Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Why I 'Rocks' With Linkin Park

Good music is good music, and while nu metal/rap rock isn't my first choice in musical genres, I can definitely appreciate the unique sounds of Linkin Park that I've admittedly been rocking to since about 2000. On February 8, 2011 I will be attending my first 'rock' concert when I see them live at the Air Canada Centre, in support of their new album, A Thousand Suns.

You can hear the growth in this album, co-produced by the legendary Rick Rubin and band member Mike Shinoda. The sound is bigger, the instruments are more ominous, the lyrics are more vulnerable at times, but overall it's still classic Linkin Park sounds with elements of Coldplay or U2-esque bravado. While the heavy hip hop drums and intermittent turntables/scratching used to be prominent in their songs, I could feel that this album was striving to create a new mood. An experimental sound. The synthesizers and electronic inserts are there strongly...but so is the essence of Linkin Park that I have grown to love.

Notable tracks from this album that I really like are "Waiting for the End" and "Iridescent." I also like the way they took the voice of Martin Luther King Jr., infused with keyboards and a light backing to create "Wisdom, Justice, and Love." Brilliant.

Linkin Park is a six-man group based in southern California, who have won 2 Grammy's to date, and are listed amongst the recording artists with the most active fan base. Consisting of lead vocalist Chester Bennington, vocalist/rapper/keyboardist Mike Shinoda, drummer Rob Bourdon, lead guitarist Brad Delson, Dave Farrell, and Joe Hahn on the turntables, they are an eccelectic mix of sounds.

What drew me to Linkin Park back in 2000 with the release of their album Hybrid Theory was the song "In The End." I remember it being distinctly rock...but I remember that the beats were 100% hip hop, and spoke to me rhythmically. As I investigated them more, I could hear the guitars, I could hear the classic metal screams of Chester, but I could feel the hip hop influence. Even songs from that album like "One Step Closer" and "Crawling" still contained an element of rap at their roots to me.

And as a true music lover, I couldn't help but be drawn to these guys. I loved what they were saying, the lyrics often spoke to me, and I loved how the music felt. Pure. Original. And unrestricted. If they wanted to be rock, they could be rock. If they wanted to be hip hop, they could be hip hop. Likewise, they could easily fall into the alternative category as well. But they stayed true to their own roots, and just let the music flow naturally.

Needless to say, when I heard they were doing a full album collaboration with Jay-Z back in 2004, I was even more intrigued. After taking a poll with their active online fanbase, they asked who else the fans were listening to. The majority said "Jay-Z" in resounding numbers. So this initiated the linking of the heavyweight rapper with this heavy metal band.

The MTV special (and album DVD) took the viewer through the entire process, with Jay-Z arriving at the studio, and watching as the two entities fused their sounds into one. They mixed "Dirt off Your Shoulder" with "Lying From You"..."Big Pimpin'" with "Papercut"..."Izzo" with "In The End"...and "99 Problems" with "One Step Closer." To their surprise, the songs easily mixed. At their core, they were essentially built on the same fundamentals, and the collaborations don't stray far from the originals from either artist.

Absolute genius.

So the album A Thousand Suns is great. Admittedly, it's not for every mood...but I will definitely keep it close to my regular rotation of dancehall, soca, R&B, and hip hop, for when the mood hits me. When I'm ready to rock, they are definitely my first choice.

For someone who's never listened to Linkin Park, I wouldn't recommend starting with this album if you are to appreciate the true essence of who they are, and what they represent. Some of the elements of hip hop that were prominent earlier in the decade may be lost on A Thousand Suns.

I would recommend you take in songs like "What I've Done" and "Shadow of the Day" from 2007's album Minutes to Midnight..."Faint" and "Numb" from 2003's album Meteora and even "One Step Closer" and "Crawling" from the 2000 album Hybrid Theory if you really want to rock and roll. I also would suggest you check out the Jay-Z/Linkin Park DVD/documentary Collision Course.

Or, if you have a couple dollars to spare...join me at the ACC in February to see how they get down live. And please don't let Brad's guitars and Chester's screaming turn you off...these guys are dope.

