Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Classic Album Review: Boyz II Men, "II"

Boyz II Men first sauntered their way onto the music scene with their debut album, "Cooleyhighharmony", in 1991. The album wasn't just a simple breakthrough, by the end of the decade it would become on of the best selling debut albums of all time, but the point being that a new R&B group had hit the music scene, and they had the chance to be one of the biggest ever.

Their sound was different that anything else that was coming out at that time, a sort of eclectic mix of hip-hop and doo-wop, old school jazz flavor mixed in with some contemporary style. It was clear from the first album that this group would be doing big things in the music industry.

The album had that rare mix of great singles with several cuts that could have just as easily been hits, the ultimate measure of a release that is both commercially and creatively successful. What could they do for a follow-up?

With the release of their second album, the simply titled, "II", the 'Boyz' assured their spot at the top of the charts and as the most successful group of the right now (well, the 'right then' aka the 90's).

Released in 1994, "II" eventually won the Grammy for Best R&B album, but it also made the group bonafide stars. The album contained multiple number one singles, and helped lovers the set the mood for years upon years to come.

The album is filled with some fantastic, soulful, and beautiful sounding tracks. The singles "I'll Make Love to You" and "On Bended Knee" are obviously great, but "Yesterday", "Water Runs Dry", and "All Around the World" are quality pieces as well.

"I'll Make Love to You" is one of the group's most recognizable and successful songs. The track spent two months on top of the charts, only to be knocked down by another Boyz II Men track. The song is a ballad in its purest form and hits on some romantic high notes, while also being a mature and soulful track.

The track became a platinum-selling single, won the 1995 Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals and two American Music Awards for Favorite Pop/Rock Single and Favorite Soul/R&B Single.

Anyone who was listening to the radio around this time knows the chorus like the back of their hand. The group croons to every lady out there: "I'll make love to you/Like you want me to/And I'll hold you tight/Baby all through the night/I'll make love to you/When you want me to/And I will not let go/Till you tell me to."

"On Bended Knee" is another very recognizable, but fantastic track off the album. The track was written and produced by Babyface, and it shows with its harmonious melody and soulful lyrics.

This track was the one that finally bumped "I'll Make Love To You" out of the top spot on the charts and it was the first time that an act had replaced itself at number one since the Beatles' heyday, when "I Want to Hold Your Hand", "She Loves You", and "Can't Buy Me Love" held the top of the chart for a total of twelve weeks. That's quite some company to join.

The track is extremely well written, and has some of the best lyrics on the album and the Boyz swoon: "Can we go back to the days our love was strong/Can you tell me how a perfect love goes wrong/Can somebody tell me how to get things back/The way they use to be/Oh God give me a reason/I'm down on bended knee/I'll never walk again until you come back to me/I'm down on bended knee."

"All Around the World" is one of my personal favorite tracks on the album, partially because of its more upbeat nature. The French intro is as funky as it is fitting, with the group reciting their world travels and female conquests. Boyz II Men is global, and they prove it here.

I love the swagger and smoothness of this track, with the group rejoicing: "…Keisha, Kelly, Tonya, Stacy, Mica and LaShaun/Kathy, Trina, Carla, Lisa, Cheri, and Diane/All these girls around the world are fly in every land/And it's hard to choose, but there's one for every man/Boyz II Men back around the world/And were comin' through your town
All we do is for you/'Cause you've always been there/And we appreciate you."

Boyz II Men proved here on "II" that they were not just another cut of the cloth R&B group. They truly were in a class all by themselves, perfecting their craft on this album, and winning over a few ladies in the process.

One of the strongest points of this album is the arrangements and fine tuning of production. Everything is clean and smooth and really helps to make this album a sum of all its parts.

All in all, "II" ended up going 12 times platinum by the time it was all said and done. And that's not a typo either, Twelve times. Sure, a good amount of albums have done that, such as "Led Zeppellin II" and "Purple Rain" by Prince, but not too many have.

Boys II Men may or may not be the best R&B group of all time, but one thing is clear, no modern day group can hold a candle to what they did on this effort. It's their crowning achievement, and definitely a classic, and not just a classic in their genre.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Trailer for Boyle's "127 Hours" Rocks

Anytime a director wins their first Oscar for Best Director, it makes me eagerly anticipate their follow-up. For anyone who has been waiting for Danny Boyle's next film since capturing the world with "Slumdog Millionaire", the wait is over, kinda.

