Saturday, November 23, 2013

A History Of Rappers Who Experiment With Singing

Drake, imma let you finish, but Lauryn Hill had one of the greatest singing and rapping careers of all time…           

We often associate Drake with pioneering the blend of singing and rapping in records, but in fact, emcees have been sharing their vocals for decades. There is a whole history of rappers experimenting with singing, setting the foundation for the rise in R&B fused hip hop songs that have become so popular. Without these rappers paving the way, there would be no 808s and Heartbreaks nor Drake’s sound that has opened up questions about masculinity in hip hop.

Bone Thugs-n-Harmony owned the 90’s and made an entire career based on the blend of rapping and singing, especially on their second album E. 1999 Eternal with the #1 single “Tha Crossroads.”

In 1997, The Notorious B.I.G. released his second studio album Life After Death, which featured the entire singing record “Playa Hater.”

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1998 pushed the boundaries of what an emcee was capable of with her soulful lyricism and beautiful vocals on “Ex-Factor,” “I Used To Love Him,” and “Everything Is Everything."

Also in 1998, Black Star, the hip hop duo released their one joint album Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star featuring the vocals of Mos Def on “Definition.”

Outkast can be given credit for pioneering the Southern hip hop sound which included their fusion of rapping, poetry and soul records. Particularly Andre 3000 utilized singing on his joint solo project The Love Below. But long before then, the duo were testing the rapping culture with singing tracks such as “Rosa Parks” and “Ms. Jackson.”

Ja Rule was certainly one of the original artists who identified as a rapper and singer providing hit singles from 1999-2004.  Collaborating with R&B singers on many of his popular records, Ja sang with them on “Between Me And You,” “Put It On Me,” “Always On Time” and the remix to Jennifer Lopez’s “I’m Real.”

Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez was the emcee of the female pop group TLC and their sound crossed multiple genres including R&B and Hip Hop.

Along with groundbreaking music videos, Missy Elliot is also known for records that incorporate hip hop, pop and R&B sounds. She used her voice as a diverse instrument particularly on “Hot Boyz” and “One Minute Man.”

Pharrell has never been confined by labels and that includes his career as rapper/singer. His debut album In My Mind featured his beautiful vocals, unique lyricism and brilliant production.

50 Cent experimented with singing on many of his hooks, most famously on “Just A Little Bit” and “Many Men” on his debut album Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ in 2005.

Although Lil Wayne’s singing ability is questionable, he has nonetheless ventured into singing on records. Some of his most successful use of vocals were his singles “Pussy Money Weed,” “Single,” and “How To Love.”

Kid Cudi mentored by Kanye West, helped Ye with 808s & Heartbreaks which opened up a whole new genre of hip hop. The auto-tuned singing is the same technique Drake utilizes on the majority of his records and allowed for vulnerability in hip hop. Cudi then went on to drop his debut album Man On The Moon, which fused singing and rapping in similar ways. His entire career has been based on this fusion and Kid Cudi sings on every album and almost every song he puts out.

All these artists opened up a sub-genre that Drake has popularized with his second and third album Take Care and Nothing Was The Same. It is important to recognize that Drake was in no way the first to blend the two genres and it is important to pay homage to these rappers who dove into singing and simultaneously challenged the norms of hip hop. Today Drake continues to push that boundary showcasing his vocals, but also expressing sensitivity, loneliness, and susceptibility, which were topics that were taboo in hip hop.  The only reason Drizzy has been able to be received in the hip hop world is because these artists set the foundation. Now it’s Drake’s turn to see how far he can take it, striving for more blend, and shedding a different and more realistic light on masculinity in hip hop.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Day In The Life Of YG

YG is without a doubt one of the hardest working rappers in the game right now. Featured on XXL's Freshmen list in 2011, he is now signed to Def Jam Recordings, just released one of the hottest records of the year and is getting ready to drop his debut album My Krazy Life.

Immediately after landing in Denver, YG and his team stopped by Family Affair, a well-known street wear/lifestyle shop for a meet and greet with his fans. The emcee took pictures and signed autographs for any and everyone while simultaneously looking for an outfit for his concert later that evening. After copping some fly gear, it was already getting late and YG had to quickly check into his hotel before his sold out concert at Cassleman's Bar & Venue.

