Monday, July 27, 2009

On Shuffle: "Underground Legends"

Going back to some old posts. I found out that Kings of Leon also love this singer! Cool!

Little Willie John (1937-1968)

Ever heard the song "Fever." Well, many artists have recorded it over the years, from Peggy Lee to Beyonce. But, did you know that Little Willie John was the first person to record the now standard song (and he recorded the best version!) The 5'4" (yes, he was that short!) singer had a powerhouse, soulful voice that definitely made up for his small stature. William Edgar John started his singing career at fourteen in a Gospel group with his siblings and performed with Count Basie. At eighteen, he had his first hit with "All Around the World." Fourteen of his songs, including "All Around the World," "Talk to Me, Talk to Me," "Let Them Talk," "Sleep," "Leave My Kitten Alone" (which was covered by the Beatles), and "Suffering with the Blues," were hits on the RnB charts. His vocal style became a precursor to Soul music and artists like James Brown have paid tribute to him.

Although Willie was a great singer, he had a short-temper and a large insecurity about his height, which led to his alcoholism and bad behavior. This soon came to end his career when he was convicted in 1966 of manslaughter for a fatal stabbing. He was serving a 8-2o year sentence at Walla Walla State Penitentiary under suspicious circumstances. The official record was that he died of a heart attack, but others says it was either asphyxiation or from injuries from prison beating. Either way it was still a tragic loss because he was such a great talent and would have been as legendary as Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye. Yet, he lives on as a very influential person in music as many musicians from the Beatles to Robert Palmer to James Brown to Fleetwood Mac have covered his songs.


Need Your Love So Bad

Suffering with the Blues

I'm Shaking

Talk to Me, Talk to Me

Sleep (ignore the Batman intro)

All Around the World

Thursday, July 23, 2009

"One Love" Videos

With so much wrong that is going on in the world, it is nice to have songs with important messages for the world today. Remember we are all human and we all live in this world, so we need to show compassion towards one another. So my newest feature will be "One Love" videos to help us to think about what is going on around the world. To start it off, this is an animated video made by a 12-year-old boy, named Renaissance Kid, about the Iranian elections and protests and it features Wyclef Jeans singing the song "Tehran - Equal Rights & Justice":

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Music Note #10: The McDonaldization of Music

What is McDonaldization? Developed by the sociologist George Ritzer, it is the theory that the American society and subsequently the rest of the world are taking on the characteristics of the fast-food restaurant. The four processes of efficiency, calculability, predictability (standardization) and control through technology, that McDonalds uses to create its food actually has harmful and irrational effects. McDonalds dominates the fast food industry and most of world culture. McDonaldization has spread to almost every part of our lives today, including the music industry.

First, efficiency, which is using the best and fastest method to get from one point to another. In this case, that is going from having no music to satisfying the music listeners with a ton of music. Music technology, like MP3 players and MP# downloads, have provided the fastest way to get a ton of music really quickly. No longer do people have to wait to hear music by putting on a record, tape or CD and they do not have to go to a store to buy it either. Also, music and computer technology makes it a a lot easier and faster to create music rather than actually playing the instruments or using analog. Second, calculability, which is more focus of quantitative aspects of the product (music) than the quality of the product. Today's music industry focuses much more on making the quick buck than the quality of the music. It does not matter how good the song actually is as long as the industry can convince people to buy it and make it a hit. So, just as the "bigger is better" concept with McDonalds (Big Mac, Quarter Pounder, large fries, large drink), music uses big theatrics and novelties (e.g. autotune,computerized beats) to sell a song. Do not get me wrong, once in a while using those are good, but when it oversaturates all of music, it becomes ridiculous. People might think they are getting a good song, but they probably have not really listened to how bad it sounds, just as McDonald eaters think they are getting a lot of food but actually it is not nutritional. Moreover, those who differ from the mainstream (but have quality music) and in result might not make as much money, are pushed to the side because music has become "calculable." It is based on how much one can make off of a song and using that same formula over and over again to make that hit and suck it dry.

