Posts Tagged ‘Aaliyah’

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2526: track by track

November 26, 2012

As stated in my previous post, my latest album 2526 is a loose diary of the last 2 years of my life, and focuses on love, and a range of facets of that emotion. I’m now going to take you through each track and tell you a little bit more about them all.

1. My Way / Sincerity

As one might surmise, these were originally two separate songs. “My Way” was a response to the burdens of parental love and pressure from those around you who know you best and suffocate you in their desire for you to achieve the best – at the same time as you love them for wanting the best for you, you can’t help but know that ultimately you’ll end up disappointing them. Try as I might, I could write a bridge for this song, and it was unfinished for ages. “Sincerity” came from wanting to write a song called “Sincerity”, and wanting to use the classic, hard-hitting beat from the remix to “It’s All About The Benjamins”; there seemed to be a real contrast between hard and soft.  But I couldn’t write a bridge for this song either, and it went unfinished for ages as well. One day, it dawned on me to just put the two together – the subject matter of the songs went well together, and while the overall tone of the songs is one of defiance and determination, there is also love and vulnerability. And most importantly, no bitterness.

2. Distance

This is one of my two favourite songs on the album. I was heavily into the song “I Miss You” by Beyoncé (from her masterpiece 4), and the night that I received the instrumental from Citizens of the World, I had been looking forward to Toby coming down to Bristol for the weekend (this was before I had moved to London) – we hadn’t seen each other for a while and I really missed him. Except that same night, he had called me to say that he probably wouldn’t be able to make it (in the end, he did). I was feeling melancholy and yet selfish as well, and the lyrics and melody to this song subsequently came in about 15 minutes. The lyrics so vividly capture the emotions I was feeling, and the vocal delivery is something that is supposed to be downbeat and yet sincere and heartfelt. The production is perfect. I am so grateful to have recorded this song.

3. Delete U

This song was written not long after Quiet Storm was done, and the piano intro is supposed to be reminiscent of Prince / The-Dream. I remember breaking up with one of my previous dalliances and just removing all trace of him from my life. It was intriguing that rather than tangible memories, we store a lot of initial information about friends and relationships digitally and so it’s all about “pressing delete” rather than throwing things in the trash. The use of terms such as “Facebook” and “Twitter” automatically date this song (probably to its detriment, although I personally don’t think it rings as unnaturally as the lyrics about getting off the Macbook and Facebook from Brandy and Monica’s otherwise-very-good “It All Belongs To Me”), but when I’ve dated my entire album through its title, it doesn’t really matter!

4. Important

I am well aware that this song sounds really similar to “Broken-Hearted Girl” by Beyoncé, but it’s not a bad song to use as a template and I really wanted the piano and drums to be straightforward – the vocals and lyrics are supposed to occupy centre stage in this song. I wanted to talk in an honest way about how it feels when you don’t know what is going on in a relationship, and whether your priorities and feelings really mesh with those of your partner’s. Are you on the same page? I left the song open-ended – we don’t know if the couple in the song stay together or break up, because although I personally tend towards the latter, the whole point is that life and love is not clear cut and the things we think we should do, we don’t always do.  Love is complicated.

5. Unforgettable

This song is a remix of / my spin on Drake’s “Unforgettable” from his first album Thank Me Later, and I loved the melancholy production. The chorus of my track I guess is a bit more reminiscent of the Nat King Cole classic; I wanted to have a rap song on my album, like “Armani Earrings” on Quiet Storm, but less incendiary and more vulnerable. The sample of Aaliyah just made Drake’s song so perfect. Mike has played such a big part in the last 3 years of my life that I didn’t know how to feel about it when he moved out of Bristol. Even though we worked together, it felt like we were drifting apart and I was sad about it. I wrote this song to encapsulate all of my emotions about the relationship with one of my best friends developing and evolving. Ultimately, I ended up moving a lot further away! I have grown up so much over the last 3 years, and I wanted to pay tribute to someone who had a considerable role to play in the man I am today. Friendship is love too, after all.

6. Phoenix Rising

This song evokes love as empowerment. This was the first track from Citizens of the World that I wrote to, and I had Nicole Scherzinger’s Killer Love album on repeat at the time, hence the namecheck in the first line. The production was ethereal, and I wanted a melody that really soared on the wings of the track. It was a challenging vocal to sing – particularly the end note! – but recording this track was really enjoyable because I got to do different and interesting things with my voice.

7. U Gotta Go

This song was much more fun and more upbeat – when I received the instrumental, it sounded so happy and pop! I immediately thought of “I Wanna Go” by Britney Spears – but I didn’t want to do something completely featherweight, so I flipped the song to make it a breakup anthem with some sassy lyrics about dumping a car in a lake that I cribbed from Tamia’s “Go” (aside: she is such a ridiculously talented singer!). I also wanted to make a poppy track that had some good vocal riffs in it – so I did that.

