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HOV Song Cry

19 Jul

 

4:44 Album Review

Several years back Jay-Z appeared on The Howard Stern Show, putting himself in the hot seat deflecting barbs and personal jabs hurled his way by the self proclaimed “King of All Media” and the shock jock’s morning drive posse. Mister Roc-A-Fella; the founder of Roc Nation, Rocawear clothing empresario and the president of Def Jam at the time! A hip-hop icon in the game for almost two decades strong, he seemed put off by a number of questions and was reluctant to respond to other off color remarks and was just sounding super uncomfortable. At a certain point I said to myself why was this “Business, Man” subjecting himself to this?

Cry Jay Z, we know the pain is real
But you can’t heal what you never reveal
What’s up, Jay Z? You know you owe the truth
To all the youth that fell in love with Jay Z
You got people you love you sold drugs to
You got high on the life, that shit drugged you
You walkin’ around like you invincible

4:44 is Jigga’s Tony Soprano moment (we are privy to that inner monologue on nearly every verse he delivers) where Young Hov was always the Michael Corleone in the rhyme game. On 10 tracks amounting to about thirty-six minutes in length he confesses (literally snitching on himself), purges his demons and claps back on rumors in a way that is both refreshing and perplexing that one would never ever expect in the early …The Life And Times Of S. Carter days. Solange had him on TMZ with the elevator beat down she administered to brother-in-law Hov on a loop and wifey Beyonce put him on blast with the release of Lemonade. Shawn Carter Tracy Jordaned himself (the 30 Rock reference so fitting in this case) on both 4:44 and Family Feud, sans his hardrock persona on both tracks, he not only admits to his infidelity and indiscretions but owns up by apologizing. Jigga what?

The same way I never thought the kat who gave us Golddigger would wife a Kardashian, never did I think that I would hear words like that from Jay, let alone on wax. I find it interesting how people are running with how candid President Carter is, especially the Beyhive who can’t come to grips with the fact that anyone could wrong their girl. How you gonna cheat on the baddest chick in the game? C’mon, Eric Benet did step out on Halle Berry! The entire point of the going Eric Benet line. Nuff said. I believe this is the first collection of tracks by Hova that has one producer manning the board and it results in a solid concept record, not a collection of singles from the usual for hire hitmen. The No ID thing is funny how he co-oped Kanye’s mentor on a project where Ye’s “big brother” openly comes at the troubled recording artist. Chi-town’s own blessed this project with a gospel tinged soundscape to accompany the rhetoric and pearls of wisdom offered as Jiggaman goes in on the music industry, mumble rappers, prodigee West, haters and Stans alike. Marcy Me and Kill Jay-Z catch your ear on first listen, both songs lyrically sound, bars to rival anything from J Cole, Kendrick or the old Kanye we’ve all been missing. The standout track on the  4:44 album without a doubt is The Story Of OJ. The commentary on society and race is spot on.

Light nigga, dark nigga, faux nigga, real nigga
Rich nigga, poor nigga, house nigga, field nigga
Still nigga, still nigga

OJ Like I’m not black I’m OJ… okay.

I guess this is the kind of music you put out when in your late 40’s you’re no longer “dumbing it down” for your audience. But what makes this song an instant classic from a recording artist recently inducted into the songwriters hall of fame is the accompanying music video. That said, I don’t think anyone under the age of forty can appreciate what the imagery in the animated clip co directed by the MC and visionary director Mark Romanek represents and why it’s so mind blowing that he choose to go there. The psychological damage that Disney, WB studios and the rest of the companies of that era who proliferated those racial stereotypes to the general public can never be measured.

The QT effect one example chronicled in the accompanying video is disturbing.

 

The most unexpected cut is Smile which features mama Carter who is outed by her son on the track that speaks on her sexual preference. I can honestly say there’s nothing on this album for no young heads. This is mature hip-hop; perhaps taking  a cue from Nas’ superb 2012 release Life Is Good. The  legendary Queensbridge rapper also enlisted No ID and Salaam Remi when he chose to speak on his high profile divorce from wife Kelis at the time.  Maybe Shawn should have gotten there ten years ago but even he admits in some lyrics that his wife matured faster. The lone banger Bam with the assist from Damian Marley is as close to a single as you’re gonna get. And thank god Jay-Z didn’t stoop to the Drake fake Jamaican patois on the dancehall flavored joint.

