Thursday, March 26, 2015

THIS SUMMER WILL BE "DOPE"

Regular readers of this blog will be well aware of my long infatuation with ASAP Rocky, who isn't only fine as hell but contains a charisma and emotional intelligence (formerly known as the X factor before Simon Cowell fucked that whole expression up by championing years of wackness under the title) that extends waaaaaay beyond the normal channels of Pretty Flacko's genre.  High fashion caught on early so it was only a matter of time before film directors did.   Enter director Rick Famuyiwa and his movie "Dope".  After debuting at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year Sony Pictures won a massive bidding war to have it.  A coming of age comedy/drama movie produced by DiddyPharrell and Forest Whitaker with Rocky in the starring role, "Dope" tells the story of Malcolm, a geek with dreams of attending Harvard but must navigate the toughness and various characters of his Inglewoooooooood, California neighborhood and its assortment of gangsters and drug dealers.  Says IMDB of the film's main theme:  "If Malcolm can persevere, he’ll go from being a geek, to being dope, to ultimately being himself."  

Check out the special extended trailer below.  According to Deadline, this film is already the largest deal made at Sundance this year, and will be in theatres near you June 21st- also known as the first day of summer.  Come to mama, Flacko.




Tuesday, March 24, 2015

ALL THINGS KENDRICK


One of the oldest and most basic canons in our industry is that if you make a great record it will sell. Interscope/Aftermath /TDE artist Kendrick Lamar is the most recent example of brilliantly executing this fundamental music rule.

Despite an abstruse launch a week earlier than expected with a single tweet from Lamar shortly after midnight on Sunday (3/15), then battling through iTunes store glitches that had the new release going on and offline there for hours the following day, nothing could trip up the spectacular word of mouth and full-on social media frenzy about the MUSIC he delivered, that ultimately catapulted To Pimp A Butterfly into the record books.

Streamed more than 9.6m times Monday on Spotify, the album set a new global record for most worldwide streams in a single day by a new release. By day four on the service TPAB had outpaced and eclipsed the former champion, Drake’s monster mixtape “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late,” by clocking in an amazing 24 million plays.

Kendrick has struck such a deep emotional chord because he is delivering a whole experience; a powerful one about being a black man from the hood in our country at this moment in time, while race relations wither under a dark storm of incessant headlines about a reality we hear of daily whether it’s outta control police, racist fraternities or insane gun violence—it’s just hell from Compton to Congress. And perhaps there is a nod to Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird here, because this tells a compelling tale about walking around in someone else’s skin—black skin. Through sharply constructed bars you are required to view the world through his lens and whoa, seriously feel him— the rage, confusion, adversity, tragedy, responsibility, guilt, dogma and fear.  Lamar’s self-admonishing song “u” moved me to tears and “How Much A Dollar Cost,” which tells the story about refusing a homeless person who turns out to be God, had me and no doubt millions of others listening in a stunned silence of reflection.

Ever been to a movie that struck you so hard you leave the theatre quiet as fuck while you try to process what you just saw? That’s what listening to this incredible album is like.

Lamar is equally poignant musically, layering his intense verses with a jazz and funk fusion filtered through collaborations with an eclectic group from Flying Lotus to Pharrell and is so future-forward it’s on par with what OutKast achieved when they dropped their debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik – a record so ahead of its time the mainstream white hip-hop fans didn’t get it.  That album was packed with the sounds of another life, intelligent observations about being black in Atlanta as the ATLiens Andre 3000 and Big Boi were feeling like back in the day.

What makes the timing of TPAB even more remarkable is that Kendrick has delivered a work of pure art at the height of his fame, rather than at the start.  By pushing every emotional button possible, he’s pushing the entire genre ahead in both content and character. No doubt there were plenty of artists who went right back into the lab after hearing this, so help me god.  It’s a real conversation, and one that’s desperately needed.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

EMPIRE'S DROP THE MIC SEASON FINALE



Fox’s unstoppable Empire continued its reign all the way through the insanely satisfyingly season finale last night, concluding an incredible 10 straight weeks of ratings growth to end as the highest-rated finale of a new series in ten years, drawing a massive 16.7 million in audience. Up 79% in the demo from premiere to finale, at this point, the only program on television that’s bigger is AMC’s The Walking Dead.  The Twentieth Century Fox/Columbia ST remains #2 at iTunes.

Empire’s social media influence is equally huge, generating 2.4 million (mostly hilarious) tweets as loyal viewers fell the F out over the unrelenting levels of drama served up by the fictional Lyon Family.  According to NielsenEmpire has already surpassed current champion The Walking Dead for the most tweets per episode of any series on television, no doubt fueled by the Empire “gif” boom which is an online chorus of pure comedy. But c’mon, with scenes like Cookie and Anika’s kick ass girl fight and Lucious’ ending promise of “Game time, bitches,” this show is truly the Gif that keeps on giving.

Meanwhile, the Season 1 Soundtrack debuted at #2 on the charts, moving 110K in sales this week. Although the program has yet to launch a real hit single, co-star Jussie Smollett, who plays music prodigy and new Empire successor Jamal, is clearly poised to become a breakout solo superstar in his own right. His debut album on Columbia--which signed him as an artist just two weeks ago, as well as co-star Bryshere Gray--is due later this year. Smollett had the most-streamed song of the season with "Good Enough," which was listened to 4.2 million times. 

The show has however, become a major promotional vehicle for recording artists and a heavy load of them rolled through in Season 1 including Mary J. BligeJennifer HudsonGladys KnightPatti LabelleJuicy J, Anthony Hamilton, Estelle and Rita Ora plus both newcomer Charles Hamilton and hip-hop legend Snoop Dogg performed their new singles on the finale. 

If the finale was any indication, Season 2 is gonna be OFF THE CHAIN!!!!




Monday, March 16, 2015

YOU OUGHTA KNOW: CHARLES HAMILTON

The long-tail process of genuine artist development has become more difficult than ever in the modern music business; labels can't always be the incubators they long were. However, new-era management companies—the smart ones anyway—have evolved during this same period to become a driving force of artist cultivation. This could certainly be said of Turn First CEO Sarah Stennett , whose careful rehabilitation and reinvention of Charles Hamilton is destined to be one for the history books.



The story begins in 2008, when the piano-playing rapper/songwriter was scouted to Interscope Records by Jimmy Iovine himself, made the cover of XXL mag’s annual Freshman issue--typically an indicator of impending mainstream success--and recorded with the legend Eminem. The blogosphere was in a rapture over Hamilton's mixtapes; a strange new star was born, with compositions that were potently different
The realness "behind the music." however, was much more drama. Hamilton had long been dealing with undiagnosed bipolar disorder; he finally snapped under the weight of all that accompanied his newfound fame. Everything collapsed. By 2010 Hamilton was living in an abandoned warehouse and threatening to jump off Macomb’s Dam Bridge in Harlem. His mother institutionalized him against his will. 
In 2012, a phenomenal five-hour comeback show at S.O.B.’s in NYC led to his introduction to Stennett, whose immediate focus wasn’t on demos or brand development but proper medical diagnosis, a stringent medication schedule, and network support. The goal was to help Hamilton heal before making any new career moves. This careful regimen worked; he began to hit his stride again creatively.
The setup began in early 2014, when Stennet arranged for Hamilton to play his first single, “NY Raining,” at the iHeartRadio New Music Summit, which culminated in an amazing performance at the Sayers Club. A derby ensued, with Republic inking the resurrected star.

This Wednesday night, Hamilton will command one of the most coveted spots possible for a new artist: a guest performance on the season finale of the hottest show in years, Fox's pop culture and ratings phenom Empire. Worked into the storyline by producers as a hot new label talent, Hamilton will be performing “NY Raining” with Turn First stablemate Rita Ora, who kills it on the hook. It's worth noting that Hamilton's personal odyssey is echoed on the series, on which a key character is struggling with bipolar disorder.




