Monday, November 28, 2011

Album Review: Talk That Talk ~ Rihanna

I like this album! And this time I'm not surprised. Last year when I purchased Rihanna's "Loud" album I was almost shocked at how much I was grooving to it...but this year, as an official "fan" of Ms. Fenty, I know that this CD will be on rotation for a while.

Something can be said for music that makes you feel good. There are albums that inspire me. Albums that motivate me. Albums that excite me...and then there are albums that just simply make me feel good.

Produced by Rihanna and Roc Nation, "Talk That Talk" is a combination of hot dance tracks, and traditional Rihanna pop numbers. High energy and fast paced for the most part, it's a great mark of Rihanna's evolution as an artist and woman, and a tribute to her stability in life.

There were periods of darkness, insecurity, and sadness in Rihanna's music, and this second consecutive album of positive and uplifting compositions shows us that she's growing, she's enjoying life, and she's still not afraid to express her needs, since most of the songs are based around the subject of love and longing.

There's no real exposition of her strong vocals or any heart-heavy ballads, like we've heard in the past. But as a testament to Rihanna's talent displayed thus far, I think she can get away with passing on those elements for this album. We know she can sing. We know she can tear up a slow jam...but for now, we just want to dance.

My first impressions of the album, released on Friday, November 18, 2011:

1) You Da One ~ This has a slight island vibe to it, which is always appreciated from Rihanna. Although she rarely goes all out into a full reggae or soca track (not since the early days of her career), I do think it's important that each of her albums attempts to contain an element of her Caribbean heritage.

2) Where Have You Been ~ I think Rihanna continues to stay on top of her game is because she's a favourite with men...and women. The content and subject matter of her songs can always hit that emotional chord with women, when she speaks exactly what's on their minds. Again, early out, she sets the tone for the album with a dance track, letting the listeners know that she's going all the way there...almost to the point of trance and out of the pop realm. She wants you to dance. She wants you to feel good, and she makes this very clear early in the album.

3) We Found Love ~ This song is seriously hot! Loved it from the first time I heard it. Love the energy, love the video (below), love the pace of it. It's the kind of song you can get lost in, on a dancefloor, in your car, or even just watching the video...can bring anyone into automatic Vegas-style fist pumping.

4) Talk That Talk ~ This song is cool. Didn't love it immediately, but know it will grow on me with the right presentation (video, live, or otherwise). The end breakdown segment is dope...very dancehall-esq. The rest...your average Rihanna/rapper collabo. Even if that rapper is Jay-Z, the track is just aright.

5) Cockiness ~ Whoa whoa whoa. Vulgarity from the jump! Suck wha...? Well, it wouldn't be a Rihanna album without a song or two sexually going over the top. Being provocative has kinda become her thing. Well, not her "main" thing, but at least a "side" thing. So this song is partially an expectation at this point...while still being borderline uncomfortable. I remember feeling uncomfortable for the mothers accompanying their 10-year-old daughters to the Rihanna "Loud" tour's stop in Toronto due to similarly provocative content. But it is what it is...she's grown, she is a fan of expressing this side of herself, and it makes for an interesting song, nonetheless. Sounds like a sure shot strip club anthem to me.

6) Birthday Cake ~ OK, so another song that will make an audio appearance at King and Diamonds and other establishments of that nature. "Sounds" sexy, and the lyrical content matches. Truth be told, almost sounds like Beyonce could rock this as her own. I wanted to hear where this song was going, but it ends abruptly. Almost too abruptly like an error, or an unintended interlude.

7) We All Want Love ~ This is a nice peace-n-love feel good Olympics type song. Nothing spectacular, but pleasant lyrics and a "nice" feeling as a result.

8) Drunk on Love ~ Definitely my favourite song on the album. Nice vibe right from the start, with a hint of 80's synth and drums. I love mood music, and think this is definitely movie soundtrack worthy...the breakdown in particular is tight.

9) Roc Me Out ~ A strong song, and another high energy track. A bit forgettable, as even as I'm writing this...I forget which one it was! But fundamentally, I remember it was a good song.