8. Sabo

This is my other favourite song on the album, because it is very personal and meaningful. Obviously, it’s addressed to Toby and it’s about him and us. I am so deeply, romantically and truly in love with him. He bought me a ring from Thomas Sabo for our 6-month anniversary, and I still wear it every day – I love it (black and silver are my favourite fashion colours, after all!) and I am so proud of it. I wanted to write a piano ballad the old fashioned way – chords and lyrics on top, no digital production – so that’s me playing the piano (the microphone isn’t great for recording the piano, so that’s why it sounds a bit honky-tonk). I was also in love with Beyonce’s “1+1” so I wanted to have some powerful vocals in the bridge, that really pulled out the soul that I wanted to express. The song turned out exactly how I wanted it to (honky-tonk aside), and I always knew it would be the end song / finale to my album.

Once again, I hope you enjoy the album!

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why young money has won me over.

January 17, 2011

OK, so as I am unwell and off work, I might as well try and do something productive. I haven’t done a music review on this blog for ages – and while this isn’t a traditional album review, I thought that I would write a music-related article.

I was reading on Toya’s World Drake’s recent comments on how Aaliyah inspired him as a singer to make his songs relatable across genders and across situations. This connects to one of the best songs on his album, “Unforgettable”, which samples her. Unfairly, I ignored Drake for an unfeasibly long time, and it was only hearing his songs covered by Teairra Marí on her Point Of No Return mixtape that made me decide to give him a chance. I am so glad that I did – rather than just another overhyped rapper who featured on every R&B and Hip Hop single of the moment over the last year and a half, his album betrayed a talent for rhyming and exposing vulnerability and honesty over beats that combined some of the raw soundscapes from Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak with horn-led Swizz Beatz productions. I was thoroughly impressed by Drake’s honesty about fame, and his lyrics which alternated between self-hype and self-deprecation. While Kanye West’s stellar new album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy equally shows him exposing the insecurities behind his ego on songs such as “Runaway” and “Blame Game”, the difference is that Drake has been upfront about his insecurities from the get-go. This is something I feel is admirable for a male artist in any genre – traditionally, female artists are emotional and find strength in their vulnerability, while male artists are sex-hungry, predatory and invulnerable to emotion just as they portray themselves as being invulnerable to everything, bullets included (a quick flip through rap history should indicate that this is certainly not the case – 50 Cent aside). So Drake utterly won my respect for being frank and honest, while also creating a really good album that still had some swagger songs, but was not afraid to step away from that and both rhyme and sing with equal sincerity.

Nicki Minaj’s mixtape Beam Me Up Scotty was utterly thrilling, but again betrayed something more than your average hyper-sexual female rapper. Her idiosyncratic delivery, and her willingness to be vulnerable and honest about her music industry difficulties (on “Can Anybody Hear Me” she proclaimed “Def Jam said I’m no Lauryn Hill / Can’t rap and sing on the same CD / the public won’t get it, they got ADD”). By extension, we can understand that Minaj has a clear vision of who she wants to be as an artist, but is being somewhat held back from that and steered in a slightly different direction.  It’s no accident that “Save Me” is one of the best songs on Pink Friday, and it is the only song which Minaj sings from start to finish. Image-wise, Nicki Minaj is clearly hailing after Lil’ Kim, and to a lesser extent Lisa Left-Eye Lopes. Pink Friday at first was a disappointment to me because it was much more pop than I was expecting, and there weren’t many of her hard, crazy verses that characterise her best features, such as on Kanye West’s “Monster”. Nevertheless, the album has impressed me because it does mix in various sounds, various characters, and is not overtly sexed nor trying too hard to be one of the guys, or prove its gangster credentials – these are elements that have characterised a lot of female rap and it is brave of Minaj to forsake all of these and try to be herself, even if she is not allowed to be so fully. So again, although Nicki Minaj is hardly original and I have a suspicion that her true artistry will be revealed in years to come, her output and dedication to her craft is still promising and beyond what is expected of most new acts.

