The first thing you need to know about Frank Ocean is that he’s a singer-songwriter, not an “R&B singer.” Seriously: he may be African-American, but please don’t genre-pigeonhole him; not only does he hate it, but his skills at penning intricate, category-less songs are far more expansive than what parameters of contemporary Urban radio will allow. That’s not a shot at R&B, though; we’re just stating a fact.
Raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, the 23-year-old music aficionado began writing for artists like Justin Bieber, Beyonc?, and John Legend when he moved to Los Angeles after Hurricane Katrina in 2009. Linking up with hip hop houligan collective OFWGKTA (aka Odd Future) around that time, Ocean (who was born Christopher, and formerly performed as Lonny Breaux) then secured a deal with Def Jam, but like many artists in the early phase of their careers, was put on the waiting shelf. Luckily for us, the talented songwriter turned insubordinate and rogue, releasing his now critically-acclaimed mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra via his Tumblr.
The mixtape may have been an unconventional move for most up-and-coming singers, but for Ocean, it created a compelling word of mouth domino effect. Taking songs like The Eagles’ “Hotel California,” MGMT’s “Electric Feel,” and Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing” and making them very uniquely his own, Ocean was able to showcase his songwriting abilities and allow the audience that was hanging on his every word to get to know him, well. Back in May, when we were fearing for our lives during the Rapture, we suggested the MGMT re-worked cover “Nature Feels” as being a delightfully sexy Garden of Eden tune to “go out with a bang” to. But the tape possesses plenty more gems where that came from: a romance with a porn star dental student is illustrated beautifully on “Novacane,” an exorcism and disposal of broken hearts turns into an enchanting car ride to the ocean on “Swim Good,” and a snippet from Nicole Kidman’s character in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut anchors the end of fan favorite track, “Love Crimes.”
Finally liberated at midnight on iTunes last night, I didn’t even bother to give the album that’s projected to sell 400-500K copies a listen. Like any “grower” project, Watch The Throne deserves more attention than a few hours on a Sunday night before bed, and is one whose layers need to be peeled away over time. Unfortunately, the worldwide web and the social media news cycle don’t really allow for that kind of preciousness, so whether anyone is taking an interest in the sea of quick-trigger opinions or not, we’re all lured into engaging in text message/blog post/140-character word-vomit assessments.
All for starting a dialogue on the topic of music, sitting here trying to write a comprehensive critique for this still-warm and super-dense album is challenging, especially since there has been so much hype swirling around it for months. “H.A.M.” dropped too early, release dates got pushed back, exclusive listening sessions were embargoed (but still tweeted about and sprung audio leaks), and Hov learned from his wife’s troubles, never allowing his baby with Kanye to be born premature. Digital files now in hand before friday’s physical release date, is the album all that we wanted it to be?
Drake does it. Trey does it. Why can’t Breezy do it too? After releasing his “Real Hip Hop Sh*t” viral video series, it seems Chris Brown is continuing his crusade to head in a more-rapping, less-singing direction on his new mixtape, Boy in Detention. When the R&B singer first tried his hand at the skill that is a very distant cousin of his native genre, the track was met with mixed reviews. Then, in June, he came with a second installment of the series, spitting verses about his appreciation of female affection.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, and Brown released “#3″ and “#4″ of the series’ clips, respectively and consecutively, this time backed by beats from well-respected hip hop producer 9th Wonder. After his hugely successful Today Show performance, you’d think Brown would be in good spirits, but content-wise, those two tracks were a bit more aggro than the first two. Addressing his many critics, both old and new, “Real Hip Hop Sh*t #3″ specifically called out TMZ, and many people speculated that both songs were also cross-examining negative comments from Fox News’ O’Reilly Factorcoverage from NBC’s concert.
It’s doubtful that you’d realize how many times “stars” are referenced on Watch The Throne if you didn’t hear it for the first time whilst gazing at digital galaxies and constellations above your head in a super dark room. Words like “moon” and “sky,” too, actually. Last night, at New York City’s Museum of Natural History, Jay-Z, Kanye and the generous folks at Def Jam hosted three separate listening sessions inside Hayden Planetarium, allowing inquisitive listeners to hear the album almost in its entirety (skipping just one track) while they sat reclined, looking up at the impressive show above.
