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Sound And Vision: Strange Bedfellows — The Best of Music’s Unlikely Collaborations

“I get high with a little help from my friends,” Ringo Starr sang on the Beatles‘ 1967 classic. These days, so do many of music’s top stars. Two’s company, and so is three and sometimes four. The more the merrier, the higher and higher they get.

On the charts, that is.

In the Top 40 of Billboard’s Hot 100 for the week ending December 10, seventeen songs were collaborations between separate recording entities. Four of them featured Drake, and three apiece featured Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, who both appeared on tracks with Drake and with each other. But will.i.am featuring Jennifer Lopez and Mick Jagger—and debuting at No. 36 with “T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever),” which the threesome performed on the November 20 American Music Awards—was probably the one that nobody saw coming.

Old-school Rolling Stones fans must be cringing at the idea of Jagger going anywhere near Lopez and will.i.am so soon after Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera went to No. 1 by invoking his hallowed name on “Moves Like Jagger.” But for a sixty-something legend like him, hit records—even if in name only, a la Duck Sauce‘s GRAMMY-nominated “Barbra Streisand—are a near-impossible dream unless they’re in tandem with other, often younger, stars.

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Soundcheck: Who Is Mac Miller?

You may have heard one of his mixtapes, or perhaps you’ve stumbled upon his uber-popular YouTube channel, but chances are, if you don’t know Mac Miller already, you soon will.

Malcolm McCormick—better known as Mac Miller and before that, EZ Mac—is the nineteen-year-old leader of Pittsburgh’s fastest-growing, grass-smoking, grass-roots rap uprising since, well, Wiz Khalifa. He followed the footsteps of his hometown hero to launch an independent career that rivals that of rappers’ twice age with ten times his budget.  Miller joined Khalifa on Rukkus Records in 2010, and has since enjoyed a quick rise to the top of the charts—first with his mixtape K.I.D.S., inspired by the 1995 movie of the same name then with another mix tape released in March, Best Day Ever, which included the current buzz-worthy single “Donald Trump” and featured production from Just Blaze, 9th Wonder and Chuck Inglish.

His debut album, Blue Slide Park sold 144,000 units in its first week, staking a claim at the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200. It marked the first time an independent artistdebuted at No. 1 since Tha Dogg Pound did it in 1995. While some were quick to cast him off as another pot-smking white kid who makes silly songs, something tells me he’s smarter than the average stoner.

Quickly courted by major labels, Miller chose to stick to the independent route. ”I never really got far enough to see an offer for real,” Mac said in November. “I got no hatred towards major labels or anything. I never got a chance to hear what they had to say. We just really wanted to stick with our home team and keep it in the family.”

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The Age Of The Internet Rapper

It’s no secret that the Internet is a crucial tool to any artist in the twenty-first century. Not only does the web give artists an easy way to let the public hear their music, but it also gives them a direct line of communication with platforms like Twitter and Facebook. And in no musical community is the Internet more important than in hip hop. The emergence of mixtape culture has prompted rappers to release countless tracks for free online to build buzz and make a name for themselves. The ease in which artists can release tracks, and the speed at which these tracks can go viral, gives the web the ability to create superstars overnight.

ASAP Rocky

For example, take one of the newest Internet rap phenomenons, ASAP Rocky. After releasing just a handful of songs at the end of the summer, he signed a $3 million deal with Sony/RCA. That’s a lot of money for an unproven rapper who’s new to the scene. Although he did release the solid free mixtape LiveLoveA$AP right after signing the deal, there’s no way to tell if he will be able to deliver on the hype when he releases his major label debut. Did Sony/RCA jump the gun and sign him before he was ready?

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Soundcheck: GRAMMY Showdown — Nicki vs. Kanye vs. Jay-Z

The 2012 GRAMMY nominations are in and it looks like another big year for hip hop, with the genre’s brightest stars earning the majority of nominations for the music industry’s biggest honor.

Leading the pack with seven nominations is Kanye West. His hit “All Of The Lights” earned nods for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration and Song of The Year while his joint album with Jay-Z, Watch The Throne, is up against his own My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy for Best Rap Album.  The duo is also nominated for Best Rap Performance for their song, “Otis”.

Bruno Mars and Adele are tied with Foo Fighters with six nominations each.  While it may seem a little dated by now, Mars’ debut missed last year’s cut-off.  His debut album, Doo-Wops & Hooligans is up for Album of The Year while his hit, “Grenade” is vying for Song Of The Year, Record of The Year, and Best Pop Solo Performance.  Lil Wayne isn’t far behind with five nominations including Best Rap Performance for  “Look At Me Now” with Busta Rhymes and Chris Brown. Like West, Weezy will battle himself in the Best Rap/Sung Collaboration category where he’s nominated for “I’m On One” with Rick Ross, Drake, and DJ Khaled and “Motivation” his duet with Kelly Rowland.

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Sound And Vision: Why I’m Seriously Considering Boycotting Music Award Shows

On November 9, Nashville celebrated itself (again!) with the Country Music Association (CMA) Awards. For the fourth consecutive year, the event was hosted by Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley, but the masters of ceremonies weren’t the only thing that gave me that old deja vu feeling. Hadn’t these accolades already been handed out just a few months ago?

