Monday, November 18, 2013

Scourge of the Cell Phone Audience

The smart phone has made us a stupid audience. I often wonder what it feels like for the artist, having to stare at the glare of 500 devices instead of into the actual eyes of fans.  They must mourn the loss of that live connection. After all, isn't that the point of being there together?

Too many people are completely missing the moment by recording it, choosing to experience the shows through a peephole instead of immersing themselves in the collective awesomeness of what it is to witness a great live performance. Dude- are you really going to play that video again? C'mon.

That led me to wonder: is this a generational thing or a technological fad?  Or is it due to music being merged with "celebrity" more than it is "musicianship"? Smart phones hit us all at the same time, yet some of us feel like we need to validate our experience RIGHT THEN by posting something on instagram, the social media equivalent of perceived obsolescence- if you don't announce yourself as "BEING THERE" via posting then you might as well have not been. Ridiculous.  Wait till the end of the show to talk about it!  Oh ohkay it might take the 'instant' out of your instagram.  Someone please invent "Blastogram" that allows us to put someone's ass on public blast when they willingly disrupt the atmosphere of others in a selfish pursuit to be socially relevant.

What shed the most light on this however, was attending the live shows of two wildly divergent artists and observing the behavior of the crowds at each.  What a tale that told.

The first was Kanye West. Artist, yes, but more of a celebrity now, sadly--although that didn't stop every (predominantly male, 18-22 year-old)  kid around us from mouthing along to every word of the Yeezus album with full-throttle passion.  Plus the obligatory cell phone held high in the air recording everything, no apologies.  Maybe this show begs for it: Ye delivers spectacle on every level from the staging to graphics to messaging via that massive, 60-foot circular LED Screen that literally delayed the tour when it was damaged (its a major part of the show so I get it). But I found his costume especially curious: the assorted bejeweled Masks. This dude performed damn near the entire show with his face completely covered.  A fabric wall between him and the 20,000+ camera-ready-crowd.  It felt much more like an act of rebellion than some avant guard expression of fashion.  Kanye pushing back against an impersonal seige of cellular hell his particular "artistic" spectacle enthusiastically invites.

But the next live show, less than a month later, could not have been more different. Ben Harper. Acoustic. 1500-seater. Not only was there not ONE cell phone visible in the (considerably older) crowd, when people did dare to take a picture-- only during the times Harper told stories in-between songs--they apologized profusely to those around and took the pic quickly, no flash.  I'm not a Ben Harper super fan, I like him, but have never been to a live show of his before.  Completely blown the fck away by this dynamic, I've just very, VERY rarely seen such mutual respect an artist and audience have for each other.  Not to mention, musicianship is the spectacle here; a wholly different kind of awe to experience the mastery of an Asher lap steel guitar than be dazzled by a giant television flashing 60-foot abstract messages. 

One show's not better than the other, they are just different-- and they invite very different reactions from the people attending them.

We're in the age of the cell phone, there's no going back. But there is this concept of getting a clue.  Too few artists demand the respect of paying attention from fans.  Some whine openly about this issue (Bruno Mars) some are downright enraged about it (Jack White, Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and others are passive aggressive and wear masks.  It's okay to say STOP and LISTEN, people.  What I experienced this weekend is that this is actually possible at a live show, and boy did it give me hope.

Kanye climbs a mountain in a mask, surrounded by a sea of cell light.

Ben Harper discusses his beloved Asher guitar and besides me, only one other person dared to take a picture.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Album Review: littleGiant:EPic by CHIEF WAKIL

Hip hop music is of the people and when done right, always leads them. Unfortunately in 2013 this genre is reflecting some of the same class divides our country is; with widely divergent economic disparity.  We have a small but powerful ruling class who run the game with a privileged hand, a hardworking middle class whose size is shrinking by the minute, and a rapidly expanding but totally poverty-stricken lower class. 

Rap's Reigning 1%- Jay, Em, Ye, Drake/Wayne. The working middle class-  J. Cole, Future, Mac Miller/Macklemore, Rick Ross plus those middle side hustlers who currently get over much more for their brand expansion than music these days: Snoop, Pharrell, ASAP Rocky, Tyler The Creator/OF,  Pitbull, even Minaj. We have the intellectual class who are outside every 'economic' bracket but still doin big things: Lupe, Talib, Nas, Ab-Soul/Black Hippy.  But after that there's a gigantic gap of mediocre that primarily inhabits the radio (talking to you Flo Rida).  And most of the new hip hop is a rapidly expanding LCD, where concepts and rhymes are just poverty-stricken in every way. Unfortunately too many to name.  That's the shit I Don't Like, nah.

