Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Conversation & Mixtape Demonstration with J. Period

Popular Music Project Director Josh Kun sat down recently with renowned hip-hop DJ J.Period for a conversation and mixtape demonstration at the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, with an SRO crowd.

With DJ & remix work for Grammy-winners Lauryn Hill, The Roots, and Mary J. Blige under his belt, J. Period has become one of hip hop's undisputed Mixtape Kings and most respected DJ/Producers. Praised by The New Yorker for his groundbreaking Bob Dylan remixes, and named one of "the world's top DJ's" by The New York Times, J.Period was also featured in Activision's blockbuster video game, DJ Hero, alongside a short list of DJ legends: Grandmaster Flash, Jazzy Jeff, Shadow, Z-Trip & DJ AM.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

All About US: Paul Simon - American Tune

Summertime Clothes - Animal Collective

Refreshing original, like running through sprinklers as a kid, and a bliss-filled remix.

Summer of Love: Love Yourself Some Sassy!

Sarah Vaughan, also known as "Sassy" and "Sailor" due to her joyful use of obscenity, offers the perfect voice for a summer of love, lust, loss, more love, and then just some flat-out fun. Top off your drink, sit back, and enjoy.

ANDREW GOLD: Thank You For Being

Andrew Gold, a pretty terrific singer/songwriter beginning in the 70s, passed away in June. He had his own hits and triumphs, but was also a key component of the rich sounds and success of Linda Ronstadt's seminal albums. He co-wrote "Try Me Again" with Ronstadt, covered here by Trisha Yearwood. Remember him or discover him for the first time. (And note in the studio taping of the Ronstadt video, it's ALL LIVE and on one take/track. Wonderous!)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I Write the Songs... And Now You Can, Too!

I was glad when I learned earlier this year that singer-songwriter Imogen Heap was working on a new album and intrigued when it was announced she was going to crowd-source the composing of the songs, with an anticipated schedule of one new song every three months. She's been a one-woman band for a while; what a smart way to use social media to shift the dynamics of her creative process, right? Heap welcomed recorded sounds, words, pictures, art and video from fans, uploaded to her Web site and then proposed a two week assembly and tweaking process before she formally released the song, originally titled "heapsong1." She promised appropriate credit and pay for contributors and also invited fans to use all the uploaded resources to compose a work of their own.

What a fun, fresh, creative and transparent enterprise. So then why is the result so flat, so, well, God-awful, not even up to the least of her previous work? Is crowd-sourcing creativity a roadmap to FAIL?

Before I could even ponder that, Becca Johnson, a member of the Popular Music Project's student work group with 2011 Artist in Residence Raymond Roker, wrote a blog post about the band Maroon 5 teaming up with Coca Cola on a "24 Hours Session," where the band took on writing and recording a song in 24 hours based on fan tweets. Now, no one outside of Brentwood (the band's hometown) thinks Maroon 5 offers much other than the occasional pop hit with a catchy hook sung by pin-up lad Adam Levine (now a judge on NBC's The Voice), so crowd-sourcing song composition ought to work just fine in this case. But Lord-a-mommy, as a co-worker used to say, this song just hurts!

Doesn't the music industry have enough grief already? Do these sorry efforts simply reflect the chasm between short, instantaneous thoughts and what might be called "true" lyrics, which tend to come from a very deep place or are painstakingly crafted to appear that way?

What's to be made of this new trend? Well, perhaps it's not so new and there's reason for hope in the long run. A recent New York Times piece on the Cole Porter song "You're the Top" noted that Porter asked his fellow passengers on a cruise down the Rhine to name the most wonderful thing they'd seen or done. And then he used some of their replies in the lyrics. So, kind of an analog version of crowd-sourcing. Listen to this great version of YTT.

Maybe there's still hope for Imogen and Adam.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

RIP: TV On The Radio's Gerard Smith

TV On The Radio bassist Gerard Smith died Wednesday, April 20, at age 35 after a brief battle with lung cancer. The band announced on its website, "We are very sad to announce the death of our beloved friend and bandmate, Gerard Smith, following a courageous fight against lung cancer. Gerard passed away the morning of April 20th, 2011. We will miss him terribly."

