Friday, August 1, 2014

It's Friday so y'all know what time it is - it's time to turn back the clock. Check out these old faves.


Sade, Stronger Than Pride (1988)

Marsha Ambrosius' cover of Sade's "Love Is Stronger Than Pride" is a highlight from her new album - so much so that it put in the mood for the original. Sade's a bit of an acquired taste but her mix of jazz, funk and soul is almost always tantalizing.




Also check out:
"Paradise"
"Nothing Can Come Between Us"


Method Man, 4:21...The Day After (2006)

MOVE IT ON YOUR LEFT!!! Mr. Meth is one of rap's most iconic voices but his solo discography doesn't really measure up to his massive legacy. However, Meth's most recent solo album is pretty solid and has become an overlooked gem.




Also check out:
"Everything," featuring Inspectah Deck and Streetlife
"Walk On," featuring Redman

Now, it’s your turn. Email soulinstereoblog@gmail.com  hit me up on Twitter @etbowser, or stop by the comments section and share your Flashback Friday album. Leave a couple of sentences describing what makes it so great. I’ll feature your album on the blog.
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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

It's hard to believe that Mary J. Blige has been a constant force in R&B for more than two decades now.

Well, maybe it's not that hard. During that time, she's been the voice behind some of the greatest anthems in R&B history.

Today, we're looking back at Mary's entire discography, ranking her catalog from worst to best. By the way, we're strictly sticking to Mary's studio albums, excluding her compilations, live albums and Christmas album.

She's earned her crown as Queen of Hip-Hop Soul. These are the songs that defined her kingdom.


11. Love & Life (2003)

Soul In Stereo rating: 3 stars out of 5

Edd said: Well, all great artists have that one album that sticks out like a sore thumb. This was promoted as Mary's reunion with former producer Puffy but it proved you can't always go home again. There were a few decent songs here, they were just lost in a sea of endless interludes and mostly bland singles.

Forgotten treasures: "It's A Wrap"


10. Stronger With Each Tear (2009)

Soul In Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: MJB's albums often read like a self-help book on wax, and her 2009 effort was no different. It was an all-around solid effort but lacked her trademark standout cuts. And I'm still kinda tripping over  "Kitchen," where Mary warned ladies not to let other women rummage through your cabinets. Yes, I know it's a metaphor but it's still ridiculous.

Forgotten treasures: "Good Love," "I Love U (Yes I Du)," "Said and Done"


9. Think Like A Man Too soundtrack (2014) 

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5 (read our review here)

Edd said: Now this was a pleasant surprise. The recent Think Like A Man Too soundtrack was essentially a new Mary album in disguise - she handled all the tracks. They're all very strong too, encompassing not only the scope of the movie but relationships in general.

Forgotten treasures: "All Fun and Game," "Kiss and Make Up," "See That Boy Again"


8. Growing Pains (2007)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: This album gets lost in the shuffle among Mary's more prominent works, but that doesn't mean it's not a banger in its own right. Sure, singles like "Just Fine" get deserved love, but the album cuts are even stronger. The extremely bitter "Roses" is one of Mary's most meaningful songs, bar none.

Forgotten treasures: "Roses," "Shake Down," "If You Love Me?"


7. No More Drama (2002)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: For the sake of argument, I'm going with the superior 2002 re-release over the 2001 original (but let's just forget the "Waterfalls" knockoff "Rainy Dayz" never existed, OK?). This album marked a turning point for Mary, who symbolically left behind the heartbreak and misery that defined her early career to transition into a voice for progress and growth. This is when Mary went from victim to controlling her own destiny.

Forgotten treasures: "Steal Away," "He Think I Don't Know," "Dance for Me"


6. My Life II ... The Journey Continues (Act 1) (2011)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5 (read our review here)

Edd said: Sequel albums usually tend to suck, but not this time. Taking a cue from the heartbroken girl portrayed in her classic My Life album, My Life II conjured memories of that bygone era but reworked the themes. These songs are just as angry but come from a place of maturity. It's a perfect picture of growth.

Forgotten treasures: "No Condition," "Love A Woman," "Don't Mind"


5. Mary (1999)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: In 1999, Mary backed away from the hip-hop samples that made her career to embrace a more traditional R&B sound. The result was Mary, her most soulful and stirring album to date. It was a very bold move to step away from the hard-hitting sound that defined her career but the risk paid off. In my eyes, this is the album that solidified Mary as the true Queen of Hip-Hop Soul.

