Posts Tagged ‘beatbox’

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believing in me.

August 10, 2010

Yesterday I performed three songs at the BAYS (Bristol Active Youth Group) 2010 summer party: “Russian Roulette” by Rihanna, “No One” by Alicia Keys and “You Lost Me” by Christina Aguilera. I was privileged that Ness invited me to perform, and it also gave me the opportunity to prove several things to myself.

  1. I hadn’t performed in front of an audience for a few years, and I wanted to know that I still had what it takes to entertain people and that my voice was still enjoyable for people to listen to.
  2. That I was capable of singing 3 relatively vocally-intense songs in succession, in front of an audience without messing up or without my voice failing me. Basically, that I could do justice to the material I had chosen.
  3. That I could still competently sing these songs despite the fact that I am now a smoker.
  4. That, despite my absence from performing, I could perform through the nerves.

I am happy to report that I proved all of these things to myself and I did a great job: everyone seemed to enjoy my performances and was very complimentary about my voice; one girl even said she wanted to marry me! (I think Toby would have something to say about that!) So that was lovely: I also enjoyed watching Ness dance to Lady GaGa, and there was an MC beatboxing who was fantastically talented… some of what I saw would put celebrity musicians to shame. It was touching to see young talent on display in my community, and moreover, a group of young people coming together to do something positive for their community.

Then, today I have just come back from my driving lesson. Despite the fact that it’s taking a lot longer to reach my driving test than I originally anticipated, I finally got roundabouts 100% sorted out (my last problem area) and now I feel that I will be capable of doing everything I need to in my driving test. Plus, my driving instructor was less of a fool this time than he was last week. So I am feeling good: this is the way I like to start a week, with a sense of positive accomplishment two days in a row.  I hope this continues, especially considering that the time has finally come to start my new job at Cirencester College on Monday. I have to keep up my sense of self-belief, because this is how I can keep transforming and improving my life. 🙂

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Rihanna – Rated R. (album review)

November 14, 2009

Here is the album review I promised on my twitter yesterday!  Before I start, once again I want to thank you all for supporting my blog, both my music reviews and my personal entries.  I really appreciate all the views and I hope that you’ll keep it locked here because I ain’t stoppin’! 🙂 Thankyou.

You already know what I think of Russian Roulette, and the other 3 songs we’ve heard already from Rated R.  Generally, they portray a darker, edgier side to Rihanna, both in the production (deeper, more menacing beats) and lyrical content that includes a bit of cursing, a lot of swagger and references to pain, trials and tribulations.  “Russian Roulette”, “Wait Your Turn” and “Hard” are more or less indicative of the album as a whole.  In contrast to her previous smash Good Girl Gone Bad, it’s a lot less uptempo.  The songs are mainly midtempos and ballads, which may alienate a lot of fans who want her faster, danceable material (though “Hard” and “Rude Boy” cater to these needs, and do so well with swagger lyrics – the latter seeing Rihanna come on to a ‘rude boy’ as if she were the guy who is gonna “put it on you”).  However, the slower material allows for two major things: one, to prove that Rihanna can actually sing.  Okay, she’s no Beyoncé, but she holds her own a lot better than many people might expect.  “Russian Roulette” and closing standout “The Last Song” don’t employ lots of vocal runs, but they emphasise strong, clear vocals that prove Rihanna’s got a voice as well as a body – btw. the artwork for this era is immense! – and also go well with the more emotionally searching and vulnerable material.  Two, it allows for Rihanna to delve into her pain, and although it’s never made explicit that she’s referencing her love, abuse and love lost with Chris Brown, songs such as “Stupid In Love” and the epic “Cold Case Love” immediately bring that whole affair to mind.

Not every song is concerned with love lost.  “Te Amo” is about a girl who’s infatuated with Rihanna, and its undulating beats have been beefed up slightly on the album version to make it more hypnotic and possibly (along with “Rude Boy”) the song that would have slotted in nicely on Good Girl Gone Bad.  “Rockstar 101” is backed up by Slash’s guitar work and like “Hard” and “Wait Your Turn”, it demonstrates Rihanna’s confidence in herself – something she perhaps wants to emphasise.  She is fierce!  However, compared to some of the other tracks, “Rockstar 101” falls somewhat flat, as it doesn’t have as much depth as the emotionally-charged midtempos, nor does it ring as true as the harder-knocking songs.  It does demonstrate that Rihanna is not an urban artist – she’s a pop singer who encompasses a range of music. On this album, she combines elements of rock, pop, R&B and melds them together to create a dark album that works for the most part.  And credit goes to her for trying to improve on each album – like Good Girl Gone Bad, the amount of filler on the disc is fairly minimal (in contrast to her first two records) and she’s tried to do something different that has evolved as she has as a person.  So I must applaud that.

