Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Jesse Boykins III

Love Apparatus (released April 22, 2014)

You can tell a lot about an album just from its cover.

I seriously doubt Jesse Boykins was going for the Mortal Kombat Goro look here. Instead, his cover seems to fall in line with the multi-armed deities of Hindu faith. Usually, those arms signify a different power or characteristic of that being.

Thanks to the helpful floating visuals, we can surmise that Boykins's long-anticipated album, Love Apparatus, is here to balance love and humanity over the realm of music.

Impressed? See, I know more than Biggie Small lyrics and flavors of Sour Patch Kids.

Boykins' album is a bit of an enigma, but that's what makes it so fun. On the opener "GreyScale," Boykins' voice bleeds right into the spacey production.  He basically spells it out for listeners on "Create Beauty" - the beauty of Boykins' music is the atmosphere he sets.

It's not all space jams here, though. Boykins yearns over his lover backed by his trusty guitar on "I Wish," a magnificent vocal showcase. He's not afraid to up the tempo, either. "B4 The Night Is Thru" has been floating around the 'Net for YEARS now and makes another appearance here. That's OK, though - the hypnotic, thumping track is the closest Boykins gets to a club banger and it's a great way to break up the monotony.

The themes here range from devotion to turmoil. "The Wonder Years" is an breezy look at the naivete of a blossoming relationship while "Plain" wrestles with insecurity. I guess that's part of the multi-armed balancing act. Also, shout out to Phonte for his verse on "A Matter of the Heart." The man spits flames like Daenerys Targaryen's babies.

Unfortunately, Boykins' songwriting can't keep up with that level of lyricism. His lyrics are solid at best, but come off like soggy poetry at worst. Just take "Show Me Who You Are" - the pulsating track and sharp hand claps go to waste in Boykins' alphabet soup.

Godlike? Nah. But Love Apparatus is a divine experience for R&B fans.

Best tracks: "B4 The Night Is Thru," "I Wish," "Create Beauty"

4 stars out of 5
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Friday, April 18, 2014

Finally, Friday is here. Let's bring in the weekend the right way, with two of the most notable rap albums from the 90s.

The first one comes from the homie Nick Birdsong.

Ma$e, Harlem World (1997)

Nick said: "Harlem World encapsulates the Bad Boy Era of rap, which dominated the airwaves for more than a half decade. Mase was young, fly and flashy and we wouldn't have Future or Rich Homie Quan if he didn't drop "Jealous Guys."

Also check out:

Time for Edd to Come Clean.

Jeru the Damaja, The Sun Rises in the East (1994)

Edd said: "In '94, Jeru dropped one of the best albums of the '90s, although it's also one of the era's most forgotten. Allow me to put y'all up on game.  DJ Premier's production and Jeru's poignant rhymes helped to put East Coast hip-hop back in the national spotlight after the West Coast's run of dominance."

Also check out:

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, April 16, 2014

Prom season is here and apparently KFC has the perfect gift that will make you die from embarrassment. Literally. From heart disease.

Yes, for $20, you can have the greasiest prom date at the VWF hall.

Seriously, is there anyone out there gluttonous enough to think that fried food makes a fine fashion statement?

Image via 
Oh yeah.

Here's my advice for you prom kids - don't wrap your wrists in chicken. Want more wisdom? Here's how you can get it:

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:

Do you agree that you should be friends before you are lovers?

I do agree, but it's a very fine line between building a foundation for a relationship and being sucked into the lonely vortex that is The Friend Zone.

My wife and I started out as friends, and not friends-with-benefits foolishness, either. That's not a friendship, that's an on-call booty service. We were friends in the truest sense - we spent time together, laughed and most importantly, we learned about each other. You know those "surprises" y'all encounter when you rush into relationships? Like the fact that your girl never has money for gas or your guy eats like a wild boar? We didn't have that problem. We learned all those idiosyncrasies early on.

Of course, there can be problems with this route: Spend too long being buddies, or if your romantic feelings aren't reciprocated, and you could wind up in the dreaded Friend Zone, cut off from any chance of a relationship.It's worth the risk, though.

Take it from me, when your mate is your friend, life is a lot easier. And more fun too. Want a strong relationship? Build it like you would build a strong friendship. The love should blossom from there.

Question No. 2:

Should women give a man that they are dating money?
Purse Strings

Where were these women when I was dating? Of all the women I've dated, only two IN LIFE have ever given me a gift, and one became my wife. 

