Powerhouse vocalist Cheesa first came into our homes on last season’s The Voice. The Honolulu native swept Cee Lo off his feet at her blind audition with her rich and soulful voice. He gushed, “You could go on from here to be everything you were meant to be.” Now at 22, Cheesa has released her debut album Naked via her own independent label. It’s reminiscent of 90’s R&B/Pop vocalists like Mariah Carey and Brandy, and features catchy hooks and sweeping melodies bolstered by vibrant, unflappable beats. Her journey to entrepreneurship and the music industry was by no means an easy one. Her family was plagued by financial hardships, converting their home into an elder care facility and moving themselves into the garage to pay their mortgage. Despite her parent’s initial hesitancy and the strong Filipino traditions which pointed to a more traditional career, Cheesa’s family moved from Hawaii to Los Angeles for her to pursue a career in music. We recently caught up with her to chat about the new album and her newfound exposure.
1. You’re just back from a stint doing shows and press in Hawaii, where you’re originally from. What’s your favorite activity or food spot to hit up when you go back home?
There’s so many things that you can do and so many things that you should eat. But my favorite, and I think a lot of locals can agree, is Kahuku shrimp. You can either go to Romy’s or Giavonni’s shrimp truck. And you also have to hit up THE BEST - Masumoto’s Shaved Ice. What I like to do is go to the beach. It’s quite as simple as that.
2. How old were you when your family moved to LA? What was that transition like for you?
I just turned 16 about 2 weeks before we moved to LA. It was such a culture shock. I went to an all girls Catholic school in Hawaii, so to go to a coed public school [in LA]...I think I had way too much freedom. I kind of wilded out. It’s definitely difficult to adapt.
3. What is The Assembly?
The Assembly is the production company that I’m in. One day we just decided let’s do it; let’s produce songs, make albums, and just go full force with it. We never thought that it would become this serious, so for us to produce a full-length album is really surreal. [It’s] gratifying that we have everything on iTunes and people from around the world are appreciating the music that we put out there.
4. What is your creative experience like? Where do you find the balance within The Assembly, as far as who writes, who mixes, produces, etc?
It’s a very collaborative effort and everybody has their certain niche. I think we mesh well together because everybody has a specific role.
5. You mentioned your brother, Troy who is also a musician and music director, and has toured with the likes of Demi Lovato , David Archuleta, and Cherice (aka Sunshine Corazon from Glee). Is music something that your parents impressed upon you two growing up?
It was something we were introduced to by my dad who also sang when he was young, but it was never really an option to be a career choice. Because my dad sacrificed a lot for us, he was more expecting us to be in the medical field or in law, something more stable, and, from his standpoint, more realistic. He never really wanted to see us struggle because he knew how hard it was to struggle in his own life, living in the Philippines. But after a lot of convincing he agreed to move to LA so we could pursue music.
6. Being from a close-knit Filipino family, did your parents have a reaction to your rather provocative album cover?
[Laughs] I remember the day after we got it, I remember thinking this is really controversial and I was really scared to show my mom. But surprisingly the one that we thought was going to be more mad about it was the one who was more accepting. My dad was like, she’s not really showing anything.
7. Was there a moment or battle for you on The Voice that was particularly challenging?
It was my first time ever doing things on my own. My brother and I have been performing for quite some time as a duo. And as I was in a competition show, social media is such a big outlet for people to express themselves. It’s an open forum for people to talk negatively and positively, and it was my first time seeing all these comments. I don’t think anyone can mentally prepare themselves for that, so that was a big challenge for me. It was like a flashback to times in my childhood where I was bullied, so it was definitely challenging. It actually led to one of the songs on the album “I’m Not Perfect.” I want to inspire people to accept themselves and love themselves despite all the flaws and insecurities. You’re still beautiful.
8. Your single “Crash Boom” (my personal favorite) features Jamar Rogers from your season on The Voice. Are you still in contact with a lot of your teammates/ Cee Lo?
I just recently watched Cee Lo’s show in Vegas, Loberace. Great show! And I do keep in contact with a lot of people, Anthony Evans, Jamar obviously...we become so close being on the show. I’ve gained a lot of good friends from being on that show.
9. Where does the album title, Naked come from?
Naked was not meant to be that controversial. For me Naked meant stripping out the outside layers and the perception that people had of me. It was being able to use this album as a therapeutic journey to reveal my soft side. It was to inspire women, most importantly young girls, because society shows that women should look thin when really all sizes, all shapes, all colors should be accepted. Thats what I wanted the album to be about - for people to accept who they are and not be afraid to show it.
10. How has the post The Voice experience been for you?
I love the show. It gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of great people, Cee Lo and all the other great coaches and it opened doors for me. I would have never gotten the opportunities that I get now to travel around the world and sing, to be interviewed by people like you. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity and now I get to live out my dream.
