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Talking Book - Just One of Stevie Wonder's Masterpieces

Posted by Miss Ess, February 24, 2009 12:30pm | Post a Comment
An album that consistently brings me to tears is Talking Book by Stevie Wonder.


I was fortunate enough to grow up near a classic independent record store, Village Music, where I purchased Talking Book many years ago during one of my dreamy hours-long visits there.

When I got the album home, I stared and stared at its front. I absolutely love the cover of Talking Book -- on it, Stevie is literally feeling the earth between his fingers, much like he does verbally on the record. He doesn't need to literally see it to understand what it is made of; with music, he captures both the grit and the softness that make up humanity.

Over the years my favorite track has changed bunches of times, but since college I have predominantly played side 2, skipping "Superstition," which kicks it off (killer track, just heard it enough times, plus its mood feels different from the rest of the side), and going straight from "Big Brother" to the end. The four songs that close side 2 of Talking Book are definitely my favorite run of songs on any Stevie album.

Throughout this album, which Stevie largely wrote, produced and played all the instruments on, he touches on unscrupulous politics and the possibility of everlasting love with salient clarity. He sheds light on the daily lives of those living in poverty, noting that the corrupt politicians in charge, not the poor, "will cause [their] own country to fall" (still quite apt these days). He also sings songs with overwhelming optimism regarding love despite past disappointment, both in himself and in others. The album captures an illuminating feeling of hope, a vibrant sense of anticipation.

I'm continually staggered by the fact that over all the years I have been listening to this album, my enjoyment of it only grows.

Here's a '95 performance of "Big Brother" -- not nearly as good as on the album, but fun to see and hear, nonetheless:

A Raisin In the Sun

Posted by Amoebite, February 24, 2009 12:28pm | Post a Comment
a raisin in the sun
"What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?"

Langston Hughes' opening lines to his poem "A Dream Deferred" inspired the title of the film A Raisin in the Sun, which is adapted from Lorraine Hansberry's 1951 Broadway play. The story is about the working-class African American family in Chicago, each member struggling against the idea of deferred dreams. The way each character has to fight against generational prejudice to achieve their dreams makes a most powerful, touching story, cutting deep to the core of African American history. And while I want to cry at the injustices that bind many to social despair, I am inspired by the moments of strength that the human spirit can possess.claudia mcneil in raisin in the sun

Every character is a symbol that has to find what value they have to play out in order to gain a better life. They must confront oppression, identity, assimilation, poverty, and African-American racism. The most beautifully portrayed role goes to Claudia McNeil, who is the mother holding the family together like "a syrupy sweet."

Dreams deferred: 
"Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?"

These questions are not simple to answer, but answers need to be explored.

-Tiffany Huang

I feel like bootin' up -- The Take Fo' story

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 20, 2009 06:06pm | Post a Comment


Take Fo' Records
is a little known (outside of New Orleans) music label that truly broke ground with its motley roster of artists and progressive attitude, yet it's never received adequate recognition for its pioneering role in music. Whereas New Orleans's other big labels: Big Boy, Cash Money, Mobo, Parkway Pumpin', Untouchable, Tombstone and No Limit all seemed to consciously project a hard-as-nails image with tales of slangin', bangin', head bussin' and wig splittin', Take Fo' welcomed gangstas but also ball busters, dancer-cum-rappers, party starters and probably the first openly gay rapper. Despite the possible negative associations that might come with being part of this hip hop Island of Misfit Toys, the rappers on Take Fo' seemed unbothered and showed up on each others' albums in a show of courageous support.



 

Take Fo' evolved from the public access show Positive Black Talk that began in 1990 and was co-hosted by Earl J. Mackie. Their definition of "positive" wasn't necessarily in line with American mores at large, where violence is pretty much embraced and sexuality is incredibly repressed. Even in New Orleans, which is largely a lot more open-minded, not everyone appreciated Mackie's conception of positivity and he got grief from his pastor. But all of the show's guests conveyed messages of self-empowerment in their own ways, even if they ruffled some feathers along the way.





In 1992, Positive Black Talk lost its grant and Mackie hosted a dance at a local high school to raise funds for the show. The centerpiece was meant to be Da'Sha Ra' (pictured above) but a special ed teacher asked if he could warm up the crowd. After half an hour of captivating the audience, Henry "Henry the Man" Holden and Mackie began to formulate a new idea. After raising more in one night than the show had in two years, they switched tracks and soon Positive Black Talk Inc. morphed into Take Fo' Records and the show was no more. It took a couple months of pressure to get the warm up act, DJ Jubilee, to sign, as he already was commited to teaching and coaching, but he ultimately did and became the label's biggest star. Joined by partner Elden Anderson, the new label operated in the back of Mackie's father's roofing business. Henry the Man and E-Jay handled the production for the tracks and the label's ranks grew as more artists signed.