While it was definitely a unique experience for all in attendence, the pizazz of the intergalactic spectacle on the theater’s ceiling screen was a distraction from the music that drew VIPs like Beyonc?, Pusha T, DJ Khaled, Ryan Leslie and Busta Rhymes to show up in the first place. And sonically speaking, unbalanced levels also made focusing on both emcees’ verses a challenge. In the first session, for example, the bass would be so loud that our seats were vibrating and Hov’s lines were rendered virtually inaudible. But let’s dial it back. From what we heard of it, overall, the album sounded solid. The production is definitely on-point, and Jay isn’t paired with Linkin Park or R. Kelly this time around; although it’s too early to tell off these first listens, it seems Kanye’s verbals may, in fact, actually best Jay’s. And ‘Ye will be the first to admit that he’s selfishly “getting high on [his] own supply.” Of beats, that is.
With MTV officially celebrating its 30th birthday today, music nostalgia is in the air. But for each music fan, the initial introduction to MTV’s music programming was unique and personal, and likely rouses up flashbulb memories to this very day. Speaking only for myself, that initiation process started with YO! MTV Raps.
After being on the air for almost seven years, MTV first aired YO! in April of 1988. While other television outlets like BET were showcasing African-American culture at the time, MTV, quite frankly, wasn’t really in the business of having black artists’ videos on the channel. And hip hop, specifically, was certainly not yet used as a vehicle of pop culture; if it wasn’t an indisputable, mainstream force like Michael Jackson, you probably wouldn’t see African-American artists on-air besides an occasional crossover video from Run DMC and Jazzy Jeff. Unless you witnessed hip hop music and culture bubbling within New York City’s five boroughs or other domestic regional pockets first hand (or watched Video Music Box), the genre probably hadn’t really made its way into your world yet.
From it’s inception, YO! MTV Raps curated an balance of hip hop via in-the-moment self-exploration. Since hosts Fab 5 Freddy, Doctor Dr? and Ed Lover didn’t have quite enough content to populate the show’s segments at first, videos from other genres like reggae, funk, R&B and soul were peppered-in to help hip hop’s still-developing definition expand its scope. From that fundamental, harmonious and educational coexistence came more of the same, and soon light-hearted videos like Digital Underground’s “Doowutchalike” and “Humpty Dance” were seamlessly airing beside Public Enemy’s political anthem “Fight The Power” and sonically dynamic “Passin’ Me By” from The Pharcyde, and the South’s sexually-charged posse 2 Live Crew were showcased just as much as funky artists from Queens like A Tribe Called Quest. Additionally, lyrically savvy Juice Crew member Big Daddy Kane would spin alongside the West Coast’s gangster juggernaut N.W.A., and strong female voices like Queen Latifah, MC Lyte and Roxanne Shant?: all women who didn’t need to sell sex to survive.
In the wake of Amy Winehouse‘s untimely death, many of her obituaries have focused on how little recorded material of hers actually exists. Since releasing her second studio album, Back In Black, in 2006, the soul-influenced vocalist went five years without officially releasing any new material. And while speculation and rumors of new songs have been swirling around since her unfortunate passing on Saturday, a source close to Winehouse’s management has told The Guardian that there may actually be a treasure trove of songs to release. Enough for an album, or, dare we say it, even two.
According to the source, the late singer “had put down the bare bones of tracks and some were further along than others.” Constantly writing over these past few years, it was understood that Winehouse was recording and amassing a pile of demos in the studios within her home. In 2008, Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group, Lucian Grainge publically boasted that Amy’s new material was “sensational,” and just a year ago, the artist who already penned Frank and Back to Black vowed that a third album was in the works, and would be released in January of 2011.
Like the gifted singer, that date has now come and gone, and as fans, we can only hope that the purity in the groundwork Winehouse already created will be handled with care and built upon in the most respectful manner possible. And while her label Island Records is maintaining a universal (no pun intended) don’t-confirm-or-deny position, we’ve been told by our own sources over there that there is “no new music as of now.” Translation: it’s coming, but we have to be patient.
Amy Winehouse: Dozen New Songs May Be Set For Release [The Guardian]
We whet your appetite with a 30-second sneak peek of The Script’s new video for “Nothing” on Monday, but now that the full masterpiece has arrived in the form of an exclusive Top 20 Video Countdown premiere, feel free to feast! Watching the trio leave a bar in rare form in the initial clip, we were curious to see what would come of their wild night on the town, especially since the song’s lyrics don’t try to mask the “Am I better off dead?” pain that can come hand in hand with a horrible breakup.
