Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Frank Ocean Drops Def Jam Debut

One week after his groundbreaking admission that he is gay, Frank Ocean is making headlines for a different reason. HDD predicts he’ll move more than 125,000 copies of his Def Jam debut in its first week out based on digital album sales alone.  Thealbum, Channel Orange hits stores (sans Target) today.

Jermaine Dupri posted an open letter on his website last week,  When I saw the # that Frank Ocean is suppose to hit next week, I got extremely Happy, I said I need to get in my car and and listen to this album, by the time I got to Sweet Life I was even more happy, finally!! a RnB album that’s hip, without having the same 5 rappers on every song¦ I actually hope he hits 200k, for the sake of RnB, it’s in the worst position it’s ever been since I started making music, The Record company’s don’t believe in it, Radio won’t play it if it don’t have a rapper, and a majority of the artist that are labeled RnB, are confused and lost, so I repeat, I hope Ocean sells more than the 125k that he’s on pace for, maybe these executives u’ll wake the fuck up, or at least try to copy what he’s doing, like they always do, by the way, the end of Pyramids jammin like a mufucka.


Soundcheck: Who Will Occupy Hip-Hop?

Look around, and it’s starting to look more and more like the sixties than the new millennium. People are protesting about everything from the war, poverty, joblessness, race relations, civil rights, health care, abortion and education. The political and social blast from the past touches all aspects of daily life, but one component has yet to rise to the occasion.  Where’s the music? In the sixties, countless artists like Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye and The Beatles provided the soundtrack to a revolution. Who will be our hip hop heroes? At the moment, a handful of heavyweights have stepped in; carving out a road map for others to follow.  While some use the microphone to deliver a message, others are pushing their values in other ways. Lupe Fiasco:  Lupe was one of the first artists to get in on the Occupy Wall Street action, joining the protest in its first week.  He sparked national controversy with his comments about President Obama earlier this year (link to ˜Words I Never Said/lupe piece) and has continued to voice his concerns while empowering others to do the same. “We’re a society based on consumerism¦We blur our own lines between what we need and what we want, he said at the protest. “For me it’s about critical thinking and being critical about everything that’s going on around you.” Lupe has demanded the truth behind the 9/11 attacks for years, and adds it to his list of demands to the government. Millions of people have died behind that,” Lupe told We Are Change. “For the sake of what? For the price of what? What really happened to cause millions and millions of people to die? If it was just a terrorist attack, then so be it. Let that be known. Let that be out and vetted so the public can see it. And I think [the US] would get more support. I think you would get more support from Muslim countries if it was just a more open and honest kind of thing instead of this kind of cloudy, mysterious, behind-the-scenes kind of operation.”Lupe is one of the few emcees who have taken is gripes to the mic, releasing the politically-charged single, Words I Never Said on his latest album, Lasers. His powerful performance of the song at the 2011 BET Hip-Hop Awards (link to: BET AWARDS) made an even bigger impact with help of Erykah Badu.

Talib Kweli: Talib Kweli turned up at Occupy Wall Street after being invited by CitizenRadio, a politically-charged podcast by comic Jamie Kilstein and journalist Allison Kilkenny.  Kilstein prepped the crowd for Kweli’s appearance, noting “first cameras came to mock you, now they can’t fucking ignore you.”


Artists-In-Occupation: Musicians And #OccupyWallStreet

The tradition of protest music has a long, rich tradition in America. From nascent beginnings in the early twentieth century and the labor movement to the great civil rights protest songs of the ’60s to the ’70s anti-Vietnam singer-songwriters to today, it’s an integral part of the story of rock ‘n’ roll. Whenever some perceived injustice becomes large enough, you know there’s going to be performers involved to lead the rallying cry.

Don’t you know they’re talkin’ bout a revolution/ It sounds like a whisper.” Well, not quite a whisper, Tracy Chapman. Sure, Chapman wasn’t writing this about the #OccupyWallStreet movement or the subsequent protests when “Talkin Bout A Revolution” was released back in ’88. But that song and her words ring more true now then they have in a long time.

Now this isn’t going to be some partisan treatise on the pros and cons of the movement”we’ll save that for the wonky policy blogs. However, as the Occupy protests continue on into their fifth week, they have begun to draw in disparate segments from all across the pop culture spectrum. We’ve had conservative bloggers investigating/instigating in the fray, Gossip Girl alums hoisting cardboard signs and familiar Hollywood faces of varying loveliness. Oh, and Giraldo Rivera. More importantly, we’ve had a couple of good, old fashioned protest-music moments. And no, we don’t mean that guy with the acoustic doing Pete Seeger covers, though that guy is pretty cool.

