Category Archives: Lauryn Hill

Anatomy Of The Groove: “Every Ghetto,Every City” by Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill might’ve started out singing with her musical family in South Orange,New Jersey. But initially,she was a child actress appearing on As The World Turns and Sister Act II: Back In The Habit. During high school her friend Pras Michel convinced her to join his band-followed soon by her cousin Wyclef Jean. The Fugees was born,and the young singer/rapper/songwriter was on her way to a solo career with her one and only solo album thus far in 1998 entitled The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. I posted my Amazon review of this album here already. Yet there was an incomplete part of the picture.

Lauryn Hill and her solo debut has been a consistent conversation point between myself and Henrique Hopkins. The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill is often considered the beginning of the neo soul sound. At the time it came out, the original funk music of the 60’s,70’s and 80’s said more to me personally than even Hill and artists like her’s best efforts. Yet I noticed Henrique was planning on doing an article on a song called “Every Ghetto,Every City”. He doesn’t generally write on Andresmusictalk talk anymore. But he likely won’t mind me giving my own spin on this song.

A clapping,dripping intro starts the song off with a swirling Clavinet solo. Once Hill’s vocals-doing her own lead and backups pop up,the ultra funky drum shows up along with the hardcore bass popping along. This represents the majority of the song-both the refrain and chorus-separated mainly by differences in key.  The two refrains break the song down the clapping intro and the bass line-accompanied by a light organ swirl. That is basically the same way in which the song fades into its home recording type outro-with Hill’s second chorus leading the whole way.

“Every Ghetto,Every City” is essentially a 5+ minute mini autobiography of Lauryn Hill. She talks about the fun,inspiration and later difficulties she lived with growing up in the hood during late 80’s/early 90’s. Lyrically and musically,it shares many similarities to Stevie Wonder’s 70’s approach to funk-with its slow burning Clavinet based groove. She even references his song “I Wish” in the lyrics. Even though the use of the word “nigga” irritated me (I agree with Maya Angelou that even in baccarat crystal,poison is still poison), Lauryn Hill delivered on some seriously powerful funk for the late 90’s here.

 

 

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Stevie Wonder-Happy Birthday!

Stevie Wonder - Copy

Thus far? 2015 has proven itself to be an important year for Stevie Wonder. He was the beneficiary of an all star Grammy tribute that included the likes of John Legend,Janelle Monae,Jill Scott and India.Arie. In addition he has recorded on two major records this year in-including “Crack In The Pearl Part II” and “Uptown ‘s First Finale” on Mark Ronson’s massively successful album Uptown Special, as well as on the latest collaboration between Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams Bush-playing and singing on the opening song “California Roll”

In addition to all this powerful musical activity? It’s been announced that Stevie is planning on releasing two separate albums this year. One is said to be a gospel album and the other a collaboration with David Foster. It’s unknown as to whether these or any other album project from Stevie is actually on the horizon. But one thing that’s been uppermost in my mind,as Stevie Wonder turns 65 today? It’s the prevailing attitude today that,much as James Brown was The Godfather Soul? It would seem that Stevie Wonder is now considered something of a godfather of neo soul.

One excellent example of this is the 1999 song “All That I Can Say”,performed by Mary J. Blige and composed by Lauryn Hill.  The multi layered,jazzy and melodic synthesizers and the easy going percussive rhythm define the songs core. And those are both signatures of Stevie Wonder’s musical approach: utilizing new electronic technology to create brand new structures of sound that could be emotionally felt as well as heard. Of course neo soul in particular hasn’t always come to grips very well with the strong control Stevie has over his idiosyncratic vocal approach. And that soft yet powerful rhythmic fullness only comes into the music on fairly rare occasions.

