Check me out at the Art Gallery of Ontario on Saturday on a STYLUS AWARDS panel discussion chatting about PR, Media, and the Canadian Music Industry: how to build your profile and ways to effectively engage entertainment media in the social media age. Should be a cool event and I’m in a panel with some great industry people. See you there.
Episode #5 “Ian Kamau”
Raised in Toronto to filmmaker parents who came from Trinidad in 1970, multidisciplinary artist Ian Kamau creates art with community building in mind. Kamau delves into musical and philosophical influences behind his latest hip-hop/soul album “One Day Soon” (8min.)
More about Ian Kamau:
Without massive fanfare, D’Angelo graced Toronto with his presence. It’s been 13 years since the reclusive soul man’s last album (Voodoo), and there have been career ups and downs (including various substance and legal indiscretions) but with the soul star at the Sound Academy, in the flesh — a bit more than in his “Untitled” music video, but who’s caring — it’s like he never left.
Even the customary complaints — poor sight-lines, less than adequate sound — couldn’t stop the R&B/soul star from having a good show in Toronto. Casually clad in a black hat, black pants and cut-off black and white tee, let it be said that Michael Eugene Archer still had it. The soul man from Richmond, Virginia was a transformative “neo-soul” force back in the Brown Sugar days and his absence from the spotlight has been missed. It’s been reported that D’Angelo’s disappearance from the mainstream spotlight was partly due to his struggles of constantly being seen as a sex symbol. This night saw a poised showman, comfortable in his skin, engaging in the standard concert banter (“I love you Toronto,” “Where my ladies at?” etc.) and aware of the fact that his musical output stands on its own merits.
With a relatively simple nine piece set, featuring the always-dangerous Chris Dave on drums and legendary touring bassist Pino Palladino, D’Angelo was either with a hot pink guitar in hand or on keys, and didn’t miss a beat or step on Voodoo and Brown Sugar LP tracks like “Cruising,” “Lady,” “Brown Sugar,” “Spanish Joint,” “Chicken Grease” and “Shit Damn Motherfucker.” Doing slightly remixed versions of his hits might have slightly put off fans wanting more faithful versions, but far be it for folks to complain: the audience sing-along portions for “Cruising” and “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” were particularly on point, as was the funky audience participation (“Shake your hands like this!”) for “Chicken Grease.”
Outside of the odd collaboration and guest spot, D’Angelo’s musical output has been sparse in recent years. James River is the purported working title for his forthcoming Questlove-produced LP, but judging from the cuts he unveiled last night (“Really Love,” a track that first leaked back in 2007, and “Sugar Daddy”) D’Angelo is showing why he’s arguably the most influential R&B artist in modern memory. But D’Angelo’s back, and for many, that’s all that matters.
Trip-hop pioneer Tricky would love it if you’re down with his new record False Idols ― but won’t lose any sleep if you’re not. With a career spanning ten albums and “20-odd years,” Tricky notes that he’s at a point where he can totally control his own creative destiny. Ditching old label Domino (“It got boring,” he says) and forging ahead to form a new imprint in the process of developing the False Idols LP, the native Bristolian (currently residing in Paris) says that if the new project sounds like it’s Massive Attack in nature, or that it’s borrowing elements from his earlier, more groove-oriented efforts (think Maxinquaye and Pre-Millennium Tension) perhaps it’s because this is arguably the truest representation of his musical legacy to date. Railing against the current mainstream musical climate that acclaims artifice over art, the 45-year-old returns after taking a few years off to craft a sultry, sonically orchestral project that stands on its own musicianship and merit ― demanding you pay attention.
Don’t call Homeboy Sandman slept on, call him super prolific — so fast, heads have trouble keeping up; the Queens, NY MC is delivering Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent hot on the heels of 2012′sFirst of a Living Breed. The “Fertile Crescent” that Sandman’s latest effort refers to is the lush crescent-shaped “cradle of civilization” geographic territory of Western Asia/northeast Africa. Working with producer El RTNC on the entire effort, Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent is both a “big-up” homage to the influential DJ and also a statement that he went back to the hip-hop roots to cultivate a respectful, diverse and intellectually minded effort. Fertile Crescent sees Sandman add another project to his growing library — one worth repeated spins.
My interview with the prolific Homeboy Sandman over at Exclaim!
It seems entirely disingenuous to suggest that Laura Mvula is just happy to be part of the musical conversation in 2013. But here we are: the Birmingham, UK soul singer-songwriter notes that this time last year, she was an soft-spoken office receptionist and gospel choir director who simply composed and created music in her spare time, never dreaming that she would have a much talked about album and be touted as “the new Adele.” Her debut album,Sing To The Moon, is a gem, a soul/jazz/gospel endeavour that owes its existence to Mvula’s spiritualty and classical music upbringing and training. Riding the European momentum, Mvula lands on these shores poised to make a lasting impact.
