Friday, January 18, 2008

Estelle: Soon To Be Shining

Newcomer songstress/rapper Estelle is preparing her sophomore album, Shine, to be released this February. After gaining mild success in her native home in London, Ms. Swaray is hoping her hybrid style will breakthrough across the Atlantic. Estelle's debut, The 18th Letter, quickly garnered the attention of then-unknown singer by the name of John Legend. When it came time to get started on her next effort, Estelle wanted Legend to executive produce, but he wanted more. Legend signed her as his first artist on Homeschool Records. Shine is scheduled to feature production from Swizz Beatz, Cee-Lo, Wyclef Jean, and current "it" producer, Mark Ronson.

I am very intrigued to hear more from Estelle. Her lead single, "Wait A Minute (Just A Touch", has generated some heat early with the help of Will.I.Am. Next up is an appearance by Kanye West on the hip-hop flavored "American Boy". I am most interested to see if Mark Ronson can duplicate his success in 2007 with Sharon Jones and Amy Winehouse. While Estelle is more hip-hop than those two singers, Ronson has shown he can make his throwback sound work with artists from many genres (see Lily Allen, Rhymefest, ODB). Carrying a soulful voice mixed with a jazzy flow and A-List backing, Estelle should have no problem glowing in 2008.

*Songs were removed by request of record company : (

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Lyrical Genius: Sean Kingston "Take You There"

While I try my best to promote music I love and think should be heard by all, inevitably, I succomb to the latest in pop hits. Some beats are so catchy, it can't be helped. Guilty pleasures. Party music. Songs I would most likely love at the bar, but shun in a sober state. I might get my music snobbery card revoked, but the force that is pop music is sometimes unavoidable.

Where is this embarrassing confession leading? One of my latest and favorite hobbies, lyrical interpretation. While it can be quite rewarding deciphering the vocabulary of Conor Oberst and expounding upon the narrative skills of Common. It can also be just as fun to find offensive analogies by Finger Eleven and translate the wordsmithery of sexual innuendos in Nelly's hits. Yes, I know this is pop music. The word "pop" brings to mind sugary, bubble gum that loses its meaningless flavor faster than Snow can say "Informer". But this is what its here for, right?

The most recent example of lyrical genius is executed on the breezy single by Sean Kingston on "Take You There". This Jamaican flavored young'n clearly filled the void of annoying, commercialized reggae star that Shaggy grew too old for and Sean Paul was too ugly hold on to. You might remember him for making you contemplate "suicidal" thoughts after he butchered Ben E. King's classic, "Stand By Me" all summer long on "Beautiful Girls".

On "Take You There", Kingston once again appeals to the ladies. Over a summery beat that features a blatant rip off of the "haunting effect" Danja & Timbaland used on "Cry Me A River" and "We Takin' Over". Throughout the song, Mr. Kingston offers a young female a variety of options for their romantic endeavors. Specifically, he states:
We can go to the tropics
sip Pina Coladas
Shorty I can take you there
Or we can go to the slums
Where killas get hung
Shorty I can take you there
This gem of a chorus is so classy on so many levels. While our cuddly Jamaican friend starts off right by offering up a trip to a scenic spot, he fails to mention he is 17 and won't be purchasing anyone any alcoholic beverages (well, maybe not). He then shows that the word "shorty" might not be finished, after being used by every rapper/crooner (see 50 Cent, T-Pain & Akon) in 2007. At this point, the generous offer gets interesting as Kingston options to show his counterpart a trip to his part of town. Seems like a nice idea, maybe she could meet his mother, wrong. Instead, he'd rather show her spots in which she might get to meet some slain gangsters? Huh?

Kingston finishes this enchanting pick-up with gun shots, police flying by and possible encounter with "bad men". You never know, this could be "paradise" to some classy female. So, ladies, wouldn't you like Sean Kingston to "Take You There"?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

2007 Wrap-Up: Showstopper in 2008

While I am mostly saving my pennies to go to Lollapalooza in 2008, here are a few of the bands I'd like to see live and in person.

#5 Editors/Jack Penate/The Fratellis/The Kooks
Though each of these rising artists/bands from across the pond have very unique styles, I'd love to see them implement their hits on stage. I've already seen Editors, but their expanding catalog would make for a great, dark show.

#4 Georgie James
One of SubPop's newest signees had a great fall with Places. They have already laid plans for part of 2008, hopefully they will bring "More Lights" to Detroit as well.

