India Arie Simpson was born in Denver, Colorado to a family not only drenched in music. But with a history at Motown as well. Her mother Joyce was a singer who toured with Stevie Wonder-as well as Al Green. After her parents divorced and she moved to Georgia, India’s musical interests (always encouraged by her family) became even more pronounced-as she actively began to learn both guitar and composition. This occurred while attending the Savannah School Of Art & Design. She also learned of her strong African roots via DNA testing-including that of the Kru people of the nation of Liberia.
India. Arie made her debut on Motown in 2001 with her Acoustic Soul. That literally described the first song I heard from her entitled “Video”, where she talked of her she desired music and humanity, for herself and others, not to be seen as a product. This resulted in India becoming a major face of the coalescing neo soul movement of the time. Her second album Voyage To India came out the next year. Its main single didn’t perform commercially the way “Video” did. But it was a huge step ahead in terms of instrumentation and songwriting. It was called “Little Things”.
The sound of the gong starts of the intro of vocal harmonies from India.Arie that begins the song-with a bell like electric piano echo in the back round. The drum, at first stop and start comes into the mix with a strong accent of heavy percussion and a heavy, ascending bass line. As the vocal/lyrical flavor of the song changes, so does the feeling of the music. Sometimes its mostly rhythm and bass. Other times rhythm guitar and electric piano flourishes are stronger-along with what sounds like a baby crying. The song comes to an abrupt end after a long vocal run on the extended chorus.
“Little Things” is an interesting song. Musically speaking, its a somewhat more stripped down variant of the jazzy chords of Stevie Wonder compositions and a soul/funk rhythm-similar to Mary J Blige’s “All That I Can Say”. In terms of its actual structure, its more of a folk type song. A lot of lyrical verses after another rather than a refrain/chorus/bridge setup. It has a heavier studiocentric approach than much of her debut album. To me, “Little Things” is an example of India. Arie using her amazing abilities as a composer for a beautifully flowing, neo soul friendly funky soul number.
Justin Timberlake is an artist whose creative (as well as commercially success) has surprised me on some level. A Memphis native who came directly out of Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club along with Brittney Spears (who he dated for a short time),Timerlake was the lead singer of N’Sync,who came to be the poster child for what a lot of art house rock music people hated about “manufactured boy bands” as they’d put it. My late paternal grandfather,however,agreed with me Timberlake-with his soulful voice and beat boxing,came at music with a very different attitude.
This very musical oriented ethic even my grandpa,a man never into youth culture of any kind,was confirmed in late 2002 when he made his solo debut Justified. Its an album I got into a decade after it came out. Coming out during a time when most pop albums were being made by one or two people and was focused mainly on vocals,Timberlake’s debut featured not only The Neptunes (featuring Pharell Williams) and Timbaland,but also 70’s/80’s session great Nathan East along with Harvey Mason Jr. There was one song on it that remains my personal favorite. Its called “Rock Your Body”.
This is one of those songs where the refrains and choruses are carried by Timberlake’s vocal call and responses with himself. Musically however,this basic groove is extremely funkified. The high pitched rhythm guitar-like Clavicord synthesizer and bass line are both playing the same 8 note pattern-on opposite ends of the scale. A pulsing synth expands in and out lightly in the back round. The choruses and refrains are separated by calculated breaks in the music. After a jazzier chorded bridge,the song fades out with the bass line,drum and Timberlake beat boxing the bass line building back into itself.
“Rock Your Body” is a masterful production,one of Pharrell’s strongest overall. First time I heard it,it reminded me of Michael Jackson. Turns out Pharell had originally recorded the track for inclusion on MJ’s 2001 album Invincible. The late Jackson apparently turned it down,so Timberlake got one of his first major solo hits with it instead. The song has a grinding,glittery post disco funk sound to it that was very atypical for a lot of pop music of the early aughts. The build,structure and especially the singled out beatboxing at the end showcased Justin Timberlake totally living up to the musical promise he always exhibited.
