The Maddening Arrogance and Elusiveness of Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake’s solo career has always struck me as a profound exercise in insincerity. And his arrogance has always been almost insultingly transparent, but no one seems to notice it – or care.

Take this nugget from his “beggin for a black pass” 2003 Vibe cover story where the woman who taught him how to “sing black” – herself a white woman (lawd!) – basically outs him as a poseur at the very same moment we were supposed to be believing we were getting the real Justin:

Although Timberlake loved R&B growing up, he didn’t perform it professionally until he became a regular on The Mickey Mouse Club. His vocal coach, Robin Wiley, who was a producer on the show, remembers how the then 12-year-old had to adjust. “He hadn’t sung a ton of R&B-ish stuff, mostly country, and the show covered whatever was on the radio,” Wiley says.

Or the fact that Justified was really just equal parts Timbaland’s unique brilliance and Pharrell’s “repurposing” of shit he’d written for Michael Jackson. Also from the Vibe article:

The Neptunes could easily have given Timberlake a “Girlfriend Part 2,”and no one would have been mad. “I wanted to break the rules in terms of what people thought we were going to do for Justin,” Williams says. So the producers decided to use Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall as inspiration. In fact, they dusted off five songs they submitted for Jackson’s HIStory Volume 1 and Invincible albums that were rejected. Williams rewrote parts of those songs with Timberlake and created new versions of “Senorita,” “Let’s Take a Ride,” “Last Night,” “Nothin’ Else,” and “Take It From Here.”

But I get it. People record other people’s leftovers all the time. Why does Justin doing this bother me so much? Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

En Vogue is Back

Seriously – why do other groups even try?

The irony about En Vogue is that they didn’t change the game nearly as much as they probably should have.  It’s almost like every other set of girls just said “we ain’t even gonna try to compete, that ‘actually being able to all sing and harmonize and share lead vocals’ lane belongs to En Vogue and Xscape, we’ll go over here and be broke ass Supremes.”

Don’t you think?

Anywho, the point here is:

  • En Vogue is back
  • Them voices ain’t changed a bit.
  • Cindy Herron Braggs does not age (and is she taller?)
  • Dawn can sing the same song over and over for 20 years and find new wrinkles in it and make you think you’re hearing it for the first time.
  • I CANNOT WAIT FOR THEM TO BRING THE FIRE!!!!

Note: the fire is not a Timbaland, Pharrell, or Polow produced joint, ladies.  Call Mike City and Ray Ray NOW.

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.

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