On 3/7, Hamilton dropped another fabulous music snippet, "Correct," to set up his impending album. The Original Soundtrack for Season 1 of Empire (Turn First/Twentieth Century Fox/Columbia) hits retail last week, with first-week sales around 100k; the album (which is Top 10 at iTunes) includes "NY Raining." Hamilton's own Republic solo debut, produced by the Invisible Men, is due later this year.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

On Vince Pellegrino- RIP.



What can I say about Vince Pellegrino. Like so many in the music business I first bonded with him over three things we shared: #1 we both started out as Club DJs, and were loyal to the DJ/mixshow movement and the dance music genre it manifested #2, we had a mutual fight-to-the-death love of new music, and #3 hello, we are both Italian-American.  Vince was SO PASSIONATE,  roaring over the phone at you about a song,  a situation, or even having a different opinion from him, LOL. He was going to make you see his way on things, no matter what.  This was his basic nature; ball-busting and brusk, but widely loved and respected for it because it was rooted in a genuine love for what he did.  Even at my busiest moments during the 10+ years that I was in radio and especially when I became a major-market Program Director, a job that damn near killed me,  I made time to speak with him.  I loved his energy, his enthusiasm, and came to truly count on his advice and direction in navigating the political side of the business that I had no experience-- and being a woman sadly, no upper hand in dealing with at the time. He fought for me, was an incredible ally to myself, my staff, and championed both radio stations I programmed for many, many years. Those are the special things I remember about Vince, and I remember them fondly.  I figured he would be my friend for life and considered him an Italian paisan-- damn near family. Above all, I had an infinite amount of trust in him.

Joe Riccitelli, myself, Lori Rischer, Frankie Blue and Vince Pellegrino sometime in the mid-90's. 

Then I was fired from my position as Program Director in 1998. Shortly thereafter Vince, like most other music business people, completely disappeared from my life.  I was no longer in a position to help him I guess, and the friendship quite obviously wasn't genuine.  It was business. Complicating things even further, my next job wasn't in radio but at HITS Magazine where the considerable veil of secrecy was lifted and for the first time, I learned the "behind the music"--- how the business actually operated on the backside with independent promotion.  I never took a DIME for an add my entire career. My radio mentors taught me that taking money for airplay would diminish your credibility in the business and they are right- I don't regret that for a second, even though we were a spectacular minority. But what I didn't know was that there was a whole cottage industry around those types, and folks profited handsomely off the access to certain decision-makers.  Vince it turns out, was one of those people. That era was an awakening for me beyond reproach because I was put into position at such a crazy young age (16) I grew up with industry contacts as friends and actually believed these relationships to be real.  Naive yes, but consider your own mindset when you were still a kid in high school.   Once I was kicked to the curb by FM radio, the abandonment was immediate and widespread.  That harsh lesson and reality changed me forever as a person, altered me to my core. I never got over it. I'm Sicilian, I don't forget a fucking thing, the good AND the bad.

We bumped into each other throughout the years of course, the business is too small not to. Every time I saw Vince a ping of hurt and sadness hit my heart. We were two peas in a pod, two prideful fucking Italians, which is probably why we never talked it out completely. But something I am profoundly grateful for was bumping into him at an event for Jennifer Lopez in the fall of 2014 after being out of the business myself for two years and not seeing him for over ten.  I don't need to share the conversation here but was at least able to tell him thank you, for his mentorship and knowledge-- something that would have haunted me today if I never got that chance. And of course there is forgiveness too.  Life goes on.

Or does it.

I understand how everyone in our business is feeling today: a sense of profound loss because a raging flame of awesome has gone out in the world, someone unforgettable, without equal. If you knew Vince you understood that you won't ever experience anyone remotely like this crazy fucker again. He was Special. Powerful. Unique.

So it is with complicated emotions that I say goodbye to a mentor, and for a time also a protector and friend, Vince Pellegrino.  Rest In Peace, big homie.  You changed the world.


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.”