Friday, April 27, 2007

Exempli Gratia: VH1 Soul

Once upon a time, I ingested most of my music in video form. Well maybe not all of it, but definitely 90% of my introduction to it was video based. From there, if I was motivated enough, I did more digging. But since I have been sans television for a significant period, that has changed. I read a lot more and listen for myself without being influenced by flash and color. But I always enjoyed the music video in the artistic sense. The ability to create and convey a visual message to accompany a song is special, especially when you consider the limited time frame to get that message across.

The video has fallen out of the limelight. As MTV and even BET have reduced the blocks allotted for just videos, it has moved to mostly the internet where a powerful base still exists. Also, for the fortunate digital cable and satellite subscribers, it's available on demand and in the form of specialized channels. My favorite of these is VH1 Soul. It plays a perfect blend of soul and soul-tinged hip-hop to perfecct effect. They are not scared to throw in the occasional live TV performance or recorded studio session either. It's truly great. Today I randomly clicked the channel and it worked. This is surprising cause all the channels around it said that we weren't eligible. I went back and it still worked. Hooray for me.

Here are some of the videos I caught while I was flipping between NFL Draft coverage.

Kanye West, Nas, KRS-One, Rakim - Classic (Better Than I Ever Been) (DJ Premier Remix) This song was created in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Nike Air Force One (I can't believe I'm as old as the Air Force One. I haven't decided if that's good or bad yet). Whatever the reason, I'm just glad they made it. Premier comes hard like he's got something to prove. And he might. Coming off of producing a good chunk of the recent Christina Aguilera, some have called the producer soft. What I heard I thought was inspired, but I sure do appreciate his return to his hip-hop roots.

Lil' Wayne featuring Robin Thicke - Oh Shooter A guilty pleasure rapper from the South plus one of the more unconventional artists in recent popular music equals engaging stuff. They actually just lifted the song from Mr. Thicke's first album, but Weezy does well over it. It was a mixtape hit and then released to coincide with the upswing of Mr. Thicke himself. Glad he's getting some recognition.

Missy Elliott featuring Nicole Wray and Big Boi - All In My Grill It's crazy that this video came on a day after I was frantically searching for "Da Real World" album that it was taken from. This was off of Missy's second album which kind of disappeared quickly but I love Nicole Wray and this was one of the first Big Boi sans Andre appearances on a grand stage, in the midst of the "Aquemini" period. It's a fun song. (Even the version with French rapper MC Solaar)

Tyrese - Lately For a brief moment in the late 90's, Tyrese looked poised to become the Brian McKnight of his generation. Good pipes, not too flashy, and just made good songs. Plus Ty had more going for him (better looks, actual personality once the music stopped). The songs however have been uneven over the years and he got into acting as well (Please for the love of all things avoid "Waist Deep"). I still am very intrigued by him. He sings with passion even on the hooks he rocks (see Chingy's "Pulling Me Back", an official guilty pleasure track simply because of the hook). This is when he got all the panties dropping.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Exempli Gratia: Beyonce Saturation Continues

September 4, 2006. A day that will live forever in infamy.

A simple day that should be like any other was twisted into the turning point in the flow of American culture. A day before she turned the quarter century mark, Beyonce Knowles released the album B'Day, her first album completely free of the shackles of Destiny's Child. She headed off the critics early by explaining the short length and uptempo song choice on the album. Since Dreamgirls was forthcoming, the ballads and Beyonce fire they craved would be satiated in due time. Reception was initially lukewarm after the release of her regular Jay-Z duet "Deja Vu" didn't exactly recapture the intrigue created on "Crazy In Love." She still came out #1 though and Beyonce's power was so strong that even my little boys at work could be heard singing "To the left, to the left" as if they were "Irreplaceable."

Then the promise of Dreamgirls came true. Even though her co-star Jennifer Hudson received most of the accolades and eventually the Oscar, it was still Beyonce who had the first single and video from the movie in the form of "Listen". But now, Oscar season is over and it has been seven months since the release of B'Day. Surely now we can be spared of the behemoth that we've created.

"No," says Beyonce
"Excuse me, what," says a cowering public hoping for peace.
"I don't think you've had enough of me yet," she coolly states.
"But how much is there? You had four singles off your album and another single off one of the highest grossing films of the year, which you starred in," the public replies, hoping its logic can persuade the power-hungry diva.
"You are correct. But to solidify my grasp upon this land I must inundate you with more of myself so that you may not forget your true path."