10) Watch n Learn ~ This one was interesting, and again, I appreciated the slight reggae undertone to it. It's no "Man Down" but a good attempt at bringing in that vibe.

11) Farewell ~ This is surprisingly the only read ballad-like song on the album. Again, an average song, and the vocals aren't particularly impressive...but a nice song. As this wraps up the album, you can see that while she committed to themes of love and passion, she wasn't going there from a place of extremely vulnerability, but moreso from a place of recognition, celebration, and partially diving into the core of the emotion.

From I first saw the video for "We Found Love," I had a feeling this album would be a little bit carefree, a little bit reckless, and that images of the red-haired party Rihanna might be taken to another level. The album imagery completely compliments this mood of potential disaster yet total emotional intoxication.

Job well done again for the complete packaging and slight reinvention of Rihanna's image with each album. While the songs themselves paint a picture, and develop overtime, so is the story that is Rihanna's career and visual metamorphosis.

Writtey by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

12 Reasons Why I Should Have Bought "Watch the Throne" Tour Tickets

Yes, I'm bitter. I was "stickin" as the Trinis would say. I was stickin, and I didn't jump on tickets the day they went on sale like I normally would. And so, tonight and tomorrow night (Nov. 23 & 24, 2011), Jay-Z and Kanye West will be just mere kilometers away from me, down at the Air Canada Centre for their Watch the Throne tour...and I will be at home, listening to the CD and cursing my bad timing.

But so it go.

Big concerts for me are like inspiration waiting to happen. Especially from big artists. It's an opportunity for me to take in someone else's phenomenal creativity, internalize it, and eventually reproduce it into my own art form: writing.

Here are 12 reasons why I SHOULD have bought "Watch the Throne" tour tickets...

#01) No Church in the Wild ~ I originally loved this song because Frank Ocean really reminds me of Canadian rapper K-OS. And I think K-OS is dope. The sombre rap-singing (now made signature style by Drake, of course) but it truly fits the ongoing crescendo of this song. Perfect intro to the album.

#02) Lift Off ~ Right now this is my favourite track on the album. I don't know about Miss Beyonce...but her vocals have really strengthened lately. I notice that this year she's got a new passion, a new depth, and new texture to her voice that I haven't really heard before. This song inspires me, and she blends well with Ye and her huuusband. Love that Q-Tip helped produce this.

#03) Niggas in Paris ~ This song is a banger. Labour Day weekend this year I was tuned into Hot 97 in NY online, and the DJs literally played this song around the clock. Every half hour, easily and I was hooked! A couple weeks later during a trip to Miami, it was also on heavy rotation. That makes this song the unofficial soundtrack to the end of 2011...and it still sounds good!

#04) Otis ~ I didn't like this song at first, but it took me going back to the original Otis Redding track to truly appreciate it. It doesn't have the vibe and style I've grown to love from Kanye, but definitely has a distinctive Jay-Z flavour to it. It always sounds like a bit of an interlude, rather than a full track...but I can still vibe to it same way.

#05) Gotta Have It ~ Love the production on this song. So crisp. This was done by Kanye and The Neptunes, and it's great. I like the bounce and the punch to this song, and particularly how Kanye flows on it...Maybachs on bachs on bach on bachs on bachs...fantastic!

#06) New Day ~ Lyrics on this song are dope. I love Kanye. Honestly. I love him because there's 101 reasons to NOT like him, but I really just take to his spirit. Behind that braggadocio there is total vulnerability, and I think this song is a perfect example of that. This track reminds me of his last album...could easily blend in with that mood/feel. Jay-Z's verses are aright...not as powerful, but still continues to the story...less vulnerability, but same passion.

#07) That's My Bitch ~ Not my favourite song on the album, but very reminiscent of the early 90s to me. Kinda reminds me of Eric B & Rakim's song from the movie "Juice," Know the Ledge. It moves.

#08) Welcome to the Jungle ~ This song is funky! Produced by Swiss Beatz; I don't mind it. The track is a little bland (since my preference leans more to Kanye's orchestral riddims), but I do enjoy the little bit of melody that comes in and out. Lyrically, it's aright...but overall just a smooth interlude...

