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Kanye V 50: A Timeline of The Great Hip-Hop Paradigm Shift

September 6, 2019 Leave a comment
kanye 50

Rappers Kanye West & 50 Cent standing toe-to-toe as presenters at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards, days before their albums were released.

*Originally published in Mass Appeal as Can’t Tell Me Nothing: Kanye West’s “Graduation” vs. 50 Cent’s “Curtis” 10 Years Later; in September 2017*

September 11, 2007. It was the match-up made in rap stan/hypebeasts/marketing exec heaven. Kanye West versus 50 Cent in a contest for album sales supremacy. Who’s would come out on top; Kanye’s Graduation or 50’s Curtis? When you analyze a competition, you look at the match-ups, and the most compelling and exciting outcomes occur when there’s a clear contrast in styles. In one corner, from Queens, NY, you have 50 Cent: the rugged, ex-drug dealer-turned-MC; a rap crossover machine with over 18 million albums sold to that point. In the other corner, from Chicago, IL, you had Kanye West: the eclectic, art college dropout-turned-producer-turned-rapper; a critics darling who had earned six Grammy Awards (18 nominations) to that point.

When you look at stats, the odds should’ve clearly been in 50’s favor. Because Kanye has been on top for so long, it’s easy to forget just how much 50 had the rap game in a chokehold. By 2007, he achieved 14 top 15 singles on Billboard Hot 100 as either a lead or featured artist. He was the architype rapper; a perfect melding of rugged New York swag and sinister, melodic California beats; aggressive vocal delivery; typical rap attire, with du-rags, bullet-proof vests and baggy jeans; lyrics glorifying drugs, sex and violence via “In da Club,” “Many Men,” “Wanksta” and “Candy Shop.”

When West came on the scene, he wasn’t even respected as a rapper. It was his production chops for Jay-Z, Scarface, Ludacris and Talib Kweli that put him on the map. His image as a pink polo, Louis Vuitton backpack wearing ex-art student didn’t sit well with folks who saw MCs in one limited outer scope. While Kanye had success with his first two albums, College Dropout and Late Registration, each with a number one single (“Slow Jams” and “Gold Digger” respectively) he’d still sold nearly 10 million less albums than 50. In the years leading up to that fateful face-off, Hip-Hop was being dominated by southern acts. Outkast, UGK and T.I. were ruling the charts more, yet clearly benefited from the influence of music that sounded more like 50 Cent and Dr. Dre. However, Kanye’s cache as a producer continued to grow after he became a solo star and began closing the gap between him and 50 in the eyes of the public.

With all their differences, the two had a lot more in common than meets the eye. Both came up slowly with false starts – 50 was mentored by Jam Master Jay, yet his 1999 debut “How to Rob” went nowhere. Kanye tooled away as a ghost producer for years to get his clothes off layaway before landing a beat for Beanie Siegal with “The Truth” in 2000. Each experienced near-fatal episodes right before they hit big – 50 was shot nine times and Kanye was in a devastating car wreck. The two were both co-signed and backed by artist made labels – 50 on Dr. Dre and Eminem’s Shady Aftermath subsidiary (Innerscope) and Kanye on Jay-Z’s Rockafella Records (Def Jam).

When the final bell rang, Kanye was the victor, selling 970,000 copies in the first week, compared to 691,000 from 50. Scene as a great day for Hip-Hop and a victory for both, who clearly benefited from the highly publized battle. However, the results proved catastrophic for both the two MCs and for the genre at large. The paradigm had shifted and any remnants of subwoofer bustin’ gangsta rap superstar was abandoned by the public, for a new, emotional, thoughtful, genre-less rap superstar. Artists like Drake, J.Cole and Kid Cudi became the new rap elite, with their introspective and worldly records. 50 would never again go platinum and Kanye turned into the biggest music act on the planet.

That day is considered where the shift happened, and understandable so. However, it actually began some years before that day. Slowing building from events and releases that put the handwriting on the wall for the monumental corner-turn. Here’s a timeline of said events:

September 11, 2001. Kanye’s “Takeover”
After producing two standout tracks for Rockafella Records in 2000, Siegal’s “The Truth” and Jay-Z’s “This Can’t Be Life,” the stars aligned for Kanye West with Jay-Z’s The Blueprint. Released six years to day of his battle with 50, Kanye set the tone for what many consider Jigga’s finest work. West produced four of the 13 tracks, and his unique manipulation of soul samples laid the framework for the album’s overall grown-man feel. “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” was his first top 10 single and “Takeover” birthed one of the most high profile rap beefs of all time between Jay-Z and Nas. From there, Kanye became a go-to beatmaker and tracks like Scarface’s “Guess Who’s Back,” Jay-Z and Beyonce’s “03 Bonnie & Clyde,” and Talib Kweli’s “Get By” were becoming hits and classics.

