We apologize for being M.I.A. the past month. Sometimes life gets in the way, a circumstance to which I’m sure many people can relate. 🙂 With Bennie moving ever closer to delivery, we’ve had to shift our focus and rearrange a few things. This created the need for a bit of a hiatus. Nevertheless, TLM is back on track to push forward with music reviews and articles that showcase some of the best new and established artists and bands you’ll want to check out (or avoid, as the case may be ;-)). In any case, we are excited for what lies ahead! 😀
It’s like losing track of time after reading a few good books. 😉
At first glance the 6-member group – with Duke Sims and Baby G on vocals, Alien Lex on bass, brothers Maniak Mike and Terminator Dave on guitar and drums, and rounded out by DJ Axis Powers on the wheels of steel – is a mashup of hip hop and rock that many bands have attempted, but few have successfully achieved. But for every 15 epic group failures, you occasionally stumble upon a band like Shinobi Ninja who convincingly grabs the rap-rock mantle handed down by legends like The Beastie Boys and Public Enemy, and carried by contemporaries like Linkin Park and Rage Against The Machine.
Thanks to the band’s generosity (shout out to Dave!), TLM got a chance to check out songs from their 2011 album release “Rock Hood”, as well as the 2012 ILL ISH single (with Rusty Stab as the B-side).
On all of the tracks we heard, the band showed strength and a genuine combined skill in both genres of music. Their body of work comprises a seamless collection of heavy hitting, head pounding, hip hop/rock tracks that display an abundance of neighborhood front-runner swag. You know what I mean… Shinobi Ninja is like that guy you often see around the block where you can tell he commands respect and admiration just by the way he walks. Yeah, like that.
Duke Sims delivers vocal agility and a strong sense of tone; never letting the melody or lyrics get lost in the depth of sound produced by the tight instrumentation of the musicians supporting the cause. His delivery, on several levels, manages to maintain hip hop credibility while singing a strong counter-melody to the phat beats and thumping bass lines.
Baby G shines on the band’s recordings and in particular during her spotlight moments on tracks like “Nah Nah” and Shinobi Ninja’s cover of Montell Jordan’s classic “This Is How We Do It”, which offers up a salute to another hip hop classic during a genre-blend near the end of the song. Baby G is authentic Hip Hop, not some contrived, sloppy reproduction. Because of this, you are released to just enjoy her instead of being caught up in the disappointment of a bad attempt.
The album is full of energetic calls to action on tracks like the eponymous “Rock Hood” and “Jump To This”, party anthems which compel you to play the tracks as loud as possible, and make you wish you had a stadium in your backyard just to fully appreciate the intensity of the top-notch production. When I say you can’t sleep on this album, I mean you literally WILL NOT be able to come down from the high this group achieves from the very first track to the last. It’ll make you want to say, “Where the party at?!”
This is a follow-up to my previous article: The Price.
Living in Los Angeles, there are probably very few people who haven’t at some point in their lives dreamed of being famous. You know… face plastered on billboards all over town or your contagious song on the radio. I’ve been fortunate to experience many extraordinary things over the years… two albums (do NOT ask me the names, I will NOT tell you), movies (VH1, but hey it still counts ), and TV commercials (Coca-Cola, KFC, McDonalds… FYI jingles make a TON of money), among others. For the most part, I’ve always been two steps shy of the spotlight. At any moment I could easily have stepped into the hot glaring lights of Who’s Whoville. Ran through the Hollywood scene with reckless abandon. Schmooze at houses with bathrooms bigger than my backyard. But with all of the things that I’ve seen, read or personally experienced, I’ve come to the conclusion that fame was the last thing I ever wanted.
I told this story a couple of years ago about a very well-known, highly respected (and still active) industry exec who told me, “Riis! I will make you a star! We’ll make your album and feature it in all of the movies I work on and you’ll guest spot on every single TV show I supervise. Just sign on the dotted line… “
I never did.
I knew everything he said was probably true. But as I mentioned, the cost for me was far more than I was willing to pay. I’ve seen what fame & celebrity has done to people. People I know personally. There’s absolutely no privacy. Increased instability for my kids who already have enough to contend with just trying to be kids. The constant travelling and being pulled in several directions at once. I realized back then that in all of my pursuing, I wasn’t chasing a desire to be famous, but simply… a desire to be liked. I wanted to feel special. I wanted people to look at me with the awe that comes with seeing a child prodigy, getting a book signed by their favorite author or scoring backstage passes to a sold out show. I wanted to feel wanted.
But you know what you often get with fame? You get a growing population who feels it is there right and obligation to criticize you… judge you… pick you apart for every little thing you do or don’t do… you become the subject of asinine headlines like “Riis addicted to Starbucks” or “Riis’ Marriage On The Brink Of Failure! Drinks Red Bull To Calm Frayed Nerves!” And then you realize that the affirmation is fleeting. This industry is fickle. Jealousy overshadows your accomplishments. People have unrealistic expectations of how you should act and who you should be. Close relationships begin to fall apart because you just don’t have the time to invest in them like you should.
I’m not saying this is what fame looks like for everyone, but when he placed that contract in front of me and I looked at my future… this is what I saw. And I was thankful that in a sense, at that moment I was at the pivot point… a chance to rewind. I could choose now to trade that successful but empty future for a different one. The one I have now.
When I take stock of all that I have, I recognize that it’s everything I ever truly wanted. I’m not just liked, I am loved… by my wife, my kids, my family and close friends. My children look at me with awe and think that I know the answer to everything. I’m recognized for my skills and talents at work, with colleagues and fellow artists. My wife wants and affirms me everyday. And you know… if I never win a Grammy or an Oscar, I’ve acquired something more priceless… fulfillment.
So it’s been about 7 years since Justin Timberlake revised pop culture vernacular by declaring he would be the one to bring Sexy Back. Since then we’ve seen J.T. eschewing time spent behind a microphone and replacing it with considerable time spent in front of a camera. Now, while my beloved Bennie and many others like her have feasted on the eye candy J.T. presents on screen, those of us less concerned with the appeal of his 5 o’clock shadow have waited patiently for the release of some new audio addiction.
We have found our fix in J.T.’s lead single “Suit & Tie” from his upcoming album “The 20/20 Experience”.
The track, produced by Timbaland, combines equal parts baby-making, half-time back beats with a bouncing bass line, harp flourishes and lush synth strings. Over this J.T. offers to “show you a good thang” while alternating between cool natural vocals and a crisp falsetto reminiscent of Marvin Gaye on his classic “After The Dance“. As with most trendsetters, my prediction is that just as Jay-Z intones in his rap verse “This is trouble season/time for tuxedos for no reason”, we will most likely see an increase in faux-tuxedo based fashion cropping up over the next year. Be afraid.
Nevertheless, the release of this single, along with a statement regarding “newfound muses” in the Open Letter on his website, has caused us to eagerly anticipate hearing what he will present for our listening pleasure on the full album.
Take a listen below and let us know YOUR thoughts on J.T.’s newest release.
Have you ever purchased the first album from an artist and thought “Wow! This person/group is amazing! I love this album!” after listening to it for the first time? Then, you run out and purchase their follow-up album on the day of its release and once you listen to it, do you wonder “Whoa! WTH?? What happened to the unique sound? Where are the cutting edge lyrics? Who stole their music mojo??” Well, there’s a very good and logical reason for this. Allow me to explain…
Many artists toil in obscurity for many years before they are finally “discovered”. This means they’ve banked years and years of songs that they’ve performed and perfected. Undiscovered artists probably have a repertoire of a hundred songs they’ve written, re-written, thrown away, revived and remixed. These songs were birthed out of their life experiences: people they’ve met, things they’ve done, places they’ve gone and all the varying emotions that accompany them.
So how does this related to the Sophomore Slump? Well, the artist comes to the table with a list of songs that have been identified as fan favorites based on live performance response. The first album is usually a collection of the best of these songs. Most of these musical gems have had a long and arduous evolution before blessing your ears. So by the time you hear it for the first time on the radio, it is the perfected, aged version of a carefully crafted audio offering… pre-discovery.
Unfortunately, in the most traditional sense, “discovery” means an artist was able to obtain a record deal and signed a (initially very un-lucrative) contract to be developed (image reconstruction), marketed (blatantly exploited) and/or produced (tracks, lyrics and sound pre-determined) by a major label. What this does is dilute the very thing that made the artist so groundbreaking in the first place. If it so happens that one of the tracks from the debut album rockets up the charts, you can bet your house that the next album will have songs that sound eerily similar to that hit from before.
What the major labels fail to realize is that a song may be years old and written in a period of musical exploration that the artist has long since left behind. It’s like asking a 35-year old, time-worn former gymnast to bust a triple-somersault with a half twist off the vault and stick the landing. It’s not going to happen. And the result is a deeply disappointing second album filled with mediocre retreads that fall far short of the splendor of the first album.
This doesn’t mean an artist has no more good music left to write. It’s just that the Major Label Machine is not as concerned about artistic vision as it is about profit margins. It should be about allowing creative freedom for the artist to freely explore things musically instead of trying to fit them into what the label has decided is a “winning formula”. This is why you’ll find plenty of artists who are musically indistinguishable from one another.
Sadly, with the availability of tools that allow an independent artist to compete directly with major labels, the new trend for labels has been to forgo finding an artist that brings anything to the table other than fitting into a particular marketing demographic. That is why you’ll find very few contemporary singers who have any degree of longevity. The artistry has died.