Finally we get the much-anticipated trailer for Boyle's next film, "127 Hours", starring James Franco.

Most people know the story already. Franco will play rock climber Aron Ralston and it will follow his harrowing ordeal when he was trapped in a Utah slot canyon, his arm pinned by a boulder. About five days later (127 hours, to be precise), he proceeded to amputate his own arm, with a dull knife no less. It's a harrowing, unbelievable story, and I was extremely curious to see how Boyle would handle it.

From the look of the trailer, this film has potential to be another award winner and just flat out great.

Things begin happily enough with the camera brining us some utterly beautiful desert/mountain landscapes. Franco takes over from there, racing his bike through the desolate southwest, rescuing Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn and showing them a good time, before the inevitable happens, and he gets stuck under a boulder.

The final scene of the trailer gives us a glimpse of this moment, and it is perfectly set
up. Although we know it's coming, it's still a shock when you see it happen.

Just from seeing how the film will actually look, the expansive landscapes, and harsh terrain, this could be another Boyle masterpiece in the making. Boyle shot the movie in Utah, both in southern Utah locations and on a Salt Lake City soundstage, so it's no surprise why it looks so good.

Franco over the past few years has dabbled in a bit of everyting, from art to writing, to being a student, so it's nice to see him taking on a meaty role like this.

Boyle spoke about the film last week and offered up some information about it:

"The advantage we got with the [Slumdog Millionaire] success we had was that you had
an opportunity to do something with it, and I’ve wanted to make this film since 2005…I
didn’t want to do it like Touching the Void, because that was so wonderful and I didn’t
want to do it like a documentary. I said I wanted to do it where you are part of the
experience, and where the audience is trapped with Aron for the whole 127…Without
that [Slumdog] success, we wouldn’t have gotten to make it. Because what you saw in
the teaser trailer is the good bit, the fun bit – and after that he’s stuck there."

I was already super excited for this film even before the trailer came out. Now that it did? See you on opening night. Check out the trailer over at Trailer Addict.

What did you think of the trailer?

'Little Fockers' Brings Back Dustin Hoffman

Hoffman's character of Bernie Focker will be back. Hoffman was originally set to appear
but was written out of the sequel when a deal couldn't be reached.

According to Deadline, Hoffman will return for reshoots on the film and will get paid
what he would have originally earned to appear in the entire film.

Hoffman is expected to shoot a few scenes with Barbra Streisand, as well as a large
scene towards the end of the film including all of the main characters. Scenes between
Ben Stiller and his on-screen children are also being redone.

Paul Weitz is directing the film while Jay Roach and John Hamburg are producing.

Reshoots on the project kick off next month, but the film's December 22nd release date
remains on target. Reshoots can usually mean trouble for a production, but since it's to
add another character that was decently funny in the last film, it's not much to fret over.

Although its been quite a while since the last film came out, "Little Fockers" should be a
huge box office dram come winter time.

Doug Liman Takes a "Kill" Shot

Director Doug Liman has shown throughout his career that he isn't pegged into one
genre of films he works on.

He's done such various genres from action thriller ("The Bourne Identity"), to political
thriller (the upcoming "Fair Game") to sci-fi ("Jumper") and even a bit of romance
("Mr. and Mrs. Smith"). Okay maybe that last one was more of romantic "action", but nevertheless, Mr. Liman has kept things fresh over his career.

Liman was recently attached to direct a new adaptation of Alexander Dumas' "The Three
Musketeers", but another, unrelated adaptation (in 3D, ugh) has already gone into
production, putting Warner Bros.' take on hold for the foreseeable future.

So instead of staying complacent, Liman now is officially set to direct the time-travel
action film, "All You Need Is Kill", reports Variety.

Based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka's 2004 novel, the story centers on a future war between
humans and an alien group, the Gitai. Keiji Kiriya, a young recruit sent out to fight off
an alien invasion. Kiriya dies on the first day of battle, but reawakens the next morning,
alive, unscathed, and headed for the same battle and finding himself in a Groundhog
Day-esque scenario of dying on the battlefield and being reborn each day.

On the 158th "day", Keiji notices something different than the previous versions - a
female soldier who may be the key to his escape.

