Tag Archive | contemporary R&B

Estelle Shocks A Little Too Much on “Make Her Say (Beat It Up)”


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Estelle • “Make Her Say (Beat It Up)” • BMG Rights Management • US Release Date: April 15, 2014

Something has clearly happened to my girl Estelle.  Even that statement is an understatement. Estelle’s new single “Make Her Say (Beat It Up)” is nothing short of shocking and I do mean NOTHING short.  Estelle has fooled around (no pun intended) with being risqué on songs such as “Wait A Minute (Just A Touch)” (Shine), but nothing to the extent of “Make Her Say”.  “Make Her Say”, like the majority of contemporary R&B these days, relies on its explicitness.  Perhaps what’s more shocking about this is that a female rather than a male leads the blunt, hypersexual approach.  There is a clear double standard with sex’s inclusion in music with female artists compared to men.  Maybe it shouldn’t be, but the accusatory finger is more often going to be given to the female as opposed to the male.

One might wonder why a somewhat refined diva such as Estelle needs to ‘get down’ the way she does on “Make Her Say”.  Sure, her second stateside album All of Me failed to garner the same attention as Shine did.  That said, it can’t be overlooked that All of Me had a mega hit on its hands with “American Boy”, featuring Kanye West.  Perhaps Estelle wanted to develop a different persona, try to better find commercial footing and a niche in the U.S. particularly.  One of the issues with All of Me was its distinctiveness.  With a can’t miss single like “Make Her Say”, not to mention further assist by its R-rated (maybe NC-17 rated) cover, Estelle certainly draws attention to herself that little else of her past work could.

For as sick as the minimalist production is on “Make Her Say”, even the horniest listener has to be a bit skeptical – really! Yes, everyone relates to sex, and I have no doubt many women may even relate to Estelle’s narrative here, even if it’s in kinder-gentler fashion.  That said why does Estelle need to be so brash and bold about her anatomy?  Wouldn’t more subtle, yet clever lyrics ultimately be more effective in the long run? I mean there is no middle ground to be had when you can drop lyrics like “make my p***y say” or “beat the p***y up!” without a hitch.  Maybe it’s being judgmental and a bit sexist, as mentioned above, but is it so much to ask for a contemporary R&B song – particularly from a female – that more cleverly tackles coitus?

I give Estelle props for the shock value; it definitely grabbed my attention and I’m sure many others.  Still, while I enjoy a feistier Estelle, I’m just not sure that a song about her “D-flat major” (Chopin sex reference) feels right.  Well maybe the sound and the vibe do, but it’s so outrageous it’s uncomfortable, even for the ‘pros at this’.

Verdict: ★★★

Music Shopping List: Albums for Your Consideration, April 22, 2014


NeonTrees-100510-0004 Keeping things 100, April hasn’t been the best month of new music releases.  While April has saved my budget, still I’d love to see a gargantuan week of new music releases –  “Do it for the music industry!”  This week’s releases (new release day being Tuesday, April 22) don’t have any monumental releases necessarily, but does have some interesting albums to check out.

81JN-g1SCkL._SL1500_ Pop Psychology

Neon Trees

Island / Mercury 

It wouldn’t be far-fetched to see Neon Trees make a bigger splash with latest LP Pop Psychology.  “Everybody Talks” certainly did just that (a no. 6 Billboard Hot 100 hit), elevating the collective’s profile.  The brief Pop Psychology – just over 36 minutes – is led by single “Sleeping With A Friend”.

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Honest

Future

Epic

The autotune loving MC returns with his second major label album, Honest, following 2012 effort Pluto.  While Pluto wasn’t necessarily my cup of tea, there were some solid tracks, led by club banger “Same Damn Time”, not to neglect “Turn On The Lights”.  The Kanye West assisted single “I Won” is a notable new track, if you are a Future fan.

51KILBn7GgL._SL500_AA280_-2 All This Bad Blood

Bastille

Virgin

Don’t call it a new album – it’s not.  Bastille, known for a ‘little hit’ entitled “Pompeii” rerelease 2013 album Bad Blood as All This Bad Blood with plenty of extras.

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The New Classic

Iggy Azalea

Island / Def Jam

Naming your debut album The New Classic is a bold move.  Hopefully, Iggy Azalea has the goods to back up such an assertion.  Definitely not what one would stereotype as a rapper, it should be interesting to see how Iggy fares ultimately.

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Deitrick Haddon’s LXW (League of Xtraordinary Worshippers)

Deitrick Haddon

Tyscot Records

The cover of Deitrick Haddon’s new album, Deitrick Haddon’s LXW matches the superhero theme the gospel singer is promoting.  While perhaps the superhero sensibility may not spill over into all of the track titles, its obvious the ‘worship’ side of things is covered tremendously (“With God”, “We Need Your Power”, “Healing Virtue Flow”, etc.)

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Food

Kelis

Ninja Tune

The major label route was never a good one for Kelis, even though she released solid material.  With her first indie album, Food, arriving four years after Flesh Tone,  Kelis can be as out-there as she wants to be. Perhaps there isn’t another “Milkshake” to be had, but knowing Kelis’ restlessness artistically, Food is bound to be both bizarre and interesting at the same time.

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Ready Steady Go!

Drake Bell

Surfdog

Ready Set Go! is Drake Bell’s first album since 2006 effort, It’s Only Time.  If for no other reason, Ready Set Go! is interesting because of the title of single “Bitchcraft”, which was co-written with Brett Boyett.   The album also features covers of Billy Joel (“It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me”) and Queen (“Crazy Little Thing Called Love”) among others. 

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Give ‘Em Hell

Sebastian Bach

Frontiers Records

The metal artist seems like a definite sinner, given the title of his latest LP.  While the title is ‘tried and true’, its definitely easier to spell and more conventional sounding than Abachalypse Now – LOL.

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BLUESAmericana

Keb Mo

Kind of Blue Music

The blues guitarist follows up his 2011 effort, The Reflection.  Yep, that’s about all I have to say about it.  