In the end? It all comes down to a conversation Rique and myself have had over and over again. That the most positive creative flower of Stevie Wonder’s musical influence comes from those inspired by his musical approach, rather than his vocal one. Composing music with the type of jazz phrasings Stevie tends to use broadens songwriting possibilities for contemporary musicians. And his emphasis on modern electronics to create emotional textures of sound is extremely useful as well. Since the past decade or so seems to showcase Stevie’s instrumental and compositional talents rather than merely less than satisfactory imitations of his vocal ones? The man’s influence,at least at present,seems to be in very good hands. Stevie Wonder,happy birthday to ya’!

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, India.Arie, Janelle Monae, Jazz, Jill Scott, Lauryn Hill, Mary J. Blige, Mavis Staples, Neo Soul, Pharrell Willaims, Snoop Dogg, Stevie Wonder

Anatomy of THE Groove 10/03/14 Rique’s Pick: “Chicken Grease” by D’Angelo

When D’Angelo and his fellow Soulquarians and other collaborators such as Questlove, James Poysuer, the late great J Dilla, Raphael Saddiq and Pino Palladino got together to produce what would become the landmark smoky funk masterpiece “Voodoo”, they took a deep and studious approach to their craft. What came out of that is an album, that, as Saul Williams spoke of in his wonderful liner note essay, distilled the essence of many of the great artists of the Funk/Jazz/Soul boom into D’s brew. One of the most prominent flavors in that brew was the mercurial and kalaedoscopic funk of the artist who went back to his birth name, Prince, in the same year D’s album was released. “Chicken Grease” is a funky stepper from that album that is my pick for today’s Friday Funk Feature. The song takes it’s title from one of Prince’s funk music concepts, a name he has for a sixteenth note, droning, unaccented funk guitar figure that goes back to things such as the intro to The Average White Band’s “Pick Up the Pieces.” D’Angelo includes that “chicken grease” guitar part in this song, but the track itself was a manifesto of back to the basics new funk in the ’00s, with it’s dry sound and bopping, hip rhythm.

“Chicken Grease” begins with a drummer tapping out a New Orleans snare drum rhythm and people laughing and hanging out in the background. Soon after, Questlove kicks in with a dry, funky drum beat played in the classic rhythm style D and his co creators pioneered on this album. This album has been noted for it’s lazy, laid back swinging rhythms, mainly influenced by the late great Detroit Hip Hop and R&B Producer Jay Dee’s funky drum programming. Jay Dee went through great lengths to program his drums with the feeling of a human drummer. The result on “Voodoo” was an album whos beats felt like they came from an entirely different planet than what was popular on the radio at the time. Even live drummers had been focusing on making their drum beats as precise as the drum machine if they wanted to get work. The musicians on the tracks on this album adopted a laid back, behind the beat approach, the kind found in the work of Funk artists such as The Meters and Parliament-Funkadelic, and is a hallmark of New Orleans funk in particular.

After the drum beat kicks in, a clean guitar tone massages the ear, reminiscent of ’90s jazz-funk-hip hop fusions. A greasy, funky bass line soon joins it, totally avoiding the “one ” of the measure, letting the guitar part play on that beat, and playing off beat two. The guitar and bass points line up in holy matrimony on beat two. The bass rests and plays a funky phrase in the next bar. All in all the bass is a sparse, funky line that reminds one of the sparese type of funk you’d find on a hip hop record, but the tone is straight up dry funk!

As far as the “Chicken Grease” that Prince named, is it in the song? Yes, the droning funky guitar part can be found in several points of the tune, at one point in particular D asks for it and you can hear it chiming in in the background. As for the lyrics? D did something here close to a “true” funk song if you will. Funky beats can support any type of lyrical text, from political protest, to ballad themes, to sex, to novelty lyrics, to explicit gangster rap. But when James Brown made his seminal contribution to the funk groove with “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”, he hit with a lyrical text that simply described his amazement at the groove he had concocted with his band. From then on, a good portion of funk lyrics have simply described and reveled in how funky the groove was and what that groove would do to ‘ya. D’Angelo does this and approaches it in the manner of the original party starting hip hop M.C’s, even quoting one of the greatest, Rakim, saying, “Let the others go first/so the brothers won’t miss”, from the Eric B and Rakim classic “I Know You Got Soul.”