Third, this leads to predictability (standardization) in music. Billboard charts, Top 40 countdowns, constant repeats of the same songs on the radio and artists that sound so similar that one can barely tell the difference between them are a few examples of the predictability in music. A music fan will hardly ever find songs that are alternative or underground on these. Music is slowly becoming full of "robots" as KRS-One put it. Listeners know what to expect when they hear mainstream music; just look at mainstream Hip-hop right now. Also, workers in McDonalds are taught to behave in predictable ways just as music artists (same subjects, same style of singing, etc.). They are told to follow certain rules to get a hit song and that diverting from the norm would not sell. Finally, control within the music industry. Due to technology of the different types of media, more options in mainstream culture appear to be unavailable. Anything that sounds or looks largely different is discouraged. In addition to that, as technology is replacing workers in McDonalds, technology is also replacing real instruments, real sounds and even real singers and rappers. "I don't need to be able to sing well as long as my voice can be fixed or enhanced by the computer and I do not need to be able to rap as long as I have a hot beat or sample in the background." Real artist are not needed, we have technology and we as listeners buy into that.

How does McDonaldization of music harm us? Well, a the rational system of MCDonalds produces irrationalities or deny human reason. It works the same in music. A song or artist that are actually good and have substance are not supported and bought, but music or artists that are basically of poor standard gets all of the attention, praise and sell millions. All over the world this is affecting the way we listen to music. McDonalds dominates world culture, and American mainstream music does too. Have you gone to another country and noticed the McDonalds restaurants more than the actual restaurants of the country? Are those restaurants seen here? No. Like McDonalds, our mainstream music is well known in many other countries, but other countries' music hardly ever tops the charts here unless the artist(s) come here. If a music fan wants to find out about music from another country or music that is not mainstream, he or she has to find that out on his or her own. However, since we are a "Culture of Now" (check my other blog later for that post), we are too lazy to actually want to search and few labels want to create the mediums to get them, so we keep listening to mainstream (like McDonalds customers going there because the food is fast instead of cooking at home or going to a healthier restaurant). Unless we make a conscious decision on what we eat and what we listen to, McDonaldization will continue to rule the world.

Monday, July 20, 2009

"Brand New Flava In Your Ear"

Take some steps towards your computer, click play and listen to some new music!

1) All American Rejects - I Wanna

I like AAR, but what possessed them to record let alone release it as a single. The song is incredibly cheezy, both the lyrics and the music. They sound like a really corny boy band! "I Wanna" definitely will not be one of their hits, no matter how much they want it to.

Official Video:

2) KRS-One and Buckshot - Robot

Let it be KRS-One to be honest about the current state of our industry. We have people who cannot rap (e.g. Soulja Boy) and cannot sing, and yet they are still rewarded and celebrated. So much of music today is unoriginal or it does not sound real, and these two rappers make it clear. Stop treating music as if it is some kind of fad or trend that has to be copied to make money! I could not have said it better myself and it has a beat that you cannot get out of your head!

P.S. It is funny how at the end it is called the official D.O.A. (watch your back, Jay-Z).

3) P.O.S. - Purexed

Sticking to the topic of original...all I have to say is great song and creative video! Hip-hop that makes you think. Just listen to it for yourself.

4) Letoya Luckett - She Ain't Got

A good party song, but it is not memorable. Her first single was better (check out last B.N.F.Y.E.)

5) Josh Xantus - First Time

Beautiful, romantic, sweet and a bit "in your face!" Some of those lyrics are like woah!

6) 9th Wonder Presents Tyler Woods - I Don't Need to Prove Myself

Great song to groove to! I am getting a 70s smooth soul and funk vibe from this guy, which I am loving. FYI: This is a cover of The Sylvers song "I Don't Need to Prove Myself."

7) Persia White - Strange Fruit

Persia (from the show Girlfriends) and her trip-hop cover of Billie Holliday's "Strange Fruit." I love Persia, and I love the original song, but this version is a little much. However, it does have its moments and I am slowly getting used to it.

8) Brittany Boscoe - Blues for Blue/ Black and White

I love the jazzy feeling to both songs, eerie yet beautiful. Brittany's sound is a mix between Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughn, two great Jazz legends.

9) Choklate- Sun's Out/ Grown Folks

Uplifitng and a great song to wake up to! One of the reasons I love neo-soul and soul music! Check out Michael Jamal Warner in the video:

10) Beyonce - Sweet Dreams

Beyonce is starting to get on my nerves! Is it just me or is every video that she has put out so far on this album an extension of the last video! Come up with something new! Even worse, the video made no sense! But then again, it is called "Sweet Dreams." Now as for the song (which is obviously about Jay), it is catchy and has an 80s (or early 90s) techno feel, but actually it only has a few memorable parts.