Forgotten treasures: "No Happy Holiday," "Sexy," "Give Me You"


4. The Breakthrough (2005)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: Don't call it a comeback - unless you want to. I won't be mad. After Love & Life failed, Mary's star started to dim and her career began to sputter. Never doubt the queen. The Breakthrough was an aptly named album, reestablishing Mary as one of R&B's preeminent voices while recapturing the magic of her earlier works, which Love & Life failed to do. Nearly 15 years into her career, MJB was still capable of captivating audiences. Impressive.

Forgotten treasures: "Can't Hide From Luv," MJB da MVP," "Alone"


3. What's the 411? (1992)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: The one that started it all. MJB's mix of hip-hop and R&B was a game changer for the industry. Her songs were rugged and gritty - fellas weren't afraid to rock to them - yet the lyrics and themes spoke to a generation of girls. It was the start of a legendary career.

Forgotten treasures: "Slow Down," "Changes I've Been Going Through," "I Don't Want To Do Anything"


2. Share My World (1997)

Soul In Stereo rating: 5 stars out of 5

Edd said: I contend that this is MJB's most complete work. From top to bottom, it's an air-tight collection of R&B. Mary was truly in her prime here, crafting ballads that were just as strong as radio-friendly singles. The only reason it's not No. 1 is because it doesn't have the legendary impact of its predecessor.

Forgotten treasures: "Share My World," "It's On," "Can't Get You Off My Mind"


1. My Life (1994)

Soul In Stereo rating: 5 stars out of 5

Edd said: Yep, I'm sure you weren't shocked by No. 1, and who can blame you? My Life is one of the most iconic albums in R&B history, arguably THE signature album of R&B's glory days in the 1990s. A generation of women felt Mary's pain and lived vicariously through her vocals. Twenty years later, it's still hard to top.

Forgotten treasures: "You Gotta Believe," "I Never Wanna Live Without You," "Be With You," "Don't Go"

How would you rank Mary's catalog? Speak out in the comments
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Monday, July 28, 2014


A few months ago, when Nicki Minaj decided to stop dressing like melted Neapolitan ice cream, people asked if I would finally stop giving her such a hard time.


And this is one of the reasons why:

Last week, Nicki released the album cover for her new single, "Anaconda."



In 2014, it's downright sad that female rappers STILL have to resort to this stuff for attention. As you'd expect, critics came out of the woodwork, slamming Nicki for such a lazy, hackneyed attempt for publicity.

But, to Nicki's credit, she fired back. From necolebitchie.com:

Last night, Nicki decided to snap back at her critics by posting up a number of photos of supermodels who have posed in thongs and booty-baring bikinis to her account while labeling them “Acceptable.” She then reposted her own image and marked it “Unacceptable.”

Visit the link to check the swimsuit pics Nicki used in her argument. I ain't posting them here - I don't need Google throwing my site into the NSFW realm of these here Internetz.

Nicki's point is that the outcry over her album cover is a racial double standard. After all, we live in a world that embraces underdressed white supermodels as classy while underdressed black women are nothing but filthy strippers. And she's exactly right, those double standards are deep-rooted. Black women have long been stigmatized as hypersexual and classless.

So what does Nicki do? Play RIGHT into the stigma that she rallies against.

Look, I'm not here to debate the merits of a women's right to be naked on a rap album or a magazine or whatever. That's a whole 'nother kettle of Old Bay fried fish. But Nicki's comparison between her album controversy and a swimsuit magazine is just absurd.

If Nicki caught heat for wearing a swimsuit in Sports Illustrated, she'd have a legit gripe. But that's not what happened.

Those flat-bootied white women she rallied against were part of Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue. They wore swimsuits in a swimsuit magazine.

Nicki Minaj wore butt floss on a rap record cover.

A swimsuit magazine =/= rap record. It's that simple.

The most insulting part of Nicki's faux crusade is that she screams about inequality and stereotyping in one breath while setting black women back 20 years in another. What does it say to the young women she claims to fight for when the most prominent female rapper in the game right now (for better or worse) has to resort to twerk poses to sell rap records?

