Friday, July 18, 2014


Common

Nobody 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 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 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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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hip hop royalty at the Georgia Dome.
Beyonce has as weird hold over some of you ladies.

For example, when her On The Run tour with hubby Jay Z was announced, my wife (a hard core Beyhive dweller) made it her mission to be there.

That "mission" included pulling the okey-doke on your big homie.

The morning tickets went on sale for the show at Atlanta's Georgia Dome, she was up at the crack of dawn to cop good seats. Like most people with good sense, I was in still in the bed. Allegedly, that morning she crept by my bedside and asked if it was OK to spend the equivalent of the national debt on our tickets. My sleepy reply was something like "Mmmmhhhhuuurrrrggghhh," which apparently is a hearty "YES" in Beyhive World.

So when I awoke for real that morning, I learned on Facebook of all places that the Bowsers were going to meet the Carters - and we had VIP seats.

We also will be eating old packs of Chick-fil A Polynesian Sauce for dinner for the next six months.

Although those two seats cost more than what Memphis Bleek recouped off his 534 album, I've gotta admit that the On The Run experience was worth every dime we spent.

...Except for this wack VIP T-shirt we received upon arrival at the show. It looks like Blue Ivy designed them with her Alpha Bits.

Playa please.
I'm a huge music fan, but most of my concert experiences are limited to '90s artists singing their Clinton Administration hits in tiny venues.  The Dome was the very opposite of that, with more than 50,000 people crammed in the stadium. The wifey and I were on Row 11, and a few minutes before the show began, Xscape's Kandi Burruss joined us on our very row. Of course I had no idea who she was until the ratchet reality show fans started cheering.

Playa, even Kandi couldn't afford front row seats. I don't even wanna KNOW how much those cost.

Once Jay and Bey hit the stage though, even I forgot about my empty wallet, the sea of bootleg "I Woke Up Like This" and "Serfboart" T-shirts and the woman next to me who kept whipping her weave in my face.

Bey-Z are masters of their craft.

My biggest fear was that the concert would essentially be "BEYONCE!!!!! ... featuring her husband." I expected Jay to mumble a few verses from "'03 Bonnie & Clyde" and "Crazy In Love," perform a couple of those awful Blueprint 3-era tracks, then sit back while Beyonce twerks. I was wrong - Jay more than held up his end of the bargain. Jay performed just as many of his solo hits as did his wife.

While most rappers stand on stage with their hands in their pockets, Jay brought an infectious energy. Tracks like "On To The Next One" and "F*ckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt" typically bore me, but Jay's performances, complete with blinding light shows, were impossible to ignore. He even made sure to sprinkle in some gems for his hard core fans - I nearly elbowed the wifey in the face when the beat to "Jiggy My N*gga" dropped.

She woke up like dis.
Of course, no one is capable of upstaging Beyonce, who proved to me that she's the best performer of our generation. Bey's arena-rattling performance of feminist anthem "Flawless" nearly had the crowd in hysterics. Her ability to connect with fans up in the rafters is truly a sight to behold. Bey morphing from enigmatic specter on "Haunted" to acrobatic pin-up girl on "Partition" is one thing, but her true talent lies in her  immaculate vocals. She sounded studio perfect on every single song - never out of breath, never off key. It's mind-blowing that a woman who spent nearly three hours stomping around a stage and swinging from chairs could pull of the simmering ballad "Resentment" without a flaw.

She's not human.

The only shortcoming in her set was her performance of Lauryn Hill's "Ex-Factor." Again, every note was pitch-perfect but it lacked that soulful, guttural emotion of the original. It's the one time Bey's adherence to perfection betrayed her.

 Jay and Bey also showed surprising chemistry. Bey incorporated a few of Jay's hits into her own routines, remixing "Clique" and "Takeover" into "Diva" and "Ring the Alarm," respectively. They looked like they were having the time of their lives bouncing on stage like teenagers during "Drunk In Love" while, later, coming off like the mature married couple on "Young Forever." They didn't sound like two artists sharing a concert billing, they sounded like two lovers sharing their experiences with the world.

On The Run is truly a spectacle - and not just one meant for Beyonce Stans. It's easily the best-performed show I've ever attended. I can't say it's my favorite concert ever - I doubt anything will ever beat my experience in the spring of 2009 - but in terms of sheer spectacle, On The Run is in another lane.

It makes living in poverty for six months almost worth it.
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Friday, July 11, 2014

With a couple of exceptions, hip-hop rarely recognizes the contributions of talented white rappers. Instead of treating them as objects of scorn and ridicule, today we're saluting white artists who have blessed the game with great albums. You can't define talent by color.


Yelawolf, Radioactive (2011)

Yelawolf's 2011 debut was pretty overlooked at the time but it's a pretty solid outing. Yela made his mark with tales of rural life accented by his rapid-fire flow. If you missed this album the first time around, it's not too late to check it out.




Also check out:
"Get Away," featuring Shawty Fatt and Mystikal
"Whip It"



3rd Bass, The Cactus Album (1989)

The legendary Beastie Boys may have opened the door but give props to 3rd Bass for finding their own lane. The Cactus Album, aka The Cactus Cee/D, is just pure fun, an element hip-hop has been missing for almost decades now.




