Name: Ron, aka "Ronald Grant"
Web Site: http://muzikrevyze.com
Bio: Ron Grant is a freelance journalist and blogger originally from Detroit and currently residing in Orlando. He is a contributor at HipHopDX.com, is the lead writer for Orlando-based indie music label Conscious Mind Records and runs his own independent music blog, The Music Nerdvocate. Follow him on Twitter @RonGreezy.
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Here we stand, again. It sometimes seems like a continuous loop on your favorite piece of old vinyl that keeps skipping over and over and over, never seeming to stop or desist in any way. It sometimes seems like that same nightmare that keeps haunting you, even after you’ve had it for years, never truly escaping your psyche or giving you a moment’s rest. And sometimes it just seems as if it’s inescapable, irrepressible part of life that just seems to…be. One of those ideals that you realize in your heart of hearts, just is, but you also know in every inch of your mind, body, spirit and soul, should not be, and honestly has no place in society.
The killing of Renisha McBride in Dearborn Heights, MI two weeks ago is sure to drum up more controversy, more polarization and more ill will, as it has recently come to dominate national news. It’s likely to be compared to rapidly growing number of other killings of young people of African American descent in America, including Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis in Florida. It’s most certainly going to be politicized in the same manner that Martins’, Davis’ and so many other murders of young black people have been. And once the interest of the mainstream news media has waned, the outcries for justice all across social media have died down, we’ll go back to our normal lives, expecting that we’ll go through the same spin cycle again.
But the real question is: Should it be this way? The fact is that no one who will write an article about this issue (including yours truly), nor who will be brought on as an expert guest to any of the plethora of cable news talk shows or hundreds of radio talk shows, morning and primetime T.V. news shows, or any other outlet for that matter, have all of the facts on this case. At least as of right now, we only know what we’ve been presented with, which is about as clear as a puddle of mud.
Still, even though we don’t have all of the facts or information, we know that a young woman, still at the very beginning of her life and with the possibility of so much ahead of her, is dead. Mainly due to the fact that, as it’s been presented at least, a man felt threatened at the sound of a knock at his door. We also know that, as of this week, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has charged Theodore Wafer, the man that took McBride’s life, with 2nd Degree murder. Still, this is the extent of what we do know about his case and the circumstances surrounding it.
But I ask again: Should it be this way? Is it normal for our society to have to deal with this situation again? Have we really become as desensitized to what seems like the continuous, constant murder of a young people of color that we’ll make a slight uproar over the case of Renisha McBride, then let it die down again only to be pulled in just a few months later when another young person in Florida, or Michigan, or California, or New York, or Georgia or any other place appears on our evening news or social media timeline? What are we actually doing about this issue? What onus and responsibility are we taking as a society? What are we doing and what do we need to do to prevent this type of incident from happening again and again? Do we even have the power to do so?
I’m sad to say that I truly don’t know the answers to any of these and other questions that we’ve had to come to grips with for years and years. All I know is that I’m tired of hearing about it, and you should be too. Going back to one of my previous analogies, I think it’s about time we definitely change this piece of vinyl to stop it from skipping.
By now, if you’re a fan of music and music websites, or at least a troller of popular music news websites, blogs and online magazines, you’re well aware of the latest fight between the NMPA (National Music Publishers Association), RapGenius, the extremely popular lyric-based website for basically all things in terms of Hip Hop lyrics, and 49 other lyric websites that have been targeted by NMPA as being “blatantly illegal”.
Reported on sites including HipHopDX.com, AllHipHop.com and DigitalMusicNews.com, the NMPA argues that sites like RapGenius are illegally displaying the published work of tons of artists without a license. As a consequence, the NMPA has sent take down notices to 50 of these sites, including RapGenius, to either obtain the proper licensure, or completely remove the published lyrics from the respective websites.
RapGenius just so happens to be the most popular and noteworthy website of the laundry list that has been targeted by the NMPA. Other sites include lesser-known names such as Lyricsmania.com, Lyricstranslate.com, Lyricstime.com, Metal-head.org, Karaoke-Lyrics.net and Songonlyrics.com. The NMPA’s list of 50 sites is apparently based on a study conducted by researcher David Lowery of the University of Georgia. Using a methodology created by Lowery specifically for the study, RapGenius has been named the most “blatant and illegal” offender.
