Tag Archives: Jay-Z

Song of the Day: “Welcome to the Jungle” – Jay Z & Kanye West

Last week, Kanye West declared that there would never be another Watch the Throne collaboration, due to Jay Z’s involvement with Tidal. If that’s actually true, it’s a shame because Watch the Throne was a pretty good album that contained some of the best moments of each rapper’s respective career.

One of the more interesting tracks on the album is the hypnotic “Welcome to the Jungle” due to its personal nature. Kanye only appears for a brief moment during the bridge, leaving Jay Z alone to channel his inner pain. For a man who loves portray himself larger than life and seems to have it all, it’s a harrowing moment when he reveals that he sometimes wonders why he was even born.

The “jungle” here isn’t the means street of Los Angeles found in Guns N’ Roses song. Rather, its life itself all the heartbreak and depression that comes with it. The song’s namesake  isn’t lost on Jay-Z who opens the song, declaring, “Black Axl Rose, move halfs and wholes/Come down to the jungle, just ask for Hov.” The Rose reference aside, the song starts withJay Z in autopilot mode, rapping once again about his hustling days. A few moments later though, he digs deeper and mourns the deaths of his nephew, uncle and father, leaving his faith in God tested.

The second verse is even more disturbing: his mother can’t see his smile and he numbs the pain with champagne and weed to no avail. Looking into the mirror, he doesn’t seem himself, but rather an opponent keeping him down. The song ends with Jay Z admitting, “I’m already dying, so fuck it.”

Throughout the song in various moments, Swizz Beats (who produced the song) shouts out “Godammit!”. It’s one of the few instances in recent years that I can think of, where the phrase retains its original power as an angry cry to God.

If Watch the Throne II never happens, at least we still have the original to listen to.

 

Album of the Week: “The Blueprint” – Jay-Z

With all respect to Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint is Jay-Z’s magnum opus. It’s the album where he declares himself to be hip-hop uncontested king with the beats and rhymes to prove it. It’s the rare hip-hop album that was a critical, commercial and under-ground success.  Eschewing the commercial aspect of his past few albums, Jay delivered an album that was made for the streets where he hailed from.  Jay-Z has always rhymed about growing up in the Brooklyn projects, but The Blueprint proved that he hasn’t truly forgot what it was like.

In some ways, the Jay-Z found on The Blueprint recalls the Bob Dylan of the mid-1960s: cocky, assured, and boastful. And like Dylan from that era, who’s going to argue with the self-imposed claims? Both were unapologetic about their talents, and antagonistic towards those who thought otherwise: “Welcome to ladies and gentlemen to the 8th wonder of the world,” He declares at the beginning of “Izzo”.

“You will respect me, simple as that,” Jay raps on “The Ruler’s Back”.  It’s not so much a challenge as a straight-up fact.  A few lines later in the same song, he acknowledges that “there’s a lot of rappers out there trying to sound like Jay-Z”.  Instead of telling the imitators to simply fuck off (though he does that and more to Nas on the immortal “Takeover”), he offers some tips on how to sound like him.  Not many rappers could get away with such a line without sounding idiotic, but Jay-Z does it so effortlessly, that for a second you might actually think that he’s being sincere and perhaps even helpful. And by the time you realize that it’s such a nasty put-down, he’s already moved on.  And those he feels are insignificant and not worth his time are given “half a bar”.

Unlike a lot of other rap albums, The Blueprint contains only one cameo with Eminem showing up on “Renegade”.  Perhaps it’s fitting that Eminem would be the only one to appear since he was the only rapper whose skills could match Jay-Z’s at the time.  If anyone else would brought a verse to The Blueprint, it would have been reductive. Otherwise, The Blueprint is all Jay doing what he does best: obliterating everyone else in the process with wit and gritty tales of his time in the Brooklyn projects.  His  flow and rhymes never sounded tighter, and his words drip from his tongue like butter.

