Blend the old-school R&B sound with a quirky hybrid of hip-hop and pop and you get Little Jackie, the creation of genre-defying singer-songwriter Imani Coppola and programmer Adam Pallin. With a nod to the soulful Motown rhythms of the past and a sneer to many of the social and cultural issues that consume the public today, Coppola has crafted an album of musical sugar and spice, filled with sweet, saccharine-tinged melodies and spicy, bold commentaries.
Coppola had an early brush with fame when a demo she cut a record with Digable Planets producer Michael Mangini during her freshman year at the State University of New York, landing her a record deal with Columbia Records. In 1997, the 19-year-old music composition major's debut record "Chubacabra" earned radio and MTV buzz with the cheeky, Neneh-Cherry-reminiscent lead single "Legend of a Cowgirl" and her dynamic NYC persona was introduced to mainstream America.
That mainstream success, however, was short-lived and due to creative differences Coppola was dropped before the release of her second record.
"I was young, completely arrogant and totally unappreciative of having a label supporting me -- partly because I felt like I had so much to offer artistically than they were allowing me to do," she candidly recalls.
During her decade out of the spotlight, the self-admitted potty-mouth singer became a fixture on the Brooklyn music scene and released several independent albums, often distributed through the internet, including 2004's self-released "Afrodite." In 2007, Coppola, who cites Billy Joel and Stevie Wonder as influences, was picked up by rock icon Mike Patton's Ipecac Records, which released "The Black & White Album," her eighth release. That punk-pop record includes "Raindrops from the Sun (Hey, Hey, Hey)," featured on an episode of ABC's medical melodrama "Grey's Anatomy." Coppola also opened for Gnarls Barkley as a singer and violinist for Patton's avant-funk project, Peeping Tom.
Little Jackie is the Imani's return to center stage. The Long Island native, who was raised in a musical household by a black mother and white father who were both always playing and performing music, named the project after a mischievous little boy named Jackie who set her family's backyard on fire and fittingly after the Lisa Lisa Cult Jam song "Little Jackie Wants to Be a Star." "A serious amount of humility and humbling myself, forgetting my past, starving a little and really wanting it this time," Coppola says, is what led her to the Little Jackie project.
"It's definitely feel good music, but bittersweet," Pallin says of the Little Jackie collaboration. "My interest in this project was to bring back positive soul songs like the Motown era. But Imani takes what I've come up with and does her own thing. She's clever and always surprising. It's inspirational to vibe off what she's doing."
With her music, Coppola has created a space where she's free to be herself. Fitting in has always been a struggle. "I have a unique take to look at both races," she says. "The only thing I can really speak for in this life is as a woman."