For more of Cheesa be sure to catch her upcoming summer promo tour on both on the west coast and in Asia. More details to follow on her websites.
I never had a problem disliking Taylor Swift because she was always “Country.” They say that Country music is the most popular genre. Now I don’t know who “they” are, but I’m pretty sure they’re the same liars that tell us that kale is delicious, and we probably want to eat it in chip form now too. Way to ruin chips. But then, Taylor Swift had to get all mainstream on us, and the earth shifted on its axis. Now whenever I hear “I Knew You Were Trouble” on the radio, I begrudgingly have to stop. Why? Because it is just so damn catchy and innocuous. Taylor doesn’t even sing. She talks her way through this entire number, and somehow I'm not even bothered by that. I mean she is faking it Rebecca Black-style, and yet, I’ll still “Ooo” along. Damn her.
Tegan and Sara is the musical equivalent of driving through the pouring rain in an old Volvo station-wagon. Its crass, depressing, filled with teenage angst - and yet despite all that - provides you with a small ounce of fun. The sisterly duo, however, has recently put their trademark sound through the ringer. But it came out the other side drenched in an undeniable pop-synth sheath that can get you through even the worst day at work.
Robyn certainly has gone through a transformation over the last 15 years, but it is hard to forget her late ‘90s Show Me Love phase. Seventh-grade me was way too cool for that brand of generic pop. That said, I do have to give it to her. No song better travels from the club dance floor, to your own bedroom dance party in nothing but undies and a bra, better than Dancing on My Own. Lena Dunham got one thing right when they featured the song on HBO’s Girls episode 3. Bad mood, good mood - sometimes girls just wanna dance with their best friends.
Its Whitney, B*%ch. Unwieldy hair. Giant bows. Saxophone interlude. An incomparable voice. Cheesy lyrics. It’s terrible and amazing, all at the same time. I’ll dance to it anytime.
No one quite does a sappy ballad like Seal. If there was one song that was played to death throughout my adolescence, and can remind me that no one wanted to dance with me in middle school, it was this one. I get misty every time. But then again, who doesn’t love a good, cathartic cry...
Speaking of crying, that b*%ch Sia haunts my dreams with this tearjerker. With its sweeping strings and driving piano melancholia, when I listen to Breathe Me, I cry until I don’t even know what I’m crying for. She’s gone a little pop-y these days, but before Sia was writing hooks for Ne-Yo, she ripped our hearts out with this track. Don’t get me wrong here, I am in no way ashamed of my love for Sia - just don’t tell anyone how weepy I get at the song’s crashing crescendo, okay?
With an eclectic style that won’t be tamed, Dezi Paige explores a range of musical styles in her debut, the recently released, Tall Tales. Paige was born to the into a Psychedelic Rock family; she is the daughter of David Getz, the drummer of Big Brother and the Holding Company, where Janis Joplin cut her teeth. With a best friend kind of ease about her, Paige shared with me how her father’s early influence and her world travel have informed her musical styles. I recently spoke with this up-and-coming Rock/Soul artist and asked her 10 questions about her life and her music:
1. What’s in heavy rotation on your iPod right now?
One of my favorites is Tame Impala, Lonersims. Jack White. Ty Segall, with his Twins album. I am loving Beach House. My friend India Shawn released an EP called Origins and my friend Rich King is an amazing artist out here in LA and he released an EP.
2. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a small town called Fairfax [California], which is in west Marin County. It’s this funky little hippy-dippy town. It’s really special.
3. Your dad famously drummed for the psychedelic rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company, which also featured an up-and-coming Janis Joplin. Do you find a lot of your influences come from your Dad? Or are you musically spurred by other artists that you might have grown up listening to?
That’s a great question. I think I naturally was influenced by Janis and Big Brother and the Holding Company. [My father] also started me early on The Beatles. Big Brother was probably one of my very very musical first influences. I heard the music from Cheap Thrills like Piece of My Heart, Down on Me, and all those other classic Big Brother songs, so many times just tagging along to these shows when I was little had a big influence on me. That early psychedelic rock.
4. You have this one interlude track on your mix-tape called Beginnings. It’s a clip of a little girl, maybe five years old, which I assume is you, recording with her father. Can you tell me about your first experiences playing music?
Yeah (laughs)! Yeah that’s me, you’re right. Its actually funny, I didn’t realize a lot of people would not realize it was me. I thought it was so obvious. I’m glad you got it. My memories are kind of blurry, but I guess that’s when you could say a started writing and singing. You know, I was like six years old. I would go to the downstairs of our house, that’s where my dad had all his instruments and recording equipment. I remember putting on these big ol’ headphones and sitting there and just kind of singing freestyle -- a stream of thought thing. And he still has all of it.
