Seriously Wrong On Purpose!

Country Paisley

Country Paisley

Are they serious?  Really, are Brad Paisley and LL Cool J serious?  Wow! By all accounts it seems they are every bit of sincere and genuine as can be.  Their duet “Accidental Racist”, released last week, seems as though it was unintentionally jettisoned through a secret portal from a parallel universe–it’s familiar, but wholly bizarre.  According to Paisley and Cool J this song is intended to spark a much needed conversation about race and race relations from what appears to be the perspective of an historically unaware Southern white male and an all too forgiving urban Black male.  The artists and certainly the song can’t be serious.  Not only is it a strange artist pairing, but also wrong on so many levels.

Let me explain!

First level of wrong, the use of Country music to raise awareness of race relations in America or more succinctly race relations in the South is preposterous in so far as gaining the attention of the urban Black youth, whom the song very well wants to include in its conversation on the subject given Cool J’s presence on the track.  Country music by in large is neither coveted by the urban Black millennials nor the urban Black Baby Boomers, generation X, or Y.  In short, Country music from a Black perspective (partly mine) conjures up images of big country white men in blue jeans, cowboy boots, big brimmed hats, bolo ties, missing sleeved tee-shirts and plaid shirts, pick up trucks, beer, and the Confederate flag.  As such, its real or imagined imagery repels the social and cultural sensibilities of urban Blacks.  The likelihood of Black urbanites purposely seeking out “Accidental Racist” as a musical interlude or a method of escape from the pressures of ghetto life in the hot wicked city is remote at best.  Brad who?  Paisley’s song can’t be serious.

Second level of wrong, is the fact that Paisley recruited Ladies Love Cool James, a.k.a. LL Cool J to kick a ‘para’ verse.  For you millennials who may be reading this, I’m referring to the guy who hosted the Grammys, yeah him!  For the rest of us, Cool J is the man!  Remember “Radio”, “Rock The Bells”, “I’m Bad”, “I Need Love”, “Around The Way Girl”, and the redeeming “Mama Said Knock You Out”?  I’m not sure how this Paisley/Cool J collaboration came about, but . . . Well let me say it this way, Cool J has amassed an unprecedented rap career wherein which he is about to enter his 30th year in the so called rap game . . . (applause here).  He has diminished his bad boy persona enough to make significant inroads to Hollywood and Television.  Hell, he boldly took off his cool ass Kango to costar in NCIS Los Angeles. Whaaaat!  He’s had his time.  He’s had his day and it is now dwindling down as far as the rap game is concerned.  Cool J’s rap prowess is legendary, however he holds little cultural capital in today’s Hip Hop world.  Urban Black audiences barely responded to his last album release Exit 13 in 2008.  If Paisley’s intention was to reach beyond his legion of Country music fans and into the world of the urban Black youth who would otherwise ignore his music he missed his target with the enlistment of the G.O.A.T. Paisley’s song can’t be serious.

Finally, and the third level of wrong are the lyrics of the song.  Paisley’s verse and chorus are laughable in their sincerity.  Don’t get me wrong his vocal delivery coupled with his chord progressions are remarkably sturdy in terms of what is expected in a mid tempo Country song.  However, what is problematic is the content. tee It is what he is saying, which can be deemed laughable.  His lyrics suggest a southern white man wearing a Confederate flag t-shirt while ordering a coffee from an urban Black youth barista in Starbucks should only be viewed as a Lynyrd Skynyrd fan.  Is he serious?  In no way shape or form does Lynyrd Skynyrd come remotely close to the outer hinterlands of the cultural consciousness of the urban Black youth. Who is Lynyrd Skynyrd?  That Confederate flag emblazed on the t-shirt holds a meaning that is imparted to Black youth by the community in which they live, their family, and personal experience.  Paisley’s narrative suggests a dismissal of the horrible history indelibly connected to the Confederate flag within the Black community.  With these lyrics, Paisley seems sadly unaware of cultural and social realities surrounding race relations.  Furthermore, and most distressing are LL Cool J’s lyrics.

Cool J wants to forget this?

Cool J wants to forget this?

