Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dear Sean John: Blow Me.

Shit like this is why my people can't get approved for mortgage loans. It makes no sense at all that this jacket would EVER cost anything close to $1000.00. And on sale for $539? No sir.

I could buy this same jacket...minus the actual leather...for $20 at Forever 21 (and don't act like you haven't tipped through their men's section looking for something similar to something else you couldn't afford at Express).

Oh, and be reminded that you're paying for Sean John tags, not Purple Labels. That's like taking the money that your mommy gave you for a Benz and buying a Pinto...cause the price was high, and you thought you were really doing something.

If you buy this jacket, you don't love yourself, and you don't love your country. Recession people!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Kelly Clarkson Returns to Form with "All I Ever Wanted"

I own each of Kelly Clarkson's four albums, and that's not a problem for me to admit since she's easily one of the best pop artists to emerge this decade. That's an especially impressive accomplishment given the circumstances of her initial mainstream exposure. In the seven years following her American Idol win, Kelly has managed to sculpt an image for herself that overshadows the fact that she more or less micro-managed her way toward a record deal, and that speaks volumes about her immense talent.

Still, even with my love for Clarkson, I didn't love 2007's My December. That's a bit hard for me to admit, since popular opinion reflects the same attitude toward her brooding third album; and I'd much prefer to be in the minority. But My December was almost too self-pitying. Clarkson has a history of approaching love and loss with a mostly sardonic attitude that makes songs like "Behind These Hazel Eyes" and "Since U Been Gone" as empowering as they are mournful, and more explicitly sad songs like "Because of You" that much more appealing because of their vulnerability. On My December, Kelly traded in the wit for an outright bitterness that grows increasingly less interesting from track to track.

On her latest effort, All I Ever Wanted, Kelly manages to blend the charming approachability of her earlier work, with the lyrical substance of My December, to create an album that has just as much depth as it does commercial potential.

First single, "My Life Would Suck Without You," isn't about marketing the rest of the album, it's about convincing her fans to give her a second chance, and it works perfectly in that regard. The phenomenal success of Kelly's Breakaway was a reflection of its ability to remain relatable across a broad age-range--from middle school through college, everyone was quoting some Clarkson lyric on their away message, and "My Life Would Suck" functions in the same way. "I really shouldn't miss you, but I can't let you go" is so shamelessly Facebook status ready that it's no wonder the song shot straight to number one in the first week of its release. In that regard, it's certainly a return to form for Clarkson, but ironically one of the few low points on All I Ever Wanted.

The Katy Perry penned "I Do Not Hook Up" is a much better reflection of the rest of the album, as the song is as refreshing as it is familiar. And while the title is more or less self-explanatory, Clarkson carries it from being just a simple declaration of sexual self-agency, to becoming an anthem for those demanding some sort of substance before heading to the bedroom. But it's songs like "Impossible" and "Already Gone" that prove that Clarkson and One Republic's Ryan Tedder have a chemistry that may even surpass the brilliance of her work with Evanesence's Ben Moody ("Hazel Eyes" and "Because of You"). Both songs manage to be radio-friendly and intensely personal at the same time, which is a hard balance to find, especially in today's superficial pop consciousness. Finally, if you weren't sure that Clarkson could hold her own against that other popular idol--Carrie Underwood--check the ballad "Cry," which not only moves into Underwood's country-pop lane, but totally upstages her in the process.

Outside of "My Life Would Suck," other throw-away material includes the overly-sentimental "If No One Will Listen" ("maybe no one told you there was strength in your tears" LAME) and "Whyyawannabringmedown," which is such an Avril song that not even Clarkson can save it from drowning in embarrassing teenage angst.

But, what is most important is that through it all Clarkson's voice remains as flawless as ever, so that even the most tedious of material is worth listening to, if for her unexpectedly soulful approach alone. Kells can sing...no, really.

Here's "I Do Not Hook Up," which is basically ringtone material in my life.

