Friday, August 28, 2009

My Favorite Book Cover

...I love Carrie Fisher and her new book cover is pure genius.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Alicia Keys on Soul Music

It’s so easy to hate Alicia Keys. Besides being fine as crystal, the sister knows how to construct soulful pop songs with the flair of Stevie Wonder and the pop sensibility of Burt Bacharach. Yet, even with three best-selling albums, a truck full of awards (five Grammys in 2002 alone) and songcraft for days. Even if you give her a pass for those frequent Prince swipes (click these links to weigh the evidence and draw your own conclusions), there are still folks who believe Alicia Keys is an R&B poser.

In 2007, when Keys’ last joint All I Am dropped, my spiritual godfather Greg Tate wrote an inspired review called “Extensions of a Woman,” wherein he praised her for being damn-near a genius. Some of the villagers got a little rowdy, and like a scene out of Frankenstein complete with pitchforks and torches, one angry voice berated the singer/songwriter/producer by calling her “dumbed-down, mainstream, and utterly irrelevant as they come.”

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Looking Back at Mary J. Blige
When you meet her in person, Mary J. Blige is nothing like the soul sister of perpetual suffering that was once her trademark identity. “I’ve actually heard some fans say they liked me more when I was miserable,” Mary says. “If they want to feel my pain, then I suggest they go back and listen to My Life. I’m not going back to that place, so they can hate all they want.”

Since first dropping onto the post-new-jack swing landscape of urban music in 1992, Mary J. has had her share of haters. “In her life, Mary has been through the storm,” says singer Anthony Hamilton. “She’s been criticized, bruised and lashed, but that didn’t stop her from emerging like a diamond. For years she has been called ‘the queen of hip-hop soul,’ but Mary J. Blige is really the premier soul voice of our community.”

As a true blue Mary fan, I first saw her on stage of the Manhattan’s former Paramount Theater the same year her 1992 debut What’s the 411? was released. Opening for thuggish rude boys and label-mates Jodeci, Mary took time to blossom but the audience supported Mary’s every nervous step. Even then, one sensed that Mary was fiercely determined to strive and survive in the musical jungle, no matter how hard some industry know-it-alls tried to put her down.

“Looking back to the negative things some critics wrote, I’m glad it happened, because it made me the person I am now. I’m not a selfish singer anymore, but one that is trying to give back. Be it on stage or in the studio, I’m trying to put my own life in the songs so other people might figure out who they are. All the singers I have ever loved gave so much in their material, and I know how much they have given me. That’s what I’m trying to give.”


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Black Rock Report

As a card-carrying member of the Black Rock Coalition since 1986, I take much pride in the advancement of alternative Black music filtering into the mainstream. From those nappy haired superstars of the scene The Roots (you mean you really thought them cats were hip-hop?) and avant-rockers TV On The Radio to newcomers like Lil Wayne (what, somebody told you that dude was a rapper?) and the formidable Santigold, the movement is going hard, and no longer relegated to crowded downtown clubs after midnight.

At last month’s Afro-Punk Music and Art Festival in Brooklyn, it was fantastic seeing small children dancing to the blare of Earl Greyhound and Tamar-Kali, groundbreaking artists you will never hear played on segregated “urban” radio.

Like hip-hop, being “Black Rock” involves aesthetic and lifestyle choices that can’t be easily pegged. Veterans like Living Colour and Fishbone are still holding it down under the broad umbrella of “Black Rock,” while newcomers Gnarls Barkley and Saul Williams are busy expanding on their own ideas of alternative music. And does it even need to be said? You know they’ve all got soul.

With the Black Rock Report, it is our plan to report on upcoming releases, interview folks behind the scene (singers, producers, and writers) and school the masses on classic artists who continue to define the Black alternative milieu.

illustration copyright (c) Jermaine Rogers

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