When musicians are preparing to release a new album, one of the necessary steps on the promotional docket is the album listening party. Most of the time, journalists and other music executives are invited to either a rented out club or a conference room at the record label headquarters to hear the new tracks. That tactic is certainly effective, but doesn’t always lend itself to really “experiencing” the music in the fullest sense of the word. Record label veteran Usher, who has been churning out albums for nearly two decades now, must’ve sat through more than a few boring listening parties over the years, so he decided to step his game up now that he’s getting ready to release his seventh studio album, Looking For Myself. Instead of holding court in some conference room somewhere, Usher instead collaborated with the off-Broadway Fuerza Bruta cast for a one time only night of interactive surprises.
This past Friday night, April 27, a group of invite-only guests gathered in the heart of NYC’s Union Square at the Daryl Roth Theater, unsure of exactly what to expect from this unlikely mash-up. For the unfamiliar, Fuerza Bruta — which is Spanish for “brute force” — is sort of reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil in that they both have incredibly athletic performers, but Fuerza differs in that there’s more crowd participation in the program. This particular show began with “Climax” blaring through the speakers, when Usher suddenly appeared on an elevated treadmill wearing a crisp white suit paired with a turquoise tie, accented with bright socks. Usher ran and ran at top speed until he was noticeably out of breath and perspiring. At first, it was unclear who or what he was running from, but then, out of nowhere, a loud “bang, bang” sound rang through our ears, and Usher fell over with a blood drenched shirt from two apparent gunshot wounds. (Perhaps at that moment he reached the climax the song alludes to?) Like Superman, he quickly jumped back to his feet, removing the shirt (thankfully he had a clean tank top underneath) and presumed running, only this time he was joined by a partner. The two ran while dodging chairs and running through paper walls.
Uprising: Hip-Hop & The L.A. Riots premieres on VH1 tonight at 9 p.m. ET/PT, and is the latest entry in VH1’s award-winning Rock Docs series. The documentary film, narrated by Snoop Dogg, takes a look back at the riots that occurred in the wake of the Rodney King verdict exactly twenty years ago this week, and the role that hip-hop played in both predicting and ultimately chronicling the tension between the residents of South Central and the police.
The film premiered in Los Angeles last week, and our colleagues over at VH1 News got some 1:1 time with Arsenio Hall before the film began. He detailed for us a story of how Ice Cube passed along a cassette tape to him with an early version of “F*** The Police” on it, which led Arsenio to (ultimately unsuccessfully) lobby his corporate bosses to book N.W.A. on his eponymous talk show. It’s a fascinating anecdote, and one that reflects a time that’s increasingly hard to remember, a time when hip-hop hadn’t yet fully made its way into mainstream American culture.
We also put together a Spotify playlist for you below, Music from Uprising: Hip-Hop & The L.A. Riots, which contains most of the music that you’ll hear in the documentary film tonight, songs like N.W.A.’s aforementioned “F*** Tha Police,” Ice Cube’s “We Had To Tear This Mothaf***a Up” and Dr. Dre’s “The Day The N***** Took Over,” among others.
One of the most tragic moments in hip-hop history was the 1997 murder of Notorious B.I.G., whose young life and promising career was ended at the tender age of 24 in a hail of gunfire. VH1’s Behind The Music: Notorious B.I.G. looks back at the humble beginnings of Brooklyn bred rapper whose two album catalog— Ready to Die and Life After Death— led to his worldwide acclaim. Due to the lyricism present on these LPs, he has earned a place among the greatest rappers of all time.
In this special sneak peek at the latest episode of Behind The Music, which airs tomorrow night at 9 p.m. ET/PT, the Notorious B.I.G.’s mother, Voletta Wallace, is shown holding on to the fond memories of her only child. In rare footage, a young Biggie raps on his block to a swelling crowd of admirers. Big may have found his gift in rhyming, but it wasn’t enough to keep him away from toting guns and selling cocaine in his poverty stricken Bed-Stuy neighborhood. Fortunately, the streets never deterred him from making music.
Lil Wayne can sleep good knowing his legal woes are over, at least for now. TMZ reports the Young Money CEO has settled a $20 million lawsuit with producer Darius “Deezle” Harrison, who claims that he has not been paid for production work he did on Wayne’s smash Tha Carter III album, including “Lollipop.” Per Harrison, the album to date has grossed over $70 million, and he believes he’s rightfully owed $20 million. Harrison and the rapper/CEO reached a confidential agreement and the case has since been dismissed.
This isn’t the first time the rapper has found himself in a whirlwind of lawsuits. In July 2008, Wayne was sued by Abkco Music Inc. for copyright infringement and unfair competition over “Playing With Fire,” which was a version of The Rolling Stones’ “Play With Fire”. The song was eventually removed from the album and all online music stores. Then in February of 2009, Hip Hop DX reported RMF Productions filed a lawsuit for $1.3 million accusing Weezy of cancelling three shows. And get this. While in prison, Wayne was sued by “A Milli” producer Bangladesh for over a half of million in unpaid royalties, according to The Guardian. What is going on in the world of Young Money, anyway? Does this come with the territory of being rich, or does someone need more accountants? Perhaps a name change to Unpaid Money would be a better fit. (We kid, we kid.)