Wait, those were the Country Music Television (CMT) Music Awards in June. And before that, there were the Academy of Country Music Awards. And, just in case that’s not enough Music City honors for you, there are the 2nd annual American Country Awards coming up on December 5.

Pop and R&B are just as self-congratulatory, offering the MTV Video Music Awards, the MTV Europe Music Awards, the Billboard Awards, the American Music Awards, the Teen Choice Awards, the BET Awards, the BET Hip Hop Awards, the NAACP Image Awards and the Soul Train Music Awards.

Then, of course, there are the GRAMMYs, which following so many other back-slapping fests, have been losing their lustre for years now—though that’s hardly the only reason. Winning one used to be the musical equivalent of snagging an Oscar, but now its just more clutter for the awards shelf.

In a few weeks (November 30, to be exact), the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences will announce the nominees for the 2012 GRAMMY Awards (to be held on February 12). Doesn’t it already feel like we’ve been there and done that over and over and over already this year? Am I the only one who doesn’t doubt that we’re in for another repeat of The Adele Show, with a very special appearance by Lady Gaga. Good as it is, like Christmas, I only need to sit through it once a year.

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The EditoriaList: Best And Worst MTV VMA Performances

There have been so many live performances at the MTV Video Music Awards that I couldn’t possibly remember them all. But according to a quick sampling, most of them were mediocre, some offensively so. The best and worst, however, stand out in the cultural memory. There were certainly some good ones and some horrible ones not on this list, but here’s what made the biggest impression:

The Best:

6. The Hives, 2002 – “Main Offender”

A pretty rocking performance, but what puts this one over the top is singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist announcing that they’re out of time, so everyone can turn their televisions off, knowing full well that The Vines were just about to start playing.

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Exclusive Q&A: A Strange Conversation with Dick Valentine of Electric Six

OurStage Exclusive InterviewsMany know Electric Six best for their (literally) electrifying song “Danger! High Voltage!” (watch the video below), a single released in 2003 that reached No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart, thanks to Jack White‘s backing vocals and a front row placement in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. Others may recall watching their video for “Gay Bar” over and over, entertained by multiple shirtless Honest Abes traipsing inappropriately through Pee Wee Herman’s fantasy version of the Whitehouse. Regardless of how you know these rockers, the six-piece band—led by lovable lunatic Dick Valentine—has put out eight albums including this month’s Heartbeats and Brainwaves. The album feels like an underwater laser gun battle royale between space aliens and Andrew W.K., so its no surprise that when we sat down with Valentine to hash it out, our conversation was just as weird and wonderful.

OS: I read somewhere a reference to Electric Six as being “sex rock disc demons”. That seems like a pretty badass title, huh?

DV: Uh, no. I mean, I don’t know if that’s accurate. We just basically sit around and surf the Internet.

OS: So not really disc demon-y?

DV: I mean, we’ve dealt with real-life people and we prefer the Internet.

OS: I think a lot of people do.

DV: It’s easier that way.

OS: So, one of the songs [off the new album Heartbeats and Brainwaves] “Psychic Visions” refers to a neon sign you saw when you were walking through Brooklyn, right?

DV: That is correct.

OS: What was that sign for?

DV: It was for a psychic reading place. I liked the shade of the purple neon. It was a very big sign. They must have had a big budget. Must be doing well with the tarot card readings or however they were giving fortunes. They must have a better track record. Or they may have made enough money to afford one of those older signs.

 

OS: What kind of imagery were you going for with Heartbeats and Brainwaves? That kind of big, bright, jarring neon?

DV: I hope so. I think it’s very fitting for the album. I thought that was maybe the color we were looking for, a bright neon purple.

OS: The new album also really holds up well as a whole, as opposed to a bunch of disconnected tracks, which we see more and more of unfortunately.

DV: Not with our band, no way. Our band, our albums hold together as a whole.  All of them. It’s not about the album, not about the song. It’s about a collection of songs intertwining together to make one cohesive album. I’m very glad you said that.

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Soundcheck: 2011 BET Hip Hop Awards: Scathing Cyphers, Political Points, and Missing Winners

The 2011 BET Hip Hop Awards was filmed in Atlanta on October 1 and aired on BET last week.  Packed with powerful performances and full of surprises, the show offered the world a glimpse of some of rap’s most promising up and comers through their nine cyphers, and gave some unexpected players a turn at the mic while other big names were noticeably MIA.

The show’s opening set the pace for the night.  A fire-filled stage revealed Young Jeezy who spit some verses before throwing the mic to T.I. Making his triumphant return to the stage in his hometown of Atlanta, the recently–released rapper got straight to the point, spitting “I been out of sight/ been out of mind…another year of prison/ promise this is it for me/ trying to make it through the storm/ should be makin’ history. /No feeling sorry keep your pity and your sympathy/ good or bad take it like a man whatever’s meant to be.”

Hosted by Mike Epps, the show was light on awards. An hour into the show, they had only given out one. The night’s biggest winner was Chris Brown (who couldn’t be bothered to show up) for his hit, “Look At Me Now” featuring Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne. The song nabbed a total of four awards including Best Hip-Hop Video, People’s Champ Award, Reese’s Perfect Combo Award and Best Featured Verse from Busta.

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