The news just came that Rock & Roll pioneer, legend, Velvet Underground front man and all around rebel Lou Reed has passed away today. Undoubtedly, there will be tons of tributes to a man that became an icon in the eyes of many fans for much of what he did for an to rock music throughout his life and career. I admit that I still am learning a lot about rock and some of it’s biggest figures, including Reed. One of the things that has always intrigued me about him is how he seemed to intentionally take the road less traveled throughout his career, from fronting a band that the basic antithesis of the Flower child generation in the late 60′s and early 70′s in The Velvet Underground, to all of his tongue-in-cheek, sometimes questionable and mysterious issues with sexuality that he touched on in his music, to releasing some of the most divisive pieces of music in history, from Transformer to Metal Machine Music. Even more interesting to me was how he was tapped earlier this year to review Kanye West’s album Yeezus, and the praise that he bestowed upon it. Here’s a piece of music by Reed that can be found on the Internet and will probably have at least 2 million views by tomorrow morning, but is still pretty amazing.
Ok, I’m TRULY not even sure what to say about this one. Apparently Kanye West kicked off his tour by having an actor portraying Christ as part of his live show. Truthfully there are SO many questions that we can come up with from this latest situation from ‘Ye: what was he thinking? What was the purpose? What message was he seeking to impart? Is this an indication he’ll be back to his old musical self? Does he believe what he says in the song “I Am A God” on his latest album? Is this blasphemy? Was it intended to be a joke? Or was it Kanye being serious and forthright? Should we even read that much into it? Is there more to the story? Like I said, SO many questions…and from what I gather there probably won’t be a whole lot of concrete answers, just more gossip and fodder for the TMZ crowd. *Sigh*
With all of the talk over the last two weeks surrounding Yeezus, it made me look back at Kanye’s music over the years. One of my favorite albums from him is Graduation, and there are a few songs on there that are some of his most famous, but some that aren’t, or at least they’re not quite as popular as some of his others (“Stronger”, “Good Life”, “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”). Two of my favorites from the album are the Lil Wayne-featured “Barry Bonds”, but more so “Drunk & Hot Girls”. The eighth track from Kanye’s third album is a standard that gives a glimpse into the life in the club, which is something we’ve all experienced at one point or another: materialistic, blatantly self-centered and ultimately disposable. Not to say that it can’t be fun. Kanye simultaneously makes a mockery of what goes on with male/female relationships in the club and tells us what just about every man is thinking when his intentions are clearly focused on a one night stand, yet he’s also trying to sway and influence a targeted woman to take his bait. With the help of Mos Def’s nearly operatic coos on the chorus and throughout the song, Kanye creates a sound that is purposefully mechanical and emotionless that feeds into Hip Hop’s constant stereotype of objectifying women into sexual objects. The robotic movements of the music and the tonally-challenged, indifferent, singsongy rhymes helps to create a sense of distance and dismissiveness from ‘Ye towards the female that he wants only for the night, and for only one thing. But what makes the song notable is the constant sense of contradiction, double standards and irony of it: this is something that just about every man has done and still does when trying to pick up a woman. Further, the song seems to be just one step away from being as controversial as the Rick Ross verse off the Rocko single “U.O.E.N.O.” in terms of taking advantage of a woman with impaired abilities and judgement. And even more ironic is the implication that at the end of the story, Kanye ends up with his club-hopping, scantily-clad subject in an unfulfilling marriage. Ultimately, “Drunk & Hot Girls” allows us to take a glimpse through the looking glass and serves as a cautionary tale, even if it does come from an artist that’s known for falling victim to his own insatiable appetite for attention and the decadence of the superstar lifestyle.
Most people in my generation of music heads know this 1976 song as the one that was sampled by Kanye West on the song “Lucifer” by Jay-Z from The Black Album (2004). But the original is from a singer that had created quite a career for himself in Reggae: Max Romeo. One of the things that I love most about this composition is that it’s so deeply rooted in the Biblical and the spiritual. That’s the same thing that I love about many roots reggae artists, songs and albums. If you listed to the music of Bob Marley and the Wailers, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear, Dennis Brown, Lucky Dube and so many others you’re bound to come across songs that have at least an indirect foundation in Christianity, mainly because Rastafari, the belief system that many roots reggae artists follow, is steeped in and an extension of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. “I Chase The Devil” is no exception, as Romeo tells the story of the subject fighting against the powers of the underworld, and takes much of his material directly from Bible verses. Special note: the song was also sampled by Azealia Banks on her mixtape song “Out of Space”, which she reinterpreted from the group The Prodigy’s song of the same title from 1992.
Let me just start by buffering this post by saying me trying to do justice to this lecture is a little beyond me, because it is simply that engaging, engrossing, mind opening and expansive. Red Bull Music Academy, for years and years, has been good for bringing some of the most insightful and creative minds in music to their stages to give TED-like lectures in all things music, especially when it comes to creativity and production. Q-Tip has got to be one of the highlights of the 2013 series, as he used the stage to talk about his career, some of the greatest albums that he’s been part of as an artist, producer and engineer, the general direction of music and Hip Hop, and artists that he’s worked with from Mobb Deep to Dilla to Common to Kanye. This is an excellent interview/lecture and Q-Tip goes pretty deep. He talks about some of the samples he’s used and how he came to find them, what inspires him as an artist and producer, and so much more. Like I said, I can’t truly do justice to it. You just gotta take two hours out of your day to watch it!