I wonder if, when putting together his Young Money troupe, Lil Wayne was aware of just how talented his acts are. I am tempted to say yes, as madness and artistic talent can often go hand in hand. Young Money’s album itself comprised catchy, if disposable, chart fodder which nevertheless promoted a collective ethos above highlighting individual talents. This is all well and good, but apart from Wayne, Minaj and Drake, how many of the others can you name? Sure, Shanell is memorable for being the other female in the group, and has contributed solidly to Nicki Minaj’s songs “Handstand” and “Cupid’s Got A Gun”, exhibiting a controlled and evocative vocal on the latter. She also wears that interesting jewellery across her face.  Tyga stands out by dint of his recent collaborations with Chris Brown on “Deuces” and other songs. But neither of these artists (nor any of the rest) have yet been allowed to stand on their own two feet. I mean, between Wayne’s own mixtapes and those of Drake and Minaj, along with their official studio albums, singles, collaborations and features, they already saturate the media. It is likely that if all were given the same treatment simultaneously, the public would scream for respite.  But I wonder, since Young Money clearly comprises talented members who, importantly, have their own vision and are not afraid to express it, just how many more talented members we haven’t yet been exposed to. This intrigues me and suggests that the collective is filled with promise.

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Quiet Storm Inspirations II. (download)

August 1, 2010

As promised, here is the “sonic mood board” that inspired my album Quiet Storm (which you can download here).  Where the last “Inspirations” album was comprised of songs that inspired particular facets of songs on Quiet Storm, this one is more indicative of what music I was listening to when I was inspired to create the concept of the album: nocturnal, sexy, emotional, romantic, soft and tough, vulnerable and strong in one go. As you will see from the tracklist before, it’s an R&B compilation through and through; I’d go as far as to say that these are some of the best contemporary R&B songs over the last 15 years (interestingly, quite a few of them are early Missy Elliott / Timbaland productions… I miss those days!).  Of course, the list is not exhaustive and I had to cut down from over 50 songs to the 19 that you see here; anyway, I hope that you will enjoy downloading the album, listening to the songs and perhaps discover some artists or some songs that you didn’t know, or hadn’t heard in ages.  Download link is at the bottom underneath the tracklisting.  Enjoy!!!

1. Aaliyah – We Need A Resolution (f/ Timbaland)
2. Ginuwine – Pony
3. Mariah Carey – The Roof
4. Ryan Leslie – Addiction (f/ Cassie & Fabolous)
5. Kelly Rowland – Flashback
6. Omarion – Ice Box
7. Janet Jackson – Empty
8. Toni Braxton – Rock Me, Roll Me
9. Shola Ama – (I Don’t Know) Interlude
10. LeToya – I Need A U
11. Dru Hill – Beauty
12. Nicole Scherzinger – Whatever You Like (f/ T.I.)
13. Nicole Wray – Make It Hot (f/ Missy Elliott & Mocha)
14. Brandy – Come As You Are
15. Total – Rain
16. Mýa – For The First Time
17. R. Kelly – Feelin’ On Your Booty
18. Rihanna – Question Existing
19. Sugababes – Maya

DOWNLOAD

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edgier.

December 10, 2009

Having been on my new university course for 3 months now, and having made some really close friends who are generally a few years older than me (my closest friends on the course are 33 and 35), I’ve really been able to see how far I’ve come as a person.

Looking back at myself even 4 months ago when I had only started writing this blog, I knew myself, but myself was unsure and nervous.  I felt as if I was in a rut professionally after graduating with a good degree from a prestigious university, personally I had had “friends” who turned out not to be friends at all slander me and accuse me of things (theft, bullying) that I had and have never done, and would never do in a million years.  I took it all on the chin and just had faith that things would get better, but I knew in my heart that I didn’t know what would happen.  Would this careers guidance course be the right decision for me?  What was going to happen to me?  Had I peaked already in my life?

The answer to that last question, now I see, is an emphatic NO! Obviously I was only 23 (now 24) and to paint myself as an underdog who had it all and then lost it was more than a little unfair to myself.  I now know that I have so much going for me, so much to offer, and I am not an ugly or stupid person no matter how much certain people may endeavour to make me feel that about myself.  I deserve the best, and with this new qualification, new friends who seem to value me for me from the jump, and new confidence, I feel that I can get the best.  Once again, I’m back on track, and more than anything I’m so relieved.  I may paint myself as confident and assertive – and I am those things – but underneath I still get nervous and insecure.  Now, I finally see that I really am worth more.

I guess it’s a part of natural evolution.  I’ve grown up a lot, and although it took pointing out, I am older than my years.  I don’t feel out of place hanging out with 30-year-olds, because we have the same mentality and experiences.  People generally have trouble guessing my age (I still get ID’d for buying cigarettes on the one hand – which makes Mike LOL and envious at the same time!; on the other hand, a couple of people on my course originally thought I was late 20s because of the fact I can articulate myself and hold my own in discussions), but although I may tease my colleagues at university about receding hairlines, wrinkles and old age, I don’t feel any difference between us.  Aaliyah really had it right – age ain’t nothin’ but a number.  Usually it correlates to maturity, but not always.  At the end of the day, people are people, and we are all human.

