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.”






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.