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All I Need: Amerie’s “Touch” Turns 10

Amerie in 2005.

Amerie in 2005

Theories of new leadership for the R&B female vanguard at the outset of the 2000’s rumble on today. After Aaliyah’s untimely death, a vacuum opened and many rushed to fill itBeyoncé ascended quickly.

Though there have always been the zeitgeist figures of any genre, usually it’s those under the surface of said genre that carry its current along. Singers like Mrs. Carter look to those currents for inspirationoften they translate their breakthroughs to a wider audience. The politics of this exchange will invoke ire, but that’s a conversation for another time.

Amerie Rogers was, and is, a strong current in modern R&B’s ocean.

Amerie snuggled in between hip-hop and neo-soul with her first album All I Have (2002). But, a decade ago many questioned if the voice behind that record was just an extension of its producer Rich Harrison. It was a misconception Amerie refuted with her sophomore LP.

The History

The biracial vocalistAmerie is of Korean and African-American descentwas the requisite “army brat” due to her father’s vocation with the United States government. By the time Amerie was exiting her teens, she had traveled extensively and would secure her higher education (via Georgetown University). However, music, literature, art and fashion remained her passions; she placed herself in a position to meet music heads of industry to pursue her dream.

Neophyte producer Rich Harrison, fresh off assignments for Mary BligeMary (1999) and No More Drama (2001)crossed paths with Amerie. The pairing had instant creative chemistry and Amerie’s debut All I Have (Columbia, 2002) was born. Held aloft by its single “Why Don’t We Fall In Love?” (U.S. R&B #9, U.S. Pop #23) in the summer of 2002, Amerie made a splash with urban radio and its record buyers.

All I Have was a good starting point for Amerie and work slowly began on its follow-up. In the interim between Amerie’s first and second albums, Harrison ventured out for more production job opportunities. Harrison’s take on “go-go music,” its roots owed to the clubby Washington, D.C. flavored go-go, had found another voice to wield it, Amerie’s Columbia label mate Beyoncé.

Crazy in Love,” lifted from Beyoncé’s platinum busting Dangerously in Love (2003), made Harrison an overnight R&B knobtwirler hot property of the period. The reappropriated go-go vibe almost became cemented to Beyoncé’s sonic identity, despite Amerie fronting it just a year earlier.

Unmoved, Amerie reenlisted Harrison and set forth to achieve a sophomore strike.

The Record

Amerie's

Amerie’s “Touch” transformation

Amerie quietly went about writing 10 of the 11 cuts that comprised her second LP, Touch―international versions boasted “Man Up” (with Nas) and an ambitious Diana Ross cover (“I’m Coming Out”).

This dramatic turn-around was a large leap of progression as Amerie had no writing input on Touch’s preceding record.

Amerie and Harrison steered Touch with additional production / writing from a wealth of mainstream and underground talent: Bink!, Lil’ Jon, The Buchanans, Red Sypda, Dre & Vidal, Cory Rooney, Sean Garrett and Bryce Wilson (formerly of Mantronix and Groove Theory). Touch split its sound across uptempos and downtempos.

The former batch were led by the gorgeous, but percussive “1 Thing”. Utilizing a brainy interpolation of “Oh, Calcutta!” by The Meters, Amerie took back the sound she put on the scene. Yet, “1 Thing’s” melodic femininity held a confidence and control (vocally) that heretofore she had not shown.

Subsequent shakers were meaty (the title song, “Not the Only One,” “Talkin’ ‘Bout”), but they lacked that sweet underpinning which made “1 Thing” addictive. Thankfully, later elevated excursions on her third and fourth records juggled production and performance energy evenly.

The latter category of ballads is where Touch highlighted Amerie’s refined taste in samples: “All I Need” (Jean Carne’s “You Are All I Need”), “Rolling Down My Face”  (Roy Ayers’ “Searching”) and “Can We Go” (Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Evil). Amerie reinterpreted them all with a refreshing spin. In particular, “Can We Go” (the sole Harrison penned number) was a cascading duet with crooner Carl Thomas that captured Amerie’s sensitive side superbly. 

With the stated 11 tracks, excusing an unnecessary “1 Thing” remix with Eve, Touch platformed Amerie’s own personality.

The Impact

The Touch LP cover

The Touch LP cover

“1 Thing” ushered in the “new Amerie” to critics and record buyers. It was a hit: U.S. R&B #1, U.S. Pop #8, U.K. #4.

