Wednesday, December 17, 2014

ALBUM REVIEW: BLACK MESSIAH




Incredibly rare is the artist whose sonic fingerprint is as instantly identifiable as their vocal one. But this is so absolutely true of D’Angelo; a real troubadour whose creativity carved out a new soulful identity so insanely progressive for its time, the music still sounds cutting-edge nearly 20 years later and also helped forge an entirely new path in R&B that was coined “Neo Soul”.  Timelessness is true genius. 

But after two incredible albums, the artist suddenly disappeared from the scene in 2000, resurfacing only occasionally through various releases with frequent collaborators Common, Q-Tip, and Questlove or the occasional live performance.

Suddenly, following a trend established by Beyonce last year---  a new album was set up, released and delivered from out of the blue over the weekend, with a 15-second video tease going up on YouTube Friday, new song “Really Love” released to radio on Saturday, and a small listening party in NYC Sunday with the complete album Black Messiah revealed to the world via iTunes and Spotify by midnight 12/15, where it’s currently sitting at #1.

“I think the idea of just making a whole album available is kind of a unique thing these days,” said RCA CEO Peter Edge, “when you’ve got something as special as this, just put the album out and know it's a unique moment where people actually want the whole album experience. Day one has exceeded our expectations, the buzz is louder, and people seem to like this music even more than we’d hoped.”

Loaded with contributions from Questlove, who Edge describes as “a key collaborator, one of the guiding spirits,” and the band D’Angelo assembled called The Vanguard—which by definition means “a group of people leading the way in new ideas,” bassist Pino Palladino, drummer James Gadson, plus songwriting collaborator Kendra Foster of Parliament Funkadelic and Q-Tip assist in delivering a masterful work about the most serious social issues of right now. 

 “D’Angelo is really at the center of this project, the mastermind of everything,” explains Edge.

"It’s a passion project, and it’s everything," Questlove told the audience at the album preview party. "I don’t really want to give a hyperbolic or grandiose statement, but it’s everything. It’s beautiful, it’s ugly, it’s truth, it’s lies. It’s everything."

D’Angelo writes on the liner notes of the album, “It’s about people rising up in Ferguson and in Egypt and in Occupy Wall Street and in every place where a community has had enough and decides to make change happen. It’s not about praising one charismatic leader but celebrating thousands of them.”

Black Messiah is being received by critics and fans alike, as overwhelmingly worth the 14-year wait.  “Really Love,” along with “Another Life,” and “Betray My Heart,” are all standouts as is “Sugah Daddy,” infused with a crazy good bassline you’ll instantly hum.  The song “1000 Deaths” channels a rough, chaotic production that emotionally captures the provoking lyrics and “The Charade” layers uplifting melody while delivering a knockout punch lyrically: “all we wanted was a chance to talk/’stead we’ve only got outlined in chalk”. This is critical thinking set to future-funk, a soul sonic force to be reckoned with. Just as every single one of D’Angelo’s prodigal albums have been.

But this record may ultimately spur a conversation equally important to the social issues: one about the pressure artists are put under to deliver vast amounts of material quickly in this new world of singles-driven music economy.  CEO Peter Edge, already well known as an extraordinary music person, gave D’Angelo the time and space he needed to create for YEARS, literally, knowing full well it was the final product that mattered most here, not fulfilling a particular release-schedule obligation. It is a rare patience for a music exec in these pressure-filled times, but it’s that very finesse and instinct that has given us one of the best records—not just “R&B album”—of the year.

“I just think he’s really unique there’s really nobody doing music just like him,” explained Edge,  “I felt like I needed to support that, it’s a very rare thing what he was doing and his talent is one of a kind. There’s really nobody like him. There are a lot of great artists out there and a lot of great artists on our label, but he’s just a different kind of artist in certain ways. I like his uniqueness and artistry, but yes, it’s been a long road.”






Thursday, December 11, 2014

2015 GRAMMY NOMINATIONS



When eligibility is cut off at the end of September, nominations are announced in early December, and the ceremony doesn’t happen until February it’s destined to get weird with grammy nods.  The biggest omission overall in R&B was the virtual shut-out of Trey Songz, whose despite huge airplay singles like “Na Na” and “Touchin Lovin” feat Nicki Minaj and a world tour slated with multiple-nominee Chris Brown, has zero respect among Grammy voters.  But the biggest surprise in nominations was Beyoncé, who despite officially becoming the most Grammy-nominated woman of all time was only nominated in the urban categories, and left out of  Song and Record of the Year.