These are things that I already knew to be true, but having them held up in front of me has forced me to accept these things as positives about myself.  It’s finally really sinking in.  And the truth of who I am as a man, as a human being, is finally coming out.  This is what I wanted to write about really, but it took the backstory above to get there! (Sorry… but I always give you the main course – no snacks here!)  I thought that I was an adult after university (by which I mean my undergraduate degree at Oxford), but it took me a bit longer.  Working at the Perfume Shop gave me a taste of the hard grind, working for not enough money and being treated like I didn’t have a brain (the saving grace was superficially decent friendships and getting to work with fragrance and deepen my knowledge of it).  My newer job at the hospital has made me see how people can be valued in their work, both monetarily and in terms of being treated like an intelligent human being.  My new course at university has helped me see what I really want to do, and now having that thrust forward has completed me and erased some of my doubts (not all, but some is certainly a step forward) about my future and my life’s purpose.

As things around me have been moving in the right direction, so I’ve been able to spread my wings and become more of who I am.  I love smoking – I’m not a moron and I know it’s not good for my health nor my voice, but I enjoy the feeling from it, the fact it kills time, and the socialising aspect of it – I think it goes hand in hand with being confident and conversational, as you often get approached by people who want a light / spare fag, and you end up conversing with strangers because you share an appreciation of nicotine!  In turn, smoking has reduced my hunger (allowing me to stick to my no-evening-snacking policy) and I’ve dropped a waist size – people at uni have christened me “good looking”, “pretty boy” and lots of other complimentary things referencing both my physical looks and my fashion style. I feel more confident in and out of my clothes – although I’m such a perfectionist that I’ll never be satisfied!  But looking at my vanity and my past issues with my own body and self-esteem, I’ve come a long way.  I feel happier in my skin physically as well as emotionally – and I’m feeling more confident to express the edgier, darker sides of myself which set me apart from others.

After years of deliberation, changing my mind and refining my ideas, I’m finally set on getting tattoos!  One is a stylised A, which you can see here; the other will be above my left collarbone mirroring it, and will be a gun.  I’ve been inspired by Rihanna‘s gun tattoo, but I want it because to me a gun is a symbol of strength and power, of aggression and conflict, of edginess and darkness.  These are all things that I embody – I am tougher than some people initially assume, and I want an emblem of that grit and fire.  I feel it’s applicable to me, and also quite exciting and sexy.  And whereas before I might have balked at the permanence of a tattoo like that, now I feel mature and comfortable enough in myself to be able to wear it and pull it off.  This is me – maybe I’m a good boy gone bad, but I still have a good heart; I have just spent too long in my life pleasing others, and now I’ve finally lunged for myself with this course and am reaping the rewards much more than I ever did listening to other people’s opinions on what was best for me, I believe in my own capacity to make decisions.  I’m not an angel, I’m not a good boy, and I’m tired of portraying that.  I am me and I have a good heart and an intelligent mind, but sometimes I enjoy being provocative or sexy or pushing the boundaries.  That is just as valid a part of me, and my new friendships embrace that part of me too and love me for it.  My infatuation with a married man who has become my best friend and is actively ok with my affection and flirting and actively returns it has been a revelation to me.  We understand each other, we can control our affections (he feels the same way about someone else) and be mature adults, but we also have fun with it – we accept each other and I never felt so comfortable to be able to be so emotionally honest with someone I knew would accept me for who I am. From him I learned what it is to be a good father, a good husband, a good man, and also that whatever I’m feeling, I am a rational person and I should never feel guilty for my feelings.  I should never feel stupid, and the sign of a good friendship is being able to admit how you’re feeling and that other person accepting you for it and not telling you it’s wrong or silly.  Again, these are things I superficially knew, but feeling and living them is a whole other revelation.  I hope that my friends can one day think of me in the same way.

So my embracing my dark side instead of being afraid of it; my becoming edgier is a natural emancipation, a natural evolution of me.  I am free to be who I am, and I am proud of who I am.  I’ve felt ashamed, even in small doses, for too long.  It took a long time to get here, and I’m sure in the future I will still make mistakes and waver, but hopefully I can come back and read this post and remember my feelings right now, and that’ll keep me going.  Once a good boy goes bad, we’re gone forever – but I wish I’d gone sooner and I look forward to where I’m going and whom I’m going with.

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layin’ in the bed bumpin’ Jodeci…

October 6, 2009

… is exactly what I’m doing right now.  (Thankyou Mariah Carey – “The Impossible”, Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel) Wrapped up in a daydream, I took half an hour longer to do my veterinary nurse job profile for university because I kept pausing, laying my head on the bed and just dreaming and wishing about things that could never come true.  Inappropriate crushes, unlikely crushes, unrequited crushes.  Following on from my previous post where I was lamenting the fact that all the best, most mature, solid and sexiest guys are straight (and usually a few years older than me), I… am lamenting that very same thing!  So let me regroup a sec and come with a progression.