4:44 is one of the best releases of 2017, definitely one of the best for everyone’s GOAT who is not Biggie, who hasn’t really delivered in a minute if we’re being honest. Jay is the Floyd Mayweather of the rap game; he’s got nothing to prove and he’s paid. Since returning from a second retirement, this 13th solo studio release is regarded as his magnum opus and all but secures his legacy. A definite career defining drop the mic moment, he should do that and then walk off stage.

My non subscription to Tidal factored into when I was able to issue this post.

Arthvr Alleyne

Ms. Lauryn Hill Revisited

31 Oct

L Boogie bobcut

It was the summer of 2007, news that year for long-suffering fans of the multi talented  Grammy Award winner Lauryn Hill was that she would be recording and putting out new material. Her debut solo recording The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1998 blew away the critics and added to her growing fan base. That album culminating her rise to mega-stardom, stepping out on her own after starting out with the hip-hop hit makers and genre breakers The Fugees. The rumors revolving around her personal life and instances of erratic behavior during that period well documented in the tabloids, besides the release of Mtv Unplugged No.2.0;  the two disc set of earnest but uneven material was underwhelming and underperformed on the charts, besides that she’d been absent from the spotlight making babies while being in an on again off again relationship with Rohan Marley for almost a decade.

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Mtv Unplugged No.2.0

The MLK Concert Series presenting Miss Lauryn Hill of course had Brooklynites excited and a possible reunion with Wyclef and Pras in the studio was huge in music circles. That abrupt coming together yielded one single from the Refugee Camp but she was back and out on tour in Europe and longtime fans were excited. Many reports of her antics onstage; being late or just a no-show at dates were widely reported. So I’m sure like me many people wanted to see for themselves which Lauryn Hill would be at the show at Wingate Park on the outskirts of Crown Heights in the borough branded as hip to newbies with the onset of gentrification (I have to editorialize I can’t help myself), an opportunity to see an artist of her caliber right in my own backyard was reason enough for me and besides it was free. I was looking forward to it for two weeks and in the midst of a run of days of sweltering 90 plus weather I set out with a liter of water an hour before showtime and met a line a full Brooklyn block and some that snaked around Wingate high school from the park entrance when I arrived.

 Though the heat was oppressive the crowd was in generally good spirits as we inched our way to the gate. Once inside the grounds it was announced that no more would be admitted because the venue was at capacity. Glad to make it in under the wire and a long way from the stage I tried to get the best vantage point possible. There was a buzz of anticipation but I felt anxious like I always do in a crowd this large. Everyone rushed forward when Sean Kingston the opening act took the stage. Kingston had a hit that summer with Beautiful Girls and gave a spectacular amateur performance like the sixteen year old he was. With the crowd settled in; reclining on portable chairs, reminiscing about their Lauryn moments while having water purchased for a dollar a bottle from savvy vendors working the venue. I could describe the atmosphere as subdued as the sun set and brought some relief to the communal. It was a Brooklyn vibe, in attendance fans of all ages had an anecdote that they held dear, feeling obligated to share what made them come out there that day.

Lauryn Yime MagLauryn Harpers

For me what it is –if I had to sum it up– she set herself apart from the prepackaged overt sex object singers who had the same watered down sound from a handful of producers that says more about the production of the track than the singer’s talent. She stood out in every which way; both her look and the music was honest and had an edge. The mere fact that she had gotten to such lofty heights is a testament to her abilities only because at a glance she doesn’t strike you as that person. Lauryn stood out because she rapped and would sing on the same track so effortlessly, the hybrid of both by one artist unheard of then. She wasn’t just one of the best female MCs out there she was one of the best on the mic period. It’s seldom that any artist, male or female, makes the mainstream shift to their brand like Lauryn did. Her impact evident in groundbreaking music videos, film roles and voted one of the most beautiful women in the world gracing magazine covers like Time, Harper’s Bazaar and Rolling Stone. Bringing credibility to the hip-hop game, technically a rap artist winning Album of the Year, unprecedented; touted as a multifaceted artist like Stevie Wonder or Prince and she did not disappoint in her debut disc. So as some grew impatient due to the extended delay, they were well aware of the stories surrounding her recent shows. In the know I got a call from my people backstage that Ms. Hill had finally arrived three hours after the posted showtime. The band immediately took the stage and did a sound check as she was being introduced.

Miss Hill Wingate 2
Lauryn made her entrance in a large ‘fro wig, big frame sunglasses and bulky frilly leather jacket and wool pants with boots which seemed a bit much even going for that seventies chic on a day where as aI stated previously the temperature was in the high nineties. The funk outfit that backed Ms. Hill brought it like the Ike Turner Revue. Rev ups of her solo catalogue interspersed with selections from music legend Bob Marley; the dub funk vibe back and forth proved challenging to the East Flatbush crowd that had waited a few hours for this moment. Taking liberties with the original arrangements of her signature compositions we were treated to a hard-hitting version of Lost Ones that got the show rocking. Similar unconventional renditions of When It Hurts So Bad and Final hour were not tolerated, there was a mass exodus onto the streets with each successive tune. By the time she went into Ex Factor I had gotten close enough to not require assist from the video screen. There is a lot to be said for the power of music; a well crafted song will always affect you with its presentation, with this powerhouse slow jam Lauryn stopped the bleeding, it halted those leaving in their tracks and had them re-think weather to stick around. I could see what probably many couldn’t, that Lauryn had come to proselytize; the Lauryn Hill at that time had her fill of people trying to define her –from the record company to the media to Wyclef—this was her going out of her way to do things on her own terms and how could you not respect that. She was pretty much, this is the real me take it or leave it. Either way it was all right with her because she was going to do this her way. Her defiance on her Mtv Unplugged where a non glam Lauryn made a point to say it wasn’t about the glitz and glamour and that there wasn’t anything wrong with her and she had every right to speak her mind. Reminiscent of Fiona Apple’s “This is all bullshit!” acceptance speech while clutching a coveted moonman, both instances spoke volumes about the objectification and exploitation of women in the music industry and how the very same establishment regard the consumer. Rumors of her insistence on be addressed as Ms. Hill comes off bitchy on soundbites and in gossip columns that goes with the program when it comes to confirming something may be up with Lauryn Hill. The fact of the matter is most female artists make it squarely on looks and not talent, you know who they are because its evident by-product that’s forced down our throats by the labels.

Her voice as raspy as always could not reach certain notes at times during the show, in spite of that Lauryn gave solid covers of Marley’s  Zimbabwe and The First time Ever I Saw Your Face another Roberta Flack classic she nailed. Her encore consisted of Fugees mainstays How Many Mics and Fu-Gee-La, her newest release at the time Lose Yourself was a definite highpoint, along with solo chart toppers Everything is Everything and That Thing (Doo-wop) to close the show. I remember walking home that night knowing there would be some strong opinions on her performance but the reports in the papers and on Mtv News regarding the  backlash was extreme. Many felt betrayed or perhaps Lauryn had simply lost her damn mind. There is a Pop Star manual most artists stick to because that formula generates hits that keeps them on the carts. But when someone like a Lauryn or D’Angelo set themselves apart from the pack because they don’t seem manufactured in an American Idol way it is refreshing. These artists identified with the Neo Soul movement; the avant-garde take on classic rhythm and blues that in the nineties shook up the contemporary black charts. Soul ll Soul and Sade instrumental in the burgeoning sound since the eighties, compared to Hip-hop because followers personalized it making it part of their lifestyle. And when D’Angelo and Maxwell step back and all of a sudden people crown Justin Timberlake  the king of R&B, it’s the same with the female singers in her absence.
“…I wish her heart was still in rhymin.” to quote Kanye (and very few do these days). Mister West and I agree Ms. Hill on her game has no equal, one after the next they step up to try to replace her and as far as I’m concerned they need to keep trying. I dig the track she released at the end of last year Consumerism, lyrically it’s right up there with her best.

The work that was put in by her on soundtrack cuts for the Love Jones Soundtrack, the inevitable Bob Marley duet project Turn Your Lights Down Low and the collabo If I Ruled The World with Nas made it possible for Erykah Badu to fit in nicely at the time instead of not receiving any airplay because there was no category to place Baduizm. Fact is there’s no Alicia Keys to the extent she end up being if Lauryn continues to do her thing, that’s a fact. Keys would have come out and established herself but not gotten the shine she received, let’s just be real. Rihanna by proxy slid into the glam slot nicely, but muscially relegated to a pre pacakged chart run courtesy of producers by number that would’ve run its course like T Pain. Beyoncé would’ve dropped her solo record then quietly went back and played her position as Beyoncé of Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child. In my opinion it was Amy Winehouse who stepped up to fill that gap, had Lauryn still been on the scene Winehouse would have struggled to make it in the States like every British act that graced these shores in the last twenty years from Terence Trent D’arby to Oasis, she’d have been known more as a tabloid mainstay and not lauded during awards season as she was. All talented artists in their own right but lets stick to the facts nothing they’ve done as urgent as what Miss Hill has done by comparison. It is always telling when someone so gifted chooses to stay away for so long. I wish like Marvin or Al Green or Aretha that when the Lauryns and alike are going through what they are going through as individuals that as artists they would be still capable of putting out music but I don’t fault her for it. The perceptions and what is required to be in the industry a lot of the time has little to do with talent but is predicated on looks and sex appeal. An artist can get caught up trying to be that type of performer then end up rejecting it altogether and going in the other direction, an overriding factor in where Lauryn Hill’s career will end up and why I doubt that D’Angelo will release another album.

Illustration by Renaldo Davidson

Go With God Mister West

1 Jun

Kanye West Yeezus Crown

I Am A God attests to the fact  that Mr. West has a bit of a god complex. This song has Yeezus asserting his authority like Pharaoh to those who serve him  then kicking it with The Most High on another verse. Say what you want about innovative  producer, composer and artist Kanye West but you can’t deny his passion. With his soap opera life tethered to a reality show relationship, no filter comments and his quizzical public actions at times has you saying “What the eff is up with this Kanye Kat?” On The Angie Martinez Show years ago he described his intense approach to his craft to the film The Prestige “I die for this every night!” Anyone who has seen that brilliant motion picture knows a statement like that means Kanye  will sacrifice for his art. There is no doubt in my mind that after the album Graduation he could have gone for his Masters, Doctorate and Magna Cum Laude LPs and repeated that formula but he released 808s & Heartbreak. Love it or hate it that album was a genuine expression of Ye grieving his mother’s passing as well as relationship woes that troubled him during that period. There was an amusing article in The Village Voice titled The Kanye You Once Loved Is Dead And Gone. Hilarious because the truth of that statement is if you pay attention it is clear how mercurial Kanye is, various themes and influences has defined his sound thus far. His muse is validation to substantiate his status; wanting to state his “awesomeness” on record attests to that. His standards change and if you don’t change with him, that’s on you frankly.

Yeezus

Yeezus is a record of a public figure in turmoil; first track  On Sight “I don’t give a fuck!” And that indignant look that he always has on his face  clearly tells you the number of fucks he don’t give. Other artists have said so before and so has Kanye for that matter but here he chooses to be particularly blatant. In the glowing reviews so far this “brilliant” collection of songs is being compared to seminal recordings Kid A and Nirvana’s In Utero which it is not. I believe these stark tracks are engaging, Black artists think rocking out simply means being loud and that’s missing the point. The Who classified their sound as “Maximum R&B” but c’mon, Rage Against The Machine is way funkier. Any rock artist worth their salt take cues from Soul and Blues music. Ye is on some Ice T / Body Count Welcome To The Neighborhood ish. Sonically he is evoking the layered industrial landscape of NIN, Chicago trance house and interspersed with elements of  Dancehall. The sweet coda by Frank Ocean on New Slaves is an excuse to breathe after the 1 2 3 4 punch opening of Yeezus. This is no Lil Wayne bad rock record, not even close. New Slaves, Send It Up, Blood On The Leaves. “They see a black man with a white woman / At the top they gone come to kill King Kong!” That line from Black Skinheads easily ranks among his best. If its paint by numbers rap-r&b-dance music you want there is a lot of that out there; so much in fact its hard to tell one top forty artist from the next. But that incestuous rehashing of the same tried and true formula that produces the next whoever to rule the top of the charts means no Public Enemy, Roots, no New Danger by Mos, no Outkast and no Kanye West. Yeezus H. Christ! The way people are carrying on you’d think he ran onstage and took someone’s award away again. I haven’t heard such hemming and hawing since Dylan went electric.

