Tag Archives: hip-hop/soul

Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Gospel” by Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys is an artist whom myself and Henrique both have similar thoughts on. Both of us agree that she possesses the musical talent and understanding to be a major soul/funk/ jazz force for the new millennium. That being said,her albums have generally focused on instrumentally dressed up pop piano ballads-with simplistic notes that (quite frankly) do disservice to Keys’ musical abilities. Since this is such a common approach now with artists such as Sam Smith,Adele and John Legend,it even came as a surprise to me that on her November 2016 album release HERE,Alicia Keys musical vision has begun to change.

One of the first steps towards this change was Alicia Keys decision to not wear makeup for the time being. She saw the focus on the affectations of her appearance as getting in the way of her musical talent. As a natural beauty both without and (most importantly) within, Keys’ choice is a very admirable one. This year,with the Knowles sisters Beyonce and Solange both making powerful pro black album statements,Keys made a comeback with a very similar vibe to it overall. Generally a rather stripped down jazzy album, HERE  is also home to a very powerful opening song called “The Gospel”.

Keys starts singing to a piano riff that,while playing in the European classical meter,is deep in the blues pentatonic scale. She adds some honky tonk style reverb when the drums kick in. These drums are mixed somewhat higher than the piano-playing a very strident march. Keys sings the song in a fast,modern rap type rhythmic style. On the refrains,she chants “yeah yeah yeah” in the gospel soul style similar to the vocal harmonies on Funkadelic’s 1971 groove “You And Your Folks,Me And My Folks”. This is the pattern within the song that repeats until fade out.

“The Gospel” is a tense,brittle song. And its about tense times. Musically,its very much like a modern early 70’s funky soul inspired hip-hop record-especially with it being based around a pounding,extended vamp. Lyrically,its very much of a revisit of similar themes to Stevie Wonder’s “Living For The City”. Since this is not an instrumental opus with many complex parts,it focuses on a lyrical setup that doesn’t so much offer hope. But rather it paints a picture of lower class black life and a call to protest-asking “if you ain’t in the battle,how you gon’ win the fight?”. This makes it a very different type of Alicia Keys song.

 

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Prince Day 2016: Prince In The 1990’s

Prince In The 90's

Prince’s musical output during the 1990’s represented a complex period for him. Personally,these albums were his newest statements when myself and other members of the late 70’s/early 80’s born age group were really beginning to explore Prince as teenagers. Heard many of his songs on the radio and in videos over the years. But it was during the middle of the 90’s that I began going back and listening to his albums all the way from the beginning to his newest releases of the era. As with most things that came from the 1990’s,it was a soul searching period where Prince was reinventing his identity.

When Prince changed his name to O(+> in 1993,he was the butt of jokes and accusations of going over the edge. Even I did my share of giggling more or less over how it was portrayed by the media. Of course today as a grown adult dealing with the difficulties creative must face myself, it has become clear that what Prince was doing in the mid 90’s was no joke. As he explained to Tavis Smiley in 1998, he had come to see more of the word “con” in contract. That they allowed for a musician essentially  to be a type of slave to a middle man who peddled their musical wares like watches from a trench coat.

Not that Prince ever mentioned anything specifically about watches or trench coats. But he did write “Slave” across his face during this time. His reason for changing his name had to do with his real name Prince being “owned” by Warner Bros. And since they weren’t allowing him to release his massive volume of music as he wished,he needed an outlet to do that. He began putting together a new label imprint in NPG Records-eventually recording artists like Chaka Khan and Larry Graham without the use of any recording contracts. This actually put him on the cutting edge of truly indie music.

Prince released nine official studio albums during the 90’s decade. The deal he had with Warner’s at the time specified that albums credited to the name Prince could only consist of music from his vault of unreleased music. In all honesty,I don’t feel the albums credited to the O(+> were as consistently strong as what he’d done in the 80’s. In terms of full length albums,it’s interesting his 90’s output that I prefer were the ones under his own name. So here is a look back at my four favorite Prince albums that came out during his second full decade as a recording artist.

Graffiti Bridge/1990

This soundtrack to his third and final motion picture is somewhat of a revue of some of the artists signed to Paisley Park and/or working with Prince at the time. Of them the young singer Tevin Campbell got a big hit from the song “Round And Round”. A couple of my favorite numbers on here come from The Time in the frenetic funky drumming of “Release It” and the brittle rock ‘n soul of “Shake”. As for Prince,it has his epic pop rocker “Thieves In The Temple”,the electronic blues of “The Question Of U” and the slamming funk of “New Power Generation”

The Love Symbol Album/1992

Personally I feel this album really put the funk/house/hip-hop hybrid of Diamonds And Pearls into fuller focus. It has the Hi NRG hip-hop opener of “My Name Is Prince”-as well as the James Brown funk jam “Sexy MF”.  “7” really mixes his mid 80’s psychedelic touches into a trance like modern funk/rock sound. “The Sacrifice Of Victor” mixes early 90’s funk with a potent post Rodney King racial consciousness and he even brings in some reggae for “Blue Light”. The flow of the entire album makes it likely the most consistent of his early albums with the New Power Generation.

Come/1994

When I first read about this album,it was actually Prince’s newest at the time. And it was described as a record he did solely to fulfill a contract. Listening to it recently,it’s actually one of his most adventurous albums for the time. The title track and “Letitgo” explore his raw sexuality through some horn heavy jazz hip-hop/funk. “Loose” throws down some intense industrial dance rock while the psychedelic soul/funk of “Papa” frankly discusses the ineffectiveness of child abuse. In a way,it almost sounds and looks like an album where Prince is seeking to shed every element of himself in favor of his new persona.

The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale/1999

According to the liner notes,these songs were written between 1985 and 1994. And that Prince and the NPG recorded them on the latter end of that period “4 personal use only”. On a personal level,this comes across as Prince’s most consistently strong album from the 90’s. It has a very strong live band flavor not dissimilar to his latest release Hitnrun Phase II-with club friendly jazz/funk jams like “It’s About The Walk”,”Extraordinary”,the title song and of course “She Spoke 2 Me” really showcasing Prince more as a bandleader and less as a puppet master.

One of the overriding themes I’ve been discussing with my friend Henrique Hopkins lately is how significant Prince was to keeping the funk alive in the 1980’s. To turn a phrase, Prince did spend much of the 1990’s looking to catch up with newer artists such as D’Angelo who’s greatest achievement at the time would likely be to catch up with Prince. A lot of this had to do with Prince’s rhythms. During his 80’s heyday,he could take the Linn drum and throw down jazz and Afro Latin rhythms on songs like Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl” and The Time’s “777-9311”.

While the 1990’s soul/funk/R&B scene became influenced by the drum programming Prince pioneered,it wasn’t quite the same. A lot of producers of the early/mid 90’s simply didn’t bring the excitement or drama out of the drum machine as Prince once had-opting for a more formulaic shuffle.  When Prince followed that formula on the drum machine,his rhythms also began to sag. However Prince did use some of the newer ideas that derived from his sound to re-invent himself. And allow for him to remain prolific and maintain his creative longevity for what would turn out to be his final two decades.

 

 

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Filed under 1990s, drum machines, Funk, hip-hop jazz, jazz funk, New Powe Generation, NPG Records, Prince, psychedelic soul, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, The Time, Warner Bros.

Anatomy Of The Groove For 1/30/2015-Andre’s Pick: “Affection” by Jody Watley

Jody Watley’s life and career literally started out riding on the Soul Train. She started out there as one of the most famous of the line dancers along with future Michael Jackson choreographer Jeffrey Daniels before they became the founding members of Shalamar-the group Don Cornelius helped to build. Eventually marrying Prince’s former musical partner Andre’ Cymone she had some wonderfully funky dance hits at the end of the 80’s such as “Looking For A New Love” and “Some Kind Of Lover”.

By the mid 90’s Wately’s commercial success on her label MCA had began to try up. A lot of this had to do with the fact that her music trajectory was talking her in much more of a creative and soulful direction. Music during the mid 90’s had definitely taken a turn towards slower paced,often funkier grooves depending on the music personalities for those involved. She than recorded her fifth album in 1995 for the Avitone label and proceeded to take more control over her creative career with songwriter/multi instrumentalist Derrick Edmonson. Thus the album Affection and it’s title song were born.

Starting out with the ringer of an answer phone where Watley speaks of her new song and asks the answering party to “fill in the blanks”,the song kicks into gear with a slow funky drum and three layered keyboard lines. The melody is a round high pitched synthesizer,followed closely by a hissing electronic harmony. The other is a popping high bass line that punctuates both the harmony and main melody. Jody sings the body of the song with a lower,Sly Stone like drawl and the chorus in a high,sexy gospel inflected tone. The instrumental bridge features a bluesy guitar,turntabling and a sax solo from Edmonson that comes directly from the melodic horn line of Maceo Parker’s from James Brown’s “Cold Sweat”.

Jody describes this song at the beginning as being “a little Sade,a little James Brown a little Miss Jody Watley”. That in a nutshell describes the groove she gets on this song. It has the sleek,rolling,sexy shuffle groove,jazzy harmonics and thick layers of rhythmic keyboard tones overall. That also gets her into the Mary J Blige/TLC vein of hip-hop/soul friendly contemporary pop-funk grooves of the mid 90’s. A longtime AIDS/human rights supporter,Watley even gives this sexually themed song a broad social message with the chorus of “doesn’t matter if your young or old,doesn’t matter if your straight or gay,everybody needs to feel loved”. It’s total funky,all inclusive sexuality. Where everyone can be who they were born to be and sensuality comes without fear. For me? It’s the culmination of Jody Watley’s strong musical and lyrical assertions of the groove!

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Filed under "Sexual Healing", 1990s, Derrick Edmonson, Funk, Hip-Hop, James Brown, Jazz-Funk, Jody Watley, Mary J. Blige, pop-funk, TLC

Andre’s Amazon Archive Special Presentation: ‘My Life’ by Mary J. Blige

My Life

An astounding album and an EXTREMELY HUGE creative leap from her debut What’s the 411?! Contemporary hip-hop and new jack considerations were very strong on her debut album and there was the awkward step between that and somewhat mechanical 80’s musical flavors. This album changed all of that. In their hearts it was the funk/jazz/R&B of the mid 70’s that was the musical bag of both Puffy and Mary and the result of their enthusiasm is a fusion of that concept soon came to be known as neo soul. Along with D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar this is one of the earliest album smashes to use the form and it’s one of the most overall successful.

Along with the instrumental samples Puffy built these grooves on and Mary J’s new found fondness for jazzy vocal turns and scat singing provide great results on the drippy disco-funk “Mary Jane”,”You Bring Me Joy” and the bass popping-happy closer “Be Happy” are such excellent tunes that if these were the only good songs on the album it would still earn a five star rating. But happily the news always gets better from there. “I’m The Only Woman” really puts the title track of Roy Ayers Everybody Loves the Sunshine to work and considering his position as something of a godfather to this then new genre it is a beautiful use of form. Of course Mary’s cover of “I’m Goin’ Down” rips the entire instrumental track of the song and I’ve heard it to death but hearing it again reminds me of the excellence and broad vocal inflections she brings to the song.

The original ballads including the title track and the deeply spirited “You Gotta Believe” follow in the same path and completely undo some of the mild sterility of the previous albums approach. Ditto for the slightly more uptempo hip-hop inflected jams such as “Be With You”,”Mary’s Joint”,”Don’t Go” and the clever,well composed “I Love You” all have possess that spark needed to make them really stand out as impressive songs. From this point on in Mary J’s career she would be forever known not as “the new Chaka Khan” but as The Queen Of Hip-Hop/Soul and all hype set aside the high quality of this album is one of the reasons why she’s known for that.

Originally Posted On January 24th,2010

Happy birthday Mary! Link to original review here*

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Filed under 1990s, D'Angelo, Hip-Hop, Jazz-Funk, Late 70's Funk, Mary J. Blige, Puff Daddy Combs, Rose Royce