Besides the rhymes, what makes The Blueprint truly great is its sound. Sampling soul songs has become something of a past-time in hip-hop in the past decade, but at the time of its release, The Blueprint was groundbreaking in its use of samples.  Much of the credit for that goes to a pre-fame Kanye West whose retro sounding beats were already gaining attention in the hip-hop community. It’s his hand that gives “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)” its classic 70s sampling using Bobby Blue Band’s “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City”.  On “Izzo” his use of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” gave Jay one of his biggest hits.

Like Dylan who had trouble following up his mid-1960s trilogy, subsequent Jay-Z albums never quite matched The Blueprint’s power.  While The Black Album contained “99 Problems”, much of it was lackluster.  Jay-Z didn’t disappear like Dylan, but he did make a much touted “retirement” that left both him and his fans wondering if he had truly peaked with The Blueprint. It wasn’t until The Blueprint 3 and Watch the Throne almost a decade later, that Jay-Z sounded like the Hov of old.  No matter what came afterwards though, The Blueprint remains a classic of hip-hop in the new millennium and one of the best albums of the past decade.

Song of the Week: “Most Kingz” – Jay-Z

 

“Most Kingz” is an unreleased song from Jay-Z, and his analysis of the song is one of the highlights of his 2010 book Decoded.  Lyrically, the song was inspired by a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting titled Charles the First which depicts Jazz great Charle Parker and contains the words: “most young kings get their heads cut off” at the bottom.  Using that line as a template, Jay-Z depicts the trials and tribulations of being famous and successful. Several tragic cultural and historical figures are mentioned throughout the song to drive the point home.

Success, whether it is in terms of money or adoration has always been a driving force in the minds of many hip-hop musicians. Jay-Z is no exception. Consistently ranked as one of hip-hop’s greatest rappers, he’s probably all too aware that his own crown could potentially be taken at any given moment.  But as he writes in Decoded, he refuses to believe that “falling is inevitable…there’s a way to avoid it, a way to win, to get success and its spoils, and get away with it without losing your soul or your life or both.”

Most of the figures that Jay mentions in “Most Kingz” have lost their lives in part due to their success or the views they expressed. In the case of Michael Jackson (who was still alive when the song was recorded) and Bobby Brown the two musicians their stardom and status fall before their eyes.  It might seem like sacrilege to name-check Biggie and Tupac in the same sentence as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr, (or even Jesus Christ for that matter) but that’s exactly the point. The figures mentioned may have had different messages and mediums to spread these messages, but their their success was part of their undoing.

One of the verses got an official release on a remix of Coldplay’s “Lost” retitled “Lost+”.   The pairing was most likely a returned favor from Jay-Z to Chris Martin who sang the hook on “Most Kingz”. The addition of the verse about Malcolm X and Bobby Brown elevated a pretty decent Coldplay song into a classic. As massive as Coldplay is, having Jay-Z rap on their track is akin to having Michael Jackson, Bono or Mick Jagger.  It doesn’t get much bigger than that.

As for the original – it’s Jay-Z’s version of “Blind Willie McTell”.  Which begs the question: why hasn’t it gotten an official release?  If you doubt the power of Jay-Z’s intelligence or his rhymes, this song will set the record straight.

 

 

 

 

Should Millionaire Rock Stars Sing About the Country’s Economic Woes?

During a recent visit to Chicago, some friends and I got into a debate over Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball.  One friend argued that the album’s theme of economic disparity felt fake due to Springsteen’s status as a multi-millionaire: “He hasn’t been close to struggling since The River.”

True, Bruce Springsteen is one of the world’s most famous rock stars and The Wrecking Ball Tour is sure to be one of the top grossing tours of the the year.  There probably is some truth that Springsteen hasn’t struggled with money since The River which was recorded over 30 years ago.  But those struggles stayed with him, and will always be a part of his songwriting.  As he pointed out to Jon Stewart in a recent issue of Rolling Stone: “We talk, we write, and even as late in the day as I am, we experience so much through the formative years of our life. That never goes away.”  Jay-Z says something similar in his book Decoded: “If you get that into your head that somehow you’re exceptional, then you’ve created some distance between where you are and where you’re from…”

While Springsteen is far removed from the struggles that form the basis of Occupy Wall Street, he has sung about these struggles before.  The songs that form Darkness on the Edge of Town and Nebraska deal with these issues. Because he is now finically secure, does that mean he should drop these songs from his set-list and stick to songs that conform to his current life-style?  What would a Bruce Springsteen who sings about sipping wine out of a chalice sound like?  There would be cries of selling-out, for sure.  At this point in his career, Springsteen has a certain image to up-keep and no matter what you think of his political views, if he sang about how great his life in his mansion was, that would seem more hollow.

