Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Problem of Incredible Talent & Heinous Crime


I’m assuming that based on that picture you all know where I’m going with this.  However, assuming you’re completely unaware of what I’m talking about, this post is going to deal with Chris Brown and Rihanna… Well, mostly Chris Brown but their careers hit such a critical crossroads that you can’t mention him without Rihanna and the implications of that one awful night…

Hitting the rewind button for a second, let’s provide a little backstory for those unfamiliar with the situation.  Chris Brown and Rihanna are pop superstars who arrived on the scene a little less than 10 years ago; Chris Brown with his self-titled album at 16 and Rihanna with Music of the Sun when she was 17.  Naturally the stars found a way into each other’s hearts; I don’t imagine young pop stars can find many people they can identify with.

Their relationship went swimmingly for a short while and they were media darlings as each’s stardom continued to approach the ‘super’ level.  However, everything changed on February 7, 2009, the night before the Grammys, when Chris Brown violently assaulted Rihanna.  The result was a media firestorm that cast Chris Brown as a horrific woman-abuser and Rihanna as the victim of assault that is unfortunately none-to-unfamiliar to women around this nation and the world.

Despite this (or perhaps because of it) Rihanna’s career continued to flourish.  Her next few albums were all chart toppers and she had become a true superstar.  Even more surprisingly, after Chris Brown’s apology tour (and having most charges dropped/lowered), Chris’ career had also grown to the superstar level (though women’s activist groups and Rihanna fans would continually rail against him and bring up the story of his heinous crime).

Both Chris Brown’s and Rihanna’s careers have been moving along quite nicely since (both growing, but Chris’ under the shadow of the events of that one night), however a new storm seems to be inevitable.  Rihanna and Chris Brown had reconciled their differences many years ago, with Rih forgiving him but choosing to go in her own direction not long after the fateful night.  However, old habits die hard and it seems that Rihanna and Chris have found their way into each other’s lives again with each appearing on a remix for the other’s song:

The difference in label responses is interesting and the results are controversial nonetheless.  Island Def Jam does not support Rihanna’s new song at all while Chris’ label loves that he got Rihanna on his song.  The songs have inevitably started a controversy in the public with many rehashing the events of February 9, 2009 and feeling as though Rihanna is foolishly running back into Chris’ arms.  All the issues of 3 years ago regarding abusive relationships have come back into the public forum for debate.

NOTE: Now as an aside on this blog I’ll debate a lot of things, but not a crime as heinous as abusing a female.  I’m in no way defending this crime but this issue brings up an important question for our society which I’m going to dive into below.  As another aside, I’m not diving into Chris Brown and Rihanna getting back together, I think it’s a terrible idea but that’s not the purpose of this post.

The question I’m interested in is, should Chris Brown still be haunted by the crimes of his past?  We call this nation one of allowing people to get second chances… but it’s also one that has people treated very differently by the law depending on how rich they are.  Chris Brown would have definitely received jail/prison time for his crimes had he been a non-rich/non-celebrity member of society.  However, the reason he’s so rich is his incredible talent.  Hate him or love him, we can all admit (though many begrudgingly) that he’s a fantastically talented entertainer:


So the question I want to ask/consider is should what happened three years ago still haunt Chris Brown’s career?  If he wasn’t back with Rihanna… I’m not so sure it would.  We’ve forgiven incredibly talented superstars for doing much worse (Ray Lewis potentially murdering someone comes to mind), but should we?

I think we can all acknowledge this “treatment of celebrities/talented people” as a glaring hypocrisy in our society.  But how as individuals do we feel about it?  As stated above, Chris Brown would not be a free man if he wasn’t Chris Brown… but he is.  Should that matter?  The ethical side of me easily says, “Yes!”  Unfortunately, the “I think these people need to share their gifts with the world” side of me says “Well…” and it droans off into an eventual “Well…. no.”

So as a reader of this blog, we can see in this specific case (and many others) how incredible talent and heinous crime come to a head.  Chris Brown’s past hasn’t been mentioned with such fervor as it has in this past week with him and Rihanna making career amends of sorts…

More often than not… we let crimes slide if someone is worth it.  But should we?  If we all look in the mirror and admit it’s hypocritical, I suppose not.  For those who hate Chris Brown and think he’s not even that talented to start with, that’s an easy question.  For those who are on the other side, though not forgiving of his crime, it becomes a deeper issue.

