Quite simply–I believe Drake can be great. And if you check this video, you can see this guy’s passion for the music, long before he was famous for rapping and super emo singing. I think this guy is still in there. Now, he doesn’t have anything left to prove from a commercial perspective–he’s gone plat twice. I think he can make the album he’s been wanting to make.
Drake Before the Fame
I guess I resonated with that because all of us who were music fans from a young age were just like that, with big CD binders and everything. We were fans before anything. And I think if he keeps that in mind, he can do almost anything. Plus, I think he can see the love that Kendrick Lamar is getting for a super thoughtful album (Good Kid, M.a.a.d City), and the love that J.Cole is getting with Born Sinner. Plus Jay just came out with another one that’s just about his passion, and Kanye went all the way left with his new one–but you can appreciate what he’s trying to do. Meanwhile, nobody really cares what Wayne is doing, except for the type of people who’ll leave their toddlers locked in a car in the parking lot to go see him. And I think maybe Drake is remembering who he is, and who he can be. I think “Started From the Bottom” is great, both song and video, and “Girls Love Beyonce” wins just because the title alone may be the truest thing anybody’s said in a Rap&B song this year. So I have high hopes for this guy. Not the guy who seemed to have lost his way for a minute or the guy who thought he was supposed to be in the Miami Heat locker room after the championship–no, I have high hope for the guy in that video. The guy who told us that his material possessions weren’t important to him…but the music was. That guy. The guy who dropped a better mixtape than what most rappers’ greatest hits would sound like.
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 →
The beautiful thing about music videos back in the day is that, more often than not, they depicted places you wish you were with people that you wish you knew doing things you wish you were doing. And from a hip hop and R&B perspective, people were still on the come up and were really about the music more so than the business of music. So it wasn’t a big deal for other famous people to show up on your album or at your concert or at least a cameo in your video. At least, that’s how I play it out in my head. In most hip hop videos today, the people in them just don’t look, well, cool. They don’t look so much like they’re doing what you wish you were doing or are with people that you wish you knew. It all seems so contrived; how many Bentleys can you really look at? I don’t want to see Britney Spears singing the hook on a Mobb Deep joint because it might have “crossover appeal.” I don’t even know what that means anymore. Meanwhile, people in the videos of the 1990’s could make a Jeep Wrangler or even a Geo Tracker look like the best time in the world.
And that’s how I felt about Da Brat’s “Give It To You” video. My college roommate and I threw a party celebrating the fact that he had passed calculus (long story) and I had moved out the ghetto (longer story). We hired a band and sent out classy invitations, but we also served chicken wings and red Kool-Aid for which we refused to measure the sugar–basically, we just kept adding sugar until it wouldn’t dissolve in the water anymore. And though we never explicitly said it, we were probably trying to recreate a lot of the feelings felt in this video. Continue reading →
“The meeting is called to order,” Okra said in low tones. “As each of you know, the circumstances of this meeting are dire. The arts in our community are in major trouble and damaging the collective psyche of the community. Q, read the report.”
Q opened a dossier, but he seemed to know the content by heart. “We’re in a culture crisis. There’s no doubt that the quality of content in our music has gone down tremendously. We’ve got word that Ray J–”
“You mean Brandy’s brother?” interjected Conspiracy Brother.
“The very same,” replied Q. “He’s working on a song called “I Hit It First”…about Kim Kardashian. Booty injections are at an all time high…some women are even getting them illegally. The phenomenon of making it rain resulted in many Black men literally throwing money away. We’ve reached a point where Magoo–”
“You mean the weak one out of the Timbaland, Aaliyah, Missy, Ginuwine SupaFriends crew?”–interjected Conspiracy Brother again.
“The very same,” said Q. “We’ve done the analysis, and were Magoo rapping today, he would be in the 90th percentile of popular rappers today.”
The room gasped.
“There’s no Claire Huxtable–no Huxtables of any kind, really. No Dwayne Wayne or Whitley Gilbert. Just Real Housewives, Love and Hip Hop, and Oliv–”
“Don’t you say it!” exclaimed Tyler, who had said nothing up to this point. “I love that show! I hashtag everything!”
“We all do,” said Q, picking his afro with his ever present pick. “But face facts: the TV role models for Black kids are sorely lacking. You’ve got Joseline and Mimi fighting over Steebie frickin’ J? Even the women who they show on Married to Medicine come out looking terrible. It’s not just women. We narrowly averted having a show about something called a Shawty Lo and all his baby mamas…entitled, “All My Baby Mamas.” And we all know that this isn’t the totality of our culture…not even close. But it’s the totality of what’s on television and radio these days. It’s sex, fighting, utter ignorance. And these images are broadcast into the minds of our children, our people, and all around the world. We need an intervention.”
“What do you propose?” asked Okra?
“I’ll leave the details to Conspiracy Brother,” said Q.
Conspiracy Brother leaned in. “Desperate times call for desperate measures. In phase 1, we tried to bring Tupac back from Cuba, and told everybody he was a hologram at Coachella.The media bought it, and we’d hoped to get some more music in the vein of “Keep Your Head Up,” “Smile,” “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” stuff like that. People would ride for Tupac. But he’s not ready…something about a 7 day theory. And he said something about going back to Cuba to defend his godmother. We must be patient with him. We had Derrick Rose installed in Chicago–I think his shoulders are strong enough to carry the city. But with his knee injury, people have already turned on him, forgotten about what he can represent. It’s shaken him. But he’ll be back. Q here has been working with D’Angelo, and that guy is almost back. Shawn and Beyonce are working out far better than we’d hoped, better than Bob and Sheila turned out. But it’s not enough. It’s just not enough. We need to do something…drastic.”
“What are you suggesting?” asked Kevin Hart, who was clapping with every syllable for emphasis. He also was the only person around the table who was standing up, but no one really could tell.
“He’s saying we’ve gotta bring Lauryn Hill back. She can sing, she can rap, she’s smart, she can act, she’s beautiful. She’s brave and speaks truth to power. She can save this thing.” said Q. “But how?”
Conspiracy Brother sighed. “We’ve gotta give her something to write about. For the past three years, we’ve had a shady advisor telling her that she doesn’t need to pay taxes. She believed him.”
Okra just shook her head. “Always pay your taxes. Especially if you’re Black and rich. Like me.”
“We know, Okra,” the room said in unison.
“She’s feeling persecuted,” continued Conspiracy Brother. “Like a modern day slave. And the pressure has gotten to her…she now realizes she might go to jail for real. So she’s in the studio. And she’s been recording. We had Rohan sneak this out to us:”
“Well,” sighed Okra, “it’s a start. But did she have to go to prison, though?”
“We got it down from three years to three months,” said Conspiracy Brother. “And with any luck, she’ll be out in one.”
“I know she got So Much Things to Say Right Now,” yelled Kevin Hart, still clapping. “That tax bill was killing her softly!”
I’ve written before about how Whitney Houston performed the Spar Spangled Banner in a way no one before her or after her ever could–how she sold millions of copies of the single, how she took a customary pre-game routine and elevated it to another level, and how her version got new life after it was re-released after the events of September 11, 2001. It seemed impossible that any person would ever perform it as movingly or as powerfully as Whitney Houston did.
But last night, during the most Canadian of our sports, the most American thing happened: we found that what might be the best rendition of the National Anthem ever came not from one person, but from thousands of people singing together. It didn’t start out that way: a man named Rene Rencourt began to sing, but then stepped away from the microphone and became a mere conductor, leading the choir of Boston Bruins fans in singing our national hymn. It was spontaneous; people just sung from their hearts, and Rencourt was amazing enough to realize in the moment that his silence was even more powerful than his beautiful voice. It could have been solemn, and in a way it was, but it was more than that. It was triumphant, hopeful, even defiant. It was beautiful. And it reminds you that as much as people mythologize rugged individualism and American exceptionalism, it’s never really only been about any one of us. It’s always also been about all of us, together.
Look, if you’re trying to crush the human spirit, marathoners are the wrong ones to try. The first guy who ran 26.2 miles shouted victory and then died. And these are people who decided to run the same distance for fun. Some of these people run in groups or push someone in a wheelchair or do it in full firefighter gear or in high heels. These people cheer each other on and give and receive high fives to random strangers. And on top of all that, this is Boston. So whatever those nuts were trying to accomplish, they failed. Just watch and listen.