There is hope though, and it resides in the future, the kids, the next generation who seem committed to fighting the expanding wackness with the riches of intelligence and some truly original, lyrically sensational, thoughtful records.  There's a gang of 'em too, all poised to change things: Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, Earl Sweatshirt, Childish Gambino, Chance The Rapper. 

Got a name to add to this list: Chief Wakil. 


This past Tuesday was all about the return of the Rap God Eminem, but on the very same day a kid from Kansas City, whose dad traveled from Nigeria to achieve that American Dream for himself and his son Wakil, who three years ago relocated to Los Angeles to go for the gold, finally did-- victoriously dropping his debut album "littleGiant:EPic". 

From the opening track "Sadly Mistaken", Chief Wakil sets the tone for the experience:  "For those who said I would never make it/ well I came a long way but I'm glad that you hated/nah you ain't a hater just innovative/ was just your little way of giving me motivation."  He positions himself as part of the underdog generation, the "little giants united" he says, and speaks to them with a rhyme style, inflection and production quality that is clearly influenced by Kanye West-- the College Dropout version of Kanye. Wakil talks openly about this obviousness on the album, while effectively living up to that comparison in both writing and execution which makes this particular new music discovery exciting as FUCK.  

Chief Wakil is officially an artist to watch.  The "Baby Ye" delivered a four star album of lyrical mastery woven with intelligent, highly relatable themes and layered them all up in a very mass appeal production aesthetic.  This is no easy feat to do totally solo, which makes him a standout from a peer like Bada$$ who is lyrically compelling but musically, had many production collaborators on his debut.  Wakil is more on the level of Chance- a one man force to be reckoned with.  The story he tells us is a passionate, honest chronicle of a "littleGiant" in this world- dream seeking, dream crushing, total redemption and the strength of character it requires to achieve that in the end.  SPECTACULAR! 

Other standout tracks include "Flow," "Identity Crisis," "Million Trillion," and "All My Life."  littleGiant is worth every dollar you spend but more importantly- this is an artist you need to know about immediately.

Download the album on iTunes here:

And look this dude up on Vine too-- he's racked up 116,000 followers delivering the same mix of wit, humor and passion. Check some of that out HERE

Monday, September 30, 2013

Admired The Most: The Story of Polly Anthony

In this new era of Lean Forward it's tempting to assign the kick-ass female dynamic to any woman whose been able to effectively ascend up the corporate ranks to snatch a crown, a situation still regarded as "victorious" in 2013 when it should have long been the norm.  Still a man's world tho.

In the case of executive Polly Anthony whose indomitable spirit just left the world, we're not talking about simple career ascension. We're discussing a woman who was one of the genuine trailblazers, who didn't just LEAN in, she PAVED the entire road for the rest of us in the music business and she did it with intelligence, dignity, wit and class.

I've always had an "admire from afar" relationship with Polly, not because she wasn't available or invested but because she scared the freakin' crap out of me, Really.  Polly was a tough cookie with elegant creme frosting but more than that for me was the first person I truly, truly looked up to in the biz.  An icon, an aspiration.... and a stark harbinger.  All of those forces combined were an intimidating combination, but I watched her closely.  How she sacrificed quite a bit for her storied achievements, more than the men who were her peers had to that's for sure.  Probably my future too, I thought back then when I first met her at age 17.   She handed me the Music Director of The Year Award at the Bobby Poe Convention. I was thrilled and scared to death.  The Powerful Woman: who represented both an exhilarating and frightening future at the same time.

Polly Anthony was the person who taught me it was okay being that chick; the one with an undying desire to be all that you can be in a man's land, no matter what.  I honor and cherish this incredible lady's influence in my life at all times.

Rest in peace Polly.  Thank you for kicking so much ass.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Yeezus Has Spoken

It's been a minute since we've had new music from Kanye West but as usual, he's poised to exceedingly deliver again, for all the reasons you hate to love him-- starting with album's martyr-laden title, Yeezus, which has successfully pissed a bunch of people off weeks before release.