 

November 6, 2002. 50 Exposes the “Wanksta”
Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson was literally a survivor, after getting riddled with gun fire. When rap’s biggest name, Eminem caught wind of him and his G-Unit crew and signing them to his Shady Aftermath label, not only did he lend his voice to their 2002 mixtape No Mercy No Fear (featuring a remix of Kanye’s beat for “Guess Who’s Back”), but plucked a song from their mixtape, the 50 solo track “Wanksta” with called out wanna-be gangstas, for the soundtrack of his film 8 Mile. Following Em’s single “Lose Yourself” propelled him to the biggest music star on the planet at the time, the momentum helped pushed “Wanksta” to the top 20, introducing 50 to the world. With a pre-existing beef with fellow Queens MC and current crossover rap star Ja Rule, fans were yearning for more from 50.

February 3, 2003. Get Rich or Die Tryin’ Pays Off for 50
With the success of “Wanksta” and five time platinum selling 8 Mile soundtrack, anticipation for 50’s debut with Aftermath was unprecedented. When he dropped the Dr. Dre produced single “In da Club” that January, it was clear that 50 was about to grab the brass ring. The track went to the top of Billboard 100 and his album Get Rich or Die Tryin‘ exploded out of record stores. The album was a gritty and grim manifesto of Jackson’s rap persona and hustler past. In a year when tracks like Missy Elliott’s “Work It,” Snoop Dogg’s “Beautiful” and Fabolous’ “Can’t Let You Go” hitting big, Fiddy dominated 2003. He had four top 10 singles (“In da Club,” “21 Questions,” “P.I.M.P.” and Lil’ Kim’s “Magic Stick”), was nominated for Best New Artist Grammy, founded G-Unit Records and Get Rich or Die Tryin‘ sold eight million albums.

 

September 30, 2003. Kanye Spits His Soul “Through the Wire”
While 50 is becoming Hip-Hop’s newest superstar, Kanye hit streak as a producer continues, creating smash singles like Ludacris’ “Stand Up” and Alicia Keys’ “You Don’t Know My Name.” This was all while he was plotting his eventual world premiere as a rapper. After several labels refused to sign him as an artist, including Capital Records who pulled out of a proposed deal in the 11th hour, he’d found a home with Roc-A-Fella. No one knew, not even Kanye, that nearly dying in an automobile crash in October 2002 would set the tone for his coming-out party. “Through the Wire,” was a clever play on the song’s sample source, Chaka Khan’s “Through the Fire,” and the fact that he recorded the song with his jaw wired shut just two weeks post-surgery. The song showcased how West “turned tragedy to triumph” following the accident. First appearing on two of his mixtapes I’m Good and Get Well Soon, Kanye and Roc-A-Fella decided to have it launch his rapping career. For that moment, Kanye get his first sense of vindication as an artist.

 

November 14, 2003. Jay-Z “Fades to Black” with Retirement
In a shocking move, one of the most popular MCs on the globe announced that his then eight LP, The Black Album, would be his last. Jigga was heralded not only as arguably the best rapper in the game at the time, but also its most consistently successful ones. Although it was ultimately short-lived, at the time, his absence from music was going to leave a huge void; a void he arguably filled after the death of Notorious B.I.G. in 1997. And with Eminem a year away from a creative descend with Encore, Rap was going to need a new pace-setter. Although Nelly would drop a multi-platinum double album the following year, he would venture outside of Hip-Hop on Sweat & Suit. Therefore, 50’s persona, hot streak and tie’s with Em and Dre made him the logical choice. Kanye only had one prominent example of his solo skills with “Through the Wire,” but after producing two stand-out songs for The Black Album – “Encore” and “Lucifer” – anticipation for his self-produced debut began to grow. After getting a number single with “Slow Jamz” featuring Twista, anticipation went from bubbling to boiling.

 

February 10, 2004. The College Dropout Takes Everyone to School
After pushing the album back from an initial August 2003 release, Kanye finally unleashes his debut The College Dropout. Fans were ready for a record full of his signature sped-up soul sample production, but they were not prepared for lyrics that were self-effacing, spiritual, cynical, comical and brass, sometimes all in one song. Tracks like “All Falls Down,” and “Jesus Walks” earned critical and commercial success. One of the most significant aspects of the album was West’s ability to place hardcore and mainstream rappers like Jay-Z and Freeway with underground and conscious MCs like Mos Def and J.Ivy. 2004 was ruled by Terror Squad’s massive “Lean Back,” Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” and the phenomenon that was Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below album. College Dropout’s versatility, however, made it fit right in.