Best R&B Song: is led by the trinity of Beyoncé, Usher, and Chris Brown—all three have nominations in the R&B Performance category as well—along with newcomer Jhene Aiko with “The Worst,” and the breakup ballad  “Options” from Luke James, a long shot to win, but arguably the most lyrically powerful record of this entire category.

Urban Contemporary Album: Beyoncé, Chris Brown, and Pharrell are no-brainer choices here, but with Usher pushing back his album until 2015 thus taking himself out of contention, the Grammy committee had to come up with something to fill the void, where they can always ben counted on for one WTF nomination.  This year’s went to Fresno native Mali Music— an album that follows a real trend emerging in mainstream R&B – music straddling the line of Gospel.  It’s apparent in hip hop as well, most notably with the sales debut for Christian rapper Lecrae who came in at #1 on the rap album chart earlier this year with “Anomaly.”

Best R&B Performance: has all the appropriate heavy hitters, Beyoncé, Chris Brown and Usher, but joined by two very big voices in the performance category:  Jennifer Hudson for “It’s Your World,” and Ledisi for “Like This”—  before saying “Who’s That?” just know that Ledesi has been nominated for Grammy Awards nine times.

Best Rap Sung Collaboration: is probably the most fucked up category in the ranks, Kanye’s only other nomination this year and Common’s best chance at a Grammy. However it is a bit of a mystery why Jeremih/YG “Don't Tell Em” was passed over in this category for I Love Makonnen, since Jeremih not only tied John Legend’s “All Of Me” in number of weeks atop the Urban airplay charts last year he has the biggest and best-known hook of them all (aka the sung part??) with the Snap “Rhythm is a Dancer” interpolation.  Clearly, unfamiliar rapper names must scare the NARAS nominations committee so Jeremih and YG got faded. Also, why was Schoolboy Q nominated for his random collaboration with BJ The Chicago Kid over that ubiquitous smash with Tinashe for “2 On?”  Talk to the hand….

Rap Performance:
NARAS, you get a golden mic chance to redeem yourself from that fateful Macklemore situation in the rap category last year, and honor Kendrick. Co-nominees Childish Gambino, Drake, Eminem, and Lecrae are all worthy but on the basis of performance, this category is a wrap.  None of these nominees including Eminem can hold a candle to Kendrick smashing those bars on the bridge section for “I”.

Rap Song:
“Anaconda,” became a cultural movement about body size, “Bound 2” a most-parodied moment about booty size, “0 to 100” is yet another expression Drake contributed to the millennial slang vernacular, and “I” is the best bars of the year.  So the only stink on this pole is the stony, stupid “We Dem Boyz” by Wiz Khalifa, which needs about three brain cells to absorb.  It doesn’t hold its own in this category at all, a better selection would have been J. Cole’s “Be Free,” a very important and powerful rap song but of course very political since it is a protest record done in response to Michael Brown shootings. So of course the Grammy’s ignored it. They don’t like that message stuff.

Rap Album:
All I will say about this category is if the New Classic wins on the heels of last year’s “Heist” in the Rap Album category, there will be issues.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Pharrell & Cara Take The World


In a new film short directed by supercunty Karl Lagerfeld, current cool kids Cara Delevingne and Pharrell duet and dance quite nicely together. The song "CC The World" was specially written for the project by PW but what's most surprising about this is how well Cara can sing.  "I was so happy, I think I screamed down the phone at him," she said about being chosen for the part.

Although the film comes off as a creepy scene from Sleep No More, it's actual function is to tell the story of the house's founder Gabrielle Chanel, and her inspiration for the jacket synonymous with the brand.  In other words, a tall tale for the 1%.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

BANKS ON IT

After months of begging on social media to “go indie”, Azealia Banks got her way-- then pulled a surprise move by suddenly releasing her long-anticipated debut album Broke With Expensive Taste, last Tuesday.  “If my album was a baby born on November 6, it would be a Scorpio,” she wrote on twitter at the time.  Well we all know what the mantra of a true Scorpio is: MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY.  And that is definitely the mode of operation from this artist overall, which was at the core of her beef with the major label she was on.  Now the visual assault drops, and like the album itself it is aggressively different, challenges you to pay attention, and kinda bangin'.  Don't hate.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

TAYLOR'S DIMENSIONAL SPACE


Taylor Swift continues to redefine the music biz playbook with her album 1989, and today she ramped it up yet another notch by releasing an app in partnership with American Express that smashes all previous digital doings by other music superstars right out of the game. The concept is so genius it represents a notable evolution in the music video from here forward, and is destined to be widely imitated.