At the concert venue in prep for his show, ciroc was his drink of choice that night and after a few drinks and a private ritual moment to himself, the crowd was chanting his name, packed to the brim and eager for his set. YG commanded the stage throughout his performance, showcasing hit after hit from his discography. "Bitches Ain't Shit" and "My Ni**a" were the crowd's favorites and the men rocked with every word as the women in the crowd were all struck by lust reaching and screaming for YG in hopes of being noticed.

After the concert I had the pleasure of asking YG a few questions about the upcoming album and I've got the video below as well as footage from the concert.

Although the highlight of the evening was after the interview, being in the mix of an epic cypher between YG, his DJ and his hype man Slim. All three were spitting fire and had such personality with their flow. BET definitely needs to get hip for the next Hip Hop Awards because this cypher was brilliant.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Renaissance Evening featuring Nas, The Reminders & Justin Bua

I witnessed hip hop greatness last night. The Shredded Beats event was originally planned to bring Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) to Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom, but with a last minute cancellation, none other than the Don was immediately set to replace him. Both making and representing history as this hip hop legend was gracing the stage but also performing in an intimate venue, which is unheard of for Nas these days.

The entire evening celebrated the arts with the incredible Justin Bua live painting based on inspiration from the many stellar acts of the evening. Besides Nas, The Reminders gave an outstanding performance. For those who aren't familiar with this rapping married couple, they spread love, family, and friendship through their hip hop music. Aja Black raps and sings while her husband Big Samir spits in both English and French incorporating his Belgium roots. Aja had an unbelievable stage presence and performed hype dance moves while never missing a beat in her flow. Big Samir, slightly in the background, supported his wife every step of the way. Their music was positive and authentic and they were the perfect openers for the man who is the true essence of hip hop.

Nas took the stage just before 1am and I teared up immediately. Standing five feet away from me, rapping the very lines that made me first fall in love with hip hop, I could barely keep my composure. He started off with the many classic songs from his debut Illmatic. Beginning first with "N.Y. State of Mind" then into "Represent Represent," "Life's A Bitch" and my personal favorite "The World is Yours." Standing at forty years old, the fact that his records that he made at sixteen are still relevant only solidifies that he is the greatest there is. Nas spit knowledge between each track, explaining his gratitude for still being able to to perform and make quality music. Nas came up when the game was untouchable, but because of death, lack of inspiration or simply falling off, he is one of the only emcees still standing, still untouchable.

His set, filled with classics from every album he ever put out, showcased his true versatility as a lyricist and arguably raps greatest poet. The crowd was inspired and passionate about hip hop, holding up books of rhymes, old Nas cassette tapes and of course belting out every word to every song. The concert was surreal and even though this was my fourth time seeing Nasty Nas live, being so close, feeling his every word was an experience that can't be matched.

There are some artists you can see over and over again and experience something new every time. Their music is timeless. Nas holds that crown, back then and still today.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

DMV Rapper Tim Moorehead Takes LA By Storm

In the DMV, Tim Moorehead is a household name, whether you’ve heard music from his many successful mixtapes or witnessed his live performances at George Mason University and most recently the iconic Yardfest during Howard University’s homecoming weekend. His next stop is LA, to conquer the rap game and I had the pleasure of sitting down with this talented emcee to discuss his unique approach to the hip hop genre.

Thanks for sitting down with Come Home With Me; Music First

I’m a fan, I read all the posts.

You’re making this move to Cali so things are getting serious. It must have been hard to prioritize going to school full time & propelling your rap career. I know I struggle with that too. People are always making assumptions about what should be most important, when in reality rapping is just as if not more productive than school work. At what moment did rapping change from being a hobby to being a career path?

When I released my second mixtape Winner’s Break in March 2012. It was seven months after releasing my first mixtape Everybody Has a Mixtape.

That’s a quick turnaround

Yeah I know, I write everyday. But right then and there I said ‘I’m gonna start taking this seriously as a career and I’m gonna be successful.’

You don't cuss, you're very religious. Do you feel like you have to compromise your values to be heard in the rap game or rather get radio play?

I don’t think you have to. You gotta think about it, America isn’t a Christian nation, but they are still fascinated by the idea of Christianity. You know it’s one nation under God. And that’s dealing with Hollywood and the images they portray, you still have to put your hand on the bible in court, so America is definitely very fascinated with religion. You don’t have to compromise your values, because even if you’re trying to spread a message, they are going to relate to it somehow because everyone has come in contact with a religious image or concept, its just the nation we live in.