 

March 3, 2005. 50 Cent Massacres the Competition
It may seem as if 50 Cent took 2004 off before his next album, but turns out he was as busy as ever. With G-Unit Records, his artists Young Buck, Lloyd Banks and The Game all achieved platinum or multi-platinum album sales on their debuts. For his sophomore effort, wanted to lay waste to his competition. After getting into high profile feuds with Fat Joe and Jadakiss continuing to beef with Ja Rule, Jackson was set to drop St. Valentines’ Day Massacre on February 14th. However, it was bumped a few weeks and was changed to simply The Massacre, but it was no less destructive. He became only the second rapper ever to sell over a million albums in the first week of sales (Eminem did it twice before). He maintained his dark ghetto imagery, but amped up the crossover appeal another notch with more sexual songs and club anthems from Dr. Dre, Cool & Dre and Scott Storch. All four of the LP’s singles went top 10, including “Disco Inferno,” “Candy Shop” and “Just a Little Bit.” In a year when the record industry sold a record low CDs, The Massacre moved five million units, and with the soundtrack to his film Get Rich or Die Tryin‘ selling three million more it was evident that 50 was asserting himself to being The One in Rap and Music.

 

August 30, 2005. Kanye Touches the Sky with Late Registration
In late March 2005, rapper Common dropped Be, a comeback from the lukewarm reception of his album Electric Circus. With production chiefly helmed by Kanye West, Common emerged back to relevence and raised more anticipation for West’s next solo album. But once again, Kanye gave fans what they didn’t know they wanted with Late Registration. By this time, his now vintage production style was being copied and seemed tired to him. He enlisted Portishead producer/arranger Jon Brion to co-produce his entire sophomore album with him. Expanding on obscure soul samples with live orchestration, Kanye was now also getting political with tracks like “Crack Music,” “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” and “Heard ‘Em Say.” Late Registration sold 886,000 copies in week one, and went triple platinum, only second behind, well, 50 Cent.

 

December 14, 2005. Kanye’s U2utledge
The biggest act in music, rock band U2, was nearly 14 months into their Vertigo Tour, supporting their latest platinum seller, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Over the course of that tour, they’d employ numerous opening acts, such as Franz Ferdinand, Arcade Fire and Patti Smith. A curious choice turned out to be Kanye West. The rapper/producer supported U2 for four shows in five days, including stops in St. Louis and Portland. It was on this stretch that West got to witness how Bono, The Edge, Larry and Adam put on a massive show and hold a crowd in the palm of their hands for two hours or more. Watching them perform hits like “Vertigo,” “Elevation” that Kanye figured out how valuable and important it was to craft music that works for a crowd of 16,000 to 19,000 people, rather than just in the club. This lesson would prove crucial later on his future projects.

February 8, 2006. 48th Annual Grammys
This evening is the real turning point between the Kanye West/50 Cent race for the rap crown.  On music’s biggest award evening, both West and Jackson had six nominations. Of the six awards each were up for, they went head to head in three categories: Best Rap Song, Best Rap Solo Performance and Best Rap Album. The Massacre was far in a way the biggest selling rap album of the year and Late Registration was the most critically acclaimed. By the end of the evening, 50 went home empty handed while Kanye grabbed three trophies…all of them against 50. This raised West’s Grammy total to six while Fiddy had come up short 10 times thus far, including Get Rich or Die Tryin‘ losing Best Rap Album to College Dropout. That award show proved to be the foreshadowing of Kanye’s ascension to 50’s tier of commercial viablity.

 

May 15, 2007. Kanye Gets His Money Right
With Grammy wins and a new audience exposure, thanks to touring with U2, Kanye West’s outside production credits in 2006 into 2007 was dwindling as he focused more on being a rapper. His next masterstroke came from the most unlikeliest of sources: 50 Cent. West had an admiration for 50’s music and swagger aesthetic. While in the studio as West is wrapping up recording his third album, Jackson expressed his favor for a particular song that Kanye co-produced with DJ Toomp. Entitled “Can Tell Me Nothing,” the song addressed the growing backlash that was coming from Kanye’s increasingly brash public rants and statements (2005 American Music Awards and 2006’s “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people”).  It was an anthemic, defiant and brooding track built both for the streets and the arenas. It was Kanye’s first success “street” single, reaching number eight on Billboard’s Rap Chart. Perhaps 50 wanted someone to push him.

 

June 26, 2007. 50 Fails to Amuse at the BET Awards
BET’s annual Award show had grown to be one of the biggest nights in Black entertainment since its inaugural telecast in 2001. That year, fans were looking forward to seeing 50 Cent perform a new song from his upcoming album, Curtis, which had originally been scheduled to be released that day. 50 was beginning to feel pressure to continue his winning streak (the OG album title was Curtis SSK, for Soundscan Killer). After earning a 100 million dollar deal with Coca Cola and Vitamin Water, and appearances in numerous films, his attention was going beyond music. At the sixth BET Awards, Fiddy performed the album’s brand new single, the bouncy, erotic “Amusement Park.” Using female aerialists on stage, 50 just out and proceeded to stalk the auditorium aisles, completely disregarding the song’s first verse. The crowd wasn’t feeling it and neither were listeners. The next single, the Dr. Dre produced “Straight to the Bank” faired a little better, but didn’t connect either, failing to reach the Top 30 of Billboard 100. Finally, “I Get Money” got the reaction he was looking for, but was it too late?

 

September 11, 2007. The Final Showdown
Once “I Get Money” hit Billboard’s Rap Top 10, a September 11th release date for his third album, Curtis, was put in place. Meanwhile, Kanye West’s third album, Graduation, was originally slated for September 18th. However, once it was decided to drop it a week earlier, the showdown was set. Fans and media alike milked this for all it was worth. Rolling Stone wrote a cover story about the topic mere days before. Both artists got into the act as well, with 50 going so far as to saying he’d retire if he sold less than Kanye the first week. The two appeared together as Award show presenters, at photo shoots, joint magazine interviews and on BET’s 106 & Park. 50’s last single before the LP release was “AYO Technology” with Justin Timberlake and Timbaland. A clear reach for crossover success, the song propelled 50 back to the Billboard 100, peaking at number 5. Kanye’s “Stronger” on the other hand, built on a futuristic sample of Daft Punk reached the top spot on Billboard 100. Now all there was left to do was listen and wait.

Graduation was a sharp left turn for Kanye, relying far more on synthesizers and keyboards and going for a “stadium status” sound. Curtis was more a microwaved version of The Massacre, with the same old themes and far less captivating performances. Kanye figured out the art of reinvention, the element that was the key to the longevity of artists like Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna and David Bowie. The pull of outside business ventures was pulling 50 into a new life and his focus on music, a battle with writer’s block arguably led to Curtis’ weaknesses. With Graduation selling nearly a million week one and 50 selling nearly 700,000, both succeeded, but the people had spoken. It was time for a change.

EPILOGUE

In 2008, rap had three certified street anthems, Young Jeezy’s “Put On,” DJ Khaled’s “Go Hard” and T.I.’s “Swagger Like Us.” As Hip-Hop had become a feature crazed genre, it was important to choose the right artist to carry the weight of such substantial songs. An MC like 50 Cent, with his charisma, authentic street cred and bankable pop cache, would’ve been perfect choices for any of those three tracks. Instead, all of them featured Kanye West. After earning another four Grammys for Graduation and going double platinum, West put 50 in his rear view once and for all by proving he belonged among the rap elite and could be as grimy as those tracks as he was emotional, playful and thoughtful on tracks like “Big Brother,” “Good Life,” and “Everything I Am.” He bodied all three of those verses and for a guy who nobody believed was anything but a producer with wack rhymes, held his own or stole the show adjacent to MCs like Jay-Z, Jeezy, T.I. and Lil’ Wayne.  This well-rounded approach helped elevate him to GOD MC and each album has gone number one and went platinum ever since.

Later in 2008, an artist on his G.O.O.D. Music label dropped a weird song called “Day & Nite.” That artist was Kid Cudi and his debut album Man on the Moon was built with the same eclectic spirit that West possessed on albums like Graduation and Late Registration. Together, the two would collaborate on Kanye’s 2008 album 808s & Heartbreak. With West opting to sing every track through auto-tune over icy synth-pop with an R&B tinge, thanks to super hits like “Heartless” and “Love Lockdown,” it birthed so much of what was to be popular R&B thereafter. In fact, an MC out of Toronto named Drake, who had crushed the game with his mixtape 2009 So Far Gone, got a smash single on his major label debut in “Find Your Love,” which was an outtake from Kanye’s 808s sessions. Lil’ Wayne was so impressed with “Love Lockdown,” he decided to sing most of his next album, the rock influenced Rebirth. Artists like Cudi, Drake, Bryson Tiller, Tyler, The Creator and Childish Gambino owe a lot to Kanye.