D’Angelo’s “Voodoo” was an album that surprised me when it came out. It promised a return to funk, but by the year 2000, Lauryn Hill and Outkast had already done that to various degrees with great success. But I never expected the type of lazy, dry toned, unaccented, grooving funk D’Angelo and co. gave us on this album, music inspired by the boom bap head nod of hip hop. Just as funk adapted itself to the up tempos of disco in the late ’70s, D tailored his funk to his love of the prevailing lyrically focused, slow but chunky hip hop of the ’90s. He also did it with a sound that used very few gimmicks or studio flourishes. I see that album more and more as D giving you the basic nutrients of funk, and he relaid the foundation so well he left artists coming behind him nothing to do but build up from there.

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Filed under 1990s, ?uestlove, Acid Jazz, Africa, Blogging, Funk, Hip-Hop, James Brown, Jazz-Funk, Lauryn Hill, Music Reviewing

Anatomy of THE Groove 6/20/14 Rique’s Pick : “Every Ghetto, Every City” by Ms. Lauyrn Hill

If, in today’s warp speed popular entertainment culture, The Fugees “Blunted on Reality”, is their “Stevie at the Beach” or even “Eivets Rednow”, and their worldwide smash “The Score” was their “Talking Book” or “Innvervisions”, then for member Ms. Lauryn Hill, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” would be her magnum opus, her “Songs in the Key of Life.” “Unplugged” might be her “Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants.” But taking “Miseducation” as her “Songs in the Key of Life”, this weeks “Anatomy of THE Groove” feature, “Every Ghetto, Every City”, would be her equvalent of Stevie Wonders “I Wish.” Like that all time funk classic, “Every Ghetto, Every City uses an arch-funky groove to tell a soulfully nostalgic story of the artist days of growing up. Stevie’s took place in Saginaw, Michigan, but Hill grows up from a girl to a very talented woman in “New Jerusalem”, a very Old Testament nickname for the state of New Jersey.

The groove is one that caught my attention when I first copped the CD back in 1998. Hill and her musicians and producers waste no time laying a mean groove down. Just as Stevie dug back into an older, funky barrellhouse/stride/gospel/boogie woogie funk style for “I Wish” that recalled the older folks music of his youth, Lauryn Hill reaches back for a funky clavinet based groove to tell her story of growing up in the early days of hip hop. On closer inspection, she also adds some unique touches that hint at a unique merger of hip hop and instrumental funk that nobody has quite taken up in the same way. The groove is very siimple and funky, beginning with a funky clavinet riff, supported by a loud and upfront bass line. The bass line provides a lesson in playing funky bass with a lots of space, not taking away attention from the vocals in a modern Hip Hop/Soul situation. The bass basically lays down a funky two note groove based on the “One”, with some pick ups to lead you back to “The One.” Every four bars the bass plays a very funky James Jamerson inspired run. The drums hit a nice light swing in a manner similar to the way D.J Premier programmed his drum patterns. Every few bars, the producers add what sounds like a digital turntable scratch sound, a very popular effect in the late ’90s. In this context however, of a throwback funk groove, it works not just as a hip hop sound but also as a reflection of the antique nature of the groove, an appropriate touch like vinyl white noise.

Ms. Lauyrn Hill begins her tale of growing up in a manner similar to Wonder, “I was just a little girl/skinny legs and press and curl/my mama always thought I’d be a star.” She goes on to tell a story of the inner city we really no longer hear. Her inner city had kids stealing but at the same time, streets that nurtured her. The chorus strikes a note of universality, because as unique as her ubringing was, she sees flashes of it all around the world, “Every ghetto/every city/and suburban place I’ve been/make me recall my days/in the New Jerusalem.” She backs up richly soulful vocalizing, with hip hop shot outs, in effect serving as her own hype man, as Diddy was so famous for doing around that same time. This message of an experience that transcends ones specific place on the map was certainly needed in that time period of Hip Hops “East Coast/West Coast beef.” She goes on to talk about morning cartoons, and takes us all the way through the golden days of hip hop, talking about when “Self Destruction” dropped and emulating the famous Hip Hop break “Heaven and Hell is On Earth”, by the 20th Century Steel Band, who’s high pitched vocals have been heard on numerous hip hop cuts over the years.

