Likes: New Day, Welcome to the Jungle, Murder to Excellence, No Church in the Wild
Dislikes: That’s My Bitch
Overall: Some weak parts, but features intriguing lyrics & unique production
Ever since the release of Kanye West’s defining debut, “College Dropout,” on the Jay-z founded Roc-A-Fella Records in 2004, fans have insisted the pair record a collaborative album. After 7 years and multiple features on each other’s projects, they granted the audience’s request with “Watch the Throne.” Considering the style of the production and some of the pensive lyrics, the rappers were definitely looking to create a classic album.
“Throne’s” production is somewhat thematic and is the perfect mix of today’s and yesterday’s sound, blending futuristic synths and elements of electronica with traditional hip-hop rhythms and some classic 60’s & 70’s soul. Most of the album is lyrically adequate, but there are some feeble points. For example, “Lift Off” has a great hook and attractive production, but the verses are painfully short and barely noticeable. Another weakness is that there are one too many songs in which the rappers singly boast about their success and assets. Granted, boasting is a central tenet in hip-hop, but multiple tracks of just boasting can get redundant and tiring. Also, I’m personally over West’s womanizing lyrics that seem to now have a stronger recurring role on his projects. (ex. “…I said look you need to crawl ‘fore you ball, come and meet me in the bathroom stall and show me why you deserve to have it all…”)
Reminiscent of West’s “My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy,” the more meaningful lyrics address the societal turmoil of the black community and discuss the ugly and rewarding parts of fame, while taking time for personal, inward reflection. On the endearing and intriguing “New Day,” West and Jay-z speak to their unborn sons. Jay-z vows to be better parent than his absentee father, and West makes a mockery of what the media has found to be his missteps and lists what he finds to be valid mistakes. All in all, I predict that “Throne” will be well revered and that another collaborative record is in the future. Good album.
If I have any additional commentary on an album from a societal, cultural or fan perspective, I usually save it for a separate article, but since I don’t have too much to say, I’ll go ahead and include it here. Hip-hop and I have love-hate relationship. I see its value as a genre, but there are many things about the culture and the music that I do not agree with. As a woman and feminist, I will never find it appropriate to refer to a woman as a bitch. Most rappers proclaim that when they use the word “bitch,” it’s not in reference to ALL women, just those that are promiscuous or deceitful, but as usual, the rappers contradict themselves. On “That’s My Bitch,” Jay-z and Kanye are speaking of a respectable woman of substance that’s their companion. As a woman of color, I ask and I plea: when do I get to be referred to as your friend, girlfriend or wife and NOT your “bitch?” As a man of color, when will you give yourself and your male counterparts a title of something more exalting than a “nigga?” When? That is all.
Yearly CD purchases have decreased steadily over the last decade, due in part to internet piracy. Music piracy is now so rampant, albums are leaking online long before their official release dates, ultimately affecting sales. Jay-z & Kanye West’s collaborative record, “Watch the Throne,” successfully hit the market on the planned date of August 8th without any mishaps, however. How did they avoid the leak? Well, according to RollingStone Magazine, having an exclusive release deal with ITunes and department store Best Buy was the key. Industry insiders have concluded that leaks tend to happen because copies of the finished product are stolen from manufacturing plants during shipping. “Throne” was released on Itunes August 8th and will be available at Best Buy on August 12th. By making the album initially available on Itunes only, no shipping is involved. If sales improve as result of this type of release plan, record labels are likely to mass implement it. While this plan seems like a dream come true for the industry, some fans and independent retailers oppose the design. Fans are concerned they may not be able to purchase physical copies if a specific store isn’t available to them and independent retailers won’t be able to sell and profit from anticipated albums. As a consumer, what do you think of exclusive release deals?
Recent facebook statuses I've posted regarding music:
"I just heard "That's My B****" with Kanye West and Jay-z....when do I get to be called your girlfriend, spouse or friend and not your bitch?!!"
"I imagine that if God could sing, He'd sound like Marvin Gaye. If God is a woman, she sounds like Whitney Houston." -Robin Thicke
“…if I was going to be successful, I had to be successful at myself. I couldn’t be successful at what other people were doing…I had to do what felt true to me. The worst thing to be is successful as someone else. That’s a difficult thing to upkeep and it’s very tiring. I feel sorry for someone who has to walk out the house everyday as someone else to make this art and to make something that people connect to, and whatever you made is not you. You’re not happy about it, but it’s successful….that has to be draining and a very sad existence…”- Jay-z
Likes: All of the Lights, Blame Game, Runaway
Dislikes: So Appalled, Monster
Overall: Good album. I need a facebook “like” button.