In the early '90s, Take Fo' quickly became one of the two labels that most epitomized Bounce music, the other being Mobo. Cash Money and Big Boy were both then primarily focused on producing a gangstafied Bounce variant, pioneered by U.N.L.V., who coined the term Gangsta Bounce. No Limit, having started in Richmond, California, was decidedly straight gangsta, albeit with a southern flavor courtesy of the second line-influenced production of Beats By the Pound. Jubilee's music, on the other hand, was in the vein of the Bounce's pioneers, TT Tucker & DJ Irv, DJ Jimi and Everlasting Hitman-- mixing the triggaman beat, the brown beat, calling out dance moves and shouting out wards, projects and occassionally neighboring southern states. "Stop Pause," his debut single, sold 30,000 copies and gave the label its first hit. By the mid-to-late '90s, Take Fo's New Orleans neighbors had all but completely dropped the Bounce aspect of their music but Take Fo' kept wobbling into the new millenium, ultimately spawning Bounce's shrill, gay offshoot, Sissy Rap.


By the late '90s, with the nationwide ascendancy of southern rap, the increasingly marginalized old record labels carpetbagged it down to N.O. hoping to exploit the city's East and West coast obliterating scene. First, Priority signed a deal with No Limit, then Universal signed a major deal with Cash Money. In 1999, DJ Jubilee signed a deal with Tommy Boy but they didn't allow him to record and eventually freed him. Meanwhile, Big Easy Distributing, Take Fo’s distributor, went out of business. That same year, Take Fo’s promoter, the legendary Bobby Marchan, also passed away.

Take Fo' famously ended up going to court several times over the years. In one case, DJ Jubilee sued Juvenile, alledging that the Juve's "Back That Azz Up" ripped off Jube's "Back That Ass Up" based on the claim that he'd originated the dance at block parties. As much as I like Jubilee and feel bad that he's never achieved anywhere near the fame he deserves, I have to say he didn't really have a case since he wasn't suing that his dance had been ripped of, but that his song had. Mannie Fresh, for his part, admitted that "Back That Azz Up" was inspired by Jubilee's song, but with significantly varied production and even the lyrical conversion of what was a dance chant into more sexual territory, the court ruled in Juvenile's favor. A few years later Take Fo' sued Master P for breach of contract, alledging that No Limit failed to adequately pay Take Fo' in their joint venture with Choppa and I guess they settled for an undisclosed sum.


In 2001, Take Fo' became The New Take Fo'. After Katrina, the label relocated to Houston but returned by 2009, when they celebrated 17 years in the game. Whilst they may be fairly obscure, they've shown remarkable perseverance, a defiant open-mindedness, and created some classic music along the way.

Partial Take Fo' timeline/discography


1994 - Flesh & Blood - Flesh & Blood



1995 - Da'Sha'Ra - Still Bootin' Up, DJ Jubilee - Stop Pause, DJ Jubilee - DJ Jubilee & the Cartoon Crew


1996 - War Time featuring The Hideout - The Album,  Big Al & Lil Tee - B***h You Know Who I Am, DJ Jubilee - 20 Years in the Jets


 

1997 - 2-Sweet - Actin' Bad, Willie Puckett - Doggie Hop, DJ Jubilee - Get Ready, Ready!



(original Choppa Style - poor quality)


(No Limit remake - medium quality)

     

1998 - Willie Puckett - Million Dollar Hot Boy, DJ Jubilee - Take it to the St. Thomas

   

1999 - Katey Red & Dem Hoes - Melpomene Block Party, K.C. Redd [RIP] & the Shake 'em Up Girls - It's a G-Thang, Lisa Amos - Cause You Love Me

 Katey REd Y2 Katey 

2000 - DJ Jubilee - Do Yo Thing Girl!, Katey Red - Y2 Katy, Tec-9 - Ready 4 War



   

2001 - Choppa - Choppa Style, DJ Duck - Duck Remixxes, Junie Bezel -
That's How Mess Get Started

Post Script: Kasey "K.C. Redd" Segue was shot to death in 2006. Katey Red filmed her first video in 2011, for "Where Da Melph At?"

