Monday, November 29, 2010

Music Monday: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West (Album Review)

I love Kanye West.  There is something about his (usually) unapologetic narcissistic demeanor that I find fascinating.  You get the impression that he completely believes that he's the best thing to ever happen to the rap game.  And, in many ways, this is true.  Whether its delivering stinging one liners in his rhymes or producing infectious beats, few can match West's artistic flair.

            With his latest release, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West once again showcases his expansive musical creativity.  Lyrically, it is equal parts vulnerable and boastful.  On tracks like Blame Game West laments the end of a relationship stating, “Anything but us is who we are/ Disguising ourselves as secret lovers/ we've become public enemies/we walk away like strangers in the street/gone for eternity.” On other songs he taps into a completely different side of himself to deliver cocky anthems that lash out against his critics.  Power is a giant middle finger set to music as he celebrates his talents and rails against those who have opposed him ( Saturday Night Live is targeted).  With the single Runaway West finds a balance between the two—acknowledging his imperfections while remaining the boastful rapper people love to hate. By now, toasting to the “douchebags, a**holes, and scumbags” has become to rallying cry of the defiant and misunderstood.

            Musically, Twisted Fantasy is breathtaking and gorgeous.  From a production standpoint, West outdid himself selecting music that heightens the quality of his songs.  The opening notes of Lost in the World are beautifully somber while Monster has an intensity that matches the lyrical content perfectly.  A crooner from the Motown era could easily sing over the retro sounds of Devil In a New Dress.  Simply put, Twisted Fantasy is musical art. Even without words, each song can take listeners on a journey.
            Even if you're not a Kanye West fan, I would recommend giving My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy a listen.  Mr. West offers a non-conventional album that is an interesting departure from the norm of hip-hop.  In a time where music can sound nauseatingly similar, it's nice to have artists who approach their music with a, “whatever I wanna do, gosh it's cool now” type attitude.

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Music Monday-- Fresh by tabi Bonney (Album Review)

If you haven't heard of tabi Bonney yet, don't worry—you will soon enough.  This Togo, West African born, Washington, DC reared MC is using his world citizen point of view to create unique and spectacular music.  Bonney first gained notoriety on the DC scene with such singles as “The Pocket,” a fun track that incorporates some DC specific slang.  Widening his scope beyond the District, tabi Bonney is increasingly becoming a household name throughout the world thanks to a strong internet presence ( he does a remarkable job of responding to his Twitter followers), consistent video play on television (MTV keeps his videos in regular rotation), and an impressive tour schedule (he announced on Twitter that he's heading to China soon).

            Bonney's album Fresh was released on the 22nd and it expounds upon the foundation he laid in earlier projects.  The music is feel good and seems perfect for long drives in the car.  The words paint vivid pictures—one minute you're with Bonney as he hustles to make money and the imagining the woman that makes him feel like he can reach brand new heights.

            Here are the top 5 songs from Fresh that you must check out.  Listen to the album and let me know your faves!

#5 Sunlight: This song is about building a future for oneself and striving for the best.  Bonus? It has an extremely beautiful beat.  It feels like it can transport you to another place.

#4 Fever: This song features R&B star Raheem DeVaughn and! It showcases Bonney in a flirtatious manner trying to “get” girl. With this smoldering track there is no doubt that he's successful.

#3 Nuthin' But A Hero: Captivating beat aside, this track motivates listeners to follow in the footsteps of tabi Bonney and follow their dreams. “Cuz I'm always on the grind every day, every night/ I'm tryna figure out how to make it/if you gotta dream better make sure you chase it/cuz I live mine/I don't work a 9 to 5 I just rhyme”

#2 Galaxy: This futuristic tune finds tabi Bonney meeting a woman who makes him feel like he can fly to the stars. Listeners will be able to relate to this ode to the prototype.