50’s music career never recovered. Curtis was his last platinum album, he departed Aftermath by the end of the decade, and went bankrupt in 2015. Even with career turmoil, Jackson’s business acumen only got bigger and more flexible. Since 2007, he’s appeared in 23 films, including 2008’s Righteous Kill with Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro and 2015’s Southpaw with Jake Gyllenhaal and Forest Whitaker. He’s currently executive producer and co-start of Starz’s smash crime drama “Power,” which has just been greenlit for its fifth season. He’s doing just fine in life, and will release his new album Street King Immortal latest this year.

Remember earlier this year when Kendrick Lamar released DAMN one month after Drake’s More Life? The public was buzzing over how Kendrick, the people’s champion and thinking man’s MC outsold the pop juggernaut that is Drake. Imagine if they both dropped on the same day. It still wouldn’t compare to how much Kanye besting 50 changed rap history to this point. Although Kanye may be more polarizing today than 50 was in 2007, we still anxiously await his new music, whenever he’s ready.

 

 

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Roots Picnic 2016: A Photo Recap

On Saturday, June 4, 2016, I was blessed enough to cover the ninth annual Roots Picnic in Philadelphia, PA. It was 11 hours of 24 acts ranging from experiment electro pop to dab-tastic trap rap to the epic mashup that was The Roots and Usher! My written review was featured in EBONY Magazine, but I was fortunate to collect a few personal photos with my trusty Sony CyberShot. Here are the 12 best pictures from that day:

 

 

Categories: Big Picture

When It Hits The Fan, Should We Still Be Fans?

As Afrika Bambaataa and Bill Cosby face allegations of sexual abuse, we ask should a celebrity’s beautiful legacy be cast aside after being tied to egregious crimes?

 

afrika-bambaataa2

*DISCLAIMER: THE WELL-DRESSED HEADPHONE ADDICT IN NO WAY, SHAPE OR FORM, CONDONES SEXUAL ABUSE OF ANY SORT.*

Before 2015, when someone said the name Bill Cosby, people would think of a prolific comedian and a dedicated philanthropist. Today, after over a year of allegations of drugging and sexually assaulting no less than 50 women over decades, his name evokes the thoughts of a rapist and a monster to many. More than three weeks ago, Afrika Bambaataa was a revered pillar of American hip-hop community. But now, when Bronx politician Ronald Savage claimed the musician sexually abused him in the 1980s as a teenager, all that began to change as well. Last week, three more men have come forward with the same claim, and while Bambaataa has stated the allegations are “baseless and cowardly,” his legacy may soon suffer the same explosion that Cosby’s has. It remains to be seen whether or not the courts will prove that either Cosby or Bambaataa are guilty of these crimes, but in the court of public opinion has already convicted them, serving as judge, jury and executioner. We live in a country with a criminal justice edict that reads “innocence until proven guilty.” Why is it that outside of courthouse walls, it has been the opposite? Moreover, should all that these men done to uplift Black culture over the years be omitted in light of this accusations?

Two things must be examined here. First, there’s the issue of a man being convicted by the court of public opinion regardless of the outcome in a court of law. For additional context, let’s go back to two other prominent occurrences. Two decades ago, both R. Kelly and Michael Jackson were accused of similar charges. Kelly’s reputation was originally marred when news got out that he’d married former protege Aaliyah at age 15 (he was 27 at the time). He has put out one chart topping album after another and it was all but forgotten, until allegations of statutory rape came after a sex tape allegedly of him and another underage girl surfaced in 2000. Jackson was accused of child molestation in 1993 and the public immediately turned on him. Both R. Kelly and Michael Jackson were exonerated of their respective charges. However, the stench of allegations is so potent that neither of them has been able to remove them completely. This ideal is intensified with Cosby’s and Bambaataa’s cases. Regardless of what any of us may believe, it is dangerous to target and see people as guilty, particularly from afar, before a judge has said anything. We are in a time when circumstances, hearsay and volume superseded evidence, and that’s a slippery slope.

Perhap it’s because the act of sexual abuse is so heinous. Fact about it, the public has often forgiven other prominent celebrities of brutal crimes. It’s been well documented that both Miles Davis and Richard Pryor were drug addicts and spousal abusers. However, history has been far kinder to them and their legacies than that of Bambaataa, Cosby, Kelly and Jackson. Is one crime worse than another? And is it fair why should we castigate people who aren’t found guilty in court while we lift up those are factually guilty?

More importantly, should we erase all the good that a person has done in light of bad things they “most likely” did – it cannot be overstated that these men were not convicted, or have yet to be. But let’s just say for the sake of the discourse that each is actually guilty. Let’s consider what each has contributed to the enrichment of Black culture:

Cosby’s revolutionized stand-up comedy; used the television platform via The Cosby Show and A Different World to promote Black familial assimilation and aspiration, and advocate for historically black colleges and universities respectively. Bambaataa, a reformed gang member, founded the Zulu Nation, deterring Black youth from street violence to more constructive and creative outlets; his 1982 hit “Planet Rock” caused a dramatic shift in the international musical direction of rap music. Jackson broke music and television color barriers, influenced multiple generations of pop and R&B stars to this day, completely revolutionized profitability and marketability of the modern recording artists, and is the most charitable celebrity in history, donating over $250 million dollars to charity in his lifetime. Kelly drastically inspired two generations of R&B singers and songwriters and created a new sound in contemporary Black music at the turn of the 21st century. All of these are feats that have provide Black men and women for over 60 years of being uplifted, enlightening and enriched.

Now, let’s look at what’s happened after each was accused:

Cosby’s legacy has been tarnished, arguably, beyond repair. Numerous colleges rescinded all his honorary doctorates, The Cosby Show was removed from syndication, and a man who made a fortune making people laugh is now the butt of every joke and meme. Jackson has labeled a child molester nearly everywhere he went, losing endorsements, investments and public approval. Kelly shares the same stigma of sexual deviancy, as he’s grilled in interviews with Huffington Post and GQ about his perceived preoccupation with sex in his work. As far as Bambaataa, according to the New York Daily News, Cornell University, where Bambaataa frequently lectures, is under scrutiny for housing his music collection and a Charge.org petition to remove him has been started.

Are we able to condemn the acts of evil while still commending all the good they did? In our society, it seems to be Black or White; either/or. There’s a possibility that some of us conclude that by watching The Cosby Show, singing along to “I Believe I Can Fly,” dancing to “Planet Rock” at a party or watching Jackson moonwalk during “Billie Jean” that we support and advocate rape, deviance and violence.

There is also the notion the public feels a deep sense of betrayal. When preachers are caught cheating, abusing young boys or stealing money, their flocks’ sense of trust, love and loyalty to men has been compromised, as these men are held in higher standards than others. We hold our entertainers more sacredly than politicians and dignitaries. We quote singers, rappers and comedians like scriptures and fables. Therefore, when they can’t live up to a standard or they are tied to – not even necessarily guilty of – an unforgivable crime, i.e. sexual assault, we tend to cast them to the wind and leave them behind for the most part. Well, it’s not quite that simple. We benefit from the good they’ve done whether we want to or not, because we’ve applied their essence to our lives subliminally every day, but it doesn’t make us rapist sympathizers. At the end of the day, none of us are perfect, and the faster we realize that people who are gifted at entertaining and educating us are any less flawed that those who watch, listen or subscribe to them. Acts should be praised before people. Acts should be judged before people.

Categories: Big Picture

Why Chris Brown’s “Loyal” Is His Latest Homage to Michael Jackson

October 11, 2014 3 comments
Single cover of Chris Brown's "Loyal," from his 2014 album "X"

Single cover of Chris Brown’s “Loyal,” from his 2014 album “X”

One of the worst kept secrets in show business is that Chris Brown is a big fan of Michael Jackson. Since his first years of teenage success, Brown has pledged his loyalty to the departed singer/songwriter by singing his songs on stage, wear his iconic jackets during concerts and, of course, let’s not forget his tear-jerking tribute to Jackson at the BET Awards. On wax, on the other hand, you can’t find too many similarities between the two. This changed in the summer of 2013 with the release of “Fine China,” the lead single to his 2014 album X, which finds the Grammy-winning singer crooning over a Jackson-esque funk/pop track and exclaiming the gloved one’s signature vocal ad-libs (i.e. Whoo-Hoo’s and syncopated scatting). “Fine China” is a homage to MJ in a stylistic sense and sticks out among X‘s other hip-hop infused songs like “Love More” and “New Flame,” but it isn’t the only time Jackson’s influence rear’s it’s head on the album. “Loyal,” the fourth single from X, is a mid-tempo club banging anthem featuring Lil’ Wayne all about gold digger women. No one would ever mistake a song that has a hook that expresses, “These ho’s ain’t loyal,” and includes phrases such as “I don’t fuck with broke bitches” as being inspired by anything associated with Michael Jackson, but they should and here’s why.

Aside from being revered by millions as the greatest entertainer in music history, Michael Jackson was a singular songwriter who wrote vivid, brooding material culled from his very unusual life. Jackson was able to write songs of various subject matter, from love, injustice, and unity. However, one topic constantly came up: the deceptive female . Since the late 1970”s, MJ repeated the pattern in song many times:

1979 – “Working Day and Night,” Off the Wall – MJ’s girlfriend makes him work extensively to keep him from noticing her cheating ways.

1980 – “This Place Hotel (fka Heartbreak Hotel),” Triumph (with The Jacksons) – Mysterious women claim a false relationship with MJ, causing his
“baby” to leave him.