So then, what does this particular case say about the idea and concept of music ownership in the 21st century music business model and economy? Mainly that it’s still a muddled, unclear mess that’s still being debated and handled much like it was with the advent of sites such as Napster and the introduction of iTunes, which both seem like eons ago now. Much the same way that the powers that be in the music industry took the most heavy-handed, “Hulk Smash” approach to litigating sites such as Napster out of existence when it became all the rage, the NMPA seems to be taking a cue from Jay-Z in one of his most famous lyrics: “We’ll kill you muthaf***in’ ants with a sledge hammer…”
The truth of the matter is that the music industry has entered a more social, remixed, sharing economy, community fueled state in just the past few years alone. Artists of all kinds are not only putting out music for free, but also allowing their fans to remix and remaster their work in ways unheard of before, be it with interactive videos or audio files shared across the Internet. Some festivals in the 21st century take the approach that The Grateful Dead popularized in the 1970s by encouraging fans to capture and share footage of live music, making the experience as a whole more interactive an inclusive.
All of this begs the question: Who owns what? And it’s not an easy question to answer, especially now. A website such as RapGenius.com covets itself as being the guide to learning about Hip Hop, R&B and soul lyrics of all kinds, and allows just about anyone to make annotations to the lyrics of the site, as well as texts relating to music, news, literature, religion, science, and more.
The main conflict with this, however, always seems to go back to the legality of a site such a RapGenius displaying and annotating the lyrics of published artists. Somewhat similar to the argument that the major record labels had against Sean Fanning and Napster back in the day. These are two ideas that are right and true in their own way, but continue to conflict: the right to the ownership of certain materials and who gets to claim that ownership, and the idea of the sharing economy, where ownership can essentially belong to everyone.
This is a battle that’s sure to rage on as the music industry continues to contract and expand. We will be sure to keep an eye on it here at SoSoActive.com
Last week, Hip Hop impresario/curator/label owner/salesman/media mogul Sean Combs, known by as many title as he has nicknames, launched REVOLT TV, a new music television channel with a social media twist. Using the already insurmountable yet still growing power of outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and many others, Combs hopes to make music television relevant and cogent again by letting fans become the content creators, reporters, contributors and hosts of this new venture.
It seems that the main ideas behind REVOLT TV are fan engagement and the curating of original (or as original as possible), creative content from artists that otherwise would not make it onto mainstream music airwaves. From the media rounds that Puffy has made, from The Breakfast Club to The Ellen DeGeneres Show, he’s looking to get a wide range of artists, fans, and tastemakers involved in REVOLT. And if we know Puffy, from his days as Andre Harrell’s intern to his founding of Bad Boy to now, we know that he’s great at being Hip Hop’s most important salesman of the culture and the brand.
But that’s not to say that there aren’t issues with what REVOLT is trying to do or become. It’s been a long time since an all-music channel has been relevant when it comes to breaking the latest and greatest, and letting fans discover their favorite new artist. Sure, you have the “You Oughtta Know” series from VH1, and how FUSE is probably the main channel for all things music. But how many years has it been since the likes of VH1, MTV and BET, now controlled wholly by Viacom, have even had an interest in music, music videos and the like? Shows like 106 & Park and VH1’s Top 20 Countdown are all well and good, but seriously, is it as important as it once was? I don’t think so. So essentially, REVOLT seems like it has a bit of a mountain to climb in terms of the relevancy of a music channel.
Then, there’s the biggest spin and twist that REVOLT is looking to use to it’s advantage to fill a gaping void as the antithesis to all those other stations: the power that exists within social media. Again, all well and good. But there seem to be a few things that artists and fans will have to agree to in order to be part of the REVOLT revolution. Namely, access to their social media content, from Facebook posts and Tweets to Instagram pictures. Which begs the questions: who gets to own and control that content? Who gets to use it in whatever way they see fit? Who gets credit and who doesn’t? Basically, it’s a question of ownership in our connected, social media driven society.
Much like the supposed debacle currently being debated in D.C. over Healthcare.gov, REVOLT TV is sure to face it’s share of criticism, slip-ups, mistakes and all kinds of backlash. But one thing that you can’t deny is that Puffy knows how to sell it and how to make it at least seem important, especially if you’re a music fan. We’ve got to give it time, and I anticipate it will be one hell of a ride when REVOLT TV finds its wings.
It’s that time of year again! Ghost, goblins, ghouls and all types of little people, and some grown folks, dressed up in their best and scariest get to indulge in the decadence and fright that comes along creeps up on us every year at the end of October.
Halloween is an interesting, somewhat polarizing, but nonetheless entertaining time of year. And Hip Hop is no stranger to dabbling in the dark side of life, with tons of songs and videos dedicated to bringing out some of the darkest sides of some of our favorite emcees.
And it’s not just the old school novelty songs like Whodini’s “The Freaks Come Out at Night”“The Addams Family” that take the cake.
