Sunday, May 1, 2022

Shiro: From the Princess of A Lighter Shade of Brown to The First Lady of SoulPower

Shiro Stokes’ originally started out in an early incarnation of the singing group For Real (then stylized as 4-Reel) before becoming the princess of Chicano rap duo A Lighter Shade of Brown in the early 90s. With appearances “On A Sunday Afternoon” and “Latin Active”, the former of which peaked at no #39 on the Billboard Hot 100, Stokes was to release her first album “Can We Talk” via Scotti Bros in 1995. The perfect marriage of G-Funk and smooth R&B, it didn’t really get the attention it deserved back then. Sadly most of the acts on this label – which was I am guessing semi-independent – did not last beyond one album or single. In 1998, Stokes was picked up by Soulshock & Karlin and rebranded as “The First Lady of SoulPower”. Then at the top of their game, their trademark tinkly and melodious sound was all over her two singles “I Like” and “Good Love” so what happened? Another label that couldn't get their act together in the 90s was Noo Trybe Records. Starting out in 1994, they operated as the urban subdivision of Virgin/EMI Records and became the distributor for Houston, TX-based hip hop label Rap-A-Lot Records up until its demise in the late 90s. This was the most successful venture that they had with acts such as Luniz, AZ and others making the Billboard top 200. Sadly the R&B wing of the label was not as successful with non-existent albums from One Shade (1995), girl trio MQ3 (1997), Teddy Martin (1996) and lastly Shiro. Stokes’ album, titled “Life Goes On”, has been something Stuart and I have been after for years after the artist herself confirmed its existence to us. She had a tape in her possession but did not feel comfortable about leaking it due to “copyright reasons.” So we waited patiently until it showed up and last year the anticipation was finally over, well sort of. A Noo Trybe snippets tape showed up on eBay with excerpts of tracks from the album in question. After a very close bidding war between Stuart and a notorious Chicago-based collector who almost everybody knows about, the tape was eventually won to us for the pricey sum of $1200. $1200 for just over eleven minutes of music. This had better blow us away we thought. Ranging between 1:29 and 2:12 minutes in length and crossfaded for a seamless listening experience, it along with MQ3 turned out to be among our most enjoyable finds from last year, even if it was just over eleven minutes of music in total. From the very ardent “All I Wanna Do” to the sweetly mournful “Rainy Days”, this would’ve made for a truly fantastic album, proving that Soulshock & Karlin were more than apt to take the lead entirely on a project instead of merely being relegated to contributor status. I quite enjoyed Tracie Spencer’s 1999 album but to me, she was always lacking something. Stokes had this and more in my opinion but sadly the label let her down.