*****

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THE HISTORY OF FUNK BY RICKEY VINCENT

Posted by Billyjam, February 17, 2009 12:51pm | Post a Comment
rickey vincent
Rickey Vincent
literally wrote the book on funk. The college professor, writer, and radio DJ, who resides in Berkeley CA with his wife and two sons, is the author of the acclaimed music history book Funk: The Music, the People, and the Rhythm of The One (St. Martin's Press) which won the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award. If you don't already have this book, with a forward by George Clinton, I highly recommended it since it is the most comprehensive study on funk.

In addition to being an author & journalist, Vincent has taught at City College of San Francisco and SF State University where he taught a course entitled Protest Music Since 1965: Funk, Rap and the Black Revolution. Rickey is also a longtime Bay Area radio DJ at stations KALX and KPFA, where he still hosts his popular weekly funk show The History of Funk, Fridays at 10PM on 94.1FM.

The widely respected funkateer's musical knowledge (and music collection) is unmatched. I recently caught up with Vincent to talk about the funk/hip-hop connection and the impact of funk and black music in general on both American and global cultures, among other things. The conversation inevitably turned to godfather of soul / funk pioneer James Brown a few times during the interview. 

Vincent is currently finishing up last minute details on his next book Party Music -- a fascinating historical account of the Black Panther Party's own funk band, Oakland's The Lumpen, who took popular funk songs and rhythms but substituted more revolutionary lyrics. (Look for a future interview with him about this upon its publication.) For more information on the author, you can visit Rickey Vincent's website or his MySpace. You can also read his book or check out his show on KPFA.

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Love Story - The Band Love and Arthur Lee's Skewed Genius

Posted by Miss Ess, February 17, 2009 10:45am | Post a Comment

One of my favorite bands from the 60s has to be Love. Their music is so unexpected and so unconventional, both lyrically and sonically. I give Arthur Lee the lion's share of credit for this (sorry Bryan MacLean). Lee was truly one of a kind.

I've just watched the recent documentary about Love, Love Story.

Lee formed the band under various names in Los Angeles in the early 60s. It was one of the very first integrated rock bands to hit the scene and gain popularity -- something that is discussed in the film quite a bit, as band members feel they were represented to the press/public early on by colorful psychedelic drawings as a way for the record company to avoid presenting the potentially "risky" fact that the band was made up of both black and white musicians. 

Love was one of the first rock bands to sign to Jac Holzman's Elektra Records and it was not to be a simple relationship between the band and their label. The band members spend a great deal of time in Love Story accusing Holzman of not promoting their work enough. Holzman counters this by pointing out Lee's aversion to touring outside of California. Regardless, the band made three brilliant albums within a span of a year and a half (!) -- Love, Da Capo and Forever Changes -- and increasingly, Lee's moments of brilliance were aggravated by longer and longer durations of virtual insanity because of his drug use.

Due to the fact that he was a young African American man in Los Angeles in the 60s and also because of Lee's skewed view of the world and his paranoid and idiosyncratic thoughts, Love's music portrays the world from an outsider's perspective. This lyrical innovation is just one part of what marks the band's music as distinctive and even refreshing; while Love's albums have some of the hallmarks of the psychedelic era, if you listen to the lyrics, they are highly critical of hippies and their "peace and love" stance. (Yes, ironic considering the band is named Love.) The lyrics are dark and question the way the world works.

Sonically, each album grows more multi dimensional; from Love, which is garage-y and poppy, with sudden time changes and inventive drumming; to Da Capo with its flute accents and experimental full-side-love-it-or-hate-it jam; to Forever Changes which takes the listener on an uncomperable trip through Lee and MacLean's brains with flamenco guitar, strings, Latin-flavored horns, etc. Although the documentary Love Story ends its story after the release of Forever Changes, when the original band broke up, I highly recommend the next album Arthur Lee released under the Love banner: Four Sail, in addition to the first three albums. Four Sail has some of my favorite Love songs ever, and Lee forges a solid comeback in all his quirky glory.

Love Story is a great documentary. Arthur Lee is such a character that it is fun to watch and listen to him. Although his diction is sometimes difficult to understand (and the film's sound is amature), he still presents an ever-strong point of view. There are so many great bits of footage and the interviews, particularly an interview with Bryan MacLean, who died in 1998 and several with Lee, who died in 2005, are precious. Guitarist Johnny Echols is also extensively interviewed and he seems to be the band member who has done the best job of keeping his head together, post drug addiction and fame. Echols adds astute comments to the unfortunately short story of the band Love. Their music is singular, electrifying and resonant; there will never be another group like Love.

Because Love never had a legit radio hit, there is almost no footage of them performing. It's a bummer, but here is the closest they ever came to a hit, a cover of Burt Bacharach's "Little Red Book."
 

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