Soul Man: Revisiting Usher’s “Here I Stand”

After the jump is a slight edit of a review of Usher’s Here I Stand – an album I have tremendous respect for, so much so that I thought was the best black pop album of 2008 –  that I initially wrote for a few years ago that was never published.

I liked the review so I wanted to share it.

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Whitney 2.0

With the release of this single, “Where You At,” I think it’s clear that Jennifer Hudson is Clive’s new Whitney.

This is awful in every single way. It’s the worst kind of manipulative pop schlock, all sweeping instrumentation, pointless crescendos, and even more pointlessly held notes.

We get it. Jennifer Hudson has a powerful voice.

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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.

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Best of the Rest: Shanice’s Don’t Break My Heart


Shanice94 Shanice is among a generation of singers that never quite found a suitable home in the industry because the music industry has never quite known what to do with vocalists who can pretty much do anything (see Melba Moore, Phyllis Hyman, Joi Gilliam, Betty Davis, Vesta, Stephanie Mills, and Minnie Ripperton, to name just a few).  Often they get saddled with schlock, as Shanice often was, or they waste their skills on whichever power ballad or trendy-jocking sound they can ride to stardom (see Whitney and Mariah).

This song is more or less a power ballad, written by ‘Face collaborator Daryl Simmons, who doesn’t overdue the sentiment here.  Shanice elevates the song effortlessly.  Great vocalists make the best of power ballads, which tend to be driven more by overblown orchestration than melody or emotion. If you listen, her singing is strong and her phrasing more than does the job of injecting the requisite emotion into the song.  Her gifts have rarely been so well-utilized.

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

Why Janet Jackson’s ‘Discipline’ Sucks

Few people are going to say Janet Jackson’s new album, Discipline, is the unmitigated disaster it is. At least not for the right reasons, or rather, the reasons that go beyond America’s love of destroying an icon, love of beating up on women artists (black ones especially), or pop music fatigue. None of these are the real reasons that the album is garbage.

Check out this discussion about why I loathe it. For context, this convo took place after I’d listened to the album about 5 times in a row. You’ll see me struggling with how much I hate this album, because janet is so important to me as an artist. I don’t want to hate it, but a thinking human being can’t possibly like this album beyond just the superficial “danceable” nature of it. Think even a little and you realize there isn’t anything there.

Thoughts welcome, always

D (2/27/2008 10:51:38 AM): so..
D (2/27/2008 10:51:41 AM): hating the janet?

Tyler (2/27/2008 10:51:53 AM): yea
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:52:01 AM): it’s good in that sounds like the sound of the producer kind of way
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:52:04 AM): which is good for most
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:52:06 AM): terrible for me
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:52:14 AM): she didn’t write a single fucking thing
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:52:18 AM): she’s nearly dead to me
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:52:26 AM): i don’t need to hear a fuckin Ne-Yo album
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:52:33 AM): i already got his damn album
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:52:35 AM): ugh….
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:52:40 AM): but i’m in the minority
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:52:46 AM): because Americans are nothing but sheep
D (2/27/2008 10:52:56 AM): well, I’ve never listened to NeYo’s album
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:53:44 AM): it’s good
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:53:51 AM): in that derivative way
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:53:55 AM): but the point is that
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:54:02 AM): there are few truly good songwriters out there
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:54:08 AM): who don’t have a definable sound
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:54:16 AM): even Babyface is instantly recognizable
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:54:23 AM): so what you get is not a Janet album
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:54:38 AM): so much as the album that Janet-philic producers want her to make
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:55:02 AM): it’s like Janet doing Michael and Janet by way of Ne-Yo
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:55:14 AM): it’s artistic cannabilism once removed
D (2/27/2008 10:55:22 AM): damn
D (2/27/2008 10:55:24 AM): okay

Tyler (2/27/2008 10:55:27 AM): it’s true
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:55:32 AM): it may be listenable
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:55:33 AM): and fun
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:55:36 AM): and easy to dance to
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:55:42 AM): and crassly and simply melodic
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:55:46 AM): but it’s still not Janet
D (2/27/2008 10:56:14 AM): does that janet even exist anymore?
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:56:17 AM): perhaps not
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:56:22 AM): doesn’t mean i can’t long for it
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:56:32 AM): i had just assumed that she’d co-write with these new folks
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:56:39 AM): not just take their shit wholesale
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:56:45 AM): Rodney is a decent producer
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:56:49 AM): but he’s just not good enough
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:56:55 AM): janet needs melody
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:57:07 AM): she doesn’t have enough heft in her voice to carry songs without strong melodic structure
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:57:18 AM): it’s the central problem with most pop singers
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:57:28 AM): Ne-Yo helps
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:57:37 AM): but it’s like Ne-Yo doing what he thinks Janet is
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:57:45 AM): as opposed to Janet having real input
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:57:48 AM): co-writing
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:58:06 AM): it’s why she never got buried in Jimmy and Terry’s production
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:58:10 AM): those melodies were hers
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:58:14 AM): those lyrics were hers
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:58:23 AM): and increasingly, the arrangements were hers
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:58:27 AM): now …
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:58:31 AM): but yea…it’s listenable
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:58:34 AM): which is enough for most
D (2/27/2008 10:59:14 AM): well, personally I blame L.A> Reid.
D (2/27/2008 10:59:24 AM): He took the Clive approach and told her we need numbers
D (2/27/2008 10:59:29 AM): work with these people
D (2/27/2008 10:59:32 AM): sell some units

Tyler (2/27/2008 10:59:40 AM): yea…
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:59:47 AM): i definitely think he’s part of the problem
Tyler (2/27/2008 10:59:54 AM): but her own Jackson desperation helps
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:00:07 AM): feeling like she needs to keep up with lightweights that are copying her is horrible
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:00:13 AM): this is Janet’s Invincible
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:00:23 AM): she shoulda known when Rodney fucked up that album
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:00:40 AM): Mariah Carey’s resurrection is different
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:00:46 AM): when you have an instrument as perfect as hers
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:00:51 AM): nevermind her inability to use it
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:00:54 AM): you can mask bad songwriting
D (2/27/2008 11:00:55 AM): lol
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:01:08 AM): and the corporate aspect of her career
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:01:13 AM): Janet doesn’t have that luxury
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:01:34 AM): Janet is 1 millions times more expressive and deep and intresting an artist
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:01:45 AM): but she knows her limitations
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:02:05 AM): Mariah has few because folks adore her for something she was given, not something she worked at
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:02:13 AM): LA should have known better
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:02:20 AM): but he’s become so corporate…
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:02:36 AM): there are probably some trendy producers who could have done interesting things with Janet
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:02:41 AM): Mike City would have been nice
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:02:59 AM): but the immediately go for the usual suspects
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:03:13 AM): the emancipation of mimi
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:03:29 AM): will be the template to ruin iconic women of color for at least another 5 years
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:03:51 AM): surprising everyone but me
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:04:10 AM): because that album was warmed over shit with a brilliant marketing campaign
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:04:16 AM): and Janet is getting the same thing
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:04:25 AM): that said…LOVING the Erykah album
D (2/27/2008 11:04:52 AM): lol
D (2/27/2008 11:04:54 AM): okay
D (2/27/2008 11:04:55 AM): i
D (2/27/2008 11:04:58 AM): yeah

Tyler (2/27/2008 11:05:28 AM): it’s okay
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:05:33 AM): no one ever agrees with me
D (2/27/2008 11:05:35 AM):…
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:05:38 AM): enjoyment is paramount for most
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:05:39 AM): it’s not for me
D (2/27/2008 11:05:39 AM): someone does
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:06:01 AM): perhaps
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:06:05 AM): it’s not so imporant to me
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:06:08 AM): i know i’m right
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:06:21 AM): that doesn’t erase that it’s well made
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:06:24 AM): and listenable
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:06:26 AM): and trendy
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:06:29 AM): and that’s enough for most folks
D (2/27/2008 11:07:39 AM): i agree with a lot of it. I think I just think people gave her more credit than she may have deserved. yes she created some fantastic music, but we’re not sure how much of it was her and how much was Jam and Lewis. And it seems that by not working with them – it makes her look like the puppet most people assume pop stars are.
D (2/27/2008 11:08:03 AM): and while it is a good listen, I don’t think I’ll remember any of it once the last song is over
D (2/27/2008 11:08:31 AM): there isn’t much personality in the mix
D (2/27/2008 11:08:34 AM): just beats and moans
D (2/27/2008 11:08:39 AM): and I’m too old for that