#3 Girl Talk
While I've already seen this mash-up maestro once (and plan to visit Chicago's Metro for a Jan. 26 sold out show), I could be easily persuaded for another crazy night with Girl Talk. There have been rumors of a new album in early 2008, so why not promote it in "the D."

#2 Neko Case
2006 was chanteuse Neko Case's breakout year with Fox Confessor Brings The Flood, but she still managed to shine in 2007 with The New Pornographer's stellar reunion album, Challengers. From the reviews I have read and evidence from Live From Austin, TX, I'm sure Case's chilling vocals would be more than mesmerizing in person.

#1 Arcade Fire
They made nearly every blogger and critic's top albums list in 2007, but only played a handful of shows in the U.S. to support Neon Bible. The closest Arcade Fire came to Michigan was an October show in Columbus, which wasn't close enough for me to attend. It would be be hard for me to skip a Detroit show with Win Butler's dark orchestra.

Friday, January 11, 2008

2007 Wrap-Up: Looking Forward To In 2008

While 2007 was the best year in music for me personally, I have only begun to dig in the crates for new music. Though many indie fans have complained that there aren't any big albums to look forward to in 2008 (Arcade Fire, The New Pornographers, Arctic Monkeys, The Shins, etc.) There should be more than enough music to file through and its likely that there will be many hidden gems in the pack (see Feist).

Here is what I'm looking forward to most:

#5 Dr. Dre "Detox" - Yeah, right. This should be filed with the infamous next Guns 'n Roses LP, but there is always hope. The good doctor is rumored to be collaborating with the usual Aftermath suspects (Eminem, 50 Cent, Eve, Busta Rhymes) and others including Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Lil' Wayne, newcomer Bishop Lamont, and producers J.R. Rotem, Just Blaze, and RZA.

#4 New albums by: Andre 3000 and Big Boi of OutKast, the Kooks, Nas, Tokyo Police Club, Klaxons, Royce Da 5'9", The Courteeners, Keri Hilson, The Black Kids, Emmy the Great, Gnarls Barkley, Eminem, Rhymefest, Lightspeed Champion, WALE, Girl Talk, & Adele (look out Amy Winehouse).

#3 Timbaland "Shock Value II" - The follow-up to the genre-twisting hit album in 2007. Scheduled to feature Akon, Gwen Stefani, Linkin Park, Jay-Z, Keri Hilson and more. I can't say it looks too groundbreaking (I'd love to see him work with Bloc Party), but worth checking out for the beats.

#2 Lil' Wayne The Carter III - Dwayne Carter has been rapping out of his mind since his last album. He has been featured on every remix you can think of (DJ Khaled's "I'm So Hood" and Wyclef's "Sweetest Girl" are a few favorites), has put out countless acclaimed mixtapes (The Drought Is Over series) and a buzz-worthy EP, The Leak. Much of the hype has been due to Wayne's growth as a lyricist. By dropping witty metaphors and personal anecdotes (the trippy "I Feel Like Dying") and political musings (George Bush aimed "Georgia...Bush") like its hot, he has shed much of the "Bling-Bling" persona. With production by Timbaland, Will.I.Am, Cool & Dre, Just Blaze and a possible reunion with Mannie Fresh, Lil' Wayne's The Carter III will be one of the most anticipated hip-hop albums of 2008.

#1 Lollapalooza 2008 Aug 1-3 - I've been dying to go for the past two summers, will I finally just pony up the dough? Will Perry Farrell continue to concoct a line-up worthy of past summers with the growing number of competitive festivals? Personally, I'm hoping for Radiohead, The New Pornographers, Girl Talk, Georgie James, Lupe Fiasco, K-OS, Rhymefest, The Black Kids, OutKast, Weezer, maybe even the Black Crowes.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

2007 Wrap-Up: Showstopper Edition

Early on in 2007, I was worried that many of my favorite acts would skip Detroit for other cities. While I didn't get to see everyone I wanted (Arctic Monkeys, Ben Harper, Rilo Kiley, Spoon & Band Of Horses) and some of them still haven't made it (Arcade Fire, The Decemberists, Amy Winehouse, The New Pornographers), I was more than happy with the shows I was able to attend.

#5 Copeland w/ As Tall As Lions @ Blind Pig, Ann Arbor, MI - 5/7/07

My first show of the year and first ever in Ann Arbor. I wasn't sure what to expect, but Copeland didn't disappoint. The audience was enthralled with lead singer Aaron Marsh's emotion and his piano skills weren't too shabby either. "You Have My Attention" and "Control Freak" were definite highlights.