Easily one of the greatest piano players and music activists to walk the face of the earth, Nina Simone career is too vast, too diverse and to successful to even try putting into to words. She’s got a lot of standards, but “Sinnerman” is arguably her best known piece of work, at least to the Hip Hop generation. The reason being, of course, is because it is the song that was sampled by Kanye West on Talib Kweli’s 2002 conscious hit single “Get By”. Many people may not also be aware that the song was reinterpreted by one time member of The Wailers and Reggae legend in his own right, Peter Tosh, on the song “Downpressor Man”. A close listen to the lyrics on each song will prove that fact, and I suspect Tosh’s reinterpretation may have been inspired originally by his early days with Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer when they were still a clean cut, struggling ska-inspired band out of Jamaica. But Nina Simone’s epic, nearly 10-minute piece is the stuff of legend too. Dramatic is too puny a word to use to describe the frantic piano chords, the spiritual-inspired soul claps toward the middle of the song, and Nina’s story of failed redemption by the subject seeking validation from a higher power, and receiving absolutely nothing. Special note: I’ve always thought it would be great if Alicia Keys did this song live. Just a thought.
One of the things that is most interesting to me about the final song from 2011′s Watch The Throne album is the note that it leaves the album on. One would think that an ideal ending to arguably the best, most talked about and yet most polarizing Hip Hop album of that year, with it’s grandiose tales of the luxurious life being experienced by Hip Hop 1 percenters Jay-Z and Kanye West, would end on a more triumphant note, or at least with the Frank Ocean-featured “Made In America”, just to wrap things up in a nice little package for the listener. But instead, Jay and ‘Ye take a left turn and leave us with a tale steeped in ego, betrayal, hurt feelings, lost innocence and lost brotherhood experienced in an industry where all of the former is unfortunately the norm. “Why I Love You” comes at the end of an album filled with constant arrogant rapper braggadocio, a level that no one besides Jay and Kanye have experienced, but also having poignant moments of father-to-son advice (“New Day”) the questioning of organized religion (“No Church In The Wild”) and the curious combination of the celebratory and the somber (“Murder to Excellence”). But “Why I Love You” stands on it’s own, filled with enough intrigue and dramatic flair to be a scene in a Godfather movie. The Throne clearly wanted to go for the avant-garde throughout the album, but with a sample from “I Love You So” by French house/synth pop duo Cassius, “Why I Love You” delves slightly into Euro dubstep to give the track a more atmospheric and emotional feel. This is a song that sounds as if it could be featured in Hollywood motion picture trailer. Personally, I believe that the song could have been used as background music for the dissolution in the relationship between Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale at the end of Season 3 on The Wire. A powerful statement from one of the best from 2011.
Thought it only right to give some love to one of the architects of one of the biggest and most polarizing bands of the 1960s: Keyboardist Ray Manzarek, who passed away this week at the age of 74. As one of the founding members of The Doors, Manzarek helped to being their brand of outlaw rock music to the masses with his distinctive keyboard and piano playing skills, complimenting Jim Morrison’s strange yet intoxicating lyrics perfectly. And one of the ways I was truly introduced to Manzarek and The Doors was of course through Jay-Z and the way he and Kanye sampled “Five To One” on “The Takeover”, one of Hip Hop’s greatest diss records. Here’s the original track and the sampled piece, as well. Thank you so much, Ray Manzarek.
One of the greatest things about Hip Hop is it’s ability to take, pick, choose, borrow and sample from just about any form of music we can think of and make something new out of it, while also making the older music distinctly “Hip Hop”. Another great thing is the fact that the rules to what Hip Hop can be continue to be shattered with each passing year. This weekend, Kanye West proved that fact again by debuting two new singles, “New Slaves” and “Black Skinhead”, to the world in his own high art, high fashion, conceptual way. And he’s been doing it for years now, especially beginning with his second album, Late Registration. All we have to do is listen to songs like “Stronger”, “Roses”, “Crack Music” and pretty much all of 808s and Heartbreak and we’ll see that Yeezy has been at the forefront of pushing Hip Hop forward, and probably will continue to do so with the new album Yeezus this June. But my personal favorite song from ‘Ye that is such a grab bag of so many different kinds of genres and truly breaks the mold of what Hip Hop is and what it can be appears on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy… the song “Gorgeous”. This song is SERIOUS! It combines so many different styles, from progressive rock guitar to what sounds like drums from the opening theme to an 80s TV crime drama by the time Raekwon steps to the mic. And that theme carries on throughout MBDTF. But this song is truly a work of art, which is honestly what Kanye is going for more and more in his music making and production these days. Say what you will about him, but the man makes music that challenges us, like no other.
It’s that time once again…time for the Forbes magazine annual list of the 20 richest emcees/artists in the Hip Hop game. Topping the list this year is Dr. Dre with his staggeringly profitable venture with Jimmy Iovine, Beats by Dre, which have become a premiere status symbol for Hip Hop heads. celebrities, DJs and trend followers every where. Hisham Dahud, a Senior Analyst for Hypebot.com, recently completed a story on the Forbes list. Notable names include Dr. Dre at #1 with over $100 million in before-tax earnings. Diddy, Jay-Z, Kanye West and Lil Wayne round out the top 5 with $45 million, $38 million, $35 million and $27 million dollars earned respectively. Even Wale was named a “Cash Prince”, having raked in $5 million from concert tickets and album sales. And because of it, Forbes recently interviewed Wale:
Other emcees that made the list include Drake, Nicki Minaj, Birdman, Ludacris, Pitbull, Rick Ross, Young Jeezy, Mac Miller and Tech N9ne. This year’s top 20 list brought in a combined $415 million dollars in , which came in no small part from outside music ventures, personal branding and product endorsements. Read the Hisham Dahud’s bull story here.