Ranking 20 R&B Albums: January – April 2014


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It’s near the end of April, and as a music journalist, I have been privy to listen to a number of albums in differing genres. Even so, I have a soft spot for R&B, but am also very hard on it. Despite my criticisms, R&B and I have a relationship like a Whitney Houston song written by Dolly Parton: “I Will Always Love You”. That said, after listening to a number of R&B albums, I ranked 20 from 2014 (EPs and mixtapes included) in order from favorite to least favorite. Here goes nothing!

1

Z

SZA 

61dSOEUFyFL._SL500_AA280_It took a juggernaut to knock John Newman from the top spot of the R&B rankings – his Tribute is a sensational album. However, SZA’s Z, an alternative R&B effort too is a truly special album with quite the innovative spirit, something so often absent from R&B these days. If anything, SZA needs to be receiving her just due. Previously of SZA I penned:

Ultimately, Z is a home run. With so many R&B albums that come and go lacking that ‘extra special something’, Z has it. Weird, yet beautiful, Z seems like a step in the right direction in which R&B should go. That isn’t to say that an alternative R&B album like this is the perfect blueprint, but it also doesn’t confine the genre to clichés or limiting trends. SZA is definitely a supremely talented young artist to watch.

Favorites:

“UR”; “Child’s Play”; “Julia”; “Green Mile”; “Sweet November”

Verdict: ★★★★½

2

Tribute

John Newman

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Brit-soul definitely has something special about it – it’s as if overseas, the idea of retro-soul isn’t far-fetched or considered un-trendy or ‘old school’.   While Tribute doesn’t have the abstractness of alternative-R&B or the trendiness and gimmickry of contemporary R&B, it does have legit authenticity, carried by an artist who can just flat out blow. Previously, I summed upmy review of Tribute as follows:

Ultimately, Tribute epitomizes musical excellence through and through. In an age where many question ‘where the soul has gone,’ Newman shows that soul music is still very much alive. For any further questioning if the British soul movement was a thing of the past in it self, well, question no more. John Newman is legit as they come and he has top-notch material working in his favor on this affair. For pop and R&B fans alike, Tribute should easily tickle your fancy.

Favorites:

“Tribute”; “Love Me Again”; “Losing Sleep”; “Out Of My Head”; “Cheating”; “Down The Line”

Verdict: ★★★★½

3

G I R L

Pharrell Williams

512oYPuD-AL._SL500_AA280_Pharrell Williams second solo album G I R L eclipses his debut (In My Mind) easily. G I R L is one big ball of fun ultimately, with the quirky, incredibly talented artist flexing his muscles (and they’re big my friends, LOL). While it leans more danceable/groovy as opposed to relying on ballads, the material is solid and definitely enjoyable. When I had the pleasure of reviewing G I R L, this is how I concluded the review:

Ten tracks deep, G I R L benefits from its brevity and overall lack of filler. Sure, it’s not a perfect album, but ultimately, Pharrell Williams delivers an effort that plays to his musical strengths and is pleasant to the ear. He doesn’t over-sex R&B like so many of his contemporary and younger male artists tend to do; he keeps things classy. Mature and enjoyable, G I R L is definitely a winner worthy of numerous spins… or a high play count on the iPod, LOL.

Favorites:

“Brand New”; “Hunter”; “Happy”; “Come Get It Bae”; “Gust of Wind”

Verdict: ★★★★

4

Testimony

August Alsina

81cg4cMMqIL._SL1500_As I continue to listen to August Alsina’s full-length debut, despite giving it plenty of accolades, sometimes I think I should’ve bestowed even more. A 3 ½ star rating is a great one in my book/most critics, but perhaps Alsina’s Testimony deserves at least 4 stars. Here is what I previously wrote about Testimony when reviewing it:

 Ultimately, Testimony showcases the great amount of potential that August Alsina has to offer as an artist. Vocally, Alsina easily has the pipes to succeed. Additionally, he has the backstory to truly fuel the fire.   Sure, Testimony isn’t a perfectly crafted album, but it’s better more often than not. There are plenty of notable songs – filled with pain as well as the triumph of resolve. Maybe it’s not beautifully poetic, but isn’t grittiness a different take on beauty (or something like that)?

Favorites:

“Make It Home” ft. Jeezy; “FML” ft. Pusha T; “Ghetto” ft. Yo Gotti; “Benediction” ft. Rick Ross; “I Luv This Shit” ft. Trinidad James

Verdict: ★★★½ ★★★★

5

Days & Nights

Daley 

41u6FsCRi-L._SL500_AA280_John Newman may be the Brit getting the most buzz, but Daley shouldn’t be slept on – dude can flat out blow. Sporting a piercing, soulful tenor, Daley has some sick pipes. Daley can definitely count this music lover as a fan, something I attempted to convey enthusiastically in a previous review:

All in all, Days & Nights is an exceptional full-length debut from Daley. What is unfortunate is that there isn’t more buzz surrounding the Brit R&B standout. With such mad pipes, Daley deserves much more recognition. Regardless of his commercial lot, Daley has it going on strongly on Days & Nights.

Favorites:

“Time Travel”; “Blame The World”; “Love And Affection”; “Alone Together” ft. Marsha Ambrosius; “Pass It On”; “Broken”

Verdict: ★★★★

 

6

Lift Your Spirit

Aloe Blacc 

41Gjnw1dUPL._SL500_AA280_“Go ahead and tell everybody…I’m the man, I’m the man, I’m the man”. Aloe Blacc may not be “the man” in regards to the second coming of R&B, but his big-time hit was enough to bring some added relevancy to the genre. The album Lift Your Spirit ultimately was quite appealing, a sentiment I conveyed within my final thoughts of my review:

Ultimately, Lift Your Spirit does just that – it makes you feel happy. There are no deal breaking moments to be found, with consistency characterizing the album overall. Calling Lift Your Spirit an innovative affair would be an overstatement, but praising it for its solidness wouldn’t be in the least. Vocally, Aloe Blacc is a balanced singer who knows when to pull back and when to flash, which helps to make Lift Your Spirit so appealing throughout.   It is the sensible R&B album that is ‘pop’ enough to crossover – just look at “The Man” for proof of that.

Favorites:

“The Man”; “Love Is The Answer”; “Chasing”; “Ticking Bomb”

Verdict: ★★★★ 

7

Nirvana (EP)

Sam Smith

41MgGkSKTsL._SL500_AA280_2014 is the year of Brit-R&B, and this music journalist is digging it. Sam Smith is the most ‘pop’ of the big three (Smith, Daley, and John Newman), but maybe British pop is naturally more soulful, at least in recent times. Regardless, Nirvana definitely builds some serious buzz for Smith’s debut album. Of Nirvana, I summarized it as follows:

All in all, Sam Smith sets his career up soundly on this introductory EP. Vocally, Smith joins a talented class of British vocalists in 2014: John Newman (Tribute) and Daley (Days & Nights). Smith more than holds his own in such elite company, making him one of the artists to watch closely this year. Nirvana EP receives my blessings for sure.

Favorites:

“Safe With Me”; “Nirvana”; “Together”

Verdict: ★★★★

 

8

Give The People What They Want

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings

71NyoHdWUWL._SL500_AA280_Traditional soul is hard to come by in 2014, particularly as R&B takes a more physical, less genuine turn. Give The People What They Want doesn’t follow this script, and even if it isn’t innovative given its inspiration from the 60s and 70s, the album feels incredibly refreshing. Of the superb Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings effort, I previously wrote:

Ultimately, Give The People What They Want is a fantastic album period. Brief at only 34 minutes and consistent from start to finish, there is truly little to criticize. Sharon Jones sounds superb throughout, as do the Dap-Kings. It’s not innovative, but the fact that Jones and company hearkens back to the classic sound, that is refreshing enough in itself.

Favorites:

“Retreat”; “We Get Along”; “You’ll Be Lonely”; “People Don’t Get What They Deserve”

Verdict: ★★★★

9

Recovery

Algebra Blessett

515FJOUivkL._SL500_AA280_Though it is neither flashy nor heroic, Recovery is a sound and enjoyable R&B album. Perhaps the biggest flaw of the album and artist Algebra Blessett is neither is well known or highly publicized. Still, my closing thoughts on Recovery were:

All said and done, Recovery is a fine R&B album, particularly to be released in a quiet January. There is a classiness and coolness about this effort that is appealing. Algebra never over sings; she always gives just the right amount of oomph and emotion to connect with the audience. Recovery is nothing flashy, but it doesn’t need to be. It is what it is – a narrative that a many of folk have experienced in real life, not merely an R&B album. Kudos Algebra – kudos.

Favorites:

“Recovery”; “Nobody But You”; “Struggle To Be” ft. Q. Parker; “Paper Heart”; “Mystery”

Verdict: ★★★★

10

The Truth

Ledisi

61CDEHhqbdL._SL500_AA280_“Calling The Truth Ledisi’s best album would be an overstatement”… actually, that’s a statement I used in my review of the diva’s latest album to summarize it: 

Calling The Truth Ledisi’s best album would be an overstatement. Don’t get me wrong, The Truth is no slouch, but comparing it to juggernauts like Lost & Found or Turn Me Loose may be a bit much. Still, the ten tracks that grace the LP are generally all worthwhile and do show Ledisi ensuring she doesn’t box herself in as only one type of artist. Maybe “That Good Good” (for example) is exactly the right answer, but it’s not that far off or too ‘left-of-center’ either. Overall, Ledisi gets it right once again. We (the fans) wouldn’t expect any less.

Favorites:

“I Blame You”; “Rock With You”; “Lose Control”; “Like This”; “88 Boxes”

Verdict: ★★★★

Read More…

“Where Is the Love” in R&B Music? 


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Contemporary R&B music has explicit physical pleasure covered, but what about genuine emotion and relationships?

81cg4cMMqIL._SL1500_An up and coming voice in R&B by the name of August Alsina released his full-length debut album entitled Testimony. Testimony is street-savvy, sporting titles including “Porn Star”, “Fml”, “Ghetto”, and “I Luv This Sh*t”. Rightfully, Alsina, a rough-and-tumble artist with a difficult background, delivers an album based on his life experience. That said, perhaps using  examples other than Testimony, R&B in general seems to be trending more towards the ‘dark side’. If you ignore the stylization and write the genre out, you get rhythm and blues. The blues are naturally dark and historically, are fretful. Even if R&B has become more ‘extreme’ by conservative purist’s standards, then given the aforementioned definition focused on the ‘blues’, R&B is not that far out on its limb right? Well – sort of.

First let me say that I love R&B. Being the old-soul that I am in spite of my age, I grew up listening to a lot of classic soul – R&B in its heyday. Even as eclectic a music listener as I have developed into today, I personally have a special place in my heart for R&B. That said, even as much as I respect the genre even today, I also am skeptical. The artists can still sing and many times have more powerful voices compared to other artists in different genres, but the material has become questionable. Anyone who denies that they enjoy a dash of risqué in their R&B probably has looked past the overtness that late acclaimed artists such as Marvin Gaye and Teddy Pendergrass incorporated into their music (“Let’s Get It On” and “Turn Off The Lights” being prime examples). That said, a dash of risqué has turned into music that as of late has grew incredibly oversexed. What’s even more shocking is it’s not just the dudes and their love for pleasure – but also the gals too.

Taking a gander at the iTunes R&B section, many of the new offerings – single or album – have the once infamous parental advisory label gracing them. Personally, being in my twenties and still possessing the liberal swagger of my past college years, some stronger content within a song or album’s going to do little to faze me. That said, for the better good of the genre and perhaps the future generation (I sound like my parents), perhaps R&B artists have carried things too far. Strike that… R&B artists are relying too much on physicality and brash language to fuel the fire. Yeah, f-bombs have become commonplace whether they should or shouldn’t, but does that mean that this ‘say exactly what’s on my mind’ mentality is necessarily the answer to relevancy? While I’ll ignore the profanity in itself, I will further examine the predominance of a three-letter word.

51Q2c-T9xKL._SL500_AA280_Going back to August Alsina, many of us expect him to ‘push the envelope’ and those very familiar understand. But now it seems as if everyone is going there. Sure, British R&B/hip-hop artist Estelle was always a bit ‘rough around the edges’ (“Just A Touch” being a perfect example), but her latest single “Make Her Say (Beat It Up)” just lays it all out there – “make her p***y say…” SMH! Sure, it’s an interesting joint and Estelle has seductiveness vocally, but I’m not sure that it’s naturally sexy. Much of Jason Derülo’s new album (Talk Dirty) ups the ante sexually, with the singer trying to add an extra edge to his image. Sure, “That’s My Shhh” was the first hint of this (Future History) while “Talk Dirty” confirmed it, but other joints like “Wiggling” and “Bubblegum” are nothing short of sinful, leaving little to the imagination. Similarly, SoMo, a newbie by way of YouTube throws sex throughout his official self-titled debut. That isn’t to say that there aren’t some naturally sexy moments, but the emotional component of the genre is being sold way short.

Ultimately, I question if R&B artists are overdoing it… no pun intended. I mean, when Teddy Pendergrass wooed with “Turn Off The Lights”, his idea of risqué was “Let’s take a shower, shower together…rub me down in some hot oils baby.” Marvin Gaye did make a bold statement with as he sang “let’s get it on, sugar”, but today “get it on” has been supplanted with let’s… you catch the drift. These are different times and innocence has been stripped from every angle, but with the value of the emotional aspects of love and specifically the dying of the dedicated relationship in the songs, how far can empty songs about meaningless hook-ups really go? Yes ‘booty’ is very much part of the genre – most genres for that matter – but does the subtler approach ultimately pay more dividends? Definitely, this should be food for thought for R&B artists and fans alike.

Review: August Alsina, ‘Testimony’


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R&B newbie August Alsina shows tremendous potential on full-length debut Testimony

 August Alsina • Testimony • Def Jam • US Release Date: April 15, 2014

August Alsina-PFR-010102The moment has finally arrived for up and coming New Orleans contemporary R&B singer August Alsina to take center stage. Sure, the 21-year old represents the new generation who prefer boldness to subtlety, but ultimately the brasher style suits the hardships he’s enduring in his personal life. “Through the pain”, Alsina seems to find the positives, even if it seems overcome with pessimism on full-length debut Testimony. A true testimony the LP ends up being, Alsina builds off the momentum of 2013 EP Downtown: Life Under the Gun, upping the ante.

Testify” sets the tone for Testimony exceptionally, with August Alsina portraying a snapshot into his life. While “Testify” isn’t necessarily the best track from the LP, it is a vital one because of how it fits into the concept. Calling it relatable might be a stretch as the only one who has experience what ‘August Alsina’ has experienced is August Alsina, but it does allow for the audience to connect. “Make It Home”, featuring Jeezy, definitely extends upon “Testify”. “I don’t always do what I should, but I do what I gotta do,” sings Alsina on his first verse, later adding “See I done dodged a couple shots, served a couple blocks / hit a couple corners tryna shake a couple cops.” Knowing the potential repercussions of his risky actions, Alsina adds “If I don’t make it home tonight / tell my mama that I lover her…take some money to my sister.” As realistic and dark as it is, “Make It Home” is a great showing; there’s something alluring about the no BS approach.

Right There” has a difficult act to follow, but continues to convey a painful, candid narrative. The repetition of the chorus is gimmicky, which takes a smidgen or so away from the cut. Still, Alsina shows off his nuanced pipes and makes you happy how he has ‘came up’ from the bottom. “You Deserve” makes brilliant use of an L.T.D. sample (“Love Ballad”). Alsina states on the intro “This is for the girl down the hall / misused and abused…pick your head up love, smile / this is for you.” Even though “You Deserve” is another song with pain behind it, Alsina spins the message positively: “But I’m just saying / you deserve better, I’m saying, you deserve better.” Women who have been battered and bruised should truly embrace the prudence that Alsina shares here.

No Love” is actually a fascinating ‘anti-love’ song. It is actually semi-romantic, but because of August Alsina’s reservations towards relationships (“Believe we had a great night but I ain’t the type to tell you that I miss you, sh*t”), there truly is “no love” in the relationship sense. Alsina’s ideas of love lacks refinement in many eyes: “So just wrap a couple of bands with a n***a like me / Loving ain’t the same with a n***a like me / you use to them but ain’t no loving me / I hear what you would say and girl it’s clear to see.” Companion and follow-up “Porn Star” definitely asserts and confirms Alsina’s physical contributions, avoiding love.   Face it, “She ride me like a porn star” is definitely nowhere near the definition of chivalry. But you can’t knock A.A., he already made it clear it’s all about hooking up, not steady and certainly not marriage.

After riding like a “Porn Star”, things return to an even darker mood on “FML”. Pusha T kicks off this notion with his opening verse: “Wake up feeling like f*ck my life / life’s a b*tch, she better f*ck me right…” Alsina plays off of it, proclaiming “Let me tell you ‘bout myself, I’m not scared to die / Been through so much sh*t, sometimes I wanna be in the sky.” As much a negative noodle as Alsina is, he ‘testifies’ on the chorus: “I never thought I would be here, I never thought I would get this far / If they say life’s like a beach chair, why am I sitting in the dark.” Generally, those who employ the overused acronym use it too loosely with little support to back it up; Alsina seems to have a case.

Grind & Pray / Get Ya Money” continues to champion both the street and the power of prayer. Alsina appears to be spiritually driven, but he also seems heavily invested in the streets as well. The “Get Ya Money” portion exemplifies this where Alsina doesn’t fault ‘her’ for being on her grind, despite how many others will judge her: “You work hard for it, it’s yours / work that body baby it’s yours / I ain’t judging you, go and get your money.” Fabolous further chips in, “My little mama hustle harder than a lot of these n***as.” Yep, that definitely nothing to do with the church – at least the one with pews, and altar, and a pulpit…

On “Ghetto”, Alsina shows a sense of pride that his girl is from the ‘ghetto’. While the singer may over-glorify the ghetto – at least to those clueless about the ghetto – there’s plenty of redeeming qualities and takeaways from “Ghetto”. With his own rough and tumble life, perhaps Alsina respects the same street savvy in his own relationship, hence loving that his boo epitomizes the ghetto – they relate to one another. After all, he does sing “Ain’t afraid to let it show / baby, go on let them know / you out the ghetto / better let them know, you from the ghetto…” On the version included here, Yo Gotti assists, setting up “Ghetto” (“She got a Bugatti body, yeah she a beast in the streets”).

