Posts Tagged ‘One In A Million’

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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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my favourite song – Aaliyah – 4 Page Letter

August 13, 2009

Okay, I realise that I have been neglecting this feature somewhat, but I’ve had so much else to write about!  Don’t worry, I’ve quietly been queuing up some of my favourite classic songs & I won’t forget to write about them.  I am a big fan of Aaliyah, and in the UK the majority of people only heard of her once she was killed in the plane crash.  It was only then that she hit #1 (with “More Than A Woman”) in this country, but I had latched onto her during the promotion for her One In A Million album (I don’t remember even hearing anything from Age Ain’t Nothin’ But A Number on the radio back when I was a kid).  Listening to songs such as “If Your Girl Only Knew”, “Hot Like Fire” and “One In A Million” opened my eyes and ears to a sound that was innovative, sexy and groove-led.  The videos were super-stylish, and I often find myself wishing that I could go back to the days when Timbaland and Missy Elliott made real, innovative R&B.

Out of all of the outstanding tracks on One In A Million, “4 Page Letter” has to be my favourite.  Starting with a subdued beat, Aaliyah exhorts the producers to “turn the music up”, and the volume rises to a normal level.  A deep, stuttering bass and shuffling shakers propel the song forward, while Aaliyah’s graceful, effortless vocal floats masterfully over the top.  Here was a vocalist who exuded sophistication from a startlingly young age (she was only 16 during recording much of One In A Million, a fact that still astonishes me) not just in her style and look, but in her voice and the way she sang.  Blessed with a strong, clear tone but never one to oversing, Aaliyah famously regarded herself as an “interpreter” who sought to do every song justice.  Here (as with almost all of her material) she succeeds, conveying the longing of a chaste romance, sending the object of her affections a “4 page letter” to express her feelings despite warnings from her family and friends.

I knew that I wanted to include an Aaliyah song almost from when I decided to write about some of my favourite songs.  Aaliyah has shaped my perception of R&B, just as she shaped the genre itself (with the help of Timbaland & Missy).  I find myself reminiscing back to her class and sophistication, and how the way she carried herself, the way she moved, the way she danced and the way she sang exuded grace and mastery.  Her untimely death in 2001 still resounds today, as the majority of new female singers fall incredibly short of the promise Aaliyah displayed during her all-too-brief career.  If she were still here, would Ciara have gotten her big break?  Would we be able to see how bereft Rihanna is of talent (apart from picking decent singles and wearing hot clothes)?  Would Beyoncé still be considered the best current R&B female singer?  We can but wonder, but there is a bittersweet blessing on the flip-side of Aaliyah’s passing: She left behind a near-perfect legacy that only shines more brightly with time.

Mama always told me to be careful who I love
And Daddy always told me, make sure he’s right
I always had my eyes on this one particular guy
I was too shy so I decided to write

I’m sending him a 4 page letter
And I enclosed it with a kiss
And when I write him he better get it on time
I’m sending him a 4 page letter
And I enclosed it with a kiss
And when I write him he better get it on time

People always sayin that I play myself for you
They say that you dont even notice me
Maybe when I get the nerve to come to you
Promise me that you wont diss me

I’m sending him a 4 page letter
And I enclosed it with a kiss
And when I write him he better get it on time
I’m sending him a 4 page letter
And I enclosed it with a kiss
And when I write him he better get it on time

I’ma write you a love letter tonight
You better keep watch cause the mailman’s coming
I’ma write you a love letter tonight
You better keep watch cause the mailman’s coming

I’m sending him a 4 page letter
And I enclosed it with a kiss
And when I write him he better get it on time
I’m sending him a 4 page letter
And I enclosed it with a kiss
And when I write him he better get it on time.