“You know its hot/dont forget what you got/looking back”, she advises us on the funky eighth note driven bridge section of the tune. When this song hit, it affected me on several levels, bringing up thoughts of both the classic funk era, which I was born after, but who’s music I knew intimately, as well as the classic hip hop era, during which I was alive but heard the music in a blur, not always as music but as a soundtrack to bike rides, basketball games, baseball card trading, barbecues and games of hide and go seek, in Cross Color jean short outfits, of course. But I do remember very clearly, when Ms. Hill dropped this song and the nostalgic yet alive vibe it created. Funk like this doesen’t just live in 1978, or 1998, it lives each and every day it’s grooved. So “Every Ghetto, Every City” is my pick of the day, and you can be sure I wont forget what I’ve got looking back!

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, Blogging, Funk, Lauryn Hill, Motown, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Stevie Wonder

Andre’s Amazon Archive for June 14th,2014: ‘The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill’

lauryn_hill-the_miseducation_of_lauryn_hill

During the time this was released,as another review pointed out,this kind of music was being thrown in everyone’s face whether they wanted to hear it or not.I must admit in the late 90’s I was far more energized by the music of Prince,Stevie Wonder,P-Funk and they like and not the various hip-hop music’s they were inspiring at the time. I wanted the “real thing”. To my way of thinking the whole hip-hop/R&B genre in general seemed to be exploiting R&B’s past just to promote cut-and-paste music based on samples and such. It was hard to not that in the midst of all that original new hybrids like this were being created.Yes it was heavily hyped,yes it was deemed a classic before by the time it was a year old or so. But all the saturation aside I wanted to listen to this after it’d had some time to influence people. Well it turned out,as I said to be just over a decade. And after listening to this project as a whole at this point I get it.This is THE album that inspired the thoughtful,conscious solo female neo soul genre out of which has come Macy Gray,Angie Stone,India.Arie,Alicia Keys and more recently Solange Knowles.But it all started here.

The music on this album still has close links to hip-hop.Songs such as “Lost Ones”,”Forgive Them Father” and even the hugely popular “Doo Wop (That Thing)” have Lauryn rapping quite a bit along with singing.It’s to her credit she has such broad talent in both.Lauryn’s rapping style has always been assertive,direct and too the point and her deep,gritty and rangy voice-with it’s strong pathos and emotion is quite the spectacle to behold. The emotional and spiritual breadth of songs such as “To Zion” and “Forgive Them Father” is unbelievable. Through her spiritual quests Lauryn revolves her own issues with femaninity and the male players in her life in a surprisingly broad scope.”Superstar” actually finds Lauryn illustrating a pointed sense of humor to address what she saw as a serious issues;the hype many mediocre or plain “wack” rappers were receiving at that time,and in every way the message behind the tune resonates all the more today.

The first five songs actually containing interwoven interludes (tastefully done and integrated into the actual songs unlike usual) that illustrate how the album title is part of a certain concept;a group of women,one voiced by Mary J Blige in a classroom discussing different,mature points of view on love from songs,actual relationships,etc.In the midst of all this is “Ex-Factor”,possibly one of the greatest songs Lauryn ever did-very much in the Aretha/Etta James spirit with it’s scarred outlook on love and strong gospel overtones,from organ swirls to the horn blasts. The tone of that song is repeated on the title song which extends on the same theme of rediscovering self truths at reaching physical and emotional maturity. Along the way there is even time for warm nostalgic reflection on “Every Ghetto,Every City”,a wah-wah drenched 70’s style funk fest which is right up my alley and the lyrics are right on time too.