5. Now I read that you went to UCLA. I’m just going to lay it out there - I’m a USC Trojan, along with many of the other Made Woman ladies. So I’m just going to call a universal truce. But in all seriousness, can you talk a little bit about your time in school - were you a music major? How did you find your college experiences influenced your progression as an artist?
Funny enough I was not a music major, I was a dance major. I was accepted to the World Arts and Culture program at UCLA.
I find inspiration from all forms of art. Especially because I’ve been a performing arts person my whole life. Dance, acting, music, it’s all related to me. It definitely influenced my music. I came back into music about halfway through college. It’s hard to pinpoint and describe but college is definitely a character builder. The amazing thing that I really appreciate I got to do through this program is to go to Senegal to study dance and language there. All these things, you may not realize what it means at the time but there’s a power in it, definitely, it all is influential and inspirational.
6. The name of your debut album is Tall Tales. What does Tall Tales mean to you?
Well, Tall Tales (The Sky is Falling) is the name of one of the songs on the project. It probably is my favorite. That song really meant a lot to me and it embodied a theme that is a thread throughout the project. Tall tales a are mythical stories. They’re lies, but they contain an element of truth in them. I wrote it after I had been in a situation that left me heartbroken. Looking back on love, and the innocence with which you look at love at certain points in your life, and then having that - those dreams - crushed for you. There’s an element of truth sometimes, but it’s not what you thought it was.
7. You have a lot of musical influences on the album and you tread a lot of cover material in your mix-tape as well (Bob Marley, Coldplay). What genre do you find the most fun to perform?
I love all genres and that’s why my project is eclectic, like you said. I love mixing them all. Different styles of music speak to you at different times in your life, different days of your life and that’s why it’s so beautiful. Last year I was in a really rock n’ roll state of mind. That was what really got me going.
8. There is a lot of pigeon holing in the music business, for women especially. You know, “She’s a Britney type,”or an “Alicia Keys type,” or “A Beyonce”, etc, What do you think is important for women to do in order to set themselves apart in the business?
I think for women, it goes for men as well, to set yourself apart think about what do you have to say. What is your voice? What is your contribution? Be authentic. Be honest. I think that will always set you apart. I think there's still too much in the industry of chasing current musical trends when, in my mind, what has always won and stood the test of time throughout the history of music, is an authentic voice.
9. You’ve worked with some great artists already in a relatively young career - JR Hutson produced Tall Tales, you’ve worked with Frank Ocean who just had a huge year with his Grammy noms - Who would be a dream collaboration for you?
As far as producers go, for a long time I’ve really wanted to work with Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson, and also Dangermouse. Greg Kurston. He worked on The Shins last project and does a lot of indie and pop/rock stuff. A dream collaboration would also be Stevie Wonder. He is my idol.
10. Should we keep an eye out for any upcoming shows or tour plans?
I am currently organizing a show, that has been long delayed, for the end of March in Los Angeles. I’ll be posting details on all of my social media sites.
There's a certain amount of audacity required to call yourself a Made Woman. To us, a Made Woman evokes the idea of a boss, an independent thinker, a woman who doesn't take too much BS. If you ask friend of Made Woman Mag, DJ No Req, she's also a bit...gangster.
DJ No Req put together a 25-track, 55 minute live mix that represents his artistic interpretation of a Made Woman, which he entitled Goodladies. A moody, timely piece featuring tracks like HBO's Girls theme song by Santigold, Destiny's Child's Nuclear, Fiona Apple's Every Single Night, and throwbacks like Prince's If I Was Your Girlfriend, there's a little something for everybody. Hope you enjoy! Check out the full tracklist and listen below.
***Warning: as we did not wish to censor DJ No Req's artistic expression, some of what you'll hear may be NSFW.***
1) "MW Goodladies Intro"
2) Shlohmo -- "Laid Out"
3) Santigold -- "Girls
4) MIA -- "Bad Girls" Switch Remix
5) Ryan Hemsworth -- "Cold & Tempted" x Miguel -- "P***y is Mine" No Req Mix
6) Tinashe -- "Boss" Ryan Hemsworth Remix
7) Ryan Hemsworth -- "Late Nite Tip" Remix
8) The XX -- "Angels" Gianni Lee Remix
9) Rihanna -- "Numb"
10) Rihanna -- "Pour it up"
11) Katy B -- "Danger"
12) Tinashe -- "Reverie"
13) Aaliyah -- "Come over"
14) Aaliyah -- "Quit Hatin'" (Unreleased)
15) Outkast -- "Jazzy Belle"
16) Poliça -- "The Maker"
17) Jai Paul -- "Baby Beat"
18) Major Lazer -- "Get Free" x Trapzilla Remix
19) Poliça -- "Leading to Death"
20) Francis and the Lights -- "The Things I Would Do"
21) Justin Timberlake -- "Right for Me"
22) Prince -- "If I was Your Girlfriend"
23) Destiny's Child -- "Nuclear"
24) Fiona Apple -- "Every Single Night" Melo x Remix
25) Santigold -- "Girls Outro"
Thursday, January 10, 2013 started off like any other day. I woke up feeling a little under the weather, hit up 3 different stores looking for flavored coconut water in an attempt to hydrate, failed miserably at finding any at all (really, LA?), then arrived at work unable to find parking. This, my friends, is clearly the life.