It’s unknown what inspired Jeff Mangum of dormant folk group Neutral Milk Hotel to perform for the protesters on Wall Street. The notoriously retiring frontman has been making public appearances with increasing frequency in the past couple of months, playing sold out shows in east coast locales with tickets selling at near unaffordable prices. So, while you might not have been able to catch the reclusive Mangum in a solo set at some tiny club, if you were in downtown Manhattan on October 4th and happened to be a fan of collegiate indie rock, then you were in for a real treat. The best part? The tech savvy protests streamed the entire impromptu event as it happened on livestream, turning a cool moment into a viral thing.

“Of course I support [Occupy Wall Street],” Mangum said after his performance. “This is just something small that I can do.” Aw, what a guy!


Soundcheck: Chris Brown – The Cost Of F.A.M.E.

Chris Brown‘s temper has made headlines again, this time, on the heels of his latest full-length release, F.A.M.E. The freshly-tatted, newly blonde, Brown destroyed his dressing room, threw a chair through a window and stormed out of the Good Morning America offices after he was offended by host, Robin Roberts‘ questions related to his 2009 attack on Rihanna. The following day, Brown apologized to the public and blamed GMA for exploiting him.

Once again, fans are puzzled, critics are swarming and famous friends are rushing to Brown’s defense, including Russell Simmons, who urged the public to give Brown a break. “I know how good of a young man he is. He’s having the same type of struggles that all those other Disney kids have and all the other people who have instant fame… and because of that one regretful incident, no one will give him a break.”

I can sympathize with the idea. I’m one of the few who still considers Lindsay Lohan a victim of her celebrity.

Imagine for a moment, being a sixteen-year-old boss. You pay your team to cover your mistakes. You pay your parents. No’s turn to yes’s instantaneously and before you know it, you’re a kid in control”which is exactly the same as a kid out of control. When you turn 18, you’re technically an adult, but one who hasn’t had any boundaries or consequences for years; and are suddenly expected to be accountable for your actions. Without the structure and discipline others take for granted, you are ill-equipped to deal with real life, having never experienced it before. And to top it all off, any and all mistakes you make along the way will be broadcast for the entire world to judge, turning your hardships into water-cooler banter for strangers. Does fame at an early age come at a cost? Of course it does.

My issues with Chris Brown are a bit more complicated than that. My frustration now is the same as it was then. Where’s the true remorse? The true accountability? Where is the acknowledgment of the severity of his indiscretions? Brown’s latest stunt only proved that he hasn’t learned his lesson. His half-hearted apology was followed by more blame-shifting. He was bullied. He was frustrated. He was just letting off steam. Once again, Brown has trivialized a very serious incident. He skipped a national performance. He damaged private property, behaved aggressively towards bystanders and likely violated his probation. He didn’t like what he heard from a woman, and he had an aggressive, violent temper tantrum. Again.

Fame does have a cost, and that cost is accountability. It’s the one thing Brown can’t seem to grasp. What’s even more hard to swallow is his sense of entitlement. He went on a talk show to promote the album he wants so badly to succeed. To show us what he’s been up to since the last time he made headlines, and to move us past it. In an interview, people are asked questions, and Robin’s was a fair one. She wasn’t drudging up a decades old skeleton in the closet. She was asking about a relevant subject. Brown’s beatdown was one of the biggest stories of 2009 and is newsworthy again because of his new release and because Rihanna’s restraining order against him was recently relaxed.

You’re famous, Chris. You beat up one of the most famous females in the world. It was two years ago, not ten years ago. To expect the public to move on and give you another chance is a fair request. To ask us to erase it from memory and never speak of it again is absurd. If you’re truly sorry, you have to own it. If you want back in, you have to own it. If you want us to believe you care about anything but your wallet¦you have to own it.

This was the problem before, and last week’s GMA performance only reiterated it. That’s not really a big deal to me anymore, as Chris so delicately put it, is precisely the problem. You didn’t think it was a big deal then, because you didn’t have to pay the same price as everyone else.  The consequences were not real. Had you been contemplating your actions in a jail cell for the last two years, you may have taken a more humble approach to get back into the public’s good graces.