Nicki may have dressed like Rainbow Fright in her pop days but at least she was somewhat clothed. She rarely resorted to this level of desperation just to move units - and that's saying something.

The biggest problem with "Anaconda" isn't racial double standards, it's that it's telling rap fans that female MCs have to be on the Twerk Team to get attention in 2014.

It's funny, this lady never had to resort to that.


Nor her.


Nor her.


Nor her.


If Nicki wants to air her vagina on her album cover, that's her choice. But she needs to stop playing the victim, especially when she's the one doing the most damage to hip-hop culture.
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Friday, July 25, 2014

It's Friday, people! Celebrate!

Fire up your MP3s, I've got some good music for you today.


The Coup, Pick A Bigger Weapon (2006)

I think it's the perfect time for another Coup album. There is plenty of material these days to fuel their politically charged rhymes, and, in the realm of production, they've never been ones to follow trends. The game needs that type of forward-thinking music right now. While we await new material, revisit their 2006 release - their most personal and strongest to date.




Also check out:
"BabyLet'sHaveABabyBeforeBushDoSomethin'Crazy," featuring Sylk-E. Fyne
"Laugh/Love/F***"


Shawnna, Worth tha Weight (2004)

Remember the First Lady of DTP? Shawnna should have been a game changer. She was the total package of looks, street smarts and impeccable lyrical ability - all clearly showcased on her 2004 debut. Her rapid-fire double-time flow was just as potent as her slower, more seductive rhymes. It's about time for a comeback, Shawnna.




Also check out:
"Shake That Sh*t," featuring Ludacris
"What Can I Do," featuring Missy Elliott

Now, it’s your turn. Email soulinstereoblog@gmail.com  hit me up on Twitter @etbowser, or stop by the comments section and share your Flashback Friday album. Leave a couple of sentences describing what makes it so great. I’ll feature your album on the blog.
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Thursday, July 24, 2014


Love, marriage, divorce, man, we're covering all the bases this week.

Hit me up if you want me to weigh in on your love life! It won't cost you a thing, except a little pride if I start going off on y'all.

Send your inquiries to soulinstereoblog@gmail.com, or find me on Twitter @etbowser. Just provide your initials, or a fun nickname. 

Here's today's question:

Divorce parties are the new craze. Do you think they are appropriate and in good fun or sending the wrong message?

No More Vows
So let your boy get this straight.

Y'all are already spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on weddings, and now you're also spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on divorce parties too? I mean, it's not like divorces are cheap anyway.

Y'all must love living in debt.

For the uninformed, allow me to fill you in: Divorce parties are billed as a the celebration of a fresh start - something a simple as a cookout with friends or as ridiculously extravagant as a credit-card crushing binge in Las Vegas. As Vows mentioned, they're becoming much more common these days - no surprise when the American divorce rate was up to 2.4 million as of a couple of years ago.

In theory, I don't have a problem with divorce parties. A divorce is a very trying process, and if a few friends want to get their buddy out of the house and lift his/her spirits, that's cool. Divorce shouldn't mean you have to cry in your pillow every night.

However, I'm not here for the excessive extravagance of some of these parties, nor am I cool with the shaming of the ex. These parties shouldn't include a trip to the shooting range with the ex's photo as targets. Chill on the revenge plots, please.

If the divorce party simply exists to support a newly divorced friend during a tough transitional period, that's cool. But keep the hate crimes to a minimum.

And also, the term "divorce party" sounds mad corny. But that's just me.

Our girl KJ is next. She's always in a predicament: 

You approach a co-worker that you feel and is digging you and he tells you that he has his eye on someone else so you move on. Christmas comes and you all are Secret Santas with one another. You were told to give 3 things that you wanted that would be $20. He gets you a scarf, 3 CDs a DVD, perfumes and lip gloss. WITW? What do you think his issue is giving you “boo gifts” but he has his eye on someone else? Confused.

KJ

Good lord, that sounds like $150 worth of Secret Santa gifts! This brother is so thirsty that his eyeballs are drying up.

This is an easy one, playa - despite what he says, this guy still has you in his sights and even though he's allegedly pursuing other people, he wants to keep you at arm's length. These "boo gifts" are a covert way of showing he's interested, juuuuuuuust in case things don't work out with Current Boo. 