Alright so I lost it there towards the end but you get my drift. You may be wondering how Beyonce has decided to smother us in her presence even further. Television? Another movie? Pray tell, what will it be?

"Well first, let me add this track with Shakira to my original album. Yo you know what, let's just do like seven songs in Spanish. Nah really. I mean they got cash too. but they ain't got hot beats. Como se dice 'To the left' en espanol?"
"Cool one more video and a deluxe re-release of the album. I'm not sure about all that Spanish but whatever works. That should be good."
"Nah dude. I want to do more."
"Girl there is nothing else. Take a break for a little. You need to rest up for the world tour this summer."
"Let's see I can't act but I want people to see me. What can I do?"
"I'm gonna go get something to eat. You want anything while I'm up?"
"I can shoot a video for every video I didn't release and come out with a DVD album. That's it"
"I hope that boy didn't eat my ribs and .... What the hell you just say?"

That's right. It seems she did eight videos in two weeks just to make sure it would be on shelves along with that deluxe re-release. She's crazy. I fear the trappings of fame have twisted her little mind. And I also feel that she's too willing to sacrifice herself for some confused idea of success. But ever since the "No, No, No Part 2" video there was something especially different about her, and that's when she couldn't dance. The voice isn't really all that, but the girl has charisma out the wazoo and the shape don't hurt either.

I offer two examples from the DVD album. The first is my favorite track off the album, though I have to re-evaluate it based purely on this girl's work ethic. "Suga Mama" is just funky and mentions Jolly Ranchers. The second is "Freakum Dress" which is the video my boy Black Of All Trades pointed me to originally. Colorfully executed concept.

I hate to contribute to the developing hegemony but credit is due. Even if you hate her, you still have to witness it just for the sheer extravagance.

Exempli Gratia: ?uestlove Tracking Pharrell

This is a blog dedicated to talking about items from the media. Probably would be nice to actually include some media from time to time. Exempli Gratia will fulfill that role of offering a more live insight into some of the things keeping me engaged from time to time.

Our first offering is the amazing Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, drummer and musical director extraordinaire, doing some of his magic on drumson a (scratched?) Pharrell track from a side project. It also doubles as a view into the recording process, homemade. Enjoy.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Editorial: The Compilation

Long before iTunes had playlists, some marketing executive at a record company decided to put together a mess of popular singles on one vinyl record and sell it. The idea was a smashing success and the compilation was born. And it has evolved. There are greatest hits ones and collections of the popular songs of the day (Thank you NOW).

Thankfully with the development of the recordable cassette, the major conglomerates lost all control in creating compilations. Now the power of the mix was in the consumer's hand, if he so wished. And the mixtape became the stuff of legend. The tool that kept the party going. The gift that wooed hearts. The coping mechanism for life. Of course the mix has evolved with technology, with MP3s and burners taking mixes to a whole other level. It's even evolved into an accepted marketing process for hip-hop artists.

For those who care about a well-crafted mix, though, it can be serious business. It's easy when the objective is clear cut like "Party Songs" or "Workout Songs", but what about the mixes that are meant to evoke something? If you put the sexually suggestive song too early on the romantic mix, will you put the other person off? Or will ignite them at just the right time? Oh just one example of the dicey business of putting together a mix. I am notoriously anal about them. I usually am never satisfied with the end result but most of my friends come back so I can't be that bad.

Currently, I am in the midst of making a couple of CDs for my cousin's wedding reception. This is hard because there can't be any dancing and the music can't be too "rhythmic." This is what happens when you members of a more conservative sect of Christianity. It makes it much harder. Whereas I would easily place India.Arie or Musiq in the playlist, it's not as easy. At the same time, I don't plan on sacrificing too much of my personality (even though I won't be there) in the mix. Just two songs so far, but I haven't really dedicated myself to it yet. Concurrently I am also putting the finishing touches on a CD for my friend Coffee Bean. This is easier as she can handle contemporary tastes, but hers are peculiar so you have to laser in to some special element of a song to see if it has any appeal for her. Admittedly with her, it's just throw it up and hope it sticks. I probably have a 70% success rate.

I love making them though. I figure its why I have so much music. The same stuff can't be good for too long.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Notes: Amy Winehouse

I might be a little late on this one. She already debuted in the top 10 over here in the States. She's booked for Lollapalooza and her date at the new High Line Ballroom venue in New York City is sold out and its in May. Well at least I got the album befre she blew up. I was so sure of her success based solely on e-mails I received that I even made sure I got her first album from the UK. Does it really matter how you found good music? Just how you found it.