“1 Thing” became Amerie’s signature tune and netted a Grammy nomination for “Best Female R&B Vocal Performance” in 2006. Additionally, it was one of the inaugural digital singles to be awarded with a platinum certification by the RIAA.

It didn’t hurt that “1 Thing” was the theme to the Will Smith rom-com ‘Hitch’ giving it a larger pop audience. Its parent recording Touch landed on 4/26/15 to favor on the charts: U.S. Billboard 200 #2, U.S. Top R&B / Hip-Hop #1, U.K. #28.

Critically, Amerie’s maneuver to take hold of her artistic affairs paid off.

Vibe Magazine’s Angie Romero opined:

The brash soul samples, horns and hard club beats on the lead single, “1 Thing,” are an excellent preview of Touch’s sonic flair.

Rolling Stone writer Bill Werde elaborated further:

Currently booming from jeeps in a neighborhood near you, Amerie’s “1 Thing” is an early front-runner for “song-of-the-summer” status. Amerie is all grown up on her second effort. And in this case, growth is good.

The corresponding music video for “1 Thing” also announced a visually alert Amerie. Her love of high fashion and pop culture (notice the nod to the Elvis Presley ‘68 Comeback Special’  concert) were very much present. She wasn’t just a pretty face, her ideas for conception, creation and execution extended from the lyric notepad, to her closet and the director’s chair.

“1 Thing”

Directed By: Chris Robinson and Amerie

Touch reached gold certification in the United States with 406,000 copies moved as of it last certification in June 2009. It spun off two additional singles during its original lifespan in 2005: “Touch” (U.S. R&B #95, U.K. #19) and “Talkin’ ‘Bout” (U.S. R&B Bubbling Under #2). The LP  garnered Amerie a “Best Contemporary R&B Album” Grammy bid in 2006 along with the aforementioned “1 Thing” nomination.

Amerie should have had an easy ride with Columbia Records because of Touch’s victory. Sadly, trouble had already appeared during the second record’s formative period .

The label wasn’t ready to cooperate with Amerie’s new outlook for her career; the singer later revealed that Columbia had fought her on the decision to move forward with “1 Thing” as the album’s first single. The other selections pulled from Touch received little-to-no push. The exquisite LPs that followed Touch had stalled sales because of major label indifference: Because I Love It (Columbia, 2007) and In Love & War (Island / Def Jam, 2009).

Since abdicating from A&R politics after her fourth record, the singer / songwriter / producer / arranger has been hard at work on her fifth LP, Cymatika. The long player’s title draws from the term cymatics, the scientific study of visible sound and vibrations. Various pieces have been shared by Amerie from the forthcoming effort since 2011; last year’s “What I Want” was the most exciting taster thus far.

Amerie scaled cerebral heights with her third and fourth albums, but it all began with Touch. Amerie’s chrysalis instituted there allowed her to be reborn as one of those mentioned driving currents in modern R&B. Her influence is very present in the women of that genre. Listen closely. Ranking: Semi-classic

[Editor’s Note: Touch is readily in print, digitally and physically. For current information on Amerie, visit her official website.-QH]

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The QH Blend’s Class of 2004

20042014

Hello readers! If you missed my 2004-2014 retrospectives from throughout the year, I’ve collected them all for you here. See below for the specific link to the corresponding album that you’re interested in. My selections from 2014 will be appearing soon, so be on the lookout!

Emma Bunton: Free Me (read here)

Vanessa Carlton: Harmonium (read here)

De La Soul: The Grind Date (read here)

En Vogue: Soul Flower (read here)

Janet Jackson: Damita Jo (read here)

Gwen Stefani: Love. Angel. Music. Baby. (read here)

Hikaru Utada: Exodus (read here)

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2004-2014 Retrospectives on De La Soul, Vanessa Carlton & Gwen Stefani

 

Collage

 

 

Artist: De La Soul

De La Soul, circa 2004

De La Soul, circa 2004

 

Album: The Grind Date

Label: AOI / Sanctuary Urban / BMG

Released: 10/5/04

Singles: “Shoomp,” “Much More,” “Rock Co.Kane Flow”

Synopsis: One of the most prolific and expressive outfits in hip-hop started the 2000’s ambitiously. Conceived as a three-part album series the “Art Official Intelligence” movement produced two records: Mosaic Thump (2000) and Bionix (2001). The LPs were fraught with commercial and creative turmoil. De La Soul persevered and decided to debunk their longtime label Tommy Boy Records to finalize the third installment in the AOI arc. The title of their album series also ended up becoming the name of  De La Soul’s own indie label.