Kissing On My Tattoos” gives Testimony a slow jam that possesses more substance than its title might suggest. While tattoos have become much more socially acceptable, there is still the sentiment that they represent edginess. Even though “Kissing On My Tattoos” goes softer than the majority of Testimony, Alsina still wants everyone to understand he keeps it hood. Rather than merely having her ‘kiss on my chest’, he has her ‘kiss on my tattoos’, a symbol of being a bit of a bad boy – or bad dude. Keeping love and sex on the mind, “Ah Yeah” finds Alsina going even softer – no tattoos to cling onto this time! Dedication seems to be a dominant factor on his mind as he sings to his girl: “You shine with picture perfect beauty, show it off.” “Ah Yeah” is no new concept, but it is great to hear AA concede some of his edge.

Mama” definitely shows Alsina has some substance to back up Testimony. On the verses, the singer lists the teachings his mother instilled within him: “Mama said stay out of trouble / Mama said don’t be a fool / Mama said stay in somebody’s church / Mama said boy stay in school.” While “Mama” isn’t the most electrifying track from Testimony, it is hard to deny how meaningful and touching it is, particular the chorus in which Alsina sings, “Mama I made it… I ain’t gonna stop now cause Mama I made it / and I hope I made you proud.”

Benediction” proves to be even stronger and equally touching. Throughout the narrative, the audience is given an account of the hardships that Alsina has endured. If one was to question Alsina’s edginess, “Benediction” gives and understanding as to one   Although the hook is from a dark place, it’s nothing short of addictive: “Started off in the streets / we would take collection from the fiends / People dyin’ all around me / So I gave you my testimony…” Rick Ross provides a sound assist, spitting superbly over the soulful, churchy production work. Sure its not all from the ‘good book’, but it is what it is (“Pray for benediction, pretty women on my premise / Condo out in Cabo… Gold around my neck I’m ballin’ for these final minutes.” Amen… I think.

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Although “I Luv This Sh*t” previously graced Alsina’s EP Downtown: Life Under the Gun, the monster single featuring Trinidad James (“All Gold Everything”) never grows old. Sure, we could’ve cut the molly-loving MC, but his guest verse suits the vibe. Alsina continues his foul mouthed-ness (is that even a word), but the real talk mixed with the slower, horn-accentuated production is a match made in heaven, albeit quite blasphemous (“God dammit I love it, I love it… So I’mma keep on smoking cause I love this sh*t / I’mma keep on grinding cause I love this sh*t / she tell me keep f*cking cause I love this sh*t and I love it…”) “Numb” concludes the standard edition of Testimony – club style. Alsina trades Trinidad James for B.o.B and Yo Gotti. While the cut is slickly produced, it is a bit more ‘swag’ than substance.

Ultimately, Testimony showcases the great amount of potential that August Alsina has to offer as an artist. Vocally, Alsina easily has the pipes to succeed. Additionally, he has the backstory to truly fuel the fire.   Sure, Testimony isn’t a perfectly crafted album, but it’s better more often than not. There are plenty of notable songs – filled with pain as well as the triumph of resolve. Maybe it’s not beautifully poetic, but isn’t grittiness a different take on beauty (or something like that)?

 Favorites:

“Make It Home” ft. Jeezy; “FML” ft. Pusha T; “Ghetto” ft. Yo Gotti; “Benediction” ft. Rick Ross; “I Luv This Sh*t” ft. Trinidad James

Verdict: ★★★½

Review: Jason Derülo, ‘Talk Dirty’


51Q2c-T9xKL._SL500_AA280_ Derülo’s over-reliance on sex and swagger holds the album back at times

Jason Derülo • Talk Dirty • Warner Bros • US Release Date: April 15, 2014

Jason Derulo2-20140225-49It has been a minute since “Whatcha Say” had this music enthusiast excited about new pop/R&B artist Jason Derülo. Nah, I wasn’t a ‘fan girl’ as any number of YouTube personalities might put it, but I did think ole boy had something fresh about him. Judging by the uniqueness of that number one hit, it seemed he was well on his way to conquering the music industry. Things didn’t quite work out that way for a number of reasons. Sure, Jason Derülo hasn’t exactly set the Billboard 200 on fire (understatement), but nor has his music since his debut truly stacked up either (no shade – or at least not that much shade, I promise). Future History, Derülo’s second album (first full-length technically), was the first sign of an artist with a connections problem. The album just didn’t have the personality or substance to make much noise. Here on his latest effort, Talk Dirty, Derülo is in much better shape; he has a big hit on his side. Even so, Derülo’s over-reliance on sex and swagger holds the album back at times.

Jason Derulo3-20140225-46Talk Dirty” kicks off the album alluringly with its sinful brilliance. Calling the joint heavenly is blasphemous considering its suggestive lyrics and equally ‘dirty’ production. By the way, “Talk Dirty” owes a ton to Balkan Beat Box’s “Hermetico” – like the majority of the production! Face it, that seductive sax comes off as nasty as Derülo’s opening lyrics from verse one: “I’m that flight that you get on, international / first class seat on my lap, girl, riding comfortable”. Nope, Jason D. is not really talking about a plane! If Derülo is a bit subtler regarding sexual endeavors, 2 Chainz is more explicit, holding little back about the ‘pleasure’. Even if you’re the type waving the finger at the shallowness Derülo and 2 Chainz exhibit, the addictiveness of the chorus section is undeniable: “Been around the world, don’t speak the language / but your booty don’t need explaining / all I really need to understand is when you / talk dirty to me”.