11) Eminem- Beautiful

I have not felt true emotion from Eminem since "Stan" and this song does have it. Plus it is a positive contrast from his celebrity bashing song and video, "We Made You." However, the song is not really musically appealing to my ears. Sorry, try again, Em!

12) Leela James - Baby I'm Scared of You

A remake of the classic Womack and Womack song and it sounds as good as the orginal! Leela James is so smooth, sultry and aunthentic!

13) Slakah the Beatchild - Enjoy Ya Self

Another uplifting and positive song about how great the music from the past was and still is. I hope Slakah can be the future because he is good!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Music Note #9: Where My Female Rappers At?

Another reason why I love Old School Hip-Hop is the abundance of strong female rappers. In the late 80s to mid 90s, there was Salt & Pepa, Sha-rock, Queen Latifah, Monie Love, MC Lyte, Yo-yo, Da Brat, Lauryn Hill, the early Missy Elliot, the early Eve and the list goes on. What was different about these ladies and some of the female rappers out here today who seem to come and go. Well, first, these rappers had respect for themselves. Second, they did not use their body to sell their music because they knew their music was good enough to sell itself. Yes, they talked about sex and yes they used some profanity, but that was not what their whole career was focused on. They were focused on saying something important. Not only could these ladies stand up to male rappers and be just and good or better, but they also knew that they were not these guys' playthings. This is something that I feel today's mainstream rappers have lost.

For example, in 1993, Queen Latifah did a song called "U.N.I.T.Y". in which she made it clear that a man cannot do anything he wants with her and that includes calling her a b***h or a h**. Her other song, "Ladies First" honored all the strong black women in history. Salt N Pepa's "Lets Talk About Sex" was an intellectual discussion about sex, not all vulgar. "Whattaman" was about the strong black men in their life that they loved (yeah, black love). One of the best known female rappers to use her mind and not her body was Lauryn Hill. Just listen to "Lost Ones," "Everything is Everything," "That Thing," and her earlier records from the Fugees.

Now, let's look at the mainstream female rappers who represent the declining essence of Hip-hop. I really do not expect any better when the male rappers mostly discuss a few topics: money, guns, h**s, drugs, cars, jewelry and yep that's about it. From the female rapper's side, we have Lil' Kim, Trina, Khia, Shawnna and others who feel the need to be in extremely revealing outfits, act like a slut or a h**, get implants, use the word b***h like it is a nickname, and speak about everything they do with such vulgarity (e.g. my butt, my boobs, how I gave someone a blow-job or how I am going to give someone a beat-down), just to sell a song. From what I see, that is only thing they are about and that is very shallow. I hear barely any purpose or positivity in their lyrics. That is not female empowerment or sexual liberation because she is still selling her body which at that moment belongs to the person (or people) buying it. Is this the image to be portrayed to young girls like myself? What makes it worse is that the public keeps buying it, a reflection of our declining culture.

So, what do I have to do now -- basically turn away from the mainstream to find a great female rapper and that's what I did. Artists like Amanda Diva, Ms. Dynamite, Keny Arkana (from France) and other stars in the making are what true Hip-hop is about, which is to make you think. Sex should not be what is selling Hip-Hop, it should be Hip-hop itself and these actual female Hip-hop empresses are doing that.

An up and coming female rapper who should be at the top: Miss Nana "D.O.F. (Death of the Female rapper)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

On Shuffle: Welcome To Dreamland

Yesterday, I was flipping through channels and stumbled upon a new show on BET. Now, I generally do not watch BET at all (mainly because it is not a channel that supports the Black community with its shows), so when I came upon the show it was the last episode. Produced in Atlanta by Peachtree TV, Welcome to Dreamland was a six-episode series that followed two music producers, Drummer Boy and Jazze Pha, as they cultivated singers as well as competing to get their chosen artists to win a recording contract. In the finale, the two competitors, Leaf and Khia, represented the opposite sides of the R&B music industry.

Leaf is a proud Christian, wears her hair natural, has her own unique, soulful voice, actually plays instruments on stage and her own fashion style reminiscent of the 80s retro look. She is everything that mainstream culture wants to kill off.