Listen playa, if your man is legitimately cashed-strapped, sure, help him out. And I don't wanna hear that "HE DA MAN, HE 'POSSED TO BE PAYIN FA ME" trash. A relationship is a partnership.

But if you're simply the sugar momma for some bum, rethink your life choices.

And one more question:

How do you not bring in past hurts from previous relationships to present ones?

Simply, you have to look at each relationship as a fresh start. It's very easy for residual hurt to leak over into a new relationship. And don't misunderstand a brother - you should carry those painful lessons with you. But they should be a learning experience, not a roadblock. Each person should be judged on their own merits. Every man is NOT a cheater. Every black woman is NOT pushy and overbearing.

Use those past hurts as a lesson personal growth, not as an excuse to punish the innocent. If you started a new relationship, there has to be something special about that person, right? Dwell on what he or she has to offer, not what he or she may become.
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Sunday, April 13, 2014

At this point in hip-hop's storied history, I thought the chances of an OutKast reunion were as likely as Biggie doing the Nae Nae at a Super Bowl halftime show.

But Coachella, the annual arts and music festival, has a reputation for resurrecting the dead. They already brought 2pac back.

Friday night, OutKast rose again. Check out the performance before some salty record label removes the vid!

This performance - 90 minutes of wall-to-wall classic hits - is why I'm a fan of hip hop. Andre Benjamin and Antwan Patton aren't just a pair of eccentric Southern rappers, they're pioneers, constantly pushing hip hop in new directions. When I give current Southern rappers a hard time for being lazy and uninspired, blame OutKast. They never made excuses. They were always reinventing, always setting trends.

They were always dope.

Let's look back at their classic catalog, ranking their albums from worst to best. This list excludes their 2001 compilation and Big Boi's pair of solo albums (both his 2010 and 2012 sets are well worth your time).

OutKast is arguably the greatest rap group of all time. Here's the proof.

6. Idlewild (2006)

Soul In Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: No matter how great the performer, there's always that one album that is the black sheep of an otherwise stellar discography. Mediocrity, thy name is Idlewild. The score to the film of the same name certainly wasn't a total failure, it was just more disjointed and rushed that what we were accustomed to.

Forgotten treasures: "Morris Brown," "In Your Dreams," "Hollywood Divorce"


5. Stankonia (2000)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: Stankonia is the album that transformed Kast from Southern rap stalwarts to mainstream superstars. Since this was many fans' first brush with OutKast's greatness, they consider this album to be the pinnacle of their careers. Longtime fans know better. Don't mistake me, though, Stankonia's chaotic combination of funk, gospel, soul and hip-hop has stood the test of time.

Forgotten treasures: "Gasoline Dreams," "Slum Beautiful," "Humble Mumble"


4. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: I remember OutKast fans being a little nervous about this one back in '03. Wouldn't two solo albums divide the chemistry and creativity that Dre and Big Boi spent a decade building? How dare we question the Mighty O. Speakerboxxx and The Love Below were two vastly different albums, but both were spectacual in their own right. 3 Stacks took on the role of a 21st century Jimi Hendrix while Big Boi proved that outside of Andre's shadow he's one of the greatest MCs of all time. The level of creativity here couldn't be contained to just one disc.

Forgotten treasures: "Flip Flop Rock," "Bowtie," "A Day In The Life of Benjamin Andre (Incomplete)"


3. Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (1994)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: And so it begins. OutKast's debut is nearing its 20th birthday (!!!!) and it's still the measuring stick for Southern hip hop. Consider it Dre and Big Boi's coming of age tale - two young men enamored with the lifestyles of pimps and high-rollers but grounded by the realities they face daily in the hood. Fans could relate. And of course, the duo's mind-bending wordplay and Southern slang made every bar instantly quotable. It's one of the last great albums from hip-hop's '90s Golden Era.

Forgotten treasures: "Crumblin' Erb," "Myintrotoletuknow," "Funky Ride"


2. ATLiens (1996)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: I wrestled long and hard debating the placement of ATLiens over Kast's debut. I think this album has a razor-thin edge over its predecessor simply because it was such a huge creative departure from anything we had ever heard in hip hop. Andre and Sir Lucious traded in the Caddys for spaceships, steering clear of the era's bling and excess to tackle more meaningful issues. It was a huge risk, and it paid off.

