Wednesday, June 30, 2010
If you didn't catch the BET Awards, u missed Chris Brown's snot bubbles and Kanye's return to the stage. Wearing a 300,000 dollar Horus Chain and Four Finger Ring combo, Ye did Power justice on top of a Mountain. *cue heavyhanded symbolism*
Saturday, June 26, 2010
I know, lame title. And I know I'm super late, but I couldn't really find words to write a sufficient post until now. I knew today would be overwhelming, with all the MJ specials, and I haven't watched any of them. Not because I don't love MJ, but in a weird way I'm growing tired of the fact that he is just getting his tribute now. I don't like the fact that the world chastised, abused, and teased him in his later years, after he stopped making music, and perceived him more as a monster than a generous, loving artist.
The title of this post is named after my favorite MJ song. And it's amazing how I remember the time and place of the first time I cried seeing the "Thriller" video, when I saw An American Dream, and when TMZ and CNN confirmed and announced his death. He is the only "celebrity" that that will ever happen to, because I'm very positive it's not me.
Anyway, this post isn't necessarily about my favorite MJ song but more about the artist. There's definitely something special about Michael if I can recall the time, place, and what I was doing. Like DubJ, my household was raised to love Michael and to block out the negative media frenzy revolved around him. If there's one thing I couldn't understand about this world, is the way they could take so much from a person and never say thank you. Michael gave so much to this world with his music, talent, and life, and often times I felt like the world abused what he gave; tried turning him into a monster. And honestly, that's what hurt most to me about his death, that he left this Earth without receiving as much as he gave.
But you can't always get closure from this world. Sometimes you just have to move on.
Every night, for one month, MJ would be in my dreams, and every morning, the sun would remind me that he is no longer on this Earth. That's crazy for someone I had never met before. I woke up every morning, for one month, feeling as if something was missing. Broken-hearted, that's what they call it. That's how you know Michael is significant, he is the representation of living in truth and love through his craft.
If you enter this world knowing you are loved, and you leave this world knowing the same, then everything that happens in between can be dealt with.
Somebody please take mercy, because I just can't take it...
A year ago today, I was working abroad in South Korea, having quite possibly the worst time of my life. I was homesick, I was heartsick and my job was so stressful that I was literally days away from being hospitalized. I woke up a year ago feeling as if my world were going to cave in, as if everything I knew was going to be suddenly upended. I ignored the feeling, because, well, every day that I had to go to work meant that in some way or another, a little piece of myself was going to die. However, when the first words you hear in the morning as you walk into a job you hate are "Michael Jackson's dead", more than a little piece of you dies inside. I actually started a huge (read as: loud, angry and belligerent) argument with the offending coworker out of sheer disbelief, until he told me to look at all the news online, at which point, I screamed, burst into tears and felt as if someone had come along and carved out my heart.
Throughout my life, Michael's music has been a balm to my soul. Since I was a child, MJ's music has played a key role in my life. It was his music that lulled me to sleep as an infant, his music that accompanied me to my first day of school, through my first crush, my first heartbreak, and every experience in between. My parents introduced me to him at infancy, and up until I was about seven, I didn't really realize that there were other genres of music besides Michael, Oldies and "White People Music" (I was seven, cut me some slack). However, despite all of his singles, hits and albums, one song always stood out to me the most.
When I was eight, HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I came out, and the lead single from that album was "Scream". I was a precocious eight year old and understood that Michael was very angry at the news, and it didn't take a genius to figure out why. Although my parents had done a bang-up job of molding my musical tastes, they didn't do quite as good a job at sheltering me from the news. I had heard all of the stories about the crazy things that Michael had done: all that plastic surgery (which scared the bejeezus out of me), adopting a monkey (which I secretly thought was awesome --and still do), offering to buy the Elephant Man's bones (which I didn't believe because I didn't think he'd be that weird. I was right.), and worst of all, abusing children. As a child, I routinely overheard conversations about whether or not he'd done it, and I found myself so angry at those who accused him without ever really trying to hear his side of the story. I thought it unfair that no one listened to him and instead just made things up.
At 8, I thought I understood the rage that Michael felt when accused of things that he didn't do.
At 22, I have a much better picture.
Listening to the raw emotion on "Scream" as he snarls his way through, supported by his baby sister, my heart twists in agony. This is a man who has been pushed to his limits. This is a wounded soul and not so coincidentally, this is the same period of time when Michael began his abuse of prescription drugs to quell the roar of the tabloid mill as it churned out more lies and scandal bearing his name. This song represents the downward spiral that led to that fateful day last year, and the anger and sadness and bitterness and frustration ringing through the lyrics reaches me to the bottom of my own soul, reaches out to the hurt little girl I once was, dealing with a whole lot of issues that a child should never have to face.