An even deeper issue… Would people care as much if the woman he hadn’t abused wasn’t the beautiful Rihanna?  What if it was someone who wasn’t famous?  What if he abused an unattractive female?  What if he just beat up some random guy?  I hate bringing perceived attractiveness into this, but I absolutely think it matters and plays a role.  If the situation had been altered, would we still be mentioning this with Chris or like with other celebrities would we have tried to move on from their pasts?

I have no real answer.  You probably don’t either.  I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.  I’ve always thought about this though and thought it would be an interesting topic for dialogue.  I’d be interested in knowing what my readers think so comment away!

Advertisements

Rainy Day Rap Music.

I was having a hard time thinking of what I wanted to post next about (lots of cool/new topics I could write about), but I really have been enjoying these rainy days and they’ve sparked a 10 song playlist.  The thing about music and a situation in life is they go together like wine and cheese; nothing makes me happier when I’m walking around with my iPod than when the right song comes on that describes the situation perfectly.

Envision this music as great music to go sit out on your porch and just watch the rain fall while you think about life… Where you are, where you’ve been, and where you’re going…  It needs to be reflective, calm, and flow smoothly with no abrupt musical changes and at moderate to slow tempos with mostly organic sound (not synthesized).

Without further ado… If it’s raining outside feel free to turn this on:

Alex’s Rainy Day Rap Mix:

Joe Budden – If I Die Tomorrow

Consequence – Who Knew My Luck Would Change

Rick Ross – Tears of Joy (feat. Cee-Lo Green)

Nas – Thugz Mansion (feat. 2Pac and J. Phoenix)

Lil’ Wayne – Tie My Hands (feat. Robin Thicke)

Common – Windows

Cam’ron – Do Ya Thing (Remix)

Jay-Z – Song Cry

Wale – Prescription

And finally…

Game – Better Days

Now if you’ll excuse me… I’m heading back to my porch.

My Three Favorite Songs Ever

I’m obviously going to be one to argue for the importance of music.  I love it.  This blog is about it.  It’s the soundtrack to one’s life.  It has the magical ability to completely sway someone’s mood at the drop of a dime.  Every person has their own individual tastes and what’s great to someone might be awful to someone else.  It’s just so incredibly interesting to think about the role that music plays in my life and I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about the most important music in my life (to this point).

As an aside, I’m not going to pick any music I’ve ever made here.  It plays a different role in terms of importance in my life.  I’m talking about music that I enjoy from other artists… Also narrowing down this list was practically impossible and I could sub in or out certain songs on any given day.  At this moment in time though, these are undoubtedly my top 3.

With no further ado…

My Three Favorite Songs Ever

Cam’ron feat. Kanye West & Syleena Johnson – Down & Out

Why It’s a Great Song: Kanye West in his golden years as a producer.  Cam’ron at the top of his game (and his best album).  Amazing chorus sung by Syleena Johnson and rapped by Kanye West.

Why It’s a Favorite: This is my favorite song ever.  Bar none.  Dipset (Cam’ron’s group) ran upstate New York and embodied all things great at that point in my life.  As with all the songs on this list, it’s more than musical value.  This song came to me when I was going through bouts of depression as a freshman here at UGA (before transferring to Cornell).  I heard it in the spring semester when I was feeling really low and the message in the chorus really resonated with me at the time.  This song will always be important to me for that reason and will always serve as a pick-me-up.

They tryin’ to see he (down… down…)
I hear n*ggas sayin’ he (down…. but not out)

….


Cee Lo Green – F*ck You

Why It’s a Great Song: It’s new, but it easily makes the list.  I’m going to be honest… if this song doesn’t win a Grammy I’m going to be legitimately upset.  The idea behind the song, the execution of the song, the instrumentation, the artist, the lyrics… everything is perfect.  The song was originally written by Bruno Mars and his production team (The Smeezingtons), but come on… there’s no better artist for this song than Cee Lo.  Where Bruno Mars is young and handsome and fresh in the music game, Cee Lo has been around for almost two decades, is old, only has one smash single (and that was in a group as Gnarls Barkley), and has the perfect voice for this song.  When I first heard this song I listened to it on repeat for two hours and was frantically calling/messaging friends online about this song.  Ahhh.. love at first listen.