Forgotten treasures: "Mainstream," "Ova Da Wudz," "Two Dope Boyz (In A Cadillac)"


1. Aquemini (1998)

Soul In Stereo rating: 5 stars out of 5

Edd said: There is no album in OutKast's catalog, and few in rap history, that can stand next to Aquemini. The album married Southern hip hop with 60s soul straight out of Stax Records, producing some of the best tracks the game has ever seen. Some may prefer their more commercially successful outings, but Aquemini is the album that made OutKast legendary.

Forgotten treasures: "Mamacita," "Return of the G'," "Skew It On The Bar-B"

How would you rank OutKast's albums? Speak out in the comments below.
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Friday, April 11, 2014

Man, it was a rough week in Soul In Stereo studios. I spent the first half the of week fighting the pollen spewed by that spiteful heffa Mother Nature. Then at some point I developed a real cold. The rest of the week consisted of me trying not to cough and projectile vomit at the same time.

Now I turn to the healing power of music to get me to the weekend.

The Undisputed Truth (1971)

Our man @MaximusShelby shared this gem on Twitter, proclaiming that these guys "did Gaga first." He's right, the group were part of the psychedelic soul movement, combining Motown sounds with flashy outfits and facepaint. The didn't last long but they certainly made their mark.

Also check out:
"Since I've Lost You"
"Ain't No Sunshine Since You've Been Gone"

DangerDoom, The Mouse and The Mask (2006)

When enigmatic hip-hop stars MF Doom and Danger Mouse announced that they were dropping an album sampling material from Cartoon Network, I was intrigued but, honestly, I didn't get my hopes up. The concept just seemed too ambitious, like it could slip into cornball territory at any moment. How wrong I was. Doom and Danger produced an album that was authentically hip hop, but maintained the quirky insanity of CN's Adult Swim characters. It's a must for hip-hop heads.

Also check out:
"Old School," featuring Talib Kweli
"Sofa King"

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, April 10, 2014

Chef Raekwon is still cooking up his next album, F.I.L.A.: Fly International Luxurious Art, but in the meantime check out this morsel called "The Living Room."

It's definitely luxurious but, honestly, slightly forgettable. Still, it's enough to whet our appetites for the upcoming album.

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Monday, April 7, 2014

Whoever said R&B died in the 90s hasn't been paying attention. Or maybe they just need to turn off 106 & Park.

A few weeks ago, we looked at the top 10 female R&B singers of the 2000s. It was a decade filled with hits. Don't believe me? Check this list for yourself.

And while you're at it, revisit the '90s too. Don't worry, I'll wait for you to come back:

The Best Female R&B Singers of the 90s
The Best Male R&B Singers of the 90s
The Best Female R&B Groups of the 90s
The Best Male R&B Groups of the 90s

You're back? Cool.

Today, we're looking at the top 10 brothers who kept R&B strong during the turn of the millennium. Some were traditionalists, sticking to R&B's roots. Others were trendsetters, steering the genre into new directions.

All were successful.

As a reminder, this isn't a list Edd's Favorite R&B singers from 2000-2009. Poor Keith Sweat didn't make the cut so clearly I put my biases aside this time. But before y'all start whining in my mentions because your favorites were left out, let's go over the ranking system one more time:

Rankings were greatly influenced by sales, but that wasn't the only factor. Impact and longevity were also heavily weighed. For example, Luther Vandross' two albums sold more than most artists on the list, but since he passed away early in the decade he didn't make the cut. On the other side of the coin, Trey Songz didn't truly break out until 2009 - that wasn't enough time to make this list. Sorry, ladies. Oh, and of course, strength of material was the last determining factor in the rankings.

Now that we're all on the same page, let's look back at 10 years of great music.

Honorable mention: Luther Vandross, Avant, Mario, Anthony Hamilton, Ginuwine

10. Joe

Albums: My Name Is Joe (2000, 3x platinum); Better Days (2001, gold); And Then... (2003, gold); Ain't Nothin' Like Me (2007); Joe Thomas, New Man (2008); Signature (2009)

No. 1 singles: "Stutter" (2000, pop and R&B)

Edd said: Call Joe Thomas "Mr. Consistency." Joe enjoyed career highs at the beginning of the decade but continued to churn out quality material on almost a yearly basis. Few can maintain that sustained level of success.


9. Jaheim

Albums: Ghetto Love (2001, platinum); Still Ghetto (2002, platinum); Ghetto Classics (2006, gold); The Makings of a Man (2007, gold)

Edd said: Jaheim may well be this millennium's Jodeci - bringing time-tested soulful vocals straight to the hood. His down-to-earth lyrics rang with the familiarity of Teddy Pendergrass, making him a fan favorite.


