Tag Archives: Erykah Badu

As it Comes Together…

With the transparency and intimacy enabled by digital media, music fans now have the opportunity to listen to a track being built right there in front of our eyes and ears.  No longer sealing themselves in the studio until a track is deemed “finished,” artists now leak works in progress to build anticipation and garner feedback during the creative process.  An alluring recent example of this is J. Cole’s new track “Problems.”  Dropped last week on a mixtape, the track is one of the most interesting I have of a half-done hip-hop song.

Problems, J. Cole

Built around a spare but catchy beat, this song has highly polished rhymes that continue to mark J. Cole as someone whose observations are as sharp as his flow.  Maybe it’s just me, but I also hear in this song purposeful echoes of 99 Problems, one of his boss’ most famous tracks.

But, just as you might be drawn in to the beat and the verses, you’ll notice all these empty bars through the song.  Placeholders, for a hook to be added later.  If I were a betting man, I would say that a female vocalist is going to drop in, much like Rhianna here, or Erykah Badu here.

Some might say that it’s crazy to leak a song that’s not quite done.  But I think that, if it’s well-managed, it’s a great way to engage fans not only in the consumption but in the creative process.  I’ll keep a lookout for the next version of this song, and we can continue the conversation.

Day 26: A Song that You Can Play on an Instrument

With the digitally driven democratization of music creation, what can we call an instrument these days?  Who qualifies as a musician?

As it often is, the purist’s argument is tempting.  It’s easy to clear one’s throat, gather the right gravitas of righteous indignation, and proclaim that instruments are what instruments have been: the presence of a demo version of Garage Band on your Mac doesn’t create music any more than does Guitar Hero.

As a music fanatic, I almost feel compelled to take a stand on this side of exclusivity.  The respect I have for live musicians borders on reverence, and its rarity elevates the impact of this talent.

But here’s the thing: I have (almost) enough respect for what people can create through the re-mix.  The ability to take create an entire song around a sample is the background of hip-hop music.  With that fact, the turntable became an instrument.  And the more recent technology that enables us to create music from a hyper-kinetic tableau of pop culture (think Girl Talk) has turned the laptop into an instrument.  Yes, it has.

Now just because you know how to loop a beat doesn’t mean that you have musical talent.  Trust me, I know this from experience.  Aside from spectacularly futile short-term jaunts with the clarinet and the guitar, I’ve had no success whatsoever with traditional instruments.  I guess that’s one of the reasons that I’ve been drawn to dj-ing: considering my creation as the selection and sequencing of music.  Using ideas and juxtapositions and builds to create and bend moods and atmospheres.  I’m still somewhat amateurish at it, but it’s quite fun and quite the creative challenge.  Here’s an old mix that I hadn’t shared digitally prior to now.  Enjoy this mix from 2003, I’d imagine for some of you it will be a nice bit of nostalgia and for others perhaps a bit of a musical discovery.  If all goes well, you should be able to click here and download the zip file with the music.  If that link doesn’t cooperate, try this one: http://www.mediafire.com/file/ujvy1tnzydo/Holiday%20Mix%202003.zip

And here’s the track list.  Do hope you enjoy it, holler if there’s anything that you’re particularly liking.  Am I a musician?  Probably not.  But an improving dj?  Perhaps.

30 Days of Music, Day 1: Your Favorite Song

I just learned about this 30 days of music meme.  And, though I’m lagging a little, I’m going to give it a go.  It’ll be a way for me to get into the swing of daily blogging, and it’ll also be a way for me to test drive something I’ve been considering for a while: a second blog entirely focused on music.  And so here we are, on day one: your favorite song.

What a wicked hard choice to kick things off.  If you asked me my favorite song for the last half mile of a run, I wouldn’t hesitate.  My favorite song for a Sunday afternoon drive?  Easy.  But the one song in the history of the universe that I would tap as my favorite?  Wow.

I approached this riddle from a few angles.  I did a quick sort on my iTunes to see which songs have been played most, but that didn’t work.  iTunes only dates back short of six years for me, and this quick statistical analysis revealed that frequency of play indirectly reflects that I play most of my music out loud around the house, and I’ve spent almost all of this time married ;o).

My second tactic was to scan the playlists that I have created based on the star ratings that I give songs.  As an aside, I highly recommend using the star feature on iTunes.  Doing so gives you all sorts of smart playlist options, and is essential for folks who have lots of songs (I have somewhere past 8000 and counting).  The tour of my five star songs became a parade of 278 contenders for best ever.

The song that rises above the rest does so because it’s probably the most influential on the last decade or so of my love for music.

You Got Me, The Roots (featuring Erykah Badu)

I’m probably ruining the surprise for a latter of the 30 days of music, but the first album I ever bought was Run DMC’s Raising Hell.  So, from back in the day, I’ve been a fan of hip-hop.  However, through high school and college my tastes veered almost entirely into the land of various forms of rock.  This may or may not have had something to do with rural Minnesota.

But then along came The Roots.  Equal part deft rappers and hyper-talented musicians.  An unreal live act.  Thoughtful, clever lyricists.  Unafraid to experiment, but always in a way that was fun.  All of this comes together in “You Got Me”: well-crafted lyrically, textured musically, and capped off at the end with a clever, knowing nod to the drum and bass music that was at the forefront of music at the time.

From first listen, I had met a band that reigned as my favorite for years.  And, through Okayplayer and the many guests they featured on their songs, they introduced me to a universe of music that I loved.  So with apologies to the hundreds of songs that I could have chosen as my favorite, I’ll give this one the nod for now.  Hope you enjoy it too.