News for the ‘Online’ Category

From Vine Crush to Pop Star: Shawn Mendes Is Just Getting Started – (July 2014)

Shawn Mendes has no idea what he’s in for. It’s just shy of noon in the sweatbox of New York City when clumps of teen girls start to arrive at the corner of 58th Street and Fifth Avenue, in response to a brief tweet that the 15-year-old singer-songwriter issued the night prior. “Tomorrow! Central Park NYC @ 4:30 PM,” he’d tweeted to the 1.24 million followers he had at the time on June 30 (the tally now stands at 1.36 million and counting). “Come hang!”

By 3:30 p.m., the crowd at the fountain just in front of the Plaza Hotel is teeming with teens and spilling out into the streets. The air is tense. Some in the crowd, chaperoned by very understanding parents, are scanning Vine—the video social networking app where many of them first discovered Mendes—in the hopes of capturing a six-second clip of their idol. Several have been there since 8 o’clock that morning; others traveled from Boston, Connecticut and Long Island. The impatience grows: “Did he go back to Canada?” “Can we touch him?” “Will he take a selfie with me?” But the suspense ends before it can climax, when cops show up to sniff out the public safety hazard and demand that the crowd disperse. “What are you, crazy? This kid’s the next Justin Bieber?” says the gruff peacekeeper, who’s never even heard of Mendes.

Mendes regroups after catching wind of the melee and settles on a location where large crowds are more welcome. About an hour later, he hops out of a black car with tinted windows and right into the heart of Manhattan. Roughly 200 girls are there clutching their phones in their hands, having already gotten the intel about his new coordinates—they’re that good—and the shrieks begin, as if the ghosts of TRL past are back for one last haunt. Armed with a guitar, Mendes ascends the staircase at the forehead of Times Square to perform his first-ever studio single, “Life of the Party.” He almost gets to the end of the track, which just a few days ago debuted atop the iTunes singles chart (ahead of Sam Smith, Ariana Grande and MAGIC!), when another public official barrels through the sardine-tight audience.

“Ready? Let’s [do] one more chorus a cappella,” Mendes commands the crowd, sensing the tension. “This is a very dangerous situation,” the man warns Mendes, who holds his focus on his fans: “Yeah, one last chorus.” The sound of hundreds of in-tandem voices bounce off the abutting buildings for one more minute before Mendes pushes his way down the stairs and slides back into the waiting car. It quickly becomes clear that the authorities were right: it’s dangerous. Moving eerily as one, dozens of fans swarm the street in the middle of rush hour, surrounding the vehicle and chasing it into the distance as trucks and SUVs whip past. Mendes escapes unscathed, as do his fans, thankfully. And to think: this is only the beginning for America’s next pop titan.

“I had no idea,” Mendes says the next day, hunched over a Margherita pizza at Pizza Arte in Midtown Manhattan, reflecting on the mayhem that ensued. “It’s just so crazy to think: my fans are like an army and literally came out like an army yesterday. I always forget how many people I have on the social media platforms. Like, it’s just a number, so it doesn’t look like a lot.”

Numbers don’t lie for the Pickering, Ontario native, who’s spent the past year ascending from Vine micro-celebrity to major label artist with a record-breaking debut single. Now the third most-followed musician on Vine, which has become a go-to platform for the look-at-me generation, Mendes has 2.8 million subscribers to his page where he posts six-second snippets of song covers. On the more traditionally used YouTube, where he uploads full-length covers (some of which he recently deleted—”they were terrible,” he says), he’s at a healthy 670,000 subscribers and a staggering 15 million views since January 2011.

If this all reeks of early-stage Bieber, it’s because the comparisons draw themselves. They’re both Canadian musicians who got their start as teens on the Internet by posting covers, albeit on different platforms. Their virality built ironclad fanbases and attracted label deals, and they’re now label mates on Island Records. “It’s a compliment in a way, because he is one of the biggest—he is the biggest superstar in the world,” Mendes says. (Just don’t tell that to his legion of devotees, who often state that he’s not the next Justin Bieber, but rather the next Shawn Mendes, whatever that means.)

It’s ironic, then, that the Vine post that turned Mendes’ hobby from fun to fame was a cover of Bieber’s “As Long As You Love Me.” He posted his first Vine—an uneventful snapshot of teenager bored in his bedroom—last April,  but it wasn’t until his Bieber cover last August that he took hold. Overnight, the falsetto snippet racked up 10,000 views, then 20,000, then 50,000, with his follower count concurrently climbing. “[I thought], no one’s a singer on this thing. And it’s such a huge thing; why don’t I try it?” he says. “It was just like a spontaneous Vine and it turned into something a lot more.”

That he saw an opportunity to capitalize on something so simple, so early, is a testament to Mendes savvy and maturity. In Times Square, he’d shown no sign of panic or frayed nerves, instructing the hundreds of teens to remain silent on his command; today, he’s soldiering through our interview with a calm veneer, despite the fact that he’s got a flight back to Canada in a few hours and the staff at his hotel can’t find the missing passport he forgot in his room. “This is my first trip [to New York] without my parents, actually, that I’ve been allowed to come alone,” he says with a smirk. “They’re worried.”

They shouldn’t be. Mendes adapts and adjusts to challenging situations quickly—musically, you can trace that back to when he was just 14. For his birthday, he spontaneously asked his parents to buy him a guitar, and since then, he’s practiced four hours a day. It shows: shaky covers of Hunter Hayes’ “Wanted” and Rihanna’s “Stay” have given way to competent renditions of Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness” in just a year’s time. To say he’s skilled beyond his fluttering, forceful tenor would be to debase him to just a Vine celebrity.

Mendes’ recent foray into original music justifies his potential to be so much more than that. Many have taken the leap before and failed, but so far he’s bucking the odds. After signing to Island in June, Mendes released “Life of the Party,” an anthemic piano ballad, later that month, selling 148,000 copies in its first week and entering the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 24. That makes him the youngest artist to ever enter the top 25. Of course, covering artists is one thing, but stepping out on your own only enhances the sort of vulnerability that most teenagers—and musicians—find crippling.

“I was nervous that people were going to judge the type of artist I was,” he says. “You can’t get away from that. And I’m getting a very good response, which is good. Every time I get up onstage, I’m nervous until I can try and speak and there’s cheering, and I’m so nervous, and then as soon as the sound’s stopped and everything goes quiet and it’s my turn to say something, all the nerves fly away.”

Though he doesn’t have a writing credit on “Life of the Party” (it was penned by collaborators Ido Zmishlany and Scott Harris, who have respectively worked with Ryan Star and Krewella), Mendes wrote the other three songs on his upcoming self-titled EP, due July 28 via Island Records. If the success of “Party” is any indication, anticipation is on red alert for the project, which is already hovering in the top five albums thanks to pre-orders on iTunes. Recorded in Brooklyn, the tracks are gentle and lightly diverse, from the jangly bounce of “One of the Nights” to the spidery “The Weight,” an exercise in storytelling where Mendes sings from the perspective of a man whose wife cheated on him.

“Right now is a great time for me [to be] writing, but if I can’t find anything, I can make something up,” he says. “It’s like story writing, almost. Through elementary school, I was really, really big on writing stories. Like, I love doing it, and do it at home. [With songwriting], it was like every opinion I had and sort of feeling I have, I could bring out in music. So when I have like a very strong opinion, it’s so easy for me just to bring it out in a song. It’s just unlimited possibilities of what you can do.”

It’s obvious that his biggest influence, Ed Sheeran, inspired the EP—just take the rapid-fire, half-rapped lyrical breakdown on “Show You,” a whistle-powered island groove. Mendes has consistently shown love to Sheeran, tweeting numerous times about him over the past few years and covering songs like “Don’t” and “All of the Stars.” His praise was eventually heard: After an Atlantic Records publicist introduced the British singer to his music, Sheeran flew Mendes out to L.A. to meet him. They’ve kept in touch, and Mendes even got a congratulations from Sheeran after “Party” exploded.

“He’s so down to earth, and so not famous when you’re with him,” says Mendes, who also counts Adele and Justin Timberlake as vocal inspirations. “That’s why I idolize him so much. He’s so good at performing live, which is so hard, and it’s very difficult and you rarely find someone who’s that good at that. I just love that about him. He’s just so awesome, he’s a really great idol.”

What Mendes doesn’t seem to realize yet is that he could very well reach similar heights, if all goes according to plan. He’s slated to open for Austin Mahone on tour starting July 25 and ending on September 10, making stops at arenas and theaters across the country. He had to drop out of high school and will be tutored on the road, where his parents, younger sister and friend will accompany him for various parts of the trek. (“I’m going to miss a lot of things about it,” he says.) He’s already begun writing songs for his debut album, which is currently untitled, and plans to pen more during the tour. After that? A headlining tour of his own, though nothing’s yet set in stone.

But first, he’s got to get back to Toronto. As Mendes works his way through the pizza, his manager Andrew Gertler talks with the hotel staff to locate the passport, which a housekeeper found and brought back to their office for safekeeping.

“They said there were a hundred girls outside the hotel,” Gertler tells Mendes.

A hundred girls?” he replies, mouth agape, perplexed as to how they found out where he’s staying. It’s still sinking in, but there’s no question: Mendes Mania has officially begun.

Posted: October 30th, 2014
Categories: Features, Online
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Kale Salad With Porn Star Asa Akira – (May 2014)

Asa Akira only recently started putting anti-wrinkle cream on her asshole. It’s a necessary precaution that the 28-year-old porn goddess, whose mantelpiece is lined with trophies for AVN’s Best Anal Scene and Best Double-Penetration Scene, has to take to keep her backdoor camera-ready. Six years deep into a career that she initially set out to be a mere two, it’s clear that Akira will go any length to protect one of her most prized assets.

But it signals a sea change for the native New Yorker, who’s sitting on top of an industry that values youth and looks over intellect and wit. “I was really confident with my body before I got into porn, and now I’m not—and I don’t think I ever will be again,” says Akira, who’s in Manhattan for a press run for her upcoming memoir Insatiable: Porn – A Love Story, out May 6 via Grove Press. “I think everyone in porn has a little bit of body dysmorphic disorder. Like, how can you not? And also, you see yourself naked so much from all these different angles, and a lot of them aren’t flattering.”

It’s one of the topics she sardonically explores in Insatiable, a collection of comedic vignettes spanning her addiction to Oxycontin and an abortion to her most embarrassing moment during an anal scene, when a beet salad she ate the day prior made an unexpected return. Today, she’s careful with her order at Todd English, a food hall situated in the basement of the Plaza Hotel in Midtown. She’s bubbly and frank, her coal black hair tucked behind a gray hoodie and eyelashes curving in wave of Cs. Her order is precise: dressing on the side, no bread if her meal comes with it. There’s a brief moment of deliberation: “What do you think is better, the kale salad, or the beet salad?” she asks the waitress. Kale salad, it is.

The last stop on her Big Apple press run, Akira’s making the rounds as writer first, porn star second. It’s a leap into supplement media that mega-porn actors Ron Jeremy, Sasha Grey and James Deen have all previously made, with mixed results. For Akira, it was the next logical step. With almost 400 adult films on her résumé including her Asa Akira Is Insatiable series and 2009′s Pure, she quickly became one of the industry’s hottest commodities. Over the past half-decade, she’s kept viewers coming—and coming back—again and again, winning dozens of awards including the coveted Female Performer of the Year at last year’s AVN Awards.

But it was her waggish persona that separated her from the pack. Over on Twitter, where she has almost 500,000 followers, she’s become something of a comedic phenomenon, quipping on the absurdities of sex and tearing away any remaining filter that a porn star could actually have. “Trying to buy something off of craigslist but what if rape,” she wrote last week. “If you bled out of your dickhole once a month, you’d tweet about it, too,” last October. Etcetera.


It’s a side to the porn industry that viewers don’t often see. Few are the actors who are as captivating on screen as they are off. Insatiable, which Akira wrote in roughly eight months, is a book-length spurn to the stereotype that porn stars are all body, no brains. Insightful, starkly confessional and almost eerily self-aware, it might rewire perceptions for anyone who’s pulled pud to one of her films.

“I’m scared that the people who are my fans and like jerk off to me every night are going to read it, and be like, I don’t want to jerk off to her anymore,” she says, combing her fork through the cylinder of lettuce set before her. “I hope not. But not even like turned off, but just like, oh, she’s a friend now, you know?”

It’s easy to identify with the themes laced through Insatiable, which microscopes various situations throughout her life, from losing her virginity to binging on pizza with her husband, fellow porn actor Toni Ribas. An avid reader of Chuck Palahniuk, David Sedaris and Augusten Borroughs, Akira waxes poetic—the book is dotted with spicy haikus—and literal. She smokes crack, shoplifts and pens imaginary letters about her profession to her unborn son and her mother.

“When I got into porn I knew [my parents] were going to find out, because of the Internet. Someone’s bound to see it and tell them,” says Akira, who stayed with her parents during her NYC trip. They found out about her career within a few months, and the reaction was expected. “I think it definitely strained the relationship for a while. And it took some time. I mean, my parents never cut me off or like stopped talking with me. I’m an only child so I don’t think they would have ever done that. But it definitely really hurt them. My mom was like, what did I do? You know, that thing. And now everything is cool. It was a really gradual process. I would say like, it was a year of mending time.”

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise—Akira was always intrigued by sex. She openly writes about her mother catching her masturbating as a kid, and she discusses how she was the first in her grade to fool around with other guys. Born in New York, she moved to Tokyo before coming back to the City at 13, attending the United Nations School, followed by Washington Irving School. In Insatiable, she recalls her first experiences as a sex worker: dancing at the Hustler Club, dominatrixing and hooking a pair of times before throwing in the towel. Her dreams drove her to Florida as a young adult, where she appeared on the Bubba the Love Sponge radio show as the “show whore.”

But porn was calling, and she soon flew to Los Angeles to kick-start a career in the multi-billion dollar industry. The Japanese-American actress established herself as an upstart who was willing to go to great lengths to stand out. Anal was off-limits at first, but soon, she was filming double penetration scenes. (Her first on-camera DP was with Ribas.) These days, her scenes are just a few keystrokes away. She is far from fazed.

“I think you also have to be a certain amount of heartless to do porn, ’cause you’re putting yourself in a situation that you know you’re going to be outcast,” she says. “And kind of shunned. But when you knowingly do that and you know it’s going to hurt your family and you know you’re going to have to sacrifice certain things, there’s something a little cold about it.”

The sacrifices she’s made have yielded strong returns. As an entrepreneur, she’s expanded her brand, releasing a Fleshlight, recording a podcast, operating a successful website and signing with Wicked Pictures in October ’13. In addition to her book, she’s written for numerous publications, including this one. Around these here Internets, it’s rumored that she’s worth $1.5 million. As the meal winds to a close, her salad roughed up and lightly consumed, she’s off to a meeting with her publisher. The foundation is set, and the Asa empire is being built, stack by stack.

“Ideally, [my career] would build everything around porn, just because I don’t really see myself ever leaving the business,” she says. “But who knows. Maybe next year I’ll be like, I don’t want to do porn anymore. I don’t know. But porn has brought good things into my life and I’ve only had like three bad days at work ever. I’d say that’s good for six years.”

Posted: October 30th, 2014
Categories: Features, Online
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Ginuwine Is Still ‘100% Ginuwine,’ 15 Years Later – (March 2014)

Ginuwine had always been weary of the sophomore slump. It wasn’t long after the singer bumped and grinded his way onto the radar with his breakout debut Ginuwine…the Bachelor (550 Music/Epic) in 1996 that the pressure was on to top its explosive success. He was 25 years old when the LP impacted, introducing a marriage of the creative minds with an upstart producer named Timbaland. Together, they crafted wheezy, slinking anthems that musically pointed towards the future in ways that had only been grazed with releases prior. (The pair was part of Swing Mob, a loose collective of artists including MagooMissy Elliott andAaliyah, the latter of which tapped into the year 3000 with her August 1996 debut One in a Million.)

The Bachelor set a baseline for the singer (né Elgin Lumpkin). Though it only peaked at No. 26 on the Billboard Hot 100, its breakthrough single“Pony” cracked the glass ceiling on contemporary lothario R&B, topping at No. 6 on the Hot 100 and crowning the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Tim’s bassline slithered beneath huffing synthesizers while Ginuwine slung an extended metaphor about sex that would forever taint the innocence of equestrianism. In music, it became a sexual cornerstone, later sampled for Rihanna’s “Jump,” purposed for Channing Tatum’s striptease in Magic Mike and dubbed onto a skating routine-gone-viral. (“I was so happy about that,” he says.)

So when it came time to record his second LP, 100% Ginuwine (550 Music/Epic), Ginuwine knew that stakes were high. He saddled back up with Timbaland and enlisted a heavier hand from the pen-gifted Stephen Garrett, better known as Static Major, who co-wrote “Pony.” The resulting project, which took roughly two-and-a-half months to record, proffered four charting singles, the most of any album of his career: “Same Ol G,” initially included on the Dr. Doolittle soundtrack; the Godzilla-sampling “What’s So Different”; the toothsome “So Anxious,” where he banners being a “sexaholic”; and the kiss-but-don’t-tell “None of Ur Friends Business.”

But 100% flagged a subtle sea change in the two-plus years since The Bachelor. The Ginuwine that flatly rhymed “the dance floor is jumping, the music is pumping” on “Tell Me Do U Wanna” was supplanted by a door-opening, check-paying, chivalrous gent. “I used to be the main one clubbin’, but now I choose to stay at home,” he sings on “Same Ol G.” The musical bar may have been elevated, but it was the grown ‘n’ sexy ringleader that pumped the career accelerator. To this day, 100% is his highest-selling album, crossing the double-platinum threshold a year after its release.

Now with seven solo albums on his résumé plus the 2013 collaborative LP Three Kings with his supergroup TGT (also featuring Tank and Tyrese), the 43-year-old is 15 years out from the March 16, 1999 release of 100% Ginuwine. Reflecting on the LP, which he considers his “best CD in my opinion,” Ginuwine recalls how Timbaland pushed him to write some of his best material, why Aaliyah is the sole feature on the LP and how 100%marked a turning point in his then-burgeoning career.

All the blood, sweat and tears that I shed over [100% Ginuwine], it’s good to know that that’s getting honored and all the hard work I’m putting into it is being noted and appreciated. Because as artists and writers, we do go in there where everyone else is sleeping and we work real hard. We definitely get the benefit if it’s successful, but no one really understands how much hard work goes into that. They only see the end result, and it’s just great to acknowledge a great body of work. I must always give respect and appreciation to Timbaland, because if it wasn’t for him, really doing that CD, which happens to be the best CD in my opinion that I’ve done, I don’t know where I would be. So I want to give thanks to him for that as well.

