Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Giving up on Musiq... |

Musiq Soulchild

“Don’t front. You know you loooove it.” Not quite, homie.

As if soul wasn’t already an underground genre, now Musiq is trying “Radio”. I expected this one day, but thought there would be a few more singles signaling the inevitable end between then and now. Nope, Musiq dove head first into the mainstream. Can he swim though?

Now, I’d like to excuse this faux pas as a one off error but “Radio” is like strike three for this cat. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to put his sound in a box. Quite the contrary, I’m all for artistic freedom. Besides no one wants to hear reworkings of the same song for three albums (unless it’s a really smooth song, e.g., Kem). On the other hand, people will accept multiple artists doing the same song repeatedly and even accept listening to hours of these Goldberg variations on the radio. As long as it’s meant to be a “new joint” then folks don’t care. I could rework a Rick Ross or Usher tune tomorrow and no one would really mind. All I have to do is stay inside the “formula” and I’m set. [I'm not going to define the "formula" here. Eventually I will. You've heard it, though. You may even love it. Why should I ruin that for you?] Unfortunately for those artists compromising their substance to pursue said formula, the range of things acceptable in the formula is becoming more and more narrow. Even the time limit has dropped from 4mins to 3mins-and-change (go ahead, time your latest radio hits).

But I digress, if a Jill Scott or Erykah Badu wants to switch it up to keep themselves (and maybe their fans) entertained then do ya thang, booboo. But, you have to stay authentic to yourself. If you don’t do that then that track better be the jam, because everyone will know your faking it and it’ll be a while before they forget/forgive. Happens all the time in pop music because they are already at the mercy of the public. It’s a scenario similar to a jester that has to guess what best entertains the king/queen or lose his spot in their castle or worse, face execution. Not like he could get up there and speak his mind, no matter how funny. That acquiesce to chase the mold (rather than sculpt it) is what makes you mainstream, ironically for Musiq the mainstream is the most defined/confining box. You hopped in the stream, now you have to follow the bends/trends or be washed out.

Tell ‘em why you mad…

The atmosphere has almost reached the point that trying to make actual music is officially like putting a contract out on yourself. Not the literal definition of music which is the purposeful organization of sound, but rather the artistic definition including a theorized form with A,B,C even D sections, an inspired melody, and meaningful lyrics hopefully expressing some observation - easier than it sounds. Sure, that uncompromising artist may get a Grammy nod, and if the people who blindly buy whatever the Grammy’s nominate notice them then he/she might survive long enough to build a lasting legacy, but more-likely-than-not they either fade away or bend over for that rape-over.

Why the headphones w/ those huge speakers?

Now it’s not like we didn’t see this coming. Musiq Soulchild has been walking that thin line for a while now. Remember when he dropped the “Soulchild”. Remember “Buddy”. But it’s been a while since a video made me shake my head as much as MC Hammer’s “Pumps and a Bump”. First thought, was “haha, that’s hilarious… right?” As I realized Musiq wasn’t joking, I started to hope no one else saw/heard “Radio” but then I simply began to mourn the loss. Musiq defected. I mean he’s had all this time that Maxwell and D’Angelo were MIA to helm the movement and really cement his standing, but he left that to Dwele and Raheem DeVaughn (both of whom followed his line more than D’s or Maxwell’s - hence why folks know them… as opposed to Bilal, Van Hunt or Esperanza).

If you are puzzled then you might not have realized there is somewhat of a war going on between the mainstream and the underground (more so those who use the formula and those gifted souls rebelling against it). Clearly the mainstream is winning but that’s because the industry is the foremost sponsor of the formula (and soon the 80s baby anti-formula). Sporadically, the Rebel Alliance has a star rise up and steal some spotlight, but then the minions of the Empire clamor to work with that artists until a string of underwhelming collaborations mar the respect we had for them. Understandably though, mainstream acts crave that “new & creative” credibility and the result is best described using terms like vampires and new blood. Maybe that’s why we hear so much about cats biting. Following the seduction to the dark side, that “best new artist” is merely forgotten collateral damage of the stream, most likely to be immortalized on a late night infomercial compilation.


For my fellow musicians out there struggling between the fame/fortune and creativity/integrity, realize that they aren’t mutually exclusive. I mean it’s perfectly possible to be a respected mainstream artist. About a good third of folks will assume you are overrated but you can live with that. I mean, you wanted some attention, right? Best case scenario, you capture that Norah Jones audience (essentially the Grammy audience) who are great because they really don’t care what you do so long as they can wrap their head around it. Also, you don’t have to do half the work a Chris Brown does to keep your audience entertained. Look at John Legend. He was quick to don that Black Tony Bennett vibe on his second album and capture a whole new crop of jitterbuggers. We’ll call them the “mutually-funded”. And they buy albums (not too keen on computers/downloading yet). So why not have ‘the man’ patron your Black-owned business with all that disposable income? Sounds smart to me. Makes almost too much sense, maybe that’s why folks don’t do it. Of course, this is in the case that you don’t need to stay true to some self-defined idea of yourself and your art. Point is… J Am Legend, Corinne Bailey Rae, hell even Queen Latifah are banking right now while the rest of the field is wondering how they can best emulate T-Wayne.

Now, provided you don’t want to show up to the VMAs on an elephant wearing a chain with your moniker on it, nor want to stare into a sea of faces that don’t really understand your message whilst crooning on The Today Show, then you could pull a Batman. Meaning, up front be the artist you want to be but on the side cop a pseudonym and crank out all the “heaters/fire/hotness/blazing tracks” with which you never wanted to be associated. For instance, Musiq easily could have passed “Radio” on to someone who needs it’s small bump (e.g. Trey Songz) and sat back and let them do all the work for the attention/money then bring him his cut. “Ho’ hard and bring it home to us, f#cka!” Maybe he’s pulling a Tweet and has this one mainstream joint on an otherwise very soulful album. We’ll see. Granted, for that trick, you would have to put out a home-run to bait the typical listeners into your album. Alas, the Soulchild didn’t do that. Instead, Musiq stepped up to the plate and tried with all his might for a smash hit.

Swing and a miss.

~ Courtesy of | Giving Up on Musiq

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