I listen to this song when I'm sad. I listen to it when I'm angry. I listen to it when I'm facing an obstacle, be it a person, thing, or merely my own doubts and fears. Knowing that someone is there, was there, that knows the sort of feelings I'm feeling makes me feel less alone. What makes the song even more outstanding is the appearance by Janet, whose presence, although she is outshone by Michael six ways to Sunday, adds to the feeling of "You're not alone. I've got you." in the face of all detractors, antagonists, and straight up malicious folks.
"Scream" isn't just a song about the media. It's a song about coping with life. We all feel pressured by external (and sometimes internal) forces. And sometimes, the feeling that "this just isn't right" is so powerful that it makes you want to scream.
I screamed that day last year, because to me, the ultimate injustice was that this man, this legend, was taken from us all too soon.
Friday, June 25, 2010
A three-year old drifts off to sleep in her mother's bed, watching moonlight seep in through a rift in the curtains. A wooden face-plated clock radio with lavender backlighting and fading yellow digits traipses onward…10:01…10:02…Though it's barely a whisper, the radio's heart is beating. Undertones climb up the bottom register before they fall back down to try all over again; fighting to break free of some unseen restraint. Then a man cries "why" into the darkness…into the baby's dreams.
Reaching out, I touch her shoulder; I'm dreaming of the street.
I didn't know what that song was until I was 14 years old. Driving in the car one night with my mother, I asked her, singing the haunting rift that had stuck in my mind all those years. She gave me the name of the song and though I was ecstatic that it was a Michael Jackson tune, I obstinately told her she was probably wrong. I don't remember anything about "human nature." And what a lame name for such a great song. When we got home, I reluctantly pulled out our Thriller LP and looked at the track listing. There it was. Side two: track three. I instantly fell in love again and promised to never let it's identity slip from my memory.
Even at 14, I didn't understand why that song still shook me to the core 11 years later. Lying on the floor of my living room, I slurred over the verses, barely catching the ending rhymes "begins to beat…dreaming of the street." I didn't really care what he was saying either. I was just so happy to be reunited. Nostalgia evocatively washed over me. I cried.
To attempt to discern its meaning, I'd turn to Human Nature like an odd puzzle piece. If my mother yelled at me, I'd play it. If a fickle teenage romance soured, I'd turn it on. Abstruse teen angst? iTunes. This really didn't help my quest. The song always soothed me. Now, 7 years later, I get it. They have been 7 tumultuous years, but at least I get it.
The funny thing is, the song itself really doesn't give a good explanation of what human nature is. Imagine you're Michael Jackson's girlfriend (or if that's too much, someone else you really love). Here you are being faithful, loving him completely, and he just won't love you back the way you think you ought to be loved. You have no idea WHY he is doing this to you. You beat yourself up at night trying to find answers. You press him for answers and seem to push him further away. You can't understand why when the daytime comes he's distant, because every night you fall asleep in his arms and the world seems right to you. Finally, the time comes when things are in shambles and there's nothing to hold onto anymore. You ask "why?" And he shrugs and says regretfully "it's human nature. I like living this way." Michael just hit you with the beloved platitude "it's not you, it's me."
But Human Nature is so much more than a man married to a dream that doesn't happen to include the woman he's currently with. The man singing the song is also searching for the answers to the questions he's being asked. For anyone who's ever looked at Michael Jackson and not fully understood him (which is about 99.99% of the population) I think he explained himself in this "ballad" quite plainly. "Let me answer your question with another question," he proposes, "why do any of us do what we do to begin with?" *kanyeshrug* Some outside force is pulling him away from his current station, and to answer this call will unintentionally devastate the people who depend on him. We all constantly hurt one another, without meaning to, in pursuit of seemingly selfish dreams.
I don't think that's too complicated to understand. So why is Human Nature able to elegiacally transcend it's simple message? The music. That Sisyphean synthesized bass that either resets itself or tumbles further down the register only to regroup itself and come back; that pervasive organ-synth motif that maintains its rhythm no matter which key it transforms into; the steady tick of the percussive instruments; the simple melody of the verses merely attempting to break free at the end of the musical phrase; all these elements are as repressive as the four walls that Michael yearns to be rid of. And then he does it--sort of. His voice soars over and above, not daring to look back. The midrange guitar flies with him, albeit at a lower altitude, catching high notes on the breeze of Michael's feather-weight timbre. Up and down they race, the sheer will of his tenor piercing sonic space in a direction that had been restricted before. It seems his voice has flown around the world and back in search of an answer to the question, but the notes bring him back down to reality every time, empty handed.
