Saturday, March 26, 2011

Chris Brown - F.A.M.E.

While it stands for "Forgiving All My Enemies," and "Fans Are My Everything," Chris Brown's fourth studio album, F.A.M.E. is more than an acronym -- it's actually an okay album.  When I initiated this blog a little over a year ago, my first album review was of Chris Brown's Graffiti, which was a major disappointment to me.  But where Graffiti has failed, F.A.M.E. succeeds.

Foremost in this album, Brown shows strong versatility; he performs pop, R&B, dance, house, electro, reggae, and hip hop inspired music.  And expanding beyond his appeal as a singer, Brown demonstrates his skills as a rapper on "Look at me Now," featuring Busta Rhymez and Lil' Wayne and hip pop bonus track "Champion," featuring Chipmunk.  The fusion of so many genres and Brown's choice to deliver rapped verses were big opportunities for failure.  But in his willingness to take chances, Brown proves himself as an artist worth taking seriously. 

I tip my hat to Brown and the producers of "She Ain't You," which samples the melodic theme of Michael Jackson's "Human Nature" and the beat from SWV's "Right Here," which also samples Jackson's classic tune.  Instead of coming across as a tired and played out remake, Brown reinvigorates Jackson's popular song with fresh lyrics, themes, and motifs.

I'm not a fan of dance/electro music, and songs like "Beautiful People" and "Yeah 3xs" don't change my mind.  I am also not fond of the adult, yet rather immature nature of "Wet the Bed," featuring Ludacris, "No BS," and bonus track, "Bomb," featuring Wiz Khalifa.  The music featured in these songs is contaminated by the lyrics, which encourage hyper-sexuality and promiscuity.  In fact, many of the other songs on this album have a heavy dosage of sexual imagery.  I find it more sexy for men to compliment a woman's inner beauty instead of objectifying her by rating her worth according to her body.

While I don't like the aforementioned tracks, I am constantly replaying "Deuces" and all of the remixes. And even though they contain a few sexual innuendos, I enjoy "Love The Girls," featuring Game and "Paper, Scissors, Rock," featuring Big Sean and Timbaland.

My favorite track on the album is the smooth number, "Up to You."  Yes, I am an ├╝ber R&B head and a sucker for slick musicality.  In addition to exhibiting these qualities, "Up to You," in which Brown admits his past mishaps in love and gives his lady control of the relationship, is sincere, charming, and a great listen.

Brown has managed to redeem himself musically and is working his way back into my good graces.  F.A.M.E. is a successful integration of various musical genres and styles, and is a chronicle of Brown's artistic, conceptual, and cultural person.  However, his self-titled debut album is still #1 in my book.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Lupe Fiasco - Lasers

Released on March 8, 2011, Lupe Fiasco's third studio album, Lasers, has made a happy home at the top of the Billboard charts.  Lasers emphasizes that those of us who are generally labeled or characterized as the lower-class individuals actually encapsulate truth, light, and promise; put simply, the world may see us as losers, but we are lasers -- beaming and shining.    

For an album dedicated to defying popular culture, conformity, and convention, it is quite a feat for Lasers to debut at #1 on the Billboard 200.  Songs like "State Run Radio," featuring Matt Mahaffey and "All Black Everything" confront issues like the intellectual and moral deterioration of younger generations, racism, war, and other highly controversial topics.  Fiasco excels in challenging listeners to "beware what's on the air waves, and be more aware of whats not getting air play" (lyrics from "State Run Radio").

That being said, the tracks on this album are viable in the world of contemporary music -- today's listeners are embracing artists and songs that combine elements of various genres.  As can be heard in "Words I Never Said," featuring Skylar Grey, and "Beautiful Lasers," featuring MDMA, many of these tracks  oscillate between rock, alternative, electronic, and hip hop.  Quite cleverly, Fiasco crafts music that can succeed on the radio while also succeeding in spreading a profound and positive message.

Personally, I don't care for some of the slower tunes like "Never Forget You," featuring John Legend.  But even though I don't particularly care for these more alternative-sounding songs, I will not discredit them.  And although Fiasco ventures away from his norm to rapping about, or rather around, a love interest on "Out of My Head," featuring Trey Songz, I think the track is hot; the beat is infectious and the hook has me hooked!

As a new and unattached listener to Fiasco, I am deeply impressed by most of the songs on Lasers.  My favorites are "All Black Everything," "Coming Up," and "Til I Get There."  Even though Fiasco has struggled with his record label over album content and appeal, he was able to remain true to himself, who he describes in "Til I Get There" as, "just a little ol' hope with his back against the ropes, fighting for his fans and, fighting for his folks."

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Talib Kweli - Gutter Rainbows

I'm currently listening to Talib Kweli's Gutter Rainbows.  I seldom listen to Kweli, but even I know that he is a highly regarded lyricist and intellectual rapper. 

Not only is his new album lyrically sound, the music is oh so right.  Strings and horns are used in several of the tracks, giving the album an epic, rich quality.  Instead of feeling static, each song seems to grow without becoming tangled. 