#1 Make a Killing: There are many reasons why this song gets the #1 spot on my list.  Firstly, the beat immediately grabs you by the ear and demands your attention.  Secondly, the song has an arrogant air that makes it a bit more interesting. Lines like, “And you don't need to like me—I don't need no more new friends” jump out immediately.  Thirdly, the track is so easy to relate to. I mean who isn't trying to make a killing and gain prosperity?

Check out Fresh by tabi Bonney available on iTunes, Downtown Locker Room, FYE, and other fine music retailers!


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hip-Hop: Taking Over the World

    Last night I had the extreme honor of being in the presence of hip-hop legends: Kurtis Blow, his son Kurtis Blow, Jr., and Common as they joined forces to celebrate the release of a new book that examines the poetic background of hip-hop lyrics.  The Anthology of Rap was authored by co-editors Adam Bradley and Andrew DuBois who led discussions with the rappers about their start in hip-hop, sources of inspiration, and their vision for the future of the genre.
                For me, the most refreshing element of the evening was hearing the methodical ways in which these men approached their careers in rap.  Yes, they all rap because the passion for it courses through their very beings.  But it is bigger than that.  It is bigger than just writing down every thought that comes to mind.  It is bigger than simply grabbing a microphone.  It is about a certain level of scholarship needed to be well rounded rapper and performer.   For Kurtis Blow, studying speech communication in college helped him organize his rhymes.  He was able arrange his raps into categories similar to the categories of speeches—political, extemporaneous, etc.  In doing so, he was able to produce a debut album that he considers very well-rounded in subject matter.  Literary greats such as Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston provided Common with the drive necessary to write his own songs as well as an overall appreciation for the written word.   Growing up with a father who was increasing his stardom in the world of hip-hop, Kurtis Blow, Jr. learned firsthand the techniques needed to become a powerful performer.  Rapping from the diaphragm and knowing the proper way to hold a microphone may seem simple, but they can make or break a performance.
                As the evening came to a close, the overwhelming consensus was this: Hip-hop is a lot like a human.  It is constantly growing and evolving into something different every day.  It may not be perfect but it has the power to take over the world.  With men such as Kurtis Blow Sr. & Jr, Common, Adam Bradley, and Andrew DuBois at the helm increasing awareness and advocating hip-hop education, there is no doubt that hip-hop can continue reaching new heights every day.  
                Left with a renewed sense of appreciation for hip-hop, it would have been completely acceptable for the evening to end at the conclusion of the panel discussion. Fortunately for everyone in attendance, this was not the case.  We were told to stick around if we wanted to experience something special.  Kurtis Blow and Kurtis Blow, Jr. took to the stage for a mini concert! With an energy level expected from a pack of teenagers, they took us on a musical journey through some of the classics from hip-hops early years.  From Rapper’s Delight to The Breaks and everything in between, we were transported from The Lincoln Theater in Washington, DC to a block party in New York City! Everyone was dancing around and rapping along.  At one point Kurtis (yes, after last night I feel confident that we’re on a first name basis now) even started break dancing!  It was all a reminder that by acknowledging the past and working tirelessly in the present, there are no limitations to the future of hip-hop. 
Hip-Hop…taking over the world—one artist at a time.   

Friday, November 12, 2010

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When Their Daily Lives Were Too Damn Depressing to Live

**Warning!!* This post contains mild movie spoilers!

      Today was the day I decided to grit my teeth and willingly see a Tyler Perry film.  Okay, maybe willing isn't completely accurate but I really wanted to enjoy For Colored Girls because, while I have my issues with Perry as a filmmaker, I knew that the source material was beautiful.  I am, of course, referring to the choreopoem by Ntozake Shange.  Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf is a beloved piece of literature that generations of women have enjoyed since its release in 1975.  With such a rich history surrounding this project, there was no way it could lose, right? Wrong.  So very wrong.
            Halfway through the film I was struck with a feeling of annoyance. The whole thing was so...dramatic!  So dramatic, in fact, that I mentally renamed the film For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When Their Daily Lives Were Too Damn Depressing to Live. Seriously, just take a look at some of the main plots: one woman finds out that the sexuality of her husband is questionable, rape threatens to break the spirit of another woman, yet another woman is in a relationship with a man who is abusive to their children, an inability to bear children brings sadness to one woman whenever she's around unwanted children, another woman struggles with a shiftless spouse, and a conflict of sexuality and religion test the familial bonds of three women.