I know several Springsteen fans that love him and respect him, but find his views a bit questionable.  But to them, he still makes great rock and roll and still go see him every time he comes to town.  In the same vein, you could argue that The Sex Pistols’ ancharchistic view of the world is a bit simplistic, but Nevermind the Bollocks remains one of the greatest albums ever recorded.

Personal lives and art do not, and should not have to line-up exactly.  According to James Joyce, In a Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in order to be a true artist, the  “artist prolongs and broods himself as the center of an epical event…the narrative is no longer personal.”

According to Joyce then, Springsteen is actually closer to true artistic integrity of the economic issues by being removed from the narrative he is referring to.  Perspectives in a particular song do not have to take one’s own experiences into account in order to them to work.  Mick Jagger is certainly not the Devil (though some have argued that point) but “Sympathy for the Devil” is an engaging portrait of the Prince of Darkness.  Are we really to believe that he (Jagger) “rolled a tank and held a general’s rank while the Blitzkrieg raged and the bodies stank”?   Similarly, Johnny Cash never murdered anyone but that doesn’t make his proclamation that he “shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” any less chilling.

Springsteen’s themes on Wrecking Ball might not be to one’s particular taste.  But because Springsteen is a millionaire doesn’t make it any less authentic.  He (Springsteen) is not the “Jack of All Trades” who “will mow your lawn, clean the leaves from your drain”.  But for many listeners, they will identify with themselves in the song.

If “economic issues” trump everything in art, therein lies a problem.  If we, as listeners start to dictate what an artist should be talking about in a particular song or album, then we start to go a slippery slope.  It could start with economic issues, but where does it stop?  In a way, it becomes a form of imposed censorship on the artist.  And any form of censorship on art isn’t good for anybody.

10 Songs that Should Be Played on a Jukebox at a Bar

Following last week’s list “10 Songs that Should Absolutely Not Be Played on a Jukebox at a Bar”, at the suggestion of a friend I’ve decided to list the songs that should be played on a jukebox.

1.) “Jump” – Van Halen

“You got to ro-ooo-oooo-ll with the punches,” David Lee Roth declares in the first verse of this Van Halen classic.  And really, who are you to argue with Diamond Dave? Especially when this mantra is backed by the catchiest keyboard hook in rock and a ridiculous guitar solo that does not fit the rest of the song at all.  What to do?  Might as well jump.

2.) “Tiny Dancer” – Elton John

Personally, I prefer “Bennie and the Jets” and “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)”, but “Tiny Dancer” has this magical quality that makes everyone sing along to its chorus.  It achieves the same effect as Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” except this song is far superior.

3.) “Hey Ya!” – Outkast

Another case where the biggest song of the year also happened to be the best.  It’s downright silly (the infamous “shake it like a polaroid picture” line, “what’s cooler than being cool?”), serious (“separate is always better when there’s feeling involved”) and most of all fun.

4.) “Superstition” – Stevie Wonder

What an opening drum beat, that if you’re into playing air drums is a definite must.  And that clarinet riff and Moog synthesizer still sound as wild today as it did 40 years ago. Anybody who thinks Stevie Wonder is cheesy (and I’ve met a few of those people) need to check this song out stat.

5.) “99 Problems” – Jay-Z

I listen to a fair amount of hip-hop, but this is one of the few hip-hop songs where I know all the words. And judging by the reaction the song usually gets, I’m guessing that I’m not the only one.  With its rocking beat and one of Jay-Z’s best performances, “99 Problems” is essential Jukebox listening.