As I rode the elevator up to my office, I asked myself if I should just throw in the towel and write Thursday off as a loss, because things were obviously not going to go my way. But then. THEN! I logged into Facebook, and saw a status update from Beyonce. I felt my mind slowly unhinge as I read the following simple, beautiful words: “The first original Destiny's Child music in eight years! Pre-order it at http://smarturl.it/dc_lovesongs_amzn“ I excitedly logged into Gchat to voice my excitement to anyone online that would listen, one of my friends retorted, “As if Justin Timberlake’s announcement about his new album wasn’t enough.” Wait, what? JUSTIN. TIMBERLAKE. NEW. MUSIC. ??? Clearly the universe is trying to give us all a collective heart attack. It’s almost too much to handle. Did Justin and the DC ladies get together and say let’s freak out the entire world today? OK everyone, why is this such a big deal? If you need any sort of reminder on how momentous this is, let’s recap:
From No, No, No to Bills, Bills, Bills, Destiny’s Child (Beyonce Knowles, Kelly Rowland, Michelle Williams, LeToya Luckett, LaTavia Robertson) proved they were awesome at repeating themselves and also dominating the airwaves. From the very beginning, Beyonce always stood out as the star, and after four albums and a string of hits, it didn’t really hit anyone as a major shock when the group disbanded in early 2001 to embark on solo projects. Michelle Williams achieved success in the gospel circuit, while Kelly Rowland had some hits domestically (most recently, “Motivation”) and achieved even greater success internationally. I don’t really need to say anything about Beyonce. We all know everything she’s been doing because her career skyrocketed and she became one of the biggest superstars in the entire universe, with incredible success in music, movies and everything else you could possibly succeed in. Fans of the group have longed for a reunion ever since they split up officially in 2004, but it didn’t seem in the cards up until very recently. There was a period when it seemed like the girls weren’t really close anymore, and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine some resentments between them. I mean, would you want to stand in Beyonce’s shadow? Yikes. However, the girls have been increasingly publicly friendly and supportive of each other the past few years.
With Beyonce planning her big return to the music scene following some time off to birth the next ruler of the world, aka Blue Ivy, with hubby, Jay-Z, and a hugely anticipated Super Bowl halftime performance in the works for February, this seems like the perfect time for a Destiny’s Child reunion. Their new single, Nuclear, leaked on Friday and that track plus a slew of their hits will be released into an album called Love Songs on January 29th. The single definitely has a 90’s vibe about it, and it’s a smooth sounding mid-tempo track that should make for a sexy, fun performance during the Super Bowl. So get your popcorn ready, the “writings on the wall” (sorry.) are telling me this sh*t is going to change your life. Or at least entertain you for a few minutes.
Much like Beyonce always stood out in Destiny’s Child, Justin Timberlake was arguably the spotlight hog in N’Sync. N’Sync had a crazily successful run, selling 50+ million albums together over the course of their career together. But in 2002 the band said Bye, Bye, Bye to each other (are we sensing a pattern here?) and Justin wasted no time getting to work on his solo material. Can you remember when his first solo single, “Like I Love You” hit the radio? I sure do. I was one of those girls who was so anti-boy band. Then I heard the track and grudgingly admitted to myself that I straight up loved it. His first album solo, Justified, was a huge success.
There was no denying that JT knew what he was doing, and his follow-up album, Future/Sex Love Sounds cemented him as a solo star sex god from the heavens. After touring to support the album, Justin, now at the absolute top of his solo career, did the only logical thing he could do at that point. He said, “f*&k this, I need to act now.” He announced his hiatus from music in 2004. Since then, he’s been in several movies and occasionally pops up in other people’s songs, but he has shown no interest in putting out his own material. In fact, the man always seemed rather annoyed when people would ask him about it. His claim that he just wasn’t ready or inspired enough was repeated so much that his fanbase couldn’t help but write off his return to music as a pipe dream. Which is why the short video he put on YouTube Thursday culminating with him standing at a mic saying, “I’m Ready,” then flashing to a countdown leading up to Sunday, 1/13 at 9PM PST was such a huge surprise. Maybe his marriage to Jessica Biel was the inspiration he needed to get back in the booth.