Wiggle” doesn’t add any greater sophistication to Talk Dirty, as Derülo uses the song to talk about booty (“You know what to do with that big fat butt…wiggle, wiggle, wiggle”). Matching the slinky nature of “Talk Dirty”, “Wiggle” is another track concentrated on getting down without ever citing genuine, authentic emotion. With Snoop Dogg assisting, confirmation is provided that it’s gotten “Hot” and X-rated. With fantasies being Derülo’s bread and butter, on “Trumpets” he sings “Every time that you get undressed / I hear symphonies in my head…yet the drums swing low / and the trumpets they go…” Right on cue, the trumpets enter, in all their brilliance. While “Trumpets” is catchy, ludicrous lines like “Is it weird that I hear / angels every time that you moan” are questionable, near – if not – deal breakers.

Jordin Sparks-20140130-45Bubblegum” brings in the king of sexed-up, minimalist rap these days, Tyga. “Bubblegum” of course couldn’t possibly retain any sense of innocence – even it becomes a naughty, raunchy reference. “She just wanna pop, pop, pop, pop, pop that bubblegum.” Yeah, what kind of bubblegum Jason? SMH. “Vertigo” arrives in the nick of time to deliver Talk Dirty from being completely overexerted. Duet-ing with boo Jordin Sparks, “Vertigo” has something the opening quartet of the LP lacked – substance. Sure, no one expects total ‘abstinence’ from Derülo or R&B in general, but “Vertigo” balances physical and emotional without just piling on, well the three-letter word. But of course, “Kama Sutra”, featuring Kid Ink, returns Talk Dirty from whence it came… no pun intended. Even though it is Kid Ink rapping here, the listener could totally picture Tyga on this track. Like the other risqué songs, it is what you make of it.

Personally, “Zipper” is a turn-off, specifically thanks to Derülo’s opening lyrics: “I’mma mark my territory / shawty I’m an animal, slowly digging into your / spread you like a bad story…” If that’s not enough to raise an eyebrow, the stupid hook accomplishes the task: “up and down like a zipper”. Even if Derülo were solely referencing his fly, “Zipper” would be nasty. “The Other Side” provides atonement, finally toning things down a might. “The Other Sides” straddles (Ha “straddles”) modern pop and contemporary R&B. Derülo shines on the big-time chorus: “Tonight, take me to the other side / sparks fly like the Fourth of July / just take me to the other side / I see that sexy look in your eyes…” Don’t call it the ‘second coming’, but it is easily among the cream of the crop of Talk Dirty.

Jason Derulo4-20140225-52Unfortunately for “With the Lights On”, the momentum fades as the song has only occurred “x” amount of times in the past. Honestly, look no further than this album itself – everything is about “the do”. “Stupid Love” at least sports more of an air of being refined, but that doesn’t make it truly notable by any means. “Marry Me” closes the standard edition of Dirty Talk trading the hook up for matrimony – quite a 360 huh? The thing is, contextually don’t “Stupid Love” and “Marry Me” both feel like departures among the clubbier cuts that ignore the emotional aspects of a relationship? Still, if you need a kinder, gentler cut, “Marry Me” is it.

Ultimately, Talk Dirty is average at best. It has its moments, but it also seems to put its eggs too much into one basket – specifically booty. Much like Derülo’s Future History, Talk Dirty seems to lack cohesion; it’s missing something. There is nothing wrong with Jason’s voice – he can sing – but his music just doesn’t lend itself to making a genuine connection as a listener. That said, nothing eclipses “Talk Dirty”.

Favorites:

“Talk Dirty”; “Vertigo”; “The Other Side”; “Marry Me”

Verdict: ★★★

Review: SoMo, ‘SoMo’


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SoMo’s major label debut leaves the listener underwhelmed 

SoMo • SoMo • Republic • US Release Date: April 8, 2014

YouTube has become the ‘it’ means of being discovered as an artist these days. Honestly, the art of self-promotion is truly savvy, aggressive gameplay personally. Where so many talented artists don’t have the confidence or the moxie to put them self out there, those that use a platform like YouTube deserve success. Even so, that doesn’t mean that what they have to offer is necessarily exceptional or laden with swag. SoMo, a burgeoning R&B/pop artist, takes his stab at fame with his major label debut, SoMo. Being signed to Republic is definitely a come-up from YouTube uploads. While SoMo shows the potential SoMo has to offer, it doesn’t prove to be fully cooked. Much of the cons with SoMo is the lack of an identity for its singer. SoMo doesn’t do enough vocally to necessarily impress on his official debut. No, that doesn’t mean he can’t sing – he can – but he also doesn’t come off as a superstar persona in the least.

TMWYKAL”, which stands for “Tell me what you know about love”, initiates SoMo. If there had been more development, “TMWYKAL” could have actually been an enjoyable, full-length song. Instead, it’s merely the minute-long intro that precedes “I Do It All For You” with some solid vocal production. “I Do It All For You” unsurprisingly plays off of “TMWYKAL”, with SoMo doing whatever he has to please his baby. SoMo has a nice voice, but both song and vocalist leave more to be desired. In other words, there is a lack of distinction. “Show Off” isn’t bad – pleasant by all means – but it also is plays upon tired clichés. Many times, listeners have been subjected to the sexual reference of teacher/student (“I’mma be your teacher, you gon’ learn the details / then I’m on a test, you’ll just follow the leader”). Again, there’s nothing wrong with it, or “love hits like rocket ships from outer space”, but it also doesn’t give SoMo an artistic edge.

We Can Make Love” opts for the overt approach, which delivers questionable results for the singer. “We can make love / or we can just f*ck…” doesn’t necessarily scream ‘romantic’, as SoMo references. Sure, every male R&B artist these days thinks it cool to supplant ‘sex’ with the f-bomb, but that doesn’t mean that they necessarily should. Here, SoMo sounds more desperate than anything. “Head first, chest hurts / never thought it get worst” opens “Crash” embracing the modern R&B sound. Drenched in a drunken, druggy vibe, the coolness of “Crash” appeals yet doesn’t exactly send chills or thrill; there’s just something extra missing. Distinct lyrics “Her fingers are coiled on my skin / what is this whole that I’m in / taking my clothes off again / feeling her warmth, but it ain’t warm,” catches the ear on “Blind”. Like “TMWYKAL”, “Blind” is a teaser, serving as only a minute-long interlude.