As he so prophesied in his own rhymes on the very first album ("Everybody feel a way about Ye but at least y'all feel SOMETHING") you'd be hard pressed to find anyone in tune with popular culture who doesn't have a vigorous opinion about West.  The fact that no one can be passive about his existence is the very testament of his importance as an artist.  Plus, few critics argue against the experience of being fully immersed in West's singular creative rages- and its always rage-- because these tantrums are not only musically spectacular but lyrically heavy, laced with the kind of potent social observation and commentary that makes the attending audience very fucking uncomfortable. 

If you feel some kinda way about Ye?  Guess what: he WINS.  Kanye's whole mission in life is to knock you out of that comfort zone, and challenge the audience beyond his core fans in ways most of his peers don't even bother, or don't have the inherent talent, to consider doing.  Whether you interpret Yeezus to be an arrogant self-proclamation about a Savior Of Hip Hop or a self-pitying victim complex about endless media persecution-- you're right.  This artist exists in eternal duality, struggling to explore both sides of himself for our enjoyment.  And his next breakdown is scheduled for June 18th.

Check the lyrics Kanye posted for the first two songs we've heard from the new album, both of which he performed on SNL this past Saturday. Then judge him for yourself.  C'mon, that's what you do anyway, right? 

Monday, November 19, 2012

American Music Awards 2012: Bieber Loses Girl, Gains Award

The American Music Awards were last night.... and after a humiliating weekend where this kid was photographed being literally kicked to the curb by his movie star girlfriend (poor thang) I'm sure this was a pretty good rebound for the ego. No denying the Biebs is a good-hearted spirit but man needs the testosterone to kick in already. He's 19 right? Still such the little feminine flower!

Annnnnd there's a "New Media" award now.  If Psy's the winner seems more appropriate to call it the "viral video" award since that's how we all heard about him, but maybe no one wants something that sounds a bit like airborne sickness.   Apparently he's gone 'Full Metal America' to extend his 15, dude even put on Hammerpants last night. Fun times.  No surprises with the rest of the awards though, and the winners are:

Favorite Pop/Rock Male Artist – Justin Bieber

Favorite Female Country Artist – Taylor Swift

New Media Award – Psy

Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Album – Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded by Nicki Minaj

Favorite Alternative Rock Artist – Linkin Park

Favorite Soul/R&B Male Artist – Usher

Favorite Country Male Artist – Luke Bryan

New Artist of the Year – Carly Rae Jepsen

Favorite Country Band/Duo or Group – Lady Antebellum

Favorite Electronic Dance Music Artist – David Guetta

Favorite Pop/Rock Album – Believe by Justin Bieber

Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Artist – Nicki Minaj

Favorite Country Album – Blown Away by Carrie Underwood

Artist of the Year – Justin Bieber

Monday, November 5, 2012

NEYO: Realizing Every Dream

Not to be confused with Taylor Swift's version of "RED", Neyo's new album with the same exact title-- is due in stores tomorrow, Election Day Tuesday 11/6.   No Red States Blue States here, instead the album title is an acronym for "Realizing Every Dream".

Last week at the exclusive Sayer's Club in Hollywood, Neyo previewed the hotly anticipated new music for a small crowd of tastemakers. After being introduced by SR VP of Motown Records Ethiopia Habtemariam who called him "one of the most important artists in R&B music today," he launched into both a presentation and a live performance that was clearly from the heart.

Before starting Neyo told the room,  "If you're here, then you have in some way contributed to my dream and I thank you for it. When I got into music, I promised myself there were three things I was going to do:  travel the world, provide for my family and friends, and win a Grammy-- which I did 3 times-- and I've been able to do all of it, through my music. I've realized every dream."

Then he talked philosophically about his vision for "R.E.D.", explaining how as an artist, he's maintained an unusual position in the music business-- huge success in three very distinct genres: R&B, Pop, AND dance. A feat he is very proud of and wants to continue to honor on this album as well.  "My ultimate goal as an artist is to be in a place where you can't put me in a box," he confided, "I really wanted this album to have that- well, for some of you who may remember this from the 45 single days-- that distinct 'Side A', 'Side B' experience." 