Brooding over his former love, a downtrodden Danny has one drink too many, prompting him to get a little rowdy and uncontrollably shout his ex’s name in the street. While bandmates Mark and Glen were initially contributing to his getting liquored up, they then somehow manage to lose track of him while crossing a quaint, Monet-arched bridge over a canal. After looking introspectively down at the water below, Danny proceeds to climb to the bridge’s ledge (are those studded Louboutin sneakers or Chucks?!) and jump in. And since we all know shots and swimming don’t mix, there is a clear cause for concern.
Once he actually hits the water’s surface (an action that could be viewed as a suicide attempt), Danny discovers that his lady is there, too, in the form of a water goddess, and happily cashes in on some intimate, underwater smooches. While her presence is seemingly a fantasy, we soon realize that our beloved lead vocalist is, in fact, in the water, for real. Does he wind up drowning in this analogy of sadness come to life, or will he live to sing another day?
Umm, is that a gray hair?! Starting this Saturday at 6 a.m., VH1 Classic will be airing ?MTV30 On VH1 Classic,? a three day tribute to MTV’s 30th anniversary of being launched into the homes of millions of people worldwide.
?VH1 Classic viewers grew up with MTV, turning the ‘I Want My MTV’ slogan into a battle cry for a generation,? said Tom Calderone, President of VH1 and VH1 Classic. ?That generation has grown up to become viewers of VH1 Classic, which is the perfect place to relive many of MTV?s iconic moments that helped shaped music and pop culture around the world.? Similarly to the clip above, this weekend-long ovation seeks to awaken viewers’ fond memories of a the iconic channel’s best programming.
On Tuesday, we shared some of Tinie Tempah’s thoughts on mentally transitioning from the UK to the US as an up-and-coming artist in the hectic world of hip-hop. Because the London native goes back and forth across the pond so frequently, we also asked Tinie to give us a cheat sheet of sorts, helping to get us looped-in to the who’s who of British rap. Check out his list of personal favorites below, because after all, you never know if one of these guys might be next.
GIGGS (IF YOU LIKE: Gucci Mane)
“Definitely be on the lookout for Giggs, he?s doing his thing,” preached Tinie. After collaborating with B.o.B and a slew of other big-name British rappers, Giggs continues spitting coke-rap bars for days. Style-wise, Tinie compared him to both Young Jeezy and Gucci; embodying the hustler image, Giggs served a two-year bid for a gun charge back in 2003, but inked with XL Recordings (see: M.I.A., Tyler, The Creator, Dizzee Rascal) to distribute his third solo LP next year off of self-made label, SN1 Entertainment.
Even though Young Jeezy is gearing up to release his fourth solo album?later this year, his show last night at Highline Ballroom in New York was dedicated to his first. Commemorating Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101’s sixth anniversary, the rapper who reps Atlanta looked both svelte and hungry while performing alongside a full band in the hot, filled to the brim venue. For those in attendance, however, it was a welcomed experience, especially once the star-studded guests began spilling out on stage.
First to show his face was Jay-Z, making a supportive cameo to spit his verse from the debut album’s third single, “Go Crazy,” making the crowd do just that. Kanye was next up to bat, joining Jeezy for their 2008 collabo, “Put On,” followed soon after by UGK legend Bun B who helped perform TM101 track “Trap or Die.” Next to hit the stage was Brooklyn rapper Fabolous, who, after performing “Flexin'” from Jeezy’s recent Real Is Back mixtape, also delivered radio favorite “You Be Killin’ Em” to the already-spoiled audience. And to cap off the laundry list of appearances, Jeezy then brought out the entire L.O.X. to perform a medley of their strongest tracks, again forcing the crowd to lose their minds.
While Jeezy’s recruits may be the impressive lynchpin in the show’s dossier, it’s absolutely worth mentioning that his fans were thoroughly content with solo performances from just the man himself. As each song dropped, the audience recognized it instantly, and the room would soon be filled with audible word-for-word rapping accompaniment. Not just some people either, it was pretty much everyone; something you don’t see at every rap show. And considering Jeezy announced that his new album, Thug Motivation 103, will be hitting stores on September 30th, I’m sure he’d appreciate it if every person rapping along to his lyrics in that room actually BUYS it.