You're attempting to conquer the game in an unconventional way. Tell us about your dreams?

Well actually I wanna do as well as I can in rap, you know I wanna take it to the top.  I don’t wanna just limit myself to rap, because I’m an individual who can be influential outside of music. I have a college degree.

Congrats on that, that’s recent right?

Right. That was in Government and International Politics. I love to speak publicly, whether it’s to people I don’t know or in a group setting. I think those are skills that not a lot of people have. So I just wanna use my skills to help influence the world and there’s so many ways you can do that, whether it’s through public speaking or rap or through any other form of the arts.

So it seems like you have a lot to say, what is your overall message?

I’m imperfect, but God is perfect and that’s how I find clarity in life, that’s how I find vision. If I’m blind, he’s my vision. This goes for everyone in the world, if you feel like you’re blind or you feel like you’re crippled, there’s another way you can walk or there’s another way you can see. You have to focus on what’s intangible. Developing fruits of the spirit like peace, love, kindness, patience, because this is what ultimately will fight all the evils of the world.

I watched the video of you spitting to Jay Electronica & even though you can't hear exactly what you're saying, it's so clear how much he's feeling your words. Tell us about that experience, a cosign from Jay Elec is very rare.

Shoutout to Jay Elec, shoutout to rocnation. Jay Electronica is one of my favorite rappers and the fact that the media can’t even get a hold of him because he’s off in Nepal, he’s in India, he’s in Oaxaca.

And we all still waiting on the music.

Exactly, he recorded his album in South Africa. He’s already a difficult individual to get in contact with. So to not only get in contact with him at Made in America, but also having the audacity to spit to him.

What did you spit to him?

I wrote this back in ’09, when I heard “Exhibit A” by Jay Electronica. I wrote my own verse to “Exhibit A” and I spit that verse to him. In “Exhibit A,” Jay Elec’s opening line was an ode to “Dead Presidents” by Jay Z, so my opening line was an ode to “Exhibit A.” Because of that, I later spit that verse in my performances to Dead Presidents.

Wow, coming full circle.

Exactly and that’s how I open my shows up. I won a lot of competitions like that. I know he knew where I spit rhymes like him, with the influence. He starts off “I spit that Wonderama ish(shit), me and my conglomerates shall remain anonymous, caught up in the finest ish(shit), get that type of media coverage Obama get.” So I start off “I spit that light of prominence, like a panorama it’s painting the same picture conveying the lord’s dominance.” Because that’s true to me, but it’s the same rhyme scheme, same rhyme pattern. Its just showing him, this is a different individual that you’re dealing with.

 So Jay Electronica is clearly a major influence, who else has influenced either your style or your love for hip hop growing up?

As far as style influence, Jay Electronica and Nas are my biggest influences. Typically when I go on more southern sounding tracks, Andre 3000 is my biggest influence. Andre 3000 and Lil Wayne are my biggest influences from the South. I’m also really influenced by Lauryn Hill’s style, I think she’s a crazy lyricist. I always pay homage to the greats.

You recently performed at Howard’s Homecoming which is huge. Congrats on that again, how did you get selected for that?

You have to apply when you’re not getting booked. They said they were choosing twelve acts and I sent a couple songs from my most recent mixtape with original production, which is Oktoberfest and that came out in October 2012 and you can get that on datpiff. That’s my last original piece. I sent six songs from that and they hit me back like a month later and they said ‘out of over 100s and 100s of applications, you were one of the twelve selected to perform at Howard’s Homecoming and open for the bigger acts.’ It was great

But your successes haven't been limited to the DMV area, you've won rap competitions in both coasts?
What have you been working on & what's up next for you?

I won one in New York and two in LA.

Wow, so you have three under your belt. What are those like?

You have 15-20 different acts, a combination of groups and solo acts. They perform in front of a label’s A&R. He decides who the winner is. In NY it was Def Jam, LA for the first time it was Def Jam and then Warner Bros for the second time. You have ten minutes to do your thing, whatever you wanna do whether its freestyling or going acapella. Then they have a final round for the finalist selected. They’ll select maybe ten out of that twenty. Every one I’ve been in, I was the winner.

That’s incredible. You must have gotten a lot of buzz from that, from major labels. I’m sure a lot of people were in the audience. But you’re making this journey to LA to propel this rap career. What are your thoughts on the current state of the game that you’re getting ready to enter?