Listen to Princeton's Daphne A. Brooks fascinating talk "Staring at the Sun: Remixing the Diasporic Drone on TV on the Radio’s Return to Cookie Mountain" from a 2008 USC Annenberg Research Seminar presented by the Popular Music Project.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Re: EMP Roundtable - Branding, Music & Money in the Digital Age

Adding to the list of brands teaming up with artists, Maroon 5 and Coca Cola recently worked together on the "24 Hours Session", where the band was tasked with writing and recording a song based off fan tweets, all in 24 hours (free download link via Coca Cola below). Apparently Coca Cola is on a mission to bring fans closer to the music they love, considering that they are also working with Taio Cruz and American Idol on the "Perfect Harmony Collaboration," a project that gives one lucky fan a chance to co-write a song with Cruz. Whether or not you like the result of the "24 Hours Session," it's interesting to see how both Maroon 5 and Coca Cola are attempting to connect with fans by giving them an inside view into what goes into making a record (also, Coca Cola will be donating money to The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation's Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) for the first 100,000 downloads of the song).

A penny for your thoughts: One thing discussed at the EMP Pop Conference Roundtable with Josh Kun and Raymond Roker was how artists and corporations need to be careful when choosing the right partner. What do you think of the above types of musical collaboration, where an artist/band is not only representing a brand to help connect with fans, but the brand is actually playing a role in the music that is created?

To view videos documenting the 24 Hours Session and/or download "Is Anybody Out There": http://www.coca-cola.com/music/en_US/24hrsession/html/Coke24hrs_PostEvent.html

For more information on the Perfect Harmony Collaboration with Taio Cruz: http://www.thecoca-colacompany.com/dynamic/press_center/2011/03/create-perfect-harmony-with-taio-cruz.html

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Cloudy Future

The music industry has taken another step towards living in the clouds. Check out this article about "Cloud Drive" from Amazon, a music storage system that allows users to upload and access their personal music collection in the cloud.


This Song is Stuck in My Head! Help Me, Help Me, Please!

Discover the REAL reason pop songs get stuck in our heads in this brilliantly funny and smart RADIOLAB podcast.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sing a Song of Sondheim: Happy Belated 81st, Steve-o!

What can you say about the best Broadway composer of his generation? His songs are remarkable, often devastating, short stories, his melodies fresh and ear-thrilling, even 40 years on, his wit wicked, his sense of what matters spot on. Thanks for all the hard work and beautiful moments.

Monday, March 21, 2011

RIP: Pinetop Perkins 1913-2011

Pinetop Perkins, among the last surviving members of the first generation of Delta bluesmen and the boogie-woogie piano player in Muddy Waters's last great band, died March 21st at his home in Austin, Texas. He was 97.

It's Spring, People, SPRING!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Raymond Roker at EMP - Roundtable: Getting the Brand Back Together: Branding, Music & Money in the Digital Age

Josh Kun and PMP 2011 Artist in Residence Raymond Roker co-moderated this must-see panel.
Part 1:

Part 2:

California Lullaby: Sheet Music & the Musical Marketing of Southern California

PMP director Josh Kun illuminated the powerful mix of myth, music (in the form of sheet music), illusion and civic bombast that helped fuel the population goldrush to Southern California at the turn of the last century.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Language of Hip-Hop: A Rap Almanac

What can we learn from the jargon of Jay-Z? Or Lil' Wayne's lexicon? Wired recently posted an article about a man named Tahir Hemphill who is undergoing the task of looking back into 30 years of Hip-Hop and taking it apart - one word at a time.

Hemphill calls it the Hip-Hop Word Count and it "analyzes the lyrics of over 40,000 songs for metaphors, similes, cultural references, phrases, memes and socio-political ideas. For each, it registers a date and a geographical location." This sort of information can provide interesting data as to which region has the most clever artists and where phrases have originated (who said shawty first???!! The world needs to know!). In addition to date and locale of songs, it breaks down syllable count, word count, average letters per word and more - for each of the 40,000 tracks.