Some of the most disturbing, subconsciously scary and bleakest music has come from Hip Hop from some of its most famous artists. So we at SoSoActive.com decided to take a brief look at 12 of the most frightening Hip Hop songs of all time. Just keep telling yourself it’s only a dream. Or, rather, it’s only music. (*Insert Vincent Price “Thriller” evil laugh here.)
“I Seen A Man Die”–Scarface: Earlier on in his career, Brad Jordan was infamous for being Hip Hop’s version of Alfred Hitchcock with cryptic Southern rhymes and an obsession with the afterlife. This song, from his 1994 album The Diary is his dark crowning achievement from that era.
“Dance with the Devil”–Immortal Technique: One of the more serious and topical songs on this list, this may very well be Technique’s most well-known single, detailing the story of Billy, a misguided young man craving social acceptance from his peers so much so that he is peer pressured into committing a series of vile acts of defiance, the most disturbing of which is when he unknowingly beats and rapes his own mother.
“The Crossroads” – Bone Thugs-N-Harmony: The seminal Hip Hop tune for coping with the loss of a loved one and pondering the afterlife. The 5-man Cleveland crew got extremely reflective on the track that was unofficially dedicated to Eazy E after his passing and earned them a Grammy nod.
“Bad Dreams” – Busta Rhymes: This entry from Busta is one of his more obscure pieces of work form his Genesis album, but is still pretty chilling. On it, Bussa Buss details a nightmare in which he goes toe to toe with Satan himself. Busta’s distorted, villainous voice serves as the Devil and really takes the track to a sinister level, creating the sense that one is really walking through Hades to come face to face with the most infamous fallen angel.
“Bad Meets Evil” – Eminem feat. Royce Da 5’9”: From Eminem’s monumental debut The Slim Shady LP, Em and Royce get super lyrical on a story of two emcee outlaws hell bent on doing whatever they please. The cowboy voice at the beginning and end may be a little corny but the two emcees monstrous rhymes more than make up for it on a track that juxtaposes between humorous and ominous.
“My Mind Playin’ Tricks On Me” – Geto Boys: A song that has clearly influenced the likes of Bone Thugs and Three Six Mafia, this is still as creepy as ever well over 20 years later. Scarface, Willie D and Bushwick Bill were unmatched in creating a haunting masterpiece that touched on mental illness, paranoia and our deepest fears. The greatest moment had to be Bushwick Bill punching the ever-loving crap out of the concrete at the end of the video.
“Interview With a Vampire” – Ras Kass: Deep throbbing bass line, introspective, inward-looking, complex lyricism, vocal distortion and a prevailing theme of good against evil and the light versus the dark makes Ras Kass’s song a true dark classic. More thought provoking than it is scary, this joint still raises many questions in the heads of many Hip Hop fans to this day.
“Yonkers” – Tyler The Creator: More so menacing and threatening in its pacing, production and musicality and not so much in the content, the song Tyler has become most famous for is no less ominous and troubling. And of course, Tyler’s signature raspy growl, coupled with the imagery in the video of him eating and throwing up a cockroach, is pure new millennium shock value at it’s finest.
“Tear The Club Up ’97” – Three Six Mafia: Arguably the Memphis, TN collective’s most beloved track, the group created a sound scape and an atmosphere on this song that was equal parts frightening and doom-filled, yet one that you could still bounce to in the club. The ski masks and scary, southern-style CGI graphics on the World Domination album cover only helped to cement this jam as a deceptively dark work of genius.
“Damien” – DMX: In 1998, there weren’t many rappers close to the level of darkness and sheer malice of Dark Man X. This tale from his debut, It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot, is basically the Hip Hop version of “The Devil And Tom Walker”, where X meets a figure he deems to be his guardian angel and swears to give his right hand in exchange for his success. The second installment from his follow-up album featured Marilyn Manson and was even more menacing. Both featured the classic dark hook, “The snake, the rat, the cat, the dog/ How you gonna see ‘em if you livin’ in the fog?”
“Closed Casket” – Esham: Considered by many the primary figure in Detroit acid rap, and also by his own admission, this is one of Esham’s darkest pieces of music from a long career of independent music success. Lyrics detailing him going to Hell, meeting the Grim Reaper and Satan, have curiously helped Esham carve out a niche to become the most successful independent artist in Detroit Hip Hop history.
“Demons” – Tech N9ne feat. Three Six Mafia: Two of the most shadowy but still misunderstood Hip Hop acts of all time connect on this joint from Tech Nina’s K.O.D. album. N9ne has always been an expert at baiting people into believing the many misconceptions about him, and “Demons” helps him to so to a tee.
Hip Hop and race. A pairing that was destined to be so, yet has always and still does cause a fracas in many circles. It’s an obvious quandary when you think about the history of the genre: a form of music and sub-culture created by underserved African America and Latino youth in the hoodest of hoods, the Bronx, as a response to having nearly everything stripped of respective neighborhoods and communities, and essentially a way for those youths to try getting through and enjoying life despite their destroyed and desolate surroundings.
But as with any culture or subculture deemed to be alternative, progressive and even dangerous by many a person that stands outside of that culture or subcultures’ boundaries, Hip Hop eventually became part of the mainstream to include more faces and more voices, many of them not of color. That’s the great, and to some, also troubling thing about Hip Hop, especially in the 21st century: just about anyone can use the art form to express a pain, a struggle and a story that many of us wouldn’t have even thought about hearing before.
There’s not much of a point to go into a history of White rappers here. Many older heads are well aware of the lineage of melanin-deficient emcees, from the Beastie Boys to 3rd Bass during the Golden age, to probably the biggest novelty White act of all time in Vanilla Ice. Simultaneously, many a younger rap fan has been exposed to a plethora of White emcees in the current day and age: Machine Gun Kelly, Action Bronson, Mac Miller, and Macklemore are some of the hottest right now. A few that still bubble under the radar include Bubba Sparxx and Asher Roth, while Iggy Azalea, Rittz, Riff Raff, Lil Whyte are noisemakers in their own respective rights, as well. And what’s a music journalism article on white rappers that doesn’t mention the man considered to be a legend and one of the G.O.A.T.s of the rap game who happens to be white, Eminem? Exactly…pretty damn pointless.
Fact is, it’s truthfully not fair to try lumping all emcees that just happen to be Caucasian in the same bunch. Each of the above mentioned artists, and many more, have their own distinctive style. MGK brings a Midwestern, wild child, punk rock aesthetic to the game, while Action Bronson’s Ghostface influence permeates throughout his Boom Bap-centered, New York Shit-esque flow, helping him dominate the mixtape game with titles like Blue Chips and Saaab Stories.
Macklemore’s West coast drawl from Seattle, combined with an over-the-top, DIY approach to production, distribution and even video directing and editing, has translated into big money for he and partner Ryan Lewis with their album, The Heist. While Mac Miller’s done something that’s somewhat similar but a bit more alternative and sometimes abstract musically, with a stoned college slacker guy, indie music methodology that has seen his latest release, Watching Movies With The Sound Off, one of the biggest albums of 2013.
But the thing that’s beginning to stand out about these and other artists of European descent is this: a newer generation of fans, and even some of us that are on the cusp of being in between generations in Hip Hop fandom, really don’t consider any of these artists to be “white rappers”. They’re merely emcees in the game. Time was, an artist like the Beastie Boys and 3rd Bass, in their heyday and even with their success, were viewed by many fans as just that. Then, when Vanilla Ice came along a little later in all of his MC Hammer-imitation, clownish glory, so was he.
It wasn’t until Eminem entered the stage that the idea of the novelty white emcee stigma began to get broken down. Marshall Mathers was somewhat of an anomaly: a crazy, borderline sadistic white guy from Detroit that looked about as non-threatening as possible, but one that could go round for round with just about anyone when it came to battle rap. Many of us were slightly too oblivious to know it, but we were being exposed to somewhat of a sea change. Even though Em has freely admitted in the past that he believes his race has played a part in him having the success he’s had, he was eventually no longer seen as a here today, gone tomorrow stigmatized white rapper. And the fact that he’s set to release his seventh studio album next month with The Marshall Mathers LP 2 is dead set proof.
So, are we finally at a place in Hip Hop’s history where we can say for sure that the proverbial novelty white emcee, one whom is mediocre to slightly above average in talent and longevity and leans more on the crutches of race and gimmickry for success, is dead? Much like many an issue-centered debate in Hip Hop, there’s really no definitive “yes” or “no” answer. Gray areas and blurred lines (no pun intended) are all up in through.
And though many of artists of a certain persuasion have worked extremely hard to move past being labeled only as a “white rapper” and make the world take notice of their skill, there may always exist that certain stigma within the confines of Hip Hop. Why? Because Hip Hop is an All-American invention. And much like the land of the free and the home of the brave, Hip Hop is a creature that has certain stigmas attached to it, like it or not.