Hall & Oates indirectly propagated the first music I remember hearing while in public with their hit “I Can’t Go For That”. John Oates is turning 68 today. He recorded his first single the same year he enrolled at Temple University,where of course he met Daryl Hall. And as for them as a duo,the rest is history. Throughout their decade and a half career peak of being the most commercially successful American duo in rock history,Oates generally only had one or two songs on each of their albums that he sung lead on. While Daryl Hall began a solo career in the mid 1980’s,it would take Oates another 16 years to release his very first solo album,which he entitled Phunk Shui.
Around the time I picked up this album,there was a lot of talk within my family about the Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui. This basically reduces down to harmonizing everyone with their surrounding environment. In that case,it had to do with the structural orientation of doors in our townhouse apartment closing directly onto each other. But seeing the title associated on this John Oates album with the funk music genre,before even hearing the album,reminded me of how much of an effect the energy created by this rhythm based music had on my own spacial orientation. When I finally heard the title song of John Oates album,the whole idea that the title projected completely clicked.
A heavily processed Clavinet sounding keyboard opens the song,before the hit hat kicks in the groove starts right up. The James Brown style rhythm guitar gets going heavy on the refrain. The melody changes up just before the chorus with the organ mixed high while the keyboard sound that opens the song opens up for the choral refrain. Oates sings the song in both the middle,high and bass end of his vocal change. On the bridge of the song,the organ references the descending opening electric sitar of Stevie Wonder’s “Signed,Sealed And Delivered” before going into a rock guitar solo from Oates. This solo continues onward as the chorus repeats to the songs fade.
Considering that live band funk was few and far between from the late 90’s through the 2000’s,this song was a tremendous revelation. It also showcases how important funk was to the success that Hall & Oates had during their late 70’s and early 80’s peak. Songs such as the aforementioned “I Can’t Go For That” and “Method Of Modern Love” both showcase that influence. He mentions P-Funk,Ohio Players,Gap Band and Morris Day as making a huge impact on his sound. Along the way he even brings out how so many contemporary pop acts have neglected funky musicianship just to make money. And that now that “things have gone wrong”,the time has come to relight the funky fire.
Filed under 2002, drums, Feng Shui, Funk, Hall & Oates, John Oates, keyboards, organ, rhythm guitar, rock guitar, Uncategorized
Brandy Rayna Norwood has had a fascinating career behind her. Following very much on the path of Whitney Houston’s transitions from audio to visual media, she was actually quite a bit more successful as a singer/songwriter/producer and TV star on her late 90’s sitcom Moesha than she was on the silver screen. Personally I always had a creative appreciation for Brandy. With her fluid physical features and polished braids,she proudly and elegantly exhibited a strong Afrocentrism that maintained a street level identification with American hip-hop. As she grew from a teenager into a young adult,her music continually evolved along the same lines as her outward persona.
Today Brandy is a 37 year old with a 13 year old daughter Sy’rai Iman and is engaged to be married again. In addition to having a six album strong discography. In the early 2000’s, she teamed up with then up and coming producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins. Jerkins himself has a gospel back-round and had been mentored by new jack swing pioneer Teddy Riley. As electronic instrumental programming moved on from it’s brittle beginnings,by the early aughts it developed more of a flow in terms of sound. This was excellent for both instrumentally oriented producers like Jerkins and nuanced vocalists such as Brandy. The title song of her 2002 album “Full Moon” is a superb example.
A high pitched mid 80’s new wave style synthesizer opens up the album playing an introductory melody and continues as throughout the song. The refrain of the song maintains a funky,slower crawling 1/2 beat dance tempo. This is accompanied by a crackling bass synthesizer and a bleeping,percussive synthesizer. On the swiftly sung choruses,on which Brandy duets with multiple harmonies of herself,all these electronic solos come together. On the bridge,Brandy’s vocal harmonies beautifully layer over each other while a synthesized duck face bass pops along with her. This is just before the main chorus repeats on into the fade out.