#4 Tegan and Sara w/ Northern State @ St. Andrew's Hall, Detroit, MI - 11/28/07

Canada's most talented set of twins showed their vast musical talent and patience at this recent show. The crowd helped Tegan and Sara sing most of the numbers from the band's large catalog and gave a few too many suggestions as well. Short anecdotes from Tegan made for memorable moments/rants were perfect for the intamate venue. Recent hits from The Con kept almost everyone happy, but "Living Room" shined as an energetic performance. Northern State aptly opened the show with their fun and earnest female rap session. You couldn't help but smile as they ran through "Better Already" and "Sucka Mofo" while striking poses and jumping along the way.

#3 The Format w/ Limbeck, Steel Train, & Piebald @ St. Andrew's Hall, Detroit, MI - 8/31/07

Energy was abound at this show with members of each band helping out for each other's sets. The Format seamlessly and electrically played past hits and most of their latest, Dog Problems. Limbeck brought West Coast flavor, Steel Train gave a dramatic Jersey showcase and Piebald gave a rowdy effort on their last ever stop in Detroit.

#2 Feist w/ Rogue Wave @ Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor, MI - 9/15/07

Definitely the quietest concert I've ever attended, but amazing in its own way. Feist highlighted hits from The Reminder and Let It Die with a cool backdrop that set Michigan Theater aglow. "My Moon My Man", "Mushaboom" and the encore featuring "Sea Lion Woman" were highlights. The finale even featured Feist as choir director leading the crowd in helpful edition of her biggest hit so far, "1,2,3,4". Rogue Wave had a solid opening slot and featured a rousing rendition of "Lake Michigan".

#1 Girl Talk @ Eagle Theater, Pontiac, MI - 11/10/07

Though it doesn't really qualify as an concert, the Girl Talk show was certainly the best event I attended this year. This fringe riot is probably the only time I'll ever see that many people sweating and bumping into each other like they'll never dance again. Insanity.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

2007 Wrap-Up: Commercial Hip-Hop Albums

For all of the complaining I have done about the rap/hip-hop game this year, when it was good, it was really good.

#4 Common Finding Forever
It might not be Common's best, but it was still one of the best in the game. After his most successful album to date, Be, gained crossover success, Common decided not to mess with a good thing on Finding Forever. With help from Kanye West, Will.I.Am. and DJ Premier, Common pleased pop fans and hip-hoppers alike with stellar story-telling on "Drivin' Me Wild", "The Game" and "The People". The only thing missing was a few more J-Dilla beats.

#3 Jay-Z American Gangster
Jay-Z must have been watching "Godfather III" in between viewings of "American Gangster" because just when you thought he was out, he got pulled back in. Young Hov decided to postpone retirement again and create a concept album inspired by Denzel Washington's most recent amazing performance. American Gangster easily eclipses his last effort and created a dark landscape as close to Reasonable Doubt as it gets. "I Know" is classic song writing taken from the view of heroin, while "Pray", "Success", and "Fallin'" exploit the highs and lows of S. Carter's hoodlum past.

#2 Kanye West Graduation
The ever controversial Kanye West added a sales war with 50 Cent to his resume with the release of Graduation. Not surprisingly, it lived up to the hype. "Stronger" used a Daft Punk sample to get pop fans interested, but gems like "Flashing Lights" and the earnest approach on "Everything I Am" impressed hip-hop purists and pushed Mr. West to the head of the class.

#1 Lupe Fiasco The Cool
Kanye and Common weren't the only Chicago MC's to show the world how Chi-Town does hip-hop. Lupe Fiasco's semi-concept album, The Cool barely made it into consideration for 2007, but won't be easily forgotten. He continues where he left off on Food & Liquor with the story of a mobster who rises from the grave on "The Coolest", while he introduces new characters The Streets (the gritty "Streets On Fire") and The Game ("Put You On Game"). Lupe Fiasco is particularly compelling on the intergalactic sound of "Intruder Alert" and military style of "Little Weapon" While using each verse to describe 3 different stories, "Intruder Alert" intracatly details the experiences of a rape victim, drug addict and an immigrant. The hypnotic beat by Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump on "Little Weapon" echoes the entrancing story of child soldiers in Africa. Lupe's composed delivery while dropping refreshing knowledge is apparent no matter who's point of view he spits from.