Posts Tagged ‘MTV’

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notorious. (a review of sorts)

September 8, 2009

Yes, I am very late but I only picked up the DVD to Notorious yesterday, because Tesco finally had it on sale and I had been interested to watch but never managed to catch it during its run at the cinema, and wasn’t about to pay £14-20 just to get the DVD straight when it came out.  So I bade my time and finally I watched it tonight.  I’m not going to give a very in-depth review, because we all know the story – Biggie gets into drugs, gets put in jail, comes out of jail, comes close to being put in jail again but his friend takes the rap (hah!) so that Christopher Wallace can fulfil his budding rap talent and become Notorious B.I.G. All goes well as Biggie takes Lil’ Kim along with him for the ride, then meets Faith Evans and wifes her up, all while keeping his first baby mama on the backburner the whole time.  A friendship with Tupac Shakur turns sour, misunderstandings occur and both rappers end up dead, 2pac 25, Biggie 24.  That’s the plot in a nutshell.

I’m not even going to attempt to address the 2pac vs. Biggie controversy.  I have both of B.I.G.’s albums on my iPod (I prefer Ready To Die, but only because I’m much more familiar with the songs – I need to study Life After Death more tbh), whereas I only have one of 2pac’s (All Eyez On Me), which again I have only listened to a couple of times.  Both were influential and towering talents, but I’m not about to compare one to another because I’m nowhere near informed enough to have a valid opinion, and I would need to research more of their material.  Again, I have no conspiracy theory about who shot either of them, nor what role Suge Knight may or may not have played in the whole business – I’m no detective, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to say something on the subject that hasn’t already been said.  The only perspective I have on 2pac and on Biggie is retrospective, because in 1997 I was only 11 years old and barely musically awakening (I received Mariah Carey’s Butterfly for my 12th birthday later that year, which is possibly when I really opened my eyes, ears and heart musically) so I didn’t really have any acquaintance with rap music past what I would hear on the radio and see on MTV and The Box.

I was pleasantly surprised with the film: as I said, I already knew the plot and yet I still found it an interesting watch.  The only character I found unbelievable was Sean “Puffy” Combs, because the guy playing him neither looked nor sounded like Puff Daddy, in my opinion.  I only caught passing glimpses of a resemblance between the two in terms of mannerisms and vocal tics, whereas most of the others nailed it at least a fair amount of the time.  Jamal Woolard did a great, great job playing Christopher Wallace himself; Naturi Naughton was a fiery if inaccurate Lil’ Kim (but more about that in a moment), but Naturi herself did a fine job and displayed a fearlessness in her acting; Angela Bassett was supreme as usual; Antonique Smith was an astonishing Faith Evans, looking the spitting image of her and displaying a similar blend of sophistication and grit.  Not knowing much about Voletta Wallace herself, other than that she played a large part in the creation, vision and focus of the whole film, I found it hard to believe that she was as naive about her son’s imperfections as she appeared to be (confusing crack with mashed potatoes?  Come on now… how long you been living in Brooklyn?). But then again the film was not as rose-tinted as I had heard it was: Biggie displayed extraordinary passion and talent, but he was also a serial womaniser and acted childishly at some points and plain idiotic at others.  So that was somewhat refreshing.

Faith Evans was portrayed as an almost angelic beauty who still kicked one of Biggie’s jump-off’s down when she found out that he’d cheated on her not long after their marriage (again, she really should have known better than to believe he would be faithful to her).  In contrast, Lil’ Kim was similarly painted as naively believing that her and B.I.G. would last forever (his marriage to Faith was quite a sore point in the film as in real life), but her part in Biggie’s life was massively downplayed; she appeared for a fraction of a second in the funeral montage whilst the photo of her weeping with Mary J. Blige outside the funeral service is one of the defining images of that era. Her talent, her look and her persona was portrayed as completely fabricated by Biggie in a post-coital brainstorm, and according to the film, Lil’ Kim was essentially nothing but a slut who fucked for tracks. Her enduring success and establishment as the premiere female MC surely contradicts this portrayal.  To quote the review from Pajiba (who put it much better than me, and in more entertaining language):

“The person who takes it up the ass the hardest is Lil Kim. Lil Kim’s always bukakked with the reputation of being the nastiest bitch, the stripper who’s empowered by her sexuality because she can use her snappin’ pussy to get all the diamonds and the rings and the bling and have any dick she chooses. (Under ten inches — ENNNT — sorry.) In Notorious, she bangs Biggie and asks if he’s got a girlfriend later. Then, her entire rap persona is supposedly imagineered by Biggie, who says men don’t want to hear about gangsta chicks but rather want girls who’ll fuck them with the lyrics. He turns her into a whore, his whore, who turns petty and jealous when he marries the sainted Faith, and basically spends the rest of the movie like a jealous psycho starting fights and trouble. Of course, when Biggie died, Lil’ Kim went into an almost two year depression. Faith Evans and Puffy remixed a Police song and essentially lived off the fatted calf of Biggie’s corpse for the same period. So you do the math. Or don’t. Both Lil’ Kim and Faith Evans have memoir/tell-alls due out sometime in the coming year.”

Being a Lil’ Kim fan, I have appreciated her at her highest peaks as well as in her tackier moments, throughout her up and down surgeries and provocative outfits, and even lamenting her stint on Dancing With The Stars whilst being glad that it was helping to rehabilitate her career.  I wrote a blog about her daring performance of “Time After Time / Lighters Up” with Cyndi Lauper recently. At the heart of it, she is a talented rapper with consistent flow, entertaining lyrics and song concepts, and buckets of sexuality, raw passion and hard-earned grit.  I’d be interested to see her movie and compare and contrast the two portrayals of Lil’ Kim… I guess we’ll have to wait and see if such a project ever materialises.

In short, I enjoyed Notorious more than I expected to.  I didn’t find anything out that I didn’t already know, and I am not educated enough in the music nor in the history of Biggie’s life to have any valuable opinion or counter-opinion.  But there was striking characterisation, solid acting and a couple of sticking points that held my interest and attention throughout.  And it’s got me listening to Ready To Die on my iPod once again.  I guess at the end of the day, even though we’ll never know everything about what happened to Biggie, if such a film gets us to re-appreciate and re-evaluate his music and legacy, and despite his moral and intellectual shortcomings, if we can admire his passion and talent, then that is definitely something valuable.

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this is lycanthropy.

July 30, 2009

Quick, watch this before someone takes it off youtube! Apparently, that happens sometimes! (they did it to my Whitney Houston video, because obviously my singing her song is going to damage her sales.)

The song has grown on me immensely, and Shakira looks flawless.  But looking at the way she dances in the video, and combining that with the ideas contained in the lyrics, it gets me thinking of the primal sexuality that we keep locked up by day and let loose at night.  When I go to a club with my friends, I tend to prefer straight clubs because a) the majority of my friends are straight, and b) I can’t stand the bitchy queeny atmosphere, the meat-market stares, nor the awful mega-cheese of Bristol gay clubs – therefore my dancing is somewhat inhibited and I tend to play it cool (R&B / hip hop kinda promotes cool nonchalance over insane all-out dancing anyways).  But nevertheless, I’ve always been a good dancer because I guess I have an innate sense of rhythm.  I always get randoms trying to dance with me in clubs, and other guys often compliment me on my dancing (which I find crazy, because for a guy to compliment another guy without knowing them or having an ulterior motive of some sort is practically unheard of).  I’ve been dancing since I was a child, but just as I learned to sing from Mariah Carey albums, I learned to dance from MTV.  The best teachers are your idols, and my recipe for success has always been study, study, study, incorporate a range of everything into your repertoire, and then just feel the music and let what comes out come out.  That’s the way I sing, and that’s the way I dance – it’s automatic, it’s instinctive, and it’s usually more powerful than a rehearsed performance.  Just as I have performed at numerous concerts singing and playing instruments, I have done a few dance displays and was the first male ever to win my high school dance competition (to Brandy’s “What About Us?”), so I guess I know what I’m talking about.  But at the same time, I could never teach anyone to sing nor to dance, because I just do what I do and feel the music and make my body talk.  I have heard accomplished instrumentalists say that they learned how to make their piano or their guitar talk (I read a quote from Bruce Springsteen in a book in HMV the other day), and that was a powerful yet simplistic explanation of how someone plays their instrument.  So I guess the best way for me to explain the way I ‘do’ music is that I make my voice or my body talk and express itself to the music.

When Shakira says that “this is lycanthropy”, I understand that she’s referring to unleashing your inner predator (in her case, the ‘she-wolf’).  I often find myself with my ipod at night dancing around, and the most intoxicating thing for me (which is the feel I’ve tried to capture on my forthcoming album) is to be outside in the dark, with the fresh air caressing your skin and nothing to distract you from the music as you stand / move around in the moonlight.  If I’m in a more contemplative mood, I’ll smoke my cigarette while gazing out over the garden just listening to the music, taking in the lyrics and sensing the feel of the music.  Music is the perfect backdrop for me (and I presume, many many people!) to rediscover their sexuality and sensuality, and get in touch with the inner person who is subdued during the hectic day-to-day.  This is why I find music so powerful.

If I am getting ready to go out, be it night or day, and I want to feel good about myself, I’ll dress up in my nicest, most flattering clothes, make sure I have a label or two, make sure my hair is fierce, my skin is tanned and glowing, and my jewellery is on point.  But I need a soundtrack to complete my attitude and back it up.  If I am thinking about someone, I’ll associate certain songs with my emotions and, if the person is lucky / significant, with them.  Music has the power to inspire so many feelings in me, and it can make me feel sexy, and bolster my confidence and go and get that guy whom I’ve been lusting after, instead of just contemplating it.  After all, we are in disguise during our daytime personas; once the moon rises, we have full licence to let our nocturnal predator out to play and attract our prey with the way we make our bodies talk.  I believe that dancing is one of the purest forms of expression, and the physicality of someone can be so powerful, so magnetic that it can attract you towards them instinctively.  So we may be humans, but we are still animalistic in our bodies, our spirits, and in the way that music can make us react.

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intangible.

July 24, 2009

Two of my very favourite things in my life are music and fragrance.  Music has been something I have loved from day one, and I never looked back: ever since I was little my mum and I would dance around the living room to Whitney Houston, Belinda Carlisle, Kool & The Gang records (on vinyl! Somewhere in my bedroom is Mariah Carey’s very first single “Vision Of Love” on vinyl, which I imagine might be worth some money!).  We’d sing along to Bon Jovi, Lionel Richie and the Pointer Sisters in the car (on cassette), and as soon as we had MTV I knew that my ideal vocation was a pop star.  I think by force of habit (I was singing long before I got my first Mariah Carey album, which was at age 12) I made myself a decent singer, and once I was 13 I broke through at my school singing anywhere and everywhere, making myself a little celebrity status and signing autographs at school (it was a stressful time with gossip and rumours, but also a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the renown.).  I did concerts, dance competitions, displays and random other stuff, and I made myself my own brand… it was good training for the real world!  But primarily, I did these things because I love to sing, I love to dance, and I have always enjoyed these things.  To sound corny, they make me feel free and allow me to escape the monotony, depression and pain of everyday life, and the fact that I seem to be genuinely talented (though I need occasional reassurance from my friends, now that I don’t do performances very often, that I’m not secretly shit – they are always supportive of me 🙂 ) is a bonus.  But writing songs, making my own music, and singing along to everything is such an intrinsic part of who I am, and it’s something that can’t be taken away from me (unless you rip out my larynx) because it’s intangible.  It’s the air I breathe, the way I control my voice, the years of daily practice… it’s nothing tangible.  It’s more ethereal and spiritual to me.

On the other hand, my love of fragrance is something much more recent in comparison.  Though I realised, leafing through the Avon catalogue tonight, that I have had fragrance in my life since the age of 15, when I used to buy their cheap n cheerful classics Black Suede, Modern Balance, Mesmerise… I can’t remember what my first “proper” fragrance was (I know my mum bought me CK Contradiction when I turned 17, but I don’t know what the first one I bought for myself was), but I have always loved Black XS, Dior Homme and A*Men, and despite working at a perfume shop for a year and a half and coming into contact with all the brands and all the scents a guy could want, those are still probably my favourites (along with a couple of others 😉 )!  I think there is something so captivating and seductive about someone who smells intoxicatingly good, it’s like an addictive allure (wading into Bai Ling territory there…).  Although a lot of fragrances have a ridiculously long list of notes of which most normal people can only smell two or three, there is something mysterious about the way certain aromas or elements (well, they’re actually aromachemicals, but we can pretend it’s something more organic and exotic 😉 ) are combined to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.  And again, it’s something that travels on the wind, something subjective that triggers individual reactions and desires, something that is unique to each person and which suggests something primal about who that person is (and after all, the fragrance someone wears can tell you a lot about them! Perfume SAs around the world can vouch for this 😉 ).  I think that is why both of these things are so important to me, because they come from within, they are both things which are at once intangible and primal, and they are an opportunity for us to expose the essence of who we are.

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the end of an era.

July 1, 2009

Obviously, with the recent death of Michael Jackson, a lot of people have been using the phrase “I feel like a part of my childhood has died”.  As a fan not of Michael (the only album of his that I bought was Dangerous, and I still play it but don’t feel any pull to purchase any of the others) but of his sister Janet, I didn’t echo the sentiment in that particular case (although obviously his death did sadden me), but the following news does make me reminisce.