Oh, and via Google it's really hard to find a decent picture of Clarkson...her publicist should probably work on that.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Because People Keep Asking Me

  • Approximately one in five high school girls has been physically or sexually abused by a dating partner.
  • Dating violence among their peers is reported by 54% of high school students.
  • Nearly 80% of girls who have been victims of physical abuse in their dating relationships continue to date the abuser.
*taken from chooserespect.org

I really don't recognize any real entertainment value to the reality of domestic abuse in our country, and really across the world. That's why I haven't commented on the Chris Brown/Rihanna situation. There are things in this world that surpass celebrity and fame, and when the seriousness of an ass whoppin becomes as casual as a Facebook status update, I find myself a bit worried about the consciousness of our generation.

I won't talk about what really matters in this situation, but I'd encourage you all to think about it.

That being said, Rihanna better hop her ass on Oprah and capitalize on this shit; cause that haircut is about to expire.

Kanye West Proves That Pretty Isn't Always a Talent

The video for the third single from Kanye West's 808s and Heartbreaks, "Welcome to Heartbreak," premiered this week; continuing a trend of generally wack videos from West's most inspired body of work.

Visually speaking, "Welcome to Heartbreak" is probably the most creative video you'll see on your television until Kanye's fourth single gets the small screen treatment; but that's the only interesting thing about it. Music television is full of clips that look good for the sake of looking good, and while Kanye often leads the pack in that department, it would be refreshing to see him present a visual presentation that really engages the subject matter of the song.

Watching West's latest video reminds of the first time I saw the video for "Love Lockdown." On Ellen, West mentioned how the film American Psycho served as inspiration for the video's aesthetic. I certainly noticed that while watching the clip; and I loved it. Stylistically, "Love Lockdown" was refreshing in its modesty, and basically just a pretty ass video. However, that doesn't change the fact that it had nothing at all to do with the song.

Listening to the song's lyrics shows that West isn't on "Love Lockdown," he's keeping someone else in restraint, so any argument citing his own sanity during the course of the clip in relation to the American Psycho theme just doesn't work. Outside of that, there's no reason to think that the video for Love Lockdown was inspired by the actual song, other than the random ( and lazy) placement of a charging tribe to match the drum interjections. The fact that the tribal stampede doesn't complement any other part of the video, but completely caters to the nature of the song more or less illustrates the immense disconnect between the two.

Likewise, "Welcome to Heartbreak" is fun to watch; but you could pair it with just about any other song, and it would work just as well.

I don't know that creating pretty videos could really be considered a talent at this point. It's like, "Ohh, fun colors and fly clothes." We get it.

I won't argue that every video needs a distinct storyline, but finding a way to marry the song with a visual presentation that gives equal representation toward both visions shouldn't be asking too much either.

Checkout Christina Milian's "Us Against the World" clip for a video that perfectly captures the sentiment of the song, while still managing to remain visually refreshing. Really, there's no plot to Milian's video, but even with the volume turned completely down you get a feel for the song that matches its atmosphere.

Here's the video for Kanye's "Welcome to Heartbreak," followed by Milian's "Us Against the World."

Monday, February 9, 2009

In Case You Forgot How Sexy Janet Jackson Is...

Janet Jackson is back in the studio, and with her signature producers no less.

That's pretty much it for that update, but since I look for any reason to make a Janet post I thought I'd take this time to give you guys my favorites of Janet's bedroom ballads.

I'm pretty confident that Janet is the sexiest female artist of our time, and in case you need a reminder...

Janet Jackson's 10 Sexiest Songs

10. Tonight's The Night (The Velvet Rope, 1997)

Even at 31, Janet manages to convincingly coo about virginity...and keeping the lyrics of the Rod Stewart original in tact gives the song a bisexual lien that was pretty ballsy in the 90s. If nothing else, Janet makes lines like "Spread your wings and let me come inside," seem infinitely more appealing than Stewart, so that forcing yourself upon an unsuspecting date never seemed nearly as enticing.