I just feel like the game is wide open. Drake said ‘I just feel like the throne is for the taking.’ It’s like that. I know that there’s nobody in my lane, nobody. I have to keep on grinding, keep on making music, making my message known to every possible person I can. Because this positivity is needed. You have people who are kinda positive, but then wack talent wise, you have people who are talented but then not positive. Both of these have a negative in it.

You’re all positive, bringing a new light to hip hop.

I’m a rapper’s rapper. I’m growing with my music. I’m trying to make songs that are great musically and not just great in hip hop.

Who are you listening to right now?

I listen to myself a lot to critique my sound and just grow so every project is gonna be better and better. Other than that, I really like Pusha T’s album. Just how he’s still going with this cocaine metaphor is just crazy. People don’t even realize that, that cocaine he’s using in a lot of his tracks is that double edged sword. If you’re talking about drug dealing, drug dealing can get you money but it can also get you jail time. I feel like I can relate to Pusha T a lot in that way because I talk about sin in my tracks. Sin is gonna get you that instant satisfaction that your flesh desires, but you wake up the next day and you still feel empty. That’s why there’s gotta be a pursuit for more than simply what your flesh desires, its gotta be a pursuit for what we need.

You’re bringing that depth that hip hop is missing.

That’s all I’m trying to do. I wanna make something worthwhile. Our genre shouldn’t be the only genre out there that doesn’t have something to say. I listen to Fleetwood Mac, Bon Jovi, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, even these country singers got something to say. But why is hip hop the only one that you can’t play at the white house?

But I think a lot of that has to do with the racist society that we live in & hip hop is judged much more harshly than any other genre and criticized for not being conscious when there’s plenty of other genres and artists who no cares to be conscious. Hip hop is so broad and there are so many different lanes, but we are missing a conscious rapper right now.

The thing is they’re out there, but nobody pays attention to them.

Yeah mainstream wise, commercial wise. For sure they’re out there, but artists are always gonna be out there that are not known. Who do you want to work with in the future?

Just in hip hop? Because I’m a music head. I love Mad Lib to Heat Makers to No ID to Mike Will Made It. A lot of people get it twisted, he probably has seven songs on the top ten in radio play right now, but that does not change the fact that’s he cold. It’s a lot of producers from the past I wanna work with, Pete Rock, Q Tip. People now like Pharrell and Timbaland, because I know for sure they’re searching for someone who is not only dope, but for someone who’s gonna change people’s lives in a positive way. Because that’s the only way your music is gonna stick throughout time.

Let’s hope they’re listening to this interview then. Word up, any emcees?

Whoever wants to holla at me, holla at me. I like whoever’s dope. As long as I feel like your authentic even if your reality is in a different code than mine is. I’m that much of an artist that I’m gonna get on a track with you just so we can give the listeners a dichotomy. I’m from nobody’s hood, so me getting on a track with a hood rapper is genius. We’re showing two different sides of the railroad tracks. But showing in the end that we meet eye to eye in the grand scheme of things.

I’m picturing it now, you and Chief Keef might be brilliant.

Yo Chief Keef holla at me.

What have you been working on & what's up next for you?

I’m working on a new project, which will be coming out next year. I try to get into the studio as much as I can and just make more quality music whether it’s down to the engineering or different rhyme schemes used.

Always progressing. Give a shoutout

Shoutout to my family, my friends. Ultimately shoutout to my God, that’s who I live my life for. Shoutout to everybody who’s supporting me. Shoutout to Khaos Entertainmet, shoutout to my manager William Alonzo. Shoutout to George Mason, PG County, the whole DC area. Shoutout to the whole world. I don’t want anybody to be left out.

Your musics for everybody.

Also shoutout to “Come Home With Me”!

This is right before you’re about to blow up. Keep making music that matters because you’re gonna be heard.

Look out for Tim Moorehead (@callmetrademark) and check out his dope music and Youtube page

Also big ups to all the young aspiring artists trying to make a difference in hip hop. You are appreciated...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Rise of Mixtape Culture vs. The Debut Album

The debut album is the most honest and raw body of work an artist releases. There are no expectations of their sound, but rather it’s our first glimpse of who this artist is, well rather was. A generation of hip hop ago, first albums were where artists shined, Jay Z with Reasonable Doubt, Nas with Illmatic, Lupe Fiasco with Food & Liquor. However, datpiff wasn’t around when these emcees were first releasing material and mixtape culture has drastically shifted our first encounter with new artists. Rappers release mixtape upon mixtape that by the time their first album drops, we already have a preconceived notion of what it should sound like and at what caliber the album will rank. It is almost impossible to hear debut albums with a fresh ear these days when we are constantly comparing them to the artist’s mixtape material.