I think that possibly the most accurate thing I said was wanting someone who feels comfortable in their own skin.  Looking at B’s sudden decision to contact me last weekend, I was talking to Mike about it and he said exactly what I was thinking, “What does he want you to do about it?” And I can’t make somebody feel good about themselves, and I can’t be responsible for healing anyone’s deep-seated personal issues.  If you’re coming to me expecting me to do that for you, then I’m really sorry but I just can’t.  And I won’t – I have my own things to deal with, and I can keep myself together relatively well but I can’t give over that much of myself without my own life just falling apart.  Right now, I need somebody who’s not perfect, but who has it relatively together and can offer me as much as I’m offering them.  That’s the way it is.

I wonder if it is true that “we’re always on the lookout for the next person”.  Right now, I am more or less adamant that I want to get myself sorted and stable with this course and whatever comes afterwards (fingers crossed, a job!).  I want to get a car and I want to move out (it’s come to the point where I sort of dread coming home and whatever mood I might find my parents in – my own place is looming!).  Once I’ve sorted those things, then maybe I will consider really trying for a long-term relationship – until then, if it happens, then great, but I am honestly honestly not looking.  I am flattered if people flirt with me, and I may flirt back for fun, but I’m tired of being dicked around so I’m not looking for anything serious unless it trips over on my doorstep.  Which would be a first.

I just wish that I could have the kind of relationships I have with my friends, both guys and girls.  We can go for drinks and chat for days, we can party, we can hang around one of our places and listen to music and just mess around and be silly. It’s easy.  And I understand that relationships involve a certain amount of effort and compromise and sacrifice – but it shouldn’t feel like hard work constantly, otherwise the rewards of the relationship aren’t enough to make it worthwhile, I don’t believe.  I just want to be with somebody who wants to be with me, who has fun being with me and who makes it easy to be with them.  I mean, good looks and independence and money are all lovely, but if it’s still hard work, I guess I’m getting a little lazy (thanks LeToya).  Just be good to me (thanks again LeToya) and genuine and I’m not that hard to please.  Sometimes I like to go shopping or go out to drink or dance or whatever – I’m 23!  But sometimes just lying together listening to music or watching a film is the most intimate, wonderful thing.  Especially if you have strong arms and nice broad shoulders – I’m not usually someone who admits this (and my height and stature seem to contradict what I’m about to say), but sometimes it’s nice to feel fragile and have somebody scoop you up and make you feel safe.  Just buy some proper R&B CDs – Ginuwine, Jodeci, Usher, Mariah Carey, Dru Hill, Aaliyah are good starters – and put some nice cologne on and invite me over… nothing more, nothing less.  Let’s escape into a private daydream, just for a few hours… and you got me. 😉

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90s baby.

August 27, 2009

Okay, I confess, I was born in the 1980s.  But apart from a few songs, the majority of what I grew up with was 90s music.  As you know, Mariah Carey is a massive influence on me, and my mother bought her very first single, “Vision Of Love”, on vinyl back in 1990.  Right through “Dreamlover”, “Without You” and “Fantasy” to the  Butterfly and Rainbow albums which closed the 90s, she was an epic atom bomb dropped on my life.  But if you know me, or you’ve read certain previous entries, you already know that and I’m not going to delve into it further here.

As a preteen and young teenager bearing the combined musical influence of my mother and my school friends, I would listen to songs by the Honeyz, En Vogue, Shola Ama, Backstreet Boys, No Doubt, Solid Harmonie, Peter Andre, Blur *shudder*, Aqua *cringe*, Aaliyah, Monica, Brandy and Usher, to name but a very select few.  The magazines I read (Smash Hits, TVHits, Top Of The Pops) were aimed squarely at teenagers who were of a sunny pop disposition, and although I was much more aware of the charts then than I am now, I still felt a little bit like there had to be something more.  Beyond straightforward manufactured pop (however good a product it may be), I started to lean towards more urban music.  I discovered garage (2-step) music, R&B, rap and hip hop.  Ms. Dynamite, Shola Ama (and the remixes), Honeyz and Kele Le Roc represented British R&B to me, while the American singers such as Toni Braxton, Aaliyah, Brandy, Usher, Monica, TLC and Jennifer Lopez were an emblem of something smoother, sexier and edgier.  Janet Jackson’s Velvet Rope opened my eyes to how well an album could be constructed, seguing effortlessly between different moods, concepts and tempos.  Missy Elliott’s Da Real World smacked me upside the head with a combination of weird bassy dark production and super-explicit lyrics that I wasn’t familiar with.  Jennifer Lopez’s video for “If You Had My Love” left me with the undeniable impression that a star was born, from her ridiculous beautiful looks to her insanely polished and expressive dancing.  Brandy & Monica’s “The Boy Is Mine” ended up on my cd player before it dawned on me just how much of a classic that song was going to be.  TLC’s Fanmail sounded like the future.  Aaliyah’s One In A Million album sounded like effortless sexuality, and sounded like nothing and nobody else.

All the aforementioned artists, albums and songs still hold that exact same resonance for me.  Perhaps it’s just the fact that I was growing up and those singers played an integral part in my adolescence, but music just isn’t the same anymore.  Show me a singer as effortlessly sexy and sophisticated as Aaliyah.  Show me a group as fiercely cool as TLC.  Find me a singer with a voice, body and songwriting skills like Mariah’s.  A rapper as off the wall as Busta Rhymes, as influential as 2pac or Notorious BIG.  I mean no disrespect to all the musicians and artists in the game today, because they have a hard job living up to these stars, who to me represent the golden age of urban music.  Ciara, Beyoncé, The-Dream, Electrik Red, Robin Thicke, Pitbull, Lil’ Wayne, Black Eyed Peas all hold down the front line.  Perhaps it’s just that I’m older, but despite their best efforts, I can’t help reminiscing.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Because I’ve found music in the last 3-4 years to be somewhat dry, I’ve discovered music from that golden age that passed me by the first time round.  Unbelievably, until 2 years ago, I had never listened to a Jodeci song.  Obviously I’d heard of them and their songs must have played very occasionally on the radio or tv, but I’d never really listened. Now I know where Dru Hill got their ideas from!  R. Kelly and his protégée Sparkle crafted some classic 90s R&B.  SWV and Total were some bad-ass girl groups!  Listening to the Notorious BIG’s albums and Puff Daddy’s older output allows me to see where Diddy, Lil’ Kim and Bad Boy Entertainment stand today and plot the journey and progress in between.  The joy of this has been that it is an entirely personal quest, because nobody else, in my past or present, is into the exact same music as me.  I’ve managed to convert some of my friends to some urban music, but I don’t really know anyone in person who’s into in the same depth.  The people who seem to understand most where I come from musically are on the internet, in forums and on urban music blogs.  Quite often, different posts educate me.

And that’s why I get so frustrated at the state of music today.  For one, every song seems to be a recycle of something else.  Beyoncé’s “Halo” = Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love” = Kelly Clarkson’s “Already Gone” = Jordin Sparks’ “Battlefield”.  Lady GaGa’s “Poker Face” = Britney Spears’ “Gimme More” = Eva Simons’ “Silly Boy” = Rihanna’s “Shut Up And Drive” + “Umbrella” = a large part of The-Dream’s subsequent output = Electrik Red.  LeToya’s “Not Anymore” = Ciara’s “Never Ever” = Monica’s “Still Standing” = Nicole Scherzinger’s “Happily Never After” = Ne-Yo’s “So Sick” = Rihanna & Ne-Yo’s “Hate That I Love You” = Ne-Yo’s “Because Of You” = Ne-Yo’s “Sexy Love” = Ne-Yo’s “Mad”.  So damn formulaic.  And as Jay-Z has finally noticed, auto-tune is everywhere.

Another thing: why does music being released right now sound like it is 20 years old?  Aaliyah’s self-titled album sounds like an edgy, modern masterclass nearly 10 years on.  TLC’s Fanmail sounds more futuristic than Keri Hilson’s In A Perfect World…despite the former being released in 1999 and the latter released in 2009.  Whitney Houston’s latest “greatest” “comeback” album I Look To You is an utter mess, because instead of a graceful attempt to keep up with the times as on My Love Is Your Love (a burnished masterpiece) and even Just Whitney (which has held up surprisingly well), she decides to go time-travelling.  The ballads fare well, with “Call You Tonight” a classy modern song, while “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” and “I Look To You” are classic ballads which are strong, even without the power of Whitney’s old voice.  “Salute” is the best song on the album for me, because it is pure timeless R&B.  But the uptempos…. oh no.  “Million Dollar Bill” revisits old-school R&B and falls asleep, “Nothin’ But Love” presses the 90s synth button repeatedly, “Like I Never Left” should be titled “Like I Never Left The 80s”.  The major disaster is “A Song For You”, which was performed sublimely by Herbie Hancock and Christina Aguilera a couple of years ago.  Here, the first half of the song is typically piano led, but Whitney seems to jump through the hoops a little bit.  No matter, it’s not a problem compared to what happens at 1:30.  Hex Hector and Peter Rauhofer must have cried a river when they heard this tepid 90s-dance mess. I listened to this and had to skip to the next track, because Whitney was done a pure disservice with this song.  Words fail me…

Whitney Houston is not the only victim of this dated-modern fad… even on Trey Songz’ fantastic third album Ready, the melodically lovely “Love Lost” boasts a musical backing that sounds like it was created in 1987.  And Monica’s latest leaked song “Betcha She Don’t Love You” sounds like Missy Elliott vomited up an old record and told Monica to sing over it.  (Aaliyah would never have stood for it, I’m sure.) I have no problem with being inspired by the past and appreciating heritage and history.  You can honour the classics in a tasteful way. But when it seems that it’s so difficult for artists to be forward thinking that they recycle old songs and pass them off as ‘new’ or ‘retro-cool’ when in reality they are just lazy, that really pisses me off and makes me rifle through my older CDs, listening to music that is forward thinking, doesn’t sound at all dated, but is timeless.  There’s a big difference between the two that a lot of today’s music industry (both A&R honchos and artists alike) would do very well to learn.

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secrets (my first album.)

August 19, 2009

Tonight I want to share with you the first collection of songs that I completed between August 2006 and March 2007.  I was listening to the songs while wasting time at work, and I realised that before I debut my new material in the coming months, I wanted to take you through a history of my previous songs (don’t worry, there aren’t too many! 😉 )  I entitled my first album Secrets mainly because I was writing a song with the same title that ironically didn’t make it onto the album, but also because this album was the first attempt at my realising my own dream of creating a collection of songs that were “my little secrets”, as it were.  The sound of the album is sorta a combination of R&B meets dance via pop, and I’m glad to say that it is a long way away from the material that I create now (though a couple of the songs on the new album Quiet Storm do hark back to that sound).  The vocal production leaves a lot to be desired, and it’s only towards the end of the album (which were the last songs to be finished) that the songs begin to sound anywhere near polished. Nevertheless, I am so proud of these songs because they represent my first attempt at realising my dream of producing an album and being able to share it with the world, and it allowed me to get to grips with Garageband (the studio program on my mac, which is an application that I am still learning with every song).  And some of them aren’t so bad!  I hope that you enjoy the album, and I’ve provided a track-by-track ‘review’ with my thoughts behind the songs and the songwriting process.

DOWNLOAD SECRETS HERE: megaupload rapidshare zshare

Prophecy (Intro)
I wanted an intro to my album that was ominous and mysterious, so I liked the sitar-esque intrsuments.  The words are from the Book of Revelation, which makes it a direct copy of Madonna’s “The Beast Within”… but what the heck.  I thought it worked as an intro, I liked the idea of it being a “revelation” (because the album is called “Secrets”!), and I thought it led nicely into the pounding alien synths of the next track…

Reach Out
This is the “lead single” of the album, very club ready and the second song that I ever did.  Things I like about this song: the use of strings in an uptempo, the pounding bass and synths, the twinkling piano over the top, and the tongue-twisting chorus which proved to me that I write lyrics which are sometimes too hard to sing: “All my ladies in the club looking fly in your Moschino sexy sophisticated / All my boys ridin dirty flexin muscles flossin twenty” is a little bit more of a tongue-twister than I realised.  Things I should have improved: the chorus is in a slightly different key to the “just reach out just reach out” hook which comes after it!  Although I am certainly a singer before I am a rapper, the rap in the bridge is not my finest hour.  But I played the hell out of this on my ipod, and I was so proud so this song means a lot to me.

Confession (Prelude) / Checkin’
The prelude comes after I had just gotten into Joss Stone’s most recent album, Introducing Joss Stone, which used a lot of old-school instruments such as horns and live drums, so I was flirting with that old-school sound.  And then for “Checkin'”, I liked the contrast between the brassy horns in the prelude and then the cold, spiky electronic backing of the song itself.  In “Checkin'”, I actually combine those horns into the dance-feel of the song, and the beat changes several times throughout the song (particularly in the prechorus change to the chorus) which is something I feel makes the song fresh.  However, the vocal production on it leaves a little to be desired… So there are things I appreciate about the song, but also things that I wish I had polished a little more, once again.

My Man / I’m Coming (Interlude)
Again, this song has subdued vocals, and the somewhat restrained vocal production means that it fades into the beats a little too much.  This is one of the most R&B songs, and the straightforward ballad backing is something I think I did a really great job of.  The lyrics are also straightforward “keep your hands off my man”, but I turned it into a ballad rather than an uptempo, which is what usually goes along with a more fiery message.  The song is confident and was written a lot in the spirit of Monica’s “Sideline Ho” – you might be the one on the side, but I’m the main dude, so don’t even think of coming for me.  I like this one, and I wouldn’t mind doing another song with the same sort of music backing, just stronger vocal production (especially on the whispers, which are barely audible).

Respect Me
This is the first song I ever did!!! This brings back memories, I was sat on the sofa in the lounge, before I was due to go off to Spain, and I just started messing about with what sounded a little crazy on Garageband. I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I made my vocals skip, and then I started playing with the different drum kits.  The crazy beat is a product of going “C D E F G A” on one of the kits, nothing more, nothing less!  The siren is stolen from Beyoncé’s “Ring The Alarm”, and I wanted the same kind of fiery approach to the vocals, without the screaming!  The vocals actually came out pretty good, so on some of the songs I did in between this one and the last two songs on the disc, I don’t know why I didn’t put so much effort into the vocal production.  The handclaps in the bridge are my very own handclaps, which is why they sound a bit fuzzy, but other than that, I feel that this song holds up fairly well compared to others on the disc.

Reverse
One of the things that annoys me about Garageband is that you actually can’t reverse any portion of any of the tracks.  Not vocals, not anything (if anyone knows a way to do it, please let me know!).  So instead I slowed my vocals down in the chorus; “strato-stratosphere!” More questionable rapping in the verses, but the vocal run in the first prechorus – “daaaaaaaaaaaaaaanger” – is one of my finest moments! (and yes, it is all me doing that! No special effects!)  The concept of the “tetris beat” is adapted from Gwen Stefani’s “Yummy”, featuring Pharrell.  The straightforward 4-4 beat, combined with the odd space-alien synth and hand-claps (not mine this time) served as a simple club-ish backing.  I also liked the idea of the ” count 1,2,3,4…” which broke the song after the first chorus and gains attention.  This song isn’t bad at all, but excluding the Latin piano in the bridge, I wish I had done more singing on it and less rapping/speaking.

Say Anything
I think I did a great job with this ballad, which I presume must have been inspired by Janet Jackson’s “Take Care” from her underrated 20YO album.  I was listening to this song in the store-room, and this and the final song (the next one) “Yur Boi” are by far the best songs on this cd.  It’s a sexy, slow ballad that goes beyond the physical to really express how I can relish a lover’s company, not only when we’re talking but even when we’re silent.  True communication goes beyond words… but I still ended the song with a poetic spoken-word coda.  The bassline shudders appropriately, and the finger-clicks accentuate the subtlety of the whole song.  I can imagine Aaliyah singing something like this, as well as Janet Jackson.  I look fondly back on this song, which I wrote in Spain along with…

Yur Boi
Originally, this song was meant to share the sound of Brooke Hogan’s “For A Moment” (which is referenced in the very last line of the song), but midway through my stay in Spain, I rediscovered Jaimeson’s garage-R&B album, and I was listening to “Complete” and decided to change the song so that it had more of a drum’n’bass feel, which ended the album on an unexpected note that drew away from both the R&B and dance elements that had come before.  The melody steals a bit from Beenie Man & Mýa’s “Girls Dem Sugar” (the part where she sings “If I could be your girl” is the little snippet I stole, though I rejigged the rhythm and everything so it’s not recognisable until you compare the songs side by side).  I also wanted the lyrics to tell a story that surprised the listener – the first half of the song gives the impression that I’m blissfully happy with my lover, when as the song transitions into its less beat-driven second-half, it transpires that I’m alone and missing that person terribly, wishing that I could live our love over again.  The dénouement was reflected by the musical changes, where the drum’n’bass beat was subdued in favour of an acoustic guitar loop, strings and the piano melody which was pushed to the forefront.  On a couple of songs on Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds, I was impressed by the way that Justin transitioned between the principal club-ready mainstream song, and the more emotional, heartfelt coda that segued perfectly into what came before and after.  I’m thinking in particular of “Lovestoned / I Think She Knows” and “What Goes Around… / …Comes Around”.  So I sought to recreate that sort of transition.  I think that the song turned out great, and apart from a couple of production quirks, it sounds quite fresh and legit, even today.  This song and “Say Anything” I think are the two best songs on the album, as they sound slightly more polished and have thus held up better with time in comparison to my newer material.

Once again, I want to thank you for reading, taking all these different journeys with me.  Please download the album (let me know if I need to re-up any of the links), and rest assured there is more (and a lot better!!!) to come. I hope that you enjoy reading the descriptions along to the songs and that they shed light on where and what I get my inspiration from.  I also hope that you’ll listen to my new music and see just how much I have matured and how far I have come, both musically and as a person.  From the bottom of my heart, thankyou 🙂