9. Someday is Tonight (Rhythm Nation, 1989)

"You know I promised I'd be worth the wait; now the wait is over" Yeah, this song came nearly three years after "Let's Wait Awhile," and realistically, just the thought of getting some is probably enough to validate its place on the list. Still, if you're looking for more, listen to the song, because Janet's shy yet certain delivery made her sexy long before she traded in military garb for nipple rings.

8. Funny How Time Flies (When You're Having Fun) (Control, 1986)

It's sort of funny that a song so sexually suggestive would sit so nicely aside Janet's infamously chaste "Let's Wait Awhile," from her breakthrough album Control. Still, it works because Janet manages to say everything she needs to say, without really saying anything at all. In effect, the song is more or less a quiet-storm loop of its title, but Janet's breathy vocals and strategically placed moans make "having fun" and "getting laid" seem interchangeable. And, while spoken word intros and interjections are generally regarded as cheesy, especially in ballads, Janet whispering in French is the vocal equivalent of KY His & Her's.

7. I Get Lonely (The Velvet Rope, 1997)

Yes, this is a breakup track, but if Janet's vulnerable delivery isn't enough to bring you home, the shameless Jodeci-esque shirt ripping near the end of the video will certainly lead to a change of heart. "Lonely" resonates with the effectiveness of Janet's pleading, so that you know her wayward lover is on his way back for at least on more night of making up. Oh, and this is hands down my favorite Janet tune, ever.

6. Together Again (Deeper Remix) (The Velvet Rope, 1997)

So basically, if you can turn a song about lost loved ones into a baby-maker, without changing a single lyric, you're doing big things. "Go deeper inside me" takes on a whole new meaning in the slowed down remix of Janet's '97 hit, without ever compromising the sincerity of the original, and that's almost amazing.

5. Anytime, Anyplace (janet., 1993)

Yeah..if this song isn't a draw dropper, I don't what is. If it wasn't cool to be a hoe before '93, Janet justified casual sex for an entire generation. Plus, I think the original video came with a condom advisory, which just proves that even at her freakiest, Janet stays in Control.

4. Twenty-Foreplay (Design of a Decade, 1996)

This is arguably the classiest of Janet's freakier bedroom excursions, but it's my favorite. Janet starts off innocently enough, "sleep my love, don't you worry, you just sleep," before seamlessly trading in romance for straight smut. "You've made love to my mind, now you gotta take me from behind." Still, you may have to run the track back, because Janet delivers even the most explicit of lyrics with a casualness that leaves you wondering if she's really just said what you think you've heard.

3. Would You Mind? (All For You, 2001)

Taken from 2001's All For You, "Would You Mind" is probably the most explicit song Janet's ever recorded. While lyrics like, "I wanna kiss you, suck you, taste you, ride you" may initially come off as slutty, at the end of the day Janet is more or less expressing the latent bedroom fantasies of more than just a few people; and on some level, her courage to do so is respectable enough. Still, if that's all bullshit and Janet is just being a straight freak, that's cool too...cause I'm pretty sure that's what she was going for anyway, and it works for me.

2.Take Care (20 Y.O., 2006)

This song is about masturbation, which may or not be a mood setter, but I chose it because I don't know a sexier song about getting yourself off. "At home, I'm so alone, I'm wishing you were here....I"ll lay here and take care of it til' you come home to me." Janet's definitely making due with her resources, and I ain't mad. Plus, at 40 upon recording this song, Janet demonstrates that sexuality does not expire past one's 30s.

1. That's The Way Love Goes (janet., 1993)

Because "like a moth to a flame, burned by the fire" is a terrible line, but Janet makes it read like poetry. "The Way Love Goes" didn't surface until seven years into Janet's post-Control career, and realistically, no one had any reason to think she was sexy enough to pull it off. Where Janet used to hint at getting it in, she now openly admitted to wanting it without hesitation; "Go deeper baby, deeper...you feel so good I wanna cry." At 25, it made sense for her to give up the coyness of her earlier years. But, who knew she'd pull it off quite so well?

If you're not up on things, here's a link to a pretty well-handled mix of Janet's nastier moments.