His vocal delivery unlike Paisley’s is underwhelming and appears opaque in comparison to his previous beastly recordings.  But disturbing is what he says.  One line in particular, which has become controversial in terms of its forgiving nature, is as follows: “If you don’t judge my gold chains, I’ll forget the iron chains.” Cool J, can’t be serious.  He suggests that if Southern whites stop racially profiling urban Black males then they will in turn forget the enslavement of millions of Blacks.  This is not going to happen.  Upon hearing this, MSNBC The Cycle host, Turé expressed his outrage with Cool J verse and said, “I’m not going to forget it . . . what are you talking about?! . . . Mama should knock you out!”  When confronted, Cool J struggled to clearly explain what he meant by that particular verse.  Surely, Cool J cannot himself believe in this verse.  This lyric is completely out of sync and opposed to the current conversation on race and race relations in America.  Paisley and Cool J can’t be serious.

What Gold Chain?

What Gold Chain?

In the end, the song “Accidental Racism” is a flop.  It will fail to engage productive discussion.  The use of Country music to enter an on going discussion on race and race relations was a poor move to secure the urban Black youth.  The employment of LL Cool J does not make sense either–his popularity and familiarity with both urban Black youth and Southern whites is waning to non-existent.  Lyrically the song pays no attention to the realities of urban Black or Southern white culture.  Are they serious? I am!

The POTUS and His Vinyl Close Up

POTUSAlbum covers, since their inception, have always been a great sign-post of the climate of our times.  Their images are visual cues that direct everyone from the culturally focused individual to the political astute citizen to the casual music listening fan toward the current grand social narrative of the day.  Savvy musical artists in cahoots with photographers and visual artists (in this new era of entertainment it is most likely the director of artist branding) design their album covers to attract and stimulate interest in their content.  Some of these efforts have been regrettable and forgettable, while others have been remarkably memorable and remain culturally relevant decade after decade.

So, what kind of visual cues are being made about the grand current social narrative when dime-a-dozen digital artists place the POTUS,  Barack Obama, on the cover of iconic album covers?  Does Obama’s presidency serve as the musical content in which the dime-a-dozen digital artist is trying to attract and stimulate the culturally focused individual and the casual political fan?  Either way, the following album covers containing the image of the POTUS are indeed memorable and culturally relevant . . . at the moment.  And if anything, are too cool to be regrettable.

[Try to make out some of the original album covers and artists]

1 1A 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Scandal: I Know Why Bey Lip-Synched!

Beyonce Lip SynchingOk, it’s been over a week since Beyonce sang the Star Spangled Banner on the Capital steps in celebration of the historical second inauguration of President Barack Obama.  The following day of the event it was revealed that she lip-synched her performance on such a momentous occasion, which set off a firestorm of commentary and opinions that ranged from it being the best performance of her life to so what!  Well, the following is my commentary and opinion of her performance and most likely not the last public discharge on the happening before Beyonce’s next performance: the Superbowl Halftime Show.

So what is it that I have to say that has not already been said?  Well I hope to put into context the reason Beyonce decided to lip sync the tune and the reason we were all talking about it.

First let me say that to me her performance was not surprising.  During her live performance, I thought it was just good.  It wasn’t spectacular or all that! Just good. I’ve heard better. The next day, when I heard she might have lip-synched her performance I thought, “Ok, I’m not surprised.”  Please understand the Star Spangled Banner is a relatively easy song to sing.  I can sing it (albeit it may not be pleasing to your ears).  Its melody, which has it’s origins in an 1800 century English social club was composed no doubt while inebriated, is catchy and memorable which is why you can hum along when you forget Francis Scott Key’s words, which he scribed almost a century later.  Although it is an easy song to sing, what makes its performance special lies in the ability of the singer.  Here is the reason why shower singers or alone-in-the-car singers like me will never be asked to sing the song in public.  The song’s simple melody provides plenty of space for the gifted singer to seemingly perform vocal miracles at will.  Not many can do this.  Able gifted singers are free to explore the boundaries of their gift with this song. The ability to perform at this level is what makes it an amazing anthem and exciting to listen to, especially when sung by someone who is indeed capable.  Enter Bey.

Let me be clear here, I’m not hating on her, she is simply neither capable nor gifted enough to perform the song in a spectacular manner.  And for that matter a lot of folks are not either.  Bey’s vocal prowess is limited.  She lacks the range and power needed to create a memorable performance.  A few articles, penned in her defense last week, announced she was one of the greatest singers of all time.  Ha, this is laughable.  Her mentors are still around, right?  She possesses nowhere near the vocal talent of Patti, Chaka, Gladys, Anita, and certainly not Aretha.  These truly gifted singers at Bey’s age were unrivaled in their talent.  Bey, to no fault of her own, does not have what it takes in terms of her physical voice to match any performance of her mentors.

Aretha at 30 around Bey's age.

Aretha at around Bey’s age, 30.

Even in comparison to her contemporaries such as Ledisi, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys and I’ll throw in the untouchable and seasoned Rachelle Ferrell just to f**k with the curve, she falls extremely short of the mark.

What Bey did was not unprecedented. That day the choir, not the soloist, lip-synched to a prerecorded track.  Also in 2009, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the violinist Itzhak Perlman “string-synched” their performance because string instruments are notoriously temperamental in cold weather.  They did this because they had no physical control over their instrument . . . like Bey.

Ok knowing this about her lack of ability, it’s great she did in fact lip sync her performance.  Can you imagine what it might have sounded like?

So, why was this a scandal if others have in essence faked their performance as well?  It’s the expectation created by the event.  We the people expect the best when it comes to such events like the Presidential inauguration.  For decades the best and most significant/impact-ful singers, poets, writers, and politicians were gathered together to help set the tone of the up coming Presidency.  With this type of talent we the people expect the best.  Bey’s lip synching performance was not the best for the American people.  Of course her fans beg to differ or simply shrug it off and say, “so!”  Along with the fact that most Americans hold high expectations of all portions of the inauguration we also expected the best from Bey, which would have been a live, sincere, and authentic performance.  However, when it comes to the singing talent of Bey, I feel most of the world has been duped into believing what she is not.  I believe we have confused her ability to entertain with the ability to sing.  These are two very different things.  Let’s not get it twisted, Bey is not a singer and never has been a singer.  As mentioned, she is not physically capable of sangin’.  What I mean by this is I doubt she can belt out any tune in my living room sans a mic with enough power, conviction, skill, or emotion to move me.  Please realize this, I refer to my vocal luminaries to guide me in the direction of a person who is truly gifted in voice. [a few of my vocal luminaries in terms of women are of course Patti, Chaka, Aretha, Rachelle, but also Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Mahalia Jackson, Whitney Houston, and again Jennifer Hudson . . .] I recognize and embrace those singers who match my vocal luminaries and move me.  I will never embrace anyone who falls short of this high bar as a singer.  Why would I accept anything less or mediocre?  Bey can indeed hold a tune, but so can many others.  Bey is mediocre.  Rather than a singer I define her as an extremely successful entertainer.  She possesses many abilities to entertain her fans and even me.  An entertainer does it all to appeal to a mass audience.  She can hold a tune, dance, and act.  Bey is an entertainer! I like entertainers; I like being entertained.  Ben Vereen and Sammy Davis, Jr. were entertainers who were also in the top ten of the list in all those categories that define an entertainer.  They could sing, dance, and act on a high level.

Davis acting his ass off in the film "A Man Called Adam"

Davis acting his ass off in the film “A Man Called Adam” click here

Unlike Vereen and Davis, I believe Bey being mediocre in all of these is still able to dupe the American public into thinking she is a singer on a high level.  She is not the best singer, she is not the best dancer, and she is not the best actor by any stretch of the imagination.  Today’s entertainer does it all and is categorized wrongly as a singer.  And it is because of this wrongly placed moniker Bey, an entertainer, was chosen and expected to do the work of a singer at the Presidential inauguration.  I believe this was made a scandal because we expected Bey to be that amazing singer and she failed us.

Furthermore, I believe Bey knows she can’t sing on that level.  According to all the reports and articles, Bey at the last minute decided to lip sync her performance.  Why?  Was she nervous? Did she forget the words?  I think not! She has sung the Star Spangled Banner many times before both live and lip-synched.  I believe she did not feel capable of creating a memorable performance with her knowingly limited skill.  I can imagine her saying to H.O.V.A., “I know I’m not going to be able to sing anything better than what I did in the studio yesterday not to mention I have not practiced with the Marine Band.”  She lacked the ability and with this lacked the confidence to even try.  In so many words she had no guts, no courage, no gumption . . . in essence no Balls!  This is completely expected when you don’t believe in your own talent.  Bey demonstrated pure fear.  Any stellar singer worth anything would have marched out on the steps of the Capital and did the damn thang!  Four years ago Aretha Franklin sang her ass off in colder weather and very little warm up time.  In an interview about her spectacular performance she commented that she wished she had more time to warm up because her performance would have been better . . .  Balls!  Oh and she also commented she wanted to give this historical occasion an atmosphere of authenticity.  However when you are unsure of you own instrument or lack the ability you will fold like a wet noodle.  Luckily Bey recorded a stand in the day before and tagged out of the task.