Truth be told, the current generation of both artists and fans are making major strides in the way that Hip Hop is viewed and what it can be, and one of those fronts is race. Case in point: legendary New York emcee Lord Jamar of Brand Nubian, never one to hold his tongue, recently relayed in an interview on VLAD TV that emcees that just happen to be white are basically “guests” in the house of Hip Hop. In response, Top Dawg Entertainment affiliate Schoolboy Q felt these comments were “racist” and that Jamar should have refrained from using them.
As a genre, a culture and as a community, Hip Hop is far from where it wants and needs to be in terms of real race relations. But even with the smallest amount of progress, there could be some light shining on Hip Hop’s racial future yet. One where all emcees will be considered that and only that…emcees.
As a native Detroiter, it’s hard to watch my dear city go through so much at such a pivotal time in its history, and from afar. From the economic, developmental, educational and housing crises that have plagued Detroit for decades (yes, I admit it wholeheartedly), to a laundry list of elected officials caught up in scandal after disappointing scandal, to the reality of what was once considered the epicenter of modern American automotive innovation now existing as a shell of its former self barely able to scrape together enough funds to pay its bills…to the latest in a series of major psychological blows to the pride of the city with former Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick sentenced to 28 years in federal prison for a series of governmental indiscretions.
To put it plainly, it isn’t easy to be a Detroiter these days, whether you’re still in the city or have moved on to seemingly greener pastures, but still claim the 3-1-3 any chance you get. But just as there’s a lot to be frustrated and disappointed about, there’s also a lot to be hopeful for and proud of when it comes to the city. Especially when it comes to music. The Detroit scene is more thriving that it’s ever been when it comes to several genres and artists, but particularly with Hip Hop.
From mainstream favorite Big Sean, to lesser-known independent Hip Hop collectives and duos like Clear Soul Forces, Cold Men Young, Passalacqua, to super producer and emcees’s emcee Black Milk, to everyone’s favorite druggy/music festival mainstay Danny Brown, Hip Hop from Detroit is making waves like never before. And with all the talk surrounding his latest album set for release November 5, Eminem has positioned himself to help Detroit continue to get back to a place of Hip Hop prominence, even with all of the trials and tribulations it faces as a major U.S. city.
Just last Friday, Em revealed his cover art, track list and guest stars for the upcoming The Marshall Mathers LP 2, which is executive produced by Dr. Dre and Rick Rubin, features and guest spots by Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar and Skylar Grey and will contain both majorly successful singles “Berzerk” and “Survival” within the 16 tracks. But Marshall isn’t merely resting on his past successes to push the album towards the all-important first week sales success mark. In the spirit of cross-brand marketing and product placement, Em has truly gone for broke to ensure that his new music will be heard with a commercial for his new Beats By Dre headphones, and has inked a deal with ABC Sports to have the single “Berzerk” featured weekly on Saturday Night College Football. And let’s not forget that the new video for “Survival” on YouTube and VEVO already has 14 million views in less than a week.
But of course, Em’s story wasn’t always so rosy. We’re all now very well aware of his struggles with addiction that came out in just the last few years. And there are the well-documented domestic issues with his family that he vehemently describes on album after album. And to put it mildly, his music really wasn’t catching the ear of the public after a while (Encore, anyone?)
Just being as blunt as possible, Eminem was on the brink in more ways than one. But thankfully, everyone’s favorite crazy white boy from the Motor city seemed to find his way back in a big way. Just look at the success of his last two albums, Relapse and Recovery, as well as the fact that their titles can be applied to not just experiencing and beating addiction, but to how a certain city can potentially get itself right.
The fact of the matter is the story of Eminem and that of the city of Detroit really aren’t all that different. A local guy uses his unparalleled rhyme skills, dark wit and questionable family background to make a killing in the music industry, falls victim to the trials of addiction, and crawls his way back ever so slightly. Similarly, Detroit finds itself teetering on the brink at this current moment in time after decades of both world-renowned prosperity and severe social decline. A former mayor in prison, elected officials on the run and seemingly unable to provide basic services to residents of the city, a Republican governor in the state of Michigan hell-bent on imposing a solution of receivership on the city as a whole, and to top it all off, an upcoming mayoral election that sees some familiar political faces conveying that they’re ready to take the helm and bring the city back, while Detroiters take their words with a grain of salt and a tone of skepticism. The only thing is, Detroit’s chapter on a return to success is yet to be written.
But through it all, much like its native son Marshall, the city of Detroit has taken the good wit the bad, the ups with the downs, the triumphs with the mistakes and the successes with the failures, all the while determined and resolute that success is still somewhere around the corner. Is this all to say that the success of one iconic Hip Hop artist will contribute to a new and brighter day for Motown? Hell no. It’s merely an observation in parallels between one successful artist and the city that made him famous.