Why It’s a Favorite: I picked the lyrics video for the song as opposed to the music video because this is how I originally saw this when my friend Ben sent me it.  Key to knowing a song is a lifetime favorite: You know exactly when and where you heard it.  I heard this song in September 2010 when I was laying on this very couch and going through some girl drama of my own that pretty closely describes what Cee Lo is singing about.  To having a lifetime favorite there’s always going to be an element of perfect timing and almost having a “need” for the song before stumbling upon it.  Any guy (Ryan Gosling and George Clooney notwithstanding) can relate to this song.  It’s incredible and the timing was perfect.

…..

Joe Budden – All of Me (Reprise)

Why It’s a Great Song: If I had to play one rap song for someone who hated rap to try to cross them over… this would be it.  I think this is the most artistically deep and real song I’ve ever heard in my life.  The original version of this song appeared on Budden’s ‘Mood Muzik 3’ mixtape which I remember running to the mailbox for after pre-ordering back in December of 2007 (yes, I still have childish joy about music).  Budden has always been one of my favorite rappers if not my favorite… As I said above I pre-ordered a PHYSICAL copy of this album… in 2007!!!  Ever since about 2004 I’ve been able to find any music I want for free and get it about a week before it’s officially released.  With ‘Mood Muzik 3’ I was waiting like a little kid on Christmas Eve… but I waited.   And it was worth it.  The lyrics and storytelling are phenomenal, and the instrumentation/production by The Klassix presented Joe with the perfect canvas to paint upon.

Why It’s a Favorite: Unfortunately compared to the two above, I don’t have a really good story behind this one outside of explaining why it’s a great song.  I remember listening through this mixtape while running outside through the snow and having that synthesized organ sound come on and the notes it hits… man it was like tears were about to come streaming down my eyes.  Some pieces of art just pull at your heartstrings from every direction, and this was it.  There are so many lines worth quoting. To share my four favorites:

Depression tells me I suck,
So I reply ‘I ain’t here cuz I fell down, I’m here because I got up!’…

I’m still a risk-taker let me put it in words,
You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first…

“Why am I meeting so many backstabbers?
Why when I’m about go crash do I go faster?…”

“Past is a disaster,
When your house is see-through,
Learn to close your eyes in case the glass shatters…

As an artist myself, I’m both in awe and envy how incredibly open Joe is in his music.  It’s hard to explain what it’s like to put your innermost thoughts and feelings out there for everyone to hear and judge, decipher, and criticize.  His story about Tammy in the song is absolutely heartbreaking and relatable at the same time.  When I had a personal blog I spent over 3,000 words on this one song… so I’ll stop here.  Just know what I’ve said about it is only the tip of the iceberg.

And with THAT…. you now know my three favorite songs ever.  I hope you can get 10% of the joy from listening to them that I do because if you do… that means you’d like them a lot, hahaha.  Think about your favorite three songs and what role they play in your life (or the timing with which they “came” to you, I think music can absolutely search people out)… You may learn a lot about yourself in the reflection.

Lexus Lewis and Why Aspiring Producers Need to Shut Up.

I’m here to defend the man better known as…

Lex Luger.

As a producer myself I dream of shifting the music world on it’s axis at some point in the near future… and I’m a young producer at 25…  Lex Luger did it when he was 19.  If you listen to rap, you’re familiar with his work and have a strong opinion on him (and most producers hate him).  If you don’t listen to rap, let me take you on a crash course of the Suffolk, VA native.

Largely unheard of until 2010 when he popped up on one track of a Fabolous mixtape… He had a main debut that was the equivalent of Ben Kingsley in Ghandi where Kingsley took home the Oscar for Best Actor and the movie won Best Picture.  Though his style is pretty inflexible and formulaic, in 2010 when his synthesizers and custom drums hit the airwaves it did two major things that any great producer can do… Transformed careers:

In terms of Rick Ross and “B.M.F.”, Pitchfork put it best:

Ross was a successful artist before he ever hooked up with Luger, but his stunning transition from begrudgingly accepted popular rapper to one of the genre’s most respected artists can basically be traced directly back to Luger’s beat for “B.M.F. (Blowin’ Money Fast)”, the song that will go down as the indelible single of Ross’ career.


