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Soundcheck: Usher Releases ‘Looking 4 Myself’

Usher released his long-awaited follow-up to the über successful Raymond vs. Raymond today with an unexpected new sound. Though many critics call Usher’s seventh studio album, Looking 4 Myself, one of his strongest ever; the project left me looking for my money back.

The 14-track album features tracks from Rico Love, Will.I.Am, Jim Jonsin, Max Martin, and Diplo among others.  It also features cameos from Rick Ross, ASAP Rocky, and Pharell. While his first single, “Climax” is currently at No. 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and No. 1 on the Hip-Hop/R&B Songs chart, it has failed to win me over since its release last month.

I can respect and actually applaud an artist who isn’t afraid to push boundaries and challenge preconceptions, but I think Usher has taken this reinvention a bit too far.  What many critics are praising as ‘groundbreaking’ and ‘genre-crossing’ really just sounds retro and recycled to me.  The lines between innovation and replication have blurred, and I’m left with an album that feels like a cross between pop hits from the late 1980s and *NSYNC circa 2001 on their No Strings Attached tour.  Continue reading ‘Soundcheck: Usher Releases ‘Looking 4 Myself’’

New Year, New Music

A new year means new music from some of hip hop’s biggest names.  Now that 2012 is finally here, we’re seeing the first round of release dates roll out, and we’re expecting big things from some unlikely players.

Estelle: One of my favorite females in music right now is Estelle, and she’s ready to release her third studio album next month. All Of Me will drop on February 28.  With singles, “Thank You” and “Break My Heart” featuring Rick Ross already climbing up the charts, we can’t wait to hear the completed project.

Rick Ross: Ross dropped his Rich Forever mixtape last week, and so far it’s getting rave reviews.  The twenty-track mixtape is just what you’d expect from the Maybach Music chief, who enlisted help from heavyweights like Diddy, Drake and Nas on the project.  My personal fave is “Mind Games” featuring Kelly Rowland.

Nicki Minaj: While there’s still no release date for Nicki’s sophomore release, Birdman told media in November that he plans to release the project in the first quarter of 2012.  We’ve heard rumors of a Valentine’s Day drop, but we’ll have to wait and see.  What we do know is that the album will be highly influenced by Nicki’s hard-hitting alter ego, Roman.

Big K.R.I.T.: The Mississippi-bred rapper is ready to release his highly-anticipated mixtape, 4evaNaDay on February 20.  He’s also dropping the first single, “ I Got This” off his upcoming Def Jam debut, Live From The Underground on February 1. In his Twitter announcement, he told fans, “Its goin’ down shawty cant wait for y’all 2 hear this!”

Tyga: Just last week, Young Money’s youngest troublemaker was arrested in Las Vegas.  Only time will tell if his latest project, Careless World: The Rise of the Last King will actually make its original release date.  Still, Tyga says fans can expect to see some major growth and maturity on the project, as well as an intended departure from the sound of his mixtapes.

In an interview on ThisIs50, Tyga said, “It’s a theme album so it’s the first installment of the story. It’s about me becoming a king in this place called Careless World. It’s just a story from beginning to end. This album will show a lot of growth in the music and a lot of maturity. People are gonna definitely understand who I am more as an artist. Mixtapes is more like party, talkin’ shit type records that you just put together. This is my first real project that I’m putting together that has a theme.”

Common: Aside from his release of “Sweet”, Common has released another cutthroat track, and this time, there’s no confusing the target. In his latest drop, Common takes aim at Drake again on his remixed version of Rick Ross’ “Stay Schemin’” a song that originally featured Drake and French Montana.  He released the single on MTV’s RapFix: Live, unveiling scathing lyrics like, “My motto is Chicago bitch, everybody know you’re sweet, what the problem is? / Don’t play dumb, I’m the one that acknowledged this,” “The rapper of the moment, the style he don’t own it / Acting all hard when he hardly like that / You gon’ mess around and make me catch a body like that / Don’t do it, ’cause every song you make Joe is really hoe music.

Ludacris: Luda announced a May release date for his eighth studio album, Ludaversal. Just last week, the rapper-turned-actor-turned rapper said he had already collaborated with fellow Atlanta favorite, Usher on the album.  “Usher is one person that I’ve already worked with, and in terms of other artists, you can say that there’s going to be a lot of surprises on here,” he told Billboard. Fans can expect more production from The Neptunes and can hope for a single in March.  “It’s been a minute since I’ve been away from music, and there is just so much to talk about… So [the album] is mostly about my personal life, my travels, my experiences, rumors, gossip—you know, everything coming together in one.”

Lupe Fiasco  & Pharell Williams: According to Lupe’s official Web site, he and Pharell are back in the studio, hard at work on a collaborative album.  On the site, he simply stated, “ Food and Liquor 2 coming soon.  Lupe and Pharell album coming soon.”   This isn’t the first time these two have teased at a collaborative project.  I seem to remember a rumored group formation with Kanye West, Pharell and Lupe circling last year. Still, I’m holding out hope that this project will materialize.


 

Soundcheck: Hot New Hip-Hop

As we eagerly await the last batch of big albums to drop before year’s end, a steady stream of singles have been coming out of the woodwork.  With some unexpected mash-ups, album teasers and repeat offenders like Rick Ross, Drake, Wale and Mary J. Blige, the fall music season is heating up as temperatures cool down.  Here, a few tracks worth paying attention to.  

