Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Plea Deal: Rell - If That's My Baby

There are many guilty pleasures in life. And I am tired of pleading ignorance and denying the things I love that might not be so highly ragarded by the cognoscenti. And so for the guilty pleasures I offer these Plea Deals. I will continue to enjoy them. And I will not be ashamed.

Now for my first installment, I offer If That's My Baby by Rell. At his height he was the go-to hook singer for the Roc-A-Fella record label appearing on records for each of the label's more prominent rapper stable. This track was his shot in the dark to capitalize on the minimal name recognition he did have. In the male R & B crop, the field is mediocre and there is no stand out. It is too easy to just fall to the way side because everybody pretty much sounds the same. A small scrawny black kid with a gritty church-honed tenor doesn't exactly wow the masses. He disappeared after this track but reappeared on a Young Gunz single. After that, I haven't heard much.

But I remember seeing the video to this song one time on a Saturday night video show on BET. I believe I was at my former institution in Connecticut probably recovering from a hang over or just experiencing general malaise on an autumn night. I heard the song and it was just so comically honest, I jumped on my ethernet connection and found that song. I remember I was one of like 7 users who had it, but I bumped that joint.

There is no amazing musical achievement exhibited in this song. The lyrics aren't exactly awe inspiring. But I aways feel that rhythm and blues was the best music for telling a story. Even though the current crop of artisans in ths particular field are wanting, still the tracks have the ability to evoke a soap opera right in front of your eyes. R. Kelly's "Trapped In A Closet" is an extreme example. But good ol' R & B can put some drama in you. It can just not only move you physically but entertain you as well. This is something it had to inherit from its ancestors like slave songs to gospel and blues.

Rell offers a simple taste. Simple story known across genres: cheating dog gets caught. But in this twist Rell is speaking to the mistress, the homewrecker who claims she carries his child. And with ease we are drawn into his thoughts and side of the hypothetical conversation as he explains his anguish and expectations. Like the lyrics, the music is straightforward and simple, held together by a solid bass line and a reoccurring electronic organ to evoke a churchy feel to the proceedings.

To add even more pleasure to the whole party, I am a sucker for the use of natural vernacular in song form. By the end, our boy has ad-libbed that the child's name and facial features better be reminiscent of him if indeed he is the father. It's not even four minutes, but every time the shuffle delivers it to me, I smile. Ignorant unnecessary drama at its best.

Aisle 5: Just A Little Bit

So in my ongoing efforts to waste my (imaginary) bit of burgeoning creativity on this little blog, I came up with a new title for my editorials which is, you guessed it, Aisle 5. Why that moniker. Well basically all I do on here is get on a soapbox and rant about whatever comes to my busy head. So I had to think of a clever name involving soapboxes but all I could come up with was corny names regarding the word clean. And that's just stupid. Then I thought of the box aspect and tried to think of a universal aisle number for cleaning supplies. Realizing the concept of some universal conglomerate of supermarket chains coming together to arbitrarily determine a set aisle number for cleaning supplies somewhat bizarre and convoluted, I chose 5 after I realized a strange coincidence regarding the two addresses I call home (2+3+0= 5, NY; 2+6+7 = 15, MA). Yeah way too much time on my hands.

Anyway, this first installment centers around songs that become staples of one's musical palette only because of one piece of the song. Sometimes its a lyric. Maybe its just a well timed musical device. But you endure listening to that one song just to hear that one element. Or once you hear it, you can move on to the next song. Or you just replay that five second interval. But it exists and kind of justifies why you listen to music anyway.

In Mario's "How Could You (Remix)" there is the bridge which has lyrics and a melodic line that is the perfect end to a smoldering passion that Mario attempts to cultivate throughout the song. The Spinners seminal hit "I'll Be Around" contains a bass riff that leads the hook back to the verse and I go bananas each time I hear it. And countless songs contain some amazing harmonic element that appears only for a brief section, but makes the whole song worth listening to. Half of the joy is derived from the anticipation of the hallowed event.

I used to feel guilty about leaving the rest of these songs for dead. With the Spinners, I usually listen to the first verse and the first recitation of the hook. Right after that bass line, and a brief four second pause to savor it, the next song is chosen. If recorded my songs each time a quarter of them was played, I'd have 2,000 more songs played easily. But you get over the fact that the main draw of music is the ability to feel a connection with it, whether its the lyrics or the beat or just these little tidbits. And maybe it's silly that I can pinpoint the exact time Mos Def slips into Jamaican patois in the middle of his verse on a Macy Gray remix ("I've Committed Murder (DJ Premier Remix)"), but it's why we play the songs.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Premature Ejaculation: Whitney Houston

It's not what you think.

I'm just a clever little monkey. My mind is an interesting roller coaster and one day I was listening to a bit of Whitney and revelling in her voice. Then I thought of her recent troubles and got really sad super quick. I started to ponder what would have happened if she just made some different decisions along her life's path. What could she have created? And then I thought of other's like new jack style rhythm and blues or the macarena, whuich was probably a merciful death that came too late. So thus came Premature Ejaculation, a new feature to highlight the deaths of cultural phenomena and trends. What would have happened if they had a bit more stamina, practiced tantra? Sometimes it will have a regretful tone, others thankful but I hope its at least entertaining or thought provoking or treasure laden. At the very least it should be a somewhat productive avenue for the endless minutiae my mind processes.

But back to dear old Whitney. An ingenue when she burst on the scene in 1985, she quickly took the world by storm with her powerful voice and mid-tempo dance numbers. In the crack-addled 80s, Whitney was one of the bright spots. She had a powerful voice with an amazing range that coupled with an effervescent smile and a charming personality. She scored hits getting people to dance (I Wanna Dance With Somebody), commisserating with the lonely (Where Do Broken Hearts Go?), and also uplifting (Greatest Love of All). At her height, she even sold 500,000 copies of her rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. Of course, there is the benchmark single "I Will Always Love You" which just spent 14 weeks at the top of the charts and changed people's lives it would seem. With only a handful of albums and a couple of soundtracks, she is the 6th best selling female of all time. And her movies even did well.

So what happened?

Some say fame too quickly. Some say Bobby Brown. It's probably a combination of both but whatever the reason it is sad. Her last album was barely a blip on the landscape, barely clearing gold. She's looked emaciated and her voice is nowhere near the caliber it once possessed. So while there were loads of young starlets once angling to be called the next Whitney (Monica, Faith Evans, Shanna), now she is just a cruel joke and a non-factor with today's American Idol crowd. The voice that once made people quiver in their seats and had even Mariah Carey ducking a duet for a while now sits in oblivion addled by drug problems, marital issues, and a foreclosed house.

There are rumors a return is imminent. Maybe even in 2007. At 75%, it will still be better than 90% of the voices out there and with the right team of writers and producers, she could be amazing. We'll have to wait and see. Hopefully her career has been taking supplements so that it can recover quickly.