6.) “I Want You To Want Me” – Cheap Trick

This song can be a bit precarious. Putting it up on too early can backfire and everybody will question your jukebox ability. However, putting it on about an hour after you’ve thought it was a good idea is a much wiser.  Then everyone will praise you for your selection and gloriously sing the chorus with you.

7.) “Born to Run” – Bruce Springsteen

The Boss is the only artist with the distinction of being included on both lists!  “Born to Run” achieves this honor in part because of Springsteen’s famous non-verbal yelps. And you who can’t resist jumping up and shouting: “One, two, three four….the highway is jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive!”

8.) “Body of an American” – The Pogues

Knowing the words to this song is akin to being in a secret society like the Masons or Illuminati.  If the guy next to you is singing with you in unison, a pact has been created.  There are few things better in the world than seeing a group shout out “I’m a free born man of the USA!”.  If you don’t believe me, watch The Wire and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

9.) “Beast of Burden” – The Rolling Stones

A funny thing about this song: if you’re listening to it on your stereo at home it’s an average Rolling Stones song but at a bar at midnight it sounds like one of the greatest songs ever written.  I’m guessing it’s because of the groove which is neither slow or overbearing.

10.) “Push It” – Salt-N-Pepa

No, I’m not kidding on this one. I’m including this one because every time it comes on everybody will at first assume you’re crazy but then change their minds half-way through the song. Is it nostalgia?  Probably, but who cares?

Friday News Round Up: Patti Smith, Jay-Z, Coachella

Kind of short, I know.  Got a late start.  
  • Yeah, we all know that Beyonce gave birth.  In tribute, Jay-Z recorded a new track titled “Glory” which actually features her newborn daughter.  According to Billboard this makes Little Carter the youngest person to appear on the charts.  As her Uncle Kanye would say, “That shit cray.”
  • Poor Patti Smith.  First she offers to do a private show for residents of the Chelsea Hotel who are fighting with the famed hotel’s new owners.  The tenants brushed Smith off and accused her of siding with the owner.  Many just flat out planned to boycott the show.  And as of last night (when the show was supposed to take place) Smith cancelled the show writing in a statement “In respect for the wishes of the Chelsea Hotel Tenants Association, I have canceled tonight’s performance. My motivation was solely to serve the tenants. If this serves them better, then I am satisfied.”  All I got to say is this: It’s a private show by Patti Smith!  What more can you ask for?
  • I know everyone is super excited about Coachella.  I might be one of the few music bloggers who thinks this year’s line-up is a snooze-fest. Pulp and Arctic Monkeys on the first night?  The Sunday Night line-up is probably the best one with At the Drive-In, Florence & The Machine and Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg.  Any bets on Dr. Dre having Detox out by then?  Ha.

Q&A With Singer-Songwriter Laura Warshauer

Singer songwriter LAURA WARSHAUER launched her full-length album The Pink Chariot Mixtape on June 14th, 2011 on Pink Chariot Music. This led to her last single ‘To Will and Kate’ which is one of the four songs produced by Thom Panunzio. Laura recently received the first ever Buddy Holly Singer/Songwriter of the Year Award from the Songwriter’s Hall Of Fame and Songmasters. Exclusive interviews and archived footage from Laura’s most recent series of recording sessions was filmed by Michael Lynn (Producer of E! True Hollywood Story). She is collaborating with big names such as Roy Bittan (E Street Band) who played keyboards on 3 songs and Kenny Aronoff (John Fogerty, Smashing Pumpkins, John Mellencamp) who played percussion on “Little Lost Girls”. Laura is receiving great reviews from magazines and sites such as Mashable, Pop Culture Madness and The Comet, among others. Jay Z also commented “You are fantastically talented” which undeniably shows the wide audience that she manages to get on her side.

The Pink Chariot Mixtape has a wide variety of songs. “Explode” is a straight-up pop song, “Wishing Well” seems to recall Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac, and “Rockstar” has a punky edge to it.  Tell me a little bit about what inspired the different sounds.

I like to think of the diverse styles of my songs as the range of emotions that a person experiences in everyday life. “Wishing Well” is a bit more somber and introspective whereas “Rockstar” is cheeky and brazen. “Explode” feels like it’s somewhere in the middle of the other two. It’s interesting that you bring up Stevie Nicks. As I was writing “Wishing Well”, I felt very inspired by the song “Landslide”. Even more than the song itself, I drew inspiration from where Stevie was at in her life when she wrote “Landslide”. I felt like I was at a similar point in my life and career with my song. “Rockstar” was me trying to reconcile my fascination with “the dark side”. Paying my dues, I was rehearsing and recording in the Music Building in NYC, working relentless hours amongst a strange cast of characters. I was trying to piece together where I’d come from and where I wanted to go, using the “boy across the tracks” as a metaphor for pursuing a life in the music industry. “Explode” is another example of using a relationship metaphor for the everyday struggles of pursuing a career as an artist.

Your song craft is quite sophisticated and you’ve received numerous accolades for it, as well as praises from Jay-Z.  How long have you been writing your own songs?


Thank you! I’ve been writing my own songs since I was 14, the summer before I entered high school. Right away, I felt like I’d stumbled on something that was my own thing, which I really loved. Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic” and Joan Osborne’s “One of Us” were two songs that really influenced me early on. 

When you’re writing songs – do you start with lyrics first or melody?  Or do you have an idea of what you would like to say and then go from there?

I feel like I’m writing the story of my life through my songs, where each one is like a snapshot of a given time and place. It’s funny though, my songwriting “voice” is almost like this narrator who exists somewhere in my mind and is sort of separate from the everyday “me”. I sit down with my guitar, start strumming away at my favorite three chords and singing melodies and lyrics over the top. Lyrics just come out naturally and suddenly I’ll have a moment when I realize where the inspiration is coming from. Rarely will I actually sit down to write a song about a specific topic.

You’ve worked with some well-known and respected musicians including Roy Bittan from the E-Street Band, and the drummer of John Fogerty’s band just to name a few.  Did they offer any advice or did they just sit back and let you take charge?

Honestly, Roy Bittan and Kenny Aronoff offered advice without even putting it into words. I learned so much just by being around them. I showed up at those sessions just ready to soak in anything and everything that I could. They were very encouraging to me as both a songwriter and singer, and more than anything, I felt a renewed sense of excitement to keep on building my career after working with such incredible musicians.

Domestic Abuse is an issue, which is close to you.  You wrote “My Fault” for the 2010 iPledge Conference.  When did you first start becoming aware of this issue and realizing that you could play a part in raising awareness?

The song “My Fault” was written from a destructive relationship that I was in where at one point I was even physically pushed. I remember feeling really trapped and like somehow I was the one who was to blame for winding up in that situation. I immediately understood how strong women can wind up in these compromising and abusive relationships. It made me want to become involved with this issue. I performed two years in a row at the iPledge Press Conference and also at a shelter for women and children who had had to leave their homes because of domestic violence. I was humbled and motivated to do what I could to shed light on this important issue and in any way, offer a hopeful voice to those in need of knowing they’re not alone.

You’re also inspired by Bruce Springsteen and U2 in their ability to connect with audiences.  Do you hope for something similar with your shows?

Absolutely! Bruce Springsteen and U2 both establish a visceral connection with their audiences. Any great live performance, to me, is about the willingness to give a piece of yourself at a show and really commit to being in the moment. 

 
“Sweet Seventeen” sounds a little bit different from the other songs on Pink Chariot Mixtape – it’s more open than the others.  Is it autobiographical?

Yes, “Sweet Seventeen” is autobiographical. I was looking back on being 17 and someone that I had really connected with. It had actually been nothing romantic at the time, but there always seemed to be something there between us. Fast forward a few years later and I randomly heard about another girl that he was dating, who I had also known from before. It inspired the song because it made me think about if different choices had been made, how my life could have been altered.

Now that you’re getting a lot of exposure, what do hope to accomplish next?