Here's a clip from the classic mashup of Linkin Park's song "Numb" with Jay-Z's "Encore" back in 2004.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Play Another Slow Jam, This Time Make It Sweet

What happened to the art of the slow dance? The anticipation/end-of-the-night club build up? The mix tapes/CDs gifted to significant others? The goosebumps on your arms when the bass in your favourite slow jam dropped? And I'm not talking about bubbling in a back corner against a wall to some Beres, or solo-two-stepping to Rihanna...I'm specifically referring to the collection of songs that made it near impossible to not want to have an intimate connection with someone.

What happened to the SLOW JAM?

Luther. Keith. R Kelly. Brian. Aaron. Maxwell. Babyface. Dru. Jon. Marvin. Anita. Otis. Curtis. Sade. Just the sound of any of those single names makes you want to raise that hand and....shiver! Because their songs were that sweet. Always. All it took was one bar of an intro, and the vibe would hit.

I was born in the late 70s, and really grew to appreciate this music in the late 80s/early 90s. I can't say I've been very impressed since then. I've heard a few great ballads here and there...but sweet slow jams are few and far between.

Let's try these names: Lloyd. Trey. Chris. Waka. Nicki. How's that effect? Interestingly enough, those are 5 of the artists on Billboard's Top 100 R&B/Hip Hop charts this week. It's the end of a decade, but I can't say there's any significant R&B music that has defined this era.

This week in 2000, Avant, Erykah Badu, Musiq, Destiny's Child, and Mya were amongst the artists with the Top 10 R&B Hip Hop Songs.

This week in 1990, it was Whitney Houston, Ralph Tresvant, Tevin Campbell, Levert, and Hi-Five making the top of that list.

In December 1980 it was Stevie Wonder, Teddy Pendergrass, Kool & the Gang, Asford & Simpson.

This week in 1970, James Brown, the Supremes, Aretha Franklin (x2), Gladys Knight, and The Jacksons were charting.

And now...back to the end of 2010, and Waka Flocka.

Perhaps this is due to the influx of hip hop artists, where the category is broader and there are a variation of R&B and hip-hop songs to select from. I definitely can't downplay the role of Rick Ross or Willow Smith on the Billboard chart this week. Their songs are hot--for whatever reason--and people are obviously feeling them. Twista. Wiz Khalifa. It's their time.

Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I truly believe that the newer songs can't compare to the mood and the vibe and the passion of the old school tracks. I'm particularly partial to the songs of the 1990s. The artists of the 90s tried desperately to seduce you the listener, musically, and visually. They made sure to craft only the best lyrics and phrases, and out-love one another. It was cool to be smooth. It was cool to be alluring. It was cool to sing your heart out, sing about your heart, and actually express love...beg and plead...and it was addictive!

Nobody's Supposed to Be Here / End of the Road / Freak Me / I Have Nothing / Another Sad Love Song / Giving Him Something He Can Feel / Spend My Life With You / In My Bed / I Wanna Know / Let's Chill / I'll Give All My Love to You / Breakin' My Heart / Someone to Love / Anniversary / Not Gon Cry / Again / Who Can I Run To / Tell Me What You Want Me To Do... etc / etc / etc

You could sense that desperation! You could hear that begging! You could FEEL that bassline. You can't really do that anymore.

I don't have any grand philosophies on this epidemic. I don't listen to enough R&B on a regular basis to even know about the phenomenal artists who are currently pushing their music...and just not getting the same airtime and love as Neyo or Mary J.

I do know that I miss the FEELING that R&B used to give me. I missed the raw emotion and the vulnerability of the artists. I miss REAL singers and I'm tired of the poppyshows. I miss anticipating that slow dance, and knowing that the DJ could easily line up 5-10 songs, and no one would be anxious to rush outta that club the second Vybez Kartel was done playing.

They would dance until the lights came on. They'd hold on tight. They had the music to facilitate romance, because that was the standard.

I'd like to see the era of GOOD R&B music come back. Chart-topping R&B music. Music that will eventually stir up new memories, the way these songs still do...

"Comforter" - Shai

"Feenin" - Jodeci

"Can You Stand the Rain" - New Edition

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Power of Kanye West's "Twisted Fantasy"

Every artist needs inspiration.

As a writer, I depend on music for my inspiration. And 22 months after beginning my latest book, I finally found the inspiration to complete the story through listening to Kanye West's new album "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy."