The story sounds very interesting, and with so many unique alien invasion films coming
along ("Monsters", "Skyline", Battle: Los Angeles) in the coming months, it's great to see
another original story coming to the screen. Liman clearly can handle the duty, he did a
wonderful job on "The Bourne Identity" and even though "Jumper" was kind of awful,
the effects and action sequences were solid.

Production should begin later this year.

Bryan Singer Talks "X-Men" Details

When you really think about it, the first "X-Men" film was the beginning of what many
people like to think as the "comic-book" era of movie adaptations.

Since "X-Men" was released in 2000, there have been dozens of adaptations
including "Iron Man", "Spider-Man", "The Hulk" (twice), "The Punisher" (twice), "Watchmen", "Sin City" just to name a few. I could literally go on for days. The point is, director Bryan Singer in a sense paved the way for all of these films.

While his first two "X-Men" adaptations weren't perfect, they were better than most of the adaptations we see today. They are definitely much better than the third installment in the franchise, "X-Men United", directed by Brett Ratner.

The point is, Bryan Singer knows what he's doing. I mean look at "The Usual Suspects". So it's great news that Singer is producing the newest "X-Men" adaptation, "X-Men First
Class", which is being directed by Matthew Vaughn.

Singer spoke with Aint It Cool News recently and let out some details about the
upcoming film, all of which is just making fans (including this one) excited.

The film will be set in the 1960's era and will heavily use that time period's trappings
from JFK as President, to the Martin Luther King and Malcolm X parallel with Xavier and
Magneto's approaches. This is a fantastic idea, considering this is when the characters were created, and much like "Watchmen", the designers on the film could really get creative with the set pieces.

The costumes will emulate those in the comics much more than the other films, which I
think is a HUGE advantage. As much as I liked Singer's films, I absolutely hated the X-
Men's leather costumes. They just didn't feel right, and it'll be good to see the costumes stay accurate for once.

The central story will be the fall of the friendship between Xavier and Magneto. Xavier
won't be in a wheelchair at first but we will see how he ends up there. Singer also said
that Kevin Bacon's villain will be Sebastian Shaw and we will see the Hellfire Club in full
swing. This is a great story line and considering the cast they have in place, this movie
really could be something special.

I think Vaughn is a great director, and with Singer working behind the scenes on the
film, this project looks like it could be huge. Vaughn's past films including "Layer Cake"
and "Kick-Ass" were fantastic, so I cannot wait to see what he does with this bunch of

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Classic Album Review: Usher, Confessions

After Usher released his third studio album, "8701", he found himself at somewhat of a crossroads. Although he had sold more than 8 millions records over the previous decade, his music seemed to only have one purpose: keeping young female hearts brooding over him (in his defense, it was working, and well).

Usher was transitioning from a teenage R&B idol to an adult artist, and without careful treading, that transition can be a career killer. Thankfully for Usher, his transition was as smooth as his singing voice.
If "8701" was Usher's last 'teen' album, "Confessions" was his graduation into adulthood. Usher sang on his previous album with a boyish breeziness that few could match, but on "Confessions" it's clear the boy is now a man.

Usher recorded over forty tracks for "Confessions", which was released in March 2004 to great reception from critics and fans alike. The album had the biggest first-week sales for an R&B album ever, and Usher was nominated for 8 awards at the Grammy's that year.

The album finds Usher hitting on some heavier, more personal topics than his past records, like infidelity, unplanned pregnancies, tough relationships and of course, breakups. The album has a heavy R&B sound that is punctuated with some appreciation for jazz and old school traditions, making it a unique piece of work.

The album is an hour long and has some truly fantastic tracks, but it's the beginning of the track listing that shines above all else. The first 22 minutes of this album is truly epic music. "Yeah!", "Throwback", "Caught Up", "Confessions Part II", "Burn" and "Caught Up" to me are the best tracks on the album, and some of Ushers best work period.

The album starts, obviously, with "Yeah!", Ushers cyber-crunk meets R&B club banger with Lil' Jon and Ludacris. After this track came out it was hard to escape it. It played on the radio more times than could be counted and at every party from New York to Los Angeles. Over Lil Jon's semi-amazing car-alarm beat, Usher sings a simple story about a girl who won't let him leave the nightclub.