Instead, Brown leads with arrogance. He’s clearly convinced that he’s the exception. He’s likely decided that he knows better than his advisers, better than the critics and better than his publicist, who abruptly resigned last week. His approach is counter-productive. One week after he releases his best album to date”I’m not writing about the music. I’m writing about the drama, about the beating, about another transgression. As a troubled Brown fan, my back is against the wall. Every time I want to move on and focus on the music, he reminds me that his problems are too big to ignore.

But Chris probably won’t change.  His bad behavior will again be rewarded.  As he so proudly reminds us in his current hit, “Look At Me Now”: “I get what you make in ten years in two days.” Controversy sells records and at press time, F.A.M.E. is poised for next week’s Number 1 spot. In the meantime the public, (myself reluctantly included) will be tuning in to ABC tonight to watch Chris redeem himself on his Dancing With The Stars performance. And the cycle continues…

New Kids On The Block: Willow Smith and Diggy Simmons

Move over Bieber¦there’s a new batch of fresh-faced, super-kids coming for your crown, and they’re packing some serious street cred.

In addition to breakout internet stars like The Astronomical Kid (14-year-old Brooklynite Brian Bradley), two other youngsters are taking the music industry by storm: Willow Smith (the 9-year-old daughter of Will and Jada Smith) and Daniel “Diggy” Simmons (the 15-year-old son of Rev Run).  Though it’s hard to ignore the argument of nepotism with regard to Willow and Diggy’s meteoric rise to fame, there’s no question they are capitalizing on their genetic gifts and tenacious talent to launch their solo careers at an age when most kids are still thinking about a driver’s permit, or in Willow’s case, riding the big rides.

While young starlets are not a new trend”(think Miley Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan, Hilary Duff, Selena Gomez) both Willow and Diggy have bypassed the typical Disney-tinged, tween idol approach and gone straight to the big leagues. Neither of their singles, Diggy’s “Oh Yeah” with labelmate Lupe Fiasco and Pharrell or Willow’s “Whip My Hair” scream teeny bopper kid” pop. Instead, both hold court with the hottest hits on the pop charts, giving their older counterparts a run for their money (and likely an award or two).

Diggy signed with Atlantic Records in March of this year after his debut mixtape, The First Flight, hit his blog in December 2009, garnering critical acclaim most notably for freestyling over Nas’ track “Made You Look.”


He also inked a deal to rep AT&T in a national TV ad campaign, proving his star power is strong enough to hawk expensive PDA’s to adults rather than lunchboxes and notebooks to kids. Diggy’s latest mixtape, Airborne, released through Atlantic in September seems to serve as a tasty teaser while he continues working on his debut full length album.

But Diggy was well known to the American public before his recent success. The budding rapper, designer, blogger and entrepreneur first arrived in our living rooms at tender age of 10 when his family’s hit reality show, Run’s House, aired on MTV in 2005. It’s not a stretch to see the musical prodigy (progeny) exploring a career in music considering his dad is legendary DJ, Rev. Run of Run DMC and his uncle Russell, heads up Def Jam”though Diggy claims no help from his dad or uncle in getting the deal with Atlantic.  Diggy’s siblings including brother Jo Jo and older sisters, Angela and Vanes (from Rev. Run’s first marriage to Valerie Vaughn) also carved their own careers from the success of the show”launching, in Jo Jo’s case, a music career, while the sisters opted to start a shoe line, acting roles and star in their own MTV spin-off, Daddy’s Girls.

Willow Smith, on the other hand has been in the public eye seemingly from infancy, both as a style icon and as the daughter of  one of the most compelling couples in Hollywood. Willow began her acting career at age 8 alongside mom, Jada Pinkett-Smith in Madagascar 2 before showing off her musical talents with her simultaneously kid-friendly and adult smash single, “Whip My Hair.”  Shortly after the single was leaked online in September, Willow signed with Roc Nation where label President, Jay-Z compared her to a young Michael Jackson.  The single has been so successful legions of young fans (and adults too) began making their own videos to the addictive tune. Willow’s official video for the track, which was directed by Ray Kay (Beyoncé, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga) and debuted on BET earlier this week, features some serious moves, guest appearances and one messy paint fight.

Rumors of a duet between Diggy and Willow seem inevitable. For the moment, we’ll just have to enjoy their musical (and marketing) genius individually.

Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair”

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.