8. Jamie Foxx

Albums: Unpredictable (2005, 2x platinum); Intuition (platinum)

No. 1 singles: "Blame It" (2009)

Edd said: In the '90s, music always seemed to be a side project for Jamie Foxx, who gained greater fame on the small and big screens. But by 2005, Jamie finally took music charts by storm, becoming one of the premier acts in R&B.


7. Maxwell

Albums: Now (2001, platinum): BLACKsummers'night (2009, platinum)

No. 1 singles: "Lifetime" (2001, urban A/C); "Pretty Wings" (2009, R&B and urban A/C); "Bad Habits" (2009, urban A/C); "Fistful of Tears" (2009, urban A/C)

Edd said: We don't hear from Maxwell often, but when we do, it's always worth the wait. R&B's most elusive star bookended the decade with hits. If he had a bigger presence he'd be ranked even higher.


6. John Legend

Albums: Get Lifted (2004, 2x platinum); Once Again (2006, platinum); Evolver (2008, gold)

Edd said: R&B purists may have turned their noses up at some of the decades more hip-hop influenced hits, but they couldn't deny John Legend's magic, who ushered in a new era of throwback soul. 


5. Ne-Yo

Albums: In My Own Words (2006, platinum); Because of You (2007, platinum); Year of the Gentleman (2008, platinum)

No. 1 singles: "So Sick" (2006, pop); "Sexy Love" (2006, R&B); "Miss Independent" (2009, R&B)

Edd said: Ne-Yo may have possessed the mightiest pen in the decade. Not only did build an impressive resume of songwriting credits for other artists, he became a superstar in his own right. 


4. Chris Brown

Albums: Chris Brown (2005, 2x platinum); Exclusive (2007, 2x platinum); Graffiti (2009)

No. 1 singles: "Run It!" (2005, pop and R&B); "Say Goodbye" (2006, R&B); "Kiss Kiss" (2007, pop)

Edd said: Y'all know I love to give my Cousin Chis a hard time, but even I can't hate on the success he earned in the 2000s. His catchy tracks and showmanship whipped audiences in a frenzy - briefly, his name was even whispered in the same breath as Michael Jackson. Briefly.


3. Justin Timberlake

Albums: Justified (2002, 3x platinum); FutureSex/LoveSounds (2006, 4x platinum)

No. 1 singles: "SexyBack" (2006, pop and R&B); "My Love" (2006, pop); "What Goes Around ... Comes Around" (2006, pop) 

Edd said: From boy-band pop star to R&B posterchild, JT grew before our eyes in the 21st century. His collaborations with both Timbaland and the Neptunes made him one of the biggest crossover stars in the industry.


2. R. Kelly

Albums: TP-2.com (2000, 4x platinum); The Best of Both Worlds (2002, platinum); Chocolate Factory (2003, 3x platinum); Unfinished Business (2004, platinum); Happy People/U Saved Me (2004, 3x platinum); TP.3: Reloaded (2005, platinum); Double Up (2007, platinum); Untitled (2009)

No. 1 singles: "I Wish" (2000, R&B); "Fiesta (Remix)" (2001, R&B); "Step in the Name of Love" (2003, R&B)

Edd said: Well, the 2000s were the best of times and the worst of times for the Pied Piper of R&B. Despite his legal woes, he was still a driving force in R&B. Kellz's music was embraced by gospel enthusiasts, soul lovers, steppers and even the ringtone rap set. R's ability to adapt was his greatest asset.


1. Usher

Albums: 8701 (2001, 4x platinum); Confessions (2004, diamond); Here I Stand (2008, platinum)

No. 1 singles: "U Remind Me" (2001, pop and R&B); "U Got It Bad" (2001, pop and R&B); "Yeah" (2004, pop and R&B); "Burn" (2004, pop and R&B); "Confessions Part II" (2004, pop and R&B); "My Boo" (2004, pop and R&B); "Love In This Club" (2008, pop and R&B); "Papers" (2009, R&B)

Edd said: No surprise here, playas. This was the decade Usher was crowned king of R&B. Ursher's heralded Confessions was a juggernaut, pumping out crossover singles with ease, but he wasn't a one-album wonder. Every release dominated R&B charts while infiltrating pop audiences. No one did it better in the decade. 
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