Tag Archives: music

Bronx Rapper Cardi B Became a Pop Sensation, But Will She Make it Last?

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 26: Cardi B performs on stage during the Power 105.1's Powerhouse 2017 at Barclays Center of Brooklyn on October 26, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/FilmMagic)

On the strength of her quirky, vivacious personality, a fantastic head bop of a beat, and fun, post-feminist, sex-positive lyrics, Bronx born hip-hop artist Cardi B took her single “Bodak Yellow” all the way to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. She unseated Taylor Swift for the number one spot and became the first female rapper to sit atop the chart with a solo record since 1998’s “Doo-Wop (That Thing)” by Lauryn Hill. 

Allison P. Davis profiled Cardi B for New York magazine, capturing the artist between appearances, feeling anxious about recording her full-length album. Davis has a way of seeing the Cardi B moment for what it is, and for understanding what the rapper means to her audience, beyond the flash of celebrity.

Cardi B is, considered one way, only the latest bombastic, came-up-on-a–New York–block female rapper to fascinate the world with her sharp lyrics, sharp six-inch acrylics, and grab-you-by-the-balls sexuality. Before her were Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown, Remy Ma, Nicki Minaj, forgotten groups like HWA (Hoez With Attitude). All share an insistence on demanding, over hard-rap tracks, what their male counterparts demand — money, power, respect, quality oral sex — from the female point of view, in the face of criticisms of everything from their overt sexuality and their weaves to their perceived lack of talent.

But if you think of Lil’ Kim and Minaj as the queens of New York rap (or the king, as Minaj often prefers to call herself), each can be understood as representing the rap Zeitgeist of a decade: Lil’ Kim brought a gangster-rap authenticity in the ’90s; Minaj’s savvy image-making, entrepreneurial ownership over herself as a brand, and impenetrable air of control were indicative of the genre’s maturity ten years on from that. And now, one decade later, we have reached, for the first time in history, hip-hop–R&B beating out rock and pop as the dominant music genre in the U.S., according to the 2017 Nielsen midyear music report, and so Cardi has a certain competitive advantage over her predecessors. She can seem almost like a caricature of a female rapper who has remixed the vibes of those women who came before her. (Cardi wouldn’t be pleased to hear this — the only conversation she dislikes more than “which female rapper she’s beefing with” is “which female rapper she’s most like.”) She’s taken the concept of “ratchet” — a southern rap term, first used as an insult akin to “ghetto,” that evolved over the years to mean “raw” — and played with it to her advantage. She’s an adroit creature of the media she’s been saturated by growing up; like all of her age mates, she is highly self-aware, referential. She understands on a cellular level what might go viral, how to craft something for social media, how to speak in sound bites, and how to reveal enough of herself, seemingly unfiltered, to be interesting. But that’s not the real charm or genius of Cardi, which is her ability to not let all of that get in the way of what and who she actually is: funny, a little neurotic, unabashed in her ambition and desire for money, and yet sincere in her attachment to how and where she grew up.

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Bootlegging Jane’s Addiction

Joe Hughes/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Aaron Gilbreath | Longreads | November 2017 | 26 minutes (6,465 words)

On a sunny day in 1989 when I was just 14, I heard Jane’s Addiction for the first time.

I was at my friend Nate’s house. As I sat on his bedroom’s itchy tan carpet, near the waterbed with the imitation leather rim, we watched their debut record spin. It was a live recording, and like many teenagers whose musical awakening came before the internet, we’d inherited it from a cooler elder — Nate’s sister’s boyfriend.

The album was recorded at a club called The Roxy, on the Sunset Strip. As a concert recording, some fans called it “the live album.” We called it “Triple X,” after the indie label that released it. Unlike other live records where applause fades in before the music starts, Triple X launched right in with no introduction: fast drums, soloing guitar, and a high-pitched banshee singer howling cryptic lyrics that went way over my 14-year-old head: “Oh, mama lick on me / I’m as tasty as a red plum / Baby thumb / Wanna make you love.” The song was called “Trip Away.” I had no idea what tripping was, but the music slayed me.

After a blazing crescendo, the audience clapped, seconds passed, and a slow bass line played a new rumbling melody. The drummer pounded a single beat over it: boom. Then two more ─ boom boom ─ building tension. The guitarist slid his pick down the guitar strings, smearing a wicked echo across the rhythm, then the banshee yelled “Goddamn!” and broke into “Whores.” “I don’t want much man, give a little / I’m gonna take my chances if I get ’em. Yeah!”

To a middle class kid in Phoenix, Arizona, this music had a primal abandon that I hadn’t yet encountered, but whose wildness attracted me.