VIBE magazine is shutting down next month.  For those who don’t know, this is a magazine from the US that covers R&B, hip hop and occasionally other genres of music.  There are also urban fashion spreads, and the odd political essay covering both American politics and the treatment of racism and sexuality in both the US and countries such as Cuba, Mexico and Jamaica (to name but a few).  In short, the magazine is aimed at “black culture”.  I bought my first issue when I was 13 and have been following it ever since (that’s 10 years! which has just struck me, as I think about it.  A decade is a long time!), buying more often than not, though occasionally leaving it on the stand if the cover story didn’t attract me and there weren’t any articles inside to pull my wallet out my pocket.  Here is a picture of that first cover:

TLC VIBE Cover 1999

TLC VIBE Cover 1999

I remember having just purchased TLC’s album “FanMail” (one of my ultimate favourites to this day!!!) and it had rocked my world.  Looking back, I always had liked R&B music but I was only becoming conscious of it, and therefore purchasing Vibe magazine allowed me to begin exploring the genre and fed my mind.  As I expanded my tastes and learned of new artists (some of whom I listen to on the regular now), I also appreciated the long interviews which were actually informative, as well as the more mature articles. And some of the clothes were ridiculous!  At 13, reading a magazine where profanity was used not purposely to shock, but just because that was how people spoke was an eye-opener to me (hence shocking me all the same, haha!) but also refreshingly honest and mature.  In short, it opened my eyes and became part of my childhood, my adolescence.  Of course, carrying around such a magazine at that age raised the eyebrows of some of my peers at school, who had never heard of most of the artists and had no interest (this was the time when indie was in, and most teenagers in the UK were more into the Offspring and Travis than TLC, Puff Daddy, Mariah Carey and Aaliyah) beyond Eminem, who had just come out and caused quite a stir!  (doesn’t that take you back!?)

I did get comments such as “Alan, you’re not black, why are you reading that?” “Who are they? Never heard of them…” “Is that a porn magazine?” (ok, that was one person who got excited by the bikinis but there was occasional nudity, though it was tasteful and could never be termed pornographic, not in a million years) To people who didn’t understand why I listened to the music that I did because I was “white”, I have two responses: a) I’m half Italian, so technically that makes me mixed race anyway (though to look at me I am very “white”-looking so I don’t usually tend to argue! I can understand the mistake and usually accept it). b) Though music is certainly geared towards certain demographics, there are no laws saying what I can and can’t listen to, what genres I can and can’t buy.  It’s a free country, at least in that respect.  Open your minds!

So this magazine did form a large part of my growing up, expanding my musical tastes well beyond Bristol radio and UK music channels (which have a pretty narrow selection IMO, excluding MTV Base), and opening my eyes to both decent journalism and fashion!  Without VIBE, I would be a different person, without a shadow of a doubt.  Music is so fundamental to me, and VIBE certainly fed my need to grow and to expand and to learn about music that I was becoming interested in.  And I am sad it’s closing, despite the fact that I can’t deny it has recently lost its allure.  The articles were more glossy and less probing, the magazine had become half the size it used to be, comprising both less adverts and less articles.  The editorial staff seemed to change every few months, and the variety of features that used to be present in the magazine when I first bought it had been rejigged and slimmed down so much … In a way I am not surprised at VIBE’s closure, because it’s become a diet version of the magazine it used to be (I don’t believe I’m wearing rose-tinted glasses on that one), but I am saddened nonetheless.  Here is a picture of the final cover courtesy of Toya’s World:

Christina Milian & The-Dream VIBE cover

Christina Milian & The-Dream VIBE cover

It’s eye-catching, but hardly iconic in the way that Toni Braxton and Foxy Brown’s nude poses, TLC’s cover dressed as firefighters, Jennifer Lopez’s see-through dress and Tupac’s strait-jacket cover were.  Nudity by this point is passé, and though Christina Milian is undeniably a hottie, for a last issue this cover comes across as a slightly bizarre choice.  Nevertheless VIBE will be missed, despite recent racist accusations by peeps such as Robin Thicke who deserved one cover story at the very least, being one of the best new urban artists to come out in recent years despite not being black!  When he was refused the cover story, his light skin was largely assumed to be the reason why and that was a big shock to me as a non-black reader who thought that as a magazine that very much fought for racial equality, this was backwards.  But for the R&B / hip hop journalistic arena to be reduced solely to The Source, that makes me sad because I’m not a black thug (the audience The Source exclusively seems to aim for) and the features are more geared towards a revolving-door cast of rappers (both washed-up and too new to have earned their stripes) rather than respecting true talent and people who can truly sing as well as spit rhymes.  But maybe that’s just me growing older, and all I can hope is that 13 year olds picking up that magazine are as inspired and intrigued as I was 10 years ago buying my first issue of VIBE.