By creating a never-before-seen, 360 immersive experience for the “Blank Space” video, fans can use the app to explore different layers of the story by digging for cool hidden extras (curated by Swift herself), swivel their smartphones around to view the opulent settings of each room from floor-to-ceiling, and like the groundbreaking off-Broadway play Sleep No Moreeven follow different characters around the “Blank Space” world.  

Now that’s musical theatre!  

The American Express Unstaged Taylor Swift Blank Space Experience App is available for download now for free in the App Store on iTunes and in the Google PlayStore. Whether or not you are a fan doesn’t matter so much at this point—if you’re in the entertainment industry, this app is now required learning for you to see what is truly the future.


Monday, November 10, 2014

NEW MUSIC TO "LOVE"- CHIEF waKIL


Chief Wakil burst on the scene last November with the release of his incredible debut album littleGiant , which chronicled the struggles and triumphs he endured on the long journey from being a creative behind the scenes to stepping up to the mic himself.   What makes Wakil different from his say, more salty peers who were in similar conundrums like Yeezus, is the commitment to telling his story in an inspiring, uplifting way instead of the angry aggro vibe that inhabits most of rap these days.   This new track "Love", joins the recent effort by Kendrick Lamar ("i") in being a refreshing change in tone for hip hop--- one that focuses on empowerment and positivity.  Five stars!





BLANK SPACE DRAMA FACE


She's long been confessional about her love life in songs but this chick is lampooning herself for all that its worth now, and the results are fantastically hilarious.  Be sure to study the self-deprecating tactics of Taylor Swift as she continues her transition to the pop world, because it is a battle plan of pure genius, kiddos.  "Blank Space," the second single from the already-platinum album 1989, comes with an epic video that illustrates one narrative we already have of Swift from the tabloids: her being the nightmare girlfriend.  It goes without saying that Taylor's "breakdown makeup" will surely get the attention of drag queens worldwide because this is pure crazy goodness right here, lol.  Tay Tay already knows these images are the gift that will keep on giving.  Love. Her.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

YOU OUGHTA KNOW: FKA Twigs


There is something about this girl way beyond who she is currently banging (honey, please) that is so weirdly amazing and authentic. The UK strikes again, people.  FKA Twigs made her US television debut on The Tonight Show performing "Two Weeks" and modern danced her way through the acidy groove with a Daniel Wurtzel sculpture gripped in her right hand = super badass and theatrical, albeit strange.   Her voice was shaking a bit-- you know the poor girl was nervous as fuck-- but she delivered a huge impression, as you'll see-- Jimmy Fallon could barely contain his zeal at the end.  Twigs is artsy and odd but in a way that's so compelling; and her production is just insane. Some people liken her to Bjork, others to Aaliyah. There's no box for this Twig. Like Fallon exclaimed, "Wow! I've never seen anything like that before" ---- she's on some other shit.  


Don't be "Jealous" = REMIX


Timberlake is a daddy now, his lane is soooo wide open. And please believe Nick Jonas wasted no time merging into it, getting soulful R&B newbie Tinashe to join forces with him on the "Jealous" remix, a smart score no doubt. Sounds hot!


LONDON CALLING


Earlier this summer, Mary J. Blige took off to London for 24 days and holed up in a studio with producer Rodney Jerkins along with a who's-who of UK writing/producing superstars including Emeli Sandé, Sam Smith, Jimmy Napes, Ed White, Disclosure, Sam Romans, Naughty Boy and Knox Brown, which manifested in The London Sessions, coming out on Capitol Records this December. This newest release from the forthcoming effort, called "When You're Gone", follows the Disclosure-produced track "Right Now," and the Sam Smith-assisted "Nobody But You," also from the album.

"We wanted to find the greatest pieces of each work, find the magic and make that come out of the song versus just making it polished and overproducing," explained Rodney Jerkins about the actual recording process, which took only 10 days.   "It still needs to be Mary, it needs to be raw, it needs to be emotional versus everything being scripted."

You can definitely hear that influence here (below) and its lovely:

More about The London Sessions here: