Almost every person, place or thing I’ve ever encountered had a song attached to it. Sometimes it was a song of nature and sometimes it was a song of man… but nevertheless it was there. I have been lucky enough to hear life’s songs and I try to write them down when I can to share them with others. Sometimes that can have me up at some weird hours. Now, I know I’m up pretty late right now… but I have good reason: I’m inspired. Inspired to write a song for someone special.
The fact that I’m writing a song, or even that I’m up late might not be such a big deal, except for the fact that I haven’t been inspired to write a song for someone in a very long time. For the inspiration to come to me tonight is like visiting with an old friend I haven’t seen in months… I wouldn’t miss the opportunity.
This song came to me like many of them do, at the piano. I was running my fingers across the piano keys haphazardly looking for a sound that stuck with me… and all at once there was this beautiful melody. Immediately this person’s image crowded my thoughts and the words began to flow from my mouth like water… I had to find something quickly to write it all down with before I lost it.
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.
But c’mon, let’s be honest… One Direction feels like the last of a dying breed. Not that I’m trying to frighten their hordes of fans. I just think that particular industry season has just about run its course. Nearly every popular group from a decade ago has been gradually reduced to one (sometimes two) of its most popular soloists.
So anyway, I thought I’d upload a song demo from a few years back. I used to do studio work all the time for different producers, writers and indy record labels. I’d record lots of demos for submission to various artists. Some got picked up, others did not. Here is one that I thought was pretty good. This song was going to be submitted to a new N’sync type boy band that was scheduled to come out. But the band (and subsequently this song) never made it past the demo stage. Meh. I liked it though.
I’ve known you for a while.
No longer in denial.
I told you to come over cause I wanted to see your smile.
I watched you come inside
and though I really tried
what I felt was overwhelming and there was no way that I could hide.
The way you make me feel
My heart I can’t conceal
It almost seems unreal
But I’m offering my love to you
I can’t believe it’s true
To be in love with you
I know just what to do
Girl, I’m offering my love to you
Someone complimented me on my music the other day. After saying thank you, they proceeded to ask me why I haven’t “tried to get a record deal??” and blah blah blah. I’ve heard that question so many times now that I’ve developed the pat answer of, “because my wife and kids are worth more than any fame or fortune I’d have sacrificed them to obtain”.
Okay, I’m not trying to sound all doomsday. So what does that mean exactly?
Well, I’ve had many occasions to “get a record deal”(which doesn’t mean what it used to). That isn’t meant to sound boastful. I just want you to know that it hasn’t been due to lack of opportunity. But once I started a family, they became my priority. It was my choice to do so. And no amount of money or notoriety was worth the very real possibility of giving them up. Which is what I was being asked to do in nearly every single circumstance.
See, I already knew what it’s like to spend countless hours in the studio. I’d paid my dues as an artist performing multiple shows a day, multiple days a week. So while it’s true that I would have done anything for my wife and kids, I had to draw the line at depriving them of a husband and father who loves them.
My decision was based on my personal experience and firsthand knowledge that the music industry (and the entertainment industry as a whole) is not very nice. The industry machine and the people who operate it don’t really care about you. Labels, publishers and some producers only care about how you will benefit them first and yourself second, if at all. Most will be expected to act selfishly, and you could very well be asked at some point in your career to compromise everything you believe.
I’m not saying this is the case for everyone. And I would never discourage anyone from pursuing their dreams. It’s just that with my circumstances, for me it was very clear what the end of the road looked like had I chosen differently. I have acquaintances who are both lonely and full of regret. I have other friends who are very fulfilled in their industry careers. It wasn’t until years later that they become acutely aware of the cost of the road they chose. I just implore you to make an informed decision about these kinds of things. Because the price you pay isn’t always obvious.
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.