With the second album, I really had to wait for Timbaland because I always felt like if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And we gelled so well together once we were in the studio and once we started getting to work. I sought out to get Timbaland again and we locked in on the studio. We really didn’t have a direction, and I truly believe that when people have direction, sometimes it limits them to being creative, because they already have a mindset of where they want to go. Which is cool, in some aspects, but with me, I like to go in there and just create, period. And usually, halfway through, the picture starts to come alive. So I don’t ever go into the studio saying I want to do these kind of songs, I want to do slow kind of songs. I go in there and say I want to do some hits and have some feel-good music. So we allowed any and everyone to come in and to write and give their opinions while they’re working. And then we kind of create the picture and direction from there. Going into it, it was really me saying let’s get it in and get some feel-good music and some hits.

With [The Bachelor], I just wanted to solidify myself as an artist. I would always hear the second album is going to be sophomore jinx or whatever. I just went in there of the mindset doing great, great music. I wouldn’t let anyone push me in a direction where I wasn’t comfortable. Lyrically, it was just me trying to allow the people that supported me in the beginning to grow with me, because with age comes wisdom. So of course you change as you get older, or you do change, a little bit. [Laughs] I think that the people who supported me when 100% came out, those were the same supporters that I had. And they grew with me. I think that’s very important, because as an artist, you don’t want to go left too quickly or alienate what puts you there as an artist. You always want to make sure that you take care of your base. That’s what I tried to do with that CD. I really tried to explore other options so I definitely wanted to take care of my home base, and that was real, true, heartfelt soul R&B.

I always told Timbaland that he was one of the best CD openers to do it as well. I look up to that guy a lot. I just think he’s so talented, and I always told him that for every album, you gotta open up with something. We were one of the first ones to constantly do that. We pretty much learned it from Jodeci, because we were all under the Jodeci umbrella. You don’t have to just have records on a CD. You can make it a movement. You can make it a movie, and make it interesting for the listeners and have them love everything about your record and make sure you can put it in and have fun and listen to it from the beginning to the end. And that’s what we tried to accomplish with that, and all our CDs. We wanted to make sure it was fun, first of all. And like I said, he was one of the best to do it when it came to opening a CD and keeping your attention. It was way ahead of its time.

Timbaland really gets all the praise for [the sound]. With him being as talented as he is now, to see him grow into that when we were younger was amazing. He would give me ideas for hooks and everything, but I would put the words to the melodies that he gave me. Because if a person is producing records, they’re the ones who can hear all kinds of other stuff that you pretty much can’t hear. And that’s where his talent lies. If the music is already there, he’s very great at hearing melodies that enhance the beat. So that’s what he did and we just put the lyrics to the melodies that he created and we formed a song.

The process took two months, I believe. Two-and-a-half months. As I said before, as you’re creating and working, a lot of ideas start to flow and then that’s when the puzzle starts to come together. I always liken it to those [magic eye] pictures you see on the wall and have to stare at for a long time, and then you actually see the picture come into view. When you focus your eyes, you start to see the picture. And it usually just starts with one song and you say, that’s the one that we should start with, or that’s the one that’s going to get the crowd hype, or that’s a show song. And then you start creating from there. You start really putting the puzzle together from that point, because with me, it takes me a week or two to even get comfortable in the studio. Because I’m not a studio head. I just don’t like to go to the studio. So it takes me a little while to get used to my voice and get a little confident and then start to roll. It takes about a two-and-a-half months to actually finish a record, as long as you’re going in there every day and working.

Static Major, rest in peace, was truly amazing when it came to putting lyrics to songs. His wording was just crazy and went so well with the music. With the stuff that he did for me, with the stuff that he did for Aaliyah, he’s done so many things. The process with him was to allow him to go in there and create and not bother him. I’m the same way. When I go in there to write, I don’t want too many opinions. I don’t even allow no one in there while I’m writing, because as an artist, you really want to get everything out of your head first. And then if you’re missing something, you allow others to complete it. But that’s why Timbaland was, and is, one of the best that has ever done it. He definitely knows how to complete a song and finish it. A lot of times, you listen to the music or songs and even though it’s hot or whatever, you just feel like something is missing. With Timbaland songs, you don’t say that. He completes a song. That’s what the process was when it came to Static Major and myself and with Missy [Elliott].

I never really was a fan of records that’s yours with a whole bunch of other artists on there. Even to this day. I know sometimes it’s needed now, more so than it was back in the day, but I never was a fan of that. I always felt if you’re going to get my CD, you’re getting the CD from me and not anyone else. But because we were under the same family tree at the time and we were helping each other, especially when it came to the [road] and everything, we always felt like hey, I’ll get on a song with you if you get on a song with me or you write a song for me and I’ll get on a song for you. However it was, we wanted to make sure that it was the best piece of work that we could possibly do. We wanted to showcase any and everyone who was under that umbrella, and it just so happened to be at the time me, Magoo, Timbaland, Missy and Aaliyah.

[For "Final Warning,"] we told Static that we wanted to do something together, and of course, we wanted to do something different that would catch people by surprise. Just something that was just different. That song was truly different, so when he went in there, Static went into the studio and created it and we allowed him to do that. Once he let us hear it, we was like, we’re sold, let’s go do it. And it was a fun process as well, because me and Aaliyah were very close at the time. The song within itself maybe only took an hour to do, but we were in there pretty much all day, because we were joking and all that kind of stuff. So that was one of the fondest memories I have of her.

When Timbaland made ”What’s So Different,” I was like, how the hell am I going to write something to this, Tim? He was like, I just want you to go in there and just think. Talk about something that’s near and dear to your heart or talk about something that you really feel that needs to be said. Once I completed it, he looked at me and was like, I can’t believe you wrote something to that, man. You’re really coming into your own. And I just thank him for pushing me to the limit when it came to that song. Because I was like, “A dragon? Godzilla? What’s he doing?” That was one that he didn’t give me the melody to. He told me to go in there and do it yourself, man. He would give me the melodies to a lot of the songs on the first CD, but the second one, he really was pushing me to be a writer and write a whole bunch of songs for myself. That was one that was really challenging for me. To this day, I listen to it and I’m like, where did that come from and how did I even come up with the melody?

I wanted to pay homage to the two people who are the reasons why I’m doing what I do to this day, which is Michael Jackson and Prince. “When Doves Cry” and “She’s Out of My Life” are just the songs I always liked. [Ed: The Bachelor featured a cover of the former, while the latter was included on 100%.] You can’t redo “Billy Jean.” You just can’t do that. You can’t redo his mega songs unless you’re going to do it better, and there’s no way I could possibly do “Billy Jean” or “Beat It” or “Thriller” or none of that better. So I did a song that was meaningful. I really went in there with that mindset of look, if you listen to it and it’s not at least as good [as the original], then you can’t keep it. That’s Michael. So when I listened to it, I was impressed. I was like hey, I did it. I let a few other people hear it and they were like, hell yeah! You gotta keep it. So for me to do the two songs that were really inspirational in my life, and motivating as well, I just wanted to do the songs that people would definitely know but wouldn’t feel like I would do it no justice. I wanted to make sure that I at least did it as good or better, and I believe I accomplished that.

When you do a record, you always hope for the best. When it happens, you really are overwhelmed, but you’re appreciative at the same time, because when you’re in there working hard, wracking your brain for something to say and do, other people are asleep. You appreciate it so much when they appreciate you as an artist and as a writer and the songs you create. I’ve always said that when I look out in the audience and actually see the people seeing the lyrics that I sat down and wrote all by myself, that’s not only a humbling experience, but it’s also an experience that you’ll never forget. It’s just a situation where you feel relieved and you’re just overwhelmed at the same time, because you’re like all the work that you put in, now all these people from around the world know these lyrics. And it’s just remarkable. It’s something that you never forget. And I always thank God for allowing me to continue to write and do all these sort of things and have people enjoy my music.

The legacy of 100% Ginuwine is that it’s one of those CDs you can put in and play from beginning to end. You always hear about CDs now and how there are only one or two songs on the CD. I think 100% Ginuwine was one of my best bodies of work, and it’s one of those CDs that’s a blueprint for people who really take their craft seriously and want to be in the business for as long as I have and be respected and be appreciated for a record that’s 15 years old. I think the legacy it leaves is just that—longevity.

Posted: October 30th, 2014
Categories: Features, Online
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Naughty Boy Upgrades His Pizza Game – (December 2013)

Naughty Boy wasn’t always proud of his employment past. In just a few short years, the 28-year-old’s production career hit a steroid-juiced growth spurt, landing him in the liner notes of Emeli Sandé’s cross-continental debut, Our Version of Events, and Rihanna’s Unapologetic, a gas pedal crunch that’s swerved him towards solo stardom. But there he was, just a few years back, a college dropout serving door-to-door hot pies in a blue-and-red Domino’s uniform, blazing the day away in his parents’ shed that he converted into a low-budget studio.

The gap in years between his current reign as one of music’s most on-fire producers and his pepperoni slice past is thin, and yet factory line pizza is a ghost. It’s a shivering November afternoon and Naughty Boy, born Shahid Khan (and addressed as Shah), glazes over the one-page menu at Mario Batali’s Otto situated on the cusp of Manhattan’s West Village. He’s draped in a black hoodie and sports a pomade-crested hairdo. His mom-unapproved Rolex swishes as he takes sips from a tall lemonade. He vacillates—the Margherita pizza or the Quattro Stagioni?—to befit his looming vegetarianism.

He settles on the former, requesting chili oil and flakes on the side for some added “oomph.” Minutes later, the steaming pie is set before him. He bathes the dish in hot sauce. He’s an ocean away from his native land, where he’s become the apple of Britpop’s eye. A Domino’s is just down the block, and yet the steam from his double-digit meal could chump the dollar-99 pie on sight. Dominos, this surely isn’t.

If birthdays was the worst days, Naughty Boy is no longer blowing out the candles in vain. Over the past two years, he’s gone from studio fetch-boy to one of music’s most in-demand producers. His chart-crushing UK debut, Hotel Cabana, which impacted overseas in August 2013, cracked the shell on his mysterious skin. Prior to its release, he was an accessory to the stars he propped. He sat behind the boards for the majority of Sandé’s Our Version of Events, which spent 66 consecutive weeks in the U.K. top 10 and was certified six times platinum. Their joint success scored him a publishing deal at Sony ATV and railroaded a shot at solo stardom. Months later, he mounted the pop pile with “La La La,” featuring Sam Smith, which hit the top five in 24 countries and began its U.S. invasion on December 3, when it impacted radio. It’s a game-late approach to attempted international crossover, considering that the Internet already warmed to the falsetto-pilfered track. Over on YouTube, it has 197 million views and counting.

It’s top digital currency for the Watford, England native, who is still clearly uncomfortable with the spotlight. Not even the video for Lorde’s“Royals,” which has topped the Billboard Hot 100 for nine straight weeks, can outpace “La La La,” which squanders the capitalist critique by almost 100 million views. And yet he revels in the anonymity afforded by Otto’s environed atmosphere, shrouding his face when a camera phone appears to snap pictures of the spread set before him.

“All this is happening and I’m achieving this success really quickly and I’m scared of it honestly, you know?” he says. “I’ve only just been on the sides so I get scared of the big. My mum always says, you’re just working hard. And now is when to do it. Everyone in the economy thinks I’m mad sometimes, that I should milk it. But, you know, I’m not milking it. That cow, that’s already fucking dead.”

It’s fitting that Hotel Cabana situates him as a bellboy, a concierge, a valet at a tinted window resort. But he isn’t the help; he’s the conductor. He’s the maid service and pool skimmer, the invisible hand that creates the illusion of luxury for the guests who buy into it and grow its reputation outside the palace walls. They’re the grease to his machine, and they’re co-dependent.

At the helm, Naughty Boy invites U.K.’s brightest to rent some space at his 20-track deluxe resort. They come and go, but his string-soaked, crispy-drummed compositions remain. It’s a surprisingly untapped concept in the land of producer albums. This year, the U.K. produced debuts from Disclosure and Rudimental, two contemporaries unevenly lumped into the same category as Naughty Boy. But their electro leanings have played opposite on the spectrum to his cinema pop stylings. For one, Hotel Cabana reads like a who’s who of getting-there stars including Ella Eyre, Bastille, Tanika and Gabrielle. Then there’s the A-team of Sandé, Wiz KhalifaEd Sheeran and Wiley. Few mingle, but there’s a consistent thread.

“Concepts are the best way for me to produce anything and be at the core of it. I am still the artist. I’m controlling this ship,” he says. “And then I’m bringing these artists and I’m going to tell my story. So I did it in a way where I maintained that integrity. It’s not just a bunch of songs, and a few hit songs together. This is this guy’s album. This is how he thinks.”

Naughty Boy didn’t always have a master plan. Dial back a few years and he was the first of his Pakistani family to attend Uni, only to drop out shortly after. To avoid falling into an arranged marriage, he asked his parents for a month’s buffer to grasp at professional straws. In 2009, an application to the Prince’s Trust scored him £5,000, but it was the £44,000 that he won on Deal or No Deal that slowed the ticking clock. He cut his family a check for £20,000 and funneled £15,000 into converting his parents’ shed into a barebones studio, living off the rest for the next few years.

His hustlers’ spirit thrived. Solo trips to London forged some connections in the industry, and he built his studio prowess with a part-time apprenticeship at Townhouse Studios, where Elton JohnColdplay andMuse have recorded. But it was a chance visit to an open mic where he met his muse, Emeli Sandé, who co-wrote and featured on their first top 10 single, Chipmunk’s “Diamond Rings.” Their collaborations kickstarted, and by 2010, they’d landed another top 10 hit with Wiley’s “Never Be Your Woman” featuring Sandé, as well as tracks with Devlin, Tinie Tempah and Professor Green.

But it was with Sandé’s Our Version of Events that the duo settled into a warm groove. On “Daddy” featuring Naughty Boy, the Scottish singer’s whole milk vocals slingshot against the pitter-pat arrangements, while one of their first collaborations, “Clown,” plays down the pace for one of the LP’s most naked moments from an inside-looks-out vantage. “We had all these people running us like record labels, publishers, managers…,” he says. “And they wanted to give us money but we had to speak to lawyers and all that crap was going on. That gave birth to that song because for once you’re happy being a clown just so that you can get there, you know? One of my favorite lines is in that song. ‘I’ll be patient if I had the time.’ That sums up everything we were experiencing at that moment.”

Naughty Boy touched three of the five released singles from Our Version of Events, and the solo ball quickly rolled into motion. Hotel Cabanareleased on August 23 in his native U.K. and bowed at No. 2. It’s already spawned three top 10 singles including “La La La,” which crowned the U.K. singles chart, and the fourth single “Think About It,” featuring Wiz Khalifa and Ella Eyre, is sliding up the totem pole. He put in studio time for Katy Perry’s PRISM and turned down work with Mariah Carey. In October, he scored Best Song and Best Video at the 2013 MOBO Awards. Up next is album number two with Sandé, for which they’ve already coddled ideas.

“We don’t sit down and make a song,” he says. “You sit down and have a conversation like we’re talking right now. We’re having a conversation will become a sentence or word and we’ll be just like, Yeah, that would work. It has to come from a real place. We call that place the source. We don’t have some thing that’s in the room with us or just with us or we only know the source is giving us the song.” He pauses, a smirk broadening across his face. “And weed obviously. Weed is probably the source.”

Outside of Otto, Naughty Boy braces the bitter New York chill, huddling outside of the restaurant’s revolving door, smoking a cigarette. For once, he’s got time to kill before a radio run in the afternoon, but he’s looking towards his one free night in the city before jetting back to the U.K. for a five-date headlining tour.

He’ll be back in January, a full month after “La La La” has time to gestate at top 40, to perform his first U.S. shows. Hotel Cabana is slated for U.S. release in April 2014. “I do want to take over the fucking world. I do. I’m not sorry to say that,” he says. “I would like to come here and be successful not for me, [but] more for the sake of just doing something different and making people think a bit more than just about the soul. To think about your life as well.”

He stops, applying his ethos to himself. Has it all been worth it? “I’m looking to be fulfilled like… What’s the word I want to use? I’m looking for wholeness,” he says. “Because a wholeness includes everything: happiness, pain and a whole different process. And I’m happy with wholeness. I don’t really look for happiness. But I think there are some misconceptions. I’m doing what’s making me successful; that’s doing it. You know, that makes me happy. You know what I mean? It’s somewhere in there.”

Posted: October 30th, 2014
Categories: Features, Online
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Tori Kelly Orders A Protein-Packed Brunch – (October 2013)

It’s a brisk afternoon in downtown Manhattan and a tinted SUV pulls curbside at Peels, an American food restaurant on a corner of Bowery Street. Out hops the 20-year-old Tori Kelly, her golden tussle of hair curling down her neck, her beaming smile revealing perfect rows of Chiclet-white teeth. She’s in town for a blink, and will be performing just a few hours later at SoHo House for an intimate crowd of in-the-knows before jetting back to her native Canyon Lake, Calif., where she still lives with her parents.

There are no stray nerves in sight. It’s probably because she’s flanked by her publicist and her mother, Laura Kelly. Tori, who’s been on the industry hotplate since a preteen, cozies into a corner booth next to her mom. The phrase “no carbs” is floated, and the two split a couple dishes: the Farmers Breakfast, a vessel of fried eggs, smoked bacon, hash browns and toast, and a Roasted Rib Eye sandwich topped with charred onion mayonnaise (on the side) and iceberg lettuce on two thick slabs of Texas toast (a plate of spicy hand-sliced potato chips will remain mostly untouched). Tori delicately picks at her smorgasbord. It’s no power brunch—call it a break from the day’s events.

Tori is fresh out of her teens, but her career is far past infancy. For one, her talents have been on display for almost a decade. Since signing to Geffen at 12 years old and subsequently parting ways on creative differences, Tori has been a reality TV hustler, competing on Star Searchand America’s Most Talented Kids at the age of 14. Two years later, she was standing before Simon Cowell and Victoria Beckham on the ninth season of American Idol, shredding an a cappella cover of John Mayer’s “Gravity.” Simon found her voice “almost annoying,” and after teetering on the reality competition precipice, she was cut before making the Top 24.

But there were no needle scratches. “I didn’t wanna go through life like what if, what if, what if,” she says, poking her sunny-side eggs. Tori is unabashedly upbeat, as if everything has always been for a reason. “That’s probably the best thing that could have happened for me, not making it on that show, ’cause it just gave me more fuel to kind of figure things out on my own.”

Tori, who built her career on viral YouTube hits clocking in the millions, is a product of her environment. Home-schooled and brought up in the church, she absorbed the musical nature of her makers—her mother was a pianist, her father a bassist in a few bands, most notably 24/8—and parlayed early onset drumming into guitar, the basis of her current compositions.

She left private school after sixth grade, when she signed to Geffen, and studied at home, taking electives in recording and engineering. She’d flirted with online stardom, posting live covers of India.Arie and Christmas classics to her YouTube page as far back as 2007. Her originals, where she floated butterscotch tones over self-plucked acoustic guitar arpeggios, showed a bit more of her hand.