The track topped the Billboard charts for five weeks and was nominated for two Grammy awards. It's Usher's own "go to" track for the album, his number one, his "Thriller".

The track is epic party music, and I think even people who say they don't like this track actually do deep down, it's that good. Usher shows off how talented he is as he spits so quickly: "So she's all up in my head now, got me thinking that it might good idea to take her with me/'Cause she's ready to leave (ready to leave)/But I gotta keep it real now, 'cause on a one to ten she's a certified twenty/but that just ain't me/Hey!"

"Burn", like many of the other tracks on the album was influenced by some of Usher's real life situations and experiences. This track came about from a situation where Chilli Thomas from the group TLC was about to end.

The track is great for many reasons, one of which is that Usher can flat out sing just as well as anyone in the industry, and he proves it here. On top of that, the lyrics and tone of the song work on many levels. Obviously, Usher is breaking up with his girl, he's not happy but he wants to move on. She's really sad about this, she can't deal, and he feels bad for her but he knows that she's going to have to accept it.

You can tell this song is close to his heart as he croons: "It's been a long time coming/ But we done been fell apart/Really wanna work this out/But I don't think ya gonna change ya/I do but you don't/Think it's best we go our separate ways/Tell me why I should stay in this relationship/When I'm hurting baby, I ain't happy baby/Plus theres so many other things I gotta deal with/I think that you should let it burn."

Another track that was based on a real life situation was "Confessions Part II", Ushers most personal and possibly the best track on the album. Part of the song details the situation and aftermath of telling your long-term girlfriend about impregnating your mistress.

The subject matter is intense, but somehow Usher still grabs the audience's sympathy. That's part of the brilliance of the song, and of Usher himself. He tries to own up to what he has done, and okay, he can sing pretty well too.

You can hear how personal the track is to Usher as he sings: "Now this gon' be the hardest thing I think I ever had to do/Got me talkin' to myself askin' how I'm gon' tell you/'bout that chick on part 1 I told ya'll I was creepin' with, creepin' with/Said she's 3 months pregnant and she's keepin' it/The first thing that came to mind was you/Second thing was how do I know if it's mine and is it true."

Usher truly shows maturity on "Confessions", as he deals with all sorts of romantic infatuation and regret. While some parts of the album don't always portray Usher in such a flattering light, all it did was sell 1.1 million copies in its first week, earn a Grammy for Best Contemporary R&B album, and was certified diamond in sales, selling over 10 million worldwide. Not bad.

Ushers "Confessions" spawned many impersonations from R. Kelly's "Ignition" to "Don't Wanna Try" by Frankie J. Either way the album is definitely a classic.

Looks like Tiger Woods is in the wrong business.

Friday, August 20, 2010

"Quantum" Leaps Into A Reboot

Actor Scott Bakula has confirmed that a script for a cinematic reboot of the "Quantum Leap" franchise is in the works, according to Blastr.

The actor spoke about the project while at Comic Con, saying show creator Donald P. Bellisario is working on the film script and has a producer who wants to do it. Said Bakula: "Don did say that as he was writing, he told me he was having trouble 'getting you and Dean out of my head.' But I know he will do it."

"Quantum Leap" was broadcast on NBC from 1989 - 1993. It was created by Bellisario and starred Bakula as Dr. Sam Beckett, a scientist who becomes lost in time following a time travel experiment, temporarily taking the places of other people to "put right what once went wrong."

Dean Stockwell co-starred as Al Calavicci, Sam's womanizing, cigar-smoking sidekick and best friend, who appeared as a hologram that only Sam could see and hear.

The series featured a mix of comedy, drama and melodrama, social commentary, nostalgia and science fiction.

Although the roles that he and Dean Stockwell played in the original time-jumping genre drama will go to younger actors, Bakula clearly still would like to be involved in some way saying, "Dean and I will have a part in it somehow."

It's personally one of my favorite shows of all-time, having discovered it on re-runs on SyFy years back. It's truly original and remains a great science fiction series. It's good to see something getting redone that actually deserves it.

Hopefully it will all come together and once more, we can see Dr. Sam Beckett say "Oh, boy!"

Marvel's Kevin Feige On "Doctor Strange," "Iron Fist," "Black Panther"

With two "Iron Man" films already released, "Thor" and "The First Avenger: Captain America" currently in production, Marvel Studios is building up its slate to a massive climax — but what happens after Earth's mightiest heroes assemble on the big screen?