Some themes of this album are loyalty (to "Friends & Family," musical integrity, self,etc.), spirituality, and rising up.  As in most, if not all Hip-Hop albums, Kweli asserts that he is the best.  I especially like, "They gave somebody else the crown, but i'm still the king without it," from "Palookas."

Seven of the fourteen tracks feature other rappers or singers.  Some featured artists/entertainers include Ed Lover, Nigel Hall, and Outasight.

I can respect this album.  It is cohesive in that all the songs are in the same sound world, and there is focus on a specific genre.  Cheers to Kweli for "Gutter Rainbows," "How You Love Me" ft. Blaq Toven, and "Wait For You" ft. Kendra Ross.

I'd recommend listening to these songs.  But I still prefer more insightful, clever, socially conscious Hip-Hop, like the last song on Gutter Rainbows, "Self Savior" ft. Chace Infinite and music by Maurice Mobetta Brown.  In my opinion, this is the best song on the album.  It has a message that is especially relevant.  That's what Hip-Hop is all about.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Emily King and Jesse Boykins III - Live at 92YTriBeCa

While sitting in the dark among the crowd of 20 somethings at 92YTribeca, I became increasingly excited to hear Jesse Boykins III and Emily King perform – after all, what better way to spend a Friday night in New York City than with great musicians?  I should definitely spend more of my nights listening to smooth soul and bangin’ bands, but my excuse is that I am a broke college kid.  Fortunately for me, my friend Paris won two tickets for King and Boykins’ 9 PM live show on February 4, and this is my review. 

I entered the venue, took a seat at a free table, and vibed to the familiar sounds of Common playing on the speakers.  Paris pointed out that we were actually seated right behind King’s mother and family, who became more and more lively as the night progressed.  And as the hour drew closer to show time, the dimly lit space became more filled with young professionals and artistic types networking and chattering. 

Then, The Beauty Created, Boykins’ band, introduced him onstage. Of the ten songs Jesse Boykins III & The Beauty Created performed, I enjoyed “Itis” the most.  “Amorous” and “Before the Night is Through" were also personal and audience favorites. 

The best part of the songs, as well as the show, was the band.  The players were definitely on their “A” game, and no song could go wrong with such hot instrumental intros and solos.  For me, trumpeter Marion "OJ" Ross was the star of the band.  He kept producing these extraordinarily funky, synthy sounds with his trumpet via foot pedals.  The technical aspect is unknown to me; the result is a new appreciation for a certain cute trumpeter with dreads! 

Another high note of the show was Boykins’ connection with the audience.  He danced freely on stage, led the audience in several sing-a-longs, and even invited a woman of interest to sing to and dance with onstage during “Pantyhose.”  He also  shared the personal and comic story behind “Come to my Room,” which was inspired by a failed attempt at luring a high school crush into his bedroom. 

About 30 minutes after Boykins and his band left the stage, King and her band proceeded to play.  I must admit, I was falling asleep by this time.  But I did wake up to hear the relatively short performance King gave. She sang a few covers, including Michael Jackson’s “Shake Your Body.”  And she sang 9 or 10 rather condensed versions of her own compositions, such as “Ever After” and “It Was You.”

King had a likeable stage presence.  She made a few jokes and kept the audience moving to her music.  Most of the songs, especially her new single, “Radio,” had a soulful and slightly psychedelic feel, which was surprisingly nice;  and since I was already tired, it almost lulled me to sleep (in a good way).

Though King has good music and a pretty voice, both her music and her voice lack depth and character.  The sort of music that she sings calls for a vocal expression of pain, passion, sorrow, etc.  And on this night, her music was surely lacking these qualities.

All-in-all, I really enjoyed the music that some of New York City's young and talented musicians presented.  So much, that I have added music by Jesse Boykins III & The Beauty Created to my personal collection.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Alicia Keys ft. Eve - Speechless

Bringing in the new year with new music from Alicia Keys.  And I won't hold my breath, but maybe Alicia Keys' upcoming album will be more like Songs in A Minor and The Diary of Alicia Keys, albums that will always have a place in my heart.  Her new single, "Speechless," gives me hope that Keys still has soul, spunk, and vulnerability that are so evident in her debut, sophomore, and Unplugged albums. 

"Speechless," the second duo by Keys and rapper Eve, is raw, is a bit more Hip-Hop inspired (like "Unthinkable") and is less glossy and perfected like her more recent pop tunes (like "Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart").  This new song has a slight "rock" edge, due mostly to the distorted guitar, which works quite well with the keyboard and Keys' raspy voice.   And thank God Eve is featured instead of an over-exploited, gimmicky female rapper who shall remain nameless! 

Keys and Eve are a killer combo - both ladies excel at their crafts, and they add integrity to the song through their performance and lyrics.  The hook, "I'm just speechless baby/ don't know what to say/ I'm just speechless baby/ the poet in me has died today," is both memorable and a clever verbalization of a feeling that some of us are blessed enough to experience.

While I don't think she will be getting down with the gangstas or rocking her braids and afro-puffs (like in Eve's "Gangsta Lovin'"), perhaps Keys will at least give us more great tracks like "Speechless" to vibe to.

Check out this behind the scenes footage.  It confirms that my feelings are spot on - Keys and her hubby did a great job conveying their intentions in this song.