The Force is strong with J. Cole. I first witnessed this during a performance in a small auditorium at New York University?s Kimmel Center in August of ?09, when tangible sincerity radiated off of Jay-Z?s first Roc Nation signee and alleged prot?g?. I?d become familiar with his mixtapes prior to the show and, like the NYU students, curious industry onlookers, and countless others who weren?t present, had started to believe in the young Jedi?s potential to herd hip-hop into the next golden era.
Fast forward to last night at Roc The Mic Studios in Manhattan where a tiny group of music writers gathered in the very same room where Cole recorded his ?A Star Is Born? verse for Hov’sBlueprint 3, where Beyoncé and her husband (no pressure!) stood by watching. It was the second of two intimate listening sessions for the North Carolina-bred rapper/producer?s first full-length album, Cole World: The Sideline Story, and (Jermaine) Cole was present to walk us through the sixteen tracks and single skit on his highly-anticipated September 27th release. Less nervous than he was for the first group of critics because the ice had now been broken, he made the disclaimer that he wouldn?t play songs we?d already heard (including Drake-featured ?In The Morning,? the album’s first single ?Workout,? or the song that got him signed, ?Lights Please?), but we?d get to hear everything else. While song titles and the track order may still change before Cole turns-in the final product, Jay-Z has already dubbed Cole World a ?classic.?
The down home diva Kelly Clarksonannounced a release date (October 25) and a title (Stronger) for her fifth LP yesterday. Clarkson’s fans have been foaming at the mouth for months wondering when this album would officially come out, especially since a few songs (including “Dark Side” and “Let Me Down”) leaked last month and were well-received by her acolytes.
That said, when we first heard that she’d be titling her record Stronger, we couldn’t help but feel like, well, it had been done before. After all, it was only March of this year when country artist Sara Evans released an album bearing the same name. A little bit more research revealed that a handful of other well-known musicians have recorded tracks called “Stronger” in recent years, artists running the gamut from Kanye West to Britney Spears to Mary J. Blige to Faith Hill (the latter two of whom are, like Clarkson, former VH1 Divas). While it is still unclear if Clarkson’s new LP will have a title track of the same name, here’s a look at Kelly’s competition for becoming the strongest of the “Stronger” pack.
Artist: Mary J. Blige, “Stronger” (Listen to the song) Album:More Than A Game (2009) Refrain: “I’m stronger, stronger, stronger / I’m stronger, stronger, stronger” Analysis: This song has very impressive DNA; it was written by Esther Dean, produced by Polow da Don, and sung by one of the best singers in the biz. However, it suffers retroactively because it’s so closely tied to the disappointing career arc of Miami Heat supervillain/choke artist LeBron James. The song first appeared on the soundtrack to the documentary about James’ high school years, More Than A Game, and feels overwhelmingly melodramatic and stripped of its potential anthemic power because of that association. Rating:
Earlier this week Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine (of late a judge on NBC’s The Voice) went off on American Idol for not allowing contestants to be openly gay on the show. It didn’t take long for someone at Idol?producer Nigel Lythgoe, talking to Entertainment Weekly about the Emmys?to fire back. “There?s no reason that I would see why anybody that goes on television should start coming out with who they are, what they are, what their sexuality is, who they’re going to vote for or what their religion is,” the producer told James Hibberd when asked about Levine’s comments.
Lythgoe’s plea for privacy rings true, but it doesn’t address the particulars of the situation. Specifically, his claim, “If somebody wants to say they’re gay, it’s up to them” contradicts what Idol contestant Adam Lambert has said. In his episode of Behind The Music, Lambert recalls reading Mark Harris‘s cover story (coincidentally, for Entertainment Weekly) and wondering in regards to its speculation on his sexuality, “Why does it matter? But I guess it does.” (In this he agrees with Lythgoe.) But he goes on to claim that he was contractually unable to respond except on Idol or in an Idol-sanctioned group interview. So to an extend it wasn’t really “up to him.” We hardly expect Lythgoe to respond to a question he was not asked, but his remarks nevertheless fail to adequately defend the show from Levine’s criticisms.
Linkin Park scored a nomination for a 2011 Do Something Award thanks to the work the band has done in connection with its charity Music for Relief, which is currently supporting tsunami relief work in Japan. (Tune in to VH1 tonight at 9 p.m. ET to see if they won!) Want proof that the band doesn’t do this for the accolades? Look no further than the exclusive and intimate live show the band has planned for August 31 in Los Angeles. There’s only one way to score a pair of tickets: Raise at least $500 for tsunami relief.
In a clever turnaround of the Kickstarter-style “rewards for pledges,” which was inspired by non-profits’ fundraising techniques, the band booked a secret location (later revealed to be the Mayan Theater in Los Angeles) and have employed an online fundraising engine through which over 5,000 fans have raised nearly $275,000 so far in a competition for just over 1,000 tickets. Six days (and limited tickets) remain in the fundraising challenge, but it’s certainly still worth giving a shot if you’re in the greater Los Angeles area. If not, find a fan who’s near the goal and help her or him score tickets. All proceeds go to tsunami relief (Music for Relief’s partner organizations are listed on its website.)
The album’s release was unique in two key ways: its successful protection from leaks and its oddly-timed and digital-first release schedule (a Monday iTunes exclusive followed by a Friday physical release, instead of a simultaneous Tuesday release). Just as industry watched Amazon’s 99¢ Born This Way sale to determine strategies for other future releases, they watched The Throne to see how the duo’s unique strategies might affect sales.
So is 436,000 bad news? Not really. In the first place, those are still “big-boy numbers,” as Respect editor-in-chief Elliott Wilson put it to MTV News (besides which, the album’s promotion was primarily aimed at critical, not commercial, success).
More notably, that number fits neatly into the initial projections for Watch The Throne, which were shifted upwards based on the album’s first-day sales on iTunes?which turned out to be a mistake. The album may have set a new one-week iTunes sales record, but within a day of its release it had fallen to #9 on the live-updating iTunes album sales charts (and currently is languishing at #70).
Two Tracks From Black and White America Leak
The Lenny Kravitz tracks “Boongie Drop” and “Sunflower” likely hit the web early because they feature Jay-Z and Drake, respectively. Black and White America will be released August 30. [Billboard]
Will Smith Comeback Album May Be In The Works
Producer La Mar “Mars” Edwards tells XXL that he’s working not only on a Will Smith album, but also with T.I. and with Ashanti. [XXL] Read more…
There are few things more awkward in this world than when white girls try to rap. Madonna, for one, still hasn’t lived down her embarrassing “I’m drinkin’ a soy latte” faux pas from “American Life,” and she’s the Queen of Pop! (Don’t even get us started on those Alabama sorority girls.) The ever-fearless Anne Hathaway, however, took a bold step on last night’s episode of Conan and spit a few bars of an original, paparazzi-themed diss track she wrote while getting bothered by shutterbugs on the set of The Dark Knight Rises in Pittsburgh.
There’s an old saying that goes something like this: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Since we have spent more than a few nights drunkenly rapping at karaoke bars, and since footage of this no doubt exists on someone’s mobile phones (or security cams!), we figured we would pass on commenting on Hathaway’s lyrical prowess. Instead, we asked a panel of hip hop experts to listen to Catwoman’s flow —which she described as being performed “in the style of Lil Wayne”— and let us know what they thought. Here’s what they said:
?Anne, like most of those theater nerds that we all grew up with in high school, is at least 78% percent ham (the other 22% probably being kombucha and kale?.yeesh, get that gal a burger or something) so animated Fem-inem impressions are probably how she blows off steam. Anne?s paparazzi diss rap can?t hold a candle to Natalie Portman?s classic SNL rap debut and I?m not sure how Weezy?s sappy singing love tune inspired this rant, but extra points for the Jersey shout out and ass-slapping hand gesture!?—Miss Info, Hot 97 and MissInfo.tv (Follow her on Twitter: @MissInfo)
?A. Hathaway (she’s definitely earned a nickname after this) spits more like Nicki Minaj than ‘in the style of Lil Wayne.’ But, with Nicki going pop and Drizzy going dark, Weezy could use a thug in his life. Just don’t call her scuzzy.?—Jayson Rodriguez, Executive Editor at XXL (Follow him on Twitter: @JayHovaWitness)
The 2011 Do Something! Awards don’t air until Thursday, August 18 at 9 p.m., but we were able to convince the show’s producers to let us share this awesome clip of our You Oughta Know artist Foster The People with you guys before tomorrow night’s premiere. The band performed two songs during the ceremony, Song of the Summer contender “Pumped Up Kicks” and (my personal S.O.T.S. pick) “Helena Beat,” with the same sort of enthusiasm and energy levels that have been winning them thousands upon thousands of new fans at music festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza.
In particular, their sound was significantly fuller than it was when they played the supremely catchy “Helena Beat” here at VH1 HQ a few months back during a stripped down You Oughta Know Live acoustic set. In their rambunctious Do Something! Awards performance, they employed not one, not two, but THREE guys to tackle the song’s whirring synth melodies, which certainly got the front rows of the Hollywood Palladium up, clapping and dancing.
In addition to being a dynamic young band, Foster The People are also committed to helping out in the community. This fall, they have agreed to partner up with Do Good Bus, which helps transports citizen volunteers to and from charity sites in cities all over the country.
After a handful of false-start announcements by the overeager singer, not to mention a bevy of demo leaks, Kelly Clarkson finally, officially, has a release date for her fifth studio album and its first single. The last five months have felt like a long road to a release date, ever since the singer, after recording wrapped in February, announced that the record would not be released until September. (Less than half a year pales in comparison to, say, the wait for Dr. Dre‘s Detox, but can you blame us for being enthusiastic?) But let’s not get bogged down in the false-start specifics. Here’s the news: On August 30th (two weeks from yesterday), single “Mr. Know It All” will be premiered on a live webcast on the singer’s recently relaunched website, before going on sale everywhere a week later. This single is the first from Stronger, an album due out October 25 but available to pre-order now. Get excited.