It's generally known that after "The Avengers," Marvel Studios is looking into making smaller-budgeted films based around their second and third-tier characters, but until now, they hadn't been addressed officially.

Talking with MTV News, Marvel's Kevin Feige was asked about what titles could be developed for films post-"Avengers," aside from the already announced "Runaways" adaptation.

Said Feige: "I think what Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction have done with 'Iron Fist' lately is exciting. I think 'Black Panther' and Wakanda has some amazing potential to be a feature film. 'Doctor Strange,' as you've mentioned. There are some obscure titles, too, like 'Guardians of the Galaxy.' I think they've been revamped recently in a fun way in the book."

Obviously Marvel already has its fair share of established characters that could carry their own film, such as War Machine, Black Widow and, considering his reported nine-picture deal, Samuel L. Jackson's very own Nick Fury.

Asked if Nick Fury would get his own film, Feige said: "I think the answer is yes... I think S.H.I.E.L.D. could be its own franchise. I think, frankly, 'The Avengers' is going to be told from that point of view."

Marvel has a lot of flexibility here, but at the same time they could drop the ball. With their films being so popular and the richness of their characters, they can make short films, features, television shows, nearly anything that relates to certain franchises.

Imagine a weekly series detailing the inner workings of S.H.I.E.L.D.? A mission a week type procedural with a laundry list of Marvel characters involved. I think I could get into that. There are a ton of characters they can choose from, and Feige has shown that he's not afraid to spotlight some of the lesser known heroes.

Look for more on Marvel's plans as the release dates for "Thor" and "Captain America" creep closer.

Cillian Murphy Wants to Be "I'm.mortal"

Cillian Murphy, fresh off playing "The Mark" in Christopher Nolan's "Inception," has joined the cast of Andrew Niccol's latest sci-fi feature "I'm.mortal."

According to Heat Vision, Murphy is in final negotiations to star with Amanda Seyfried and Justin Timberlake in the Fox drama.

The story is set in the not-too-distant future, when the aging gene has been switched off. To avoid overpopulation, time has become the currency and the way people pay for luxuries and necessities. The rich can live forever, and the rest try to negotiate for their immortality.

Justin Timberlake plays a ghetto rebel wrongly accused of murder that is forced to go into hiding with a beautiful and rich hostage (Amanda Seyfried). They soon begin a steamy romance. Murphy will play a 'Timekeepers' officer described as "precise as the time he keeps."

This project has a boat load of potential, and the addition of Murphy is another step in the right direction. Although Niccol's projects have been uneven throughout his career, I think "Gattaca" is vastly underrated and proved that Niccol knows his way around sci-fi. On top of that, with Timberlake putting in some solid work on "The Social Network," he has shown he isn't just a singer who is acting.

Niccol directs from a script he wrote and shooting begins in September.

Gerard Butler Kicks Some Balls in the Upcoming Movie, "Slide"

Scottish hunk Gerard Butler ("300," "The Bounty Hunter") is in talks to star in the sports film "Slide" for Evil Twins, says The L.A. Times.

The movie is a character comedy that centers on a troubled father trying to make up for lost time by coaching his son's team -- but who finds himself in hot water after some of the local mothers take a little too much of a shine to him.

The project, originally titled "Confessions of a Little League Coach," is now ditching the baseball angle in favor of soccer. Gabriele Muccino ("The Pursuit of Happyness") has been interested in directing.

Butler has no preferred baseball club, but is reputed to be a supporter of Glaswegian football team Celtic, which would make the soccer theme a little more resonant than a baseball one.

Robbie Fox ("So I Married an Ax Murderer") penned the screenplay, while Kevin Misher and Jonathan Mostow will produce.

Butler has shown a range of talent over the past few years, working in action, drama, comedy and romantic films. Although I am more of a baseball fan, I think the switch in sports here is a great idea. Soccer fits in much better withy the story, considering the mothers will play a big part in it.

Look for filming to begin later this year.

Ethan Hawke Plays "A Late Quartet"

Ethan Hawke always has been an actor who chooses his projects carefully--when he chooses a role, you know he is invested in it. For his next project, Hawke will play a violinist in the orchestral-themed romance drama "A Late Quartet."

