AAMAM: The Revolution Will Put You In The Driver’s Seat! Part 5 of 30

gill scottPoet, writer, musician, singer, and activist Gil Scott-Heron really knocked the ball out the park with his re-recording* of the proto-rap/spoken word/song “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” on his Pieces Of A Man album in 1971, which features Ron Carter on electric bass, Hubert Laws on flute, and Bernard ‘Pretty’ Purdy on drums.  Scott-Heron and his band created an infectious funk grove that resonated with young urban adults.  The proto rap/spoken word/song famously made many pop culture references from TV shows to commercials of the day.  Scott-Heron song addressed American complacency and consumerism as a distraction and from the political corruption that plagued the era. The proto rap/spoken word/song urged its urban listener to pay attention what’s really going on! Tune in and get involved!

* [“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” was first recorded in 1970 on Gil Scott-Heron’s first album Small Talk At 125th And Lennox, where he was accompanied only by Eddie Knowles and Charlie Saunders on congas and bongos]

Happy AAMAM!

AAMAM: Wake Up Everybody, Time For Something New! Part 2 of 30

harold melvin blue notes

Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes (Harold Melvin far right and Teddy Pendergrass center)

By November 1975, when Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes’s song “Wake Up Everybody,” the social and economic conditions in America’s urban cities were in turmoil.  Policies in terms of eradicating poverty and racism, improving city planning, and education (busing) were falling apart. Writers of “Wake Up Everybody,” Gene McFadden and John Whitehead, collectively known as the writing team McFadden & Whitehead, responded to the climate of the times in verse with a since of urgency.  Their song called for a new way of thinking about urban problems–a way of thinking with more compassion for humanity. McFadden & Whitehead’s writing along with the vocals of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes lead singer Teddy Pendergrass connected to the urban masses and served as a soulful and central theme of the era.

Happy AAMAM!

AAMAM Begins With The Godfather Of Soul! Part 1 of 30

James-BrownWow! It’s June already! So that means it’s African American Music Appreciation Month. America has officially recognized and celebrated the contributions of African American composers, musicians, and singers since 1979. Thanks President Jimmy Carter.

To celebrate, I’ll attempt to post a song a day of the best songs ever composed, sung, and recorded by our (yours and mine) favorite and amazing African American musicians and singers ever!

First up, James Brown’s “Say It Lout-I’m Black And I’m Proud!” Released in August of 1968, “Say It Loud” ushered in a bold new perspective of “Blackness” and identity for African Americans in a newly realized post Dr. Martin L. King era. The song became the sonic manifestation of Black empowerment!

Happy AAMAM!

Beyoncé: Flawlessly Made–My Rant!

BeyonceSo it’s been a little over a month now since Beyoncé released her surprise album Beyoncé to the masses.  It took less than two weeks to become certified platinum and has remained at the number one position on the Billboard album chart until two weeks ago (the Disney animated musical Frozen soundtrack bumped her).  Beyoncé says she took control and released her album when she felt it was ready.  I must say for an entertainer to release an album without any promotion to the public and sell well over 600,000 copies essentially on day one is indeed badass!  Beyoncé’s ability to move product at such speeds showcases her immense power as a successful and popular performer.  This is a feat that has not been achieve by any artist . . . ever!  Music writers and academics praised her for this boss move.  But was it really a boss move?  Did she really take control to release the album when she wanted?  Although she is extremely successful, which allows her wide-ranging autonomy in terms of her artistry, it however does not giver her complete control over what she produces . . . the product!  Columbia Records, in which she is signed, has the ultimate control of the product of Beyoncé.  I’m sure her production company Parkwood waged a vigorous fight as to when to release the eponymous album but in the end, Columbia won that battle and worked a deal with iTunes to boot.  To be clear Columbia Records is her boss and they control her image and her output.  She is simply an employee.  However, what was boss was that Columbia Records was able to make it seem like Beyoncé dropped an album in the middle of the night all by herself.  Furthermore, the fact that Beyoncé and her ‘crew’ were able to keep the recording of her album and the production of her videos, which were shot world wide, a secret for over a year is the bossiest of moves!

Not to be outdone by the uproar surrounding the sudden release of Beyoncé is the content therein.  With its 14 audio tracks and 17 accompanying videos, it is a massive endeavor.  The album is both an audio and visual statement.  Immediately, some music writers, fans, and the listening public branded it a work that conveys Beyoncé’s feminist sensibilities.  MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry, among others, excitedly called it her “feminist manifesto” as it lyrically expresses her sexual freedom and visually articulates the power of her body while navigating life as the wife of Hip-Hop mogul Jay Z and the mother of two-year old girl, Blue Ivy.

Jay Z and Mrs. Carter in her feminist heels.

Jay Z and Mrs. Carter in her feminist heels.

Those critical of Beyoncé and her album argued that she is in no way a feminist for reasons that range from her marriage to Jay Z–an oft term misogynistic rapper, to her highly sexualized image which is usurped by men to generate a fortune, to the lack of her involvement in meaningful feminist conversations, and finally one feminist writer suggests the fact that she calls herself “Mrs. Carter” completely removes her from the realm of a feminist.  As a man it is difficult for me to speak on Beyoncé’s femininity as her album attempts to intimately connect with women and their shared experiences.  However, what is certain is Beyoncé does complicate the actions and image of a feminist.  And with that I may have said too much!

(Feminist comedian Pia Glenn complicates things as well . . . in a funny way. Check it out then continue reading)

So what does Beyoncé mean to men?  She isn’t attempting to connect with men in terms of her lyrics.  So all we are left with is her image.  Truth be told, Beyoncé operates in a world of men.  No doubt we see her.  Recently I asked a group of men (all over 30y/o) through my Facebook page what they thought of the image of Beyoncé and what her image means to us?  Rather than get what I thought would be manly visceral responses of “oh she’s hot”, “that girl can move”, “she flawless”, to “Jay’s a lucky so and so,” I received, very unexpectedly, well thought out responses.  The overall theme of the responses was first that Beyoncé in terms of her music was simply not appealing.  I get that! We are men and her music is not speaking to us.  And as men, approaching a certain age, our ears may be timed out of the Beyoncé sound.  Secondly, their responses overwhelmingly suggest her image is highly manufactured to sell product.  In essence her body and overall image is refined and designed to grab the attention of the masses.  The masses?

Beyoncé’s scantily clad performance wardrobe, publicity photos, and music videos suggest she is targeting a specific audience.  Her image is seemingly salacious and no doubt triggers a response from men.  I understand that girls and women whom look at Beyoncé may see someone who is secure with their body image and exudes confidence as an attractive woman.  Many may even desire to embody that image for themselves.  How are men to process what we see and not enter into the realm of desire?  One of the men among my Facebook group reminded me that there is a considerable amount of gay men who both desire and praise Beyoncé’s body and femininity.  Gay men process Beyoncé entirely different than heterosexual men.  (This is an entirely different conversation for another time.)  Going back to the Facebook group, they revealed an interesting dynamic of Beyoncé–her image is highly manufactured.  So who is responsible for the creation of her image?  I say men . . . and women who understand the desires of those men (they uphold the gender dynamics of masculinity!)  Let’s be clear, women images in the music industry, and hell the film industry as well, in which Beyoncé has dabbled are driven by the desires of men.  It’s no coincidence that women who occupy this artist space fit an aesthetic rubric and are deemed the most attractive women in Western society.  These women fulfill the fantastic desires of men in terms of image.  A vivid example of men creating fantastic images of women can be seen in super hero comic books.  Misty Knight STORMWomen characters are created, polished and intended to titillate the fantasies of boys and men.  Hyper sexual images: busty breast, long-legs, small waist­–all together impossible physical specimens, who remain graceful while kicking ass wearing revealing costumes, wrapped in capes, and running in heels are fantasies of men.  Such is Beyoncé.  She is the caricature of femininity created from the vantage point of masculinity.  Her image is the absolute creation of man.  Beyoncé’s image is imagined and controlled by men.

Last month when Beyoncé’s album caught everyone off guard and then began to stir up feminists’ voices, I wondered about Beyoncé’s image; it was the only thing I had to hold onto since her music and “manifesto” did not resonate with me.  What did her image mean to men?  I wanted to really explore this but that Facebook group conversation about her image steered me in another direction.  The group led me to ponder the creation and purpose of her image.  It is clear to see her image is designed to sell product.  Sex sells . . . to both women and men.  Some women see her as a strong beacon of beauty and as a feminist role model.  However, if one looks a little closer at her image they will see a manufactured image to fulfill men’s fantasies in a masculine world.  The take away is that Beyoncé is not dressing in super shero tight clothing on her own accord, rather, men are dressing her in super shero tight clothing to satisfy fantasies. No, she didn’t wake up like this!  Beyoncé’s image is a mighty product, which she has no power over.  She has been told to stand, deliver, and entertain from this image to be successful and maintain the life style she has accrued.  The moment Beyoncé decides to assume agency of her image and wear sensible clothing and comfortable shoes during a performance will be the end of her support by men who have spent time and money perfecting what we see.  Her image will have no value and fall dramatically out of the fantastic.

In the end, Beyoncé controls very little.  She controls neither the dispensing of her music nor the control over her image.  What she does control is her content (somewhat).  She can engage in social commentary and self-aggrandizement to communicate with her fans, but she has to be mindful not to tear down her image in the process.

My BFF is Better Than Yours: Prince And Sheila E.

BFFs Prince and Sheila E share a moment

BFFs Prince and Sheila E share a moment

Prince and Sheila E., BFFs if there ever was a pair!  The above photo was taken in Oakland, California during Prince’s Welcome 2 America tour.  On this night of the tour, Sheila E. opened for Prince.  The picture captures the moment as she finished her hit song “Glamorous Life” and Prince walked on stage to congratulate her.  She immediately grabbed and hugged her BFF.  They then shared a laugh.

