I got a hypochondriac flow that get real ill, get nauseous to the beat, I spit sick at will.

My 13 Favorite Pop Culture Moments of 2013

I don’t have a long preamble for this. This list is just my way of trying to pull together a lot of disparate pop culture moments that struck me in some profound way during the year. I think the more you engage with pop culture the more it can feel like you’re always having the same conversations, with the same people, in the same way. So when something disrupts that monotony, frustrates the dominant ways we think and talk about our relationship to one another, I think it’s important.

Here are the 13 moments this year that made me sit up and look at the world just a little bit differently.

 



Posted on December 31st, 2013 - Filed under Best of 2013,Culture,Film,Music,Television
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Best Songs of 2013

For the third year in a row, I felt like this was a better year for individual songs and singles than it was for albums. I suppose it makes a certain kind of sense in a digital era that the industry has returned its focus to singles, rather than albums. But it continues to make for a very frustrating listening experience.

This is not to diminish the great work that I’m about to highlight. It is incredibly difficult to make a great song. Can’t forget that just because most artists today are unconcerned with making complete album experiences.

So without further ado, hit that jump for the 15 songs that I consider the very best songs that I heard in 2013



Posted on December 30th, 2013 - Filed under Best of 2013,Music
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On Kelly Rowland’s ‘Dirty Laundry’

I think if you’ve followed Kelly Rowland’s career, you’ve always gotten the sense that she was holding something back. Like she was afraid to be as magnificent as we all know she can be. There was always the sense that we weren’t getting the full extent of her artistry. And not because it wasn’t there, but because she didn’t quite believe in it.

Every album had magnificent moments – Beyond Imagination, Haven’t Told You, Love, Like This, Motivation, Keep It Between Us - but they seemed incidental. Accidental. There didn’t seem to be much effort behind anything she was doing. The background singer destined to be a star, but never quite comfortable anywhere but in the back seat.

So when I listen to Dirty Laundry, it plays as a stunning admission of her crushing insecurity more than anything else. Sure, we learn about Kelly having suffered domestic abuse and that she has complicated feelings about Beyonce’s solo success, but that’s just not what the song is telling me emotionally.

“who wanna hear my bullshit?”

It doesn’t feel like we’re reliving something she’s moved through. We’re living something she’s still in…with her. The song doesn’t turn on an awakening. It doesn’t turn at all. We are sitting in her insecurity with her.

Those five little words are almost an aside in the structure of the song. As if she’s still not quite sure. Even now when she’s being as revealing and honest as she’s ever been, I still get the sense that she’s struggling against a profound sense that no one cares at all about Kelly Rowland. It’s riveting, but I have to wonder what is next.

I want this song to represent a turning point in her career. A point that we’ll all look back and say “that was the moment Kelly Rowland started to become a great artist.” But I worry that this will be the only song on the album that gives us something uniquely Kelly.

I sincerely hope she doesn’t think one song is enough.



Posted on May 18th, 2013 - Filed under Kelly Rowland,Music
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On Beyoncé’s HBO Documentary, ‘Life Is But A Dream’

beyonce-life-is-but-a-dream-cover

I just finished watching Beyoncé’s documentary, Life Is But A Dream, and I think what I was most struck by is an overwhelming sense that vulnerability is hard for this young woman because she’s trying to live up to an impossible ideal.

I didn’t get the sense that she wasn’t interested in being truly vulnerable so much as unpracticed at  it. I have this profound sense that this is a 31-year old woman who has never allowed herself, or been allowed, to feel deeply.

So this film is an exercise I think in watching Beyoncé learn to be vulnerable. There’s that moment where she says, almost surprising herself, that she can’t do it alone. Or the way she conveyed more deeply the hurt she feels that people would think she would fake a pregnancy than she does relating what it must have been like to have had a miscarriage. 

And then there’s that moment early on when she’s talking about how hard she worked for her father’s approval and how he withheld it, presumably to make her into the very thing she is: this hyper-poised star. This is the most revealing, honest and vulnerable moment in the entire film precisely because I think it cuts to the core, for me, of who Beyoncé is as a figure and a person.

And it helps me understand her vocal approach – the very thing that for me makes her such a frustratingly disappointing artist to listen to. So much talent, but such a profound inability to connect to the emotion of whatever it is she’s singing*. We see her singing “Listen” and “Resentment” and I know it’s supposed to be deep emotion, but it’s not. It’s Beyoncé trying to approximate what she thinks it must feel or sound like, or more accurately, willing herself to get there.

For the first time, I feel genuine empathy and sadness for what it must be like to be Beyoncé. It is just for reasons different than I expected.

 

*There are exceptions of course, “Speechless,” “Lay Up Under Me,” “Crazy Feelings” – and yes through sheer force of will, “Resentment” – chief among them.



Posted on February 18th, 2013 - Filed under Music,Television
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Best Albums of 2011

I'm an album guy.

I never really bought singles unless there was a B-side or a remix that was dope. And while I'm aware now that Michael Jackson's single + filler archetype is the dominant approach to album making for most black music, I still hold out hope that artists will give me 10, 12 or 14 songs that fit together in a way that makes for a complete listening experience.

In 2011, that happened far more infrequently for me than I would have liked. Last year, I did a list of 30. This year, I only got 10.  

NOTE: I should also say that I haven't really had time to digest new material by Anthony Hamilton, Common, Meshell N'degeocello, Trey Songz, and The Roots (tho my initial reaction here was that it's the best album of the year) so I just couldn't justify ranking them at all.

Before we get to the top 10 after the jump, here are albums I liked, but didn't love:

  • Anwar Robinson, Everything (pleasant, but unremarkable except for "Come Over," which is sublime)
  • Johnny Gill, Still Winning (pleasant but unremarkable)
  • Idle Warship, Habits of the Heart (feels undercooked in places)
  • Frank Ocean, nostalgia/ultra (definitely feels undercooked)
  • The Paxtons, Avenue: A (a shade too in love with Kanye and Jay Electronica, but tight rhymes)
  • Cali Swag District, Kickback (far too long, far too short on the verve that makes their singles so hot)

 And albums that disappointed me:

  • Ledisi, Pieces of Me (too adult contemporary for my tastes. much of this material is just not worthy of Ledisi's voice)
  • Jill Scott, The Light of the Sun (unfinished and undisciplined is the last thing Jill Scott needs. Tried to be like Worldwide Underground and failed miserably).
  • Beyonce, 4 (didn't go far enough toward real tried-and-true R&B or soul. full of messy lead vocals)
  • Kelly Rowland, Here I Am (the definition of derivative. three strikes and you're out, Kelly!)
  • Kelly Price, Kelly (zzzzzz)
  • Tyrese, Open Invitation ("Stay" should have been an indication of what this album would be, but unfortunately it's just a weird outlier on a standard bad male R&B album)
  • Ginuwine, Elgin (why Ginuwine thinks "maturity" equals "boring" is beyond me. someone get him his groove back, please.)
  • Pharoahe Monche, W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) (some mediocre production ruins this one for me)
  • Talib Kweli, Gutter Rainbows (too long, too much bad production. feels like an afterthought)
  • Raphael Saadiq, Stone Rollin' (i am over this retro Ray Ray. time to step into the new millennium, homie)

 



Posted on December 30th, 2011 - Filed under Best of 2011,Music
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