And it's because the music has exactly the right tension that Human Nature was able to console me through any hardship. It's for anyone that is constantly restless, or living a lifestyle that seems innate but unfulfilling…anytime you know you have to let someone down in order to satisfy a hunger, or if you've ever had to break away from the established norm to feel comfortable with yourself…and of course if you've been on the receiving end of any of these situations. Human Nature (the song and ideology) is a lesson about incomplete moral reciprocity. And reciprocity is the basis for all human interaction.
So am I digging a little too deep here for meaning that isn't there? Maybe, but I don't think so. You don't give a song a 'dumb' title like "Human Nature" unless you actually think you can capture the essence of human nature in 4 minutes. And if there's anyone who could've done it, it was Michael Jackson. A year has passed and I still don't think I've begun to cope with what the world lost 365 days ago. But at least we can share these kinds of stories with each other.
"Even the sun goes down. Heroes eventually die. Horoscopes often lie. And sometimes "y". Nothin' is for sure. Nothin' is for certain. Nothin' lasts forever…" -Andre Benjamin
When I first heard "Stranger in Moscow", on my aunt's copy of HIStory, I was too young too understand what Michael Jackson was singing about in this song. He had been thoroughly vilified by a press that lost all sense of objectivity, and yet my family had been able to shelter my sister and myself from the accusations and media slander. Jackson had been a hero to us more than we could even understand, and I must thank my mother, for had she let us understand what the world was trying to do to this man, we would've quicker lost an innocence that was already suffering blows from the world around us. Had I been exceptionally perceptive those 13 years ago, I wouldn't have let myself be hypnotized so completely by the echoing percussion that begins the song, lulled into the beauty without understanding the reason why it was beautiful. My body and subconscious felt the cold, but my mind could't fully grasp it. Clearly the song was sad, but what was all this KGB, Stalin imagery?
Years later I come back to the song, more critically and with more experience. I know that cold feeling very well. The darkness that comes with a rainy day as I sit at the window, forehead pressed to the cold glass. Tears fall down my face. When a song attempts to remind a listener of a feeling and succeeds, it can change lives. Michael's made music so successful at doing exactly that, but this song is different. It doesn't attempt to sound like rain. Or attempt to sound like loneliness. Stranger in Moscow simply is both of these things. How can I connect with the planet? The billions walking the earth right now, when its hard for me to connect with even one person? Whereas in my adolescence I'd built an emotional wall around myself, Michael had to exist as a prisoner, a spirit surrounded by a fortress. When he made this song, and for the majority of the years of his life, there was no way he could have hoped to connect with people personally. I felt him as a teenager coming to terms with myself. I understood.
As a young man now, I hear the song and the metaphors are not lost on me. Everyone wanted a piece of this man. Yet no one tried to put themselves in his shoes. Take my name and just let me be. The media seemed determined to break him, and he was willing to let his name, the brightest among posters, be defiled if he could just have some peace of mind. Lord have mercy, because clearly no one else did.
I hear this song and my mind conjures the image of his statue on the HIStory album cover. A modern day Ozymandias. I read Shelley's poem, I hear Jackson's song, and the conversation between them saddens me. Jackson describes the process of deterioration for the listener, the erosion of one's spirit by outside forces that leaves a shattered visage on the ground. Michael was not faultless - the size of he ego is hard to describe - yet the way in which he used his iconic status makes his ultimate fate different than that of the Ozymandias in Shelley's poem. People look at Ozymandias and are reminded that pride is foolish in the face of time. The lone and level sands stretch far away from that colossal wreck. Michael's love, however, will remain intact in the hearts and minds of anyone who hears his music, now and generations from now.
The song moves me to tears. He screams at the end. Of danger. Of loneliness. It was frightening before his death, but now that he is no longer here, the warning is twice as dire. I hear it and I am motivated to make the most of my connections with people, to tear down the bricks in the wall around me. For that inspiration, that exposure to the extremes of desolation, I have to thank you Michael. Your work will of course live on, but if people really want to understand your spirit, they must look upon this opus and despair. And then love.
I hope you look down and feel us moving closer toward love as a people, even in these trying times. Even as things fall apart around us, you remain.