Check out the prototype he has done with 243 Jay-Z songs and donate to the cause on Kickstarter.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Hit the 2011 EMP Pop Conference at UCLA - It's Awesome & FREE

The 2011 Experience Music Project Pop Conference will take place Feb 25-27 at UCLA, the first time it's been convened away from its Seattle home. This year's theme is "Cash Rules Everything Around Me: Music and Money" and the slate of papers, presentations, and talks by academics, journalists, writers, musicians, and industry figures is dizzying -- a must attend for anyone interested in all things popular music.

We are thrilled that the Popular Music Project will be in the mix throughout the weekend:
  • On Friday, PMP Director Josh Kun will present new research on the early sheet music industry in Los Angeles, part of an exciting new digital archival initiative he and his students at the USC Annenberg School have been working on with The Los Angeles Public Library
  • On Saturday, PMP 2011 Artist-in-Residence and URB founder Raymond Roker will be leading a roundtable on the increasing prominence of brands in the support and marketing of new music, featuring leading brand reps, marketing consultants, and DJ/producer Viktr Duplaix
  • On Sunday, PMP Director Josh Kun will be interviewing music industry legend Seymour Stein.
Registration is free and open to all. Conference website and daily schedule.

Monday, February 14, 2011

This 'Wuz' Legit

Name five states you’d least expect a hip-hop artist to come from. Maine? Classic. Vermont? Sounds about right. Probably something like Nebraska or Wyoming? Typical. How about Mississippi? Sure it’s down there by the hotbeds of ATL, Houston, Louisiana; but I always figured the hip-hop winds bent around that state when they blew across the country. Apparently they don’t because Mississippi native, Big K.R.I.T. is on track to be the biggest thing from “The Miss” since Brett Farve. (Let’s just hope K.R.I.T. has better texting etiquette.) Last June, Big K.R.I.T. released K.R.I.T. Wuz Here and after one listen I vowed to never doubt the great state of Mississippi again.

It’s that expectation of doubt that seems to fuel this mixtape. K.R.I.T. Wuz Here opens with a few songs that let you know even though this kid is from Mississippi, he can hang. The second track, “Country Shit”, not only show the influences on K.R.I.T from the dirty south styles of ATL and the chopped and screwed sounds of H-Town, but also let’s you know he can put it down just like any artist from either city.

Perhaps the biggest track off this mixtape, “Hometown Hero”, is where K.R.I.T. shows you what sets him apart from the rest. He produced every track on this album and though this is his first studio album, he already seems like veteran behind the glass. Again, we hear the chopped n’ screwed influence in the chorus but where I find so many producers over do it with that style K.R.I.T. does it perfectly. It’s impossible to label the mood of this track because it expertly weaves in and out from positive to negative. This really pulls you into his world as an artist dealing with the ups and downs, struggling against the odds to make it out Mississippi and become a successful rapper/producer.

The dynamic quality of “Hometown Hero” sets the trend for the rest of the mixtape. “Children of the World” is a hard-hitting, autobiographical song that’s comparable to a J. Cole track. “No Wheaties” is an awesome, easy-going song that seems to come out of nowhere, but still feels like it fits in perfectly.

After a rollercoaster of tracks, the mixtape concludes with “Vikitorious”. Using that classic piano sample we’ve heard in a million different cop movies sets this song up perfectly for K.R.I.T. to lay out his mission. He skillfully discusses his frustrations of being disregarded because of his origins. Even though he’s got the skills on the mic and the keys, he still feels like the game is weighted against him. That doesn’t stop him from claiming his eventual victory at the track and the mixtape’s end. And, quite honestly, I believe it.

This kid is raw and gifted. This mixtape has propelled him on to the scene and has taken him to the next level. Look out for big things coming from this kid because you don’t make it out of Mississippi without mean skills and a hell of a lot of passion for the game. Even though he’s been rapping and making beats for five years, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here is only the beginning. Download it here: http://www.datpiff.com/BIG-KRIT-Krit-Wuz-Here-mixtape.117453.html and brace yourself for what's to come.