In Reflection: In Her Time and Ours – Me’Shell NdegeoCello

2 Apr

MeShellB&W2

Composer, singer, songwriter bassist extraordinaire Me’Shell NdegeoCello is a talent that could never be measured in conventional terms. Genre buster of  Soul, Hip-hop, Dub, Rock N Roll, Jazz and Fusion. Since stepping into the arena on Madonna’s highly touted Maverick label during the burgeoning neo-soul movement with her opening salvo on the LP Plantation Lullabies pretty much told you the game had changed. The bald, bi-sexual, opinionated feminist created a soulfulness to her music that left you to figure out why it had such a profound effect on the listener. The manufactured sexuality put upon nearly every female performer in the biz that saddle them with another thing to question the actual talent of the artist did not apply to her.

Plantation Lullabies

The former Michelle Johnson was born in Berlin, Germany and raised in Washington DC. By the early 90’s, Meshell set out armed with a demo she recorded in her bedroom to New York, joined the Black Rock Coalition and was soon signed. Like multi-talents Lauryn Hill, Lenny Kravitz, Prince and Stevie Wonder she was anointed as the next big thing by the press. Peace Beyond Passion forgoes the sophomore jinx baffling her record company with its ruminations on sex and race, God and love that set her further apart from the also-rans; this statement made it apparent that she was a mainstream racehorse but a different type of breed. Like Stevie Ray Vaughn lending his talents to David Bowie’s Lets Dance Meshell played and sang on the John Cougar Mellencamp smash Wild Nights that earned her still a border audience  simultaneously embraced and challenged listeners with her refusal to be pigeon-holed musically or personally. Soundtrack darling of Black cinema’s 2nd wave (that go to chick) not since the heyday of the 70s had music and movies defined the Black culture. Contributions to Higher Learning, Love Jones, Disappearing Acts and The Best Man just to name a few.  Bitter put her in rarefied air; it showcased her acoustic compositions and not just the thump and grooves that are her signature. Cookie : The Anthropological Mixtape; the ” I could do it if I wanted to” statement. Funky and catchy as fuck, she did effortlessly what most artists labor hard to achieve, in my opinion the album of the year when it dropped. Success affording her certain artistic freedom,  Dance of the Infidels on Blue Note proved even more ambitious; a jazz recording that harkens back to the true jazz esthetic and a modern sound with integrity.

Dance of the Infidels

With Comfort Woman she channeled one of her idols Wailers bass player Charlton “Family Man ” Barrett with its dub vibe. A seductive collection of tunes, slow jam after slow jam musing on love, lust and the consequences of such. The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams and Devil’s Halo adding to her impressive cannon of collaborations and a killer cover of Ready For The World “Love You Down” on the later disc. Canonized, marginalized or just scrutinized, Meshell Ndegeocello has given up trying to explain herself. After 20 years in an industry that has called her everything from avant-garde to a dying breed, what unquestionably remains is the fearsome bassist, prolific songwriter, and the creativity and curiosity of an authentic musical force. With that, she has earned critical acclaim, the unfailing respect of fellow players, songwriters and composers, and the dedication of her diverse, unclassifiable fans.