Kanye West’s 5th album, “My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy,” let’s us inside his mind as he reflects on the black experience in America, hip-hop, his struggle to preserve his art, his love life and resisting being swept up in the dark side of fame. From the lyrics to the sound, “Beautiful” is definitely darker and far less jubilant and triumphant in comparison to West’s albums before “808’s and Heartbreak.” The record is almost kind of depressing to listen to. West isn’t even as arrogant as he used to be lyrically. He still brags on himself and there are shreds of the usual hip-hop materialism, but if you listen closely, West isn’t as pleased with himself as he used to be (or at least that’s the impression I got). On “Gorgeous”, he implies that he feels duped by the music industry and is disappointed by his inability to break free of manipulation. On some of his tracks about relationships (ex. “Hell of a Life”& “Runaway”), you hear West negatively critique himself as a romantic partner and how he resorts to the cold, numbing, self-abusing world of celebrity and excess to cope. In addition, he depicts an inner struggle to embrace the simple, pure and feeling versus the glossy, stereotypical life of a rapper (ex. “All of the Lights”). The musical production is dramatic and abrasive, and I absolutely adore the use of live instruments (I always do). The orchestrations on the “All the Lights” interlude and “Runway” are just beautiful to me. As for further comments on specific tracks, most people enjoyed “Monster,” but I didn’t find the lyrics impressive or interesting. “Who Will Survive in America” is a poetic, intense, hard, realistic look at the minority, cross-cultural experience in America that I feel many will relate to.
I enjoyed running around inside of Kanye’s mind for an hour, and, as always, I appreciate him sharing such an introspective moment with us on wax. He is truly an artist whose work reflects his personal view. I hope he figures everything out and the walls of his room stop spinning. Although I prefer previous Kanye albums, this one is a great piece of music.
Amazing show. I’ve always viewed the VMA’s as a more exiting, more hip and more casual Grammy’s, and I look forward to it every year. They’ve had some years that weren’t all that exiting, but this year didn’t fit into that category. This year’s show fit into the “classic VMA” box: exciting, entertaining, memorable, and of course with at least one “OMG! Did that really happen? ” moment. There were several “OMG” moments. Let’s start with the amazing opening: the tribute to Michael Jackson. MTV’s homage to the “King of Pop” was expected at this year’s show and was eagerly anticipated. If anyone NEEDED to do a tribute, it should have been MTV; considering he’s the 1st African-American artist to have his music video on the station and part of the reason why MTV is what it is now. Plus, MTV needed to make up for the lack of tribute programs aired in the days after his death (Yes, there was SOME tribute programming, but many of them were simple, underdeveloped and lackluster).
Giving an emotive and heartfelt speech, Madonna made several thought provoking points that captured the human and intimate essence of Michael that we often either forgot about and/or failed to see (see the post below for her speech in its entirety). When they panned to the audience to show their reactions to the speech, many of the recording artists present were either fixated on Madonna, had their eyes closed, or their heads bowed. Entrenched in every word and moment, it seemed as if the audience was in prayer or reflection. If you’re Michael fan, you were right with them. She ended her speech with the phrase “long live the king”. I was really hoping someone would run with that and start a chant. Madonna’s speech was followed by a dance team performance of his hit songs. Each dancer was dressed in a replica of a signature M.J. costume. The only thing that would have enhanced the performance more was to have someone who was obviously influenced by M.J. (like Justin Timberlake, Usher or Ne-Yo) be a part of the sequence. The icing on the cake was JANET JACKSON (yes, J.J.) performing “Scream” (the only recorded M.J. and J.J. duet) as the music video played in the background. The choreography was synced perfectly with video. I don’t know about ya’ll, but I was jumpin’ around and screaming to the top of my lungs when Janet came out. It was the ultimate performance and the ultimate tribute, and it seemed like the crowd loved it. It only got sad when it registered that Janet was on the stage by herself without her brother, and we would never see them perform together again.
The rest of the live performances were awesome, including Taylor Swift, Muse, Lady Gaga, The Queen Bee (Beyonce`), Green Day, Pink, Kid Cudi , Jay-Z with Alicia Keys and a special tribute to the late DJ AM.
Taylor’s performance was interesting -it was shot following her through a New York subway and into the street in front of Radio City Music Hall. Several fans won a chance to ride with Taylor on the subway and dance with her in the street for the performance. That’s another thing I love about the VMA’s- they always involve the fans, and give them the best seats (right by the stage). Lady Gaga made me want to check out her album- I didn’t know she could actually sing. It’s hard to get passed her craziness long enough to notice that she can sing. She doesn’t realize that she’s distracting from her own talent. I find it interesting that Lady Gaga is considered to be “cool and different” for her eccentricities, but Michael was called “Wacko Jacko” and weird. Intriguing…......anyhow, on to Beyonce’s performance….Bee Bee, (as I affectionately call her ) NEVER fails to perform well (and believe me, I have seen enough performances to say that with confidence). The only reason why “never” would turn into “almost never” with her VMA appearance is because there were about 3 notes at the beginning that didn’t quite hit right. And she almost tried TOO hard to put the sexy on with one too many body rolls. Sometimes, I think she forgets that she’s Beyonce` and things like “sexy” just come natural to her, requiring no work. Her introduction was cool and creative; she made a tribal-esque remix of the bridge to “Single Ladies”. Looking like a small “Sasha Fierce” army, several dancers eventually joined her on stage to perform the infamous choreography.
Like Beyonce`, Pink is usually impressive live and was even more impressive as she performed “Sober” while being flung around in a trapeze act (believe it. It happened). If you thought THAT would be distracting or keep her from performing well, it didn’t. She sung in full voice and didn’t miss a beat. Now Keri Hilson really has no excuse for her poor live performances (See my June 29th Keri post). The coolest New Yorkers in music, Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, gave an excellent performance of “Empire State of Mind” from Jay-z’s latest album, “The Blueprint 3”. I LOVE THAT SONG! One whiff of that song and you’re gonna wanna pack your bags, put on your Manolo’s, and book lunch with Samantha, Carrie and Bloomberg. I’m leaving tomorrow. LOL It was a perfect ending to the VMA’S- the best of New York music, in New York, singing about the aura of New York. It was classic. The only glitch in Jay’s performance, if you can call it one, was the random and sudden appearance of rapper and fellow New Yorker Lil’ Mama. Because she’s from New York, I initially suspected that she was supposed to be up there, but there was still a hint of “this wasn’t planned.” And it wasn’t. On NBC’S “Today” with Kathie Lee and Hoda Kotb, Alicia Keys was quoted as saying “We can appreciate her being overwhelmed and inspired, but we would have appreciated it if she would have done it from her seat."
There was another random and obnoxious interruption earlier in the show by Kanye West. Now an infamous and much talked about moment, Kanye interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for Best Female Video, denoting that Swift’s fellow nominee, Beyonce`, should have won. “Taylor, I’m happy for you and I’m gonna let you finish, but Beyonce` had one of the best videos of all time” (referring to “Single Ladies”). After his snide remark, West handed the mic back to Swift, shrugged his shoulders and left the stage as he was booed by the audience. The audience showed their support for Swift by chanting her name. Host Russell Brand, who was less obnoxious this year (thank goodness) mentioned that in the spirit of Michael Jackson, we should “love everybody” and that all the nominees were great artists. West has a history of and a reputation for making fuss over award wins and losses, but over his OWN wins and losses. Kanye was being his typical self: rude, immature, arrogant and special edition. One of the things that irritate me the most about Kanye’s act was that he put Beyonce` in the middle of his bull. It’s one issue to act a monkey over your OWN awards, but someone else’s awards too? He called himself “defending” her, and yet he was putting her in the position to have to put out a P.R. fire. He stole Taylor’s moment AND Beyonce`s, as she had to use her moment winning Video of The Year (which better honors it as the pop-culture impacting video it was than Best Female Video, btw) to make up for his mess. RRR!!!! Like Lady Gaga, Kanye doesn’t realize he’s overshadowing his own talent with his chicanery. I’m surprised that he hasn’t matured, considering all that he’s been through with the death of his mother and his dramatic breakup (that he made a whole album about). It’s ridiculous.
On the note of who won and who lost, it appears that this year’s theme was “everybody’s a winner here.” The “heavyweights” of the past year (and therefore the expected winners-Beyonce` and Lady Gaga) won. The “authentic, genre impacting and legitimate” artists (Eminem, T. I. and Green Day) won. Old MTV favorites (Britney Spears) and the unexpected, yet fresh and new (Taylor Swift) won. It was everybody’s party and everybody’s night. No one was left out it seems, which makes for a good award show.
While Britney is still on my breath, I find it interesting that when Brit Brit was most deserving of a VMA (pre-“Blackout”), she never got one. She’s been nominated 26 times total, only winning 4 times. 3 out of her 4 wins were attained last year; her 4th at this year’s show. When she won last year, I felt like that were just giving them away to her as thanks for seeming like she got her crap together and putting out “Circus”. I thought it was a spit in the face because MTV didn’t appreciate Britney and give her just dues until they thought they were going to lose her. Say what you will about her talent and whatever else, but she MADE MTV in the late 90’s and in the early 2000’s. MTV Asia and MTV Europe gave her props from jump, but no, not in America. Why is it that Europe treats our artists (including minority ones) better than we do? If you can’t make it America, start selling your junk in Europe and you’ll be rolling in doe, but that’s besides the point. I digress.
The 2009 MTV Video Music Awards were filled with lots “OMG!”, “sis-boom-pow!” and great performances, making it memorable one. Brava MTV.