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Soundcheck: Rock The Bells Recap

Guerilla Union kicked off their 9th Annual ˜Rock The Bells’ Festival in San Bernardino, Calif.  The two-day event attracted thousands of hip-hop fans to three stages featuring an eclectic mix of headliners, up-and-comers, and old-school favorites.  The blistering heat was no match for the scorching set-list that included Kendrick Lamar, Tyga, Nas, Ice Cube, and Common among others.

Photo by: Ashton Bowles

The first day of the festival was a real scorcher, with temperatures reaching 101 degrees, leaving fans clamoring for shade between sets. Still, 2Chainz’ mid-day performance on the 36 Chambers stage was packed.  Fresh off his No. 1 album debut last week, he treated the crowd to dance lessons during his high-energy set; where he performed hits like Mercy, Beez In The Trap, and No Lie.
Yelawolf was the next emcee to grace the stage and was backed up by Psycho White collaborator, Travis Barker on the drums.  The Detroit-based rapper rocked an American flag under his hat and waved middle fingers to the crowd throughout his 30-minute set.
Tyga rocked his noticeably young crowd with a medley of radio hits; showing off his tattoo collection to throngs of screaming girls.  Across the lot, Common delivered a power-packed performance of classic hits including, I Used To Love Her, Testify, and Be.  Dressed casually in shorts and a T-shirt, his subdued set was a welcomed relief from the more eccentric offerings of the day.

Soundcheck: Return Of The Female Emcee?

Last week, the music industry lost a female veteran when Ms. Melodie of Boogie Down Productions died on Wednesday. Her 1989 release Diva made her one of the first emcees to spit alongside the heavy-hitting male rappers of the day, like ex-husband KRS-One.

The loss made me reflect on today’s female rappers, and the position they hold in the hip-hop world. Aside from Nicki Minaj, it seems that female rappers have all but disappeared from the mainstream landscape over the past few years.

But times may be changing. The days of Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown may be over, but a slew of new spitters have been staging some serious attacks, and a few familiar faces are poised to return, ready to make a big impact on the rap game.

Eve recently announced plans to release her oft-delayed project Lip Lock this fall. It will be her first album since Eve-Olution hit the streets 10 years ago. If things go her way, the former Ruff Ryder will be rocking radio waves again, showcasing her sick rhyming skills and ever-present ability to get a party started with her sexy but scathing style. She recently made her first-ever appearance at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans and received a warm welcome from legions of loyal fans who can’t wait for her return to the mic.  (more…)

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Soundcheck: Summer Jams 2011 – Pitbull Kicks Off This Summer’s Hottest Releases

Summer has finally arrived and as the temperature heats up, so do the hot tracks from some of hip hop’s most sizzling stars.

Pitbull drops his sixth album, Planet Pit today.  The hit-maker affectionately known as Mr. Worldwide has already scored two scorchers off the album,  Hey Baby featuring T-Pain debuted at Number 7 last year and his current smash, Give Me Everything featuring Ne-Yo is holding strong at the Number 2 spot.  Not to mention, his guest spot on  J.Lo’s, On The Floor helped make it a national club anthem.

Planet Pit is a twelve-track treat that boasts an impressive all-star line-up of  music’s VIP’s including Jamie Foxx, Chris Brown, Marc Anthony and Enrique Iglesias. Kelly Rowland makes a cool cameo in Castle Made of Sand and the Sean Paul featured, Shake Senora is a personal favorite of mine.  Production credits are just as impressive, with tracks from David Guetta, Red One and Benny Blanco to name a few. The eclectic guest list makes for a dynamic album that’s sure to be heating up dance floors across the globe this summer.

Jill Scott drops Light Of The Sun today, which features the super fun dance track Shame with Eve and The A Group. The album is a beautiful compilation of strong, introspective lyrics from a noticeable renewed Scott.  Not exactly a club banger, but definitely an album to get you through those summer nights.

Big Sean is finally ready to drop Finally Famous next week.  The highly-anticipated debut from Kanye‘s protégé comes on the heels of last week’s release of his I Do It video.  Touted by industry insiders as the one to watch, it’s finally time for Big Sean to prove what all the fuss is about.  Earlier this month, West told the crowd at Sean’s listening party his plans for the newbie. I believe Sean’s story is one of the most amazing ever, ’cause he literally got signed off a freestyle. To now, and I say it all the time, having the potential to be one of the biggest artists in the world. I feel like he can be like what Beyoncé is to R&B, that he can be that to rap music.