 

Weather

Pour Une Ame Souvraine” (For a Sovereign Soul), A Dedication to Nina Simone

The Joe Henry produced Weather  released last November Ndegeocello indulges her soulful alt-pop side, expanding on the quieter and more sensual moments  from her previous effort  Devil’s Halo. The seductive recording with catchy down tempo arrangements, she crafts some seriously affecting torch songs here. Though rife with emotion, the compositions on Weather embrace you with a gentle caress. Appropriately titled, Weather captures the complex and unpredictable emotions that accompany intimacy, desire and alienation. There is a longing –a feeling of unpredictability– that resonates; evoking turbulent heartbreak in one tune, the next gives way to expressions of brighter days, a song cycle she has crafted that has no clear forecast. Pour Une  Ame Souraine is Meshell’s first record on the Naïve label. A love letter to the icon which is Nina Simone who like Meshell could not be categorized. With amazing contributions from the likes of Cody ChesnuTT, Sinead O’Connor, Lizz Wright, and Toshi Reagon, and the results are mesmerizing and honest appraisal of Simone’s legacy. No calculated career path, Meshell follows her muse; receiving raves for evenings of Prince compositions she could’ve easily turned on a dime and did a tribute to the his royal highness.

Having the pleasure of seeing her perform twice in an intimate venue for a fortunate few in Brooklyn I was taken by how she was overwhelmed by the capacity overflow, akin to an earlier era having seen Marvin Gaye at a small club while he was still topping the charts or Dylan before at a lounge before he went off on a tangent. If I wanted to overstate it I couldn’t; simply put Meshell is one of the finest musicians of her time. In a climate where you can easily lose sight of whats good with whats on the charts that passes for music.  Few of her contemporaries can hold a single note to her and current artists, lesser talents have been held in high esteem who’s musicianship falls short of the hem of her garment. Comparable to a Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone especially, Bob Marley, Prince at the height of his powers from Dirty Mind to Sign O The Times. And the near perfect catalogue of the now defunct hip-hop duo Outkast.

Duck, You Sucker!: An Appreciation for Ennio Morricone

24 Jun

Once Upon a Time (That’s how it always begins) 

Once Upon a Time in Italy auteur Sergio Leone found his muse in composer and conductor Ennio Morricone. A storied career that began in 1953 for the renowned musician  as an orchestrator as well as conductor in the recording field, and then as a composer for theatre, radio and films that number in the hundreds. Morricone a prolific craftsman that evokes sound that is stylistically his alone. His signature recording of The Battle of Algiers (1965), a testament to his brilliance, has influenced film composers from the four corners of the globe and is beloved by movie going audiences for over a quarter century. Leone working in collaboration with the maestro  applied music that added gravitas to his narrative. Together they both  went on to re-imagine the theme of the classic American  Western from overseas in Europe, resulting in international star status for a then television actor with a few film roles to his credit named Clint Eastwood.

Their partnership on the Man with No Name trilogy; A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) was an resounding success worldwide. From the Cinecittà Studios in Rome Morricone worked exclusively with childhood friend Alessandro Alessandroni and his Cantori Moderni. Alessandroni provided the trademark whistling and jangling  guitar parts heard on the film scores, with the Cantori Moderni Morricone had a versatile company of modern singers at his disposal. He chose to showcase the solo soprano Edda Dell’Orso extraordinary voice and the resulting effect was mesmerizing. More commercial and critical successes followed with Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), Duck, You Sucker! (1971), My Name Is Nobody (1973) and their final picture together Once Upon a Time in America (1984).

Morricone contributed now memorable scores for a diverse list of filmmakers from Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1979), Roland Joffé’s The Mission (1986), Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987), Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso (1988), Pedro Almodóvar’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!(1990), Barry Levinson’s Bugsy (1992) and Oliver Stone’s U Turn (1997).

In his long career, Ennio Morricone has received numerous awards in the recording field. He continues to conduct orchestras to the delight of audiences all around the world.

Now the collective talents of producer Danger Mouse (The Gray Album, Gnarls Barkley, Gorillaz) and composer Daniel Luppi (Sex and the City Theme) pay homage to the master by bringing us Rome. Recruiting Jack White and Nora Jones for the cause, along with recording with several of the same musicians in the hollowed studios used by Morricone in Italy for those iconic soundtracks then. Sumptuous compositions for one’s listening pleasure include the tracks Roman Blue, Two Against One, The Gambling Priest and The Matador Has Fallen resulting is a romantic, brooding document, and labour of love.