Monday, June 21, 2010
Shouts To Brandon Bell. Even though I'm not a Lakers fan and I hated the outcome of this years finals, I can respect when someone makes a dope song. An Ron Artest did exactly that. Peep Champion. What a pleasant surprise.
Diddy's summer banger from Last Train to Paris gets a facelift as Nicki Minaj talks about killing the Queen (Bee?). Shots fired. Either way she kills this ish.
Me and Pitchfork , one of the most respected Indie music review websites for a while now, are not seeing eye to eye. Last week, they gave Drake’s new album an 8.4/10, .2 points higher than Kanye West’s College Dropout, and now they’ve given Eminem’s new album Recovery a 2.8, completely disrespecting the grand return of one of the best lyrical technician’s to grace a mic. They took off points off for corny metaphors ("Girl, shake that ass like a donkey with Parkinson's") and bad chemistry with the production. There’s only one Dre track here, and the rest of the beats are handled by DJ Khalil, Denaun, Boi-1da and others.
I gotta beg to differ. Yeah, the album has its fair share of corny metaphors, but since when has an Em album not had goofy moment or two. What makes up for those moments is Em’s flow and ability to attack each track, and both of those skills are more than intact on Recovery. From the opener “Cold Wind Blows” Em sounds as hungry as he’s been in years, and he overpowers each beat with internal rhymes, lines jam packed with syllables, and his normal delivery (no more of that whiny voice from Relapse, Thank God). In fact, he’s so honest here that he admits on more than one occasion that Relapse and Encore were wack, he finally spits sincere about his problems with drug addiction and the sadness he felt over Proof’s death.
There are a few missteps here, namely “Space Bound”, which highlights Em’s lack of ability to speak to women on record without resorting to misogyny and violence, and “W.T.P.” or white trash party, which really needs no explanation for its stupidity. These are more than made up for when he uses his history with Kim to pull off an amazing twist ending on “25 to Life”, bodies anything that moves on “On Fire”, and tag teams with hypeman Lil Wayne on No Love, which has Just Blaze sampling the old Night At The Roxbury meme “What is Love” by Haddaway (its like Just Blaze is purposefully picking the cheesiest things to sample just to show that he can flip them and make them dope.)
At the end of the day, this is his best album since The Eminem Show. His decision to drop the the Freddy Kreuger channeling and just rap has made this album a definite heater, and more than erases Relapse from my memory. Maybe time will soften some of the critics reception to this album, but as far as I’m concerned this album gets 4/5 spins. And to Pitchfork, get your minds right homies.
Friday, June 18, 2010
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Thank Me Later was... *pause for dramatic effect* .... amazing, a solid debut effort from Drake. I hate to play devil's advocate but I'm reading these reviews (including HHAL's very own A. Dre, love this girl!, and I feel like I'm in the twilight zone. Is everyone going crazy?!!!
Hip Hop fans are thirsty. They're ready for a new king to take his or her (yes, her, its possible no matter how minute the possibility) throne, to come up and represent progress. Drake's mixtapes led hip hop fans to believe Drake was that ice cold Gatorade on a hot summer day, but our thirsts weren't exactly quenched after hearing Thank Me Later. Does that mean it was anything from amazing? NO. Does it mean the hip hop game is dry? YES
Drake was supposed to be a savior of sorts and I believe that this is the reason why fans are so hard on him. We've been listening to his MIXTAPE tracks on HEAVY rotation for over year. Back then, he was something new, refreshing. We expected his album to be a revolution. and it wasn't. BUT, we seem to forget that this is Drake's FIRST album. What did the hell did yall expect? He put out a REALLY good album maaan. Did he take risks? He sure didn't, but I wouldn't either. Was it different from So Far Gone? Not really. Was it get good? Absolutely.
This album had amazing production ranging from Timbaland, Kanye, Boi1da, Swizz Beatz and many many others. Stylistically, it sounded perfect. His lyrics were smooth, well delivered, including those oh so lovely punch lines "Just like you said I avoided the Coke game and went with Sprite instead" who doesn't love that?! lol, and of course banging featured artists to complement. I really don't know what people are looking for, but if you're look for a really good album in 2010, that you can pretty much listen to all the way through, this is it.
Now to address some of the main points made by the opposition (yes hip hop politics ladies and gentlemen):
1. The Mixtapes were better: I agree. Does that make Thank Me Later bad? NO. I played the CD the whole way through one time and was not surprised, but impressed.
2. He can't sing: He actually can, heard him live in concert. Do I think he could have toned it down a little? Perhaps. But he can try different things in his SOPHOMORE effort. He put out records we would like, and I did.