The situation is dire, the reality is harsh, and sometimes the future for Detroit looks awfully grim. But if we as Detroiters and the city itself can learn anything from the example of Eminem’s rise, fall and renaissance, it’s that even the most bleak and desperate of situations have the potential of coming out in the affirmative.
In a year jam-packed with noteworthy album releases from some of the leading names from Hip Hops new school of stars, Tyler the Creator, Wale, J. Cole and Drake among them, Detroit’s Big Sean now comes up from the dugout and steps up to the plate hoping to knock one out of the park with his next effort, Hall of Fame.
On the heels of the commercial success of 2011’s Finally Famous and the G.O.O.D. Music compilation Cruel Summer from 2012, as well as his critically acclaimed Detroit mix tape from last year and the most talked about Hip Hop song of 2013 with “Control”, Sean seeks to solidify his spot amongst the next crop of heavy hitters in the game.
At times criticized for lacking and lagging in skill, wordplay and, more harshly, personality, Big Sean has been more reliant on his rags-to-riches storied meeting with Kanye West in Detroit and hungrily rhyming on the spot for his future label boss and his charisma to push him to the top of the charts, as well as a steady stream of respected mix tapes when his album was originally shelved. And though Finally Famous was one of the most sought after rap music debuts, Hall of Fame gives Sean the chance to truly make known who and what he is as an artist.
Unfortunately, Sean doesn’t seem to take full advantage of that chance. There are definitely the stand out tracks, like “First Chain” featuring Nas and Kid Cudi, where Sean uses witty repartee to chronicle his rise from Motown to where he stands currently as one of Hip Hop’s most sought after figures over a jazzy, piano tickled, soulful, emotional and slice of production. More towards the beginning of Hall of Fame, “Nothing Stopping You” and “Fire” rev the beginning of the album into overdrive with gospel-influenced singing on the latter and a voice distorted chorus on the former. And “World Ablaze” is an affecting and heartwarming yet somber and dark track where Sean manages to tell us about his life story again, but does it convincingly and intimately to the point where you feel emotion seething from his voice.
But even with all of that, the subject matter seems to stay in the same lane as Finally Famous, with the materialistic groupie love (“Sierra Leone Greedy Ho’s”), the relationship ups and downs (“Ashley”, “Beware”) and reminiscing about and putting Detroit on (“It’s Time”). Although “Sierra Leone Greedy Ho’s” does contain a comical cautionary skit at the end where he’s taken for his wares and “It’s Time” with Young Jeezy is a certified banger for the end of the summer, it still feels as if Sean is holding a lot back from the masses about what he can truly do on the mic.
The star-studded guest spots (Young Jeezy, Lil Wayne, Nas, Kid Cudi, Meek Mill Miguel) as well as lots of the production on Hall of Fame from No I.D. and others walking a fine line between above average and pretty good, make for an album that flirts with being top-10 worthy for 2013. But it doesn’t quite get there. Big Sean has shown a good amount of growth and expansion of his music and his brand, but ultimately, Hall of Fame still leaves a lot to be desired.
There’s little doubt that the social media generation of emcees is now beginning to come into their own. And being part of the most prominent collective to rise out of this new genesis of artists, Earl Sweatshirt was bound to have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of eyes and ears transfixed squarely at attention on his music. While Doris, Sweatshirt’s new album, is a culmination of mounds of mainstream music attention and fascination, both good and bad, given to him over the last 3-plus years, it’s also a gritty and biting yet strong beginning to the career of a young artist that might already be on the edge.
The prevailing sound and auditory theme of Doris is clunky and disjointed, gloomy and mournful, subconsciously hostile, lackadaisical and dismissive of whatever the listeners’ attitude and preconceptions could possibly be. Sweatshirt, much like the rest of Odd Future, takes a punk rock approach to his music and lyrics: many of the songs are short, sparse, fall somewhere in between abstract and dismissively vulgar, and sometimes hard to grasp. But the music as a whole is drenched in a D.I.Y. aesthetic that the collective has grown famous for. Many times without clear direction or concept, but thick with personality a certain aloof swagger. It’s part of the appeal that Sweatshirt has worked hard to introduce and maintain as his mantra. Beginning with “Pre”, Earl Sweatshirt does is best impression of Chief Keef with a stuttering, elementary flow… if Chief Keef were more lyrical and coherent.