Common, “Sweet”: Fresh off his upcoming album, The Dreamer, The Believer, Common is back with a vengeance on the No. I.D. produced track. Remniscent of his early days on the mic, Common reminds fans that despite the glitz and glamor, he’s still the Chicago-bred beast who is not to be messed with. The G.O.O.D. music alum says he plans to make an appearance on the recently announced compilation album, even though the label isn’t backing his release. “We had talked

Rick Ross/ Wale

about it before, but it was actually some new news to me that it was going forward. But I’m definitely looking forward to it and I obviously want to be a part of it. I’m G.O.O.D. Music family forever. Even though my album is not coming out on G.O.O.D. Music, I’m still a G.O.O.D. Music affiliate and artist. That’s my family forever.”

Trey Songz ft. Fabolous, “What I Be On”: Trey is at it again with last week’s release of his double mixtape.  He dropped the Fab-featured single complete with a play on Drake’s “Marvin’s Room” in his verse.  Was that a diss?

Continue reading ‘Soundcheck: Hot New Hip-Hop’

Sound And Vision: Does Madonna Still Matter?

Last week I finally got around to seeing The King’s Speech, and during one particular scene, my mind wandered to Madonna, of all people. No, the queen of pop doesn’t appear in the film, nor are any of her songs on the soundtrack, but two secondary yet pivotal Speech characters, the UK’s King Edward VIII and his double-divorcée American paramour Wallis Simpson, will take the lead in Madonna’s upcoming directorial effort W.E.
While I’m not expecting her to pull off a Ben Affleck-style transformation from middling actor to acclaimed filmmaker (she also co-wrote W.E. with her Truth or Dare director Alex Keshishian), stranger things have happened over the course of her career. (Remember her Golden Globe win and medium-level Oscar buzz for Evita?) But if, in a left-field twist of fate, Madonna wins over both critics and moviegoers with W.E. the way Barbra Streisand did with Yentl in the ’80s, and she gives up her old day job for this new one, will anybody miss her on the charts?
I have my doubts. Her last album, Hard Candy, was released April of 2008, a nearly three-year eternity on the pop timeline. Though it spawned her record-breaking 37th Top 10 single “4 Minutes” (sorry, Elvis!), it was Madonna’s first studio album not to be certified platinum by the RIAA, and like its two predecessors, 2005′s Confessions on a Dance Floor and 2003′s American Life, it didn’t produce a second Top 40 hit in the US.
Since the end of 2009, when Celebration, her greatest-hits compilation, failed to boost her sagging chart fortunes, Madonna has retreated to behind the scenes. She made W.E., designed a fashion line with her daughter Lourdes, and launched Hard Candy Fitness in Mexico City (the second branch of the gym line arrives in Moscow in mid-March). But on December 17th, she posted a message on her Facebook wall saying that she’s ready to rock again: “Its official! I need to move. I need to sweat. I need to make new music! Music I can dance to. I’m on the look out for the maddest, sickest, most bad ass people to collaborate with. I’m just saying……”
The big question: Can she rise from the dust of Celebration, whose two new singles were neither great nor hits? The title track peaked at No. 71 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 2009, and the follow-up, “Revolver,” didn’t even bother to chart. Fans were RSVPing in droves to the parties of pop’s younger stars, while Madonna’s celebration, dogged by sparse attendance and a general lack of interest, was over almost as soon as it began. For the first time in her career, Madonna knew what it feels like for a girl standing in the shadow of someone else.
That someone else would be Lady Gaga, who in recent years has been anointed alternately as the second coming of Madonna and the reason why she’s so over. But Gaga can’t take all of the credit for the tough time Madonna has been having on the charts. Madonna had one of the longest hit-making runs in pop history, but as Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey well know, every fierce ruling diva has her day when the hits become fewer and farther between. Also hogging the spotlight in Gaga’s rear, there’s Britney Spears, Rihanna and Katy Perry, post-Madonna starlets who, like the original material girl, made up for their vocal shortcomings by hooking up with the right collaborators and striking perfect pop poses.
How can Madonna compete with baby divas half her age? Does she even have to? She has one of the sturdiest back catalogs in pop music, good enough to inspire an entire episode of Glee and produce last year’s No. 1 soundtrack EP Glee: The Music, The Power of Madonna. At this point, she could coast on her history, make like the Rolling Stones and continue to rake in huge bucks from touring without ever releasing another record. But since she recently departed from her long-term label, Warner Bros. Records, and signed a reported $120 million 10-year contract with concert promoter Live Nation that encompasses tours, merchandising, albums, DVDs and music-related film and TV projects, bowing out of the business of making new music isn’t an option.
She should let those other divas fight for scraps from flavor-of-the-month producers. Timbaland and Pharell did her few creative favors on Hard Candy, and David Guetta, who produced “Celebration” and “Revolver,” is overrated and overbooked. Rihanna, his latest diva-for-hire, can have him. Madonna should steer clear of anyone having anything to do with any of the No. 1 singles from the last year. So if Max Martin or will.i.am are on her speed dial, she needs to delete them both.
Searching for the maddest, sickest, most bad ass people to collaborate with looks good on paper—and on her Facebook wall—but Madonna is best one on one, not trying to cover every musical angle with a gallery of hot producers. She should go out and find the next William Orbit, the next Mirwais, the next Stuart Price, someone her competitors have yet to get their hands on. With the right guy onboard (or girl—I’d kill to hear her side by side with someone like Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), all she’ll need to do is strap on her dancing heels and let the confessions begin.

 


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