It was in January 2012, however, when she mined bandwidth gold. She posted a barebones cover of Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin’ Bout You,” accompanied by nylon strums and beatboxing care of Angie Girl, that has netted more than 17 million views to date. That same month, she played a solo show at Room 5 Lounge in Los Angeles, and the margin between Internet and stage suddenly shrunk.

“That was kind of the turning point of like, what do I wanna be known for?” she says. “Do I wanna be keep doing covers on YouTube? For me, my dream was just to write my own music and share it with people. So I knew that I had to like put some music out.”

Her Handmade Songs EP followed in May 2012, positing her as a singer-songwriter that could function outside of the YouTube cover bubble. But industry bigwigs already saw the potential. Power manager Scooter Braun, who has fostered the careers of Justin BieberCarly Rae Jepsen,The Wanted and Ariana Grande, was an early believer, anonymously watching her first show at Room 5. He requested a meeting shortly after, but even then, she wasn’t ready to take the step from screen to stardom.

“In my head I was like, Bieber, that’s what everyone thinks of with Scooter Braun, so how is that gonna work with me?” she says. Still, she took the meeting and was pleasantly surprised. “He said to me, ‘I don’t wanna change anything you’re doing.’ He had the EP, he was a fan. And he was like, ‘I just wanna be there for the ride and help you and mentor you.’” The partnership has left her creative spirit untouched while pulling her out of the YouTube trenches. She’s since signed to Capitol Music Group and, most recently, scored the opening slot on Ed Sheeran’s three sold-out performances at Madison Square Garden in November. Her headlining tour runs through the same month.




Fans have clamored, and her YouTube channel now has almost 55 million views and more than 660,000 subscribers. Her mother never had a doubt. “I’m not ever surprised,” she says. “But you still just take everything a day at a time and just kind of value and assess as the day goes on. There’s highs and lows. She’s experienced both. People that don’t like it, I’m like, haters gotta hate.”





But it isn’t about digital currency or high wattage gigs: Tori is strictly about the music. On October 22, she released her new EP Foreword, five heart-swelling acoustic numbers. For one, hers is a voice uncorrupted by late Hollywood nights and partying. She sounds pure, pining for a Prince Charming that’s yet to come. But there’s a second layer to her unblemished confections, double entendres that encapsulate her professional mind state.


“I like being independent, not so much of an investment / No one to tell me what to do / I like being by myself, don’t gotta entertain nobody else,” she sings on “Dear No One.” “But sometimes, I just want somebody to hold, someone to give me the jacket when I’m cold / Got that young love even when we’re old.”







The clock is ticking towards Tori’s performance at the SoHo House, and after an hour of slowly making her way through her meal, Tori leaves behind a mess of white bread and fried potatoes. The shaved homemade fries sit in the middle of the table next to Laura’s teetering brioche stack. The carbs, as planned, were successfully avoided.


Tori’s got her sights set on meatier matters. At the top of the year, she’s headed back to the studio to resume work on her debut full-length. She’s already collaborated with Ed Sheeran and Pharrell Williams (“I was really nervous for that session”) and hopes to work with Hunter Hayes, Amber Riley and Ariana Grande. The creative world is at her fingertips—Scooter is just a phone call away—but it’s more about keeping that familial mentality at the forefront. She mentions her 2012 single “Confetti,” where she soulfully bemoans, “I’m living for right now, ’cause what if tomorrow never comes? / I’m not waiting, I’m not waiting for the confetti to fall.”


“I think it’s important to dream big and set goals for yourself,” she says. “But at the same time, for my life and my situation, I find that just living in the moment and taking each step really slow and just appreciating every cool thing that happens is the way that I stay excited.”


The check settled, Tori slides out of the booth with her mother a few steps ahead. They step out of the restaurant, back into the day. The jet black SUV’s engine is purring. “I’ll be back to play Irving Plaza in November,” she says. “I’ll see you there.”

Posted: October 30th, 2014
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Ariana Grande: 9 Things That Influenced ‘Yours Truly’ – (Sepember 2013)

Don’t think that Ariana Grande hasn’t worked for her success. The 20-year-old’s rise to pop stardom seemed almost effortless, coasting onto radio earlier this year with her breakout hit “The Way” featuring Mac Miller. Her cotton candy vocals glided across a flip of Brenda Russell’s “A Little Bit of Love,” the same sample used for Big Pun’s classic “Still Not a Player.” It was the perfect mix: a dash of something old and familiar pushed through a contemporary pop filter.

That theme powers Grande’s debut Yours Truly (Republic), which hit stores on September 3. Working with a tight production crew consisting of Babyface, The Rascals, Harmony Samuels and more, the Boca Raton, Fla. native paired hip-hop-kissed anthems (“Right There” featuring Big Sean and  “Lovin’ It”) with a more personal penchant for doo-wop fare (“Daydreamin’” and “Tattooed Heart”). The result is a sprightly, full-toothed smile of an LP that leans on the doe-eyed innocence of romance at its extremes.

But her ascent wasn’t rocket-launched. Grande got her start five years ago with a role on Broadway in 13, transitioning to TV in 2010 as Cat Valentine on Nickelodeon’s VictoriousiCarly and Sam & Cat. Through it all, she just wanted to sing. Three years in the making, Yours Truly is the result of scrapped ideas, leaked songs and dissatisfaction with where her sound was heading—even if the album’s firm pop sheen suggests otherwise.

A few days after Yours Truly landed at retail, Grande was teeming with energy at the W Times Square EWOW Suite, pattering away on her iPhone between a string of interviews. In the days prior, she performed for The Today Show and Live! With Kelly and Michael and the Style Awards, and hadn’t slept more than six hours per night. But exhaustion was nowhere to be found—even fatigue couldn’t break her chipper veneer. Clad in a gripping A-line dress and her long hair in bouncy curls, Grande spoke on her first full-length album, breaking down nine of its influences.


I didn’t know what to call the album for the longest time. I wanted to call itDaydreamin’ but I changed my mind. I just felt like it wasn’t right. I didn’t like any of the other titles of the songs for it. I didn’t think they encompassed the album as a whole. I really felt this album is a love letter. I feel like the whole thing is just a big love letter that just took the course of three years, basically. I kind of was like, let’s sign it as a love letter. I had a mass text with like five of my best friends and we were all talking about the title, and they were all firing off ideas and my friend Mischa came up with the concept and was like, “Sign it like a love letter.” I was like, “Oh my god, Yours Truly. What about that?” And they were all like, “Yes. Done, done, done.” So yeah, that’s how that came about.


The character I play [on Victorious], Cat Valentine, has a very demanding voice. It’s incredibly strenuous. When I play Kat, I have to speak in a really weird way and say all these weird things. It’s really strenuous on my vocal chords. So by the end of the day, I would have a day from 5:45 in the morning, film until six or seven at night and I would go straight to the studio. I would grab a snack and in the car, I’d eat, and go straight to the studio and stay there until two or three in the morning. It was hard. Obviously, not every day was like that, but some of the hardest days were like that. So for me, listening to the album, I love it so much, but I remember how exhausted I was vocally when I pushed through and recorded those songs. So it’s memories for me.


I recorded “Tattooed Heart” and “Honeymoon Avenue” when I was deathly ill. It turns out, they’re two of my favorite songs. But I literally had a skull and lung infection. I had an untreated sinus infection that I flew back and forth with for weeks because I was working and I didn’t have a chance to get it treated or anything. It spread and I went to the doctor and he was like, “You need to not be doing anything.” I was like, “I need to finish an album.” He was like, “You’re going to get rushed to a hospital.” I was like, “Give me every medicine you’ve got. I’ve gotta go.” So that’s how that happened.

Even though I was so exhausted and so brutally tired, it was still the most fun I’ve ever had, just because at the end of the filming day, I was like, “Yes. Time to go.” Because music is my everything. So it was still my most enjoyable work ever. It didn’t feel like work, still, even though I was sleeping. It was amazing. So much fun. And the people I worked with too made it feel very comfortable.


What do I take for my voice? I do lots of throat-coat tea with… I had like 14 million cups this morning because I’ve been singing all week and I’m starting to get exhausted vocally. So I had a bunch of cups this morning and I usually do it without anything in it. And then I usually suck on Grether’s Pastilles, which are these blackcurrant gummies. When I tell you, they’re so good, you don’t understand. They’re incredibly moisturizing for the vocal chords. It’s really good. But nobody knows about them, because it’s literally only singers that use it. People are like, “Oh, what are those?” and I’m like, “Try one.” And they’re like, “Oh my God.”

There’s a spray called Entertainer’s Secret, which is the cheesiest title ever, but when I was on Broadway, I was doing eight shows a week and that helped me get through the show week. But when you’re singing that often, usually the first week is really hard and then your voice just gets so accustomed to it. So I wish I was recording my second album right now, because I’m just finishing my tour. I was singing every single day, and my voice felt so strong and worked out and ready to go. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m starting the recording process for a while. But I’ve been writing. So that’s exciting.


It’s funny, because the beginning of the writing process was the end of a relationship. The songs that were from that are “Daydreamin’,” “Tattooed Heart” and “Honeymoon Avenue.” Those are about one thing. And then that ended and I wrote a bunch of pop songs that didn’t really need anything and didn’t make it to the record. And then I was in a relationship with somebody else and that blossomed and the rest of the album fell into place. “You’ll Never Know” was just about some jerk. [Laughs.]


The thing I love most about being involved with Babyface and his writing camp and all those amazing people was his two vocal producers, Leon Thomas and Khris Riddick. Their production [team] is called The Rascals, and Leon and I did a television show [Victorious] together for five years. So it felt like I was working with some of my best friends through Babyface’s camp. I felt like I was with family, and especially with Harmony Samuels as well. The thing I like most about the album is that there aren’t too many producers involved. It was a close-knit, intimate group of people that we just hit it off with and made something great and that feels right to me. It was very special. They were all super dedicated and I think they were equally as passionate about the music and the project as I was. So that’s great. I think that’s important.


I recorded most of the vocals at Harmony’s studio, which is literally I think a mile away from my house. So I would drive right there and I would drive right back really early in the morning and that was it. At… I forget what it was called. But there was a studio. It’s the one that The Rascals use, and I don’t know what the name of the studio is. But we did a lot of it there and we cut a lot of the vocals in a two-day span. We’d do the demos and then polish them and then I’d come in and re-sing things, but all of the re-singing slash recording of songs we needed to do that we didn’t get to was done in two days when I had this chest and lung infection. I’m not even kidding. Just like, the plague on my album. Yikes. Literally, I was singing, singing, singing and then I’d pass out on the couch for like an hour, and then they’d be like, “Get back in.” That was the whole 48 hours. But it was amazing. It was so much fun. I was like, “I can’t eat.” They were like, “Eat. Get in the booth.” I was like, “I’m going to die today!”


To be honest, I think that the comparison is a massive compliment because she’s Mariah Carey and she’s the greatest singer of all time, so I’m kind of blown away by the comparison, obviously. I know her big hits. I know “Emotions,” because I did the “Emotions” cover, and I love her Christmas music so much. I think that was my favorite Mimi stuff. But the biggest influence on my sound? The biggest influences are Whitney HoustonBrandyImogen HeapIndia.Arie and obviously Mariah. The cool thing about the album is that when you listen to it, it’s like its own thing. “The Way,” obviously, you make the comparison, and “Baby I,” I can understand. But I don’t do the whistle notes on barely any of my songs. They really don’t recur that much on my album. I don’t do them that much. It just happened with them with those first two singles. But the rest of its album is its own cool creation. It’s very special.


Here’s the thing. I love that sound. I just love it, and it feels good. I don’t know. It just felt right. Harmony Samuels came up with the sample ideas and whenever they would play me a new sample, I would hear it and be like, “I’m going to have a heart attack.” He just knew what I wanted to hear and would help me with that, and it was great. It’s funny because the hip-hop stuff, Harmony is kind of responsible for, but I just fell in love with it right away. But the doo-wop era stuff is what I wrote and was in charge of. So it was a cool collaboration that I think made for a great first album that captures what I love.

Posted: October 30th, 2014
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Gita Chows Down On Bahn Mi, Spits Flames – (May 2013)

It’s hard not to notice Gita. Seated in NYC’s Thompson Square Park, the 22-year-old MC could be mistaken for an extra from an old school Aaliyah video: Day-Glo magenta hair with thick black roots, a bun on top and another in the back; a cheetah print starter jacket over a white shirt embossed with a glittering picture of an astronaut; and dark jeans that snake down to a pair of classic Adidas. Rewind 20 years and she would have fit right in.

Shane, a scraggly passerby accompanied by his dog Soco and a newly acquired pet mouse Jamie, doesn’t think so. “Where you’re sitting, I’ve shot heroin,” he says, jumping into conversation as if it were an open-ended continuum. Gita pauses eating her vegetarian bahn mi sandwich and guava soda, purchased a block away from East Village’s Banh Mi Zon, and blankly stares back. “This used to be the junkie capital of the East Coast,” Shane continues. “Now, everybody sits here and eats sandwiches. I grew up in it, I saw it. I can’t tell you how different it is, man.”

Gita lets out her patented babygirl giggle and reluctantly heeds his request to slap him five. Shane walks away, but Gita isn’t amused.

“Oh my god, I need hand sanitizer!”

To some extent, Shane’s right. Gita is an outsider, only three years fresh into life in the big city after chucking the deuces to her native Oakland, Calif. in 2010. But she’s slowly settling in. Since dropping her sweet-and-sour breakout single “Hood Rich” and its comically thuggified video early last year, Gita has architected a buzzy career without really trying to make noise. She booked her first gig opening for Gangsta Boo and A$AP Ferg in October 2011 and landed a swaggier-than-thou placement on Fool’s Gold’s 2012 compilation Loosies with “Let That,” a dark, early Timbaland-inspired track produced by DJ Two $tacks, who also laced “Hood Rich.” She’s graced the pages of Wonderland and Clash magazines, rocked stages in Shanghai and gotten blog daps from Fader and Noisey. There’s no mixtape on DatPiff and you can count the number of songs she has in the wild on two hands. Not bad for an unsigned, unmanaged spitfire who was borderline homeless just a few years back.

For Gita, moving across the country was standard dollar-and-a-dream fare. Born in Oakland, she spent her adolescent days split between the Bay Area and Los Angeles, where her dad moved after her parents’ divorce in 1995. As she tells it, she got the best of both worlds, taking in the mean streets of the Bay when the city was still going through its crack era phase and navigating the “artificial” yoga heads and wheatgrass allegiants of L.A. But the double life bore fruit. In Oakland, she worked her lyrical muscle with her twin brother and friends, spitting cyphers and studying artists like Missy Elliott, Lil’ Kim and TLC.

“My teacher would do the Soul Train line in class,” she says, fidgeting with a cucumber slice jutting from her sandwich.

Her inspirations shine. In the “Hood Rich” video, for instance, she goes full tomboy, rocking loose army fatigues and Da Brat braids. “That’s where I get my influence, too, just from confident, secure, crazy, creative women who do shit,” she says. “For myself, I’m not trying to be a particular person. I’m just being me. You listen to the music I’m about to put out or that is out? This is how I feel. These are things I’m going through. These are my struggles, what I am as a young woman coming of age, it’s my attitude. I got an attitude.”

That conviction, present in her razorblade delivery, can be traced to her days spent in L.A. Gita took notes while hanging around her pops, a record executive and A&R who served as road manager, manager and producer for Digital Underground in the late ’80s and worked with Bay Area artists including E-40, Richie Rich and Lulu. It rubbed off. “Rap is very addicting, I understand, but for me, I grew up around it, I can’t help it,” she says. “It’s what I’ve seen. It’s like what most kids do, like look at fuckin’ Jaden Smith and Will Smith. But my dad wasn’t an artist. So I’m not entirely following in his footsteps.”

At that, she slips off her jacket, almost defiantly, revealing a tee that shrinks her already petite frame. Like clockwork, a woman walks by, screeching on her heels. “That is a fuckin’ awesome shirt,” she says. Gita cracks a smile, a giggle erupting, accepting the compliment. “Have a great day!”

Gita always knew she was better both seen and heard. As a kid, she entertained the idea of becoming a model or actress, practicing lines with an uncle who starred on Broadway, but she knew music was the next chapter. In 2010, she took the dive, moving to New York with two longtime homegirls and settling in Harlem. Her dad disapproved, citing industry politics, and her mom told her to “read lots of books” in case she decided to fall back on college. As they suspected, things quickly soured after three weeks. One of her roommates smoked the rent money away, got them evicted and hit the dusty trail back to Cali, leaving her behind.

But Gita stuck it out. It was then that she became “a real ghost,” keeping to herself and holding only one brief job at a boutique shop in SoHo. She came close to netting a writing gig for a Disney Channel-bound girl group that fell through due to an overbearing momager. Above all, her pen kept busy. Producer friends from the Bay would ship her beats, and she amassed a handful of tracks that are yet to see the light of day.

It was one chance encounter that juiced the battery in her back. In 2010, Gita hit the XXL Freshman Class Gala at Highline Ballroom starring Nipsey Hussle, Jay Rock and Big Sean. She made her way into the VIP section and sat next to then up-and-comer Kendrick Lamar, wearing one of her standard out-there ensembles (“I always dress silly, ridiculous”). After giving him a pound, K. Dot turned and said, “You’re a rapper.” The brief exchange hit home. “He just heard it,” she says. “I thought, I gotta readjust and just figure out what the fuck I’m gonna do, because this is too much.”

Following the release of the video for “Hood Rich” in early 2012, Gita’s career started to grow legs. It helped that Azealia Banks, coasting on the success of her career-launching single “212,” tweeted a link to the clip, and later featured her in the lineup to the L.A. edition of her “Mermaid’s Ball” show. With the nails-tough visuals for her earlier “Lights Out” also making waves, Gita upped the production ante for “Let That,” ripping out a few pages from the Hype Williams manual a la fish-eye lenses and slick FX. The video premiered on Karmaloop TV.

In a sea of Barbie MCs, Gita sticks out. Her raps are fiercely aggressive, cut with the softness of intermittent theater kid laughs and fluctuating tones. You can tell that she’s a rock on the outside, but that there’s a vulnerability underneath the oversized clothes. The allure can partly be attributed to her less-is-more approach, giving listeners just a taste of what’s to come with a few toss-outs and teasing her debut EP Escaping the Dream World (due by month’s end) so that she could properly “grow and evolve.” Once the EP drops, she plans to satiate heads with a summer mixtape, and is already conceptualizing her debut full-length.