A couple of the ballads such as “Stupid In Love” and “Photographs” (which benefits from will.i.am’s synthed beats that kick in midway) are perfectly solid, but pale in comparison to the best tracks.  These are, in a nutshell, first single “Russian Roulette”, “Fire Bomb”, “G4L”, “Cold Case Love” and “The Last Song”.  These all work because Rihanna is putting herself out there vocally and emotionally.  The producers do a fantastic job (praise must go in particular to Justin Timberlake and The Ys’ work on “Cold Case Love”, which shows a gradual building of beatboxing, standard beats, guitars and strings to an epic climax that fades out by itself and underline Rihanna’s pain at a love misfired – “Release me now ’cause I did my time”) more or less throughout, but Rihanna herself carries the songs.  “Fire Bomb” has been compared to something by Kelly Clarkson, but in my opinion it knocks much harder and is a compelling contrast to expectations – most people would expect a club banger from the title, when in fact it’s a slow pop/rock ballad which essentially says “if I’m going down in flames, you’re coming with me”.  “G4L” is one of the darkest songs which shows Rihanna pledging to be “down 4 life”, ride or die until the end.  The off-key tweaks at the beginning signal something mysterious, and the lyric “I lick the gun when I’m done ’cause I know that revenge is sweet” is one of the best opening salvos I can remember.  The track brings to mind the tiny gun tattoos on the sides of Rihanna’s breasts, demonstrating that even if she may be a sweet person on the surface, she’s also a strong and determined one – her attitude is reflected in her music as much as her body art.

“The Last Song” was the track that stood out to me most from listening to the 30-second snippets, and it doesn’t disappoint – it’s a perfect closer to the album, not only in name but in texture also.  It employs a soaring guitar and heartwrenching lyrics, chronicling the realisation of a breakup.  “The sad song ends up being the last song you’ll ever hear.”  Rihanna’s spare vocals almost seem to cry the lyrics throughout the track, and the buildup throughout the song until near the end where all the instruments fade out is done perfectly.  Rihanna said that she wanted Lil’ Wayne and Kings Of Leon to like her album, demonstrating her desired blend of urban and rock. The album is definitely a mélange of styles, but apart from “Hard”, I don’t see enough hip-hop for Weezy to connect with, and the rock elements are nowhere near as indie-pop as Kings Of Leon.  However, the soaring guitars provide something edgier and deeper within the context of a pop album, and the hard-hitting beats and synths knock plenty – the combination of which provide something quite extraordinary and special within itself.  Rihanna should be proud of this record.

Rated R has a focused aggression to it that rings truer than it did on Good Girl Gone Bad. Despite the lack of uptempo smashes, it’s a fantastic record that hopefully will have as much repeat-play value as her previous record.  Whether it’s because of her personal struggles, maturity as a young woman or desire to experiment musically (probably a combination of all three), Rated R shows growth.  I pray that her label doesn’t re-release the album, since it’s perfect as it is and comes across as something sincere, rather than designed to make money as a light pop confection.  Why I’m impressed with Rated R, beyond the simple fact that most of the songs are solid or better, is because it’s cohesive.  All the songs work together to make the album more than the sum of its parts.  It has a big emotional impact, and it sets a musical mood (dark, edgy and yet heartfelt) that doesn’t let up throughout – in her own words, from “Hard”, “that Rihanna rain/reign”.  I didn’t know if she had it in her to best Good Girl Gone Bad, but even if it doesn’t have as many number 1 smashes and addictive beats, Rated R is a musical step forward that I personally value that little bit more.

