisted by the dull instrumental tracks the usual army of producers has provided for her. More than most, this is one rapper whose future depends heavily on her videos. (Despite the use of obscenities in the lyrics, the album does not contain a parental advisory sticker.)

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