I am most excited about touring and feeling these songs come to life on stage. My goal is to share these songs with as many people as possible. I’m looking forward to upcoming tour dates on the east coast with Bob Schneider and performing in NYC at the CMJ Festival!

http://laurawmusic.com/

http://download.themusebox.net/laura_warshauer/

 

 

 

 

 

The Ten Most Important Artists Of The Last Decade (Full List)

This is technically a repost, but for those interested it’s all in one spot.

1.) The White Stripes

2.) Kanye West

3.) Jay-Z

4.) Britney Spears

5.) Danger Mouse

6.) The Strokes

7.) Radiohead

8.) Lil Wayne

9.) Green Day

10.) Death Cab For Cutie

The Ten Most Important Artists Of The Last Decade – 3. Jay-Z

Last year, Jay-Z appeared on The Daily Show to promote his book Decoded.  Jay-Z has always come off as an intelligent dude, and the excerpts I’ve read from Decoded solidified this.  What really stood out from Jay-Z’s appearance on The Daily Show, was his humbleness.  As Jon Stewart asked the questions, Jay-Z seemed shy, awkward, and out of his element.  I’ve been a fan of Jay-Z for a while, but his demeanor made me like him even more.  It was direct contrast to his rap persona – bigger than life, and untouchable.  Jay-Z has always been larger than life.   And for those brief moments on The Daily Show, he seemed human.

Many rappers tend to boast – it’s part of hip-hop culture.  When Jay-Z declared himself the “8th Wonder of the World” in “Izzo”, it seemed ridiculous.  And it is.  But the crux of the line lies in the fact that Jay-Z views himself as simply great – not just the “greatest rapper alive” (which he is.)  It’s hard to accuse him of being arrogant, when it’s true.  It reminds me of Brian Wilson listing 8 Beach Boys songs as his Top 10 Songs of all time.  Are you really going to argue?

As a rapper, Jay-Z is instantly recognizable with that deep voice.  His flow is impeccable, and legend has it that he never writes down his lyrics, and if that is the case, it’s all the more impressive.  “Moment of Clarity” remains of one of his best songs – where he takes down his critics for going mainstream – “I dumb down for my audience/And double my dollars/They criticize me for it/Yet they all yell “Holla“.

Jay-Z has always been ahead of the game, and a trend-setter.   But with his 2001 release The Blueprint, he truly became a hip-hop titan.  His rhymes were tighter, and he tore down his rivals with such ease that almost every other rapper seemed small in comparison.  The Blueprint was also significant for bringing back sampling as a hip-hop tool, eschewing the keyboard heavy sound that was prominent at the time.   It was also one of the first albums to incorporate soul samples,which has now become something of a common practice in hip-hop.   His next release, The Black Album was a slight dip in quality (though not by much).  “99 Problems” is a fusion of rock and hip-hop where Jay-Z recalls his early days, as if it remind his audience that’s still the same guy he used to be.

To some, Jay-Z tirade against auto-tune  – “D.O.A.” – may have made him seem like a cranky old man who doesn’t understand the new trends.  But rather, it cemented the fact that he still be the greatest by existing in his own world.  And when he played Glastonbury a couple years back – to Noel Gallagher’s chagrin – Jay-Z proved that he wasn’t bound by the hip-hop world.  He could draw a crowd, and put on a show that everybody loved.

Over the past decade, Jay-Z has proved time and again that as a hip-hop artist you can be huge, and still create music that is intelligent, while still maintaining street-cred.

The Absurd Review: Kanye West & Jay-Z: “H.A.M.”

“H.A.M.”, the first single from the Jay-Z and Kanye West collaboration Watch The Throne surfaced earlier today.  The idea of the two hip-hop giants making an album together sounds exciting, but if H.A.M. is any indication of what direction Watch The Throne will take count me out.  Both rappers sound uninspired, the beat is sub-par, and what’s with the weird 80s synth in the background?   The final half of the song contains violins, and a choir.  Kanye, dude you already did similar things with better results on “Power”.

What do you think of “H.A.M.”?