With all this being said I feel Bey’s credibility, as a singer is unchanged in my mind. I didn’t expect her to do anything more.  Hell, if anything it should have been better, after all, she recorded in near perfect conditions in a studio the day before.  In the end, I hope you can understand the context of Bey’s performance or lack there of.  She is a physically limited singer, which she is fully aware of who lacks the self-confidence to perform on the grandest of stages all while an audience who has been duped into believing she is a singer who can create something amazing!

Oh, the scandal!

This coming Sunday when you are watching the Superbowl Halftime Show remember you are watching an entertainer and not a singer, so don’t expect to be amazed much by her vocal performance.  However you will be greatly entertained.

Your Sunday iPod Add: (You Caught Me) Smiling!

Everyone loves a great sincere smile.  A smile is a simple action that is free; it cost nothing to give or receive.

Someone once said this about a smile:

If you have only one smile in you, give it to the people you love. Don’t be surly at home, then go out in the street and start grinning ‘Good morning’ at total strangers.

Maya Angelou

But you’re so busy changing the world; just one smile can change all of mine.

Jack Johnson

Children show me in their playful smiles the divine in everyone.

Michael Jackson

Peace begins with a smile . . .

Mother Teresa

You caught me smiling, again!

Sly and The Family Stone

Here is your Sunday iPod add. Enjoy . . . and smile! You’ll thank me later.

Your Sunday iPod Add: Funkin’ For Fun

Ok, I had something else cued up for this Sunday’s iPod add, but when I heard “Funkin’ For Fun” earlier today I had to pass it along.  This is one of my favorite songs off Parliament’s The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein(1976) album.  What makes this song so special to me are the vocals of Glen Goins.

Glen Goins and George Clinton circa 1976-77

He has the most powerful soulful gospel vocals I’ve ever heard.  He is featured on the entire album along with Garry Shider and together they are amazing (you ain’t heard nothing like it).  Goins guttural crescendos, screams, and hollers do it for me.  Goins voice easily creates a space, which hovers just outside the realm early turn of the century gospel music.  If you changed the lyrics, which give assurances to ones mother that everything is all right, the song might as well be a gospel song.  However, this song is not gospel it is full fledge Funk!  Sadly, Goins passed away in 1978 from Hodgkins Lymphoma at the age of 24. (RIP)

Anyway add this song to your iPod and you will thank me later.

Below is a live version of the song, however for a better experience of the song I suggest you take listen to the album version for more detail of Glen’s voice and the perfectly place version of the Beatles’ lyric “coo coo ca choo!”

Your Sunday iPod add: Cold Specks

Why aren’t you listening to Cold Specks?  Hello! She’s only a click away.  Her music is probably better than anything you listened to today.  Trust me, she sings what you like.  You like Dylan?  You like Nina Simone? You like Sting?  You like Stevie Wonder?  You like the blues?  You like folk music?  You like coffee shop ditties on guitar?  You like turn of the century Southern gospel???  Chances are you said yes to one or all of these questions.  Why aren’t you listening to Cold Specks?  Besides having one of the coolest stage names in show business today, Cold Specks owns the most unique voice you’ve ever heard.  It’s slightly raspy yet soft enough to draw you near your speakers.  Also, her voice is magical.  It’s infused with the sound of wisdom–a wisdom far beyond her age of 24.  Her voice seems to come from a guitar strapped centenarian storyteller bent on telling you one more tale.  When I look at her face and hear her sing I am easily perplexed.  When was the last time an artist did this for you? 

A Canadian who now hails from London and a nominee of the 2012 Polaris Music Prize, Cold Specks has upped the ante on the expectation for the human voice.  So, again, why aren’t you listening to Cold Specks?  Now that you know about her you have no excuse.  Watch her videos below, add her to your iPod, and buy her album, titled I Predict a Graceful Expulsion.  You will thank me later.

Cold Specks is on tour. Check her out at a venue near you.

Your Sunday iPod Add: Rachelle Ferrell

Here is your Sunday iPod add.  Identified as a singer’s singer, Rachelle Farrell easily stands a top the small community of those truly gifted to sing.  Her GOD given vocal talent is revered by both veterans and up and coming singers who strive to hone their gift. The incomparable Anita Baker recently stated, “Rachelle Ferrell . . . is who we all want to be when we grow up.”  Rachelle is that rare talent that only comes around every once in a while.  Her voice, of seemingly endless amount octaves, can easily create a sonic tapestry that warms the soul.  Rachelle is one of a few artists that have mastered multiple genres of music such as jazz, blues, gospel, and R&B.  She is known for her ability to re-imagine and perform songs in her own unique way.  Rachelle is pitch-perfect in her endeavors and does not disappoint.  She is indeed a treasured commodity.  Take a moment to listen to this amazing vocalist then add her to your iPod.  You will thank me later.


Your Sunday iPod Add: Robin Thicke

Above is your Sunday iPod add. “Love After War” by Robin Thicke.  This is simply an awesome R&B track. Period. Thicke has written a song that sonically honors classic Motown and the writing efforts of Smokey Robinson.  Its relentless up-tempo groove and slick production make this track shine.  Thicke’s contemporaries, Tank, Tyrese, Joe, Carl Thomas, and Genuwine, who all have released albums in the past 10 months, have been put on notice to step up their R&B game.  Just a note: Eric Benét has elevated his game. I’ll blog about him on a later date.

Add “Love After War” to your iPod and you will thank me later.

José James: Your Sunday iPod Add

Returning with a vengeance, here is your new Sunday iPod add “Touch” by the extraordinary vocalist José James. “Touch” has become one of my favorite mid tempo jams to listen to.  The driving groove goes down smooth and easy.  Led by the drum and bass, this cut allows James to vocally float over chord changes with what some call a “romantic baritone” voice.  His voice is unique and defies comparison to other male vocalist on the scene today.  Admittedly inspired by the supreme John Coltrane, James’ music is rooted in Jazz and utilizes elements of Soul and Hip Hop, which displays a certain youthful exuberance to be admired.  If you were wondering where is that new vocalist who makes audience stand up and take notice, wonder no more.  José James is an artist you should know.  Add this song to your iPod as soon as possible.  You will thank me later.

Oh, and note to the romantics reading this: James’ songs are smoking hot!  Some soft light and a little wine can amp up an intimate moment . . . watch out dere now!

Black Music Month Pt. 4 of 4: Hip Hop

In much the same way as Jazz, Hip Hop was formed in the Black ghettos of America, led by a youth culture, and today has a critical global presence and influence. Citing the boroughs of New York as its birthplace in the late 70s, Hip Hop extended its influence across the U.S. with a quickness unlike any other music genre.

Graffiti in Rome

Adopting its musical reference from the well styled, rhythmic, and groove oriented R&B and Funk songs of the 1970s, Hip Hop spread the message of a converging youth culture.  Hip Hop’s formation was about the here and now of the Black community and how the youth fit into that sometimes turbulent process of growing up and survival in the inner cities of America.  In a short period of time, Hip Hop developed a unique culture of graffiti, dance, turntables and microphones.

Bronx DJ making history

Today, Hip Hop utilizes cutting edge musical technology and individual character “swag” that drives a crucial portion of American and global commerce (much more can be said about this).

Hip Hop, with its ability to give voice to youth culture, has extended beyond the Black ghettos and inner cities to reside in places such as affluent American suburbs, Koreatown, the Barrio, to locales such as London, Paris, Rome, Accra, Johannesburg, Moscow, New Delhi, Sydney, and Tokyo.

In terms of Hip Hop’s introduction to the world, I think Wonder Mike of the Sugar Hill Gang expressed it

Sugar Hill Gang (from corbis)

most prophetically: “I am Wonder Mike and I’d like to say hello, to the black, to the white, the red and the brown, the purple and yellow . . .

As we conclude BMM 2012, lets remember that Black music is deeply woven into the American fabric.  A group of people, who needed to audibly express the sentiments of oppression and the battle for freedom, forged this music to soothe their soul in the midst of their struggle.  Black music has a transcending power of triumph.  Ultimately, Black music has become one of the defining factors of the American identity and is embraced world wide like no other music.

Hip Hop is Black music and Authentically American.
(Jay Z and Kanye West)

So don’t let the end of June be the end of the appreciation of Black music.  Indulge yourself!

Hip Hop first spoke to the world from the boroughs of New York. Take a listen as the world hollers back: