I write about culture from a pro-Black perspective

Timbaland – ‘Hands In The Air’

This Timbaland song really doesn’t come alive until Ne-Yo starts singing.

I’ve always said that Timbaland is nothing without Ginuwine, Playa, Missy and Aaliyah to give his work melodic dimension.

This song only proves that point.

Posted on July 7th, 2012 - Filed under Music
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Tigger’s 25 Best Albums of the Aughts (00s), Part 1

The thing that is interesting to me about all the lists I’ve read about music in the Aughts is how little the lists reflect the impact of the internet.  Reading most lists, you wouldn’t think that the industry changed as much as it did.  You’d also think that, reading other lists, that the industry figured out the internet immediately and it became just another promotional tool for them to give you whatever it is they’ve decided is hot music.

Napster started in June 1999, just six months before the new millennium and the music industry has never been the same.  Illegal downloading meant that people could hear an artist’s work before it was done.  They could hear songs that artists never intended for them to hear.  And they could hear multiple versions of a song that ultimately went to another artist (how many people downloaded Posh Spice’s version of Beyonce’s Resentment?).

What this meant is that the single had even less meaning than it did in the past, though the industry and your favorite artist will never tell you that.  Indeed, the minute that iTunes and other online music services offered you the ability to pick which song you want to own, singles just became different animals.  Oh sure, we still had huge singles in the decade that everyone bought and then couldn’t escape for years – Yeah!, Crazy In Love, and Hey Ya come to mind – but the point is, how the consumer interacts with an artist shifted completely.  Many artists began to release as singles album tracks that were buzzworthy on the internet in hopes of increasing sales (Mariah Carey seems to live and die by her message boards, which explains the yo-yoing of her career of late).

It also meant that the industry’s devaluation of the album was complete.  Oh sure, people still buy albums, but with the ability to pick and choose what you want, there was even less incentive for the biggest artists to make albums a complete experience.  More then ever, what we got from corporate artists were three or four “radio singles” and a bunch of lamentable album tracks (you know, the ones that artists like Britney, Rihanna and nem point to as evidence of their “growth” because the songs might have an actual bridge or something).

For me, as a music lover, it was a wonderful time to discover music online I might not otherwise have heard.  I was able to follow the rise of homo hop, get copies of shelved albums by artists like Joi Gilliam and Nicole Wray, get obscure albums by Ricky Bell, LaTocha Scott, and Mark Middleton, and find artists who had been discarded by the industry but were making music on their own terms (Shanice, Smoke E. Digglera and Digital Black from Playa).  And let’s not forget how R&B artists have embraced the “mixtape” concept as a way to put out music that perhaps the label didn’t want you to hear or just to keep their names in your mind (Teedra Moses, Trey Songz, Amerie).

What this meant was that I had something else to compare to whatever it was the industry was throwing at me.  It meant that I didn’t have to fall for the othering of British “phenoms” who were ripping off American Black music unconvincingly.  It meant that I didn’t have to be mired in the industry’s mistaken belief that artists were only as good as the song Rich Harrison, Timbaland, Pharrell, Rodney Jerkins, or whoever gave them.  It meant that what I listened to was more driven by me than the industry.  Great as the 90s were, I was largely at the mercy of the industry.  That is simply not the case anymore – even for consumers (and artists) who live and die by the Billboard charts.

I say all this to say that my list reflects very much my experience with black music in the Aughts.  It is not a list that is designed to rank the biggest commercial albums of the decade and then find creative ways of equating art and commerce.  Which is not to say that there aren’t some obvious choices on here.  But this is my list, not a list that necessarily reflects the perspective of the average music consumer.

You been warned.

NOTE – The list is long, so its broken into two parts.  This post has the first 13 albums.

Read All »

Posted on January 5th, 2010 - Filed under Music
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Best of the Rest: Shai’s Mr. Turn U Out

B000002OUO.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_ Shai were too smooth, their harmonies too perfect, for the early 90s in which they tried to stake out their place. But interesting, that quality is what keeps their music from sounding dated or trite, especially Blackface, their sophomore album.  It's probably the best male vocal group recording of the 90s behind Playa's Cheers 2 U.

Mr. Turn U Out isn't the best song on that album (that is reserved for The Place Where You Belong), but it's damn close.  It should have been a single because it had all the elements that would have made it a quiet storm masterpiece.  Most notably – Garfield Bright and his flawless, thick baritone on lead.  Garfield on lead will always make the panties wet, and while he was all sly come on here, he is such a good vocalist that the song sounds romantic instead of corny.  Also – listen out for Garfield and Darnell trading vocals at the end of the song.  Tight!

Best of the Rest – Full List
Best of the Rest – Explained

Posted on January 27th, 2009 - Filed under Best of the Rest,Music
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Best of the Rest: Playa’s Birthday

Tim's Bio album cover Choosing an album track to highlight from the Playa catalog is stupid hard. They literally have not recorded a single thing that I haven't loved. I initially wanted to highlight an unreleased song, LUST, which surfaced on Black's 2004 solo debut.  Then I thought about the obvious, I-65 or Buggin' Over You, or the less obvious, I Gotta Know (which, trust me, knocks).

But, in the end, I chose this song, Birthday, which appears on the Tim's Bio album, because it highlights a point I've been making for a while: No one makes better use of a Timbaland track than Playa, Ginuwine, Missy and Aaliyah. Part of the reason for this is that the uniqueness of the track was matched by the uniqueness of the songwriting, the singing, and the vocal arrangements, which is all but missing from Tim's post-Ginuwine production. 

Here Playa literally ride this Tim track hard.  The track gives the song a rhythmic element that is often missing from romantic music of this type.  Each vocalist takes time with the words, opening the phrasing up.  Black, in particular, sings the second verse with a restrained intensity that we just don't hear enough these days.  Playa are vocalists who understand intrinsically how to evoke a feeling with every element of a song from the lead vocal, to the arrangements, to the track.  That has never been more evident than on Birthday, which does so much with so very very little.

I could go on and on because – with full disclosure – I don't think there's been a better self-contained vocal group over the last 30 years than Playa.  Such thoughts lead one to gush…but just listen.

Best of the Rest – Full List
Best of the Rest – Explained

Posted on October 18th, 2008 - Filed under Best of the Rest,Music
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My Tribute to Static Major – R.I.P.

Static Major of PlayaAnother underrated, on-the-verge of blowin up black artist has passed away way too soon – Static Major.

On Monday, February 25, 2008, Stephen “Static” Garrett, died in Louisville, KY at age 33.  Cause of death is unknown.

I’m more upset by this than I think is particularly healthy.  If you are a member of my generation (mid 20s to mid 30s) you have been deeply influenced by the music of Static — whether you know it or not.  As the main songwriter to work with Timbaland before he stopped working with R&B artists and switched over to pop artists, Static is arguably the most influential black songwriter of the past 15 years.

I’ve said numerous times that Playa, Static’s group with Digital Black and Smoke E. Digglera, was the most underrated male vocal group of the late 90s and probably neck-and-neck with Jodeci for the greatest post-soul male vocal group we’ve had.  Cheers 2 U, their one and only album, was church set to Timbaland’s futuristic production and Smokey’s more orchestral production. When it dropped in 1998, folks just weren’t ready.  Nowadays, people sang all up and through a Timbaland track, but back then people just didn’t quite get Playa. Nonetheless, it’s arguably the best male vocal album of the 90s.

Since then, Static has been keeping busy writing for lots of artists, most notably Aaliyah and Tank.

Static was the last of the three guys in Playa to release a solo album (which was slated to drop sometime this year).  In an email to me on Myspace, he was said that he won’t release it till it is perfect.  I certainly hope that it comes out in some form still.

Check out a video of the Playa guys payin tribute at a Louisville radio show. Moving!:

Static has never written or performed anything that I didn’t love, but here are my top 5 Static involved joints.

5.  We Need a Resolution, Aaliyah (written by Static)

This song is really about the melody.  Everyone talks about how Timbaland’s production is so hot — and it is.  But the reason that he blew up as big as he did is because Missy and Static, especially, have a firm understanding and mastery of melody.  Listen to how Aaliyah rides the groove, but sings with such purpose.  I’ve said it a million fuckin times but no one should really sing over a Timbaland beat but Missy, Playa, Ginuwine and Aaliyah.  As a collective, they have defined R&B for the past 15 years but they don’t work together anymore.  Sad.

4. So Anxious, Ginuwine (written by Static)

Other than G himself, no one could write a melody for Ginuwine the way Static could.  Static’s genius was understanding everything about the singer.  This is definitely the case with Aaliyah, but his influence and importance in Ginuwine’s career is often overlooked.

Let’s not forget the dope-ass remix as well

3. Playa, Never Too Late

I’m not sure, but I think this was to be the first single from the follow-up album to Cheers 2 U.  The fact that this album has never materialized is criminal.  Blackground has not really figured out what to do with its roster of artists (Tank and Playa, especially).  The loss of Aaliyah, and now Static, will make that harder, I think.  Nevertheless, this song reinforced what these 3 men do that no other male vocal group do — they bring the church right to ya ears and make you wanna dance.  Most people refine that church sound, Playa was all about making every song sound like praise, or devotion, or a spiritual transaction.  This is what set them apart and (probably) what made them hard to categorize.

2. Tank, So Many Times (written by Static)

This standout track from Tank’s criminally underappreciated sophomore album, One Man, is perhaps Static’s greatest song.  And Tank sangs the hell out of it.  If you buy nothing else that Static writes, this is the one you should buy.

1. Playa, 1-65 (written and produced by Playa)

Cheers 2 U was a largely ignored album, but every single person who has heard it or owns it cites I-65 as the crown jewel of the album.  It’s basically a song about goin home and lovin where you from.  All three guys share lead and all three wrote the song, but Static’s bridge sells it.  What’s great about Playa is that they all share lead, but they understand instinctively what voice is right for what part, and the songs are written to each guy’s voice.  So when Static’s bridge comes the tempo changes and the harmonies dial up.  It’s so moving that I’m sure I’m not even capturing it in this description.  On some level, one has to listen to the song and pay attention to the vocal arrangement to see really how the bridge works.  Either way, these three brothas never make a bad song, but this remains their single greatest piece of work.

Much respect.  Love you, homie!

Posted on February 29th, 2008 - Filed under Music
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