While the bar is set high for the Detroit rapper, the sixteen-song tracklist indicates a promising showing.  The album features guest appearances from an eclectic group of hip hop heavyweights Dwele, Pharell, The Dream, Chris Brown, Rick Ross, Pusha T, John Legend, Wiz Khalifa and Lupe Fiasco. The infamous Chicago producer and Kanye-mentor, No. I.D. produced most of the album, giving him even more of a winning edge. Looks like this summer might be the beginning of something big.

Beyoncé is set to drop 4 next week, and despite early leaks and less than stellar single performance, I’m guessing Bey will still make a splash this summer.  Her first single, Girls didn’t immediately catch on with radio fans, but resonated as a female anthem that will go down in history as helping Oprah Winfrey say goodbye. Her performance of the single on this year’s Billboard Awards is one of her best ever. Now, her latest single, Best Thing I Never Had is creeping up the charts and given time, is sure to come out on top.  The album’s Internet leak a few weeks back was just a minor hiccup for the seasoned superstar, who snuck in some seriously sizzling dance tracks that will certainly be powering clubs all summer long.

Soundcheck: Don't Call It A Comeback

While there’s always one or two artists trying to get back into the limelight each year, frantically attempting to revive their once vibrant careers; few succeed.  This year, however, the hip hop scene is flooded with one-time favorites who seem poised for positive reception.  Check out the list of this year’s biggest, weirdest and most exciting comebacks, as well as some old favorites we’ll be rooting for.

Nelly: After his 2008 release, Brass Knuckles failed to make a big splash, Nelly released his long-delayed album, 5.0 in November.  Singles, Just a Dream and Move That Body have been in heavy radio rotation for months, and his most recent release, Gone with Kelly Rowland is reminding everyone just how much they used to love the Midwest’s golden boy.

Bow Wow: At age 24, Bow Wow’s been at this game for years and enjoyed unparalleled success.  Now, he’s re-branded himself with a new look, new sound and new label, signing up with Young Money Records in August.    His single, Ain’t Thinkin’ Bout You  featuring Chris Brown is one of his best in years, and his upcoming release, Underrated promises to show us a new side of the one we’ve raised from a pup.

Eve: It has been nine years since Philly rapper, EVE released a solo project, but it looks like this just may be her year.  She is currently featured on singles with Jill Scott, Swiss Beatz and Alicia Keys, and recently told fans to keep an ear out for a “big record she recorded with fellow Ruff Ryder alum, Swiss, called Mama In The Kitchen. Fingers crossed for  a green-lit release date, we expect big things from her upcoming fourth album, Lip Lock.

Dr. Dre: After ten years of rumors and speculation, Dr. Dre made his triumphant return to the mic this year at The GRAMMY Awards.  While his album, Detox, still hasn’t hit store shelves, twosingles, Kush and I Need a Doctor have made notable radio impact.  While some are still skeptical, the label is promising a May release date for the long-awaited project.

R. Kelly: Kelly has been laying low since his 2007 child pornography trial, his viral video circulation and his ill-fated ˜Unfinished Business’ tour with Jay-Z put him on everyone’s sh*t list.  Now, the Chicago-based singer, (who was found not-guilty on all charges) will hit the road with Keyshia Cole for the Love Letter Tour, kicking off this summer.

Eminem: After his 2009 album Relapse failed to impress, many thought this one-time icon had seen his last days of glory.  The world was shocked when he released Recovery bringing him back to the forefront stronger than ever before, and making him the best-selling rapper of the year.  The Detroit emcee racked up ten GRAMMY nominations for the project, bringing home the award for Best Rap Album and Best Solo Rap Performance.  Now, he’s back on top and bringing some friends with him, including longtime friend and mentor, Dr. Dre, and newbie, Yelawolf.

Salt N Pepa: The ladies who put female rap on the map are ready to do it again, celebrating twenty-fve years since their debut, Hot, Cool & Viscious launched them to super-stardom with their Legends of Hip Hop Tour. The three lovely ladies lead a hip hop revival, joined by trailblazers like Whodini, Kurtis Blow, Doug E Fresh, Biz Markie, Naughty By Nature, MC Lyte, Big Daddy Kane, Kool Moe Dee and Slick Rick to name a few.

Chris Brown: Depite making headlines again for his ill-tempered antics, his album F.A.M.E. is certified gold and debuted at Number 1 on the charts. He kicked off his F.A.M.E. Tour in Australia last week to a crowd of adoring fans, and his singles, Deuces, Look At Me Now, and Yeah have been some of this year’s most successful songs.