But before she gets there, she’s here, spinning the promotional wheel with last month’s release of the video for “Mardi Gras,” a tinkering rap-attack produced by Darq E Freaker, the man behind Danny Brown’s “Blueberry (Pills & Cocaine).” The track was made available on digital retail through ASL Records, but the currently unsigned Gita wouldn’t mind inking a deal with a major—that is, if the timing is right. “People tend to say labels are shit,” she says. “No. Labels are shit if you’re not making your situation work out for you. It’s all in the fucking contract, you know? But for me, there’s no rush. Last year, there was no rush. Now that I’m dropping musical content and stuff like that, I wouldn’t mind preparing the idea of cementing that sometime soon.”

Gita’s got the blueprint laid out, hoping the chips fall into place. “You see me right now out on the chess board chillin’, but then it’ll be like, ‘Dun dun dun!’” she says. She counts Venus X and A$AP Ferg as associates. “You’ll see the bishop, the rooks and the knights come. That’s how I roll, when the time is ready. I don’t really like bullshit.”

Today, she’s headed back to where she rests at, an apartment situated near Yankee Stadium. She stopped at the halfway mark on her bahn mi sandwich after making acquaintances with the lurking Shane. With the rest of her lunch tucked under one arm and her animal-print jacket slung over the other, she makes her way out of the park, stopping short before hitting the crosswalk. A woman, slinking at the entrance, calls after her. “I love your hair!” the woman shouts. Gita throws her head to the side, lets out a giggle, and scrunches her nose as she replies, “Aw, thanks!”

Posted: October 30th, 2014
Categories: Features, Online
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Chvrches Prepping Glassnote Debut After ‘Amazing Reaction’ To Singles – (March 2013)

Chvrches is self-admittedly tame. For a group that nails crunchy pop hooks with an ‘80s lean, the Glasgow-based trio values its humble approach, recording tracks in a basement studio in lieu of a professional one.

When it comes to reveling in the success of their breakout singles released last year, don’t expect to hear tales of trashed green rooms and gaudy purchases.

“I wish I had really rock and roll stories that we did tons of drugs and did terrible things,” says lead singer Lauren Mayberry, who formed Chvrches in September 2011 with Iain Cook and Martin Doherty. “I think we were lucky that we gelled so quickly. But when you’re just three people in a windowless basement all the time, you need to get on pretty well otherwise you will kill each other. Then, that would be a rock and roll story.”

The chemistry has yielded buzzy results: since the group released its debut single “Lies” last May, they’ve become overseas sensations, earning praise from NME and BBC, which ranked them at No. 5 on its Sound of 2013 list. A deal with Glassnote Records followed months later, aligning Chvrches with the white-hot label behind recent Grammy darlings Mumford & Sons and indie-rock giants Phoenix, among other artists.

Two weeks after its first U.S. tour kicks off in San Francisco on Mar. 10 — both of the band’s Mar. 18 shows at New York’s Mercury Lounge have already sold out — Chvrches will release its debut EP, “Recover,” on Mar. 26, offering three original cuts and two remixes fit for seedy hole-in-the-walls rife with dancefloor-friendly clientele.

The group’s natural success parallels fateful beginnings: 25-five-year-old Mayberry, who previously made ends meet as a freelance journalist, first cut her teeth as a musician as a member of Blue Sky Archives, providing backing vocals and playing keyboards. Cook was tapped to produce an EP for Archives, and after hitting the studio, he asked Mayberry to sing background vocals for a project he was working on with former University chum Doherty, then a touring member of The Twilight Sad.

“I don’t think any of us expected this amazing reaction from people,” says Mayberry. “Obviously, when you’re working at things, you all hope that people will relate to it. I’m not sure if it’s a timing thing, whereby people are looking for electronic pop mixed with a lyrical edge. I guess it’s hard to say, because you can read so many books on how to make your band known. But I don’t think there’s any way of making that happen, really.”

Chvrches’ harmony is due in part to shared influences including The Knife, Erasure’s Vince Clarke and A Tribe Called Quest. Mayberry says that the group keeps sane while recording in the studio by taking breaks to collectively watch Prince and Whitney Houston videos online. But while “similar interests” and “similar senses of humor” are bonding points, she boils down productivity to their creative process.

“When we first formed, I was like, ‘I don’t know if I want to play songs that are just written by someone else,’” she recalls. “But they were open immediately to changing things and we wrote as a group, which was pretty awesome in terms of them putting their trust in me. And it hopefully paid off, because hopefully we’re doing okay.”

So far, Chvrches is off to a solid start, having already opened for Passion Pit on their U.K. tour last fall. The group has re-recorded all of their demos in anticipation of their full-length debut, slated for release in late summer or early fall, and plans to head back to the lab after the North American tour wraps in late March. For now, they’re trying to deal with the sudden attention without compromising their art.

“We’re in this position where we’re trying not to fuck it up, to be honest,” says Mayberry. “We’re so lucky that so many people have responded so well and we’re just very aware that we have to make a good album that people are waiting on and will actually like. Hopefully, we won’t be distracted by any of the shiny things and do what we came here to do, which is to make a fresh records.”

Posted: March 25th, 2013
Categories: Online
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Wanz Q&A: Meet the ‘F-ing Awesome’ Singer in ‘Thrift Shop’ – (February 2013)

It took only 45 minutes to change Michael Wansley’s life. The Seattle-based singer, known by his stage name Wanz, has found himself at the top of the charts with his bass-heavy credit on Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop,” which has now enjoyed two weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100.

Last July, the 51-year-old fielded a call from Street Level Records owner D-Sane who got word that the hip-hop duo was looking for a Nate Dogg sound-alike to guest on their future smash. Wanz, who had heard of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis but never sat with their music, headed to the studio to lay down his catchy refrain at 1 a.m. The session went so smoothly that he was in bed an hour later.

Now, the former software test engineer is taking a shot at solo stardom. Having toured the country with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis over the past few months and performed with them on “The Ellen Show,” Wanz is building his brand on social networking sites and recording a six-track EP that he hopes to release before he joins the pair on their Australian trek next month.

Here, the Lakewood, Wash. native discusses his history with music, rediscovering Macklemore and how he hopes to crack the charts on his own.

What’s your background in music?
Music has always been a part of me. I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember. I was always in church choir, I was always in school choir. I was always singing, always singing every song on the radio. I went to Central Washington University where I was introduced to jazz. At that time, I had only known classical and pop stuff. And then I went and discovered jazz in college and I studied that for seven years and did pretty well at that.

When did things expand beyond jazz and choirs?
When I turned 21, I had a band called Boys Will Be Boys. We did some INXS covers. [Later] I formed another band called Life Ring and was doing primarily originals, playing bass. Then… I got asked to front a band called the Ghetto Monks and saw a little bit of success. That band kind of went its way and fell off. Then it was about five or six years ago, I started investing in writing my own music because I wasn’t hearing what I wanted to hear. I didn’t see it in the clubs. I didn’t see what I was hearing in my head.

How did you get linked with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis?
Through a strange twist, I got connected with a guy named D-Sane who is the owner of Street Level Records and he was doing underground hip-hop here in the North End of Seattle. One of his guys called me and asked me to sing a hook on one of his songs, and everybody dug it. That led to my career in singing hooks. So that same guy calls me on Monday night in July and asks if I’ve heard of a guy named Macklemore and I said I’d heard of him but I wasn’t familiar with the music. He was looking for a guy that sounds like Nate Dogg. For a decade, I’ve been known as the Nate Dogg of North End in Seattle in that little circle of underground hip-hop. He called me back like five minutes later and said they want to bring you in. So 45 minutes later I’m at the studio and meeting Ben and Ryan for the first time and talking about what my history is, Ghetto Monks this and my own originals and what I wanted to do. Ben showed me the hook for ‘Thrift Shop’ and said ‘Sort of like this.’ I sang a line to him and he said yeah, like that. I go in and get levels and 45 minutes later, I’m going home. Pretty quick, quicker than anybody imagined.

How was it shooting the video for “Thrift Shop?”
I went up and filmed and the next day, I did the boat scenes. By this time, I hadn’t heard the whole song. It’s been about six weeks since I recorded the session and I still haven’t heard the song. So Ryan is taking me up to catch a bus on the North End and I was asking him to play the final song and it was the first time I heard it and I loved it and thought it was great. The video dropped and I’m sitting at my desk watching the numbers go up, it got up to about 1,000, 1,500, I just looked out the window and went, uh oh. I came back the next day and it had tripled in size, and I said, uh oh, and started pushing it out to my Facebook people, and the rest, as they say, is history. I got asked to go on tour. I had never been on tour before. Then, I’m on the phone with my boss’ boss and the HR person and they’re saying, are you going to come back? And I said, well, at my age, these kinds of opportunities don’t come along. I don’t think it’s ever going to happen again. So I’ve got to stay out here and do this, because this is a dream come true. Dream come true shit for me.

What was your day job?
I was about a year and a half working at a company that was paying me really good money to be a software test engineer, and that was my career of choice since music wasn’t panning out. I was doing software testing for 13 years, but spent most of that time contracting out of Microsoft. But I finally landed a full-time paying job with a great salary, great benefits… I thought I had arrived, I thought I was done. It was just doing music on the side, doing my own recordings on the side, that was for me.

Are you surprised by the success of ‘Thrift Shop?’
[Laughs] No. When I left the studio after recording, we were all really just happy as clams. I don’t think those guys had ever been at that short of a session that had been done that well. After the video shoot, I actually went back into the catalog because I didn’t really know Macklemore. [It was] after the first video shoot that I went and downloaded “The Language of My World” and listened to “White Privilege” that I actually connected with him. There are a lot of commonalities in his story that I have. I found somebody who had that same passion, because I had never run into anybody like that before. But I never thought “Thrift” was going to be as big as it was, but then again I didn’t know that he had done all of this work.

What’s next for you? Are you talking with labels or looking to go on the road on your own?
My game plan right now is to first and foremost get myself branded so that I have something. I have a six-song EP that I’m working on, it’s at the mixing stage, and I’m trying to get it all done so that I have it on a site where people can buy it by the time we go to Australia in February. I just can’t put all this attention (72 million views for “Thrift” on YouTube) and just sit at home, not when I’ve been dreaming the dreams I’ve had for all my life.

This is a shot that I get. You do what you’re supposed to do, and that is you put the product out there. I’ve been around so many bands, been around music for so long and watched so many people try and think they know what they’re doing and think this, that or the other. Now, it’s my turn. You only get one bite of this apple. At 51 years old, what are the odds that this is ever going to happen again? Pretty slim.

Posted: February 8th, 2013
Categories: Online, Short Clips
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Kitty Gets Serious, Outgrows ‘Tumblr-Wave’ Tag on ‘D.A.I.S.Y. Rage’ EP – (January 2013)

After mining Internet gold with her tongue-in-cheek sleeper hit “Okay Cupid,” Kitty didn’t see a future in hip-hop. Formerly known as Kitty Pryde, the 19-year-old rapstress, whose mildly sardonic tone supports her tee-hee persona, approached the genre with a grain of salt, penning odes to Justin Bieber and turning Carly Rae Jepsen’s biggest hit into the funhouse anthem “Give Me Scabies.”

With her latest offering, the D.A.I.S.Y. Rage EP, the Florida native is trying a little harder. Kitty approached the eight-song project with the intention of taking her career seriously, focusing on producing better work after realizing that she could make an impact within the genre.

“I didn’t know if I wanted to be a rapper anymore. But I had come to New York and started making friends with other rappers,” recalls Kitty, who tells Billboard that Danny Brown encouraged her to pursue her passion. “It took me a while to have songs that I wasn’t super embarrassed of — even though now I’ve recorded them and there’s some regret.”

Her pause doesn’t shine through on the EP, an electro-singed collection of chanting tracks that tout beefier production than previous recordings. The harp-laden “No Offense” plays to Kitty’s dream-rap leanings, while “R.R.E.A.M.” is a dizzying ode to Benadryl that re-interpolates Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.” She also revisits “ay shawty: THE SHREKONING,” a gooey cut featured on last summer’s Haha I’m Here EP that recurs as “Ay Shawty” featuring Lakutis.

“It’s a completely different song. But I think it shows that I put work into something,” says Kitty, who normally does tracks in one shot. “I don’t know if it even sounds like that, maybe. I was kind of drunk when I recorded that because I was scared to do it around Lakutis. It was a little bit off, and I wouldn’t do any more takes, so it doesn’t sound that great. But, you know, whatever.”

Kitty’s early introduction to rap was more or less a gag. She released projects titled Jokers in Trousers and The Lizzie McGuire Experience, posting half-sarcastic entries on Tumblr and treating music like a teenage pipe dream. But the redhead mounted Web interest through music videos shot in her bedroom and on the boardwalk with fellow rapper Riff Raff.

When it came time to record D.A.I.S.Y. Rage, Kitty was prepared to lay down a genuine release. She started writing tracks in July and hit the studio in the end of October, petrified by the professional atmosphere. “I actually did it in a studio, which was so awful and terrifying. I hate studios so much. I had to seriously do psychological warm-ups before I went to that studio, it was really weird,” says Kitty, who admits to crying after every live performance. “But I guess in the end, you can at least understand what I’m saying now and it doesn’t sound like I’m talking through a tin can. So hopefully that’s better.”

The independent release, which took a week to record and another to mix, came on the heels of label interest. Even so, Kitty had seen from firsthand experience that inking a deal with a major could hamper her creative integrity. “I’m scared of labels because even before I started rapping, I have a lot of friends at home that are in bands and you hear stories about how they can tell you what to do and keep you from putting out stuff and make you change stuff that you do,” she says. “I’m not on a label right now, at all. I don’t really know what I want to do, but hopefully something cool will happen.”

Currently based in Florida, Kitty is splitting her time between her native Daytona Beach and Brooklyn, where she hangs out with her boyfriend Hot Sugar. Her daily musings can be found on her Tumblr, where she opens up about her battle with an eating disorder and dismissively responds to anonymous anti-comments.

To Kitty, a presence on the social media platform allows her to communicate with those who battle the same demons. “It seems like it would be a teenage girl thing,” says Kitty, who takes offense to the label “Tumblr-wave” often applied to her music. “It’s where people talk about gross or dumb emotional stuff, and that’s what all my songs sound like: someone’s blog post. Which they are. So that makes sense, I guess.”

Following the release of D.A.I.S.Y. Rage, Kitty has no specific plans to drop more music, but promises guest appearances on songs with Ryan Hemsworth and Hot Sugar (she most recently collaborated with Le1f on “Pocahontas”).

“I’m definitely not going anywhere, and there’s a lot of stuff I always wanted to do,” she says. “I’m just kind of doing what happens, taking whatever comes. If I don’t wind up being a rapper, it doesn’t matter. It’s not going to stop me from making music, because if I stop making money, I’d get another job and still make music. Whatever.”

Posted: January 31st, 2013
Categories: Online
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Conor Maynard on ‘Contrast’ and All Those Justin Bieber Comparisons – (January 2013)

British singer Conor Maynard has made peace with the Justin Bieber comparisons. The 20-year-old heartthrob has similar origins to the Canadian pop star, having uploaded DIY covers of Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite” and Chris Brown’s “Freeze” to YouTube before scoring a deal with Capitol Records early last year. They’ve even got similarly boyish good looks that fire up fan bases of screaming teens, but Maynard is quick to draw the line.

“The difference between us is in the music,” the Brighton native tells Rolling Stone. “For me, obviously we’re both young and that kind of thing. But when people hear more of the album, they start to realize that it’s maybe not quite a complete copy.”

Maynard has a shot at carving a distinct pop niche with his debut, Contrast, which hit U.S. retail this past week and the U.K. market in July, where it went Number One. For the album, he channels his inner Timberlake with hip-hop and club-thumping accoutrements, enlisting Pharrell for the Justified-worthy “Lift Off” and “Turn Around,” the latter which touts a guest appearance from his mentor Ne-Yo.

Though he’s aware of the responsibility that comes with being in the mainstream arena, Maynard pays it no mind. He’s a self-professed club kid, as evidenced by the dubstep-singed single “Vegas Girl” and synth-heavy “Animal.” Unlike Bieber, who was recently snapped puffing weed, Maynard knows when to keep his private life shielded, and he recalls recent holiday nights at his local haunt where he evaded paparazzi shots.

“You’ve just got to know what you’re doing,” he explains. “You’ve got to sit back and realize that because of what we do, what artists do, they’re interested in what you’re doing. You’ve got to be conscious of that. You’ve got to realize that this is your life and that’s the consequence I have to pay for all the amazing things I’ve achieved. You have to find that balance.”

Maynard’s star is certainly on the rise; he won MTV’s “Brand New for 2012″ award, beating out Lana Del Rey and Michael Kiwanuka. Contrast has landed on Top 20 charts worldwide. On his album, he stakes adult territory with guest Rita Ora on “Better Than You” (“Got everybody lookin’ like I’m a true player,” he croons) and even nabs a coveted songwriting credit from Frank Ocean on “Pictures.” Maynard openly flaunts his love of Lil Wayne and hails Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city as one of his favorite recent releases. “It’s cool how he writes almost like the same verse but changes it each way. The way he writes is incredible,” says Maynard, who also name-checks Jay-Z, Kanye West and Drake as some of his choice emcees.

However, he’s a pop tart at heart. With the Euro-blanched “Turn Around” gaining traction Stateside, Maynard is already back at work on the follow-up to Contrast and plotting how to corner international markets in 2013. He hopes the naysayers witness his live show – “I want to prove them wrong,” he says – but he’s more concerned with pushing aside tabloid antics and focusing on output.

“With incredible names like Pharrell and Frank Ocean on my album, they’re so respected for their music, first and foremost. I feel like that’s the kind of thing I’m going for,” he says. “I want people to respect me for the voice I have and the music I have to give. Whether that means paparazzi chasing me around, I don’t know. But as long as there are people out there listening to and enjoying my music, I’m happy.”

Posted: January 15th, 2013
Categories: Online
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Fun. Producer Jeff Bhasker Caps Big Year With Grammy Nods – (January 2013)

In 2012, producer Jeff Bhasker put the charts in a chokehold. The Socorro, New Mexico native, whose name already dotted the liner notes for albums by Kanye West, Alicia Keys and Beyoncé, accented Fun.’s theatrical leanings with shades of hip-hop as the executive producer for their album Some Nights. With two Best Rap Song Grammys already on the mantle for his work on West’s “All of the Lights” and Jay-Z’s “Run This Town,” Bhasker isn’t sweating his four nods for this year’s ceremony.

“It’s kind of exciting, because Some Nights was kind of my baby,” says Bhasker, who was nominated for Album of the Year, Song and Record of the Year (“We Are Young”) and Producer of the Year, Non-Classical. “We did so much, taking this project from ground zero to this point. It’s great for them to be nominated for Best New Artist and all that stuff. Now we just have to win.”

The Grammy hat-tip is the crown on Bhasker’s most successful year to date. He hit the studio with the Rolling Stones for their reunion single “Doom and Gloom,” a crisp jolt of riot rock that recalls the rebellion of recordings past. Though Bhasker’s resume runs long, he bowed to the pressure of shaping the group’s first track in seven years.

“I was completely freaked out about the whole idea of it,” he tells Rolling Stone, noting that future collaborations are a possibility. “It was terrifying at first. I thought they wanted me to do the whole album, and I was intimidated by that. But we worked really well together. It’s like hipsters without the bullshit. They’re not bullshit, but they’re hip.”

Fielding requests from the Stones hasn’t ballooned Bhasker’s ego. Instead, he’s spending the upcoming year producing for newer artists, finishing work as executive producer on pop bruiser Natalia Kills’ sophomore album Trouble (“It’s some of my best production yet, and has its own dark angle on things”). He also crafted a new song for the pouty Lykke Li, describing the track as having a “classic sound that takes you back to the 1950s.”

And after years of studio thumping, Bhasker intends to crack the divide and release solo music under his alter egos Billy Kraven and U.G.L.Y. During his downtime, he’s recorded “blue-eyed soul” songs for the Kraven project, knocking out personal demos that ended up becoming Beyoncé’s “I Care” (originally titled “Who Cares”) and Keys’ “Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart.”

“It’s a struggle to find time for this imaginary alter ego that you have,” he says. “Now it’s just like, let’s wrap it up and get it out there.”

He hasn’t yet contributed to Beyoncé’s upcoming fifth album and is quick to skirt around the subject of his involvement with West’s upcoming solo album and G.O.O.D. Music’s Cruel Winter compilation: “I’d probably be assassinated” if he talked. For now, he plans to take the formula he used with Fun. and apply it to an undiscovered R&B talent.

“I would love to work with the next Alicia Keys and Beyoncé. It’s not out there right now. R&B is just in trouble,” he explains. “Where is the Aaliyah for this generation? I would love to do some amazing R&B songs with a female R&B artist that can really make someone cry or feel something. That would be amazing.”

Posted: January 11th, 2013
Categories: Online
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Wiz Khalifa Busts Out the Green at Listening Party – (November 2012)

Wiz Khalifa has a two-pronged mind set on weed and greed. After locking in mainstream acclaim with his chart-rocking 2010 breakout “Black and Yellow,” the Pittsburgh spitter became one of the sole hip-hop artists in 2011 to blow past gold certification with his major label debut Rolling Papers, a Top 40-leaning bid that might have set back the smoked-out mixtapes of years prior.

Singles are few on Khalifa’s robust, 17-track second album O.N.I.F.C., finally releasing on December 4th after chronic delays. Instead it’s a return to his stoner roots, offset by an inflated need for green. Boasts of king-sized spliffs and stacking cash thread together the album, which was just debuted at the Manhattan strip joint the Westway for wrangled journalists, label personnel and industry vets, including DJ Kay Slay, Statik Selektah and Hot 97′s Peter Rosenberg.

As three jungle-cat-painted strippers gyrated on a rectangular island during the album’s playback, Khalifa puffed a blunt the size of a cotton candy cone before switching out for a modest joint midway through. The LP echoed the event’s atmosphere in musical form: clouded with smoke, glazed with strobing synths and peppered with tales of top-shelf partying.

“I got enough weed to last me the rest of my motherfuckin’ life,” he declares at the onset of “Paperbond,” a melancholy track offset by up-above rhymes and a searing vocal sample. “It’s all about the paper, it’s all about getting paid,” prefaced Khalifa, who emceed the event as nearby associates poured shots of gin. “That’s what brings us all together, this money. We all eatin’ off of this project.”

With that, Khalifa established himself as a coin swallower, tossing out backhanded hooks about fat pockets and riding in his own lane. On stripper anthems “The Plan” (featuring Juicy J) and “Bluffin,” he follows suit, stretching the money-hungry motif present on O.N.I.F.C.: “I got so much paper I just spend it like it’s nothing,” he taunts on the latter. Meanwhile, the album standout “Fall Asleep” is sparse on instrumentation, pockmarked with light taps on a pipe, offset by chest-thumping bars about lavish living.

There are pockets of mild introspection that temporarily lift the veil on dollar-sign eyes. The album takes a breath with “Rise Above,” produced by and featuring Pharrell Williams (“He made the beat for me right on the spot – I sat there and I smoked, like, 40 fucking joints,” recalled Wiz). The velveteen track features his tattoo artist, Tuki Carter, and baby’s mother Amber Rose, who offers a glimpse into the life of the man behind the materialism. On the Jim Jonsin-produced “Up In It,” Khalifa takes it to the bedroom, peeling back the hard-green coating of the rest of the LP.

O.N.I.F.C. is no Rolling Papers, neither in stature nor sound, but that’s actually part of its charm. Khalifa has entered another tax bracket over the past few years and he’s not afraid to show it, setting his triumphs against an intrepid soundscape that plays like a club-friendly version of Drake’s Take Care. His interests haven’t changed – it’s still all about marijuana and cash. While that’s still at the forefront, it somehow feels sincere, something that’s been lacking from his recent tracks.

Posted: November 27th, 2012
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Andre 3000 on ‘Making History’ as a Gillette Spokesperson and His Biggest Style Blunder – (November 2012)

As the brand ambassador and “Master of Style” for Gillette, Andre 3000 is asking men to handle their facial hair with care. The OutKast rapper is supporting the Movember initiative for men to sprout and shape moustaches through the month, encouraging growers to upload a snapshot to Gillette’s Facebook app each day. For every pic put on the web, Gillette and its partner, Prostate Cancer Foundation, will donate one dollar to prostate and testicular cancer initiatives, as well as display the best ‘staches on a billboard in Times Square.

While in New York on the eMO’gency Styler Tour, Andre spoke with Rolling Stone about being considered a style icon, “making history” with Gillette and his biggest hair mistake of all time.

What made you want to get involved with Gillette as a style ambassador?

They reached out and they were doing a new campaign for style. They were like, “We’ve been doing research and we’ve noticed that men are changing facial hair.” In the history of Gillette, which is 150 years now, they never had anybody in their ads with facial hair. It’s always a clean-shaven guy. The world’s different now, so you see guys with beards. They’re trying to address that and the styling products to kind of do anything. I just felt honored that they considered me a stylish person and I just thought it was cool. I like to make history when I can. Today, we’re just taking it a step further with their support with Movember. So it’s all these cool guys with facial hair that supports a cool cause, prostate cancer. Women get their cool breast cancer thing. We need something cool, too.

So obviously, Movember is coming along pretty well for you.

I’ve been [doing] Movember since I was about 25.

Has this inspired you to style your facial hair differently?

I can’t do too much. My hair doesn’t really grow [on the sides of my face], it’s just kind of little pieces. My beard can really grow long, but I don’t want to look like Fu Manchu. I just keep it right here.

You’ve been looked at as a style icon in the hip-hop world, in that you take risks. Is your sense of style validated often?

Not often. But you know, in the business, it’s all about selling product and publications. So if you’re hot that year, you get that: “Oh, that person’s stylish!” And it’s really sometimes just to bring attention to the publication. So sometimes, you don’t know if you’re really stylish, or am I just cool for right now?

When you look back on your fashion choices over the years, is there anything that you regret?

One time, I just wanted color in my hair. I’ve always been obsessed with people who live underwater and mermaids and people from outer space, and my idea of what people from outer space would look like from other planets would be that everyone had white hair. For some reason, I’m obsessed with really old people with beautiful white, silver hair. I’ve always wanted to have it. So onstage, I started to wear white wigs. I really dug that, but then I took it a step further and had someone weave in white hair in my hair. So it was this white sculpture kind of thing. It really wasn’t cool at all.

You had a white hair weave?

Yes. It was not cool.

I mean, it sounds cool in theory.

Yeah! It was theatrical, I could say that. But when I look back on it, I was like, yeah, you were really having fun that day.

Over the past few years, we really haven’t seen much of you in the public eye. When you were doing the Gillette campaign, it came as sort of a surprise because it doesn’t seem like something you would normally do. What does it take for you to endorse something?

I think because I’ve been in the business for a long time, it has to be a reason. I don’t just do it because it’s here. Early in my career, you do everything that you can do to get out there. But now, being famous is not even cool to me anymore. It’s almost lame to be an entertainer now. It’s not fun. I kind of have to pick projects that I’m happy about or I feel like it’s a history-making thing, like it was cool to be part of this. At this point, it’s about making history more than making anything. The older you get, the more you’re like, everything has to count. You don’t just do stuff.

What’s been your reaction to people growing out moustaches for Movember?

It’s cool styles. One of my favorites is that right now, in 2012, you’ve got handlebars. That’s such an 1800s kind of thing, but it’s cool when you’re wearing jeans and boots. It’s like, I don’t know, like you should ride a [penny-farthing].

What do you hope this campaign accomplishes?

It’s stuff that’s going on anyways in the streets, but I think Gillette has tapped it and it’s about presenting it to the world and saying, hey, you got these guys. It’s not just one look. For 150 years, it was the clean-shaven look. That’s all that you had. Now, you have guys from all walks of life with different styles. It’s really just saying it’s a diverse world with facial hair. That’s it. With Movember, it’s the guys with that hair; now they can do something with it. Prostate cancer is really huge, especially in the African American community. It’s style for a good cause.

Posted: November 19th, 2012
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Andre 3000 on New Music: ‘Things Are Up in the Air’ – (November 2012)

Andre 3000 knows he’s being watched. The Atlanta native, who rose to prominence as one-half of genre twisters Outkast, has lived quietly the past few years quietly, poking out his head to deliver spotlight-snatching verses on songs by Chris Brown, Ciara and Young Jeezy. With fewer than five musical cameos in 2012, the 37-year-old is aware that each guest appearance is another crank on the pressure knob.

“I miss creating all the time and I miss going with blinders on and not thinking about anything,” says Andre, who was in New York City promoting a Gillette facial hair trimmer. “It’s such a sad thing because now, people judge everything that I do. Because I don’t do it much, they analyze every word and before, you could’ve had a shitty verse and people just forgot about it. So it’s different now.”

Following the release of Outkast’s last album, Idlewild, in 2006, Andre went into near musical hibernation. But partner-in-rhyme Big Boi raised hopes for a comeback this past May, tweeting that his second album, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, would precede 3K’s solo debut, allegedly scheduled for this year. While Andre says that he flirts with some musical ideas, he has no concrete plans for a solo album and isn’t sure if he’ll release one.

“Things are kind of up in the air with me, and some days, I feel like yeah, I’ll do it. Some days, I feel like, I don’t. I don’t know the future of music right now. I have no idea what I do. I honestly don’t,” he says. “I record and I write ideas. I think I’ll always do that, for some reason. But I don’t know if it will go to another artist or will it be my stuff or will it go to some movie? I don’t know. I just kind of keep creating and hopefully, it’ll fall into a slot.”

Three Stacks was quick to skirt around Outkast reunion talk, and he said he was unaware of rumors that the duo was headed to Epic Records to reunite with L.A. Reid. “What’s crazy is, I don’t read the Internet. I’ve never had a Twitter, I’ve never had a Facebook,” he said. “None of that kind of stuff, because it makes me mad to read it sometimes. I just don’t. I don’t hear all the rumors.”

Though he’s off the grid, fans can expect to hear Andre 3000 on standout cut “Sorry” from T.I.’s upcoming album Trouble Man, as well as see him channel Jimi Hendrix in the biopic All is By My Side. For now, he’s working with Gillette to support the Prostate Cancer Foundation and tackling new music, one guest verse at a time. “My whole motivation is, I don’t want to mess these people’s songs up, more than anything than let me do something great,” he said. “I try to do great, but it’s just a different mind frame now. I don’t sit around and rap everyday. I don’t.”

Posted: November 19th, 2012
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First Listen: Rihanna Previews ‘Unapologetic’ Album in NYC – (November 2012)

With her seventh album in seven years, “Unapologetic,” Rihanna is finally growing up. Over the past few years, the Bajan crooner’s albums were dotted with kitschy double entendres about private parts (“Cockiness (Love It)”) and hat-tip anthems to knocking back shots (“Cheers (Drink to That)”). Her public image has been both slandered and bolstered by her personal decisions: she’s back in a friendship with her former lover Chris Brown, has been snapped by the paparazzi smoking marijuana on vacation and tweets expletives in strings.

But on “Unapologetic” (Nov. 19), pop’s busiest bad girl shapes up, focusing on matters of the heart over flaunting her musical middle finger. Yesterday (Nov. 10), Rihanna debuted the album for fans and press at Jay-Z’s 40/40 Club in Manhattan. To gain entry to the event, Rih Rih permitted access only to those who brought supplies for victims of Hurricane Sandy, adding to her own donation of 1,000 sleeping bags to the Daily News’ Hurricane Sandy relief effort.

Rihanna arrived after the album’s first play-through, making her way to VIP in black stockings, untied Timberland boots and a red-and-gold jacket adorned with bird stitching. She greeted label personnel including Roc Nation’s Jay Brown and Def Jam’s Gabe Tesoriero, demurely sipping a drink as fans gawked from general admission.

Her professionalism shone through, another facet of the confident yet love-perplexed grown woman behind “Unapologetic.” For an album title that underlines a lack of personal remorse, the 24-year-old is simultaneously vulnerable and commanding on the 14-track offering, enlisting guests including Future, Eminem, Chris Brown, David Guetta and Mikky Ekko to help shape the diverse project.

There are times where she lets her walls crumble, trading pledges of romantic allegiance to Ekko on the emotive ballad “Stay.” She gives into urges on “Loveeeeeee Song” featuring Future, where the two duet, “I don’t want to give you the wrong impression / I just want your love and affection.” And on album standout “Get It Over With,” co-written by James Fauntleroy and Brian Seals, her voice floats over a smoldering arrangement, hovering above a warren of harmonies. “I keep wondering, won’t you just fucking rain / And get it over with?” she sings.

Though self-reflective, she still likes to have fun. Ri playfully samples Ginuwine’s hump-dance anthem “Pony” on “Jump,” cutting the deadpan chorus with a blistering dubstep breakdown. Previous collaborator David Guetta helms the sinister opener “Phresh Off the Runway” and zippy “Right Now,” while “Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary” interpolates The Police’s “Message in a Bottle.”

The LP’s most surprising delight comes in the form of her duet with Chris Brown, “Nobody’s Business,” where they trade lines over a disco-kissed beat. “You’ll always be my boy,” she sings, to which he responds, “You’ll always be my girl.”

It’s at the end of the album that Rihanna sheds light on her greatest frienemy: the fame. Onlookers who swarmed her upon arrival were given a listen to the Emeli Sandé-penned deluxe edition bonus track “Half of Me,” a percussive ballad where the heroine explains that she’s more than just surface. “I’m the type that don’t give a fuck,” she sings, with a caveat. “Saw me on the television, that’s just the half / You saw the half of it / This is the life I live, and that’s just the half of it.” It’s an introspective cap to an album that tightropes between fleeting youth and accepting responsibility, in matters both public and private.

Posted: November 13th, 2012
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Taylor Swift Hosts ‘Red’ Listening Party in New York – (October 2012)

On the evening of the release of her fourth album, Red, Taylor Swift pit-stopped at Manhattan’s Skylight West to celebrate her partnership with Target for an exclusive deluxe edition that features three bonus studio cuts, two original demos and an acoustic version of album opener “State of Grace.”

Throngs of select teenage fans and corporate types mulled about the red-and-white hued space inspecting a dozen booths of Swift’s “favorite things,” including a candy buffet, photo stations and a CoverGirl makeup bar. Attendees convened at the lip of the main stage in anticipation of the country-pop princess’ arrival listening to Red jams, including the sprightly “22″ and the Nashville-cured “All Too Well.”

Following a brief introduction from TV personality Ross Matthews, the milk-voiced star emerged to greet fans who traveled from as far as Australia and Arizona. Sporting a sharp black cocktail dress and a severe fringe, Swift explained that she settled on the title for Red – which is saturated in tales from the romantic brink, including lead single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” – because it captures the breadth of feelings she experienced during the two years she recorded it.

Red, to me, is symbolic of really bold emotions, whether they be love emotions or hurt, anger, frustration, jealousy emotions. On either side, you’re feeling the most intense amount of emotion,” explained Swift, who wrote 30 to 35 songs for the project. “So these are really intense emotions for my songs, and I thought that would be the perfect title for it. I went to my record label and I was like, ‘I want to call my album Red.’ They shook their heads and said, ‘Target’s going to love this.’ And here we are!”

In the spirit of corporate cozying, Swift fielded questions from Twitter followers, including “What’s the one word to describe how you’re feeling today?” (Answer: “mystified.”) The 22-year-old bopped along to the crunch-pop anthem “Girl at Home” and shed some insight into one of her patented John Doe breakup ballads, “The Moment I Knew.”

“That song is about the worst birthday party I ever had,” she said. “My boyfriend just decided not to show up. And then we broke up. That’s the story! It’s going to be fine, I’ll be OK.”

Referring to songwriting as her at-home therapy, the bubbly blonde waxed melancholy with the bonus track “Come Back . . . Be Here,” a lesson in failing to take your own romantic advice. “It’s a song I wrote about a guy that I met, and then you meet someone and then they kind of have to go away, and it’s long distance all of a sudden,” says Swift, who bemoans her intercontinental fling on the mid-tempo cut. “You’re like, come back! Be here! It’s something I face constantly.”

With upcoming appearances on The View and The Late Show with David Letterman, Swift capped the evening with a moment of gratitude. “I didn’t think I had a shot at this,” she admitted. “But the thing about a song is that it’s a little message in a bottle, and you write something and you send it out into the world and maybe, someday, the person that you wrote that about, the person that you feel that about, might hear it. It’s kind of romantic.”

Posted: October 25th, 2012
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Stevie Nicks Headlines Elton John’s AIDS Foundation Gala in New York – (October 2012)

The stars aligned for Elton John’s 11th annual “An Enduring Vision” benefit Monday in downtown New York, where VIP guests helped raise $2 million for the singer’s AIDS Foundation and Stevie Nicks took the stage as the night’s marquee performer.

“I think we used to hang out and do drugs together many years ago – if I could remember when [Fleetwood Mac's] Tusk came out,” joked John, arriving at Cipriani Wall Street with his partner, David Furnish, under sheets of pouring rain. “We’ve never asked her to do anything. The last few years, we’ve had R&B performers, and they’ve been brilliant. We thought, let’s just go the other way this year and ask Stevie, and she said yes, so we’re so thrilled.”

Inside, host Anderson Cooper guided the black-tie affair and introuced John and Furnish, who delivered their mission statement to guests including Brooke Shields, Alan Cumming, Courtney Love, Lance Bass and Cheyenne Jackson. “We’re going to keep shouting for as long and as loud as we need to end this epidemic,” exclaimed John. After an auction of an Andy Warhol print and tickets for Alec Baldwin’s Broadway play, Nicks closed out the night with a rousing, hour-long set of material both old and new. Caressing a mic stand adorned with swinging gold chains, the Fleetwood Mac frontwoman performed “Soldier’s Angel,” dedicating the track to John’s AIDS efforts.