Monday, February 7, 2011

It’s All About the “K.I.D.S”

As my ears continue to bleed from Fergie’s heinous attempt at “Sweet Child O’ Mine” during the half-time show at Super Bowl XLV, I seek relief in the smooth tunes of Mac Miller’s summer release, K.I.D.S. This kid may be 18 and white, but this mixtape is saturated with an old school, head-nodding hip hop vibe. Laying down the type of lyrics you would expect from a rapper just out of high school Mac proves this previously forgotten style still has a place in today’s rap climate.

The laid-back, yet ear exciting nature of K.I.D.S. starts off immediately with the first track, “Kickin’ Incredibly Dope Shit”. The light feel of the beat gives provokes that emotion of hope one would expect in a recent high school graduate. The lyrics are perfect for an intro as Mac lays out his current situation of avoiding the college route for the rap lifestyle.

A few tracks later Miller proves his ability to hold is own on a true hip-hop beat with “Nikes On My Feet”. Expect to hit the repeat button on this one a lot. While you’re at it, brace yourself to have “Traffic In The Sky” and “Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza” on loop, as well. This mixtape has often been called a “smoker’s album” but songs like these will elevate you all on their own.

Another incredibly chill song, “Good Evening”, takes a sample from Drake’s So Far Gone mixtape and proves Mac can also style out on the type of beats we’ve come to expect on the radio. This is extremely well exemplified on “Don’t Mind If I Do” where Miller speeds up the tempo of the mixtape to lay lyrics over a hip hop remix of the incredibly popular Owl City song “Fire Flies”.

The lyrics on K.I.D.S. won’t blow your mind, but the feel and flow of this mixtape will. You’ve never heard rap like this before. It’s far from cheesy but incredibly light-hearted and confident. The air of hope is hard to resist, which is why I’m incredibly hopeful to see how Mac will leave his mark on the hip hop world.

Do yourself a favor, download K.I.D.S at http://www.datpiff.com/Rostrum_Records__Most_Dope_Mac_Miller__KIDS.m143884.html and expect even greater things in March when Mac releases his next mixtape, Best Day Ever.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Should Every Song Be An App?

Interesting report (courtesy Wired) on beta software, Songpier, that offers remarkable functions and tools for artists and fans to leverage single songs into something more. I'm in line for an invitation to try it -- you should be too!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

I Stand Up for Sit Down, Man

I know that if you took my advice from last week and downloaded J. Cole’s Friday Night Lights then your music quota has been filled for the month; but I wanted to discuss a group that really epitomizes the type of mixtapes I like to seek out. I’m all about what’s new and different, and when I caught wind about Das Racist last fall when they released their mixtape, Sit Down, Man, I had to get my ears on it.

Now, this isn’t one of those mixtapes that’s filled with simplistic, catchy tunes that you’ll want to bump with the windows down. These guys put out the type of music you’ll want to listen and pay attention to. Das Racist is smart. When you hear that the composite background of the group is Indian-African-Cuban American, your initial response is that such a rap group is that it’s so bizarre it’s almost humorous. And they know that. With the grace of intelligent, self-aware artists, Das Racist uses humor in their style to disarm the listener from disregarding all the witty and insightful criticisms they present from their incredibly unique perspective. The fourth track, “hahahaha jk”, illustrates this very concept. Rolling Stone even called it a top 50 song of 2010 citing just that fact.


The artists in the group are so unique, however, that occasionally their lyrics don’t always seem make sense. You know these guys are too intelligent for that to happen so I just write this problem off as the “Jim Morrison effect”. It’s kinda like you know that there’s a common, well thought out thread to the verse; but sometimes you feel as though only the artist really understands how each line connects.