Released on November 22, 2010, Kanye' 5th studio album gave me a feeling...I was able to translate into words. It communicated a mood...that motivated me to lock into my laptop and complete the journey of my character. It reminded me...that at its purest form, music embodies so much power.

Kanye is just a man...a little dramatic, a little delusional, definitely brilliant, and a little complicated, I'm sure. This is evident. But I'm not really concerned about his life, personality traits (or lack thereof), or wondering who his next chick will be now that him and Amber Rose split. Kanye is just a man..."but" he is a man capable of producing beautiful things. And yes, that is kinda powerful...as far as creativity goes.

The Album...

I love it. I absolutely love it. And believe me...I am far from a connoisseur or collector of hip hop, but this particular hip hop moved me. Not just the lyrical content, but the collective production.

As a story writer, I liked the album because I felt like it transcended the audio, and immediately created a visual. It told many stories. Even despite having a pre-set image of what the music would look like translated (thanks to his October release of "Runaway" the short film), I was still able to visualize beyond his suggestions.

It was rich with sound, and heavy with emotion. The album spoke to me beyond the words, and communicated through feeling.

In short:

(01) DARK FANTASY - Beautiful album intro; I love his use of strings throughout...

(02) GORGEOUS (Feat. Kid Cudi and Raekwon) - Electric guitars, you can feel the frustration in this song...

(03) POWER - A definite anthem, using majestic instruments, hypnotic chanting, and a feeling of despair...

(04/05) ALL OF THE LIGHTS (Feat. Rihanna) - Beautiful violins, heavy bass strings, and the essence of tragedy...

(06) MONSTER (Feat. Jay Z, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross) - Classic sound, heavy riddim, the song is great as is but when Nicki comes in she brings it to another level...dope...

(07) SO APPALLED (Feat. Jay Z, Pusha T, RZA) - Creeping instrumentation, wonderful build up, love it...

(08) DEVIL IN A NEW DRESS (Feat. Rick Ross) - Mellow, less distracting score, nice flow...

(09) RUNAWAY - Really unique, and the live visual from performances on the MTV awards and SNL make the audio even stronger. His pure voice (sans auto tune) adds a vulnerability, and the single piano keys playing throughout give the song a rich simplicity. The latter part of this 9 minute track is a emotional string-ridden instrumental that extends the pleading tone, and intensifies the emotion of what has just been expressed.

(10) HELL OF A LIFE - This song was forgettable to me...average...

(11) BLAME GAME (Feat. John Legend) - Love this track, the lyrics, the piano, the story telling, the reality of it with the name calling and the accusations...and then of course, the unexpected highlight when Chris Rock joins in and starts talking foolishness for a few minutes...hilarity at its best...

(12) LOST IN THE WORLD - My favourite song on the album. So pretty, heavenly/angelic almost...love the composition of sounds used, the movement of the voices, and the "lost" feeling really does translate into the music...absolutely beautiful!

(13) WHO WILL SURVIVE IN AMERICA - Fitting conclusion taken from a recording of activist/spoken word artist Gil Scott-Heron's "Comment No. 1".

My impression of Kanye's work will never be a dissertation of lyrical significance, or my ability to rank him in comparison to other MCs. My appreciation is on a musical level...a communication level, and again, a level of inspiration based on the transfer of creative energy.

Thanks to Kanye, I finished writing "Signature Smile" and have concluded the 8th and final book of my Urban Toronto Tales collection. This is huge for me.

Thanks to Kanye, I've gained a new appreciation for hip hop (again) and find myself becoming a new student of this genre.

Thanks to Kanye, I realize that the "power" of which he speaks is up for interpretation. Not necessarily power in the media, the power to influence (even ol' George W. Bush), or the power to irritate (see multiple pop culture references)...but I do believe he is justified in declaring a form of power, because his musical genius can not be denied.

If said genius can transcend all previous imagery, commentary, and regular f**kery...then I'd say that the power is plentiful as I continue to play the album on repeat, and put the final touches on my novel with the hopes of passing the inspiration on.

"Yeezy taught me well..."

View the novels of Stacey Marie Robinson at www.KyaPublishing.com.