3. Production was much better than the actual rhymes: We will argue to the death about this so lets suppose I agree. The beats were crazy and Drake's flow wasn't outstanding. However, I can't see anybody else rapping on these beats. Everyone seems to compare him to this new wave of rappers J. Cole, Cudi, Wale, B.o.B, Khalifa but I don't think they're judged the same. People raved about Khalifa's Kush & OJ and it was wack (sorry). If we were to criticize Khalifa, the same way Drake is being judged right now then that mixtape wouldn't have even achieved mediocre success.
4. All he talks about is fame and girls: Perhaps. He spoke about what he knew, what was comfortable and I applaud him for not trying to be something he's not. Remember people this is his FIRST album.
But enough of that, on to the actual album. I liked 12/14 songs Karaoke and Find Your Love being my least favorites. Unforgettable (dig the Aaliyah sample), Fancy, Light Up, Over, Shut It Down and Miss Me being my favorites.
I think as a hip hop community, we need to realize that in actuality we're mad at the hip hop game, not at Drake. We're mad at the lack of talent out at the moment. We're mad we can't have B.I.G or Tupac back. We're mad this lightskin pretty boy from the suburbs of TORONTO is representing the AMERICAN hip hop game. He's not even one of our own. But at the same time, we're mad he wasn't hip hop's savior. Should we crucify him though? NO. Thank Me Later was a GREAT album. We're harder on Drake because we recognize that he is in fact good, he represents so much more than we would like to give him credit for. Personally, I believe in him. I really think he'll be one of the greats by the END of his career because of his work ethic. He won't quit. Is he BIG or Tupac? Naah. Should we compare him to Jay-Z or Nas? Not yet. He has lot of time to grow, to get better. If I remember correctly, Wayne did. Let's see if Drake follows in his mentor's footsteps.
Pronounced Rev of Ev, as in Revolution of Evolution. Supposedly this is the first single from Man on the Moon: The Legend of Mr. Rager. Produced by Plain Pat with the awesome and familiar strings from Larry Gold. This in combination with "All Talk" has me hella hyped for the album
Kid Cudi - REVOFEV
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
If you hang out around people who like good music, you've probably been hearing that Drake's new album sucks…wait…let me start again.
Today, Aubrey Graham (a.k.a. Drizzy Drake, b.k.a. Jimmy Brooks) released his debut EP entitled Thank Me Later *side-eye*. Surely you've heard the album's ubiquitous singles "Over," "Miss Me," and "Find Your Love" by now. Featuring collabs from most of hip-hop's A-List (Jay-Z, Lil' Wayne, Nicki Minaj, and T.I. among others), the album boasts 14 beautifully produced tracks, and if you're happy about the hip-hop that has sprouted in the wake of Kanye's 808s, then you will probably enjoy all 14 of them.
Early complaints about the album seemed to center around whether Drake knew he wasn't a singer (he isn't -- as he demonstrated on, the perhaps self-deprecatingly titled, "Karaoke"). Yet, I don't think that's this albums biggest issue. As I mentioned before, the album contains 14 beautiful tracks and the biggest let down comes when Drake opens his mouth to rap. I enjoyed So Far Gone. It was (somewhat) different when it came out. What Drake has demonstrated in Thank Me Later is that he really isn't comfortable outside his comfort zone and chooses to sing where others choose to switch up their flows. I think the potential is there; I enjoyed the energy in his verses on the Kanye produced "Show Me A Good Time" but he resumes his lethargic pace soon after.
Content-wise, don't expect anything outside of the bromides of So Far Gone "ahh, I'm famous; I get all these girls, but not the ones I want; I have all this money; fame is so empty." That's fine. Not many rappers in the game are gifted with the breadth and depth of good conversation. But what-would-be energetic tracks are hampered by Drake's listless flow. You could've probably called it languor in So Far Gone, but now it's just boring. I found myself wishing that Drake would stick to making cameos and hooks, but giving the tracks to other artists. I think Lupe, J. Cole, or B.o.B could've done most of these tracks more justice.
Overall, I guess it works as an album. Drake won't lose any fans from his freshman effort. If you like what he did in his last mixtape, he certainly delivered it again (about 14 times over), but frankly I don't think he lived up to the hype. Then he has the nerve (after calling it Thank Me Later) to demand that we pay homage and Thank [him] Now on the last track…yeah…about that.
But in the words of LeVar Burton, don't take my word for it.
Monday, June 14, 2010
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Ms. Monae rocks the tightrope beat out a lil bit, but gets Lupe and B.o.B. to add some balance.