Last year, Natasha Bedingfield made it okay to be a British pop star again, something that hasn't been true since five spicey girls wandered their wasy over the Atlantic. Some might say that Robbie Williams and Craig David had their moment, but that's exactly what it was. A moment. They both had huge marketing pushes but once it pulled back, it was like "Who?" Now Tash brings over her "Words" and everyone thinks that cute little accent makes everything bloody wonderful. And the parade has begun. Along with Ms. Bedingfield, you have Lily Allen, Corinne Bailey Rae, and even the former precocious novelty Joss Stone, who brought along allegations of sex for tracks with producers like Raphael Saadiq. Quite the way to shed that child star label and turn into a sexified chanteuse. There's so much love for British females nowadays that we've even welcomed a British female rapper to Def Jam in the form of Lady Sovereign. Even Dizzee Rascal had to go with independent powerhouse Matador. She gets Def Jam?
Amidst the glut of Anglo females, Amy Winehouse has a sound that makes you want to distinguish her. Her voice is her own but it evokes so many memories of other artists that you have to compare, even though you don't want to. So where does one start? Well upon hearing "Rehab" her first single off her second album (and official American debut) Back To Black, you feel transplanted to late 60s pop, the type that had no choice but to be infused with soul. For some reason, I could imagine Petula Clark singing "Downtown"on the track. It's also apparent once you hear her voice that she was immersed in jazz at some point in her life. Her voice has the ability to switch from light and coy to scalding and caustic between singular notes. Its a raspy alto she wields around like a sledgehammer, which betrays her waifish figure. It has the potential to have weight like Sarah Vaughan's when she uses it just so.
The retro style of the music is courtesy of hip-hop impresario Salaam Remi and everyone's favorite celebrity DJ/producer, Mark Ronson, who continues to have a fascination with the music to which he might have been conceived. Along with Remi, famous for his reggae-tinged productions with The Fugees (yeah them) and Nas ("Made You Look"), they create a time capsule of a musical backdrop for Winehouse to showcase not only her vocal prowess, but a lyrical one as well. This is a very self-aware young woman and she doesn't hide it on record. She's critical of everything including herself and she's got the sailor's mouth to match (lyric "What's with all this fuckery?"). If Corinne Bailey Rae went to school and got drunk at local jazz clubs instead of finding a stable marriage, she and Amy would have been best friends.
I actually surveyed the second before the first which is uncharacteristic of me. I actually enjoyed Frank more. While Black has more of a driving feel, Frank has more of an easy feel to it. Her voice, while still commanding, is a bit more soft. On Frank, she sounds more like a soulful Nellie McKay. It's easier to view her serenading patrons at some downtown bistro even as she belts out the word "fucking".
So that's Ms. Winehouse. Once again my love of all things Jewish has one more faggot to the fire (Not politically insensitive since it is a British post and a used the correct definition of the word, so ha). Now I wish I had one of those sold out tickets.
Tracks 2 Check:
Frank - In My Bed; Stronger Than Me; Pumps; You Send Me Flying
Back To Black - Rehab; You Know I'm No Good; He Can Only Hold Her; Addicted

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Moving Pictures: Charlotte's Web

Working with children can have unexpected benefits. One of these includes exposure to media you naturally would not have sought out. Specifically for me this means I get to watch Drake & Josh and Class of 3000 without guilt in the guise of supervising the young ones. So one more opportunity last night when I was the lucky staff sent to go see Charlotte's Web.

Oh I remember reading this book around 7 or 8. My little paperback copy I got from the school's book fair was well worn when I was done with it. A chapter or two before bed all about friendship, loyalty, and death. Quite an enjoyable time.

The movie stars this generation's Shirley Temple, Dakota Fanning. Her understanding of the craft of acting is somewhat creepy. She is just so natural in her roles it is a tad disturbing. I guess she should be that good rather than wack. But man it's weird. Anyway she does a tour de force as Fern and the effects are particularly engaging. At times the pacing was slow, but the movie achieves its mission at reaching people's hearts and keeping the kiddies engaged. There are even a couple sections for the guardians of the children with some silly adult voices for animals, including Steve Buscemi as Templeton the Rat.

So if you have to babysit some child over 7 or 8 some day, this is a worthy pic. Everybody wins.