Kelly Rowland: The former Destiny’s Child member is back to her R&B roots with her new, yet-to-be-titled album.  While she heated up dance tracks internationally with her last project, it failed to register stateside.  Now,  she’s climbing back up the charts with her Nelly collabo, Gone and her sexy single, Motivation featuring Lil Wayne.

Da Brat: Recently out of jail from a 2007 aggravated assault incident, Da Brat rose to fame in 1994 when her hit, Funkdafied made her the first-ever platinum-selling female rapper.  Nowshe’s back and hungry for a comeback, re-joing longtime friend and collaborator, Jermaine Dupri for her upcoming mixtape, due out Memorial Day weekend. She has already released three tracks, Racks featuring YC and Fab 5 Freddy featuring J.D. as well as a remix to Kanye’s All The Lights titled, Turnt Up featuring Dondria.

Lauryn Hill: After some impromptu appearances and rumors of a comeback swirling for months, Lauryn’s Coachella performance gave a big indication that she’s ready to return.  The former Fugee performed fan favorites including That Thing and “Ex-Factor, songs she had previously refused to perform anymore.  She seemed more like the grounded superstar of her Miseducation days than she has in years, and she hinted at a surprise that would shock fans.  Unless it’s a sixth child, we’re guessing she’ll be delivering news of a new album any day now.

Soundcheck: Britney & Barbie Kick Off Girl-Powered Season

It’s Barbie Bitch¦and Britney too. Last week, it was announced Nicki Minaj will join Britney Spears on The Femme Fatale Tour, kicking off in June. Neither of the fatal females are strangers to controversy, and somehow, we can’t take our eyes off them. Britney’s not dancing as much as she used to, and let’s be honest”no one goes to a Britney show for the vocal performances. On the other hand, Minaj is killing the competition with her unwavering ability to turn every show out. Her performances are more impressive than her tracks, delivering unprecedented consistency, a feat you’de have to see to believe. The unexpected pairing is a match made in It Girl heaven.

This is a winning combination for fans as well, with both ladies commanding a loyal legion of followers. I think they have more fans in common than they think (Femme Fatale and Pink Friday were highest on my personal wish list) and this tour will undoubtedly introduce die-hard Britney fans to Minaj’s hip hop stylings. On the other hand, Minaj is enough of a star to attract her own crowd, which may pack houses with more hip hop fans than Britney is used to. Let’s hope they don’t hate on the headliner for lip-synching.

All this talk of high-powered females got me in the mood for more. Luckily, it looks like some music’s loveliest ladies have some big plans for their female fans. Check it out:

Shame Jill Scott featuring Eve and The A Group: In the first track from her upcoming album, Light Of The Sun, Scott is feeling fun and frisky, delivery saucy lyrics about one of her favorite people; herself. I can stand on my own, I’m magnificent. I’m the queen on a throne, I’m magnificent. It’s a shame you’re missing out on me. Eve heats up the track, adding one more to her growing list of killer collabos by lending a sexy verse to the record. This won’t be the last of Eve’s sexy spitting”she’s set to drop her album, Lip Lock later this year.

S&M Rihanna featuring Britney Spears: Naughty meets naughtier when Britney joins Rihanna for a sexy remix of S&M. Spears, who rarely lends vocals to artists, loved the original track so much, she insisted on a makeover. In it, Spears give RiRi a run for her money with racy lyrics, Just one night full of sin, feel the pain on your skin¦the pain is my pleasure, and nothing could measure¦

Girl Beyoncé: We haven’t heard the song yet, but based on the photos circulating around the web, it looks like B is gearing up for a girl-power anthem to rival the success of Single Ladies. I’ve got a feeling she just might pull it off. Girl is reportedly the first single off her upcoming album, and the video features Mrs. Carter in some killer outfits, leading an army of ferocious women through a female-driven revolution.

Summer seems to be heating up with music’s hottest ladies.  Other sexy starlets poised to make a splash this summer are Jessie J, whose singles, “Price Tag” and ” Nobody’s Perfect” are racing up the charts, and Janet Jackson, who just added more dates to her unprecedented, Number Ones: Up Close and Personal Tour. She kicked off her tour last week, stunning crowds with an amazingly buff bod, and a set that made it hard to believe she ever left the stage.

Killer Collabos

The only thing more exciting than a new single from your favorite artist is a new single from two or three of your favorite artists. Whether the aim is to break a new artist with an established one, widen a fanbase or re-establish a prior claim to fame; good collaborations have a way of making fans feel like they lucked out. Check out some of the latest download-worthy duos.