I logged onto Twitter at 9 on the dot last night and saw Justin share the link to his new song right on time. The song? Suit & Tie featuring none other than Jay-Z. The song doesn’t break any new ground for Justin; it’s the vintage JT/Timbaland combo we all know and love. Not mad at all at the premise -- what woman doesn’t like to get dressed up and go out with a guy in a fresh tux? Jay-Z blessing the track is the icing on the cake. Justin sent out an open letter to his fans with the song, saying he started creating what’s shaping up to be his next album, The 20/20 Experience, back in June, and he promises a “big 2013.” That’s all he’s sharing for now. I, for one, can’t wait to hear what else he’s got for us.
“You can’t wait for someone to deliver your dream.” These are the words of Dawn Richard, and judging from the chat I had with her yesterday, it’s safe to say it’s also her life’s motto. Since just 2005, we’ve watched in awe as the Nolia-bred powerhouse beat out thousands of contestants to secure her spot in the platinum-selling girl group Danity Kane, survived Hurricane Katrina, toured with Diddy himself as part of the super group Diddy Dirty Money, got “dropped” from Interscope (more on that later) and--without skipping a beat--went on to launch her solo career...without a major label. The average person might be exhausted just thinking about the energy that would take. But just this week, we’ve seen her extraordinary efforts validated as her new EP, Armor On debuted at #1 on the US iTunes R&B/Soul charts and her bossy new video, Bombs, has cyberspace buzzing.
I had the privilege of talking to the refreshingly gracious Miss Richard during what must be a whirlwind of a week, and I could just feel excited energy bubbling out of her. “This feels amazing. Out of all the number ones I’ve had, this feels the most rewarding because it’s my baby. It had no features and it was an EP--not even an album. These numbers confirmed everything the movement and the EP is about.”
The heavily conceptual Armor On EP serves as a prequel to Goldenheart, tentatively slated for Fall 2012. Goldenheart is the first of three full-length albums she plans to release over the next couple of years, and to her, Armor was a natural link from Last Train to Paris to the trilogy. “Everybody has watched me go through what I went through: Making the Band, Katrina, Danity Kane, Dirty Money...people have seen the ups and downs of it so I felt like I had to come from an honest place.”
A diehard literary fan, she fashioned this concept like she would a novel. Above all, she didn’t want it to retell a cliche love story. Armor On is a reflection of what she’s gone through in the industry, “How it’s affected me, how I fell in love with it, how it hurt me, and how I’ve armored myself.... Instead of wallowing in self pity, armor yourself and you don’t have to go through it alone.” As for the sound, she wanted to build a “moody, atmospheric, tribal” experience. And she attributes a large part of this musical landscape to Druski, the Grammy-nominated sole producer of the EP. “He’s so phenomenal--he’s a huge part of the EP, it’s really a collaborative effort. I would be like, ‘I’m thinking of a tribal cave party in 2055..go!’ and he’d come back and it would be exactly in my head how I dreamed it.” She expressed that so many producers are worried about making a “commercial” or “radio” record, but “there’s no limits between him and I.”
Growing up with musical influences like Phil Collins (“I’m a Phil Collins junkie!”), Prince, and Bjork, Dawn knew this wouldn’t be a “comfortable” sound. “We took a risk. People don’t hear R&B like this. But I thought, you know, I could be who everyone thought I was, or I could be who I really am.”
And although she’s spent the last few years constantly in the limelight, many of us still may not know much about who Dawn, the woman, really is. Born to a musical family, her father was also a musician and the director of her church choir, and her mother was a dancer who ran her own studio. It’s not surprising that she proudly credits her parents--who have been together 40+ years--for providing the foundation that has served as the launching pad for her success. “[Music] was always a part of my life.” Beyond the music, her mom appears to have instilled in Dawn the work ethic that has fueled her career. “My mother is a champion. She is beyond amazing. I watched my mother work, create a dancing company by herself while teaching... I watched her build up a life for herself and her family for 51 years, lose everything in Katrina and rebuild everything in another place, and do it all with grace. I wish I could be half the woman she is.” From where I’m sitting, it seems like she’s on the right track.
As a 20-something singer, her list of accomplishments is already long. Multiple number-one singles, platinum selling albums, an EP that has now charted in multiple countries... And let’s not forget being mentored by industry veteran and business mogul, Diddy. But as you might imagine, building a career with Mr. “Bitchassness” wasn’t all roses. “It’s like working with anyone who’s a great mind or who is brilliant. It’s difficult, it’s perfect, it’s abnormal, it’s stupid...all the time. Why would it be anything else when you’re dealing with someone who has an empire?” Still, she says “It was everything it needed it to be because it prepared me for now. I hated it then but I’m thankful for it now.”