The Grind Date began as the third entry to AOI, but ended up becoming its own record apart from that trilogy―AOI remains unfinished. Despite that creative question mark De La Soul left hanging with the AOI project, The Grind Date became their strongest effort since their mid-90’s stretch. The Grind Date featured only the best production from the likes of J Dilla, MadLib, 9th Wonder, Supa Dave West and Jake One.

Perfectly pitched between acerbic rhymes (“Verbal Clap”) and their most tuneful music (“Much More”) De La Soul had found the bridge between musicality and contemporary acknowledgement. A decade has passed since The Grind Date’s appearance, but if this is De La Soul’s last album to date it’s a good way to wrap their legacy.

Ranking: Classic

[Watch / Listen: “Shopping Bags (She Got From You)”]

Artist: Vanessa Carlton

Carlton, circa 2004

Carlton, circa 2004

 

Album: Harmonium

Label: A&M

Released: 11/9/04

Singles: “White Houses”

Synopsis: Carlton had ridden the crest of the post-Lilith Fair singer-songwriter boom with her debut Be Not Nobody (2002). It was easy to assume that her follow-up Harmonium would meet a receptive audience. Unfortunately, Carlton did suffer a “sophomore slump” commercially with the album―creatively the record struck gold.

Richer in its musical presentation (think Kate Bush or Tori Amos), Carlton still maintained lyrical intimacy throughout the record. The jaunty opener “White Houses” recalled Carlton’s own teenage youth, but could mirror anyone’s own “coming of age” experience. Carlton also continued to peer into the notion of love’s complexities with the two highlights of the LP being “San Francisco” and “Afterglow”. A nice compromise between the approachable pop of her debut and her newfound cerebral explorations, Harmonium gained a cult following among Carlton fans. The record influenced her next two records, notably the superb Rabbits on the Run (2011).

Ranking: Classic

[Watch / Listen: “White Houses”]

Artist: Gwen Stefani

Stefani, circa 2004

Stefani, circa 2004

Album: Love. Angel. Music. Baby.

Label: Interscope

Released: 11/23/04

Singles: “What You Waiting For?,” “Rich Girl,” “Hollaback Girl,” “Cool,” “Luxurious,” “Crash”

Synopsis: It had been a long time coming, but No Doubt frontwoman Gwen Stefani unleashed one of the defining pop records of the decade with her solo debut Love. Angel. Music. Baby. Drawing from a wealth of influences―musically and visually―that included Harajuku culture, 1980’s pop and hip-hop, Stefani’s album was full of hits and strong non-single material.

The production muscle allowed Stefani’s lyrical ideas to soar: Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Tony Kanal (bassist of No Doubt), Dr. Dre, Nellee Hooper, Dallas Austin, Andre 3000 (of OutKast). Whether waxing irreverent (“Rich Girl”), wacky (“Bubble Pop Electric”) or just creating something beautiful (“Cool”) Stefani was brilliant throughout the LP. It was the first single pulled from Love. Angel. Music. Baby. that hit hard―“What You Waiting For?” With a clever lyrical nod to the No Doubt b-side “Beauty Contest” (“Born to blossom, bloom to perish!”), Gwen’s awareness of her of solo flight risk was intriguing to hear.

One of the last great American pop records to emerge, Love. Angel. Music. Baby. proved that Stefani could be hip, smart and fashionable and that none of these concepts were mutually exclusive when it came to crafting pop music.

Ranking: Classic

[Watch / Listen: “What You Waiting For?”]

[Editor’s Note: All three albums are readily in print digitally and physically. Please see the respective official websites for current information: De La Soul / Vanessa Carlton / Gwen Stefani-QH]

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Countdown: My Week with Beyoncé Featured on Blogcritics

Beyoncé from the "Ghost" video, circa 2013

Beyoncé from the “Ghost” video, circa 2013

My essay on Beyoncé’s entire discography (thus far), is up for reading now at Blogcritics, where it was first published. I discuss the week I spent listening to this polarizing singer’s music after purchasing her entire output last Sunday afternoon. Make sure to check it out!

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Jennifer Lopez: The Road to “A.K.A”

Lopez in 'Billboard Magazine,' 2014.

Lopez for Billboard, 2014

As with the best in the field of pop, Jennifer Lopez became an unexpected heroine of that said movement. Appearing in 1999 alongside the likes of Britney Spears and Hikaru Utada―two women who redefined pop across a decade very differently―Lopez’s flavorful, but predictable spice didn’t feel lasting.

Fifteen years later, Lopez’s music generates conversation as much as her acting career and other entertainment endeavors.

There have been victories and defeats, many of those definitions subjective when asking certain segments of her base.

On the eve of her eighth studio player A.K.A (Capitol), The QH Blend takes a quick look back at Lopez’s previous platters―the exceptional and the dismal. The QH Blend’s review on A.K.A. will follow this entry sometime tomorrow.

On the 6

On the 6

On the 6 (1999, Epic)

Singles: “If You Had My Love,” “No Me Ames,” “Waiting for Tonight,” “Feelin’ So Good,” “Let’s Get Loud”

Synopsis: In hindsight, On the 6 was an unassuming starting point for this actress who held an ambition to become a pop vocalist. The singles were professional and pitched between the Latin fascination of 1999 and that millennial cusp of dance, R&B, hip-hop and pop. “Waiting for Tonight” stands as one of Lopez’s most authoritative (and lovely) vocals committed; “Let’s Get Loud” remains as tacky as it was then unfortunately. The album fare was decent enough (“Should’ve Never,” “Open Off My Love” ), but felt secondary to the sheer power of “If You Had My Love” and the aforementioned “Waiting for Tonight”.

 

J.Lo

J.Lo

J.Lo (2001, Epic)

Singles: “Love Don’t Cost a Thing,” “Play,” “Ain’t It Funny,” “I’m Real”

Synopsis: Lopez’s predecessor Paula Abdul rectified the dreaded “singles vehicle” tag with her second LP, 1991’s Spellbound. There, Abdul cut hits and non-singles that showed that she could charm throughout an entire album. In that regard, Lopez’s second album felt like a step back and forward jointly. A fantastic singles project, J.Lo had Lopez wielding a variety of pop weaponry in “Play” (Euro-dance funk) and “Love Don’t Cost a Thing” (neo-freestyle).

The two remaining singles (“Ain’t It Funny,” “I’m Real“) found new life in hip-hop-pop skins later in 2001 through the now defunct Murder Inc. empire―see J to Tha L―O! The Remixes (2002, Epic) for details.  The remainder of J.Lo played as an afterthought in the wake of more films and endorsement deals; as a result, J.Lo is Lopez’s weakest offering still.

 

This Is Me...Then

This Is Me…Then

This is Me…Then (2002, Epic)

Singles: “Jenny From the Block,” “All I Have,” “I’m Glad,” “Baby I ♥ U”

Synopsis: At the critical mass of her popular culture summit, Lopez released her first artistic statement. The record was a gorgeous latticework of adult pop tempered with Lopez’s obvious affections to the music that informed her Bronx youth. Stepping forward vocally (“You Belong to Me,” originally by Carly Simon), lyrically (“I’ve Been Thinkin’”) and musically (“Again”) Lopez had flexed her creative muscles. It didn’t hurt that she landed her first definitive single in the process, the minty cool of “Jenny From the Block”. The cut dovetailed between irony and reality, suggesting a clever mind behind those pretty eyes. The album was also home to one of her most unsung singles thus far, the lush “I’m Glad”.

 

Rebirth

Rebirth

Rebirth (2005, Epic)

Singles: “Get Right,” “Hold You Down”

Synopsis: Clearly a holding pattern,  Rebirth was a hodge podge of previous Lopez incarnations. There was the hit that called this LP home (“Get Right” ) and there were a host of other songs relegated to album tracks that deserved the single treatment (“Whatever You Wanna Do,” “Cherry Pie”). In all, Rebirth didn’t recreate anything versus just reprise certain ideas in a sharper context.

In particular, “(Can’t Believe) This Is Me” felt glaringly out of place in the midst of the other contemporary urban-pop stock on the record. It would find its space on Lopez’s next recording, one of her biggest musical gambles ever.

 

Como Ama una Mujer

Como Ama una Mujer

Como Ama una Mujer (2007, Epic)

Singles: “Qué Hiciste,” “Me Haces Falta”

Synopsis: The translation of the album title reads as “How a woman loves” . For Lopez it was an apt description, she had come into her own as a vocalist that held more shades of expression than anyone had realized. From the melancholia of “Sola” or the rushing passion of the lead single “Qué Hiciste,”  Lopez had arrived at a new era in what her music could do. Though many critics guffawed at Lopez’s attempt at a quieter recording, she steadied on and the album earned hearty sales internationally.