If you’re sitting there right now thinking, “You still haven’t really given us much of a break-down of the mixtape,” I apologize but this is really about all I can give to you. Such a group is beyond my brain’s readiness to comprehend. I’m all about expanding my hip-hop index but I was not ready for what Das Racist has been and continues to be about. This is really one of those mixtapes where you tell your buddy, “I dunno, man, you just have to check it out.” Seriously. I wish I could give you more but this mixtape quite literally leaves me at a loss of words. I can’t tell you this’ll will be a mixtape that you’ll put in your top 10, but I can promise you that Sit Down, Man is worth the listen for any hip-hop fanatic.

Download Sit Down, Man here: http://www.djbooth.net/index/mixtapes/entry/das-racist-sit-down-man/ and know that it may take a few listens before you really pick up on their vibe. But once you do, you’ll see that these guys are on to something and that this group may very well have quite a substantial impact on the future of hip-hop. And if you don’t, just click back to J. Cole and come back next Sunday for another fresh mixtape.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Brace Yourselves

It’s 2011 and the game has changed. 2010 was a huge year for the “Mixtape Movement”. Mixtape superstars, Drake and Nicki Minaj, cemented their place in the rap community with their first albums debuting at #1 and #2 in June an November, respectively. Underground mixtape legends, Wiz Khalifa and Wale, used the hype they’ve built through their mixtapes to ensure the success of their 2010 singles, which are now on endless repeat on KISS FM. It's now quite fair to say the new path to success has been created, but 2010 didn’t just blaze a trail for hip-hop artists in 2011; it built a dam. And, ladies and gentlemen, the floodgates are open.
Critics have complained that such an open market will be detrimental to the quality of rap music. They believe that the industry will be flooded with amateurs willingly sacrificing complexity for cash as a storm of new artists scrap for a hit single. However, the other side of the argument that finds this to be an excellent opportunity for quality of rap to skyrocket alongside the massive influx of talent. J. Cole makes me believe the latter.
Last November up-n’-comer J. Cole released his third official mixtape Friday Night Lights and my concerns for the future of rap were completely blown away Tron-style. Cole went to college on academic scholarship and graduated magna cum laude. After listening to this mixtape you understand he's also a phenomenal student of the artists and style that built the foundation of rap. Unintimidated by the materialistic style in the industry which sees so much success, Cole shows his ability to keep up with the pop genre of rap while simultaneously showing his true rap roots by exposing and criticizing the environments he’s witnessed and grown up in. Hands down, he's got the makings of one of the best. It’s no wonder why Cole was the first artist to get signed by Jay-Z’s label, Roc Nation.
From the start, you understand that Friday Night Lights has something to say and J. Cole knows it. Speaking over soulful piano playing, Cole’s confidence comes across as he acknowledges the task ahead of him to prove himself as an artist with this tape. Mid-way into the following track, you realize he will. “Too Deep for the Intro” matches the soulful feel of the intro and segways into phenomenally worded observations and insights as Cole criticizes not only the world he grew up in but himself for occasionally getting caught up in it. This type of vulnerability is rarely offered up by an artist, but Cole does it well with confidence and style. This kid is something special.
Just because he’s college educated, doesn’t mean J. can’t go just as hard as other rappers with hood origins. His “Back the Topic” freestyle is undeniably hard. This mixtape wasn’t the premiere of this song but I’m glad he included it to show his versatility. Cole’s words sound like a percussion of punches. Each line is saturated in passion and it leaks right through the speakers. By this point in the mixtape I was already stunned. When I realized I was only three tracks in I nearly blacked out.
The raw emotionality of the tape doesn’t let up. Even on a love song collaboration with Drake titled “In the Morning” neither Cole nor Drake take this track lightly. Afterwards, the tape finishes strong as a showcase of Cole’s variety. “2Face” is another great, autobiographical track where Cole unflinchingly makes himself vulnerable but further qualifies himself as an artist. “Cost Me A Lot” has the theme we expect from rap songs, but Cole does it skillfully like a true artist. In the chorus he states how materials can be as dangerous as drugs when you're an artist like him suddenly making money; because even though he doesn’t love the clothes, accessories, etc… he buys, he aknowledges he's, “in love with the feelings they bring". A few tracks later, “Home For the Holidays” marks the lightest point in the mixtape, but that doesn’t keep J. Cole from laying out his verses in the most honest and insightful fashion. Basically, what I'm trying to say is this kid absolutely kills it and never lets up. Don’t be shocked if by the end of the tape you have to play it again to make sure it wasn’t all a dream. I had to do it three or four times and I’m not even sure if that’s accurate because I’m pretty sure I must’ve passed out from disbelief at least a handful of times.
Check this mixtape out if you haven’t already. Download Friday Night Lights for free off J. Cole's official site http://www.jcolemusic.com/news/download-friday-night-lights and prepare yourself as 2011 continues to foster talent like Cole’s.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