Her feelings about her split with him and former label, Interscope Records, are positive as well. “I’m so grateful to Puff for allowing me to go pursue my dream.” She said that after it was clear the Diddy Dirty Money project wouldn’t be continuing on Interscope, there was a decision to make. “Just because I decide I’m a solo artist now doesn’t mean I’m next up [on the roster]. There are acts in the works and people who have been waiting for their spot.” When she spoke to her mentor and realized a new album might not happen for a couple of years, “Puff said, ‘I’m sure you want to come out before that.’ So I made a business decision to protect my brand. I prayed to God that he would let me go and [that he would] be the person everyone thinks he isn’t. But you can’t blame anyone for your own success--you have to go fight for it.” She parted ways with the label in 2011 and is proving to show signs of a solid solo career ahead of her.
So what’s next for the songstress? As far as major labels go, Dawn feels like the release of the EP has relieved some of the pressure. “Now the ball’s in our court. At first it was we need this, we need that. Now I feel we can be independent if we want. Right now I’m going to sit back and be a great artist, take the journey as it comes and just move a little bit easier now that we know the plan works. In these seven months I have a #1 EP with no features. It shows that Puff did his job as a mentor and i did my job as a student.” She’d love to collaborate with Florence and the Machine, J*DaVeY, fun. (“I’m loving the new record with Janelle Monae”) and The Weeknd in the future. But her “biggest dream of all” would be to work with Björk.
As for the future of her career, “Success looks like whatever your heart tells you it is. It’s not measured by how many records you sell or how much money you make. I just want to be happy. If God tells me I’m happy then that’s all I need.”
Check out Dawn working it out in the Bombs video below and preview/purchase her EP here.
"Numb" - Rihanna ft. Eminem -- This song is perfect to listen to while getting ready to go out. There's not much going on by way of lyrics (she says "I'm going numb" for most of the song), but this song is really just all about the vibe/beat. My only complaint is that Eminem's contribution isn't longer.
“Daylight” - Maroon 5 -- I love this track! It’s a great "get-you-in-the-mood" song for a romantic holiday season. Gotta listen to the tunes that remind me why this is the best time of the year.
"Super Rich Kids" - Frank Ocean -- Love the "Bennie and the Jets" nod and the low-key vibe. This selection is perfect to throw on during a late-night work session. I don't think it's possible to get tired of this one.
"Till Dawn (Here Comes The Sun)" - The Weeknd -- I'm a huge Weeknd fan and this is one of three new tracks on his big studio release of remastered tracks from old albums he put out on his own. He sings about being "the other guy" to a woman who comes to him whenever she fights with her boyfriend, and how he's waiting for the night that she's still in his arms when the sun comes up. This is his signature moody type of track, full of vulnerability and longing. And amazingness.
“Paradise” - Coldplay -- I know it's not brand new but it’s one of my faves. They are musical geniuses and the song totally pumps me up.
“I Want You” - Luke James -- This song has been out for a while but whenever I hear it on the radio I turn it up and sing along karaoke style. The soulfulness gets me every time. Gotta love hearing a guy hit those high notes with such clarity and strength. And the lyrics! I thought love songs were dead. Thank you Luke James.
“Miles” - Dawn Richard -- The varying tempos, poignant lyrics and her sultry voice make this song one of my new favorites. Plus I respect that her new EP, Whiteout, offers a fresh take on the traditional Christmas album. Dawn’s music always keeps me on my toes!
By its nature, hip hop music is particularly tricky to take mainstream without losing its true essence (i.e., “selling out”). In any genre, really, it takes a special artist to bridge that gap of “real” and “commercial.” But after hearing good kid, mA.A.d city--Kendrick Lamar’s major label debut--I can assure you that he’s more than up for the challenge.
I must admit that I’ve been a fan of Kendrick’s for a while, so I was heavily rooting for this album. But at the same time his latest EP, Section.80, veered a bit from the Overly Dedicated Kendrick Lamar that first had me looking at my car stereo with the “run that back” face. While his flow on Section 80 was still very “Kendrick,” some of the production and hooks had a more mainstream vibe, which had me thinking his new effort may follow suit, or even take it a step further. On the contrary.
On m.A.A.d, Kendrick continues a legacy of hip hop pioneers like NWA--I say this not only because Kendrick, too, is from Compton or because he’s signed to the label of one of its former members, Dr. Dre; but because Kendrick, like the others, serves as a reporter of sorts, painting a picture of an environment some people may have never been aware of. He delivers to your ear drums the state-of-affairs you don’t see on CNN.
What draws me to Kendrick Lamar’s music is that he’s not a gimmick. He doesn’t pretend to be a thug, he’s not a “conscious” rapper, he’s not crying about the strippers who don’t love him (I won’t mention any names). He's a human being that simply observes the life he's living and couples his brand of introspective storytelling with soulful, relevant production. In short, he has something that many artists today lack: a unique voice.
