News for the ‘Online’ Category

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
Categories: Online
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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
Categories: Online
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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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