There are two tracks,which are listed here but not on the album jacket.One is a beautifully soulful rendition of Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” that utterly transforms the song from teen romance into intense passion.A live version of the song “Tell Me” is also included.Taken together this quirky artist with her uniquely self reliant outlook and terrific lyrical ability only seems to have released one full length studio album so far.And if this is her first and only release it would sure be a good thing to stand on because,given a full decade to gestate it really has had an influence on an entire sub genre that has grown to mammoth proportions ever since.And all the while this done now indeed stand alone as a modern classic.

Originally Written On March 5th,2009

*Link To My Original Amazon Review:

http://www.amazon.com/review/R36P7MAW2I5UGW/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B00000ADG2

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The Anatomy of THE Groove 6/13/2014 Andre’s Pick: Mary J. Blige’s “All That I Can Say”

Mary J. Blige was an artist that I had a deeply rooted respect for when I first heard her interpreting Rose Royce’s 1976 slow jam funk classic “I’m Going Down” in the mid 90’s. And what was most refreshing is how instrumentally oriented and close it was to the original. Of course as was typical with a lot of people in terms of the press from that point on through the turn of the millennium? The saturation press Mary received,likely for all the wrong reasons, turned me off to the point where buying any of her music during that time wasn’t a very appealing notion. It wasn’t until Mary had been a seasoned artist for a decade by around 2003-2004 did I start to really reach out to her earlier music to which I’d once given the slip. It was my love of photography that drew me like a moth to a flame when I saw the black & white side profile portrait on her 1999 CD Mary. Something about that imagery,similar to that of Cicily Tyson on Miles Davis’s Sorcerer album in 1967,bought me into mind that his would be an elegantly funkified affair. And that opinion was intensely upgraded upon putting the CD on for the first time and hearing it open with “All That I Can Say”.

Produced,written and arranged by Mary’s musically vital contemporary Lauryn Hill,the song begins with a lilting,lowly mixed Spanish guitar with a sunny,pre-dominating high pitched synthesizer solo that continually pitch bends between major and minor chords. Shortly a percussive,mid tempo electronically dirived Afro-Latin rhythm kicks in. This instrumental bed is joined by a glockenspiel-like ringing keyboard that scales downward in a dream-like way on each instrumental refrain. At this point Mary’s low,plaintive tenor successfully follows along the songs elusive melody with a lyrical tag stating first “loving you is wonderful/something like a miracle” and going on to add “meeting you,it isn’t hard/with you I can’t let down my guard/stay secure,that’s all I’m asking of you”. By the time the chorus,which repeats the title with a call-and-response bit of vocalese from Mary singing in her higher voice? The melody of the song has likewise gone up a lot higher in pitch-with Mary again keeping up with the elaborate chord changes. By the end of the song,it fades out the way it begun with Mary adding some extremely jazzy,wordless scat singing that expresses the general mood of the song.

From the first time I heard this song? While realizing so many early retro and neo soul artists were attempting to replicate his sound? I was convinced that it was Stevie Wonder himself who played the overriding high pitch-bent synthesizer solos on this song. It was actually someone named Loris Holland,whom I’d never heard of before. As my friend and blog partner here on WordPress Henrique pointed out to me the other day? The fact that Lauryn Hill and the musicians on this album could so thoroughly replicate not only the sound but the melodic language of Stevie Wonder’s challenging instrumental approach on keyboard is a tribute not only to her talent,but musical connectivity as well. This constantly shifting melody,which embraces soul music’s classic structural complexity,is totally reflective of the fact that Mary is alternately overjoyed and cautious in regard to the prospect of the new romantic partner in her life that she portrays on this song. Its seamless mix of both dreamy fantasy and uncertain reality was a balance that was rarely felt in the “keeping it real” era. In the end,I thank Mary J Blige and Lauryn Hill both for their contribution to helping the late 90’s soul/R&B listener to understand what it was they might’ve really loved so much about the 70’s funk era in the first place.

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Filed under 1990s, Funk, Lauryn Hill, Mary J. Blige, Neo Soul, Stevie Wonder