Now before y'all say, "he could be giving these gifts purely in the interest of friendship," be real. I've long said that men and women can maintain platonic relationships but unless your friend is Scrooge McDuck, he's not gonna arbitrarily drop THAT kind of cash on THAT many gifts without a specific purpose.

That purpose is keeping you happy and intrigued. Just in case.

Long story short, he wants to holla. Where you want to take that is up to you.

Just keep that in mind when you're applying that lip gloss.
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Friday, July 18, 2014


Common

Nobody's Smiling (to be released July 22, 2014)

For years, Common has reigned as hip-hop's unofficial poet laureate, the conscience of the streets.

On his 10th album, Com brings his brand of enlightenment back to his hometown of Chicago. Nobody's Smiling shines a light on the violence that has rocked Chicago streets - not only identifying the cause of strife but seeking solutions as well.

It's pretty heavy subject matter for a genre that seems to be dumbed down by the second. But with the help of longtime partner No I.D., Com attempts to raise the bar.

On the opening track "The Neighborhood," Common acknowledges the adverse affects of putting materialism over morals. The title track takes that concept further - "driving down Lakeshore, scheming how to make more," he spits. It's a mindset that isn't just crippling young males. On "Hustle Harder," Common tells the story of women who grind even harder than the guys, noting that these women may sell bootleg purses but "if she had kids, she'd mother/father them both."

The lines of morality are blurred when you're trying to survive.

Common turns to his faith for answers on the gospel-tinged "Kingdom," asking God for guidance but also remaining defensive. "You created me from dust, that's why I did dirt." Com speaks from the same hopelessness and regret as his Chicago brethren.

Much like the subject matter, the album's production is dark and heavy. Most times, it feels more like Kanye's Yeezus than Common's soulful 2005 banger Be. Still, it works - Common has plenty of space to rattle off punchlines on "Speak My Piece." The Biggie sample is a perfect fit for the cypher-like atmosphere.

Nobody's Smiling works well as a concept album, sort of a lyrical think-piece on the plight of Chicago. But as an album, it fails to connect with the listener on the same level as Common's best works, including his last album, The Dreamer/The Believer. While mostly everything is solid, minus Jhene Aiko's repetitive hook on "Blak Majik" and Big Sean sounding WAY out of his element on "Diamonds," the album's brief running time and laser-like focus on its subject matter don't provide much diversity.

In fact, the album may have worked better if it took a direction similar to Nas' The Lost Tapes compilation - a series of gritty, loosely connected tracks with a central theme, without a glut of guest stars to drag things down.

Still, don't discount the power of Common's message. "Rewind That," the album's most heartfelt track, is a tribute to both of Common's mentors, No ID and J. Dilla. It's proof that even in our darkest hours, we can still find something to smile about.

Best tracks: "Hustle Harder," "Speak My Piece," "Rewind That"

3.5 stars out of 5
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As y'all probably know, the wifey and I checked out Bey Z's On The Run tour in ATL earlier this week. Check out my review here.

In honor of that event, let's turn the clock back to 2002 and revisit some of Jay and Bey's cohorts.


State Property soundtrack (2002)

State Property is one of those movies that's so bad it's good - truly a hood classic. The same goes for its soundtrack, which put The Roc's young guns (no pun intended) in the spotlight. Nearly all of these guys are gracing the back of milk cartons these days but in '02 they ran the rap game.




Also check out:
"International Hustler," Freeway
"Hood I Know," Beanie Sigel, Freeway, Young Chris, Omillio Sparks & Oschino


Kelly Rowland, Simply Deep (2002)

Kelly Rowland's first solo was pretty successful, thanks to her collabo with Nelly that was INESCAPABLE in 2002. Add "Dilemma" to the list of songs that I'm still tired of more than a decade later. Don't discount the rest of her album, though. It was a nice mix of R&B, rock and pop.




Also check out:
"Stole"
"Can't Nobody"

Now, it’s your turn. Email soulinstereoblog@gmail.com  hit me up on Twitter @etbowser, or stop by the comments section and share your Flashback Friday album. Leave a couple of sentences describing what makes it so great. I’ll feature your album on the blog.
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