We Iz The World: Somethin' Ain't Right

The album cover for the original "We Are The World"

Let me start by saying that my heart definitely goes out to Haiti and what they are going through over there.  No disrespect intended.  I contemplated whether or not to go in on “We Are The World – 25 for Haiti”, so I apologize for the delay, but it’s just that I’m not a total d*ck.  I don’t think anybody watched this that didn’t feel some kind of way about it.  For example, the homie Corey commented on my Facebook page that Wyclef sounded like “a goat being curried”, so I figure with people going hard like that, how could I not weigh in?

Jay-Z recently made the comment that the original “We Are The World” was a classic and should not have been touched; why not write a brand new song?  I concur wholeheartedly.  I love music and this sh*t hurt my heart in many ways.

Is that Elian Gonzales in front? No Robin Thicke solo? A Jonas Brother? Lame.

I understand that it’s important that the song reach multiple demographics and span many different genres, but when I think about it, that didn’t matter when the original was created.  Back then, singers were singers.  I think this project was a sign of the times…we’re more in love today with celebrity (notice Vince Vaughn and Nicole Richie in there…I know she’s Lionel’s daughter but c’mon…) than we are with actual singing chops.  For example, how do you sub in Justin Bieber (I didn’t even know who this kid was) for Lionel Richie to kick the whole thing off?  How do you replace Dionne Warwick with Miley f*ckin’ Cyrus and put her amateur a** in between Barbra Streisand and Enrique Iglesias of all people?  These two “artists” actually had serious solos, while legends like Gladys Knight, Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind & Fire, Bebe Winans and Harry Connick, Jr. played the back or had less significant roles.  I know a lot of music fans today have no idea who Steve Perry or Huey Lewis are, but would it have been too much to add in Chris Martin of Coldplay or Dave Matthews at a minimum?

And did Janet Jackson telecast her performance in via Skype or some sh*t?  If you can’t make it to the remake of “We Are The World”, you better be playing golf with the Pope.  Otherwise, I’da been okay with a Rebbie Jackson cameo instead.

Lionel Richie knows better.

I don’t even wanna discuss the “hip-hop” portion in too much detail.  All of those MCs in one room, and nobody could come up with one respectable bar worth of material?  Again, I’m not mad at the idea behind it or the effort, so don’t come at my neck; in fact it’s commendable that all of those people came out and repped, but seriously, I expect Quincy Jones and Lionel Richie to know better and come up with something new.  It was not a complete debacle, so don’t think I’m completely trashing it musically…I actually liked the addition of T-Pain, but Li’l Wayne getting a solo was a bit out of hand.  I wonder if he had any sizzurp before he got there?  Props on the addition of Tony Bennett (still classy), Celine Dion (love or hate, she can blow and actually belonged in the same room with the original We Are The World crew), J-Hud and Jamie Foxx (wasn’t mad at the Ray Charles impression), among others.  But yo…f*ck a Jonas brother.

We Are The World 25 for Haiti – Official Video

Now watch how it’s really done…

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Get Familiar: Blakroc

Every now and then, an original project bumrushes the scene and slaps the kufi off your head.  Blakroc is a rap-rock hybrid project organized by Dame Dash that consists of Ohio-based band The Black Keys and has grown to include collaboration with Mos Def, Jim Jones, M.O.P., RZA, Raekwon, Ludacris, Nicole Wray, Q-Tip, and posthumous work from Ol’ Dirty Bastard.  I’m not generally a fan of the studio LP, preferring the grit of a mixtape, but this album is certified crack.  The music blends Jimi-Hendrix-inflected rock with dark New York hip-hop and R&B that sticks to the ribs…none of that soft sh*t.

Black Keys f/ Raekwon – “Stay Off The F*&?%$ Flowers” – BlakRoc

Black Keys f/ RZA & Pharoahe Monch – “Dollaz & Sense” – Blakroc

Black Keys f/ Nicole Wray – “Why Can’t I Forget Him” – Blakroc

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Before The Fall: Nicholas Ryan Gant

I’m always proud to see my fellow Howard University Bison out there making moves and doing what they love, but when what they do is excellent, I get amped.  Nicholas Ryan Gant is a Howard alum who’s killing it right now on the independent music scene.  Nick’s been at this thing for a minute and the work shows.  His new project entitled “Border Breaker” is available now on iTunes, so go cop that and get familiar!!!  Seriously, like right now.  Support good music by turning off the radio, attending live shows and spreading the word about talented artists who are really putting in work to provide classic, quality music.

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Get Familiar: Tenna Torres

tenna-torres-american-idol

Every now and then, I like to give some shine to an artist on the verge, like the previous post on Nicholas Ryan Gant, which featured a link to download his Michael Jackson tribute medley.  Seeing someone you know put time into their craft and put out a finished product is like seeing somebody Black get really far on Jeopardy: you can’t help but sit your a** down and root for the home-team.  Even if Martin is on.  I recently was introduced to the work of singer/songwriter/artist Tenna Torres, also a fellow Howardite, who’s got loads of vids online at various performances and jam sessions (Check out “My All” performed with guitarist Chris Ashworth).  Though the Facebook fan page says “pop music that appeals to the masses”, there’s an obvious infusion of soul that snatches you up by the nape of the neck and makes you pay attention.  You gotta respect music that accomplishes what it sets out to do and Torres does just that: makes pop music that appeals to the masses; her work has a definite crossover appeal that sounds equally at home in the worlds of both pop and R&B.  So basically, people, if you want to fight the schlock that urban radio force-feeds you every day of the week, you gotta go find good music and when you find it, talk people’s ears off about it, and most importantly, support it!

Also, catch her live at the Delancey September 4th if you’re in NYC: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=129144581173&ref=nf

New York State of Mind: Live Performance of “Cried Alot” at the Blender Theater in NYC 8/17/09

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Album Review :: Deeper Than Rap By Rick Ross

Despite a tumultuous year, Rick Ross’ Deeper Than Rap is still one of the most anticipated albums of 2009. I think we can just go ahead and put a 2011 release date on Dr. Dre’s Detox, although he’s made promises to release it this year. While beef with 50 is prevalent throughout the project, Ross continues to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with, not only in Southern rap, but in hip-hop in general.

“Mafia Music” is the big opener, although it has been on the Internet for over a month as fuel to the Ross-50 fire. Nevertheless, when I heard it for the first time, I almost kicked over the coffee table. Ross spits straight fire for the entirety of the song, no hooks and no featured artists. “Creflo prayed/Mike Vick paid/ Bobby Brown strayed/ Whitney lost weight/ Kimbo Slice on the pad when I write…” Indeed. However, one of the flaws of the album could be the inclusion of so much instigation, with “In Cold Blood”, “Mafia Music”, and “Valley of Death” hanging 50 Cent, G-Unit, and even Trick Daddy out to dry. Save the beef for the mixtapes and let us know why you’re better by giving your fans a consistent product.

On “Murda Mami”, a collaboration with Foxy Brown, Brown compares the two to a ‘hood version of the Obamas, while the chorus touts the pair as the ’09 Bonnie & Clyde. The silly comparisons and a faux-reggae performance by Fox make this collabo a little hard to swallow. Where was all the patois when Ill Na Na came out? On the other hand, Ross’ collabo with Trina, “Face”, puts Ross exactly where he needs to be. This track reminds me of “Money Make Me Come”, a winner off of the last album. Trina is just go-hard enough to ride with Ross on this one and the track bounces like a 6-4 Impala from beginning to end.

“Gunplay” is the pre-requisite posse track, or rather one where he lets one member of the crew eat. Thankfully, Ross leaves out the rest of Carol City Cartel and only includes Gunplay (yes, this is his name) on this track, though the lyrically-proven homie Brisco would have probably been a better choice. Gunplay’s verse and hook contribution were actually pretty good. “Usual Suspects” features Nas and Ross holds his own, but of course Nas takes over on verse two. The problem here is the lazy chorus provided by some kind of Akon wannabe. A waste of a Nas feature, in my opinion, but I didn’t hate it.

“Maybach Music II” was supposed to be a follow-up to the Jay-Z collabo on the Trilla album, but is in a whole different lane altogether in my opinion. The energy is completely different. While the first version crawled along elegantly, similar to the track’s namesake, this one has more of an extravagant feel, with what sounds like a full symphony behind the featured artists. Ross spits a particularly strong verse, but Kanye and Wayne in my opinion used throwaway verses. The first version’s inclusion of Jay-Z made it a more mature track, but this one blends with a lot of the other tracks on Deeper Than Rap, when it could have been its own animal altogether. “Valley of Death”, though riddled with shots at Trick Daddy and 50, is overall a great song, reminiscent of a vintage Jay-Z track. He even addresses the corrections officer debacle: “Only live once and I got two kids/ And for me to feed them I’ll get two gigs/ I’ll shovel sh*t, I’ll C.O./ So we can bow our head and pray over the meat loaf…” Chuuuch.

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Dr. Dre’s Detox: Masterpiece in the Making?

 

Dr-Dre

Since he started production on the album in 2004, hip-hop heads have played a cat-and-mouse game with Dr. Dre awaiting the release of Detox, his third (and supposedly final) studio album. Here’s a brief time-line.

Initial Release Date: Fall 2005

Power 106 Interview on 2/18/07: Dre said he had completed 18 “potential tracks” and announced that the introductory track would be titled “Intervention”

September 2007: Dre shows up on-stage at the VMAs and slips in an announcement that Detox will be released soon. He then went on record in the same month with Billboard magazine saying that it will be his final album and would be released in 2008.

May 2008: Tony Yayo and Lloyd Banks go on record with Defsounds, saying that 50 Cent had recorded about 3 songs, but that they were unsure as to whether either of them would make appearances.

June 2008: Both Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre announce that the album is completed

Most recently, Dre told MTV that Detox will be released before 50 Cent and Eminem’s upcoming projects, which are slated for this year. There has been a lot of speculation about which artists have collaborated with Dre on the Detox project. Among them are Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Eminem, Lloyd Banks, The Game, Mary J. Blige, Marsha Ambrosius, Jay-Z, Warren G, Li’l Wayne, T.I., Devin the Dude, Nas, Ice Cube, and Fergie. He is also said to have collaborated with J.R. Rotem, Hi-Tek, Mike Elizondo, and Scott Storch, among others.

Hopefully, the recently released banger “Topless” is an indication of things to come. Nas and T.I. absolutely murder their respective verses on the track while Dre provides the chorus. From start to finish, this is a seamless work of art. The piano is classic Dre, with traces of his trademark G-Funk style coming through prevalently, despite the two featured guests being from Atlanta and New York, respectively. Dre is one of few producers with the ability to completely own a track, regardless of whether he raps on it or not.

What worries me, however, is that Dr. Dre is not the same artist as he was in 1992 when The Chronic was dropped. Granted, he did release 2001 in 1999 to critical acclaim. But ten years later, at 44 years old, can he really live up to the hype and release a classic in today’s market that will not only match, but surpass the level of excellence achieved with The Chronic and 2001?

The bulk of the criticism from the 2001 album was with regard to the lesser-known contributors Dre chose to work with, many of whom can’t even be referenced on Wikipedia. Though Dre has a great ear and the finished product was a masterpiece, one must admit that there were a lot of nobodies on that album, many of whom are currently nowhere on hip-hop’s radar. Hittman appeared on a total of ten tracks on 2001, but his debut on Dre’s Aftermath label was shelved and he’s pretty much disappeared since. Dr. Dre has made some new friends since ’99.

His increased involvement with 50 Cent and Eminem will undoubtedly influence Detox’s overall sound, but this could be a curse or blessing. The Chronic is an album that is well loved for its distinctive Cali flavor, accurately capturing the tone of LA in the early 1990s. 2001 included Eminem as the first non-West Coast contributor on a Dre album, but Em’s style meshed well with the feel of each record he was featured on. Though 50 has worked with Dr. Dre frequently, I wonder if his contribution, which I am sure will affect multiple songs, will detract from what could be a much-needed victory for the relatively dormant West Coast.

There have been rumors that Aftermath’s prodigal son The Game will contribute to the album, despite the well-publicized distance Dre has put between them due to beef with 50. This would be a good move if it actually happens. A Dr. Dre-Game collaboration at this point would without question be an event. Though Ice Cube, Snoop, and DJ Quik are all but confirmed as guest artists, but Dre is in a position to breathe new life into a lot of West Coast MCs’ careers, like Ras Kass, Xzibit (who appears three times on 2001) and the Dogg Pound. As a West Coast legend, it would be a serious disappointment if Detox didn’t serve to not only re-confirm Dre himself artistically, but to re-establish the West Coast as an entity in the hip-hop community at a time when New York MCs are failing to represent and southern MCs basically have a monopoly on the game.

My other concern is that Dr. Dre’s well-documented perfectionism is stunting his ability to actually complete the album. Hip-hop is easily the most dynamic form of music. With each track that’s released, a new slang term, dance, or hot ticket item is introduced that almost instantly dates the song. If Dre started work on Detox in 2004, it is very possible that there will not be any songs actually produced in 2004 or 2005 on the finished product simply due to relevance. Dre might finish a track, but by the time he finishes five more, the first one may be completely dated. In October 2008, DJ Quik told Loud.com that he had heard 60 out of 400 potential songs Dre had developed at that time for the album. Luckily, Dre is an artist who does not think anything of reaching out to those who can assist him in his craft like Quik, co-producer Scott Storch, and even the legendary Burt Bachrach, who Quik says has been instructing Dre on the piano.

Despite all of the doubt, like most hip-hop and music fans in general, I can’t wait for Detox, no matter what direction Dre chooses to go in. This actually may be the first CD I have physically purchased in the store for quite a while (I feel bad enough about downloading the tracks that have leaked so far…not that bad though). At the end of the day, regardless of the hype and tremendous expectations surrounding the album, Dre needs room (and apparently lots and lots of time) to grow as an artist and we should expect considerable growth and expansion on this project. If you can’t get with it, there is alwaysl the Chronic, 2001, Doggystyle, etc. to revisit if you’re still looking for the traditional bitches-and-blunts Dre of the nineties.

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Believe the Hype: Asher Roth – Asleep in the Bread Aisle

While some might be tempted to write Roth off as a novelty act or cult favorite, Roth puts in the necessary work to prove otherwise. If you were lucky enough to get a copy of The Greenhouse Effect, Roth’s debut mixtape project, complete with an assist from DJ Drama and Don Cannon, you know what I’m talking about. Roth demolishes instrumentals for “Black Mags” by the Cool Kids, and “Cannon” by DJ Drama among others, putting his own creative spin on each.

The second single off of the actual album “Asleep In The Bread Aisle” is “Lark On My Go-Kart”, which comes off like a psychedelic stream of consciousness with Mario Kart and Saved by the Bell references over production that sounds like a hip-hop video game. Though Roth’s nasal voice and slightly over-pronounced delivery has drawn him some obvious comparisons to Eminem, but this comparison doesn’t do Roth justice. There are vocal similarities, but Roth’s college-boy sensibilities and alternative influences set him apart in his own lane. I would even put him closer to Kanye West or Kid Cudi musically.

The first single off of the album was “I Love College”, a frat-house ode to beer, pizza, marijuana, and higher education. In the same vein, “Blunt Cruisin'”, Roth’s tribute to the suburban pasttime of driving with weed, delviers a feel-good vibe that isn’t usually found in hip-hop today (think Pharcyde, Beasti Boys or De La Soul).”Lion’s Roar”, which features Busta Rhymes over what sounds like a Moby track, was in the words of Randy Jackson “just a’ight for me, dog”. Though Roth’s flow is effortlessly and the frenetic energy level is consisten throughout, the lackluster Busta verse leaves a lot to be desired and the hokey chorus keeps it from being a track I will want to play too often. “Perfectionist” is an awkward collaboration with Beanie Sigel and Rock City, where after Ash’s verse, the song seems to become a whole different song. The chorus kills the potential of the track, with Rock City’s lazy hook unfortunately sounding like everything else on the radio.

It’s clear Asher Roth is at his best when left to his own devices, which says a lot nowadays when every artist features at least one other artist on every other track. He specifically shines on his more introspective tracks like the political tirade”Sour Patch Kids”, the motivational “La Di Da”, and the soulful, family-friendly “His Dream”. Overall, this is a rock-solid debut with a lot of range from an artist who refuses to fit the mold of what is expected of a hip-hop artist, and with good reason. On “Asleep in the Bread Aisle”, Asher Roth gives a voice to hip-hop heads who happen to be from the ‘burbs and still doesn’t alienate the backpackers and anyone else who appreciates authenticity.

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