Celebrating CiCi: In Praise of Ciara’s Underappreciated Gems

First, the tea.

Whether losing in battles on Twitter with Rihanna, volunteering at McDonalds and instantly sealing her fate for a lifetime of shady memes, putting the word “basic” in her own album title, tweeting photos of her oversized toes, achieving album sales that only Heidi Montag could covet, or climbing the Hot 100 in the past 2 years about as frequently as Karrueche Tran listens to Talk That Talk, Ciara has certainly set herself up for a fair amount of shade over the past few years.

She’s not exactly known for being a powerhouse vocalist either, nor has she really switched up her sound or ratchet-glam style since she first burst onto the scene in ’04 (apart from the new hombre ‘do this year, which looks quite nice.)

But the fact remains that CiCi is still a very good pop star.

Actually, she’s a fantastic pop star. And one of the very best dancers in the game: “Get Up”? “Work”? And did you see that George Lopez performance of “Gimmie Dat”?! Those hips don’t lie, and the girl never met a gravity-defying back-bend she didn’t love. (Which, by the way, is not recommended for emulating at home. Trust me.)

Aside from the dancing, she’s also crafted a killer tune or two.

From “1, 2 Step” to “Goodies” to “Like A Boy” to “Promise” to “Work” to “Ride” to “Gimmie Dat,” CiCi’s given us some genuinely twerk-conducive,sweat-inducing club cuts and slick, chilly slow jams over the years that rarely get the kind of love they deserve. And beyond her more well-known tracks, there’s plenty of undiscovered gems hidden within in her oft-maligned discography.

So today, on Ciara’s birthday, and the day she premieres “Got Me Good,” the freestyle-tinged second (or third?) single from her upcoming album, One Woman Army (coming “later this winter,” the press releases dubiously declare), I’ve thrown together just a few of my favorite lesser known CiCi smashes in waiting.

Let’s proceed to break it down, shall we?

“Echo” (iTunes)

From the very first brag (“They say Ciara got the hood, Ciara got the ‘burbs…”), there’s no stopping CiCi’s slay-tastic Fantasy Ride track, a ferocious explosion of searing synths and a wicked clang-a-lang beat. Every millisecond of the song simply begs for a proper choreographed routine. It’s a stormer. (It’s also sort of reminiscent of Godney‘s equally delicious Blackout bonus track, “Get Back.”) The fact that it wasn’t released as a single is already unjust, but the fact that it was subjugated to bonus track status? Criminal.

“Turn It Up (feat. Usher)” (iTunes)

“Turn It Up” is just one of the many unsung blazin’ bangas on CiCi’s ill-fated chart-bottomer Basic Instinct. The uptempo electro-R&B cut finds the R&B princess teaming up with fellow pop star Usher, promising complete club domination with their killer beats (“We can raise the dead!” The jokes truly write themselves.) Ciara’s first verse especially is pure fire, as the thumping beat bursts into the speakers at the 30 second mark. It’s yet another missed opportunity for an amazing single–and it probably would have been, had the album hadn’t performed so poorly.

“That’s Right (feat. Lil Jon)” (iTunes)

2006: A time when Lil Jon was still relevant, and the term “crunk” was still a novelty: “I bet you gon’ get crunk!” Lil Jon eagerly howls off the top of the track. From there, CiCi gets to bidness on top of a slapping, twerk-ready beat: “I was thinking hayl no, I already know what he wants,” CiCi croons. There’s tons of tongue-twisting treats (“Tap-tap-tap that booty”) on the ultra catchy Evolution opener, making this one about as slap-happy as an early M.I.A. banger. And in true Ciara fashion, the track was kinda-sorta-almost selected as a single, and then just sort of sputtered out. But at least there’s a video for the track! And it’s fun (das right.)

“Hotline” (iTunes)

Before cutting “Sleazy” for Ke$ha or “Did It On ‘Em” for Nicki Minaj, Bangaladesh was busy bangin’ it up in the studio with CiCi. “Hotline” is a straight-up scorcher from Ciara’s 2004 debut Goodies, which features some fancy telephone flirts (“I can be your operator”) and a fluttery, sizzling instrumental. “Telephone” could never, basically.

“G Is For Girl (A-Z)” (iTunes)

Let’s be honest: Any song with lyrics that run through the entire alphabet is kind of a sure thing. Rattling down her many assets from A-Z, Ci provided us with one of her most brag-ilicous cuts yet on Fantasy Ride. “P stands for Playa please, bow down when you’re standing in front of a queen,” Ci declares at one point, rivaling the heady delusions of Legendtina. But as soon as she runs out of letters and commands us to watch her break it down, the fun really begins: That beat is something sick.

“Yeah I Know” (iTunes)

“Yeah I Know” is another Basic track. (Sorry–it’s just too easy sometimes.) Produced by Infinity, the minimal thumper strolls along a big fat slab of bass, as Ciara taunts and teases her way throughout: “Yeah, I know you want me, yeah I know/Tell me somethin’ I don’t know.” It’s big and bossy, and fairly cutting-edge in comparison to what’s bumping on the radio at the moment. Missing out on this one? That’s a no-no.

“Pucker Up” (iTunes)

Originally penned for The Holy Spearit (check out the amusing demo, as Darkchild yells: “New Brit!”), the Fantasy Ride album track is a killer, if not slightly overproduced burst of electro-fierceness. Much like the Bieber, CiCi’s got more swag than she knows what to do with, so she’s resorted to setting up a kissing booth: “If you don’t like it, you can kiss my swag,” Ciara taunts along the vaguely Blackout-esque scorcher.

“I Run It” (iTunes)

The super slick, slow-grinding and unbelievably underrated The-Dream and Tricky Stewart co-crafted finale of Basic Instinct is perhaps the most sexual offering in Ciara’s entire discography. “Go ahead and tame me, brace me, hold me down/That’s it…rough, soft, turn me around,” CiCi delicately commands along the breathy, Janet-friendly affair. Between the warm tingles of electronica, the throbbing pulse and those ambient sounds lurking in the distance, you’ll be turning down the blinds in no time: This one’s a straight up boner jam.

“I Proceed” (iTunes)

“I Proceed” is essentially the kind of music Vanity 6 might be making in the 21st century. Full of bouncy, ’80’s-tinged synthesizers, aching purrs and a sickening electro pulse that just won’t quit, the track is pure throwback with some modern dressings. “And therefore, I proceed to break it down and therefore, I proceed to break it down,” Ci declares on repeat on the Neptunes-produced jam. “It’s in the beat, boy/Aren’t you hearing this?/Hit me so hard you feel the big…bass,” she teases. Nasty girl.

“Tell Me What Your Name Is” (iTunes)

Taking down the BPM for a bit on Fantasy Ride, “Tell Me” is a deliciously midtempo space jam that sees CiCi CC’ing a stranger in the club. “I don’t want to waste your time, I just want to make you mine, want to play with you all night…so tell me what your name is,” she sensually purrs above dreamy electro-blips and a tripping synth beat, co-crafted by Dr. Luke and Benny Blanco. It’s a gorgeous, almost Janet-esque production that’s got a subtle way of working its way inside the mind. And assuming she’s not wearing that hideous “FLY” fanny pack to the club, she’s certainly worked into her mystery man’s mind too.

“Sorry” was released on September 25. (iTunes)

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