The lead single, “Swimming Pools (Drank),” is the type of song that gets you on first listen. As soon as the beat drops, you’re immediately lured into a moody world of well, Drank, as he skillfully manages to encompass a drinking anthem and a cautionary tale in one track. “Drank’s” drums and smooth delivery urge the listener to pop an imaginary bottle, while simultaneously questioning their motives for drinking in the first place.
This commentary leads directly into “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” where separate verses display the narratives of two of his friends whose lives have senselessly ended. Particularly poignant moments are when the first verse is abruptly cut short by gunshots and the second verse fades as the female subject claims repeatedly “I’ll never fade away.” Both--presumably young and caught up in street lifestyles--chillingly plead for Kendrick to tell their stories when they’re gone.
Honest lyrics and well-placed skits drive the album forward; and his subtle humor provides balance as he flows through some of the darker narratives. With religious themes throughout, Mr. Lamar takes you on a ride, from the vaguely Devin the Dude-esque “B*tch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” to the sample-heavy “Poetic Justice” featuring Drake, to bangers like “m.A.A.d city.” Jay Rock, Pharrell and Dr. Dre (surprise) make strategically-placed appearances that enhance rather than overwhelm. The end result? A showcase of a promising young rapper’s world. A social commentary that makes you chuckle, think, cry and question. A solid album that challenges as it entertains. I think that is the very essence of art, of hip hop. Between the packed show I was able to catch in Boston last month, and the impromptu concert last night that threw downtown LA into a frenzy, it’s safe to say I’m not the only one that thinks so.
Good kid, m.A.A.d city drops today. Have you given it a listen yet? Let us know your take in the comments below!
If you were born in the '80s, like me, chances are that No Doubt’s particular brand of “alternative” rock found its way into your heart at a very young age. Tunes like 1996’s Don’t Speak became our teenage anthems while simultaneously showing us that front women can rock out just like the boys. Through the years, Gwen Stefani herself has built a fashion empire and a pretty successful—albeit now defunct—solo career, among other things. Now eleven years since the last No Doubt album, their extended hiatus left us all wondering one thing: when do we get to hear some new music from the legendary band?
While I wish I could immediately sing their new album’s praises, I must admit that I wasn’t feeling either of the first two singles on first listen. The album opener, Settle Down, felt dated and trite, while the title track Push and Shove—with its Major Lazer and Busy Signal features—didn’t necessarily live up to my expectations of a Diplo-produced track. But I must say that both tracks have since grown on me, especially within the context of the rest of the album. The synth-y breakdown at the end of the album version of Settle Down was a nice surprise, and the rest of the album’s '80s electronica vibe (see: Stand and Deliver) helped to put the singles into perspective. But the band isn’t off the hook yet.
Having worked in the music industry myself over the years, I understand the game. I get that music was in a much different place when we last heard from the No Doubt crew. I get that radio drives much of what makes its way onto albums these days, especially when released by major labels. And I get that Mark “Spike” Stent’s glossy production is great for business in this musical climate. But being the first time we’ve heard from the group in over a decade, I had hoped they’d come with more heat, more experimentation….today’s Just a Girl or Hella Good equivalents. Something beyond the pop/dancehall/ska-inflected theme woven throughout the record. I would have appreciated even a complete experimental miss in place of one or more of the forgettable tracks that made their way on the album.
That being said, there were some shining moments amidst some of the more forgettable ballads. I did enjoy the tongue-in-cheek Looking Hot, where Stefani gets the party started while reminding us that her 42-year-old self is still fly. AND that she can still make us dance. On the other end of the spectrum, Sparkle gave me a glimpse of the relaxed southern Cali pop that only No Doubt can create—the type of offering that made me fall in love with the band way back when.
The trite lyrics of the poppy Gravity: “now I see a thousand percent / you meant what you said and it’s good” prompted an eye-roll or two, as she sings about “exploding like a beat up rocket ship.” Her statement that, “We’re so lucky / we’re still holding on,” made me wonder if she was talking to her man or to her band-mates. While I can’t say that I’ve looked to No Doubt for their lyricism since 1996's Tragic Kingdom, I still expected better. And although I think Gwen is pretty freaking cool as far as 42-year-old rockers go, her repeated reference to herself as a hustler on Easy made me cringe just a bit. Elsewhere, Undone and Dreaming that Same Dream struck me as, well, nothing. Well, actually, they'd be decent background music.
All in all, I didn’t find Push and Shove to be un-listenable. I can’t say that it was the worst thing I’ve ever heard. But without proper experimentation…without pushing some kind of boundaries, we’re left with a lukewarm--yet commercial--reunion album. But then again, I doubt any of the band members are losing sleep over that.
Push and Shove will be released in the US on September 25, 2012. Let us know what you think about the album in the comments!