Tyler (2/27/2008 11:09:24 AM): i think it’s easy to say that
Tyler (2/27/20
08 11:09:31 AM): she’s no John Lennon
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:09:39 AM): and this article is cynical enough to be almost insulting
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:09:40 AM): lol
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:09:48 AM): it’s not about wanting the same exact thing from Janet
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:09:53 AM): just the same level of nuance
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:09:55 AM): i’m cool with sex
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:10:03 AM): just give it to me in a way that sounds organic
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:10:04 AM): that’s all
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:10:11 AM): Twenty foreplay
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:10:12 AM): not moist
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:10:18 AM): it’s not about subject
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:10:21 AM): so much as execution for me
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:10:33 AM): i love articles like this
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:11:35 AM): because they are clever corporate send-ups
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:11:44 AM): and also you gotta look at who writes them
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:11:53 AM): Clay Cane
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:11:53 AM): lol
D (2/27/2008 11:11:57 AM): right
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:12:04 AM): not that his point isn’t valid
D (2/27/2008 11:12:04 AM): it was one of many i read yesterday
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:12:05 AM): it is
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:12:10 AM): but it being fun
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:12:13 AM): and danceable
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:12:18 AM): just, for me, isn’t enough
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:12:51 AM): he makes a really good point about ageism though
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:12:56 AM): i’ve been wondering bout that too
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:13:09 AM): why is sex preferred from 16 year olds and not grown ass women
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:13:10 AM): lol
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:13:14 AM): so good for him on that point
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:13:21 AM): but yea…
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:13:30 AM): i think this is a 2.5 out of 5 star album for me
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:13:33 AM): i like the song 2nite
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:13:37 AM): and the missy collabo is nice
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:13:45 AM): What’s Ur Name is kinda hot too
D (2/27/2008 11:14:08 AM): I liked Curtains
D (2/27/2008 11:14:26 AM): and….Rollercoaster
D (2/27/2008 11:14:35 AM): i listened twice
D (2/27/2008 11:14:41 AM): but I was tired and had a headache

Tyler (2/27/2008 11:14:53 AM): lol
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:15:00 AM): the other thing about articles like Clay’s
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:15:09 AM): is that they misrepresent who Janet is and was
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:15:18 AM): she was never a “make you feel good” pop star
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:15:31 AM): the whole thing about Janet for Control through Velvet Rope
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:15:35 AM): was to expand what a pop star could be
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:15:47 AM): if you only liked her for 20 years for Escapade and Together Again
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:15:53 AM): then you never understood her to begin with
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:16:01 AM): ya know what i mean?
D (2/27/2008 11:16:09 AM): yup
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:16:15 AM): that’s what bothers me
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:16:19 AM): it’s the same thing with Madonna
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:16:25 AM): like when she put out the ballad album
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:16:42 AM): it’s like…let me remind y’all muthafuckas that i know melody better than most
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:16:53 AM): i just wish Jan and Mike were as self-aware
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:17:06 AM): Velvet Rope seems more and more like a moment in time
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:17:12 AM): not the turning point i’d hoped it’d be
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:17:13 AM): and that’s okay
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:17:21 AM): i guess…
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:17:23 AM): just sad
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:17:59 AM): people like Discipline
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:18:13 AM): because it comfortably sits within their understanding and desire for what “pop” music is
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:21:00 AM): but enough of that
Tyler (2/27/2008 11:21:03 AM): i’m losin ya