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: 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 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, 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 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.