“I started going to visit the soldiers at Bethesda from 2005,” Nicks said. “Elton is a soldier’s angel too, for AIDS, because we wouldn’t get anything done without him.” Nicks also took a stroll down memory lane with “Stand Back,” “Rhiannon,” “Dreams” and “Gold Dust Woman.” She slowed her pace for “Landslide,” calling the song “the foundation of [Fleetwood Mac's] whole career” before revving back up for the closer “Edge of Seventeen.” It was a raucous end to the evening, with tambourines shaking and uneaten slices of cake left behind.

Earlier in the night, Love told Rolling Stone she was excited to see Nicks perform for the first time in seven years. “When I was a little girl, I grew up on Elton and I grew up on Stevie,” said Love. “I’m really excited to be here.” The Hole frontwoman also revealed that she’s diving back into her solo career with the release of a new single, “This is War,” that comes ahead of a possible album. Love, who turned to ex-Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha to assist with production, is eyeing a February 7th release for the upbeat track.

“I’d put it out right now because it’s a two-minute, 59-second song and it’s sick, slamming, great,” Love said. “I think it’ll go Number One in the U.K. However, in the United States, who fucking knows? I never thought I’d put out a 130, 135 BPM song. It’s a really fast rock song. I’m telling you, it’s probably the greatest rock song I’ve ever heard.”

Former ‘N Sync member Lance Bass also shared plans for new music. “I haven’t been in the studio for almost 10 years now. This year, I’m actually getting in the studio and working on some solo stuff,” said Bass, who remained mum on his collaborators. “I can’t say just yet – it’s a little premature, it’ll be a few months. But I’m excited to get the wheels turning again.”

Posted: October 16th, 2012
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Busta Rhymes Is Back With ‘Year Of The Dragon’ – (August 2012)

Busta Rhymes still has heat. On Tuesday, the hip-hop veteran released his new album Year of the Dragon for free via Google Play, a mutation of the free mixtape model that put rappers like Drake and Kendrick Lamar on the map. The project, which features guest appearances from Gucci Mane, Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, Robin Thicke and more, comes on the heels of his unique deal with Google to release music through its new platform, lumping him in a select chosen—Maroon 5, The Rolling Stones, Dave Matthews Band and Coldplay—to have the financial freedom to hand out free music while adding zeros to annual net income.

To promote the project, the 40-year-old Cash Money/Young Money artist sat down with BlackBook at Platinum Sounds Studios in New York City, pausing only to chow down on tilapia placed aside two empty glasses of rose. While puffing on a Newport cigarette, Bus-A-Buss explained why it’s beneficial to drop a freebie at this point in his career, what’s up with his untitled Cash Money/Young Money debut, if he would ever collaborate with Leaders of the New School on a record and how listening to his music involves shopping at the “Busta Rhymes supermarket.”

You released Year of the Dragon for free, which doesn’t happen very often in hip-hop. Why do a free album at this point in your career?
I just felt like saying thank you. A lot of people have just been riding with me for years and a lot of people who are now fucking with me as a result of the new and recent shit that I’ve been doing that’s become so successful, at some point, it’s just good to say thanks.

New shit meaning your Cash Money deal?
New shit meaning the fans and the success with the new support and the old support that just continues to come. There’s been a lot of turning points in my career throughout my run, and each situation that’s defined as a successful turning point makes the fans that have been rocking with you continue to love you, if not love you even more. And it gives the new fans a whole lot of reasons to start fucking with you. So everything that’s been happening from the days of “Scenario” to “Look at Me Now,” recently, it constantly gives the old fans more reasons to ride out with you and the new fans more reason to feel good about supporting you as their new favorite. At some point, you’ve just got to say thank you for that as an action, instead of just saying it.

Do you think this deal you did with Google is going to become a norm in hip-hop?
It’s definitely something I consciously made a decision to be a part of so I can trailblaze and continue to lead the new, to be able to feel like yo, this is a way to do things. This is a new thing that’s refreshing and unconventional and goes against the grain, and it sets a new standard and allows people the opportunity as far as artists are concerned to share their content in a way that will allow you to monetize it and control it and benefit from it outside of the conventional method. It’s important that it works successfully, and whether it does or doesn’t for me, the fact that at this stage in my career, I can’t just do the regular degular shit no more. It’s just not fucking interesting and fun and exciting for me to do the same old, same old. So I was just dealing with trying to do something that I thought was going to give me the opportunity to just reinvent the wheel real quick, and I’m just glad that Google used me – one of five major brands – to experiment and try something new and fresh with. They did this with me and Coldplay and Maroon 5 and Dave Matthews Band and Rolling Stones. I think that’s an incredible company of people to be associated with and something as groundbreaking as this. So it just feels good.

Expectations for a free album might be different for you from a label album. Do you have a bar of success for this album?
Yeah, that success is every single car banging that shit in the street. Every single club playing the records when I step in it. I don’t have to send somebody and see if the DJ got the music or not. When I see the downloads exceeding numbers that supersede my levels of expectation, that’s when it’s successful. At the end of the day, I just want the music to be in everybody’s possession.

Do you see a lot of new fans coming into the fold? Do you feel relevant to them now in a new way?
I mean, it’s not even a feeling thing. It’s just the facts. It’s obvious. Everybody saw what [Chris Brown’s] “Look At Me Now” record did and the phenomenon it created. I don’t think we’ve seen that ever. I don’t think we’ve ever seen people want to learn one of the most complicated raps ever in the abundance that these kids try to learn it. They turned it from a game into a phenomenon. You have people who have actually been able to start careers just learning how to say the raps from that song. Karmin is a perfect example of that, and a couple of other people who has been able to spearhead opportunities for themselves by just learning how to say the song. I think an entire generation of new fans has made it very clear that they think Busta Rhymes is the shit.

You’ve been in the game for 20 years. You recently reunited with Leaders of the New School, which was a huge moment for hip-hop. How did that come about?
We just got on the phone with each other, after all of this time that’s passed and us not really connecting or vibing or interacting. It was just time to bury the hatchet and it was as simple as picking up the phone and reaching out. I think [Charlie] Brown reached out to me first. Me and Dinco [D] was always talking, and Dinco kind of helped put that together. I called Brown back because I had missed his call and we got on the phone and we just hooked up. And that was it.

Do you have any desire now to record any new music with them?
I don’t know. We’ll have to see, because for me, it’s all about the product and the energy and the vibe and we haven’t gone to the studio to work on shit yet, but when it happens, if it happens, as long as that music feels like it’s supposed to feel… Because for me, the shit got to be hot and it gotta feel now. I’m not one to live in the yesteryear shit. I don’t do that yesteryear shit. So whatever we did in the past was cool, but that has no significance to me right now when it comes to the music that we gotta share with the people. Our music and our legacy, I will always cherish that and hold onto that. But when you gotta give the music to the people, you’re not giving a fuck about what was going on and you gotta make sure the shit you’re doing now makes extreme levels of sense and that it’s going to be something that they can feel proud of. That’s something we gotta be careful with because we don’t want to tarnish the legacy neither.

Is it something you want to do, personally?
I don’t rule out nothing. Right now, I’m focused on what I’m doing because I got an album [out] and I’ve got another album I’m trying to put out in November with Young Money/Cash Money. So my plate is full. But in the meantime and in between time, if the opportunity presents itself for us to be able to get in there and start cooking, then absolutely I’m with it.

Speaking about the Cash Money debut, is it still titled E.L.E. 2 or is that not concrete?
I never actually decided whether or not that was going to be it. I know a lot of people wanted me to make it that. I’ve been hearing that shit for the last year or two. “E.L.E. 2! E.L.E. 2!” So I don’t know what I’ma do as far as what I’m going to call it, but I’ve been recording for three years for this particular album and when it’s done, I’m going to know if it warrants that, because Extinction Level Event 1 was such a huge album for my legacy that it has to be the standard in order for me to feel good about making a part two to it. I don’t want to fuck up the legacy of the success. That’s probably one of the biggest albums I’ve had to date, on a SoundScan level and success level. Those moments that I had on there set a standard and I have to meet it in order for me to even feel good about me entertaining an E.L.E. 2 about an album that I’ma make the Cash Money debut. I definitely feel extremely proud of the shit that I’m sitting on, because I had a lot of time to record and be patient and be experimental and approach a lot of shit in a different way creatively, that I definitely know for a fact that it ain’t too far from warranting that. It’s just not all the way there – if I’m going to go in that direction, because that wasn’t what was in my head as I was making the music. I just wanted to record a bunch of phenomenal records and then try to figure it out as I get closer to a deadline that I have to come up with a direction. That’s really where I’m at still. I’m still recording and doing what feels like the thing that music needs. When I feel like I got all of my ideas off and I’m done, because there’s no other idea left that I want to try for this particular project, that’s when I’ll start figuring out what I’m going to call it.

DJ Scratch told me about a year ago that you worked together. People want to hear you with Scratch and rapping over J Dilla beats. Is that something that you think is going to make this album?
I gotta wait until the end and see, but I definitely have all of your favorites on the album that I’ve worked with from my previous album. Scratch shit, Nottz, Dilla of course, even Rockwilder. He did some shit on the first E.L.E. I did shit with him for this project. Swizz Beatz is on E.L.E. He got new shit for this too. It’s all of the ones who are the usual suspects from my prior projects. You got some pleasant surprises on the new one, too. So between Year of the Dragon and the new project that’s going to come out after that, that’s my official Cash Money debut, you’re definitely going to get the Busta Rhymes arsenal that you’ve grown to know and love, because it ain’t misled me yet, going that route.

Being signed to Cash Money, people expect you to collaborate with them for the album.
We’ve been collaborating, as you can see. I’m on a Lil’ Twist record, I’m on Tyga’s album, I was on [Lil Wayne’s] Carter III and Carter IV. We’ve always had love and respect and great comradery with each other. You can definitely expect to hear the right collabs from the family on the project as well. Because I’m about making records that make sense, and if that person is on it, it’s because they made sense for the idea of the song. I don’t just do songs with anyone just because of the heat that their name might attract, because they’re popping in the market at the time. I like to make sure that people understand, because I don’t take the intelligence of the consumer for granted. I feel like a motherfucker gon’ feel it if the energy between me and who I’m collaborating with doesn’t resonate as a genuine one. I done seen and heard records with motherfuckers who’s slapping a bunch of dudes together because their names might be popping at the time. You hear the song and you ain’t really too impressed by the finished product. So I don’t want to be that dude, ever. When that music is right, all that other shit is gonna fall into place. So, as of right now, I have two Young Money/Cash Money artists that I’ve recorded songs with and I don’t know what the outcome is going to be, but we’ll see what the outcome is when the product is done.

What do you hope people walk away with from Year of the Dragon?
I just want people to walk away from this album just feeling like… They can feel my love in it. Still. That’s really it. The shit is dope, and that they can feel that I love it, because that in turn is going to make them love it even more. At the end of the day, I’m doing this shit because I love my job and I love what I’ve been blessed with the ability to do. So when a motherfucker pick my shit up and read it and hear it and look at the picture and the artwork and read the credit, it feel like this motherfucker really loves what he does. He puts time into his shit and he makes a conscious effort to satisfy the general consensus across the board, no matter what type of music you like. All of your fuckin’ desires will be fulfilled when you pick up my shit and you’re only going to be able to buy this product or get this product from the Busta Rhymes supermarket.

Posted: August 23rd, 2012
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Brandy Wants to Bring R&B Back With New Album – (August 2012)

Brandy wants to bring R&B back. Yesterday afternoon, RCA and Chameleon Records invited select media to preview 11 tracks from Brandy’s upcoming sixth album, Two Eleven, dropping October 16th. It’s Brandy at her most realized: romantically shaky, vocally sharp and musically sound, thanks to an honors corral of producers and songwriters spanning Sean Garrett, Bangladesh, Frank Ocean, Mario Winans, Hit-Boy, Ester Dean, Harmony and more.

Over the course of her decades-long career, Brandy has become a woman before our eyes, outgrowing the baby-lamb naiveté of 1994′s Brandy and assuming the role of self-actualized woman (2002′s Full Moon). But it was with 2004′s Afrodisiac that she faltered in her steps, openly wallowing in a bitter divorce, before rising above the dancing flames on ’08′s Human. On Two Eleven, she juggles heartache and romantic solace, a nod to past delusions filtered through the hindsight of 33-year-old reticence.

Chameleon CEO Breyon Prescott emceed the session. “I saw music going someplace else,” he said. “I was like, the only way Brandy should come back is bringing R&B music back. I see everyone doing dance music, and I was like, we can’t do this,” said Prescott, who acknowledged side work on Dr. Dre’s mythical Detox, promising its imminent release.

“We gotta stick to the core, which is R&B. I got to bring you back to 2012 with hard beats, but the melodies are soft, and the content of the songs are going to be Brandy.”

Throughout Two Eleven, a nod to her birthday and the date of mentor Whitney Houston’s death, Brandy is as quick to pledge allegiance to lovers as she is to scorn them. On the upcoming Sean Garrett-penned single “Wildest Dreams,” the follow-up to lead track “Put It Down” (featuring Chris Brown), the emotional rug is pulled from under her: “Never in my wildest dreams did I think someone could care ’bout me/ Not just the way you love me, but you know I’m emotional (sometimes),” she croons over a thwacking beat courtesy of Tha Bizness.

Producer Bangladesh helms the wobbly, club-geared “Let Me Go,” which features an interpolation of Lykke Li’s “Tonight,” as well as the oiled slow jam “So Sick,” written by Garrett, where the singer shoves off a violating lover (“How far do you think I’ll let you push me before I cross the line?”). Mike WiLL Made It, known for ratchet anthems including Meek Mill’s “Tupac Back” and Gucci Mane’s “Too Sexy,” shows his softer side with “Do You Know,” where Brandy cuts down her man for failing to return her affections.

Elsewhere, Brandy acknowledges that her own emotions have betrayed her on “Wish Your Love Away,” written and produced by Mario Winans. Over a piping pan flute and serrated drums, she bemoans a man who played her for a fool – “Remember that you told me you were with it, and all them other bitches you could do without?” – but she can’t shake the spell.

Rico Love and Jim Jonsin lace the pecking mid-tempo ballad “Hardly Breathing,” where she suffers as her lover walks away, while Hit-Boy blesses the smoldering ballad “White Flag,” an admission of emotional defeat.

Two Eleven, still a work-in-progress set to include 15 tracks, also features the Frank Ocean-written “Scared of Beautiful,” which will become a duet pending the Odd Future singer’s vocal addition. Over double-time instrumentation, Brandy stops seeking reciprocity and focuses inward. “I wonder why there’s no mirrors on these walls no more/ You can’t tell me why you’re so terrified of beautiful,” she sings. She’s looking only to herself – no man to safety-net her feelings – and she is ready to face her reflection.

Posted: August 21st, 2012
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Olly Murs Ready to Begin Pop Conquest of America With Debut LP – (August 2012)

England’s Olly Murs doesn’t consider himself a pop star. After finishing runner-up in the sixth season of the U.K.’s The X Factor, the cherub-faced Brit went on to achieve megawatt status, scoring two double-platinum albums and three Number 1 singles since 2010. Girls clamor for him, lucrative opportunities are long and Katy Perry couldn’t edge him out for the chart’s top slot. And yet, he’s still got a small-town state of mind.

“I feel like Olly Murs from Essex, and I still live here with my parents and my friends and I stay home as much as I can,” admits the 28-year-old. “I still think I’m learning the trade and learning all the time and I don’t feel like I’ve reached my peak and where I can get to. So yeah, I don’t think of myself as a pop star just yet – but I’m getting there.”

His next conquest: America. This past spring, Murs hit the road in the U.S. as opening act for heartthrobs One Direction in anticipation of his Stateside debut, In Case You Didn’t Know, which topped the U.K. charts when it came out in November 2011. The Motown-tinged collection, a mash-up of songs from his first two LPs, boasts the Chiddy Bang-assisted lead single “Heart Skips a Beat” and its follow-up “Dance With Me Tonight,” bolstered by marquee songwriting from Claude Kelly (Britney Spears), Mark Taylor (Lady Gaga) and Steve Robson (Rascal Flatts). He’s also been sharing his road adventures with American fans through his video blog series “Olly-mpics.” Rolling Stone has the exclusive premiere of the sixth challenge, “Egg and Spoon Race.”

Becoming a tabloid staple in the U.K. was unfathomable for Murs before he auditioned for The X Factor in 2009. The Witham, Essex, native swallowed dreams of becoming a pro soccer player after tearing his ACL, instead settling for odd jobs that included giving callers advice on energy bills as a phone operator. Experience gleaned from pub singalongs surprisingly translated to the stage during his stint on The X Factor, where he wowed the judges with songs from childhood inspirations Stevie Wonder (“Superstition”) and the Jackson 5 (“Can You Feel It”). Though Murs finished second to Joe McElderry, show creator Simon Cowell signed him to his Syco Records in partnership with Epic Records, putting his post-Factor career into motion.

Currently bubbling under outside of his home base, Murs returns to the States next month for a press run ahead of the September 25th release of In Case You Didn’t Know. The anti-pop star is still getting used to the spotlight, but there are a few things he wants Americans to know before he invades the charts. “I don’t like boiled tomatoes and I’m a big lover of hot wings and buffalo wings,” he jokes. “I think with me, what I say to fans is, whatever you seen in music videos and interviews, what you see is what you get with me. There’s no hidden agenda. I’m just the crooked guy that you see in the videos and the interviews. I’m no different. I’m just normal – a normal kind of guy.”

Posted: August 10th, 2012
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Drake, Missy, Timbaland? Blackground Clarifies Rumors Swirling Around Aaliyah Album – (August 2012)

Update (4:00 pm): Following publication of this article, Blackground reached out to to officially confirm that Drake and Noah ’40′ Shebib will be co-executive producing the album alongside Blackground. The story has been amended to reflect the update.

Last week, a report claimed that a posthumous Aaliyah album was in the works and that Drake would executive produce the project. Additionally, the Young Money rapper was supposedly set to feature the late singer, who passed in August 2001, on his latest single.

Instead, this past Sunday (August 5th), Blackground released Aaliyah’s “Enough Said” featuring Drake to Soundcloud. The ghostly cut touted previously unheard vocals, a smoldering beat from producer Noah “40″ Shebib and a verse from Drake. Three hours after it was posted, the song racked up more than 100,000 clicks. As of press time, it has more than 620,000 listens.

The song ignited debates about the possible existence of a new Aaliyah LP. Many fans speculated that Aaliyah collaborators Timbaland and Missy Elliott would not be involved with the project. Some criticized the fact that Drake, who has continuously expressed his love for her music, would oversee an album when he had never actually met her. Aaliyah’s brother Rashad Haughton posted an official statement on Facebook that her immediate family will not support this project, which Drake later countered by claiming that “everybody from her family to her old management and label” were behind the record. reached out to Haughton but had not received a response as of press time.

Aaliyah’s cousin Jomo Hankerson, who runs Blackground with his father Barry Hankerson, spoke with about the posthumous release, confirming that an album is in fact in the works. Using 16 unreleased songs and “fragments” from Aaliyah’s archive, Blackground hopes to release the LP by year’s end, enlisting “contemporary artists” to color the project and help repackage her vocals. This marks the first release from the late singer since 2002′s I Care 4 U, a compilation album featuring previously heard and unheard recordings, and is intended to introduce her to younger listeners by updating her sound.

“We really felt like it was time. There’s a real new generation that doesn’t know her necessarily, and we wanted to continue her musical legacy with this new generation,” explains Hankerson. “That’s one of the reasons why we wanted to do very contemporary music. We didn’t want to make it a nostalgic project; we already did that with the I Care 4 U album. The idea was to release new music for her diehard fans, and also reintroduce her music to a new generation that doesn’t really understand how much influence she has in the music that they’re listening to today.”

Hankerson says that Drake will appear on “more of the records” and that Shebib is “heavily involved” in reshaping the music, adding that both will co-executive produce the project alongside he and his father. After moving its publishing to Reservoir Media in July, Blackground reached out to the Canadian producer on the strength of his work with Alicia Keys (“Un-Thinkable (I’m Ready)”) and his unique sound. It seemed only “natural” that Drake would contribute to what would become “Enough Said.” Blackground was so pleased with the result that they released the stream before having a marketing plan or radio strategy in place.

While the album is in the early stages, Hankerson confirms that Timbaland and Missy Elliott will participate in assembling the LP. “Timbaland will be involved with this project. One of the records that we had that was never released was a Missy record that we obviously are going to be refreshing,” says Hankerson, who did not clarify if Timbaland has already produced songs for the project. “This record ['Enough Said'] really kind of came sooner than we thought it was going to come, so it’s really the beginning of the creative process for us. We’ve got a record out while we’re still creating the project. A lot of that is still up in the air, but I can tell you that Timbaland will definitely be involved, Missy will definitely be involved.” Timbaland declined to comment for this story, while Elliott did not respond to’s request as of press time.

Reservoir Media Management EVP Rell Lafargue estimates that there is enough leftover material for two posthumous Aaliyah albums, while Hankerson says that approximation might be “a little premature.” Talks between Blackground and Reservoir began roughly 15 months ago for the latter to acquire the 500-song catalog that includes Aaliyah’s archives, music from Static Major and albums from JoJo, Timbaland, Magoo and Tank. As part of the deal, Reservoir, a boutique publishing company with top 40 hits from 50 Cent, Madonna and Justin Timberlake, will market Aaliyah’s music to television and film, as well as release songs to online services like iTunes and Spotify where much of her music cannot be currently found. Additionally, the company will assist with licensing of songs for covers and sampling (Lafargue notes that there are talks of Dr. Dre sampling “Rock the Boat” for a new song).

“Part of taking new music to market is to release old music as well in different forms. There are tons of old interviews, video, things that were shot before her passing will be part of any and all repackaging. There are alternate takes and different remixes that never got released,” says Lafargue. “The one thing that was just confirmed, the demand, was Aaliyah’s 10-year anniversary of her passing. The ratings on the BET special were huge for that network and there’s a demand for it. I believe that we recognize the demand and want to give her fans what they want.”

Posted: August 9th, 2012
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Bruno Mars’ New Music Has ‘Throwback Nina Simone’ Feel, Says Producer – (July 2012)

For a musician who spends weeklong writing blocks playing ping-pong and shooting hoops, Benny Blanco manages to stay busy. The producer-songwriter, whose credits include chart-toppers for Maroon 5 and Katy Perry, has filled his schedule since the start of the year, clocking studio time with fellow hitmakers like Paul Epworth (who co-wrote and -produced Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”) Rico Love and longtime collaborator Dr. Luke. Among the artists he’s worked with: Ke$ha, for whom he produced an untitled tune co-written by fun.’s Nate Ruess, and Bruno Mars, who’s at work on the follow-up to his 2010 breakthough, Doo Wops & Hooligans. The latter session yielded a piano-laced track intended for Mars’ new LP.

“I got a really cool song with him. Me and Paul [Epworth] just got together and Bruno wrote an amazing song on top of it. It kind of all came together,” Blanco tells Rolling Stone. “It’s like some throwback Nina Simone type shit, like ‘Sinnerman.’ It’s Bruno. He can sing the A.B.C.’s and you’d be like, ‘Holy fuck!’ He knows how to vibe.”

Blanco also hit the studio recently with Empire of the Sun, Wiz Khalifa and Marina and the Diamonds, stretching across genre lines with his spectrum of gigs. Known mostly for his work with pop stars, Blanco hopes to dig back into his hip-hop roots (his early credits include work with Spank Rock and Hell Rell) via collborations with with Rico Love. The pair most recently co-produced Trey Songz’s “Heart Attack” with Love, and Blanco says his work with Khalifa upcoming O.N.I.F.C. album is a testament to his intentions to broaden his horizons.

“I’m trying to do different stuff than I’ve ever done, to challenge myself and dip into a lot of R&B and hip-hop. Maybe some shit I don’t even know yet. I just really want to break any boundaries that I thought I might have,” explains Blanco. “Paul [Epworth] is showing me great things that I never even thought of. We’re doing records with live drum sets, we’re playing live bass guitars and chopping them all up and doing just really cool, interesting stuff, trying to challenge ourselves and the listener.”

He isn’t ditching pop, though. Blanco hasn’t caught wind of a new Katy Perry album – “I haven’t heard of anything for a record, and I have not started anything yet,” he says – but credits his previous work with the singer as building blocks for his current work ethic. He names “Teenage Dream” as one of the most difficult tracks of his career – the product of artistic differences.

“At first, Katy didn’t even like those tracks. And then finally, we got ‘Teenage Dream’ to have great writers on it like Bonnie McKee and Max Martin. All the stars were aligned,” he says. “We had to rewrite lyrics to that song seven times. Some of those records are like that. When you finally get it right, it’s like, ah. It makes it all the better.”

Posted: July 19th, 2012
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Pop Hitmaker Benny Blanco Talks ‘Payphone’ Success, Ke$ha’s New Sound – (July 2012)

Benny Blanco knows how to make a hit. The 24-year-old producer-songwriter, who first cut his teeth with Dr. Luke, has helped architect some of the past half-decade’s chart-toppers, including Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” and “California Gurls,” Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” and “We R Who We R,” and Britney Spears’ “Circus.”

For his latest gig, the Reston, Virginia native piggybacked off last year’s success in producing Maroon 5′s chart-crashing single, “Moves Like Jagger,” with “Payphone,” a pattering earworm that features rapper Wiz Khalifa. After working with Khalifa on his latest single “Work Hard, Play Hard,” Blanco wanted to throw a wrench into the Maroon 5 machine by adding some hip-hop flavor to the band’s sound. “I love when things don’t make sense, like, ‘Holy fuck!’” explains Blanco. “You don’t hear him on the song at all. I like when bands dip into a whole different genre.”

Co-produced with Sweden’s Shellback, “Payphone” is lodged at Number One on Top 40 radio and Number Two on Billboard’s Hot 100, just one Carly Rae Jepsen phenomenon away from the top slot. The falsetto-bolstered tune is the product of a collaborative session between Blanco and writers Ammar Malik and RoboPop (a.k.a. Daniel Omelio), who constructed a piano line and demo track that Blanco molded into a proper melody, then handed off to Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine for lyric treatment.

Five minutes before Khalifa arrived at the studio, Blanco laid the sound beds for the finger snap-driven portion of the jam. But Max Martin, who executive produced Maroon 5′s latest album Overexposed, wouldn’t let the original hook stand. “He was like, ‘Yo, this song is so awesome, but the chorus should be a little different,’” Blanco says. “We wound up making it more acoustic sounding and wanted it to have an up-tempo feel, but have it still feel natural.”

Blanco is also lending that stripped aesthetic to longtime collaborator Ke$ha for her anticipated new album, due out later this year. Recently, Ke$ha and Blanco hit the studio with producers Dr. Luke and Cirkut to work on a song that he describes as “old hippie rock,” co-written with fun. lead singer Nate Ruess. “It’s stomps and claps, and the chorus doesn’t really have any drums in it, basically. The feeling is so good,” says Blanco in his surfer drawl. “And then the verse just pops in, and it’s very unexpected and it pops into electronic. So it’s rock, it’s big electronic breaks and drums.”

Though Blanco relishes his solo success, which recently includes winning Songwriter of the Year at the BMI Pop Awards, he’d rather keep his team of pop technicians close. “When you’re making music, it’s meant to be shared with people. Sometimes, even if I’m writing a song, someone else brings a vibe. There’s something different about it,” he says. “If someone can play a better bassline than me, I’ll let them do it. I’m just here to fit in and see where it goes.”

Posted: July 19th, 2012
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Azealia Banks Brings Her Mermaid Ball to Bowery Ballroom – (June 2012)

Azealia Banks finally came home. Less than nine months after unleashing the adrenalized clip for her breakout single “212,” the Harlemite descended on her native digs for her first post-hype solo gig at Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom, the second show of the day following a parking lot performance at Hot 97’s Summer Jam festival that afternoon.

Expectations ran high. The freshly legal rapstress has ridden the fame rocket to heights normally unimaginable by new emcees, let alone female ones. She’s dazzled cool-for-school crowds in Paris at Karl Lagerfeld’s home; signed a hands-off record deal with Interscope/Polydor to release her debut album Broke with Expensive Taste in the fall and, last week, her debut EP 1991; and managed to chump old guard rap fixtures like T.I. and Lil’ Kim simply by throwing out a few one-two-punch tweets.

In a relatively brief amount of time, the self-stamped Yung Rapunxel earned the right to let eccentricities fly at her first NYC show, themed as a “Mermaid Ball.” Fans were encouraged to don their best aquatic attire in hopes of landing a $1,000 prize, given to the best merman or mermaid in attendance. Looming tufts of aqua hair and seaweed-inspired DIY fashion dotted the sold-out crowd, where seapunk attire abounded and heels were unisex. Opening sets from Maluca, Roxy Cottontail, WcKids, Tigga Calore and House of Ladosha greased patrons, who nibbled gratis cones of blue cotton candy and wielded balloons before the mistress of ceremonies emerged at one AM.

Descending the stairs to a tinkering instrumental, Banks warmly greeted her adoring fans with few words. “Yo, this is my first official New York show,” she said. “Shout out to everybody who came out.” She was dressed for the occasion, rocking a see-through body suit divided between red and blue hues, exposing breasts adorned with heart-shaped pasties over her nipples. Banter was minimal throughout: she prefaced most songs with a hometown shout-out and thanked her openers. Otherwise, it was a full-on rap attack.

Or, at least a moderately valiant attempt. For a penwoman who folds over words with lyrical ease, Banks hasn’t entirely hit her stride. Fans in the front row pumped fists to “Grand Scam (Lyrical Exercise)” and “Barbie Shit,” but enthusiasm trickled to the back. A pair of dancers kept the spectacle alive on stage, but Banks merely thrusted her hips and swished her feet-long hair, her energy seemingly set to medium. Songs like “Bambi” rang a few bells, but most seemed unschooled on her pre-“212” material.

That disconnect boiled down the set to the 1991 EP, which was performed in full at the end of the show. It made the personality seem bigger than the music, a cocky one at that. She strutted across the stage like she owned the place—it was her ball, after all—but her satisfactory live chops underlined how far she’s yet to go, and perhaps how short she’s come.

But judging by the clamorous response to the CeCe Peniston-inspired cuts from 1991, she’s on the right track. Launching into the EP’s title anthem, Banks Franglished her way through the lounge-ready anthem, cranking the heat to full blast with the bloopy “Van Vogue.” It was when she launched into “Liquorice” that the venue broached full throttle. The audience shouted back her lyrics, filling in the gaps when she paused mid-rap to let the instrumental take hold. It’s a synth-zapped ode that deads any doubt of her being a one-hit wonder, a vestige of versatility she’s continued to prove.

At that, Banks wrapped the 30-minute set with the jam that dropped her into plain sight. As the Lazy Jay instrumental revved up, the venue was filled with unison chants to “212”: “I guess that cunt gettin’ eaten,” “I’mma ruin you cunt.” She didn’t sing the bridge—in fact, most singing was relinquished to the backing track—but the effect was still strong. Concertgoers vigorously danced as lyrics tumbled from the sound system. Balloons showered from the ceiling and confetti burst through the air. At the show’s end, Banks bid her seafolk adieu, retreating from the stage with a wide grin. She was confident in her performance. The crowd was on her side, and she knew why.

Posted: June 4th, 2012
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Kreayshawn to Brush Off Critics on ‘Fun-A**’ Debut Album – (May 2012)

Bay Area rapper Kreayshawn pays her haters no mind. The 22-year-old rose to prominence last May when the video for her swagged-out ode to anti-materialism, “Gucci Gucci,” went viral, logging almost 35 million YouTube views – and more than 33,000 “dislikes” – to date. With her Columbia Records debut Somethin’ Bout Kreay now slated for a summer release, Kreayshawn says she couldn’t care less if people dismiss it.

“I think there are people who are just waiting to hate. This could be the best album in the world and they’ll hate it anyway,” Kreayshawn, born Natassia Gail Zolot, tells Rolling Stone. “I’m not really concerned with trying to turn haters into believers. I just think it’s going to be a fun-ass album for my fans that I have now, and for people who have only heard one song.”

Kreayshawn enlisted producers Diplo, Boys Noize, DJ Two Stacks and Jean Baptiste to broaden her hyphy-leaning sound. “One song will be like, super hip-hop, and one song will be like Bay Area hyphy music, and another will be like Chicago house juke music and one will be New Orleans crazy booty-bounce music. And one will be a crazy, witch-house-sounding track,” says Kreayshawn. The LP also features guest appearances from 2 Chainz, Kid Cudi, Sissy Nobby, DB tha General, Chippy Nonstop and V-Nasty.

Album cut “Twerkin’” features a hook from the track’s producer Diplo, who Kreayshawn says inspired her to pursue her film career (she’s directed videos for Soulja Boy Tell’em and Lil B). “When I grow up, I want to be like Diplo, for sure,” she says. For the Kid Cudi-assisted “Like It or Love It,” she says the pair drew from punk’s influence. “We were in the studio and we kind of made a new song with a whole new genre … [Cudi] actually played some guitar on the song and we made a break there with instruments,” Kreayshawn says. “The song is just like, punk. If you like it, then do it. Do whatever you want if it makes you happy.”

Since inking a rumored $1 million deal with Columbia in June 2011, Kreayshawn has laid relatively low, appearing as a featured guest on tracks by 2 Chainz and Juicy J and building up her performance chops with a headlining slot on last year’s Noisey college tour. In the meantime, other white female rappers have penetrated the game like Iggy Azalea and Kitty Pryde, whose “Okay Cupid” video has drawn comparisons to Kreayshawn for her aloof delivery and teen appeal.

“I saw her stuff. She’s cute. I love kitties,” Kreayshawn giggles. “I wouldn’t say [her flow is] similar at all. Her style is super poetic and well-written. My style is more like freestyle, crazy, whatever I’m thinking of. Ponies and blah blah blah. But her shit is tight, for sure.”

With her self-described “super upbeat” and “uptempo” debut arriving in a few months, Kreayshawn says she’s also cooking up duets with Insane Clown Posse, Sissy Nobby and pop-rap duo Millionaires. The former Berkeley Digital Film Institute student is also itching to pick back up the camera soon, and she hopes to record a new mixtape while promoting Somethin’ Bout Kreay, which will be released as a special-edition cassette tape for 100 fans. As for those haters? “I hope that this makes them think that they should shut up and listen to my album every day of their lives.”

Posted: May 18th, 2012
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‘Go! Pop! Bang!’ Signals Rye Rye’s Imminent Sonic Explosion – (May 2012)

With her debut album Go! Pop! Bang!, Rye Rye just wants to have fun. The Baltimore native, who established relevance as M.I.A.’s choreographically gifted hype woman, has spent the past four years attempting to lift her career from the party rap trenches. Her staggered attempts to crack the mainstream—“Bang” and “Sunshine,” both featuring M.I.A.—were virtuous, but fizzled upon impact. The baby-voiced spitfire had been eclipsed by her mentor, whose star had already risen with “Paper Planes” years prior.

On Go! Pop! Bang!, the 21-year-old firecracker delivers, intent on proving she’s the club’s true lifeline. Long overdue, Rye Rye’s introductory opus is insatiably sweaty and aggressive, shape shifting between songs without letting the beat drop. Previously released anthems dot the tracklist: “Bang,” “Shake, Twist, Drop,” “Sunshine,” “Boom Boom” and “Never Will Be Mine” featuring Robyn all have a home on the offering. But it’s in sequence where they thrive, cozying up to bizarre attempts at party fodder (“Better Than You” outright samples Ethel Merman and Ray Middleton’s “Anything You Can Do” from Annie Get Your Gun) and mainstream back-pats (“Crazy Bitch” featuring Akon, “DNA” featuring Porcelain Black).

For Rye Rye, introspection isn’t a concern. She spends most of the LP asserting her bad bitchness through hypnotic raps, chanting choruses suitable for a game of double dutch. “I’ma shake it to the ground and bring it back up / Twirl it all around, yeah, you know what’s up,” she deadpans on “Shake It to the Ground.” It’s about as deep as it gets.

But that’s not the point. Rye Rye has waited in the wings for years, finally getting her shot at making an impression without having to bank on gimmickry. The creativity is there, set against a feverish backdrop care of producers like Bangladesh, The Neptunes and RedOne. They’re glam jams without unnecessary spitshine, confident with a touch of arrogance. Top 40 success may not be the outcome for Go! Pop! Bang!, but Rye Rye at least sounds like she enjoyed making it—a rarity in the pop realm.

Posted: May 10th, 2012
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Sade Step Back Into Spotlight With ‘Bring Me Home’ – (Apr. 2012)

After nearly three decades of making music, Sade Adu still has a hard time letting fans in, preferring to limit her press ops and take decade-long stretches between new album releases. But the British-Nigerian singer and her band are inching back towards the spotlight with the May 22nd DVD/CD and Blu-ray release of Bring Me Home – Live 2011, which chronicles their mega-successful Sade Live tour. The 54-date trek touched down in Europe, America, Australia and Asia and celebrated Sade’s platinum-certified 2010 LP, Soldier of Love.

Despite the tour’s success, Sade’s frontwoman approached the idea of a live LP and behind-the-scenes documentary with typical temerity. “Initially I didn’t want to do it, because I had this feeling that it was a great moment and I was afraid we couldn’t convey the atmosphere and the feeling of the whole tour,” says Adu. “There’s always that fear and trepidation. But you have no choice but to go on because you’re in it.”