Inseparable and certainly joined at the hip for almost 3 decades, Prince and Sheila E. have collaborated to create some of the most memorable music from the mid to late 80s.

According to Alex Hahn’s book Possessed: The Rise and Fall of Prince, Prince Rogers Nelson and Sheila Escovedo met in 1978, while Sheila was touring with her father, the magnificent timbalero Pete Escovedo.  They met back stage and Prince prophetically proclaimed they would one day make music together.  Soon Prince and Sheila began to jam together and share musical ideas.  Prince began to produce Sheila as an artist and bestowed upon her the moniker Sheila E.  Their first recorded collaboration took place just a few years later when a reluctant Sheila sang background on Prince’s big hit “Let’s Go Crazy”.  Hahn suggests Sheila, up to this point, saw herself as an instrumentalist and in no way a singer.  Prince was able to instill in her the confidence to sing.  The newly minted BFFs began their productive and legendary collaboration.  Prince produced Sheila E’s albums The Glamorous Life (‘84), Romance 1600 (‘85), and Sheila E. (‘87)During the same period Sheila shared her drumming and percussion talents on Prince’s albums, Purple Rain (‘84), Around The World in a Day (‘85), Parade (‘86), and Sign O’ The Times (‘87).  Sheila E.’s ability to play complex Jazz and Latin rhythms added a new dimension to Prince’s recordings and live sound.

Prince and Sheila E. have over the decades forged an unbreakable music bond that is filled with love, respect, honor, and support for one other.  When you see one of the BFFs perform the other is no doubt not too far away.

Prince and Sheila E.’s friendship fused musical cousins R&B, Funk, Rock, Blues, and Latin Jazz together in a way that allowed it to soar far beyond rigid musical genres, which were intended to keep the masses in their respected cultural places.  Their music was multi-genre and multicultural; simply put, they used Black music to bring people together.

Happy BMM!

Keys and Maxwell Get Steamy!

Alicia Keys, Maxwell, and Keys husband Swizz Beatz celebrate slow burning soul duets!

Alicia Keys, Maxwell, and Keys husband Swizz Beatz celebrate slow burning soul duets!

Weather it’s on a sultry dance floor or in a red-light basement, or in those dark private spaces where attraction is mutually communicated, the slow burning soul duet has been responsible for bringing bodies together for years.  Alicia Keys’ duet with Maxwell “The Fire We Make” will certainly continue that time-honored tradition.

Not since Teddy Pendergrass and Stephanie Mills recorded Peabo Bryson’s “Feel The Fire” in 1980 has there been such a magnetic and hot duet!  Keys and Maxwell combine their popular sex appeal (evident in the video below) and vocal talent to create a classic feeling song that is robust in sexual desire and anticipation.  Keys vocals are filled with tension and emotion, while Maxwell’s falsetto soars, almost Prince-like, to new heights as he mirrors her yearning.

The slow burning soul duet provides a space for listeners to role-play and perform for one another lyrical scenes of love.  Overall, slow burning soul, Alicia Keys and Maxwell has placed black romance in the public sphere.  They have invited black (and white) bodies to express deep feelings of love and wanting, while engulfed in smooth tempos, squeezable chords, and passionate lyrics.

This is soul! This is Black music! Happy BMM!

Grab a partner and take a listen!

Sometimes You Gotta Scream To Get Into the Conversation

Scream Michael & JanetThis post is a bit more than a photo of Michael Jackson and his sister Janet.  Although a lot could be said about the photo above that could range from the perils of a dynastic family to androgyny to nepotism and on and on . . . However this post is a video presentation.  Below you will find Michael Jackson’s 18 year-old “Scream” video.  This video, in my opinion, is one of the best videos ever filmed.  The video’s imagery hinges itself on classic escapism; Michael and Janet are literally escaping unknown ills in search of solace and unfettered leisure all within a futuristic setting.  The video is the suggested remedy to the song “Scream.” Michael’s song as announced by critics during the time of its release was a critical, angry, and vengeful response to his treatment in the media and his proclamation of frustration, social and personal injustice.  Michael was simply tired of it all.  The pairing of the song and video is a wonderfully awesome account of call and response between sonic and image.  The analysis of this fact would be amazing, but as Sweet Brown said, “ain’t nobody got time for that!”  To do it right one would have to explore the very nature of social injustice, resentment, the realities and purpose of pop culture in the media, fame, race, responses to stress, dance as celebration and of course the future; space travel, weightlessness, spaceship aesthetics (and connect it to Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey and might as well add in Star Wars and Star Trek while your at it), not to mention sibling rivalry and support and finally, why is it in black and white?

In the end, this amazing video allows Black artists through R&B and Soul to continue their sentimental conversation of life in America, which began in the sorrowful hums and moans while crossing the Atlantic to the Southern field hollers and ring shouts to the first utterance of a Blues riff in a juke joint.  This is Black music! Black music, since its beginning has always told a story of sentiment with emotion.  Listen to the conversation and have a great BMM!

Turn it up!