Sunday, April 27, 2008

Dumb it down!!

Mary J Blige

Go sit down til you learn how to appreciate this here…

In the R&B aisle of my most frequented spot to pick up music (as in ‘yes, i actually like having a physical CD and reading liner notes from a booklet’), I ran into a melanin-deficient fellow who asked me what was new. His question being general as f*ck, I asked him what style he was into. He responded that he wanted some ‘real singers’. Instantly, a list popped into my head. As I prepared to see how far into the ‘real singers’ he got so i could make a suggestion he interrupted. You know how they say, ‘Better to be thought a fool and remain silent…’ … yeah. He sees the Jill Scott CD in front of him and says “Yeah, but, not Jill Scott though. I want somebody with some pipes; like Mary J.” Wow, really? He then proceeded to attempt to let me in on ‘the real thing’. Supposedly he saw Jill in concert and felt she was too wrapped up in being Jill Scott; kept doing all these ‘vocal things’. ::sigh:: I asked him ‘what makes you feel that way?’ He couldn’t say, only that ’she just gave that vibe’. Ri-i-i-ight. Sounds like some personal insecurities to me, homey.

Now, I don’t know when i learned to be able to hear pitch as well as I do now. Maybe it was from gospel choir or just singing everyday, but i refuse to accept that Mary J is off-key stylistically - as this guy was seriously trying to convince me. Don’t front, as much as we love Mary (actually love is a strong word, like ‘hateration’), she isn’t really that nice. But she’s not supposed to be. You’re supposed to like Mary J cus she’s like the homegirl you used to hang with... and apparently never treated right, even though you knew she wanted to share her world with you; she's not gon’ cry though (sound about right?). As an artist anyway, you’re supposed to like Mary cus she is raw, not always on point, not really that impressive vocally, but instead makes you feel the song. At least that’s how it used to be. In all honesty, I stopped listening to Mary when Puff and ‘nem stopped putting her over Roy Ayers (”My Life”); with the exception of “I Can Love You Better” it’s been steadily downhill since.

So since this dude asked me for a recommendation, i figured i’d still try to put him up on somebody new. Or at least new to him. The strange thing is he knew some obscure folks like Chico DeBarge, but then again only liked his second album. I can let that slide, Chico’s first was more cohesive overall (easily playable from start to finish you could say it averaged higher), but the second has some strong songs that could stand out over the first. I realized it’s hard to suggest someone in Mary’s vein of R&B. After running through a few more suggestions that were either too pop or too ‘full on themselves’ (what the rest of us call “talented”) I started to let him weed out more choices. The one thing we both mentioned is that folks aren’t really droppin’ CDs with real vocals anymore. I mean it’s somewhat ironic that Nas was making a big hype about Hip-Hop being dead when R&B is much closer. I mean I separate the Soul cats from the rest of R&B. I mean the last non-pop R&B male i remember was Carl Thomas, i guess you could give that to John Legend now, or maybe Trey Songz (based on his first album, but the second…i’d need to hear more). And beyond Alicia Keys, Beyoncé and Keyshia J Blige (i count them as the same person) who is really making moves in R&B? By the way, all the King of Pop idolizers (too many to name) and the plethora of two-hit wonders and T-Painakon were grouped as Pop (Pop & B if it makes you feel better). As he picked up CD’s i started just giving him loose information about each. For example, he picked up Amel Larrieux. I told him about her voice, brief bio, how he ‘may like her style’ (i knew he wouldn’t though- he stopped just short of saying he wanted 50 cent or Tupac as a singer). Sure enough, he passed. Later he mentioned he loved Sade and then picked up Sweetback’s album essentially saying ‘who are these chumps’; i guess they looked dorky to him. So told him how they are Sade’s backing band. He was intrigued, then i mentioned how they picked Amel to lead one of their more recent albums. Oh now he was interested …r-i-i-ight.

Did i mention that he vehemently disliked Neo-Soul, but later listed D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, and Maxwell among his favorites?! (Yes, i pointed out how they are ‘Neo-Soul’; he was like ‘yeah, but they don’t really give off that vibe. To which i was clarified ‘No, i mean they birthed/define the genre, Erykah and D’Angelo’s label-owner [Kedar Massenburg] coined the term.’) Sidenote: I actually don’t like the term ‘neo-soul’ and actually just say ’soul’ but for him i had to make it clear. It really got to the point where i felt like some force was f*cking with me, showing me this cat so contradictory but so opinionated. Like i can respect your opinions (let you disagree with me) all day, but when you disagree with yourself I have to call you out on it. It’s for your own good. Clearly part of you doesn’t know what the rest of you is thinking, maybe you two have never met. Allow me to reintroduce your self (…your name is ‘Hov’ - had to do it - hmph, Just Blaze is slighty underrated - i mean he’s Black-famous, but that’s about it).

I have this theory. The more talented a singer (and many a rapper) is, the less famous they will be. For instance, I would bet more people know who Ashanti is over say Tamia or Ray J rather than Amel Larrieux. It’s a two-point-five part theory. On one end, i reason that labels feel the less talented artist needs all the help they can get so they push (or market/advertise) them harder to build the hype and from there it’s up to that artist to ‘not mess up’ so that people can talk themselves into believing in that artist. However that same consumer is at fault on the other end, they don’t like good music anymore. For so long they’ve allowed the ‘tastemakers’ to tell them what they like that they actually don’t like talent anymore. They don’t want to hear someone knocking ‘em dead. But rather someone just slightly better than what they could do, or at least someone whose skills they can wrap their head around, and then hail that person as the truth. (I’m not impressed by anyone doing what i can do… why should i be though. C’mon, when is the last time a cartwheel floored you as a display of physical prowess?) Lastly (the point five), I fault the talented musicians for not trying to make better songs. Some lay out some real art that goes unnoticed (hey… it happens- someone will find it one day). Others try to show out over any organization of notes. No wonder no one listens to you. Look, just cus you nice doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. How am I supposed to promote you to someone knowing your song will bore them. It’s understandable though, you are a good singer, not a good songwriter. Shoot most of these two-hit wonders didn’t write their hit. (Which is also why they soon vanish, cus we can just get anybody to sing that hit.) What if you the good singer did it? Or does that make too much sense. You could make a crap song, legendary. Anyway, you know who you are - step your game up. There is already enough mediocrity out there, quit coasting. You can be replaced you know.

Dude had a stack of recommendations he was going to check out at the listening stations in the store. None of which were really moving to me, but at least they were new to him; baby-steps. Maybe for the first time in his life he’d be open-minded; give music a chance. Ha, we know good and well that’s not gon’ happen. On my way out, i saw his stack waiting to be re-shelved. As i figured, he didn’t want something new, but rather the same songs from somebody/anybody else. Sad thing is … it seems that’s what everybody wants now. So snap yo fingers… two-ste-e-ep, cus y’all can do that all by yourselves. No one is making anything better, and no one is discovering anything better. Thus the art of music shrivels. I figure once everything sounds similar enough, a new sound can finally sweep in and save the rest of us.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Free at last…

Foxy Brown

… i couldn’t feign any more enthusiasm.

Synopsis: US hip-hop artist Foxy Brown has been released from jail after serving eight months of her one-year sentence.

The punishment stemmed from an attack on two Manhattan nail salon stylists over a $20 (£10) manicure in 2004, which led to three years probation.

She was then jailed last September when she was accused of hitting a woman with a mobile phone and a judge ruled she was not taking probation seriously.

She spent 76 days in isolation after having a fight with another inmate.

Foxy Brown’s albums include Ill Na Na and Chyna Doll, which went to number one in the US in 1999. (BBC News)

Wow… really?!

You know… she and Flava Flav might really hit it off… let it marinate.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Then Comes Marriage...

Beyonce and Jay-Z

Al Green - Love & Happiness

“Something that’ll make you do wrong, make you do right…”

I know this is not news anymore, but i couldn’t not speak on it (that’s my hometown favorite right there). Honestly, this makes too much sense on his part. People rarely do something that makes so much sense. I mean, yes, there is still the possibility that in the next decade we will hear that one of them f*cked up and they are getting separated. I’m sure someone is putting that headline in a file right now. In the meantime though we just saw a dude realize who the best was and lock that up. Wow, wisdom?!

For the last 6 years I been figuring it was just a matter of time til they each met other people. Also I was wondering why Jay had yet to throw a ring at her. Maybe he had (i know i would - first date; no matter how awkward), maybe she just wasn’t ready. Who cares really? I just found the acuity of it striking. They didn’t screw up (…yet?).

I mean of course this is assuming neither of them is crazy. Particularly Miss Knowles… er Mrs Carter (if i’m nasty). Though that’s inevitable. Everyone is crazy in some form or another. Usually it just gives them character. Also it doesn’t matter in those cases of matrimony ’cause their crazy works with your crazy and you are [insert Beyoncé song title - try one w/o 'in Love' for added MadLib fun].

People still fret over finding that special someone though and I tell them “Find true happiness being single and someone will come along.” I’m not sure if they mean ‘to ruin that bliss’ or are simply ‘attracted to your glow’ (Sho-Nuff). Maybe i oversimplify the advice or maybe they just don’t want to hear that, but no one ever listens to the gent that’s rarely single. What does he know? What do I know? I know that Jay-Z best not f*ck up (literally - how you upgrade from her, really?) and I bett’ not be single when he does… kidding (...not really).

New G’s. Peace.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Don’t push me, cus I’m close…*

Boondocks mugshot

Rant #319a^6! (factorial, b*tches)

I love my people (Black people). Not a day goes by that at some point I don’t love being Black. Yes, those of you who aren’t, you are missing out, hahahaha. (The inevitable “but” is mounting.) I don’t know how best to explain it. One example is how I habitually bestow a generic ‘i got yo back’ nod without question when passing other brothas. I figure the last things we need against us are other brothas/sistas.

BUT … (exhale)… D*MN if i’m not close to that ebony apathy; the point where Black people just stop caring. ‘Caring about what?’ you ask. Other Black people; cus we’re f*cking up right now. You’ve seen that brotha/sista here and there, the one that’s done well for himself and now seems to have no kinship or even subtle bias in favor of the African diaspora. I’m starting to understand how he/she got that way. Cus we all learned our history (well, maybe not all of us… which would explain a lot in terms of our success-story extremities) and there must be a point at which each of us felt like we should do something to rise up, whether selfishly or more so in a Black-Nationalist sort of way. At some point those Horatio Alger brothas had to be like “Man, the rest of y’all are on some bullsh*t! Holla at me when you have your first million. I’ll be in the gated communities. Peace.” Anyway, that dude doesn’t seem so unforgivable anymore and i am probably just one dumb muphucka from sighing “f*ck it, good luck”.

I swear the percentage of times I see Black people that I hope no one else is seeing is rising. Everyday on my way to work downtown I see two main types… brothas whom I can believe have a job & dudes whose incomes have questionable legality/origins. I almost want to ask “what are you really trying to do with your life?” but I've resigned from simply shaking my head at the answers to ultimately not wanting to know. Now, sure I don’t know who is who, but I bet I’m a lot more fair in making these snap-judgments than most others. (I’m trying to avoid even thinking about BET… but dang-it I just went and mentioned it.)

See, I remember folks being like let’s boycott BET til they stop cooning (making Black folks look bad or making the most shucking/jiving ways “hot” or “fly-y-y-y--y-y--y-y--y”) and thinking "that seems a bit excessive". Yet, somehow over the last 3yrs though they just fell off the deep end to me. It's not a deliberate attempt to boycott the channel, BET just plain does not appeal to me anymore. Clearly I am no longer the most averagely Black brotha. I am no longer BET's demographic. Somehow I carry myself too well for that now. Really? When did that happen? This doesn’t bode well. I mean if BET ain’t for normal Black folk anymore, where are we supposed to go for some “home”. VH1 Soul? You know how much that kinda cable cost? Clearly Viacom did not have us in mind. Then again even if BET is starting to ease on down to coon town at least the Boondocks is on now.

Did I mention that my exasperated ‘f*ck it’ somehow means “do ya thing” or "have at it." I know, I know. 3/5’s of me is on that Cornel West, Tavis Smiley, “We need to rise up” tip. But that ‘f*ck it’ fraction is spreading like mayonnaise (no pun intended, whiteness -> mayonnaise); I’m thinking that those of us trying to do better will do so and eventually reach their goals, while those on that street game BS will get weeded out in the same institutionalized traps we’ve been falling into since 1964. (I don’t see anything as our fault before then because we made some amazing accomplishments even with America openly against us… i.e.> Paul Robeson.) Sidenote: I don’t know why America is trippin’ over us… we’re like 10 percent of the nation and despite the paternity prominence displayed on [pick a day-time show, even the judge ones] “we are not the fathers” TV. I mean to say our numbers aren’t really rising at an alarming rate. Calm down, Lady Liberty. Terror alert ‘happymeadow green’ (viridian).

Maybe it’s cus we stopped having leaders to call us out on some bullsh*t until recently. Apparently it’s too little too late though. I ran into this one brotha who apparently was ‘so relieved to meet a young brotha with a good head on his shoulders’ (pause). He runs some youth program and the youngins were on some mess to the effect of “I wouldn’t vote Barack cus he’s not a brotha; we need to elect Hillary cus that will put Bill back in the white house. He was the first Black president!” I mean I knew we were f*ckin up but WOW. Sadly, too many WOWs are arising. He was speechless at the youth. He told me I was the highlight of his day like 3 times before leaving. Now this was a brotha in his 50s who has clearly lived through Jim Crow and such he is starting to lean into “f*ck it”?! Finding refuge in young cats like me? Where am I supposed to go? These kids bett’ not be the future. I’m not so sure I wanna be my brotha’s keeper anymore. I don’t “walk it out” (most cooning dance ever in my book) … thus that ain’t my brotha really! Dilemma. I wanted to find these kids and debate them until they cried or were suicidal … or whoop some down-south sense into them. Either way, why are they in our gene pool? Why do they suck at life? I blame the parents. Sidenote: We also joked about the Boondocks; he’s more than twice my age. How great is that?! Clearly he was the highlight of my day.

When trying to understand the misguided youth of the day, people always point to rap as the pied-piper with it's fife of ignorance. I don’t fault rap (and i do consider hip-hop vastly different. It may be falling off, but at least it’s trying). Anyway, the rappers aren’t the real problem. Shoot, they just tryina get paid. Hell from a business sense I got to give the mainstream rappers props (this is the only way that will ever happen). Aside from putting a whole bunch of n*ggas to work. Here you have taken a marginalized experience (aka hood life), polished it, packaged it and sold it back to your own people (and anyone else gullable enough to drop bills) til they are addicted to it, believing that it’s that “good sh*t”. You are the suppliers and more than likely have ties to most of the other dealers giving the people their fix. Hell, if you really want to bank, you team up and run train on they pockets knowing they will fork over the last of they paycheck to get them new mixtapes/albums. From there, cast off anybody that doesn’t feel you as a hater or “conscious n*gga” and roll on 'bout your business. All the while hoping that your audience keeps forgetting the fact they you are perpetually bragging about what you have/what they don’t have AND grounding yourself in a street life you clearly don’t have to live anymore (IF you ever did). Minions praising you as a business man not realizing that it’s the cats in fine print on the back of your album that are really balling. Companies whose execs probably can’t even spell your stage name let alone tell you apart from the next one. Why should they… they are your pimp. "Ho hard and bring it home to us!" Now go play dealer for us. Hell, that hustle is so beautiful… i’m one dumb muphucka away from droppin a mixtape. I’d need a name though… some reference to a ‘crispy’ shoe preceded by ‘Lil’. A hustle built on the back of a true artform. Well, B.I.G. was right… I never thought that hip-hop would take it this far.

See, I remember the gunshots outside my window living in H-Town. And anybody that’s really had some hood experience is probably trying to move out that joint. Well, was… Now someone is profiting off us literally buying into the belief that these gentrified sections of city separated from any development is where we want to be. WOW! … Shoot, how do you not jump the moon and start respecting how gangsta that hustle is? You convinced the people who had everything took from them that smart is wack, that they want to be at the back of the bus, that jail is cool, that getting shot is a merit stripe, and that the hood is where they want to stay. Bravo!! Er I guess... ghetto fabulous?

It all comes back to the people though. Some are hoes and some are CEOs (the real kind with stock options and IRAs). Those of us who want more will find some way to get it, provided they really want it. Else they’ll stay where they are… or do some BS and get trapped. Happens… (maybe I should write a book on this, but supposedly we don’t read anymore. Shoot, even I don't read as much as I'd like to.) Really it’s just too late to go on about my people. If you are in it, you know. If you are mad, you should be. If you ain’t mad, I understand. I mean I could care, I should care, but... ‘f*ck it’ I got bills to pay.

Peace & Blessings