Fantastic album. Read my interview with Laura Mvula over at Exclaim!
All things considered, it isn’t entirely surprising that veteran rapper Talib Kweli is a man of few words over the phone. Or that the release date of his fifth studio album, Prisoner of Conscious, has been pushed back numerous times. The cool and reserved hip-hop luminary has been quietly creating music for nearly two decades, and figures he has nothing to prove at this stage in his career.
It’s about the music — it always has been.
“I’m a lyricist but I think that people overlook the music because they are so into the lyrics that they overlook the musical choices,” the Brooklyn native says. “But the music is every bit as responsible for my success.”
Got the album yet? Get on that. Full article over at CBC Music.ca.
If 2011′s No Time For Dreaming was the dark soul introduction to the world of Charles Bradley, this year’s Victim of Love is the light heart of the matter, a raw and psychedelic look at soul from the vintage perspective of “The Screaming Eagle of Soul.” More than merely a soul revivalist, the former James Brown impersonator delivers a deeply honest and straightforward project, backed by his highly capable Menahan Street Band and slathered with the now trademark Daptone retro-soul sauce. Victim of Love is meant to be taken literally, a rare and continued opportunity for a sexagenarian to finally get his chance in the soulful sun – something the album proves that he’s both appreciative of and not taking lightly.
Selecting the “best” music of a given year is never an easy undertaking. Did I forget something/someone? Do I focus on genre? How can you not include more Polaris shortlisters given you were on this year’s Grand Jury?
The good thing is, there was a veritable avalanche of good music out this past year. Regardless of genre taste or inclination, you probably found something that got your attention in 2012.
Here’s my list for best music of 2012. It’s based solely on music released in the calendar year and on both Canadian and non-Canadian (read: US mostly) artists. Frank’s not at the top by default: his was a highly impactful and solid record. To not have him somewhere on your list means you’re either being contrarian for contrarian’s sake, or haven’t been paying attention to music in 2012. No matter.
That said, ask me tomorrow and this list might be different. And that’s a good thing. (I think)
Best Music of 2012 (released in calendar year):
- Frank Ocean, Channel Orange
- Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d city
- Miguel, Kaleidoscope Dream
- THEESatisfaction, aWe Naturale
- The Slakadeliqs, The Other Side of Tomorrow
- Grimes, Visions
- Michael Kiwanuka, Home Again
- The Robert Glasper Experiment, Black Radio
- D-Sisive, Jonestown 3: The Dream is Over
- A Tribe Called Red, A Tribe Called Red
Owner of perhaps this year’s most unique backstory, R&B artist Frank Ocean’s ascendance into the mainstream was a perfect storm of promotion, guile and authenticity that ultimately delivered a few industry lessons.
Hip-hop/urban culture is in progressive flux
When, in June 2012, Frank Ocean publicly posted a letter on his Tumblr outlining his unrequited feelings for an unnamed man, it was taken in various contexts: calculated promotional stunt to push units, or a new era of progressive hip-hop culture? Savvy businessman or sincere artiste? Months removed, the 24-year-old’s sexual declaration should be looked at as a small enlightened step for urban music and a larger statement on the progressive social climate he inhabits. The juxtaposition between the outwardly homophobic lyrics and rhetoric of his Odd Future brethren to Ocean’s declarative missive on sexual politics reveals a culture in flux — with all the social hypocrisy and incongruities that entails.
Mainstream R&B is back
For all intents and purposes, Frank Ocean represents contemporary rhythm & blues, a traditional genre that spawned and subsequently was buried by dance- and soul-flavoured mainstream pop. Despite not fitting the mould of the conventional R&B superstar, Ocean has dodged “alternative” and “progressive” labels to represent the genre in the modern day. Channel Orange‘s reworking of the traditional “love and loss” tropes redefine the genre and what it means to make a stylized and successful (read: marketable) R&B project in the new millennium.
Bypassing traditional media isn’t career suicide
Ocean’s marketing triumphs — in the face of next to no interviews or public appearances — demonstrates an overall willingness to shun the traditional media machine. Engaging more directly with fans via tools like social media, mixtapes and blogs while at the same time intentionally controlling access and image hint at an emerging promotional paradigm where traditional media is increasing losing its place at the “make or break” career table.
Showmanship is overrated
Ocean’s concert appearances in 2012 have all demonstrated a consistent “substance over style” pattern. His seeming withdrawn and nervous nature notwithstanding, it can be argued that connecting with the music rather than being concerned about gimmicks or showmanship is working in his favour. And in the case of his live TV appearance on Saturday Night Live in September, his minimalist yet powerful set — including a casual John Meyer guest spot and old school Galaga arcade motif — prove that his unwillingness to play by industry rules is perhaps setting a template for urban artists to come.