On the other hand, Kia is the perfect fit for mainstream culture...yes, she can sing, but just as her performance last night, which included her stripping into a vixen outfit, singing with Mario and having a choir, she is over-hyped. She is the same as all the other barbie doll/supermodel singers who use their body to sell their music out now; it is nothing new. Leaf did not have the same vocal abilities as Kia, but what Leaf brought was originality, individuality, and simplicity with her guitar, live band and tastefully dancing backup dancers. Unlike Leaf, I noticed that Kia was using a backing track on her performance (no wonder her singing sounded better live).

In the end, Leaf was the winner, showing that one does not need to fit into what the music industry expects to be the better artist! Can't wait for Leaf's album!

Leaf's Myspace Page:

Monday, July 6, 2009

"Brand New Flava In Your Ear"

Needing something new to listen to...Here you go!

1) Amerie - Why R U

Amerie has always been one of my favorite singers. However, the beat for this song is the best part of the song. Including the chorus, there are too many awkward parts in the song that do not fit well together (the hook is the best). But I still love her as a singer, especially with her older songs.

2) Letoya Luckett - Not Anymore

Doing the 60s and 70s vibe in songs and videos appeals to my heart. The song does the same. Letoya should have gone solo sooner after she left Destiny's Child and she deserves to be bigger than she is now.

3) Demi Lovato - Here We Go Again

I cannot get this song out of my head. It sounds like a hybrid of Kelly Clarkson and Katy Perry's song "Waking Up in Vegas" (one of the few songs I like from her). She is a strong singer who will go far in the future and the performance video is cool. However, the lead guy in the video is definitely not a match for her. P.S. Is it just me or does Demi have a lot of relationship problems? Just saying!

4) Drake- Best I Ever Had (clean version)

For some reason, I like the clean version better. It lets me concentrate on the lyrics not the curses, which are distracting. Listening to it, I realize the Drake is a really clever and skillful rapper. Also, the song is very catchy. However, the video is really stupid! If there was suppose to be a deeper meaning with this, it is not apparent with the jiggling boobs and butts. Unless the girls losing in the end meant something. Still, once again portraying girls with their boobs and butts half-out (I doubt girls wear those outfits in real sports) for a majority of the video dies not prove the point (especially with guys around)!

5) The Foreign Exchange ft. Darien Brockington - Take Off the Blues

I love the song! If I had a man, I would be grooving to this song with him. But since I do not have one, I'll just groove by myself. Once again, this is what real music is from the soulful singing to the silky saxophone (yeah, alliteration). The plus is that the lead girl in the video has locs, like me!

6) Jeremiah - Birthday Sex

I finally decided to put this song on here even though I did not want to. Again, the whole autotune trend is getting on my nerves! This song sounds like a computer on the fritz! If you cannot sing, autotune does not make your voice any better. But if you can sing, why not use your real voice the way it really sounds! It just sounds so unnatural.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

"What's Going On:" News

What's Up! First, I am changing the name of the news feature, which is now called "What's Going On." Second, here are some bad and good news for today:

Another magazine casualty due to the internet. The Hip-hop/R&B magazine, Vibe, has decided to go out of business. Created in 1992 by Quincy Jones and Time Warner, the magazine was at the top for providing a circulation that catered to the Hip-hop and R&B community. Basically, it was the Hip-hop version of the Rolling Stones magazine. Like many other magazines (e.g. Blender), however, Vibe was receiving less advertising than it did before, even though it had a strong 800,000 copies in circulation. Now, the only magazines that will cover Hip-hop are The Source, which is also having financial problems, and XXL, which I do not particularly like because it is a TNA magazine (basically boobs and butts). Hopefully, Quincy Jones can save the magazine, as he came out recently to say that he might buy it. He hopes to make it into an online magazine, saying "They just messed my magazine all up, but I'm gonna get it back. You better believe it, Imma take it online because print and all that stuff is over." I guess there is a light at the end of the tunnel and a future for us music journalists.

Time for the good news....

If you remember, months ago I did a review on the off-Broadway musical Fela, about Fela Kuti, a Nigerian musician and activist. Well, it has official been put on the show's website that in the Fall of 2009, it is coming to Broadway! According to the NY Times, a preview will be on October 19 and the opening night will be on November 23. The musical was fantastic the first time I saw it and I have a feeling it will be bigger and better now. So, when it comes again, I am seeing it again, and if you want more information, read my review and check out the website listed at the side of the page.