Although I love the dedication to dropping new quality music for the free, there has to be a difference in caliber between a mixtape and an album. Too often these debut albums are falling short especially after releasing classic mixtapes. Live.Love.A$AP was Rocky to the core, it depicted his New York roots while incorporating his unique Houston inspired sound. People were excited about A$AP and eager for his debut album. But with Long.Live.A$AP, he had to bring something NEW, he could no longer be the truest form of himself as an artist. Instead he tried to be larger than life, expressing his unbelievably quick rise to fame. But the raw Harlem cat who we all could relate to began to slip out of our grasps and into commercialism.

J. Cole is another example. Did Born Sinner live up to the artistry of Friday Night Lights? There are some artists who are able to deliver quality mixtapes and still drop an amazing album, Kendrick Lamar and Ab-Soul succeeded. But a debut album separates the legends from the rest. There was no question after Ready to Die dropped, that Big was going to be a lasting presence in the game. Too often these days, artists are not living up to the buzz they created surrounding their mixtapes. Big K.R.I.T. said “I treat my mixtapes like albums,” which is noble, but at the end of the day the albums have to be superior. Especially when quality mixtapes are just a free download away, no one is going to be inspired to purchase a mediocre debut album.

I fear for new artists who have yet to release debuts. Will Chance the Rapper be able to live up to the critical acclaim of Acid Rap? I hope so, but our view of new artists and debut albums are so tainted now. During a time when the sky is the limit and creatively there are no boundaries, artists are already forced to create a different sound then what should have been their debut and as hip hop fans, we aren’t receiving the same quality of debut albums.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Smoker's Club Tour 2013: Joey Bada$$, Pro Era, Ab-Soul, The Underachievers & more

I'm sure Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom is still picking up roaches from last night's events. Coloradans take pride in their weed and when the major smokers of the hip hop industry came to town, pot heads united, bringing their lungs and ears for the 2013 lineup of Smoker's Club Tour. I attended the tour back in 2010 and at first I was slightly disappointed that there weren't more major artists on the roster, but the acts were stellar and it was truly a night to remember.

I walked in as Chevy Woods was finishing his set and the crowd was loving his Taylor Gang hits. However, the unsung heroes of the evening were The Underachievers. Performing material from Indigoism as well as their newest mixtape Lords of Flatbush, they possessed such a genuine stage presence and really appealed to the audience by taking song requests and performing what they wanted to hear. Issa Gold was so authentic with his interactions with the crowd and introductions to their songs that it felt like we were all homies in on a listening session. Both rappers were super personable and their performance was one of the highlights of the evening.

Surprisingly, headliner Ab-Soul came out next instead of closing the show. Soulo's performance was simple and effective, a true artist and free of all the gimmicks, he gave an incredible set showcasing his superior lyrical ability and just dope music. His aura and energy was raw and evoked brilliance. I've loved both Longterm Mentality and Control System and he performed tracks from both projects. Closing his set with "Illuminate" featuring his Black Hippy label mate Kendrick Lamar, the long haired, sun glass wearing emcee was outstanding.

Pro Era's Kwon ran onstage and got the crowd hype for the hip hop collective's leading emcee, Joey Bada$$. Still incredibly young and raw and in prep for his studio album debut, Joey was enlightening. The energy he drew from the crowd was unmatched that evening. Kirk Knight, CJ Fly, A La $ole, Dessy Hinds and a few other members joined Joey and even performed some of their new material from upcoming solo projects. Seeing the greatness of Joey live and his ability to command an audience that large was remarkable and made me reflect on youth in hip hop. To this day, Jay Z and Nas' debut albums are my favorites of their discography. There is something so fresh and honest about a young rappers debut and Joey at only eighteen is certainly on the path to a long and successful career with Pro Era no error!

I had the pleasure of meeting the artists after the show and it was interesting to see the maturity of Ab-Soul versus the genuine preservation of childhood with Pro Era. Despite fame and a constant touring schedule, these teenagers are still kids and that innocence was refreshing.