Always the ultimate storyteller with his songs, Neyo launched into one called "Carry On," which he described like this:  "Fellas, have you ever come home after you've been out AGAIN, doing something you weren't supposed to be doing..... and you return to a house that is silent. Quiet. Nobody's there. You're calling out her name, no answer. All you see is a letter on the table.  And you know what's next.  The words to this song, are what is in that letter... written from life experience!"

On the next song, "Set It Off," Neyo was a little more direct for his fam in the audience that weren't quite sure what the motivation was - the track was a rolling R&B banger with production values reminiscent of the classic Bel Biv Devoe R&B quiet-storm staple "Can You Stand The Rain".
"For those of you who don't listen to lyrics, uhhh, that song is about fellatio," Neyo laughed.

Next up a song called "Don't Make Em' Like You" featuring Wiz Khalifa was explained to be,
"My anti-basic broad song," (clearly Neyo has gone thru it with the groupies~!) "for instance, if your limit is 2 drinks, at 2 drinks- stop drinking!" The record is a rowdy top 40 collabo with all the earmarks of a Neyo 'radio ready' hit, should do well for him...

 He capped the evening off with a live performance with his flawless live band, moving through several new tunes from "R.E.D." -- "Lazy Love"- the guitars will make it a nice fixture at pop radio,  "So Jealous"- a signature midtempo jam, "Shoulda Been You"- great R&B ballad, and a song called "Unconditional Now," something that he "could not have written before I became a father."

"There are some things you can write from experience, other things you can channel, but I could not write something like this until I had my children," Neyo passionately stated, "that is the one and only true love. Didn't know that until I saw my children born."

It seems all of Neyo's dreams have come true.   Next up: a top five album debut for "R.E.D."?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I'm So Sad About The Subways

If you've been a New Yorker at any point in time, you have a special bond with the subway system. It is not only how you commute to work, but how you experience different neighborhoods and Burroughs plus, due to the general nature of trains--smushed together on seats or standing together managing the sway of a speeding underground box on wheels-- how you regularly interact with other people.  This dynamic is such a vast opposite of the lifestyle in Los Angeles where personal interaction is virtually unheard of in a commuter culture that keeps people totally isolated within a car, often battling road rage as they fight for space on gridlocked roads, instead of sharing the commuting experience through a highly organized public transit system that allows them to oh, I don't know, multitask or maybe read a paper to be a little more informed about a world past the "Three Mile Zone".  But I digress. My bad.

Via the subway this very type of daily, intimate and at times, forced proximity to others is a huge part of the magic and real fabric of New York City.  The subway system inadvertently helps shape us as people, because on that train- we're all in this together. (And during rush hour, uhhh VERY close together). You deal with different people from every economic and cultural background, are regularly confronted with poverty, mental illness, musical auditions, political or insanity-driven speeches, public nudity, and genuine acts of kindness.

One of my favorite memories was being seated next to an old crotchety-looking man-- always has the potential to be unpredictable-- and leaning in with a side eye to get a glimpse of his New York Post without trying to be obvious, but I was obvious.  Instead of lifting the paper up so I couldn't further annoy him, he smiled and opened it up wider so we could read it together. We never said anything more than "good morning," and "thank you," but I'll never forget him.

Because I was raised on the West Coast the underground train system held major fascination for me.  I would regularly position myself by the window in the front car by the conductor, peering out in to the dark to figure out how wide all those tunnels were, and where the trains switched off to other tracks.  This became a never-ending mystery as you never really got to the bottom of something that only allowed you occasional glimpses of its inner workings, shrouded by speed and the penetrating darkness of tunnels.  That's part of what I love about them the most. 

Then Sandy hit.  We heard the worrying about the tunnels, and how vulnerable their depth made them.  How the sea walls only go so high. How this was an unprecedented storm surge during high tide on a full moon.  And how salty sea water could easily fry the rails. By the end of the night, I read this and it broke my heart:

NYC has come back from a lot worse than this, but I think Governor Cuomo got it right when he talked not about the existence of this storm, but to question the power of it.  Hurricanes are not unheard of in the Northeast, but the ferocity of Sandy is a direct product of climate change.  Hitting only 14 months after Hurricane Irene did, perhaps this magnitude of weather is the "new normal" for New York City.

The first underground line of the subway opened on October 27, 1904- nearly 108 years to the DAY of "Superstorm Sandy."  A massive feat of progress during the height of an Industrial Era that would ultimately become the greatest cause of Sandy itself.  Ironic, isn't it.