Jay-Z and Kanye dropped “H.A.M.” today; the first single from their highly anticipated collaboration record, due out in March. The yet-to-be-titled project is sure to be a crowd pleaser, with two of the best rappers in the game on one album.

Chris Brown turned out two singles in one week, and seems to be back to the danceable ditties that made him a mainstay on the scene. Whether you like the kid or not, it’s hard to deny his talent, especially when he can’t seem to make anything but a hit.

Look At Me Now Chris Brown ft. Busta Rhymes & Lil Wayne:

On this track, Brown tries his hand at rapping alongside serious spitters, Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne. While this could be a risky move, he pulls it off to deliver an effortless verse complemented by the heavy-hitting emcees.

Where Do We Go From Here Chris Brown ft. Pitbull:

This club banger is certain to heat up the dance floor with Brown belting out the hook between Pitbull’s energizing, signature style. The trance-y beat makes it impossible to stand still.

Yep Dats Me Jamie Foxx ft. Ludacris & Soulja Boy:

This slightly surprising mash-up is one to dedicate to all your haters. The catchy hook is classic Soulja Boy, and Ludacris heats up the track in a tone reminiscent of his early days on the mic. While the majority of Foxx’s album is intended for the bedroom, this is one to bang in the streets.

Speechless Alicia Keys ft. Eve:

Alicia’s first post-baby ballad is produced by her hubby, Swizz Beatz and is pre-empted by her saying, I’m at a brand new time in my life, I got a brand new feeling. Eve gives a great performance that makes us even more eager for her album to drop later this year.

Buyou Keri Hilson ft. J. Cole:

Hilson’s latest LP, No Boys Allowed is clearly dedicated to the ladies, and this sassy track is tailored to the “fly girls getting money” who want the same from their men. Newcomer J. Cole is perfectly poised to win over the female market as he spits his appreciation for independent women, and urges them not to settle for broke boys.

That Good Snoop Dogg ft. Wiz Khalifa:

Ganja lovers rejoice”the self-proclaimed New Cheech & Chong are at it again, releasing the first-single from the soundtrack to their upcoming, untitled movie. The title refers to the potent weed strains these talented tokers have on hand, and is sure to become a new stoner anthem. Here’s to hoping Wiz stays out of trouble long enough to get through filming.

Keep the collabos coming.

Pop Goes Political

Following her record-breaking rack up of eight MTV VMA’s for her single “Bad Romance” and collaboration with Beyoncé on “Telephone,” Lady Gaga gave fans a taste of what’s to come when she belted out lyrics to her future single, “Born This Way” at the podium: “I’m beautiful in my way, because God makes no mistakes, I’m on the right track, baby I was born this way.” The reigning Queen of Pop was escorted by three discharged US soldiers to her big night, a move made to raise awareness for the repeal of the controversial Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy employed by the US armed forces. There’s no mistaking the pointed message of the song, but was it also a call to action to her fellow superstars?

The It Gets Better campaign, sponsored by the Trevor Project, has celebs rallying around the LGBT community, urging troubled teens to seek help and hope, not suicide.

Tyler Clementi

It comes at the heels of a national string of gay suicides, most recently Tyler Clementi, the 18-year-old Rutgers student who leapt to his death after his roommate used a webcam to film him having homosexual sex. Clementi’s suicide was the fourth time in four weeks that gay youth suicide made headlines, prompting big reactions from some serious stars.

Ellen DeGeneres, Cyndi Lauper, Wendy Williams, Aubrey O’Day, Ke$ha, Ashley Tisdale, Leanne Rimes, Jason Derulo, Joe Jonas, Jewel and Eve are just a few of the stars who have lent their time and their stories in personal video messages directed at teens struggling with their sexuality and its harsh repercussions. Also reportedly in the works is a special episode of hit show, Glee that will broach the subject of bullying and tolerance.

Cyndi Lauper's personal message. http://www.wegiveadamn.org/videos/

Rumors are swirling that Pink, this year’s recipient of the Ally For Equality Award at the Human Rights Campaign’s 14th annual National Dinner in Washington, DC, will actually marry a gay couple in her next video, Raise Your Glass.

With today being National Coming Out Day, it seems that finally, the art reflects the time and artists and fans are uniting to be heard.

By Cortney Wills

Cortney Wills is a pop culture journalist born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She has lived in LA, Chicago and NYC and enjoys all things entertainment.