Before “Hard in da Paint”, Waka Flocka was a largely generic trap rapper from Atlanta in the shadow of Gucci Mane.  Not only did Lex Luger’s beats give Waka a platform to stand out alone in, it gave that platform the structural beams that allowed Waka to find his footing and discover his own strengths as an artist (namely chanted hooks that sound catchy).  With Lex at his side, Waka’s debut album ‘Flockaveli’ (produced almost entirely by Lex Luger) landed 4 Billboard charting singles (all produced by Lex) and even had one, “No Hands”, hit #1 on the Billboard Rap Songs chart.

His sound can be described easily as “trap music.”  Not a new genre in any sense, but a popular Atlanta/southern sound made famous by rappers like Young Jeezy, T.I., or Gucci Mane.  The most notable trap producers before Lex were either Shawty Redd or D. Rich.  The sound is characterized by synthesized horns and strings, BIG 808 drums, and “trappy” (AKA very fast) hi-hat, drum, and snare rolls throughout the tracks.

After his initial explosion in fame he had every rapper in the country calling him to produce on their albums.  Most notably Lex did a single for the most titanically hyped rap album in years, “H.A.M.” for the Jay-Z/Kanye West collaboration album.  He’s also responsible for popular mainstream singles for Ace Hood, Wale, and others.

So why do people hate him?  Well… Beyond the fact that all of his beats sound similar (they’re easy to pick out) and almost all of his melodic shifts are only a shift in key… It’s that…

His style is easily mimicked.And I mean… very easily.  Most successful producers can do things that others can’t and aspiring producers will never be able to master the intricacies of their compositions.  Such is not reality with young Lexus and his style has been mimicked ten-fold, birthing the careers of many new producers just building upon his blueprint (as he did Shawty Redd/D. Rich before him).  Basically, his style is copied a lot.  The proof is never more clear than Lil’ Wayne’s single last year (featuring Rick Ross, mind you), entitled “John”:

That beat, produced by Ayo The Producer, is pretty much a Lex Luger beat to the “t”.  In fact, Lex was none too happy when he first heard the song that clearly bared his mark:

As more and more producers have come to jump on this “trap” sound Lex has been largely phased out compared to a year ago as his style hasn’t evolved much, it’s important to understand what he did and why people hate him.

As a producer, I don’t hate him.  I envy him.  I think his success is earned through hard work and he showed up in the game at the right time with the right twist.  I congratulate him on his success and will be interested to see how/if he changes.

But other producers… oh these other producers.  They HATE Lex Luger.  Mostly because he’s found such great success off such a formulaic style that he didn’t even really invent (I’m laying off this part, since no musician really “invents” anything, it’s all evolution).  As this post has become long-winded, to every producers who hates on Lex, here are my points of defense:

  • While he didn’t invent or popularize the trap sound… He has his finger on the pulse better than any other producer who does it.  If it was so easy to make these megahits then Shawty Redd or D. Rich would’ve had songs this big.  There’s something magnetic about the combinations of his melodies and the drums he uses;  he took what made trap music great and perfected it.
  • He was 19 when he blew up… if you can’t cheer for a kid coming from poverty to making lots of money without doing so illegally, in fact by creating pieces of art that resonate with a generation, then you need to re-evaluate what’s worth cheering for.
  • Like any great producer, he shifted rap… Like Dr. Dre in the early 1990’s and again in the early 2000’s… Like Kanye and Just Blaze in the mid 2000’s… He developed a sound that everyone else copied when he finished.
  • Yes, his style is easy to mimick and many people are now… But that shouldn’t bother aspiring producers.  Let people waste their times walking in shoes they’ll never fill.  Don’t hate the player (Lex), hate the game.

 

Oh yeah, one more thing for all these aspiring producers hating on Lex Luger…

 

Shut up.  **Turns on “B.M.F.”**