You Owe Your Whole 80s to Bonnie Tyler; Or, The Importance of Being Earnest

I played Saints Row: The Third, which is crass, juvenile, vulgar, and violent. It’s also a lot of fun. One of the things that makes it fun (besides running errands for pimps, escorting tigers in convertibles, and participating in a Japanese-style game show called “Super Ethical Reality Climax” in which you shoot people dressed as mascots in sketchy warehouse) is the awesome soundtrack. For the most part, the music is delivered to you by virtue of the radio station you choose when you’re driving around the city in your car. The selection is quite good, and it’s where I found out that Talk Talk recorded “It’s My Life” well before No Doubt did. I can also report that, as much as I like No Doubt, Talk Talk’s version is superior. I am biased here–I’m an unabashed fan of all things New Wave. But I’ll let you be the judge.

While most of the music is delivered by your choice of radio station, there are two moments in which the creators of the game take artistic license and interject their own vision musically: first, when you’re parachuting over a cityscape into a penthouse party from a helicopter late at night, guns blazing, they play Kanye West’s “Power.”  It was perfect.  And secondly, near the end of the game, where you have a tough decision and a tough road ahead of you, they play Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out For A Hero.”  And it’s perfect. You really can’t understand how perfect unless you play the game. But as a standalone, this song goes in and it goes hard. It was originally on the Footloose soundtrack, but I’m a proponent of working this song into any soundtrack…ever. Probably should have put this in The English Patient and The Color Purple. I kid. But in a world where the word epic is overused, consider the fact that the lyrics to this song start off like this: Continue reading

What Happened to the Great Movie Soundtrack?

What happened to soundtracks?

Do you remember how soundtracks used to be extreeeeeeemely dope? The movie would come out, but half the time, the movie went to another level because of the soundtrack. Obviously, y’all know I have a great affinity for the Belly soundtrack. But then there was the Jason’s Lyric soundtrack, which justifies it’s very existence off the strength of “U Will Know” by Black Men United and “If You Think You’re Lonely Now” by K-Ci.  Forget the fact that the soundtrack included Mint Condition, Brian McKnight, Spice 1, Scarface, and Oleta Adams. You can even forget the fact that I’ve already called out K-Ci’s rendition of “If You Think You’re Lonely Now” is one of the great song snatchings of all time. Just think about one thing– “U Will Know” by Black Men United–and how it’s the only song they ever made. It’s like “We Are the World” for the neighborhood. Look at the names: D’Angelo, who wrote it when he was about 19 or 20 years old, plus Aaron Hall, After 7, Silk, D.R.S., H-Town, Gerald Levert, El Debarge, Johnny Gill, Joe, Lenny Kravitz on guitar, Stokely from Mint Conditon, Tevin Campbell, Keith Sweat, Boyz II Men, Al B. Sure, and some more people who are totally underrated. There was Christopher Williams, Intro, Portrait,  Damion Hall, and Silk (whose “Meeting in My Bedroom” was >>>>. I don’t know what happened to that CD.) Thin about how great that was, then think about how today, there are no R&B groups–everybody wants to be solo. And think about how BMU was a group of groups, a choir full of all stars. It’s like when you’re playing NBA 2K and you can draft whoever on your team, so you have a team with Michael Jordan and Shaq and Kobe and Lebron and Magic Johnson and everybody…the team’s so good you have Bill Russell and Larry Bird coming off the bench. Well, that’s what Black Men United did with “U Will Know.” You’ve got stars singing background, just to be a part of this. It’s unfair. Not only did they get people there to record it, but they got them all together for the music video. And they did all this for a soundtrack. Excuse me, I’m going in:

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The New Lauryn Hill Album You’ve Been Waiting For Is Probably The One You Never Gave A Chance

You have to understand how it was back then. Lauryn Hill was theeeeeeeee bidness. The Fugees had done their classic album, The Score, and Lauryn Hill’s vocals had really shone through on songs like “Ready or Not” and “Killing Me Softly.” Besides that, Lauryn had spit some serious lyrics throughout the album, proving herself to be a capable emcee. But more than that, the album was a masterpiece–I loved “How Many Mics” and “Zealots” in particular. And then she was doing a little acting, showing up in Sister Act 2.  Critical acclaim for The Score was nearly universal.

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While Lauryn was excellent, there was no guarantee that her solo album would be as good, for two reasons: first, The Score really was the product of a group effort. Wyclef, Lauryn, and even Pras (no disrespect, man) actually had a recipe that cooked up something delicious. It wasn’t like, say, the Black Eyed Peas, where the weight falls mostly on and Fergie, or like Destiny’s Child, where it was clear that Beyonce was always going to be the star. Pras was more like Flavor Flav–no one can say exactly what he was doing in the group, but we all know that Public Enemy wouldn’t have been the same without him. And second, the bar set by The Score was really, really high.

And then she dropped The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. If you’re reading this, then I don’t need to tell you how great that album is–but I might need to remind you of how great that album was. At the moment it hit, there was nothing else like it. There have been women who have sung and rapped on their album before, but no one has ever done both as well as Lauryn has. I will grant you the possible exception of Missy Elliot. You might pay to hear Nicki Minaj rap, but you aren’t really excited to hear her sing. Faith Evans can actually rap some (and in fact, she should rap more), but if you’re going to hear her, you’re trying to hear “Soon As I Get Home.” I theorize that Jill Scott, if she really wanted to, could probably put together a very good rap album. But Lauryn actually did–“Doo Wop (That Thing)” and “X-Factor” are both great songs and they are both representative of the body of work. When she sings the hook and raps the verse on “Everything is Everything,” it was only natural. “Nothing Even Matters” with D’Angelo is a Get Down Tape All-Star.  And then there was the subject matter–not just the traditional themes for an R&B or hip hop album–but also motherhood, faith, spirituality, and some serious social issues.

A side question–why doesn’t more R&B and hip hop by female artists deal with motherhood? I mean, after “To Zion,” the next song I can think of is “Lovin’ You” by Minnie Riperton, and the next song after that I can think of is “Responsibility” by the Ghetto Twinz, which is really more about single motherhood and being angry at the absence of your children’s father. This is likely the first time the Ghetto Twinz and Lauryn Hill have been mentioned in the same sentence, and the circumstances under which that has happened are about as sad and pitiful as you would expect. Continue reading

Don’t Trust Them New Singers Over There: Luther Vandross, JoDeCi, and Whitney Houston Will Take Your Song And Never Give It Back

“Superstar” by The Carpenters is a very good song that doesn’t get the love it deserves. This is not at all the fault of The Carpenters. They need to blame Luther Vandross. As it turns out, while “Superstar” by The Carpenters is a very good song, “Superstar” by Luther Vandross is a great song.  Luther is one of the greatest vocalists in the history of popular music; of this fact there can be no debate. There are things on which you and I can have differences of opinion, but on this there can be no doubt for it is a simple statement of fact. Below is Luther at his best: when he was Big Luther, sweating and sparkling. (Little Luther was still great but…I’ll have to explain the difference for the uninitiated another day. But by being Big Luther, the man who is the namesake and possible inventor of the Luther Burger, he gave of himself, paying the ultimate sacrifice for his art. R.I.P., Luther.)

Occasionally, you’ll see two divas on stage and they start trying to out-diva each other–like Mariah and Aretha that one time singing “Chain of Fools” on VH1 Divas or Whitney vs. Mariah on Oprah that time. There was Aretha versus the world, in which she engages in a show of power against the incomparable Carole King, the mighty Céline Dion; the incredible Gloria Estefan; the still-underrated Shania Twain; and one of the few people who could ever really challenge her face to face in Mariah Carey (the other is Whitney). In these diva battles there’s finger pointing and handwaving and vocal runs, and the divas start looking at each other instead of the crowd. When it gets really serious there’s a faceoff and they forget that the rest of us are even in the room. It’s really the feminine counterpart to rap battles. But when it comes to singing, men don’t really have these showdowns. So I wonder: is there any man who really could have given Luther any trouble whatsoever in a divo showdown? Who can you see on stage really going toe-to-toe with Luther? Some people have the voice, but not the soul. The presence, but not the power. The power, but not the control. Luther’s voice was cognac-infused butter, sprinkled with sugar and carmelized slowly over a flame. As a rule, if you want to keep your song yours, you better not leave it alone with Luther. He will make your song fall in love and run off with him, and everybody will forget that it was even yours to begin with.  He is the Angelina Jolie of R&B. I say this because “Superstar” is not the only song he’s stolen this way. Continue reading

How Did Drake End Up Being So Far Gone?

Much of the criticism of Canadian singer/actor/rapper Drake has centered around his image–he’s alternatively been Wheelchair Jimmy from Degrassi; softer than cottonballs and baby thighs; a Canadian rapper wannabe who has the unfortunate habit of adding “AWWWWW” to the end of every stanza. I’m low-key thankful for this; without it we wouldn’t have the truly hilarious Big Ghost Chronicles review of Drake’s Take Care album, or, for that matter, Big Ghost’s truly hilarious review of Drake’s life. I have cried real tears of laughter at Big Ghost’s apt descriptions of Drake as a “human croissant”, or the only person in the world capable of turning sandpaper into moist towelettes, or Young Garnier Fructis aka The Kitten Whisperer aka the dude who holds down the top three spots of the softest rapper top ten lists. Big Ghost Chronicles isn’t unique in its antagonism of Drake (although it’s gotta be the best). Other people have gone in on him, from comments sections on hip hop sites to Common with his diss verse on the “Stay Schemin” Remix.  But while these characterizations might be deserved due to his own actions, they are unfortunate. That’s because Drake had, and may still have, the potential to actually be one of the greatest rappers of his generation. I already know how that probably sounds. Continue reading