Full Track List:
One More Summer
Push and Shove (ft. Busy Signal & Major Lazer)
Dreaming The Same Dream
Stand and Deliver
Settle Down [Acoustic]
Looking Hot [Acoustic]
One More Summer [Acoustic]
Looking Hot [Jonas Quant Remix]
Push and Shove (ft. Busy Signal & Major Lazer) [Anthony Gorry Remix]
When I arrived in London for the first time this July, one of the things that immediately struck me was how music-oriented UK culture seemed to be. Sure, we all know the Beatles, Queen and Adele, but British music has deep roots beyond what’s considered “popular” or mainstream music. Many times as Americans, we think of the Brits as being overly “proper,” tea-sipping ladies and gents, who would frown upon urban culture as we know it. I was happy to find that—on the whole—nothing could be further from the truth.
I was further pleased to get a chance to meet a budding member of this British music phenomenon, a young East London up-and-comer named Crystal King, during my visit across the pond. We met up at the low-key Strongroom Bar in Shoreditch, subtly tucked away in an ivy-covered alley. Over “chips” (a.k.a. fries, in the States) and a soundtrack of classic rock and roll tunes, Crystal and I chatted it up about music, growth, Olympic performances, business ventures and her forthcoming EP. And let me tell you, she has a lot in store.
But first, let’s back up a bit. Born in Newham, London—near this year’s Olympic stadium, Crystal finds it hard to remember a time she wasn’t involved in music. Having a dad who was a songwriter didn’t hurt, I’m sure. “I always sang and did extracurricular performances; anytime I could sing I was singing,” she explained. What started as a hobby—picking up instruments like the violin, piano, keyboard and percussion along the way—soon turned into something more serious. As she got older, she started to focus more on the vocal side of things, and was signed to a small record label at 15 years old. “That was the first time I started taking [music] seriously, as a career. But even then I wasn’t ready. I didn’t know who I was, I hadn’t found my voice yet. I was still growing but thinking I knew it all.”
Now in her mid-twenties, she’s really honing in on her sound. But don’t think she’s wasted any time along the way. This crooner has supported the likes of De la Soul, Dru Hill and fellow British singer Ed Shiran. She’s also put a business venture or two under her belt, founding Celebrity Creations Management, a creative management and events management agency that puts on events for the music, fashion and film industries.
And just a week before we met, Crystal performed on the Olympic Big Screens live stage in Stratford: “It was really, really good. And it made it even better that it was in my own borough, so I saw local faces that I knew as well as tourists and stuff. Probably one of the best things I’ve done up to date.” You can check her again in a week or so when she performs for the Paralympics on September 8th.
In addition to her career, giving back to her community is a huge focus. “I’ve done a lot of mentoring and teaching young girls to sing. Teaching them about knowing themselves and where they want to go. I do that kind of stuff and give back just inside my borough, alongside my own music. I’ve started that journey but hopefully I can do it on a bigger scale one day soon. To take it international would be great one day!”
The experiences over these years have no doubt influenced the story and sound that’s reflected in her music today—a story that she plans to bring to the public this September with her EP entitled The Complexity of Crystal King. In this effort, she will blend her unique mix of self-described “Indie pop acoustic soul,” with traces of her own musical influences like Erykah Badu, Lauren Hill, Pink and Madonna sprinkled throughout. “I’m drawn to people who are authentic as well; their voice, style—as soon as you hear them you know it’s them. And if you can be 50-odd and still be rocking it like you’re 27, you’re doing something right!” she said with a laugh.
At the time we spoke, she had already released singles Summertime and Flying High, but was still adding a couple of tracks to the EP; with plans for a full album coming shortly thereafter. “There’s lots of studio coming up!” Her goal with the EP is to set the stage for who Crystal King really is as an artist. “I wanted to show a bit more maturity in my songwriting and vocals. It’s an artist-defining record that shows people who I am and where I’m going. This is a songwriter singing about life, not necessarily so much about love. It’s more about dreams, where you want to go, what you want to do with your life and how you’re going to make it manifest.”
Her mom, the Made Woman that inspires her the most, has much to do with her approach to life. “She does so much; she’s definitely the reason I am the way I am as an entrepreneur, a business woman. She runs her own businesses, she does social care, she looks after a lot of people… She’s probably one of my biggest inspirations in terms of females. She keeps me grounded and supports everything I do.”
She dreams of collaborating with the likes of Erykah Badu (“she’d probably bring out the epic side of me”) and songwriters like John Legend and Emilie Sande. “People like that. Oh, and Busta Rhymes!” Clearly there’s no explanation needed for that one.
Check back for updates on the release date of The Complexity of Crystal King, and in the meantime, follow her YouTube channel and check her out--blowing--on the acoustic version of Davin Rich-produced “Thinkin’ Bout Yo Body” below.