Back To The Start” is a rhythmic slow jam, focused on sex – shocker. Like everything else, it is pleasant and works, but doesn’t scream “wow” by any means. Even if SoMo lives “for the rush” he sings about on “Back To The Start”, the audience doesn’t get the same effect – aka the climax is anticlimactic. “Fire” may only inform the listener that SoMo’s girl “got that fire, fire, fire”, but it is actually one of the better cuts from the album. SoMo’s interpretation of a club cut isn’t exactly the ‘banger of the year’ (it still feels incredibly generic), but it does provide a slight spark. It’s the little things – the tiny victories.

Hush” lifts from “Hush Little Baby” cornily within its chorus, but it is what it is. At least it has a nice contemporary soul groove working for it. Still, there is an air of generic. Maybe it’s the over repetition of “hush now, hush now”. Penultimate cut “Ride” is filled with innuendo – yet another shocker. “Naughty, let’s get naughty / Girl, it’s only on or two,” SoMo sings towards the end of the first verse, “fever’s f**king running / feel the heat between us two.” Of course SoMo provides details, including how he’s gonna “Kiss your body from the tip top / all the way down to your feet.” ‘Course, when a song opens with moaning (“Whoa”), what do you expect? For a sex song, it’s not bad but again, it’s also not revolutionary. “Red Lighter” closes the album solidly. A bit more developed compared to many of the other cuts, “Red Lighter” has more depth and potential.

Ultimately, SoMo lacks an emotional connection. Sure, SoMo sings of very relatable topics in love and sex, but something about the delivery as well as the material leaves the listener feeling empty. The cupboard isn’t completely bare on this album, but it’s definitely nowhere near full. Next round, SoMo will need to step up his game to make a truly thrilling, distinctive artistic statement. Here, he settles for trendy urban music that leaves its audience with a sentiment of “so what”. Now, it is time for the YouTube star to develop into his own.

Favorites:

 “Show Off”; “Fire”; “Ride”; “Red Lighter”

Verdict: ★★½

Music Shopping List: What To Consider Buying April 8, 2014


91oaj2JsGOL._SL1500_Ah new release Tuesday, where dreams come true and are broken for many artists who hope their album will sell these days.  This Tuesday, April 8, 2014, the releases aren’t exactly star-studded – that would be an understatement.  That said, there are some possibilities to choose from, whether you’re looking to go vintage, be spiritually uplifted, or want to stomach an immature pop star’s life…

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1

Duets

Linda Ronstadt

Rhino

(Pop)

Ronstadt doesn’t release new music anymore, but the vocalist has released more than enough classic material to solidify her veteran musician status.  Duets is a compilation featuring some of Ronstadt’s most notable collaborations with others including “Don’t Know Much” with Aaron Neville and “Somewhere Out There” with James Ingram.

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2

Catacombs of The Black Vatican

Black Label Society

Entertainment One

(Metal)

The title should be enough to allure the potential listener – or drive them away (whichever comes first).  Catacombs of the Black Vatican is the heavy metal band Black Label Society’s fourth release for mega indie label Entertainment One and their tenth studio album overall.

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3

Welcome To The New

MercyMe

Fair Trade/ Columbia

(Christian)

Jesus freaks everywhere should be rejoicing as one of the preeminent contemporary Christian bands releases their follow-up to 2012 LP The Hurt & The Healer.  And yes, I do realize “Jesus Freak” was the title of a dc Talk album and song, not MercyMe – LOL.  

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4

Everlasting

Martina McBride

Vinyl Records

(Country/R&B)

Martina McBride’s latest album definitely isn’t your standard country album.  McBride covers soul classics including “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” and “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted”.  On a rendition of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home” she brings Gavin DeGraw along for the ride while she gets the assist from Kelly Clarkson on “In the Basement”.  If there were a country artist to pull it off, McBride would certainly be the one to do it.

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5

Love & Hate

Joan Osborne

Entertainment One

(Rock)

Entertainment One adds yet another album to the April 8th release date with Joan Osborne’s latest album, Love & HateLove & Hate marks the Kentucky-born artist’s eighth studio album.  The album follows up 2012 LP Bring It On Home.

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6

Justin Bieber’s Believe

Justin Bieber

Universal Studios

(Pop/Documentary)

My advice would be to proceed with caution here…really.

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7

Celebrate

James Durbin

Wind-Up

(Rock)

The former American Idol contestant drops his sophomore album Celebrate, albeit with little fanfare.  Celebrate follows up 2011 debut, Memories of a Beautiful Disaster.

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8

SoMo

SoMo

Republic

(R&B)

After releasing My Life digitally in 2013, burgeoning R&B artist (another YouTube discovery), release his ‘official’ self-titled debut via Republic.

Viral Video: Sam Tsui Covers Jason Derülo’s “Talk Dirty” Like A Champ 


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First things first! I have a love/hate relationship with R&B – or urban-pop singer – Jason Derülo.  Some of his music I dig, while some of his work I kick to the curb, or off my listening rotation.  Derülo’s self-titled debut EP had some good tracks on it, specifically “Whatcha Say” with its Imogen Heap sample and the sick “Riding Solo”.  When Derülo released his proper full-length debut, Future History, I found myself a bit overwhelmed.  Perhaps it’s the biases I have towards pop- and electro-oriented R&B, or perhaps its was just some of the material was average.  Still, I was able to get “That’s My Shh” out of the album, a true contemporary R&B cut courtesy of The-Dream.  Having released a new EP, Tattoos in 2013 (Tattoos was released as a full-length album elsewhere), Derülo delivers one truly compelling hit single in “Talk Dirty” (featuring 2 Chainz).  Regardless of my criticisms of Jordin Sparks’ boo, “Talk Dirty” bangs.  It is definitely a great promo single for the artist’s upcoming album of the same name.

I didn’t think I could enjoy “Talk Dirty” anymore than I already have, until Sam Tsui (YouTube channel is The SamTsui) delivered an electrifying cover that gives the original a contrasting ‘sound’.  It wasn’t as if “Talk Dirty” needed new life, but Tsui’s take on the tastefully-risqué number offers a worthwhile alternative to the original, something many covers fail to do.  Utilizing strings as opposed to the nasty sax of the original, Tsui tailors “Talk Dirty” to his superb voice, which is definitely meant for pop stardom in my eyes.  Tsui was featured in a previous post earlier this year, covering Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” alongside Peter Hollens.  The dude definitely has talent.   He has an original album, Make It Up available digitally.

Review: Aloe Blacc, ‘Lift Your Spirit’


41Gjnw1dUPL._SL500_AA280_ Aloe Blacc’s third album Lift Your Spirit does just that

Aloe Blacc • Lift Your Spirit • Interscope • US Release Date: March 11, 2014

Aloe Blacc-GHR-000602R&B singer Aloe Blacc is not in his first rodeo; he had an outstanding single out in 2010 entitled “I Need A Dollar” that should have foreshadowed what was to come.  Still, things only break for an artist when it’s the right time, and 2013-14 has proven to be the 35-year old singer’s time.  Two gargantuan singles have truly given Blacc ‘wings to fly’ on his third album, Lift Your Spirit: “Wake Me Up” (Aviici) and “The Man”.

The momentum that is on his side – specifically crossover success into pop from urban music – carries over into this overall fine ‘introduction’.  Sure, the singer, who has been associated with the Stones Throw label, has previously release two albums, but for many, this is their first impression of Egbert Nathaniel Dawkins III.  That impression is a favorable one ultimately.

Aloe Blacc-LMK-060235The Man” is nothing short of enthusiastic and proves to be a sensational opening cut.  “Girl you can tell everybody…I’m the man, I’m the man, I’m the man,” Blacc sings passionately on the pre-chorus, before proclaiming “I got all the answers to your questions / I’ll be the teacher you could be the lesson…” on the chorus.  The throwback vibe hearkening back to R&B’s prime just makes “The Man” that much greater.  Throw in the lifted “Your Song” sample (Elton John) and soulful vocals from Blacc and “Everything is Sound” (Jason Mraz song reference FYI). The Pharrell Williams produced “Love Is The Answer” keeps things moving exceptionally well, again relying on the inspiration of the past.  Sure Williams’ typical production cues are in play, but he doesn’t mess with the soulful script.  In fact, “Love Is The Answer” sounds quite comparable to Williams’ own retro savvy on his own album G I R L.  The chivalrous nature of “Love Is The Answer” is nothing short of admirable (“Just look around the whole wide world / so many beautiful things to see / take my hand and come along spread love with me.”).

Wake Me Up (Acoustic)” is well placed given the popularity of the original Aviici single from True.  Still, the argument against what essentially is a reprisal is that “Wake Me Up” has experienced its peak already, so why feature it once more? There is nothing wrong with the acoustic version – it’s a quality recording – but moving forward beyond the track also wouldn’t have hurt Blacc in the least.  “Here Today” may not be among the best, but what is notable about it is that here specifically, Blacc truly channels the sound of Bill Withers.  Whether it is intentional influence or not, “Here Today” shows the beauty of Blacc’s pipes.  Additionally, much like the incredibly popular “The Man”, “Here Today” can pass off as an R&B or pop single.  On “Can You Do This”, the sound is likened to Bruno Mars’s soulful throwback joint “Runaway”.  They are clearly two different songs by different artists, but the sound is a modern day capture of retro-soul.  Halfway through, things still remain ‘all good’ overall.

Aloe Blacc-AES-109170Chasing” sports another funky groove and contrasts “Can You Do This” with a slower tempo. The use of horns adds another dimension, truly accentuating the song.  The refrain is a ‘feel good’ one with Blacc singing of “girls chasing the boys” and so on.  One specific highlighting moment is when the groove switches briefly to reggae, which is a sound contrast to the rest.  “Chasing” isn’t revolutionary (nothing is on this album), but it is definitely one of the singer’s best songs.  “The Hand Is Quicker” doesn’t lose a bit of momentum, with a hard, stomping groove and magnificent use of electric guitar, horns, and organ.  Retro-soul is written all over this cut, with the backing vocals truly sealing the deal.  “You know the hand / is quicker than the eye,” sings Blacc on the refrain, “Sometimes the truth / ain’t no better than a lie.” The sweetest spot of Blacc’s voice – when he ascends into his upper register.

Ticking Bomb” is a treat; it contrasts its contemporaries on Lift Your Spirit and possesses certain intensity about it.  Soulful, clear, and nuanced vocals by Blacc continue to be the story of the LP; he’s a man on fire.  What’s equally remarkable is the fact that Blacc never over sings, giving just the right amount to draw the desired effect.  “Red Velvet Seal” truly buys into vintage soul with its six-eight groove, a common cue of classic soul.  Though the two songs are unrelated by all means, “Red Velvet Seal” hearkens back to Lenny Williams’ “Cause I Love You” given its over sound and feel.  “Red Velvet Seal” is a strong penultimate track, even if it just misses the glory and notability of the top echelon.  “Owe It All” provides the album’s obligatory spiritual cut, with Blacc thanking God for everything.  An appropriate closer, the enjoyable “Owe It All” caps off a soundly conceived R&B album.

Ultimately, Lift Your Spirit does just that – it makes you feel happy.  There are no deal breaking moments to be found, with consistency characterizing the album overall.  Calling Lift Your Spirit an innovative affair would be an overstatement, but praising it for its solidness wouldn’t be in the least.  Vocally, Aloe Blacc is a balanced singer who knows when to pull back and when to flash, which helps to make Lift Your Spirit so appealing throughout.   It is the sensible R&B album that is ‘pop’ enough to crossover – just look at “The Man” for proof of that.

Favorites:

“The Man”; “Love Is The Answer”; “Chasing”; “Ticking Bomb”

Verdict: ★★★★

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