And here's the video for I Get Lonely...because 12 years later, it still holds up quite well.

Day 26 Doesn't Disappoint Quite as Much in Person.

So, I saw Day 26 in concert this weekend, and while I still think that they have a lot of work to put in, they weren't nearly as bad as I expected them to be.

The vocals were rough, but that was more or less due to lack of a sound check. The choreography was wack, but that's more or less due to Diddy. Really though, they had a lot of stage presence, and gave more energy than most acts tend to give anymore. More than that, they stayed after to watch Brandy perform from the side of the stage, and I could see them feeling B-Rocka just as much as the audience, so I know they have good tastes.

Here's the only Day 26 song worth my time.

And seriously, how dumb is it for their label to pull the official video for this song off YouTube, like anyone is REALLY checking for these guys? YouTube exposure is free promo all day.

Mariah Probably Should've Passed on "My Love"

So, I tend to be of the minority when it comes to post-Emancipation Mariah. While I'll acknowledge that her voice seems to be failing her a bit of late, I'd still argue that Mariah can easily sing circles around any other artist in her lane. The rasp of her speaking voice may become more apparent in her singing with each successive album, but even the huskier tones work for her, so I'm not complaining. For Mariah, it's the material that sucks..not the voice.

That being said, she sounds terrible on The-Dream's "My Love." She manages to compliment the backgrounds fairly well, but her own verse is flat as hell...and that hook? It sounds like she's battling strep. I would say that the vocals aren't a good look, but it's more than that. This isn't a bad live performance; it's studio quality (read: magic) Mariah, and she's struggling. Given the raspiness of the chorus, it's hard to imagine that she's actually hitting the final notes of the song. I'd be willing to bet those were super-imposed like a mug.

Here's the song.

And who told The-Dream to release this shit anyway? Where's the video for the clearly superior "Rockin That Shit!"?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Black History Month is Still Important to Me

I haven't done a Black History post, and even though it's still early in the month, that disappoints me. I'd love to say that I've been thinking about a post in the back of my mind all week, but in reality, it hadn't even crossed my mind. A lot of this blog is dedicated to commenting on the Black experience, at least as told through popular media. In reality, being Black in America transcends that which the media readily covers, and that's why I've decided to post one of my favorite poems in celebration of Black History Month.

Poetry isn't something that I enjoy reading, as it's too subjective, and really just difficult. But, for me Gwendolyn Brooks' "Kitchenette Building" personifies the Black experience in America perfectly, so I'll share it with you guys. Something about the imagery reminds me so much of my childhood; not just in terms of my own family, but families around me as well.

I've spent four years in college around some of the most ambitious Black young-adults I've ever met, and I can't help but to think that we're all the result of the reality depicted in this poem: a generation of African-Americans struggling to maintain some sense of hope, despite the desperation of their circumstances, so that their children might make it a little further than they have.

Kitchenette Building

Gwendolyn Brooks

We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan, Grayed in, and gray.

"Dream" mate, a giddy sound,
not strong Like "rent",
"feeding a wife",
"satisfying a man".

But could a dream sent up
through onion fumes
Its white and violet,
fight with fried potatoes

And yesterday's garbage ripening
in the hall,
Flutter, or sing an aria down
these rooms,

Even if we were willing to let it in,
Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,
Anticipate a message, let it begin?

We wonder. But not well! not for a minute! Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now, We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it.

Oh, and if you don't know Gwendolyn Brooks...you better ask

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Speaking of Usher...

A surprising number of people don't realize that Usher had a career before My Way. A few weeks ago "Think of You" came on my iTunes shuffle, and a friend of mine, who happens to be an Usher groupie, said "Ohh, is this Tevin Campbell?" No, but it was probably one of Tevin's (moment of silence) leftovers.

Before Usher ran away with Jermaine Dupri, he was Diddy's protege, and in turn, released some of the most inappropriate material of his career. No, really. Lyrics like, "I ain't tryna be funny...it's only a sexual thing" and "How do you want it, fast or slow?" probably weren't the most tactful to hand to a 14-year-old kid. Then again, at just 7 myself, I probably shouldn't have been singing along to them.

That's neither here nor there. Usher's self-titled debut has sank out of consciousness, so much so that I can't remember the last time he even acknowledged it himself. Inappropriate or not, Usher handled the material pretty well, and while he lacked the mature delivery of Campbell, he didn't sound quite as uncomfortable with more adult subject matter.

Anybody remember when Tevin tried to get sexy? Vomit.

So..here's Usher's forgotten collection. Starting with my personal favorite, the DeVante Swing penned "Can You Get Wit' It." Next, "Call Me a Mack" from the Poetic Justice soundtrack (HE RAPS..not like, "Nice and Slow" rapping...but like, really trying to rap). Finally, "Everytime I Think of You," which is probably the song you'll most recognize.

(They've blocked embedding on this song, so here's the link for the actual video. )

My Favorite R&B Guys

I don't too much talk about contemporary male R&B artists on this blog, and that's mostly because they suck. Seriously, if I were to spend too much time sharing my male R&B tastes, you guys would probably start wondering why I'm blogging about Bobby Brown and Dru Hill in 2009, so I more or less leave it alone. Still, that's not to say that I don't appreciate a select few guys in the game right now, so I thought I'd give you a quick run through.

The list will progress from least worthy of my time, to most, and I think you'll see that the first few names are really scratching at the bottom of decency, but I digress.

List are fun, and here's mine of the top ten men in contemporary R&B.

Oh, and Maxwell supersedes this list, as he's clearly above all these hoes.

10. Bobby Valentino

I said the bottom of this list would be rough, but in all fairness Bobby Valentino is a pretty solid artist. He's so far from original that it almost hurts, but as I've said before, there's nothing wrong with playing it safe, as long as it's well executed. Bobby's debut was weak, but his 2006 follow-up, Special Occasion, was easily one of the best R&B albums released that year. He rides his mid tempo lane quite nicely, and even his cover of Babyface's "Soon As I Get Home" worked out better than expected. Songs like the Timbaland produced "Anonymous" prove that he can pick up the pace when necessary, and while I've tried so hard to dislike his current single, "Beep Beep," I definitely end up feeling it just enough when it comes on in the club.

But yeah, he looks like a Teddy Graham, so...

9. Sammie

Sammie is easily the most underrated artist on this list. The kid releases a single about as often as Posh Spice expresses emotion, so it's understandable that he'd be unfamiliar to audiences. But, his lack of visibility is in no way indicative of his vocal talent. At just 21, Sammie can sing a ballad like a grown man. I don't mean "I can finally get in the bar!" grown, I'm talking panties thrown on stage grown. His material matches his talent, and song's like 2006's "Come With Me" put him miles ahead of other, more commercially successful, artists. Oh, and "Slow" rivals songs by both R.Kelly and Janet in the baby-making category.

8. Lloyd

Lloyd has a falsetto that the world ain't ready for. Yes, you've heard better, but not nearly as consistent. I don't know many artists that can utilize the register so frequently without transitioning from breathy and seductive to worn and exhausted, often within the same song. Lloyd pulls it off, making even the most trite material melt under his presence. He's one of only two artists on this list that can move from R&B to Pop with ease, and without losing much of anything in translation. Oh, and "Girls Around the World" is throwback perfection...Lil' Wayne feature and all.

7. Trey Songz

I would argue that Trey Songz is the best vocalist on this list, and I'd be right. The only thing that keeps him from appearing further up is his lack of consistently good material. Spend enough time with both Trey Songz and Trey Day and it becomes obvious that the man loses focus midway through each project. Still, when Songz isn't so concerned with trying to keep up with R. Kelly, and finds his own stride, he exudes the potential to become one of the most celebrated male vocalists of our generation. No, really, that voice is something serious.

6. Ne-Yo

Say what you will about the man and his lyrics, but Ne-Yo knows how to capitalize on the everyday. He's made a career out of writing lyrics so void of depth and individuality, that anyone can relate to them, and arrangements so simple that one can't help but to sing along. I've said it before, I'll say it again: brilliance. More than that, he's one of very few successful producers that has also managed to be taken seriously as an artist, and while his own music hardly stands out from the music he provides for other artists, it's satisfying nonetheless. While I'll always argue that 2006's Because of You was his best work, last year's Year of the Gentleman proved that even one of the most predictable producers in the game is capable of taking a step outside of the box. Oh, and that other artist who transitions effortlessly from R&B to Pop? Check "Closer."

5. Mario

Oddly enough, Mario's breakout hit "Let Me Love You" hardly does it for me. By no means do I dislike the song, but it was never something I was dying to hear. That being said, Mario is probably the artist I listen to the most on this list. 2004's Turning Point was good, but 2007's Go! was a real accomplishment. Has anyone heard that record? Nope, probably not. That's too bad, because Mario trades in teenage suggestiveness, for aggressively adult material without missing a beat. While lyrics like, "Not tryna be your lover, just wanna fuck you like no other" border on Pretty Ricky bawdiness, Mario delivers them with a maturity that will have you falling for the game by the album's midpoint. But, it's his cover of Keith Sweat's "Right and a Wrong Way" that will leave you feeling embarrassed: "Damn, this is almost better than the origi..."

4. Lyfe Jennings

I don't think anyone is as big a Lyfe fan as I am. All of his albums stay in constant rotation on my iPod, as if removing them would be blasphemous. Something about his voice, paired with the subject matter of his lyrics keeps me interested in just about everything he does. For me, Lyfe is the Mary J. of the male R&B game, and I don't feel like that's a stretch. The same pained vocal technique utilized by Lyfe has been the cornerstone of Mary's career, and both artists are telling stories about survival. Despite general consensus, I think last year's Lyfe Change was everything Jennings needed his third outing to be, and I'm still waiting for a 3rd single.

3. Ryan Leslie

Yeah, I've only just started giving Ryan Leslie a chance, but the swiftness with which I've acquainted myself with his back catalog should serve as an indication of how impressive I think he is. While his production for other artists is hit or miss, his own stuff is good. Like, really good. I've been listening to his self-titled album non-stop for the past week and a half, and what I feel is far too genuine to be called an infatuation. In a perfect world (where the hell is Keri Hilson?) Ryan Leslie would change the game, forcing male R&B stars to step up their lackluster, Lil' Wayne dependent hustle, and get back to approaching music as art. In reality, it'll sell about 100,000 (if) copies in its first week, fall off from there, and be followed by a statement from Leslie blaming the economy and pledging allegiance to his passion in spite of stalled units. Yeah, that sounds about right.

2. Usher

I don't need to elaborate on this too much; you're all familiar. I will say that for all of his lack of creativity, Usher is amazingly consistent. More or less, he's been singing the same songs since My Way, and doing it well enough to keep us interested for what is nearing two decades. That's a hustle, and I ain't mad; especially considering that Here I Stand, his one attempt at a change of pace, was met with such lukewarm response.

That album was good. Yeah, I said it.

1. The-Dream

You're mad, huh? I don't care. My list, my rules.

Love/Hate was my favorite album last year, and after hearing "Rockin That Shit," and a few other songs, I'm pretty confident that Love vs. Money will be my favorite album of this year. The-Dream's obvious Prince influence is just subtle enough to be flattering, and not tasteless. And as he moves away from the 80s funk of songs like "Nikki" and "Fast Car," he only continues to prove himself a more credible artist with each successive single. I won't pretend like The-Dream is breaking new ground, but he's certainly modernizing an already laid foundation, and complimenting greatness is the next best thing to achieving it.

And realistically, Rihanna owes him her entire career. He probably even cosigned on that bob.

Honorable Mention: J. Holiday, Sterling Simms, Craig David

Oh, and no, I didn't forget about Anthony Hamilton, Jamie Foxx, or Chris Brown. In fact, I very consciously passed them all over.

Sunday, February 1, 2009