1982 – “Billie Jean,” Thriller – A woman falsely accuses MJ of fathering her child.

1987 – “Dirty Diana,” Bad – A notorious groupie pressures MJ to trade sex for stardom.

1991 – “Dangerous,” Dangerous – Same plot as “This Place Hotel,” only this time, MJ succumbs to temptation.

1995 – “Blood on the Dance Floor,” – Blood on the Dance Floor – A mysterious woman seduces, then kills, a man.

When these songs were released, Jackson fell under minimal, if any at all, criticism for portraying women in this hawking fashion. This is clearly evident by the public’s response to the songs; “Billie Jean” and “Dirty Diana” both rose to number one on the Billboard charts, “This Place Hotel,” was an R&B Top ten hit, “Working Day and Night” was a live staple on every tour Jackson had since 1981, and “Dangerous” is among his most well known dance routines, performing it no less than five times on television between 1992 and 2001. Jackson explained his rationale behind these songs in his autobiography, Moon Walk: “If [“This Place Hotel’], and later “Billie Jean,” seemed to cast women in an unfavorable light, it was not meant to be taken as a personal statement,” Jackson wrote. “I just think that when sex is used as a form or blackmail or power, it’s a repugnant use of one of God’s gifts.”

Most people wouldn’t dare to compare Brown’s “Loyal” to anything Jackson’s recorded in his career. In fairness, this may be due to the lyrics. The chorus is frank and harsh, “When I rich nigga wants you/And your nigga can’t do nothing for you/These Ho’s ain’t loyal.” Also, Brown’s contribution to the song’s creation is minimal. In the liner notes, “Loyal” lists no less than eight people having writing credits for the song, whereas Jackson wrote all the lyrics of the six aforementioned songs and composed all but two (“Dangerous” and “Blood on the Dance Floor” were both composed by Teddy Riley). Lastly, some would say Brown has a bitter and skewed view of women in light of his tumultuous relationship with pop singer Rihanna, while some would argue that Jackson’s point of view came from a more observational point of view and is much more objective. With all that said, the issue that Brown addresses in “Loyal” of being women being unfaithful (“I Betcha bottom dollar she gonna cheat”), disposing of men that can’t give them a certain lifestyle (see chorus) and will go to great lengths to trap stars (“She wanna see a nigga trapped/she wanna fuck all the rappers”) touches on numerous points that Jackson has made in several songs. The supposed misogyny attached to this material is understandable, but it doesn’t negate the fact that women like these do exist. As Jackson stated again in his book, “There were so many sharks in this business looking for blood in the water.” We mustn’t dismiss that ideal that there are females who use sex as a weapon for dishonorable gains just because the language on “Loyal” is crass. Given that fact that the song reached number nine on the Billboard 100, it’s safe to assume that many others co-sign with the song’s message. Brown still has a long way to go before he can be considered near the accomplishments of his hero, but like it or not, a song like “Loyal” is a step in the right direction to expanding ability to express via his music.

Categories: Big Picture

Jazz Icon Clark Terry’s Life Commitment Mentoring Young Musicians (Originally Published in iRockJazz)

clarkterry2Musicians can be a selfish or cryptic people. Even though it may or may not be a fair assessment to make, the truth of the matter is that many of them are, and for good reason. Musicians work very, very hard at learning their respective instruments, understanding composition and mastering improvisation. Then, they have to work that much harder at getting people to notice them – fans, potential band mates or bandleaders, record companies, management, and more.

Once they’ve obtained all of which they wanted, at whatever level they are content with, then the truly difficult task begins, which is keeping it all for themselves as long as they can while other musicians move up the ranks, fighting for position. So, after all of that, they want to keep it for themselves, afraid anyone who comes along will take their shine, or they may just want the youngsters to prove that they’re good enough by learning on their own the same way they did. Clark Terry’s early life encounter with such a musician was the catalyst that put him on a selfless path that helped make him the living legend that he is today.

Quincy Jones on Clark Terry: “The greatest honor I’ve ever felt in my life was when Clark Terry left Duke Ellington to come play with my band,” Jones testified in his book “Q” on Producing. “Can you imagine what it felt like to have the guy who taught me when I was 12 years-old leave Duke Ellington’s band to come play with me? It was incredible!”