#09) Who Gon Stop Me ~ This is the type of song that needs to play at the end of the movie when the credits are about to roll. Very powerful, very conclusive, very heavy. Jay-Z flows nicely on this one...

#10) Murder to Excellence ~ Swizz Beatz again...and while I don't doubt he's a great producer, I can definitely feel the difference between his tracks, and Kanye's. I'm a Kanye fan 99% based on how his songs make me FEEL...this one doesn't have it. Definitely has it's own vibe, can't help but dig the piano loops. My favourite parts are when Kanye and Jay rap over the riddim breakdowns. Also love the second half of the song when the beat changes entirely...Jay-Z definitely shines here.

#11) Made in America ~ Sweet song, sweet vibe, very fitting for the end of the album. Again, I love Kanye's storytelling abilities. Love Jay's family tribute.

#12) Why I Love You ~ This song is cool. I love my rock music when I'm ready, and I particularly love it when it's infused with hip hop or other urban genres. Heavy strings, can't go wrong. Now this one would go hard in the big arena...but guess what? I won't get to hear it in the big arena for now.

So there's 12 reasons why I have had this album on steady rotation for a while now. 12 reasons why I SHOULD have called Ticketmaster the day the tickets went on sale for this week's "Watch the Throne" tour stop in Toronto...and 12 reasons why I will eagerly await the YouTube footage tomorrow morning to see how Yeezy and Jigga tear down the place tonight.

Here's some footage from the Madison Square Garden show back on November 7. I hear they pulled up "Ni**as in Paris" like 3 times...and rightfully so! These guys are dope. Top of the world right now, and a nice moment in hip hop history.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Remembering Heavy D (Dwight Myers) 1967-2011

This week music lost another legend. Jamaican-born rapper/actor Dwight Myers aka "Heavy D" passed away on November 8 in Los Angeles due to respiratory distress. He was only 44.

His death came only 4 days after the release of "Tower Heist," starring Eddie Murphy...a movie that would rejuvinate Heavy's acting career. Do you remember him in recurring roles on Roc, Living Single, and even on A Different World? New Jersey Drive, Life? He was a talented brother.

What's crazy is that just a few weeks ago, he tore up the stage at the BET Hip Hop Awards (footage below). I was so happy to see him looking well, still moving like the ol' Heav, and bringing back the hits that I had grown to love. The crowd loved him, and it reaffirmed my appreciation of old school hip hop. No matter what Weezy, Jeezy, or Yeezy ever did on that BET stage...nothing compares to the old familiar feeling of hip hop classics.

It is always sad to hear when one of your childhood icons has come to the end of their creative journey. But while the news was sad, I notice that the overall impression that Heavy D left on his fans and family has been extremely positive. The music he left has been uplifting. And his legacy will be fitting of the impact he has had on all who enjoyed his music and work.

His latest album Love Opus was just released in September of this year, representing his 9th studio album, and a recording history spanning almost 25 years.

He was a star. Nominated for 4 Grammy awards, including a recent nomination in 2009 for Best Reggae Album. He was also a 4-time Soul Train Award nominee, and easily walked away with the award for Best Rap Album back in 1990.

And who can forget the CLASSIC theme songs he performed for In Living Color, and even Mad TV. Theme songs that could rock a club, and always made us jam on our sofas when the Wayans' show was about to begin.

When I remember Heavy D, I will remember his dancing! This brother could groove! And even as the self-described "overweight lover" he could move with the best of them, big and slim.

When I remember Heavy, I will remember his songs...those songs that were the soundtrack to my adolescence and continue to sound fantastic and rock dancefloors no matter where the music is played. I'll remember the chart-toppers like "Somebody for Me," "The Girls They Love Me," and "We Got Our Own Thang" from his 1989 album Big Tyme. I'll remember my favourite Heavy D tune "Now That We Found Love" from the 1991 album Peaceful Journey.

Remembering Heavy, I will automatically go back to the other music of 1991. Because while his songs were playing, they were accompanied by hits from Boyz II Men, Naughty by Nature, Salt n Pepa, PM Dawn, Ralph Tresvant, and Hi-Five. It was a classic era of feel-good music.

Even hearing Pete Rock & CL Smooth's "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)" today reminded me of Heavy, because Trouble T Roy was once one of "The Boyz" when Heavy D performed as Heavy D and the Boyz. They were all a part of a generation of legendary New York rappers, Uptown Records, and truly foundational years in hip hop music.

When I remember Heavy D, I will remember how GOOD music used to make me feel. It was an era of dancing, of bright colours, baggy clothing, funky beats, and true celebration of development of hip hop culture. When it was OK to bounce around and music was all about having a good time, and enjoying life.

Heavy D performing on the Arsenio Hall Show:

Heavy D perfoming last month on the BET Hip Hop Awards; his first performance in over 15 years.

Go Heav! You will be missed.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson, for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Welcoming The Oshawa Power NBL Team

I was born in Scarborough, grew up in Malvern, and lived the majority of my life in Ajax. Went to Pickering High School, and am by nature, acutely familiar with all things Durham.

Even after years in Windsor, Detroit, and eventually settling back in Scarborough again permanently, I am often surprised at my allegiance to Toronto's east...the love for my home town, and particularly how much it feels like "home" whenever I head down the 401 and return to the Durham Region.

Attending last week's (October 27) pre-season Oshawa Power basketball game against the London Lightning, and last night's (November 3) home opener against the Moncton Miracles, has confirmed my hometown support and furthermore, my Canadian pride. The more I learn abot the NBL in general the more I realize how dedicated I am to seeing this culture grow. Sports culture. Entertainment culture. Urban culture. Canadian culture. I love the progression, and I love what it represents.

Upon entry to the General Motors Centre in Oshawa, I was pleased to see Quisha Wint rock the Canadian National Anthem. I have become familiar with her work and seen her perform numerous times...I think her voice was the perfect blessing for the game.

The game was exciting! The Oshawa Power held the lead all night, and kept the fans captivated. Particularly memorable performances from Akeem Wright (#35) and Morgan Lewis (#20) on the dunking tip, with some great plays from Toronto's Tut Ruach (#4), and Jushaw Rockette (#10) as well. EJ Kusney (#31) and Brandon Robinson (#15) hit some 3's...all of the elements of a great game were there. The Power won, 107-80.

It was great to see some of my former classmates in positions of leadership in a sport they have loved since back back back in the day, and have now easily transitioned it into a career.

I enjoyed seeing John Henry, the major of Oshawa, sitting courtside in his orange scarf, caught up in the hype, waving his orange Power towel. Also enjoyed seeing Raptors superfan Nav Bhatia courtside: a fan is a fan is a fan, no matter where the game is taking place. Support is golden.

Awesome to connect with Drew Ebanks and Theleepan Surendra. Respect due to Gary Durrant, the President of Operations, Mark Strickland, the head coach, and CEO Marcus Williams, for organizing and managing a great team. On point.

It was wonderful to see the supporters (particularly the young boys) lined up to meet the players after the game, take photos, and get autographs. These are icons and role models that they have access to, that they can aspire to emulate...and that make their dreams (of sports, or otherwise) that much more tangible. So important.

It was a good experience overall, and one I look forward to seeing escalate on so many levels. There is nothing better than watching something from its inaugural days, and anticipating the development, the growth, and the inevitable successes that come as a result of the passion put into it.

So thanks to the Oshawa Power and those who worked hard to establish the NBL, and who are working even harder to maintain it. Thanks to the players, many who have left their home countries to help establish a league in our country, all for the love of the game. Thanks to the fans who do what they have to do to keep the energy of basketball alive (despite the inactive Raptors as the NBA continues to work through their issues), and to those who have allowed us this escape and entertainment for the winter...and the future.

Next home game: November 14 against the Saint John Mill Rats. See you there!

Founded in 2011, the National Basketball League of Canada is the country's only professional basketball league. NBL Canada is committed to developing the next generation of Canadian athletes and raising the excitement and awareness for basketball throughout the country. Seven teams will play in the inaugural 2011-2012 season and the league is poised for continued expansion across Canada. NBL Canada is headquartered in Toronto, Ont.