The Civil Wars made history with their Unplugged show, as singer Joy Williams became the first artist in the 22-year history of the program to perform while pregnant. Of course, this reminded us of when M.I.A. sang on The Grammys back in 2009 while she was 9 months pregnant. So, naturally, we asked Joy (who is due in June) about it.
“Dude! M.I.A. on the Grammys was so amazing with that bullseye awesomeness and spandex!,” she explained (video below). “Well, I was going to wear that, but she totally bogarted the awesome spandex idea.”
“So I’m going to,” John Paul White jumped in. “A strategic bullseye.”
Well, dear readers, we can all be thankful that didn’t happen.
No one likes Monday mornings. From Bob Geldof and his Boomtown Rats to Susannah Hoffs and her Bangles, more than a few musicians have made fortunes off of songs written about the universally acknowledged worst day of the week. Last night’s episode of The Simpsons began with Bart Simpson‘s alarm clock going off at 7 a.m., leading him to sigh and say “Ehhhh Monday, here we go again.”
What happened next, though, was an incredible example of how visuals and music can come together to make magic. Set to the strains of Hot Chip‘s wistful “And I Was A Boy From School,” off their 2006 LP The Warning (and the #29 song of the last decade according to Pitchfork), Bart is shown going through the motions of yet another in a seemingly endless (and endlessly repetitive) week at school, soaked in a melancholic haze: The ritualistic humiliation he’s forced to endure includes moments of him getting bullied by Nelson, getting spilled on by Milhouse, and getting bored on the bus. Of course, things would soon go on to change for him in the episode entitled “A Supposedly Fun Thing Bart Will Never Do Again” (h/t to David Foster Wallace, natch), but the 66 seconds that this scene takes to play out are 66 of the best seconds that we’ve seen on television so far this year.
Nas makes New York City proud in his latest video, “The Don,” from his 10th studio album, Life is Good, scheduled for release July 17. Directed by Aristotle, the video to his second single has a familiar feel of a time when NY’s hip-hop was leading the game. On his grown man tip, Nas toasts to the good life with friend Steve Stoute. And how does Nas demonstrate that he’s worth of such a title? Why, of course, tailored suits, antique luxury cars, classic nugget gold rings, champagne and cigars. Executed like a true don.
Although Nas is a boss in “The Don,” he didn’t hide from the troubles he’s had as a father of a teenage daughter. His third single, “Daughters,” is a heartfelt track about the realities of fatherhood, but not everyone is celebrating Nas’ new music. Carmen Bryan, the mother of Nas’ daughter Destiny (and the author of the tell book It’s No Secret: From Nas to Jay-Z, from Seduction to Scandal–a Hip-Hop Helen of Troy Tells All) took to Twitter to express her annoyance with the song, which she says did not depict their daughter in a good light. After the song was released on Thursday, she tweeted: “Just heard ‘Daughters’ by Nas. What a disappointment! He had nothing positive to say about our daughter and his depiction of her is false.”
As The Civil Wars joked during the taping of their VH1 Unplugged set a few weeks back, they’re a duo that already performs “unplugged” most of the time, generally using an acoustic guitar or piano to deliver their songs. Knowing that, you wouldn’t necessarily think that the duo would gravitate towards performing a cover of a 1993 trip-hop classic, but once you hear their take on “Sour Times” (as originally performed by Portishead), you immediately understand how this fits into the band’s repetoire of seemingly offbeat covers.
“We’re lovers of all kinds of different music,” Joy Williams told us when we sat down with her before the show taped a few weeks back. “If we’re able to pick something out of the lexicon where we both go, ‘You listened to that, too?’, it’s really fun for us to say ‘Ok, what can we do with it as a duo?’ The lyrics themselves, to Portishead, I sat down to read them and they’re so mysterious. I still don’t even quite know what we’re actually singing about, but I’m kind of into it. It’s such a moody song!” (VIDEO BELOW.)
Even with the likes of Kim Kardashian and Lindsay Lohan in attendance at this year’s White House Correspondent’s Dinner, it was Young Jeezy, aka the Snowman, that President Obama shouted out during his pre-written comedic speech. Videos of President Obama’s smooth voice carrying the tune of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” spread like wildfire on the Internet back in January, but over the weekend, the President proved again that he is in touch with today’s hip-hop community. “In my first term I sang Al Green,” the president said in the below clip from CBS News. “In my second term, I’m going with Young Jeezy.”
We’re not sure everyone in the audience caught the reference. But of course, in the ultimate cool moment of all time, Mr. President’s wife knew exactly what her husband meant. President Obama mentioned that “Michelle said, ‘Yeah’ when he joked about singing Jeezy in his second term. “I sing that to her sometimes,” he added. Are they not the cutest couple ever?
Jeezy responded on Twitter after getting word of the President’s nod: