The Young and Disenchanted

Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

I haven’t written in an incredibly long time because I’ve dedicated all the words my brain has held over the past 2 months to my senior thesis which, hamd’Allah, is FINALLY done. Even so, it may take me a little while to get back to producing my usual epically long treatises on Africa and love and all that goodness. So I’m easing back into the groove with something simple: music. I went to see the Fela musical for the second time yesterday, and it gave my soul some sorely-needed comfort. For those of you who don’t know, Fela Anikulapo Kuti is one of the greatest musicians to come out of the African continent (and by that I mean of all time, Naija for life!!!!) and there is now a Broadway show dedicated to his life. I have an incredibly deep emotional attachment to Fela and his music: apart from the fact that he fought for social justice in my home country of Nigeria, I grew up listening to his hits “Zombie,” “Yellow Fever” and “Gentleman.” Both my parents are huge fans of Fela, and I can only imagine what it must have been like for them as young people dealing with the repression of successive military dictatorships and the legacy of colonialism and its distorting effects on Nigerian society. Hearing his music takes me far away from the stress of New York and being a senior in college and puts me back in Surulere with the Lagos heat warming my back and the smell of roast corn in the air. And, most importantly: he made jawns to shake your nyash to (ugh, typing that out, I see what my sister means – that IS a gross word, but it’s also the most apt one to describe Fela’s vibe).

Besides the point: his music, along with that of musicians ranging from the Roots to Faithless have gotten me through some pretty tough times (and transformed some regular ones into incredible memories). And as it’s been a minute since I did a list of 10, here’s one of the songs that are making me smile, dance and feel right now:

  1. “Migraine Skank” – Gracious K: I’ll actually be writing a piece on UK Funky for Idaya this week, so it’s pretty perfect that a dear friend from England recently put me on to this tune.
  2. “Rude Boy” – Rihanna: Sigh. I’m not meant to like this track at all, but that beat is infectious and it sounds like the summer I’m craving right now (New York, this cloudiness is not a good look – can we get back to 90 degrees? Kthanksbye).
  3. “Sorrow, Tears and Blood” – Fela Kuti: This song’s lyrics get me kind of emotional, but those afrobeat drums make me dance without fail.
  4. “Face in a Crowd” – Kosheen: This brings back memories of modern dance performances during secondary school… SUCH good times.
  5. “The Blast” – Reflection Eternal: Brooklyn in the springtime, Talib and Hi-Tek… need I say more?
  6. “Honey” – Erykah Badu: I haven’t had time to listen to all of her new album, but I love “Window Seat” and “Jump in the Air”… I may dedicate this weekend to reacquainting myself with Ms Badu. This track’s off her last album and always cheers me up.
  7. “Lady” – D’Angelo: Those lips. That voice. That laidback jazz vibe. Enough said.
  8. “Acapella” – Kelis: I’ve loved Kelis since “Caught Out There” and even though I’m still devastated that she and Nas are no longer together, this dedication to her son is infectious (and the end of the video is SO cute!)
  9. “Go Deep” – Janet Jackson: I saw Janet on her Velvet Rope tour, which solidified the massive crush I have on her (alongside the rest of my family). I love the understated sexiness of this track.
  10. “My Sweetie” – Wale: I love this Bunny Mack sample SO so much – and Wale laced the track perfectly. I’m sure Fela would approve.

P.S. Had to go with some classic Gaga for the title… this track DEFINITELY gets me dancing every time I hear it.

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As a means of making myself blog more frequently, and in keeping with the “About The Young and Disenchanted” section of this blog that states that I love asking questions, I’m going to start a new segment called “Ten Questions.” It will entail me asking ten questions about various things I have seen that, for whatever reason, have piqued my interest and which I consider funny/educational/downright bizarre, or some combination of the three. Oh, and so I can have more fun with embedding videos 🙂

First up on the series, the following video by everyone’s favourite Colombian/Lebanese belly-dancing songstress, Shakira:

1. How on earth does one put on that black outfit?

2. Is she wearing two different shoes in said outfit?

3. Did she really howl???

4. Can anyone actually follow all of the lyrics of this song?

5. The weird shoulder dance: how/why?

6. Am I the only one secretly happy that she FINALLY dyed her roots to match the rest of her hair?

7. Would it be really very awesome to have a club in one’s closet, or would the noise on a Tuesday night get annoying after a while?

8. Who is her trainer/how can I have them on speed-dial immediately?

9. Is it me, or does she kind of look/dance like what Madonna would look like/dance like if she substituted half of her current creepily-high muscle mass for fat?

10. Does any of the above matter because her freaking HOTNESS is why I keep watching this over and over again?

Any and all answers to the above would be greatly appreciated.

I finally saw Nas in concert. It was at the New York leg of the Rock the Bells tour, and it was everything that I’d ever hoped it would be. He came out looking fresh in a white shirt and NY fitted, and performed everything from “Made You Look” to “One Love” (with Damien Marley mixing in his father’s track with it – I cannot WAIT for Distant Relatives to drop). The whole arena was going wild, everyone pumping their fists and getting hype. The energy all around me blasted away the tiredness I felt from getting so little sleep the night before, and I stayed on my feet rapping along like I had a record deal my damn self. Towards the end of the set Nas and Damien performed “Road to Zion,” at the beginning of which Damien asked everyone to put their lighters/cell phones/hands up in the air. Looking around at my fellow hip-hop heads in their thousands, faces illuminated by the electronic glow, all of us caught in the sheer passion and love we felt for this music, I couldn’t help but think of the many millions of souls around the world hip-hop culture has touched.

My first hip-hop memory is of listening to Snoop Dogg’s first album with my sisters (I’m going to discount my brief obsession with MC Hammer because a) I don’t directly remember it, it’s only from my family telling me I was a fan that I even know this and b) those damn harem pants). My dad was (and still is) a huge fan of Dr. Dre and purchased Snoop’s first album – Doggystyle – on cassette. It probably wasn’t the best thing for a 5 year-old to be listening to, but no one could tell me anything – I’d be rhyming along to “Gin and Juice” like I knew what liquor, Long Beach or weed were. One of the first things about rap music that fascinated me was the fact that rappers fit so many more words into the same 3 minutes and 30 seconds than performers of other genres do. My little brain was obsessed with how they came up with so many rhymes – some of them in the middle of lines – and coupled this with a beat that got people doing the head bop with a look of total and complete concentration, finished off with a catchy hook. It was magic to me then, and still is now.

The hip-hop I listened to when I was younger (particularly while my family lived in England) was heavily influenced by what my older sisters liked: Mase, DMX and Busta Rhymes were particular favourites, and probably the reason why I’m still an East Coast girl at heart. Trevor Nelson’s show on MTV, The Lick, further opened up the world of American hip-hop to me. My sisters and I would gather around the TV late Friday nights after our parents had gone to sleep, thirstily soaking up everything from the new Timbaland and Missy joints to The Roots’ latest (the first track by them I remember hearing was “You Got Me,” one of my favourite songs of all time). We didn’t only listen to rap – R’n’B was our shit too (R Kelly, Erykah Badu and Aaliyah – good times), and being a nine-year old girl living in England, I fell under the spell of the Spice Girls. Yeah, I said it – no shame in my game.

Ten years on my music tastes have expanded to include indie, grime, coupé-décalé and electronica, but I still go back to hip-hop despite all the talk of it being murdered by Soulja Boy and other ignorant-ass-dumb-chain-wearing-pseudo-rappers. I like to pride myself on the fact that I mostly listen to what people term as “conscious” rap (you know, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Dead Prez) and the OGs (A Tribe Called Quest, Wu Tang, Biggie), but I do still bump chart rap. I won’t necessarily buy Rich Boy’s or Rick Ross’ music, but I’ll be damned if I’m not the biggest boss that you’ve seen thus far. I made the distinction between my “club shit” and “real shit” a while ago (to be precise, circa December 2006 when I bought Nas’ “Hip Hop is Dead”), citing the over-commercialisation of the game and the lack of imagination that, unfortunately, the rise of the South has brought to hip-hop. Yes, rappers have always talked about money, cash and hoes (at least since the 90s), but they would more than occasionally bring up socio-economic and political issues like the struggles of the average young person coming up in an inner-city ghetto or the realities of police brutality, and do both with the flow that made you go “daaaaaaaaaaaamn!” But that was then. Now, if the Billboard Hip-Hop and R’n’B chart is anything to go by, sex, designer clothes and being strapped when you hit the club is all that defines the music that I fell in love with all those years ago, only now without the allure of clever wordplay or imaginative production. All new rappers seem to be mocking (or reflecting) the intelligence of their audiences, posteuring in their LV-upholstered SUVs. All hope is lost.

Or maybe not. Last weekend, I went to the album launch party of Blitz the Ambassador, a Ghanaian rapper based in Brooklyn. I was blown away first by the fact that he performed with a (seriously smoking hot) live band, his flow and the fact that he played the talking drum. I felt the way I did when I saw Nas perform a few weekends ago, the way I did when I first heard “With so much drama in the LBC/It’s kinda hard being Snoop D-O-double-G”: a bubbling excitement, chills down my spine, and a strange feeling of familiarity, because it sounded like the junction between my childhood and my present. Needless to say, I snapped up his album immediately and I love it. But of course, nothing can ever be that picture-perfect. Towards the end, Blitz made a little speech thanking everyone for their support and love, and then made that comment that so many of my favourite “conscious” artists have made before: “I don’t do this for the money.” Um, I’m gonna go ahead and call bullshit on that. Obviously, artists don’t create music solely for cash – the music industry is far too fickle for that to make sense (for better pay, I’d recommend construction or police work). There’s the drive to share a message with like-minded individuals, to be expressive, to do something that makes you so incredibly happy nothing else could compare. And I feel all of them on that. But seriously? If it really isn’t for the money, why can’t I get your album for free? And why do you get mad when people download your shit if it’s all about reclaiming the game and resurrecting hip-hop? And why don’t you stay underground rather than signing with a big record company? Understand I’m not attacking Blitz directly here, but speaking in general to the artists that look down their noses at the “coonery” of people like Gucci Mane and T-Pain (on a personal note, I’m going to add Kanye and Lil Wayne to my list of people who are making hip hop kind of unbearable). Yes, they lack artistry, but at least they’re being 100% honest about why it is they’re in this game. And they must, to some degree, believe that they’re truly making good music… although what that says about their mental state, I’d really rather not contemplate. All I’m saying is that hip-hop isn’t necessarily dead, but that the non-“conscious” rappers are a representation of one (unfortunate) direction it has taken. I don’t think this is a permanent evolution. I also think the “conscious” dudes need to get off their fucking high horses – YES you make better music, but it really isn’t that life-or-death serious. As far as I’m concerned, all the back and forth and haterade in hip-hop right now is doing nothing for its devotees. Basically, rappers: get the fuck back to making music that gets me so hype I act like a little kid who OD’d on candy, stop using Twitter as a forum for bitching at each other and make hip hop the only love of my life once more.

That’s just my very humble opinion. Hip-hop heads, let me know if you feel otherwise and shit.

P.S. Title is from my main man/future-children’s-father Common: first ever track of his I heard, and still one of my favourites of all time.