“Full Moon” showcases a magically romantic new groove-with Jerkins skillfully blending a strong post millennial electro funk rhythmic framework with European classical compositional content. Instrumentally the song blends both the more brittle new wave and new jack electronic approach with the beautifully fluidity that modern synthesizer’s were beginning to create. Vocally many early ladies of neo soul such as Alicia Keys and India.Arie were deeply influenced by Brandy’s funky sea of vocals-a technique coming through both Chaka Khan and Janet Jackson. Still it was this song’s embrace of glossy production and strong,funky rhythms that make it perhaps my favorite Brandy number.
During the summer of 2002 my father was continually playing an album entitled In Between. It was by Jazzanova, Berlin based DJ/producer collective whose members are Alexander Barck, Claas Brieler, Jürgen von Knoblauch, Roskow Kretschmann, Stefan Leisering, and Axel Reinem. Every time the two of us would run an errand or go on a short road trip? My father would continually play the albums opening song “Love And You & I”. Even for years after? My dad and I would fun on one another about how entranced he seemed to be with playing this song so often. But as is often the case with my musical influences such as my father? As my understanding and tastes in music continued to expand and grow,so did my appreciation of what this particular song,which I heard so often,was really all about.
The song starts out with a dragged out sounding sample of what I recognize easily as “Something’s Missing” by the Five Stairsteps,followed by the the same line sung by a 50’s type pop vocal choir. After a female singer responds “Could It Be Love” that slowly descends into a choir of the same phrase and a lower female singer simply singing “love”,the instrumental part comes in with a mellow jazzy piano punctuated by breaks of slow latin percussion and electric piano bursts. On the second refrain of this,the song goes into a deep male vocal chorus-followed by a solo voice singing “the sun,the moon,the sky and you and I”. This is accompanied by a hip-hop type funk drum beat-different and more flamboyant variations of which come in throughout this refrain into a female chorus returns,amid calling trumpet solos “love bum,bum,bum,bum”.
After all of this the song begins an entirely new instrumental cycle-going from a trumpet choir into a lightly Brazilian style funky electronic piano rhythm-before returning to a repeat of the first chorus. After this the song abruptly slows to a crawl before an EWF style vocal chorus of “LOVE LOVE LOVE” followed up by a complex string and acoustic guitar driven latin jazz rhythm kicks in with both the first and second vocal chorus responding the sound and emotional attitude. That leads into an instrumental bridge showcasing tbe upright bass of Paul Kleber accompanying vibist David Friedman. As Friedman’s bass fades out,Kleber’s bass fades back into a fade out of all the variations of the different “love” related vocal refrains from throughout the song-accompanied by a swinging,acoustic guitar led bossa nova up to the very end of the song itself.
What can I say about this song today? To boil it down? It just has everything. It has the funky electric guitar,the swinging jazzy drum brushing,the Brazilian percussion flavor and a harmonic mood that lays somewhere in the middle between wonder,anticipation,relaxation and of course love. Generally speaking in hip-hop,sampling of any sort is used as a form of archival musical identification. In this case a range of samples from everyone from 70’s jazz and jazz/fusion groups such as Catalyst,Bobby Hutcherson,Branford Marsalis,Antonio Carlos Jobim,Les DeMerlealong with soul/funk from The Sueremes with the Temptations and The Sylvers to create a live band Latin jazz/funk fusion flavor. Each sample is arranged in such a way where it sounds like a band actually interacting off their strengths and weaknesses as musicians-though the broken up nature of sampling is still made clear to the ears as well. It’s one of my very favorite examples and uses of jazz and funk sampling in the immediate post millennial era.
Filed under 2002, Brazil, Brazilian Jazz, DJ's, Funk, Funk Bass, Fusion, Hip-Hop, Jazzanova, Motown, Sampling