Read the full article at iRockJazz.comhttp://irockjazz.com/2013/03/pay-it-forward-clark-terrys-commitment-to-help-others/

Categories: Big Picture

Melvin Van Peebles: Architect of The Black Soundtrack (Originally Published in iRockJazz)

melvinvanpeebles1_732Melvin Van Peebles belongs on the short list of the most innovative filmmakers of the 20th century. The renegade director’s approach to storytelling has made him a true original. His guerilla style quick camera cut approach to his breakout film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassssss Song laid the groundwork for the sub-genre what would become known as the Blaxploitation films. Movies like ShaftSuperflyThe Mack and a host of others owe a debt of gratitude to Peebles, but not just for the films, but for the music, as well.

Although Quincy Jones deserves the lion share of credit for breaking barriers for Black film scorers in the 1960s, and Curtis Mayfield may have been the most commercially successful Black film scorer of the 1970s, it was Peebles’ intuitive use of music. Music both as a backdrop and as a marketing tool that both initiated a lasting trend of popular Black artists like Mayfield, Isaac Hayes and Marvin Gaye lending their composing pens to these gritty, urban action movies, as well as paying considerable dividends for himself.Sweetback grossed 15 million dollars with a 150,000 dollar budget! The soundtrack of a Black movie went on to become a crucial undertaking for the film and its ability to attract audiences, to the point where in some cases; the music tends to outlast the film itself (i.e. Gaye’s Trouble Man, Bobby Womack’s Across 110th Street and James Brown’s Black Ceasar). Peebles recently spoke with iRockJazz to discuss the role of music in his films.

Read the full article at iRockJazz.com: http://irockjazz.com/2013/04/melvin-van-peebles-architect-of-the-black-soundtrack/

Categories: Big Picture

THE PROTOTYPE: BETTY DAVIS LIT THE SPARK THAT IGNITED TODAY’S MUSIC INFERNO (Originally Published in iRockJazz)

February 26, 2013 Leave a comment

BettyDavis1Brooklyn, NY. Saturday, October 6, 2012. It’s 8:45pm just outside the doors of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Auditorium, located on the third floor of the Brooklyn Museum. Many people congregated there to witness a celebration of rare and innovative music. The auditorium was located on the third floor and in order to reach it, the concertgoers had to walk through an exhibit called Egypt Reborn: Art for Eternity, a long term gallery installation that presented priceless African relics. The walls are adorned with gold and reminders of an ancient time when the pharaohs and inhabitants of the North African country were the envy of the globe, thanks to their innovative architecture, imagery and regality.

Each and every one of those who gazed upon the gallery had no choice but to feel fascination and inspiration from these tombs that encased kings. The women were immortalized in these alabaster carvings and sculptures that presented them as both nurtures and rulers. Finally, when the eager souls filled the hall’s 415 seats, they were ready to bask in another priceless African artifact the music of one Betty Davis.

Conceived by Brooklyn singer Nucomme Davis-Walker“Betty’s Story” was a multimedia tribute to the under-championed singer/songwriter who had used funk to empower and liberate her listeners and herself. “Betty’s Story” was a feast to the senses, which featured an aural narration of her career, video collages of news clippings and album covers, a raucous five-piece band and alluring exotic dance, provided by the Brown Girls Burlesque troupe.

In between the spoken dialogue was the true legend as the robust, confident Nucomme, who decisively and convincingly belted out songs from Davis’ catalog, like the defiant “Nasty Gal” and the driving hedonism of “If I’m in Luck I Might Get Picked Up”. The crowd took it all in, rocking their heads, clinching their fists and biting their lips as the curdling bass injected its way into their veins, the burlesque dancers occupied their eyes and Nucomme’s voice dominated their minds.

In the end, however, it was their souls that got the ultimate workout, which of course was their rationale behind attending the event in the first place. Davis’ assertive, unfiltered artistry had a lingering effect on each of them, prior to their decisions to enter the Brooklyn Museum. All the while, projected above the performers were images of Betty at several stages of her career, as an exuberant young model that made the road easier for Black beauties like Iman, Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks, and as a rough singing sexual dynamo who paved the way for artists like Millie Jackson, Rick James and Prince.

No matter in what incarnation, there she was, high above the stage, her flawless fair skin, her shining pouty lips, with that proud and natural afro, like she was carved from a piece of jade. When you look into her eyes, you see a trailblazer, but behind them was just an artist who only wanted her music to be heard; an artist who used her sexual energy on stage and wax to fulfill her need to simply write songs.

When it comes to the influence that Betty Davis bestowed on music, her individual work is always an afterthought when held up against her lasting impression on former husband, legendary trumpeter Miles Davis. Fact about it, whenever her name is mentioned in print, it’s immediately followed by “ex-wife of Miles Davis”.

Read the full article at iRockJazz.com: http://irockjazz.com/2012/12/the-prototype-betty-davis-lit-the-spark-that-ignited-todays-music-inferno-pt-i/

Categories: Big Picture