According to Variety, the story follows the members of a string quartet who have performed together for 25 years and have to adjust to one of them retiring due to Parkinson's disease.

Hawke will portray the second violinist whose desire for more solos leads him to have an affair with his jogging partner, leaving him remorseful and saddened by the state of his marriage.

Yaron Zilberman's directing from a script he co-wrote with Seth Grossman.

Hawke has been one of my favorite actors for some time and the fact that he's working on this project is enough for me to be interested. The story sounds unique and in a world full of reboots and sequels, something fresh is a positive thing.

Hawke recently directed the Off Broadway play "A Lie of the Mind" for the New Group and just wrapped production on "The Woman in the Fifth."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Classic Album Review: Lauryn Hill, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”

Watching an artist blossom from a tiny little seed into a flourishing star right before everyone's very eyes is a beautiful thing to watch. This symbolic act of growth is the perfect example of how Lauryn Hill made her way to the top of the hip-hop industry.

Although the Fugees had been hugely successful, a lot in part due to the talents of Hill, few were prepared for her stunning debut album, "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill". Not in the sense that people expected her to fail, but due to the fact that her debut went above and beyond what anyone realized she could do.

At their peak, the Fugees were capable of blurring the lines between 90's American urban music and the conscious soul and reggae of the 1970s to produce a passionate kind of hip-hop. This same arena is where Hill's solo debut also resides.

The inspiration for "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" began after Hill met Bob Marley's son Rohan Marley, with whom she became very close with. She eventually got pregnant and took time off from writing and touring, but found that the pregnancy inspired her.

Hill ended up writing over 30 songs in her attic studio in New Jersey, many of which were about the turbulence she experienced while with the Fugees, and also some of her past love experiences that didn't turn out so great.

Only 23 years old when she recorded the album, you could almost call Hill a prodigy, but even that would be understating how skilled she was on her debut. The album was released on August 25, 1998 with great reception from critics and fans alike. The album raced to the top of the charts and made Hill a bonafide superstar.

The album is filled with amazing tracks from top to bottom, but "Lost Ones", "To Zion", "Doo Wop (That Thing)", "Superstar", "Every Ghetto, Every City" and "Everything is Everything" truly stand out above the rest.

"Doo Wop (That Thing)" was the first single released from the album, and easily the most popular. The track won two Grammy Awards and debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 100, only the tenth single to ever do so. The track an intelligent look at the sex game from both angles, but even more so, the track is an amazing mix of soul beats and a beautiful hook. It was impossible to escape the track on radio and its hook line of "that thing, that thing…" is one of the most recognizable of all time.

You really can hear the youthfulness and intelligence coming from Hill as she sings: "Now Lauryn is only human/Don't think I haven't been through the same predicament/Let it sit inside your head like a million women in Philly, Penn./It's silly when girls sell their soul because it's in/Look at where you be in hair weaves like Europeans/Fake nails done by Koreans/Come again/Win win come again, brethren come again, my friend come again, yo come again"

"To Zion" featured Carlos Santana and is one of the highest quality tracks on the entire album. The track is an ode to Hill's son, who in turn helped inspire her to make the album in the first place. Santana brings his amazing talents to the track and he just kills it with his wonderful guitar licks that the legend has been strumming since before Woodstock.

The track's message is excellent, with Hill crooning how her child comes first before her career: "But then an angel came one day/Told me to kneel down and pray/For unto me a man child would be born/Woe this crazy circumstance/I knew his life deserved a chance/But everybody told me to be smart/Look at your career they said,/"Lauryn, baby use your head"/But instead I chose to use my heart."

"Everything is Everything" is my personal favorite on the album, and is one of Hill's best tracks overall. Although at the time he was unknown, the track features background music from John Legend, still a teen at the time, which really adds to its quality. You could see then that he had the talent to be a star.

Hill drops may philosophical type theories on the album, but none more than on this track. Her "everything is everything" mentality shines through her and her vivid use of language on this track makes it one of the most intelligent on the album.

Hill dishes out wisdom like quarterbacks fling passes as she sings: "I wrote these words for everyone/Who struggles in their youth/Who won't accept deception/Instead of what is truth/It seems we lose the game/Before we even start to play/Who made these rules? We're so confused/Easily led astray/Let me tell ya that/Everything is everything."