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In the Wake of Weinstein and #MeToo, Why Does R. Kelly Still Have an Audience?

(Rex Features via AP Images)

At Rolling Stone, reporter Jason Newman recently revealed another round of sexual assault and abuse allegations against R. Kelly. The allegations are from one of Kelly’s former girlfriends, disc jockey Kitti Jones, who dated the singer from 2011 to 2013.

It was June 2011, and R. Kelly had just performed to a frenetic crowd at the Verizon Theatre outside Dallas, Texas. It had been nearly two decades since the singer’s raunchy lyrics and honeyed voice turned him into a R&B superstar and sex symbol. But despite multiple controversies over his alleged sexual relationships with underage girls, his still-dedicated fan base sent his latest album — the throwback soul LP Love Letter ­— to number six on the Billboard 200…

[Jones had] been into Kelly since she was a teen in the early 1990s, when she’d hide in her room with his music to escape her mother’s tumultuous romantic relationships. She’d buy every magazine he was in and, upon the release of his 1993 solo debut, 12 Play, took a limo to a third-row seat at her first Kelly show. She’d seen him in concert seven times since. “He was my Brad Pitt,” she says.

The story of Jones’s relationship with Kelly includes food deprivation, forced sex acts, and a dormitory-style, cult-like atmosphere with his other girlfriends. It echoes Buzzfeed’s July story, “R. Kelly is Holding Women Against their Will in a Cult, Parents Told Police,” reported by Jim DeRogatis, who has followed the cloud of allegations surrounding the singer since before his 2008 trial for child pornography.

Jones says she went to Rolling Stone to support the women mentioned in the Buzzfeed report, some of whom are younger than 21 and are, according to one woman’s parents “brainwashed” by the singer.

Reports of Kelly’s illicit, predatory behavior go back to his marriage to singer Aaliyah in 1994 when she was 15 years old and he was 28. (Vibe published an apparent marriage certificate in its December issue that year). Over the years I’ve personally heard from Chicagoans with memories of Kelly traipsing the halls of local high schools looking to befriend teenage girls. Much less clear than Kelly’s gleeful exploitation of women and girls — he calls himself the “Pied Piper” of R&B — is how and why he gets to keep an audience and a job.

Rolling Stone’s article came out just a week after accounts of producer Harvey Weinstein’s predatory behavior were first published in The New York Times and The New Yorker. The public responded with shock, outrage, and then action. Weinstein was fired from the company he co-founded, expelled from the Motion Picture Academy, and could face criminal charges. Some of his accusers, like Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow, are powerful Hollywood players, but regular women also stepped forward on social media to tell their own stories of sexual violence, using the hashtag #metoo.

Accusers of other powerful, predatory men soon followed: actor Kevin Spacey, Amazon Studios executive Roy Price, NPR’s senior vice president for news Michael Oreskes, former New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier, and ex-New Republic publisher Hamilton Fish.

In a tough news cycle, the courage of survivors heartened me. I’ve been the victim of sexual violence more than once. I know many women who can say the same, but often, it’s only behind closed doors, in voices thin with internalized shame that we speak of these things if we ever do at all. Also heartening, of course, were the consequences forced on many of the predators — the public shaming of them, the loss of deals, relationships, credibility.

Weinstein’s victims, that we know of, were mostly white — with the exception of Lupita Nyong’o, who published a detailed account of her experience with the producer in the New York Times. Bim Adewunmi, a critic I admire, wrote that black actresses, who get fewer roles for less pay than their white counterparts, were mostly saved in this instance because of their lack of desirability in the eyes of the mainstream. Weinstein was reported to have turned down actress Sophie Okonedo for a role because he doubted that she was “fuckable” enough to draw audiences. Adewunmi’s thinking didn’t sit right with me; sexually predatory behavior isn’t fundamentally about desirability. Also, women of color — especially indigenous women — have a higher lifetime incidence of sexual violence than white women and are less likely to report it to authorities or use social services to get help. We haven’t been saved from anything just because multitudes of us aren’t on one predator’s list.

There was a lot of silence after Nyong’o spoke up, and with R. Kelly’s victims, there’s been a similar silence. Perhaps it’s news fatigue: Everything is exhausting and heartbreaking, and one can only be outraged so much. Still, it’s curiously telling who the outrage and action follows. There are black women writers and activists who’ve tried to wake us up to the horror of Kelly’s behavior, yet he continues to tour and record music. Right now, on this very day, about half a dozen girls and women may be held in a weird, multi-city sex cult in R. Kelly’s homes. Some of their parents have asked for help. Aren’t they worthy of our collective fury, too?

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When Life Imitates Country Music

CIRCA 1970: Photo of Gary Stewart Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

David Ramsey‘s essay in the fall issue of Oxford American is partly about honky-tonk singer Gary Stewart; partly about the loss of his wife’s father, Mr. Chuck; and entirely about the power of music to bridge cultural divides, to console, to memorialize, to provoke. As an essay, it’s thoroughly lovely, and thoroughly satisfying.

If you’re not familiar with Gary Stewart, it’s probably because he’s been dead since 2003, and had a patchy career for almost 20 years before that. He sang about hard living, and his life imitated his art:

Then, like a country song, all manner of things went wrong. Stewart had designs on a more anarchic Southern rock sound, and stodgy RCA didn’t quite know what to do with him (the head honchos kept complaining that he wasn’t enunciating). His consumption of uppers, Quaaludes, and prescription painkillers became even more prodigious, and bleaker. He was hospitalized for overdoses at least three times. After a few ill-conceived duds in the early 1980s, RCA dropped him in 1983.

By 1987, according to the writer Jimmy McDonough, who tracked him down and wrote the definitive profile of Stewart for the Village Voice, the singer was holed up in a small trailer with the windows painted black, rarely leaving unless it was to score drugs. “When not comatose, Stewart was living on 19-cent two-liter bottles of Dr. Chek Cola, ‘Ree-see’ Peanut Butter Cups, and amphetamine,” McDonough later recounted. Stewart agreed to be interviewed only if McDonough brought him an obscure 45 by Wild Bill Emerson. The demand was intended to be a wild goose chase, but McDonough managed to find it, earning an audience.

“I stay away when I can’t do anybody any good,” Stewart told McDonough. Then he threw a knife into the wall.

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The Athletes Who Felt Seen by Kendrick Lamar’s “good kid, m.A.A.d city”

(Rex Features via AP Images)

Hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy-winning second album, “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” debuted five years ago last week. For Justin Tinsley at the Undefeated, California athletes, some of whom Lamar referenced in songs like “Black Boy Fly,” reflect on how much the album made them, and other young black men, feel seen.

Lamar and Afflalo knew of each other, even if they didn’t run in the same crews. Aside from being a star athlete, Afflalo was the school’s biggest supplier of music. “If you heard [50 Cent’s] ‘In Da Club’ coming from a car stereo in Compton in 2003,” he told The Players Tribune, “there’s a really good chance that CD was burned by Arron Afflalo.” Business was so booming that teachers and students alike flooded him with requests ranging from Marvin Gaye to The Hot Boys. One student in particular made an appeal for Jay-Z’s 1996 debut Reasonable Doubt. That classmate was Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, who would eventually become a seven-time Grammy winner with 22 nominations.

Good kid, m.A.A.d city, five years old this week, is of course a modern hip-hop classic, one of the true cultural linchpins of the 2010s. The project is a product of a teenage Lamar’s fascination withThe Autobiography of Malcolm X as well as his own experiences on Los Angeles’ Rosecrans Avenue, the Louis Burgers where his Uncle Tony was murdered, Gonzales Park, and street corners where gang members served as gatekeepers. It’s a gospel of a Compton life — stories that don’t make it to CNN, and rarely ever leave the neighborhoods. The album reflects growing up in Compton “one thousand percent,” said Toronto Raptors All-Star guard and Compton native DeMar DeRozan. “It takes you back to exact moments of growing up in there. Everything was the norm. Growing up, that’s just what we knew.”

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Sade’s Eternal Cool

(AP Photo/Andre Penner)

The soul singer Sade Adu has maintained pop cultural relevance in the 30 years since the debut of her group’s first studio album Diamond Life, which spawned moody, quiet storm singles like “Smooth Operator,” and “Your Love is King.” For The New York Times, Jacob Bernstein considers how Sade has maintained her brand so successfully for so long.

It turned out she was great, with a breathy voice that was heard by Stuart Matthewman and Paul Denman, playing in a band called Pride. They asked Ms. Adu to start singing with them.

In 1982 or 1983, Mr. Matthewman and Mr. Denman left Pride and formed a group around Sade.

They signed to Epic Records, where executives quickly realized they were dealing with an artist with no direct historical precedent.

“She was one of those rare artists I fell completely in love with because she came just the way she is now,” said Susan Blond, a former vice president and publicity director at Epic who now heads an agency where clients have included Aerosmith, Will.I.Am and Morrissey.

“She was very young, but she was very sophisticated,” Ms. Blond said. “She didn’t follow anyone else’s style. No one was as beautiful or had as sleek of a look as her. She didn’t mind designer clothes, but you’d never ever look at her and say, ‘Oh that’s a Chanel outfit.’ She never looked like a brand. And her songs seemed to become classics immediately.”

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The Opera Lover Who Composed “Bat Out of Hell”

American singer Meat Loaf performing on stage during the Bat Out Of Hell Tour, USA, September 1978. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Popular perceptions of rock and opera typically place the two traditions on opposite sides of the musical spectrum — so much so that a genre like rock opera could emerge in the 1960s as an oxymoronic novelty. Yet they share wide swaths of common ground when it comes to earnest expression and unabashed sentimentality. Corey Atad drives this point home in his Hazlitt piece on Jim Steinman’s prolific composing career. His biggest hits — from Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out of Hell” to Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” — all proudly wear their emotions on their huge, puffy sleeves.

It’s no accident that Jim Steinman’s songs veer into the theatrical: his roots were in musical theatre. Steinman grew up in love with opera. In the late 1960s, he attended Amherst College in Massachusetts where he worked on several musical projects. In 1969 he wrote and starred in The Dream Engine, an occult rock and roll musical that served as his independent study at Amherst, and featured themes—and even lyrics—which would recur throughout the rest of his career. In fact, more than perhaps any other modern music producer, Steinman’s willingness to pilfer his own work is impressive. The move fits with his Wagnerian influences, prizing leitmotif on top of the grand scope. Looked at another way, his entire career can be seen as one long workshop for a grand musical that was never produced. Songs he’d written for The Dream Engine would go on to be recorded as recently as 2016, in his fourth collaboration with Meat Loaf, Braver Than We Are. The seeds of some of his most famous songs can be found in it, too, including the “turn around” lyric and call-and-response structure that would become central to “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

The Dream Engine was seen by Joseph Papp, head of the New York Shakespeare Festival, who hired Steinman to stage it professionally. Years of workshopping went nowhere. Eventually Steinman wrote another musical, More Than You Deserve, a lurid Vietnam War story that ran for several weeks at the Public Theater in late 1973. It was on that production that Steinman met Marvin Lee Aday, aka Meat Loaf.

Around the time Meat Loaf was starring in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, he and Steinman collaborated on a series of songs which would eventually become the basis for Bat Out of Hell. The seeds of the album were planted earlier in the decade, while Steinman was at work attempting to reshape The Dream Engine into a Peter Pan-inspired musical called Neverland, a reflection of Steinman’s career-spanning obsession with eternal youth. Though that project never properly got off the ground, it featured work that would later end up on Bat Out of Hell, including the title track. All Steinman needed was a muse to help him bring it all together, and in Meat Loaf he found just that.

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Can Detroit’s Legendary Techno Scene Survive Gentrification?

Stacey Pullen performs at the 2016 Movement Electronic Music Festival in Downtown Detroit's Hart Plaza. (Tanya Moutzalias/The Ann Arbor News via AP)

Techno emerged in Detroit’s minority and queer communities as the city descended into decay in the late 1980s. A couple of decades later, after having reshaped electronic music and club culture around the world, the scene is alive — but changing. At Roads and Kingdoms, Akhil Kalepu writes a history of techno that goes all the way back to Motown. But he devotes special attention to a contemporary tension between the genre’s diverse, underground origins and an increasingly white, affluent scene in Detroit and beyond.

In Detroit, much of the electronic music world rejoiced when techno veteran Dimitri Hegemann of Berlin’s famed Tresor nightclub announced plans to open a branch in Packard Automotive Plant, a former DIY venue for the local rave scene. For many locals, though, it was yet another example of a white European taking something made by their predominantly black city: the gentrification of a genre seeping back into physical space.

Despite its genuine Detroit roots, Movement [Electronic Music Festival], too, has had its part to play in the gentrification of electronic music and, by extension, Detroit. The inaugural festival, held in 2000, was the brainchild of Carl Craig — a second-generation techno star in his own right — and Carol Marvin of the event production team Pop Culture Media. They saw Hart Plaza, dead in the center of Detroit’s beleaguered downtown, as the perfect place to host a techno festival, even if most of the city’s residents were unfamiliar with the scene.

Since those first years, Movement has gone from a free event to a paid one, passing through the hands of several directors along the way. Despite changes in leadership, Movement still plays an important role in the narrative of Detroit Rising, which is also the story of Detroit Gentrifying. Hart Plaza itself is now the centerpiece of one of Detroit’s many “revitalized” neighborhoods. As in similar urban zones across the U.S., rising rents have driven out a predominantly middle-class economy, replacing local businesses with high-end establishments and luxury apartments—the early stages of the trend that turned former underground capitals like New York, London, and Tokyo into velvet-rope and bottle-service cities. Growing electronic music scenes in Asia, Africa, and South America show promise, though most investment in those regions goes to venues that cater to the developing world’s growing elite.