Directed by Sophie Muller, who also designed and produced the tour, the 20-minute documentary compiles rare footage of Sade behind-the-scenes that chips at the notoriously elusive singer’s shellacked persona. In one scene, she harmonizes “Amazing Grace” with her backup singers; in another, she gazes pensively into a mirror during a rare moment of open reflection.

For Adu, returning to the stage after a 10-year hiatus was admittedly daunting. She rebuffs her celebrity but says that collaborating with Muller gave her the confidence to perform like a “gladiator.” Explains the 53-year-old singer, “I’m tough. I’m a Nigerian. I’m into the moment and I put my entire self into that. I suppose I am reluctant to share my life. My life is in the songs, and I’ve already done that. I don’t think our fans have those expectations from me.”

Muller, whose work with Sade stretches back to the Eighties, encouraged the band to go grand onstage without compromising the intimacy of their songs. They conceptualized the show as a negotiation of extremes: tour opener “Soldier of Love,” for example, is set against a towering slow-exposure backdrop of passing clouds, while Sade duets with a naked electric guitar-saxophone combo during her perormance of “Promise,” perched on the lip of the stage.

“Each song has its own personality and we wanted the whole visual panorama to completely change, dependent upon the character and atmosphere of the song at the moment,” explains Adu, adding that she hopes to take her live show to Africa “if” she tours again. “That’s what I felt was something great about this show. You’re in this tiny miniscule theater, and then suddenly, you’re in a stadium. It was an overriding sensation.”

Already, there’s a two-year stretch between Soldier of Love’s release and that of Bring Me Home. But Adu says she no immediate plans to record new music or return to the stage, although extracurricular activities could keep her star from dimming. “I’ve got some plans for some projects that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I think I’ve got a lot of energy,” says Adu with some restraint. “As far as music goes, that’s something that I’m not very pragmatic about. I let it sort of appear and grab me. It could be two years or 10 years. I don’t make plans like that. It somehow happens.”

Posted: April 30th, 2012
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“Usher Premieres New Album Off-Broadway” – (Apr. 2012)

Usher doesn’t want you to just listen to his seventh album Looking for Myself – he’d rather you feel it. To debut his Euro-splashed LP, coming out June 12th, the R&B sexophile integrated himself into two performances of Off-Broadway’s “Fuerza Bruta,” a senses-stimulating live experience combining vigorous slam dancing, surgical lighting cues and participation from a clumped standing-only audience.

A foggy haze permeated the cavernous performance space at New York City’s Daryl Roth Theater, where the 33-year-old theatrically sequenced the entirety of the project to strobing lights and choreographed moves. A booming voice introduced the night as “a journey for each of the senses,” and warned the audience, “what happens stays here. Consider yourself lucky.” Those in attendance for the first of two pre-public performances took note, heeding commands to crouch low to the ground and pump fists in the air.

Emerging from the dark, a fauxhawk-coiffed Ursh, clad in a snow-white suit accented by a black tie, trotted across a conveyor belt in beat to the Diplo-produced “Climax.” As the tempo galloped and his pace quickened, he clutched his stomach as a gunshot fired and blood spread across his torso, leaving the evening’s protagonist injured but able to mingle with fellow players as the crunchy title track, produced by Empire of the Sun, boomed through the system.

That sense of wounded ache counteracted his desire to command the crowd, a balance struck tightly on Looking for Myself. The LP piggybacks on the ephemeral club appeal of his recent hits, including “DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love” featuring Pitbull and David Guetta’s “Without You,” and weighs it against vulnerable demi-ballads à la “Papers,” pointing the pen inward while reflecting on the concept of fidelity.

At his most frivolous, Usher dominated the room. As the audience shuffled to accommodate the constantly shifting set pieces, he orchestrated flash dance parties, bringing attendees onto a pint-sized stage to boogie to the sounds of the album’s second single “Scream,” produced by Max Martin and Shellback. Even when he splayed across a makeshift couch during the Jim Jonsin-helmed “Let Me See” featuring Rick Ross, patrons bounced to the PG-13 lyrics (“She said she want to take her shirt off, be my guest,” he sings) while lights flashed and acrobats raced along a silver curtain 30 feet above the ground.

But it was when the pace slowed that Usher’s trademark sensitivity shined. The album reached emotional fever pitch during a Rico Love-penned “Dive,” where actors slid across a taut see-through tarp covered in pools of water, sustained above the audience’s head. “I don’t mind playing in the rain,” Usher naughtily coos over an unresolving melody. Later, against a cloudy and mechanical beat on an unnamed track, he sings a different tune: “I admit that I’ve been careless,” he confesses.

It’s those pocket moments of introspection that humanize the robotics of Looking for Myself. With two public performances at “Fuerza Bruta,” both taking place tonight (April 28), the veteran entertainer reasserts himself as a master of rapturous dance fodder, capable of turning a room into a thumping rave with ease. But the conflicted odes of self-reflection show the hero isn’t as valiant as the beat would have you believe – an uncertainty that keeps him grounded, even when the volume is cranked up high.

Posted: April 28th, 2012
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Machine Gun Kelly Tempers His Rage on ‘Half Naked’ EP – (Mar. 2012)

Machine Gun Kelly is more vulnerable than his “wild boy” persona lets on. The Cleveland, Ohio rapper, whose clamorous live sets and fanbase of “ragers” have branded him a contender for hip-hop’s resident rocker, reveals a softer side on his Half Naked & Almost Famous EP, his first official release through Diddy’s Bad Boy label and a companion piece to a 90-minute documentary.

On cuts like “See My Tears” and “EST 4 Life,” Kelly points the pen inward, reflecting on his mainstream ascent and questioning what the future holds. The five-track set also includes two previously released tracks – the blistering “Wild Boys,” featuring Waka Flocka Flame, and the Cassie-assisted “Warning Shot,” where Kelly barks over bombastic soundscapes.

“I’m probably one of the wildest, most out-of-control people in the industry,” says the 21-year-old, who was arrested for disorderly conduct in January after a gig in Florida. “I don’t give a fuck about the masses; I’m not here for them. I’m here to make an impact on the kids who truly care. I’m not going to beg for attention and shit.”

MGK is at his most raucous in the documentary, which was shot during last year’s Warped Tour and features footage of him coughing up blood from a throat infection (“We fuckin’ bleed this shit,” he boasts) and tripping on mushrooms (“I’m definitely a boomer”).

“I was a huge punker growing up,” says Kelly, whose real name is Richard Baker. “On my body, shit, if you want to talk about rock stars, I’ve got Tommy Lee’s Mayhem (logo) tattooed on my wrist. I got fuckin’ Chili Peppers on my elbow. I got scars all over my fuckin’ hands from fighting and just dumb shit. Hip-hop influences my talent, but I think that punk and everything else I listened to growing up was who my idols were. That’s why drugs also got involved in my life. I idolized the wrong people, like Nikki Sixx and Kurt Cobain.”

Kelly’s rise has caught the attention of Tech N9ne, who invited the rapper to join his Hostile Takeover; the trek will hit 90 cities in 99 days and kick off on March 24th in in Kansas City. The rapper’s history of road rage preceded him, resulting in an imposed list of guidelines for him to follow over the three-month run. “No afterparties, no clubs, no smoking…We have a very bad road reputation,” Kelly says. “Rules are meant to be broken.”

Kelly, who is diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, also plans to showcase his more extreme and subdued sides on his upcoming summer debut LP, Lace Up. Recorded before he signed with Bad Boy last August, it features a collaboration with Tech N9ne – but the rapper remains tightlipped about the rest. When asked why “Warning Shot,” which originally featured Livvi Franc on its hook, now features Cassie, his tongue turns cold. But he assures that he maintained creative control over the project.

“Lace Up is going to be recognized by the Grammys. It’s going to be one of those things that goes down in history as one of the best albums, period. It’s kind of like Adele’s 21. It was this perfect time in a person’s life, and she made a soundtrack for it. Lace Up is the same way,” says Kelly. “When it’s time for you to know who I am, it’ll be the right time. I’m not going to convince you to know who I am. I don’t care.”

Posted: March 20th, 2012
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“Live: Skylar Grey Peeks Out From Behind The Curtain” – (Dec. 2011)

Skylar Grey
Tuesday, December 6

Better than: Remembering how much you listened to Evanescence back in the day.

Skylar Grey has hustled the last couple of years, writing hits for everyone but herself along the way. The 25-year-old helped pen 2010′s “Love the Way You Lie,” turning the enigmatic songbird into a hot hip-hop commodity; she went on to notch vocal and songwriting credits on Diddy-Dirty Money’s “Coming Home,” Lupe Fiasco’s “Words I Never Said” and Dr. Dre’s Eminem-assisted “I Need a Doctor.” Her cantaloupe coo was swoon-worthy yet elusive, reducing even the hardest of top-40 audiophiles to burbling sing-a-longers.

For Skylar, not showing face has been her biggest asset. Releasing mug-shrouding promotional pics and launching a bare-bones website only thickened the mystery surrounding her. But click-savvy surfers shredded her intended secrecy—although her vocal resemblance to the chick singing on Fort Minor’s 2006 track “Where’d You Go” made it a bit easier to do so.

In the mid-naughts Skylar Grey was Holly Brook, a singer who supplied the Linkin Park offshoot with a radio-ready hook and then found her 2006 debut Like Blood Like Honey collecting dust on her label’s shelf. Instead of boo-hooing, Brook dyed her red mane black, shipped off to the Oregon woods and began penning tracks that eventually found their way to the British music producer Alex Da Kid, who molded them into Billboard gold and platinum.

When it came time for Grey to come out from behind the curtain and get lead credits on some pop hits, she seemed ready; she had helped shepherd some bona fide hits, and the support of both Interscope Records and Alex’s KIDinaKORNER imprint. But the stilted summer single “Dance Without You” underperformed, and it was back to the lab to work magic for her 2012 debut Invinsible.

Earlier Tuesday night, Grey had opened for 30 Seconds to Mars’ Madison Square Garden blowout. When she arrived onstage at Dominion her unwashed hair cuddled her porcelain face, which was emotionless—especially when compared to her best hooks’ aching moans. Icy, anthemic drums powered the opening number “Beautiful Nightmare,” during which she gazed to the back of the venue with convincingly dead eyes. Drifting out of and into the spotlight, she tried to maintain her façade—not exactly what you’d expect from a go-getter who buzzed herself onto the radar, but instead from someone gradually coming to terms with the expectations attached to her rise.

The jaunty, Evanescence-recalling bop of new cuts like “Weirdo” and the Marilyn Manson-aided “Can’t Haunt Me (Zombie)” was sharp, and they could throw Gagas of the world for a loop next year. Throughout the brief set, Grey kept stage banter to a minimum, although at one point she did murmur “Don’t mind if I do” while stripping off her tight leather jacket.

Instead, the music talked. Her medley of hits slung for others rallied the crowd, which chimed in, while an endearing cover of Radiohead’s “Idioteque” teased at least a break from her focus. But the distance between her and the audience remained intact. As she sang her closing number “Invisible,” she at first wallowed at the back of the stage, then gradually edged closer to the spotlight. She got there, but it took some time.

Critical bias: I interviewed Skylar as Skylar earlier this summer, and may or may not have told her she should consider a career in hip-hop.

Overheard: “Wow, she sounds nothing like she looks on her website.”

Random notebook dump: Yeesh, she needs a shower. Maybe some conditioner, too.

Set list:
Beautiful Nightmare
Dance Without You
Coming Home/I Need a Doctor/Love the Way You Lie
Can’t Haunt Me (Zombie) featuring Marilyn Manson

Posted: January 1st, 2012
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“TLC’s Tionne ‘T-Boz’ Watkins Files for Bankruptcy — for Second Time This Year” – (Nov. 2011)

After declaring bankruptcy along with her group TLC in the mid-’90s, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins has filed for Chapter 13 for the second time this year after defaulting on mortgages on her Atlanta, Georgia home and failing to keep up with medical bill and car payments.

Watkins, an Atlanta, Georgia resident, filed on October 31, 2011 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court after failing to keep up with mortgages on her Duluth, Georgia home, valued at $1.2 million. The documents reveal that Watkins owes creditors $768,642.99 on the home, and has assets that total $1,716,508.

The papers specify her monthly income, which amounts to $11,700 — just $1,200 of which stems from TLC royalties — and that her estimated average future gross monthly income will be $10,500. T-Boz pays $8,821 in monthly expenses, including two mortgages on her primary residence, two vehicles, medical bills and more. She also is owed $250,000 in child support payments, though it is unclear why they have not been collected. Watkins will pay $2,880 per month for a commitment period of 36 months to repay the debt.

Watkins originally put her 9,654 square feet house up for sale in 2009 for the asking price of $1,250,000, an uptick from the $1,122,700 she paid to purchase the residence in July 2001. The mansion is located in the Sugar Loaf Country Club, described as a “prestigious and successful luxury” community in Southeast Atlanta.

Though largely unreported, the singer originally filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, declaring Chapter 13 on February 25, 2011. She developed a plan to pay the sum of $2,500 per month for a period of 60 months. Watkins was dismissed on July 19, while the case was terminated on September 13 after she “made distribution of all funds paid into the hands of the Trustee.”

Watkins’ financial troubles began as early as June 1995, when she originally filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy with her group TLC. During an episode of VH1′s “Behind the Music,” the trio, consisting of Watkins, Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, discussed the incident in detail, explaining that a poor recording contract with LaFace Records through their manager Perri “Pebbles” Reid’s Pebbitone shingle caused them to slip into the financial red.

“The bad thing about the deal was that Pebbles had us signed to so many deals. She just had her fingers in the pot all across the board,” Lopes said on the show, claiming Reid was making business decisions without their approval. Even after severing ties with Reid, the trio was forced into bankruptcy after selling 10 million records on account of amounting expenses and debt to their record label.

“People to this day still do not believe that we were broke — but we were, OK?” said Watkins. The group made $5.6 million in profit, but the sum was cut down to a mere $50,000 per member after paying back their label for funding the album and its promotion; managers, lawyers and accountants; and income taxes.

Over the past few years, Watkins has appeared on “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” and as a consultant on “The Celebrity Apprentice” where she was fired for volunteering to return to the boardroom. The 41-year-old, who suffers from sickle-cell anemia, revealed in October 2009 that she overcame a potentially fatal brain tumor, from which she suffered for three years.

Posted: January 1st, 2012
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“Inside Busta Rhymes’ ‘Outside the Box’ Deal With Cash Money and Google Music” – (Nov. 2011)

Last Wednesday, veteran rapper Busta Rhymes appeared at the launch of Google Music to support his partnership with the newly launched platform — an announcement that came in confluence with his surprise signing to Cash Money Records, revealed the same day.

The former Universal Motown recording artist, whose career-long manager Chris Lighty broke the news of his departure from the shingle in May 2011, has been plotting the alliance since splitting with his former label home. The deal, which Lighty describes as an “outside the box” venture, is a four-album contract with Cash Money, which will handle all physical distribution, as well as a one-off digital distribution agreement with Google Music, which holds exclusive online sales rights for Busta’s next album, “E.L.E. 2: End of the World” (due first quarter of 2012).

With 20 years of experience in the industry, Busta forged the unorthodox deal because of the “newness” and “freshness” that Google Music is bringing to both the digital realm and traditional distribution model. “The climate continues to shift in music and this business, and we always look for new ways to go about being swift and changeable, but being always remainable,” he says. “I come from pre-Internet — not trying to sound like a dinosaur, but the success of [our records] wasn’t always determined by how much it spun on the radio. The people are tastemakers, as opposed to politics and budgets and marketing funds and things of that nature. This situation embodies all of that. You have that outlet of 100 million, 200 million Android phones, YouTube, Google itself and every other medium that comes as a perk with the situation. It exposes your music.”

The promise of being the sole urban artist on GM’s initial platform was added incentive for his team to align with the program. “We’re being promoted as one of the main acts with the launch. [That wouldn't] happen at iTunes right now,” says Lighty, COO of newly formed management company Primary Violator. “Obviously, iTunes is number one. Google Music presented a viable option for Busta to grow his footprint and it seemed like the right partnership for us to do right now, given where Busta Rhymes’ career is, to refresh him digitally.”

The arrangement has already resulted in the digital servicing of his Chris Brown-assisted single “Why Stop Now,” released as a free offering with Google Music’s launch to anyone with a Google+ account — a requirement for GM accessibility. Though Lighty wouldn’t disclose the impressions-to-date, he insists that it’s yielded some of Busta’s most significant returns. “It’s definitely been bigger than any of our iTunes sales or impressions that we’ve received in the past,” he said. “To be able to be selling them on the phones, to be able to sell them online and on the online market, it’s a great opportunity for us.”

Cash Money co-CEO and founder Bryan “Baby” Williams was involved in the discussions between Busta and Google Music from the start. Williams had cultivated a relationship with the Brooklyn rapper for many years, placing his rapid-fire rhymes on tracks with CM artists including Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj and Drake, who performed with Busta at the GM launch party. Though Williams is unsure which company will handle digital distribution post-”E.L.E. 2,” Google’s strategy to heavily promote Busta was convincing enough.

“I just wanted to make sure things were the way they were supposed to be, as far as with the staff promoting him and marketing him. Googlewas on point with what we wanted to do and we’re going to make it work,” says Williams. “They’re a new brand and I’ve been doing this. And they respected what we wanted to do, so it’s been so far, so good.”

A newcomer to the music retail industry, Google opted to focus its energies into Busta after hearing several tracks from his upcoming album and strategizing on how to create unique marketing prospects.

“When Busta Rhymes played us his new tracks, we saw an opportunity to do something unique with him and offer his music exclusively on Google Music,” says Tim Quirk, head of global content programming at Android and Google. “Busta’s passion for the project allows us to work together and extend the reach of the partnership through other Google properties, such as YouTube, to offer creative features like ‘Spit Like Busta,’ ” a YouTube competition where users can upload their rendition of Busta’s verse from “Why Stop Now” for a chance to be spliced into its upcoming music video.

Busta’s deal may be a new model for the music industry, but he’s equally anticipating the effect it will have on future distribution models. “This was just another one of those moments that defines a significant turning point in my career, and in music and business,” he explains. “It was just an amazing idea to have [Google] willing to partner up with the most powerful record company in music, which is Cash Money. Cash Money is a very unique, special home to be a part of, because they don’t do sh– conventionally, either. So it was just an ideal opportunity and something that’s going to go down in the history books, because a deal like this has never been done before.”

Posted: January 1st, 2012
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of Montreal – (March 2010)

Posted: January 1st, 2012
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Gnarls Barkley – (June 2008)

Posted: January 1st, 2012
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Mates of State – (May 2008)

Posted: January 1st, 2012
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Robyn – (Feb. 2008)

Posted: January 1st, 2012
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