"The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" firmly supplanted the artist in the realm of being one of hip-hop's best and brightest. At the Grammy's Hill was nominated a whopping ten times for her debut, making her the first female to be nominated that many times in one year. Winning five awards, she set a record in the industry, being the first woman to win that many awards.

While the accolades are enough to make this album a classic, it's Hill's devotion to the music and care and attention to the production (which she had a huge hand in) that sets this album apart.

"The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" isn't just one of the best hip-hop albums of all time; it is an essential piece of music, no matter what the genre is. It's Hill's magnum opus, a classic work, and at least for now, her only work.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Classic Album Review: The Pharcyde, "Labcabincalifornia"

Released during the 'Gangsta rap'-era of the early '90s, the Pharcyde's debut album "Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde" was a refreshing dose of originality and freshness that the industry needed.

The album helped establish a new alternative scene on the West Coast, led by Pharcyde and followed by artists like Hieroglyphics and Jurassic 5. The album was a hit critically, and although it didn't sell well initially, it went on to be certified gold. The album was obviously a huge step for Pharcyde, but when a group's debut album does that well, it means only one thing: people want more.

For their second album, "Labcabincalifornia", released in 1995, the group took on a more emotional tone and tackled more serious issues like drugs, broken relationships and the hardships of fame. This isn't what you think about when you think about "west coast classics", but Pharcyde achieved exactly that with "Labcabincaliofornia".

One of the first singles released off the album, "Drop", is a solid track with a fantastic hook. Using a Beastie Boys sample to help craft the chorus, the track is extremely memorable, and so is the video that was made for it.

Directed by Spike Jonze and filmed in L.A. the video is considered to be one of the most creative rap videos of all time. It features the group performing the song backwards, replayed backwards, and when viewed it gives the song a truly eerie, almost surreal quality to it.

While the video is excellent, the lyrics are even better, with Bootie Brown starting the track off with one of the best verses on the album: "10 years in the trade is not enough, you can't cut it/I let you take a swing, and you bunted/for an easy out, I leave mc's with doubt/of exceeding, my name is Bottie Brown and I'm proceeding, leading,/they try to follow but they're shallow and hollow."

"Runnin'" was produced by Jay Dee and features a one of the most unique samples on the whole album. The track uses a cut of jazz musician Stan Getz's "Saudade Vem Correndo", from his 1963 album "Jazz Samba Encore" and features some very illustrative and introspective lyrics.

Fat Lip really brings his best on this track as he raps: I'm kickin' it in the back of the school eatin' chicken at/three, wonderin' why is everybody always pickin' on me/I tried to talk and tell tham chill I did nothing to deserve/this But when it didn't work I wasn't scared just real."

"She Said" is my personal favorite track on the album. It features some excellent verses by Slimkid3 and Fatlip, who both showcase their immense talents on the track. Fatlip's verse is very laid back and its conversational style fits in wonderfully with the subject matter of love and past relationships, while Slimkid3 uses his trademark style of mixing both singing and rapping to perfection.

Fatlip's verse is filled with illustrative lyrics and you can hear how his relaxed style gives it a bit of humor as he raps: " I waste no time to kick my little I say "How ya doin'" she say/"I'm doin' fine" so I commence to mackin to baby to see/what's crackin So maybe I get her back at the cabin and/start attackin Threw back a shot of yack and started jabben/and jibben Fibbin and adibin just to get her to my crib then/We was chilling on the bed bumpin some Isley thought I was/about to spread the thighs."

Although this album wasn't quite as light hearted or fun as their debut, I think in this case the different sound isn't a bad thing. The album showed how the group matured over the three years between records and also that they have the skills to try something new and original and still be pretty damn good.

For an album to truly be a classic, the music has to stand the test of time, and 15 years after it was first released, "Labcabincalifornia"s standout tracks like "Drop" and "Runnin" are still in heavy rotation for any true hip-hop fan, and should be for decades. If only modern artists showed this kind of creativity, we'd never have to hear another "hip-hop is dead again". Viva Pharcyde!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Kanye and the New Yorker

Kanye and the New Yorker?

A strange combination, but a hilarious one. Someone decided it would be great to pair up Kanye's tweets and some New Yorker cartoons.

The results? Awesome.