Also check out:
"Steppin to the AM"
"Product of the Environment"

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 10, 2014



Playa I take a few weeks off from doling out love advice and my queue of questions grows 100-fold. If I haven't gotten to yours yet, hang in there. I'll answer it soon.

In the meantime, here's how you can add to my pile.

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:

In light of Robin Thicke running around town pathetically begging Paula Patton for her forgiveness, why is it that it takes a man's woman leaving him to make him into the man that she has always wanted?
Tired of Games

Similar to the mighty Samson, when Thicke lost his long locks, he also lost his strength.




And apparently, he also lost his good sense.

I'm still not convinced that this whole pitiful Paula passion play (alliteration!) isn't just some ill-advised marketing strategy. What I do know is that the Paula album is an abysmal failure. (Peep the review). He only sold 530 copies of his album in the UK. 530 copies! My high school band sold more than 530 candy bars for their fundraisers! Thicke needs to do better.

But enough about Thicke's inherent wackness.

The answer to your question is simple: Why do y'all wait until company comes over to clean your filthy houses? Why do you suddenly decide to take your jobs seriously a week before your performance evaluation? It's the same reason we mistreat our loved ones, yet whine and moan when they leave - we take our blessing for granted until it's crunch time. THEN we suddenly want to get our acts together.

We'd save a lot of time, energy and heartbreak if we cherished what we had from the start, not make up for lost ground after the fact.

And don't get me wrong - we all make mistakes. I'm big on forgiveness. Don't sit around acting like you've never slipped up. I've seen some of y'all's Instagram accounts.

Don't wait until your blessing walks out of the door before you decide to embrace it. Lord knows we don't need another Paula album.

Next question!

Is it cool for ex's to still hang out with the other's families like they are still part of the family? Does it not become awkward when the other moves on and begins to bring their new love around?
All In The Family

At first glance I thought this question was kinda absurd - why would you want to hang around your ex's family so you can be belittled every moment?

Then I realized that if I broke up with the wifey, I'd miss her family terribly. They're MY family now.

Still, if you broke up with your ex, you kinda have to break up with their family too. Sure you can be cordial - don't defriend them on all your little social media doohickies - but constantly hanging around the ex-fam might send mixed messages. Grandma n' dem might see your loitering around the house as a sign that the relationship is on the mend. And as you mentioned, things will get really awkward if a new love shows up.

It's cool too keep in touch with your ex's family if you were very close, but be cautious. The more people you drag into your breakup, the more drama you'll encounter. That's true in every walk of life.
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Tuesday, July 8, 2014


I'm very saddened to report that we've lost a soul singer brimming with potential.

Alex Boyd passed away after a July 6 motorcycle accident, according to his Facebook page.

Boyd's biggest achievement was his 2012 single, "I Wish I Knew." While it was gentle and breezy, his vocals displayed amazing strength and control - characteristics of an industry veteran. He was destined to go far. In recent months, Boyd was fine-tuning his first release, Commit Me, and pursuing his options with record labels.

Visit my boys at YouKnowIGotSoul.com to view an interview with Boyd.

Boyd's death is heartbreaking. In a genre where true soul is becoming a lost art, his music flaunted it with ease. I was eager for him to break into the mainstream - I have no doubt that he would have been a star.

Check out "I Wish I Knew" below.



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Friday, July 4, 2014


On its best day, hip-hop is a lot of things: Stirring. Thought-provoking. Spiritual. Powerful.

But patriotic? Not hardly.

There are countless tracks that take our government, our leadership and deep-rooted institutional racism to task. In fact, nearly every rap track with "America" in the title drips with sarcasm and spite. Finding a song that actually celebrates the country is as impossible as finding a full bottle of barbecue sauce at Rick Rawse's house.

No worries, I tracked down a few songs - just in time for your cookouts.

This July 4, as we honor our nation's birthday by nearly killing family members over a game of spades gone awry, blast these songs as you celebrate the land of liberty.

Hip-hop was a culture defined by rebellion and defiance - in a way, it's the same attitude that America had in its fight for independence. They have a lot more in common that you'd think.

Petey Pablo, "Raise Up (All Cities Remix)



When Petey dropped his signature hit in 2001, it was an ode to his home state of North Carolina. But after the 9/11 terror attacks, we were all hit with a surge of national pride. Petey revamped his song to shout out the entire country.

Young Jeezy featuring Nas "My President"



This is more of a salute to Barack Obama's historic presidential victory in 2008 than a salute to the country itself, but hey, you take what you can get. It's no secret that I'm not the biggest Jeezy fan but this track actually hits the mark - showing equal amounts of despair and hope for the future.

Kurtis Blow, "America"



Even Kurtis Blow, the happiest rapper you'll ever meet, got political sometimes. The first half of the song is Blow (in the most corny way possible, naturally) gushing over America's freedoms. The second half is a plea to President Reagan to end his war mongering, before we're all killed in World War 3. Obviously that didn't happen. Honestly, the most offensive part of the song is when he categorizes the continent of Africa as a country. We need to do better.

The Throne featuring Frank Ocean, "Made In America"



Backed by Frank Ocean, Jay Z and Kanye West wax nostalgic about their rise to glory. It's not so much a salute to the country as it is a reminder of the opportunities America can provide to even its most oppressed people. Sweet baby Jesus, miracles do happen.

What did I miss? Share your favorite patriotic rap tracks below. 
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