Following in the footsteps of GOLFWANG leader Tyler, The Creator earlier this year on his album Wolf, Earl manages to get more personal and introspective, even if still somewhat guarded, on the tracks “Burgundy” and “Chum”. While guest feature Vince Stephens chides him at the beginning of “Burgundy” for being overly emotional, Sweatshirt proceeds to revel and wallow in his youthful angst: “Grandma’s passin’/But I’m too busy trying to get this f*ckin’ album crackin…” It’s a prime example of how at times on Doris he swings back and forth between guilt-ridden disinterest and wearing a bleeding heart on his sleeve. Where as with “Chum”, he delves into his more lyrical Hip Hop wordsmith side while harping on losing his father and being an outcast. Again, it lends to an appealing air of mysteriousness and jaded paranoia at letting the wrong people into his emotional closet.
Earl purposely makes himself out to be an angsty, tortured young artistic soul that still just wants to be left alone. After all, that’s what got him on the map with his previous self-released, self-distributed albums and mix tapes. Spots where this works the best are with Sweatshirt’s Odd Future affiliate Tyler, The Creator on “Sasquatch” and “Whoa”, where Earl and Tyler as a pair on a few of the songs are reminiscent of a younger, bleaker, more punch-drunk version Method Man and Redman. But though most of the time Doris makes that ideal true to form, it’s also an aspect that drags the music down and can grow laborious to listen to.
Which isn’t to say that there are actual bad songs on Doris, because there really aren’t. Sweatshirt actually has created some of the darkest, yet most interesting and engaging material that any Odd Future member has made since they first came to the limelight. “Centurion” is probably the bleakest, most descriptive and vivid song on the entire album. Sweatshirt’s lyrics are sharp, slicing, concise and raspy set against voice distortions and a musical backdrop that’s horrific and sinisterly irresistible.
And “Molasses” featuring RZA, one of the best Hip Hop songs of the year, gives Earl the chance to share the spotlight with one of Odd Futures most obvious and heaviest musical influences, sounding eerily similar to RZA at one point but still being his own man lyrically.
But after slightly over 40 minutes, Doris actually weighs on the listener and doesn’t let up. One interesting thing that happened upon the release of this album was a tweet that Sweatshirt sent out, telling followers in effect that if they felt positively about another hotly anticipated and polarizing 2013 Hip Hop album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, that they should un follow him.
Doris is almost the complete antithesis of Magna Carta: where Hov is an established and comfortable artist/ambassador of Hip Hop culture running with the high society, One-Percenter high art crowd, Earl is an apprehensive, darkly sarcastic young wall flower still struggling to find himself as an artist in an industry that has placed a mountainous burden on both he and his crew. And where Magna Carta celebrates the high life, glorifies fatherhood and loftily questions religion, Doris seeks to stay lurking creepily through the shadows and barely gives a shit about every day life, almost to the point where you want to tell Earl Sweatshirt to lighten the f*ck up.
In the end, Doris is a good listen, but a little too grim and desolate for an artist that’s still finding his footing and hasn’t yet entered his twenties. Here’s hoping that Earl Sweatshirt can eventually follow the lead of Tyler and Wolf on his next album and find some growth and balance.
Celebrating it’s 19th year of existence, the 2013 Essence Festival has a long history in bringing some of the biggest and most respected and anticipated names in music to New Orleans over the 4th of July weekend for three days of stunning live performances and the best in urban R&B and soul music. And creating a show year after year that has come to help define the genre of music can be no easy task, yet somehow Essence seems to continuously pull it off with, at least to the naked eye in term of entertainment, little to no hitches.
This year’s music festival portion kicked off on Friday, July 5 with live performances from Brandy, LL Cool J, Jill Scott and Maxwell. I unfortunately wasn’t in time to catch Brandy’s performance at 7 p.m. but did come just in time to catch all of LL Cool J onstage. Accompanied by DJ Z-Trip, LL fed vigorously off of lots of crowd participation and call and response tendencies. Delving straight into old favorites like “Jack the Ripper”, “Mama Said Knock You Out”, “Radio” and “Jinglin’ Baby” he did his best to channel the LL Cool J of the mid to late 80s and early 90s at the beginning of the show, then steadily moved into more of his lover man hits like “Doin’ It”, “Hey Lover” and “Loungin’ (Who Do You Love)”. Running the gamut of his entire career and with Z-Trip on the ones and twos throwing on hits from the Beastie Boys, Notorious B.I.G., Missy Elliot and Slick Rock for the Queens legend to ad lib to, as well as a special surprise appearance by EPMD, LL helped to bring a greater sense of classic Hip Hop to a show that’s usually dominated R&B.