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lady love. (LeToya album review)

August 22, 2009

On August 25th, LeToya will release her second solo album, Lady Love.  The disc is a ballad-centric compilation that stays true to LeToya’s traditional R&B-ballad signature style as evidenced on her self-titled first album, while displaying growth both musically and (in particular) vocally.  Although the few uptempos on the record (“She Ain’t Got…”, “Take Away Love”, “After Party”, “Love Rollercoaster”) lack the Houston chopped/screwed dirty hip hop flavour of the club songs on her debut, they veer more towards a poppier, guitar-fused sound.  The bonus track “Swagger” is a nod to her previous uptempos, featuring Bun B, Killa Kyleon & ex Slim Thug, and while LeToya isn’t on the song enough for it to warrant being a proper track on the album (thus making sense why it’s relegated to ‘bonus’ status), it is a nice throwback to bangers such as “Gangsta Grillz” and “Tear Da Club Up” that were highlights on her first disc.  Of Lady Love’s upbeat tracks, single “She Ain’t Got…” is the standout, a gutsy declaration to a cheating boyfriend that ain’t nobody better than Toya.  The electric guitar adds extra fuel to her fiery performance, and the hooks of “Swing batter batter batter” + “She ain’t got shit on me” are addictive.  This may be the most poppy LeToya has ever gone, but it’s still got an added punch and bite that most pop tracks lack.

But as stated at the beginning of the review, the album focuses mainly on ballads, and there is a wealth of stellar-quality material here.  From the airy vocals of the title track that opens the album (although I can’t help thinking of this track as an extended intro to the album, so blown away is it by “She Ain’t Got…” that immediately follows) to “Lazy”, which appears to remake Rihanna’s “Rehab” with better lyrics and far better vocals, where LeToya sings that “her heart’s a little lazy” after so much drama with love and relationships (I can relate!).  The vocals on this disc are far improved not only from her debut, but seem to position LeToya as a rising powerhouse (something which is quite surprising, since she never sang lead in Destiny’s Child and the kind of vocal prowess she displays on the album has barely been hinted at before).  One thing is for sure, when Beyoncé stated in the Destiny’s Child interview that “LeToya was more or less tone deaf, she was more of a rapper than anything”, she was fucking lying.  I’m sorry, but if LeToya is a rapper, she is the best-singing rapper to walk this earth (no disrespect to Lauryn Hill).  Listening to the standout “Good To Me”, where LeToya lists her reasonable desires in a partner and pleads that she is tired of being disappointed, the vocals explode throughout the song, with sustained notes and riffs both sounding impressive.

As well as competent belting, LeToya also takes risks with her voice.  On the sensual “I Need A U”, LeToya spends most of the song in an airy whisper, which compliments the slow-as-molasses beat and sexy lyrics to create a perfectly seductive listen.  Nevertheless, the best tracks are those which show that LeToya knows her strengths.  First single “Not Anymore”, while a straightforward radio ballad, is addictive and raises up the listener as LeToya repeats “I don’t want it anymore… I know my worth and you can keep that drama”.  The audience is exhorted to just sing along and feel empowered as LeToya kicks her boyfriend to the kerb, and even the rote production (a collaboration with Bei Maejor & Ne-Yo, that echoes his own style) serves the song well.  And album closer “Don’t Need You” is a laid-back closer with a beatbox element in the production.  It is another sing-along affair, where LeToya discovers that she is better off on her own.  Happiness doesn’t mean that you need another to be with you all the time.

“Over”, “Matter” and “Regret” (a sexy, laid back track that rewrites Kelly Rowland’s “Ghetto” and improves it tenfold, with a melody and hook that is actually memorable) all represent strong ballads that repeat the same theme, of the wronged girlfriend realising that she is the better one.  The fact that nearly all of the songs on this album cover the same theme does get a tiny bit monotonous, although songs like “I Need A U” and “Love Rollercoaster” are a refreshing change in that they are optimistic.  Generally though, this album is the perfect listen for after a breakup, and it’s practically impossible to imagine that LeToya didn’t write this album in response to her failed relationship with Slim Thug.  All that I can say is that, without wishing more relationship drama on LeToya, she clearly creates her best material when she’s unhappy with love… This album is clearly one of the albums of the year, since it doesn’t try to be dance of any other genre to get more radio play… it is solid R&B, with no weak tracks and stellar vocals.  Even if the themes aren’t too varied, it makes the album cohesive and one that you can listen to from beginning to end without skipping.  The ballads have enough variety in the production not to sound alike, and the hooks are memorable and get stuck in your head after only a couple of listens.  In 2009, music has become so disappointingly bland, false and heartless that every good album is a highlight that we really have to cherish.  I recommend that we all cherish LeToya’s Lady Love, because not enough artists nowadays are making music this strong and consistent.  A fantastic sophomore album.