MySpace: what worked and didn't work- artists' perspectives

Nancy Baym posted this blog entry where she summarizes the advantages and pitfalls of MySpace as a musician's networking tool. Some of the highlights:
  • MySpace reinvented the musician/audience connection
  • Social networking's "friend" counts in some ways replaced SoundScan
  • MySpace's clunky interface = musician participation killer
  • The race and class stigma associated with MySpace deters audience participation
Does MySpace have a future for music?

Friday, January 14, 2011

At the Edge of Urban Identity: Ozomatli with Josh Kun at TEDxSF

The motto of multi-racial Los Angeles band Ozomatli used to be "We take you around the world by taking you around L.A." In this November 2010 TEDxSF session hosted and narrated by Josh Kun, the band mixed story and sound to explore musical identities in a global age defined by extremes of scarcity and abundance, from the streets of L.A. to the orphanages of Nepal and Burma to the levees of New Orleans. Can music preserve traditions while inventing new ones, heal wounds while imagining new spaces of hope? This revelatory performance delivers joyous answers.

It Might As Well Be Spring: Margaret Whiting 1924-2011

A worthy appraisal by the NYT's Stephen Holden

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Lessons to be Learned From Music Predictions

At the end of 2010, Mashable.com contributor Brenna Ehrlich created 5 predictions for the Music Industry in 2011. While her post takes on a cynical – albeit merited – stance on the future state of music, it is refreshing not to hear more posts from people riddled with angst about the profitable music industry of yesteryear (looking at you NPR). By looking into Ehrlich’s foresight with an inquisitive eye and not simply ones filled with hopeless tears, we might be able to come a bit closer to finding the industry savior we have all been waiting for.

Prediction #1 – Subscription services will be popular, but not profitable.

I completely agree. Spotify lost close to $27 million last year and old timers like last.fm still have yet to show a profit. Why is this? I think it is simple – the intimacy of an album is lost when it is simple to stream. Moreover, it treats music as a cheap commodity, not an art form but a service that you pay for, an endless sampler plate with no option to take home. Subscription services rely on the belief that people will pay for something they do not – and will never – own.

Prediction #2 – More artists will finally get social

This one does not even need discussing. If my grandmother is on Facebook, so should everyone trying to crack that Billboard chart. Frankly, I think it is easier for the artist and turns some profit in the long run (here’s to Kanye making his joining of Twitter a worldwide phenomenon). Artists need to see the web as a way to act independently of the labels and their now-dated protocol. Get involved and interact with fans and other artists in a way that was not possible before.

Prediction #3 – Music Videos will continue their renaissance online

It’s the only place we can watch music videos anyway.

Prediction #4 – Ping will never take off, never.

I don’t know enough about Ping to agree or disagree. Which probably proves that Ehrlich is right.

Prediction #5 – Music piracy will not die.

You know what they say for addicts: admitting you have a problem is the first step. So let’s be real; this is the paradox we call reality. No slight change will cure this; it will take a rather hefty makeover to create system that everyone is okay with. So let’s dry our tears and look into these predictions as well as our own personal beefs with music's current affairs. Then let's dissect what isn’t working and try to get ourselves to a place where the words “music” and “industry” in juxtaposition did not incite immediate eye rolls and headaches.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Simple Times: TV, Pete Seeger & Judy Collins - 1966

Long ago and faraway, people sat in front of a TV camera, sang an acapella song, and called it entertainment. It's not so terrible.