Next up was Jill Scott, who came out with a vivacious and take-no-prisoners mentality right from the start. Clad in a multi-colored, African-inspired frock, large sunglasses and a crown of braids adorning her heard, Jill’s attitude from the beginning of her set was to be larger than life with her music. The set was jazzy, funk-laden and even thick with rock music influences as her skillful backing band used ripping horns, thrashing guitars and heavy drums to blow the audience away, which has always been one of the most important elements of Jill’s live performances.
All the while, Jill was steadily, passionately and majestically performing like she had everything to prove. The emotions of the show ranged from the frantic, to the mellow, to the serious, to the sexual and all the way back around as Jill Scott ran through her formidable catalog with songs like “Is It The Way”, “Hate On Me”, “The Real Thing”, “Golden”, “A Long Walk”, “Whatever” and “So Blessed”. A lot like on her much celebrated 2002 live album, Ms. Scott talked directly to and engaged the crowd at every turn, even allowing her back up singers to do their own rendition of “Knockin’ Da Boots” by H-Town as she mouthed the words like she was a member of the audience. And at one point, she playfully toyed with the Essence crowd as if her performance was complete, only to bring the lights back up and go into more of her hits, to the sheer delight to the thousands in attendance.
The night ended with Maxwell gracing the stage, beginning by playing his idol Marvin Gaye’s classic post-disco single “Got To Give It Up”. Seeking to bring a more subdued, grown-and-sexy vibe to the concert, Maxwell used his signature voice versatility to roil the crowd into a frenzy of carnality, segueing into a male falsetto that was almost bone chilling. This being his third installment at the Essence Music Festival, Maxwell knew good and well he had to bring something exclusive to the proceedings, and so he gave the crowd a taste of a new single called “Gods” from his forthcoming album. At one point, sharing that he’ll turn 40 this year, the singer sincerely thanked fans for their continued support of his music throughout the years.
Though he did perform tons of fan favorites from “Bad Habits” and “Get To Know Ya” to “Fortunate” and the Alicia Keys-assisted “Fire We Make”, the crown seemed to respond only marginally. That is, until Maxwell used the moment to play the original version of “This Woman’s Work” and then to sing his own version, bringing the crowd to life. From that point on, the Maxwell held the audience in the palm of his hand, as they sang along enthusiastically to “Lifetime” and “Don’t Ever Wonder”.
Day 1 of Essence Music Festival 2013 was a mix of the rough and rugged, the classic and the familiar, the sensual and the smooth, the fiery and the bold. Though it took the crowd a little while to warm up during some parts of the respective performances, there’s little doubt that attendees left the Mercedes Superdome unsatisfied on July 5.
For a number of years now, Essence, as a magazine and a multimedia brand, has staged one of the most successful and well-known events during the music festival season with the Essence Music Festival, these days more commonly known as the Essence Music Festival. In 2013, Essence will once again give people exactly what they want in the form of top tier black music and entertainment, engaging speakers and panel discussions, and valuable information that will be of the greatest benefit to the community at a time when it is needed the most.
The list of performers in 2013 reads like a true who’s who of the biggest names in R&B, classic Hip Hop, alternative soul and up-and-coming artists from across the musical stratosphere. From some of the most popular artists in contemporary urban music, including Keyshia Cole, Janelle Monae, Maxwell, Jill Scott, Trey Songz, Marsha Ambrosious, Chrisette Michele, Brandy and festival headliner Beyonce, to legendary emcees LL Cool J and Big Daddy Kane, to rising stars like Emeli Sande, F. Stokes, Daley and St. Beauty, this years’ Essence Festival is filled to the brim with enormously talented music acts that will surely keep the New Orleans crowds and each and every stage riled up and begging for encore after encore after encore. The full line up of artists is available online at http://www.essence.com/festival/schedule/artist.
But the Essence Music Festival goes far beyond just a music festival and delves deep into the pressing issues facing the African American community today, with a series of speaking engagements and panel discussions that are sure to get attendees thinking, engaging, networking and contemplating new ways to improve their community. Dubbed the Essence Empowerment Experience, the series will feature speakers from many different walks of life, including heralded activists like the Rev. Al Sharpton, life coach and television host Iyanla Vanzant, Congressman John Lewis, gospel music personality and Rev. Donnie McClurkin, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, Issa Rae, creator of popular web series “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl”, Hip Hop artist and entrepreneur Master P, former head of the National Urban League Mark Morial, television and radio host Roland Martin, and many, many more.
The 2013 Essence Music Festival, presented by Coca Cola, will surely be an event that will connect people and communities, stir more than a few souls, get folks out of their seats and even open a few minds. And SoSoActive.com will be in attendance to cover all of the proceedings in New Orleans. Be sure to look out for follow up reports and articles straight from the frontlines.