            With all of that going on there was a lot of tension, arguments, and tears....oh goodness...the tears.  I believe every actress perfected the art of the single tear at some point in the film. But with this over abundance of raw emotion, I could not help but wonder: what happened to the joy?  If For Colored Girls is to serve as a celebration of womanhood, what are we really celebrating? To let the film tell it, black womanhood is wrought with drama and tumultuous experiences. The films lacks the light and balance that the book provides.

            Now, to be fair, the movie wasn't a complete failure.  The actresses did their best to breathe additional life into Shange's words and delivered inspired performances. Kimberly Elise can convey sorrow and devastation like none other and Phylicia Rashad's portrayal of a wise, “see all” landlord grounded the production.  Anika Noni Rose, who I'm used to seeing in light roles, has 2 pivotal scenes  that truly reached into my chest, grabbed my heart, and broke it into pieces. These women drop viewers right into their world and force you to walk with them, wonder what will happen next, and cheer them on to sunnier days. 

            It's just a shame that the movie as a whole doesn't take viewers to that sunnier day. 

To Be Forward or Not To Be Forward: That Is the Question

Recently, a friend of mine met a guy that she really likes.  I listened intently as she went on and on about why this guy is the most amazing person ever, nodded in a supportive manner, and “mmhm’d” at the appropriate moments.  Honestly, I thought I had done my friend duty and done so quite well (if I do say so myself).   My friend, however, had more in mind. “What should I do next? Do I call him or wait for him to contact me?” she asked anxiously.
                Let me stop here and say that I do not consider myself to be a relationship expert.  In fact, I think I’m the farthest thing from it.  I navigate my way through relationships like a blind person navigates through a crowded room—extremely cautiously.  Despite this I sort of felt like saying, “Girl I don’t even know” wasn’t exactly an acceptable response. Instead, I tried the diplomatic approach. “Well girl, do what makes you feel comfortable. Call if you’d like or just let him make the first move.”
                Now I’m aware that tired advice like that makes me look lame.  Honestly, I felt like it was my best bet.  What works for me might not benefit her, and vice versa.  But the situation did cause me to wonder: When it comes to matters of the heart, is there a “right” approach? I decided that additional perspectives would be necessary to me figuring out this issue.  So I reached out to some of my other friends for their opinions.  The advice fell into two general categories: “Take matters into your own hands” v. “Relax and let him approach you”
                The “take matters into you own hands” ladies felt like life is too short to tiptoe around things you want.  If you never step out on faith, you may miss out on something amazing. Hmm, sounds great but for a shy girl such as myself it may prove to be impossible.  Next up are my “relax and let him approach you” ladies who can be separated into two categories.  Some of them simply say, “A woman should never go chasing some man” with a dismissive tone to their voice and a swivel in their neck.  The other half lean on a Bible verse that basically puts men in the position to seek and women to be sought out.  Well now that all sounds like rules tied into gender roles and I tend to balk against anything I'm “supposed” to do by virtue of being a woman. Plus, I'm too impatient to just sit back waiting for things to happen.
                So what do you do when you're too shy to be bold, yet too stubborn to be demure? I don't know! That's why I gave such crappy advice—duh. Keep up! So I present this issue to all of you because clearly with my friend and I it's the blind leading the blind.  And that sounds pretty dangerous to me. So help a sista out—what strategies do you use when trying to pique the interest of that special someone? Are you sassy and bold or demure and lowkey? Do you switch up approaches from time to time? For my fellas, is this even an issue for you?  Everyone tell me your thoughts!