Sources: BET, NY Times

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Music Note #8: "The N-Word in Music and Pop Culture"

Ah, the infamous "n-word" or to put it more bluntly, "nigger" and our culture's mitigated counterpart "niggah." The word has become widespread within the Hip-hop and R&B community and throughout the Black culture. Not only that, many people within the Black community and even outside our community, make excuses for the word "niggah" because it a "term of endearment" and it has the "ah" ending instead of the "er" ending. You know what I think: that is a bunch of Bovine Scatology a.k.a. Bulls**t.

Just carelessly using the word shows me how far we have come as a people. Some of us have become so diconnected from our past that they do not even know who Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X are (if you want to know why we are so discoonected from history, check out my article on individualism: We have the audactity to forget the people who came before us, struggled for their freedom, were beaten, whipped, had hoses released on them, chased by dogs, lynched, and mutilated along with being called that word. Even worse, by using that word we also disrespect ourselves and give our oppressors easier access to oppress us. They have less to do because we already are saying what they think we are...idiots.

Why am I suddenly coming out to say this? Well, a number of reasons. It started a few years ago when I was watching Antwone Fisher. Hear Antwone's foster mother say to him "What's up, my nigga" freaked me out and disgusted me at the same time (knowing that she abused him too made it worse). That scene showed me that saying the word to someone is disprspectful even with the best intentions. Then, I heard that the famous comic Richard Pryor gave up saying the n-word after he went to Africa. Recently, one of my favorite rappers, Mos Def, refused to say it all on the set of the movie, Next Day Air. Basically, it has build up to this point.

First, to address what I said earlier (b.s. comment). Changing the ending of a word does not mean one is linguistically changing the word. For example, if you have a word that ends in "er" and let's say you have an accent and say it with a "ah" or "a" ending does not mean the word has had a change of meaning. Also, changing the ending of a word usually only means changing its tense ot the category of a word (verb, noun, adjective) not the meaning. Since, "the two words" of "nigger" and "niggah" are so closely related, a change of two letters will not change the hateful meaning of the word that has been around for centuries. Be realistic! Also, using it as a "term of endearmeant" means nothing. How would you like it if I called you "a piece of s**t" or "an a**hole," but I meant it in a good way like "my brother, my sister." Doesn't feel so nice!

In addition to that, the use of the n-word not only makes us look bad as a people (whether consciously or subconsciously), but it also sends mix signals to other races. In a way, it gives us the right to exclude others and exclude ourselves from everyone else. We, as black people have the right to say it, but as soon as someone who is not black says it, we get offended. It shows that we are still not over the word. I remember a few years ago when Jennifer Lopez said the n-word in the her hit song "I'm Real" and the media went into uproar over it. It also happened again when Fat Joe said it over and over in "Lean Back," but to less of an uproar. Also, a hidden rule within the Hip-hop community is that white rappers cannot use the n-word. Why is there different standards over who can and who cannot use the word. More and more people are feeling that it is okay to say the word now as long as it does not have bad intentions because of what the media is portraying.

The funny thing is people outside of the Black race use the word that was specifically used as a derogatory label for us, but do you hear other races or ethnicities widely using their own racial slurs towards themselves. Do you hear white people saying, "What's up, my cracker" or Hispanics saying "What's up, my Spic" or Chinese saying "What's up, my Ching Chong." No, because they have more respect for themselves as a people.

We also send mix signals to ourselves.If we are friendly with someone, we say "that's my nigga," but as soon as you are mad at someone it is "punk a** nigga" or "you nigga." Hey wait a minute, I thought this was suppose to be a postive word now?! How are we suppose to get over the word and move on as a people, if we keep using the n-word, especially when we have a bi-polar stance when it comes to the word.

Increasingly, I am having a hard time ignoring the word whenever I hear it used without thought behind it. It makes me uncomfortable. Why is it artists, including rappers (look at Run-DMC), who came before could go their whole career without using it and be successful, but our generation uses it everywhere like it is natural. If the world educated themselves about the word and its true meaning in history, people would realize how ridiculous it is to use the "n-word." Seriously, there is no point it saying the word and from what I have seen it has had a more negative effect on our culture than a positive effect. Yeah we need to let go of the word, but using recklessly to the point it becomes desensitized is not the way. Realize, you are not a nigger or nigga, unless you act like one (which sadly I am still seeing). So, please stop using it as a term of endearment! But if you want to have an intellectual discussion with me about the word, get back to me.

Peace and Love.