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Reflections of a Lifelong Metalhead

Axel Heimken/AP Images

There are scores of pressing issues in our turbulent world, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a moment to discuss things that might seem superfluous. For instance, heavy metal. If you grew up in the late 1980s like I did, you encountered a certain tribe of people wearing torn faded jeans and black band t-shirts who either listened to operatic bands like W.A.S.P. or truly heavy bands like Slayer. Whether it’s the Reagan era or the Trump era, death metal or grindcore, metalheads’ passion has remained undiluted across the decades, even as the music evolves. For many people, all these metal subgenres are confusing and repellent. To fans, they’re exactly the strong medicine that’s needed to get through tough times.

At March Shredness, part of an annual, themed music project, Andy Segedi looks back at his youth as a headbanger. Examining metal’s history and intertwined subgenres, Segedi reflects on what drew him to loud, dark music in the first place, looks at how the debt serious metal owes to lame “hair metal,” and makes a case for all metal.
It’s my opinion that, if you’re one of those people who maybe looks at the dark side of things, has what proudly normal people might consider a socially unacceptable sense of humor, and whose favorite songs tend to be in minor keys, then listening to Sabbath or any of the myriad styles and crossover genres it inspired is an ideal way to safely release (not cause) the accumulated angst and frustration that comes from living in this increasingly self-destructing world.
Best of all, by celebrating the broad metal category, Segedi goes beyond it: even if you don’t like Sabbath or Pantera, loving music is always essential, and bonding with strangers over your chosen tunes is one of the most powerful, joyous aspects of the human experience. Even if it involves a flaming pentagram.

A person’s discovery of music of any kind is a journey, and while for some pop music fads these journeys are relatively brief and uncomplicated (see: disco; fuck: disco), metal is not. It’s been around for almost 50 years now, its mainstream popularity fluctuating like a sine wave but never quite disappearing, just slinking away into the stygian underground to mutate as new hybrid sub-genres and styles emerge. After 50 years of this, things get messy. So unless you were lucky enough to be there at the beginning, your discovery of metal and its offshoots is bound to be just as non-linear and complicated as a particular sub-genre’s influences. Complicated, but still traceable for those who are more forensically inclined, as metal scholar Fenriz of Norwegian black metal pioneers Darkthrone shows in this earnest reconstruction of that particular genre’s lineage.

This complexity might be one reason why metal shows are so… friendly. There’s a sense of community, of comfort and relief in the air. Here, many fans whose backwards employers don’t allow them to wear rock shirts, or display piercings, or grow their hair, or otherwise express themselves in the Holy Workplace are finally among their own kind. Everyone’s there for the same reason, but they each got there a different way, and therefore offer new perspectives on the genre. While waiting in the beer line, complete strangers compare notes on whatever bands they’re repping on our t-shirts. I’m sure this happens at other types of shows, too, but it always happens at metal shows (and I’ve been to more than a few “other” shows where nobody talked to anyone outside their social circles). Anyway, these beer-line conversations almost always include “Dude, if you like [Band A], you’ve got to check out [Band B]” moments, which often lead to momentous discoveries. And momentous metal discoveries are important to explorers like me.

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Elvis Has Left the Makeup Trailer

Tom Petty recording tracks for the Johnny Cash album 'Unchained' in 1996. (Kevin Estrada / MediaPunch/IPX)

After his death, Oxford American re-upped an interview with Tom Petty from 2000. Did you ever wonder what got him into music? Wonder no more: It was Elvis. He tells interviewer Holly George-Warren about a childhood encounter with the King at a movie location near his home in Florida.

I remember a long line of white Cadillacs that came in, and getting out were guys in mohair suits—really very flashy lookin’ cats in sunglasses. Every time one would get out, I’d say to my aunt, “Is that Elvis?’’ and she’d say, “No.’’ Then all of the sudden, she went, “That’s Elvis.’’ And it really was a semireligious experience. I mean, he glowed to me. I’d never seen anyone’s hair dyed so black that it was blue—it shone blue in the front. He looked amazing. My uncle was there, and he says, “Elvis, these are my nieces and nephews.’’ He said hi, and then he went in his trailer. And we stayed and watched them film throughout the day. I remember at one point a crowd was handing records over the fence for him to sign and then hand them back. And I was like, “Damn, if I had an Elvis record, I could get an autograph.’’ So when we went home, I was a changed person. I set about finding Elvis records, so I could get Elvis’s autograph in case I went back. That was how I fell in love with rock ’n’ roll records—and that was my only interest ever since.

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