A comedy singing group named Paul and Storm took a bunch of New Yorker cartoons and paired them up with Kanye's tweets.

It's been up for a while, but I just had to spotlight this hilarious website which has all the cartoons.

Some are better than others, but all in all they are worth checking out. Finally, Twitter has an actual purpose. Sort of.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Classic Album Review: Run D.M.C., "Raising Hell"

The 1980's were an incredible time for hip-hop.

While there was some truly amazing music being produced by the likes of Run D.M.C., Grand Master Flash, LL Cool J, The Beastie Boys, and Chuck D, hip-hop had still not broken fully through to the main stream.

Although the water (aka hip-hop) had been constantly breaking through cracks in the mainstream music dam, it wasn't until Run D.M.C. unleashed "Raising Hell" that the river of hip-hop finally began to flow through. For so long it had been the forgotten child, but now was the prominent star.

Released in the summer of 1986, the album ignited the popularity of hip-hop and trumped all perception of what people thought the industry was. The album eventually went triple-platinum and it launched Run D.M.C. into the hip-hop stratosphere.

"Raising Hell" was produced with the help of the legendary Rick Rubin, who broke almost all the conventions of hip-hop with his work on the album. There are tons of hooks, more drum beats, more scratching, and more samples here than had ever been used before.

The group doesn't waste any time on this album, which is filled with some amazing, catchy tracks. Some of the best of the bunch includes, "Walk This Way", "My Adidas", "You Be Illin" and "Perfection", although I think every track is pretty damn good.

The most well known track off the album is "Walk This Way" which featured one of the biggest musical groups at the time, Aerosmith. While I am not the biggest fan of the track, without it, the album may not have become as huge and immensely popular as it did. This was the first time in music history that the two genres (rock and rap) had collaborated in such a way.

Whether you feel the track is a novelty or something of that sort, you still must admit that it is catchy, and is easily one of the most fun songs to listen to of all time. It's clear that Run D.M.C. thoroughly enjoyed how things turned out, and you can hear the enthusiasm and youthfulness as they rap: "With the boys in/tune/And her feet just fly up in the air/Singin hey diddle diddle with a kitty in the middle/And they swingin like it just don't care/So I took a big/chance/At the high school/dance/With a lady who was ready to play".

While "Walk This Way" was the most popular of the tracks off the album, "It's Tricky" might be the most recognizable and is one of my favorites. To this day Run D.M.C.'s impact is felt from this track, with it having appeared in countless films and TV shows since its release, such the 2000 hilarious comedy film "Road Trip"

"My Adidas" was the first single off the album and was produced by Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons. Any rapper who writes lyrics referencing the clothes or styles they enjoy owe a debt to Run D.M.C. for making that aspect of hip-hop more than just about brand names. The group was known for their love of Adidas, track suits, sneakers and all, and they crafted it into one of the most interesting tracks in hip-hop.

You can truly hear the connection of the group and the brand (in a good way and not a corporate ploy type way) as they rap: "I wore my sneakers but I'm not a sneak/My Adidas cuts the sand of a foreign land/with mic in hand I cold took command/my Adidas and me, close as can be/we make a mean team, my Adidas and me."

My personal favorite track on the album is "You Be Illin", which was the third single released off "Raising Hell". The beat is one of the best on the album and you might as well credit the group for making the term "Illin" popular and bringing it to the cultural lexicon. It was just another way that the group made an affect on society which still resonates today.

The track is easily the most humorous on the album, with the group describing events when someone is actually "illin". They describe a guy coming into KFC and asking for a Big Mac, as well as shouting out "Touchdown!" at a basketball game.

The best verse on the track is the final one, which describes a guy getting a bit confused about his meal. You can hear the irony as they rap: "(For) dinner, you ate it, there is none left/It was salty, with butter and it was def/You proceeded to eat it cos you was in the mood/But holmes you did not read it was a can of dog food!/You be illin'".

It's quite hard to put into words the impact that Run D.M.C. had on hip-hop and just the music industry in general. Either way it's clear from their work on "Raising Hell" that they were willing to push the envelope in regards to what hip-hop could be, and they succeeded beautifully.

"Raising Hell" is Run D.M.C.'s most important album,, and is easily one of the best of all time. It gives true meaning to the word "classic". R.I.P. Jam-Master Jay.