The previously mentioned “(Can’t Believe) This Is Me” that felt painfully out of place on Rebirth was recast as “Porque Te Marchas”―it fit right in on this cinematic beauty of an album.

 

Brave

Brave

Brave (2007, Epic)

Singles: “Do It Well,” “Hold It Don’t Drop It”

Synopsis: Released several months after Como Ama una Mujer, Lopez transported her ambition from that project across to this one. An album free of production ego―meaning the producer constructed the backdrop and allowed Lopez to bring it to life on her own―made Brave one of her most pleasurable plays. It was also the third album in Lopez’s catalogue to be solid from back to front. Opening with the salty-and-sweet snap of “Stay Together” and closing with the fragile titular track, Lopez mesmerized with strong performances throughout Brave.

The two singles earmarked from this release also had Lopez in her zone; “Hold It Don’t Drop It” showcased Lopez strutting alongside a sample of “It Only Takes a Minute” by Tavares as if she was born to do it. Sadly, the record stalled with a broader audience and has since become something of a lost gem.

 

Love?

Love?

Love? (2011, Island / Def Jam)

Singles: “On the Floor,” “I’m Into You,” “Papi”

Synopsis: The long, painful road to Lopez’s first post-Epic Records album was frustrating when the product finally emerged. After the sabotaged “Fresh Out of the Oven”―one of Lopez’s more interesting songs―Lopez went straight for the chart coin with the bulk of this album. While always chart conscious to a degree, she had previously displayed an ability to toggle between that ambition and adventurous territory.

The singles were perfunctory with “On the Floor” becoming the chartbuster of the trio released from Love?. The album material ranked as her worst since J.Lo; none of the growth exercised over the two LPs that preceded Love? appeared here. There were two convincing moments on Love? though: “Good Hit” and “(What Is) Love?” were winks to her engaging pop of yore.

[Editor’s Note: Only Lopez’s labels were featured in the piece due to its focus on her. All of the discussed recordings are in print, physically & digitally. For more information on Jennifer Lopez, visit her official site.-QH]

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Hip-Hop “Coffee” Courtesy of Joey Aich

Joey Aich in performance

Joey Aich in performance

Hip-hop is in an odd space as I type this. Somewhere between commercial irony and recycled hipster grooves, this galvanizing genre sits currently.

Up-and-coming emcee―and Denison University student―Joey Aich is plainly aware of this reality. Aich is neither intimidated or worried about it if “Coffee” is anything to go by. Listeners should not be lazy and dismiss this earworm as back-pack rap fluff either. As the track unwinds, one hears how Aich’s influences―such as Buhloone Mindstate (1993) era De La Soul―have been reinterpreted and put through his charismatic flow and production.

The music video details a (seemingly) mundane day in this college upstart’s life. It is an appropriate setting since “Coffee’s” forthcoming junior album, College D.egree, is due to drop soon. In all, “Coffee” as a musical and visual presentation is indie hip-hop at its most charmingly cool.

“Coffee”

Directed By: Monde

[Editor’s Note: For availability and release date information on “Coffee” and College D.egree, visit Joey Aich’s official site and Twitter page.-QH]

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vibes+stuff: sarob’s “decent.” LP Reviewed

sarob

sarob

The Midwest has proven itself as a space for birth, or rebirth, for black music. Rhythm and blues, jazz and hip-hop have all experienced various incarnations here and produced a wild crop of viable acts.

One young man in particular from Dayton, Ohio (a city once known as a part of a larger whole of the “Funk Capitol of the World”) has made a conscious decision to enter the competitive waters of hip-hop; does that Midwest sensibility grace his work?

In his own words Robby Tate, a sophomore at Denison University, described tapping into the creative ethos of the Midwest, “I was trying to figure out my voice and my message. I knew that I had a lot of emotions that I either didn’t (want to) express or couldn’t convey in a way to make people care. So I tried to make it sound cool while keeping it unique, personal and not generic.”

sarob is the manifestation of Tate as an artist; he decided to reexamine a passion that began in a high school notebook full of rhymes, schemes and (unlikely) dreams. The exposure of college obviously quickened his heart enough to return to his closeted pipe dream and make it a reality.

Orbiting his self-professed heroes Mos Def and Q-Tip, sarob took his high school lyrics and began transforming them based on his new happenings, “It became more about personal experiences and making them apply universally. So essentially every day I would write and edit in my iPhone. I’d send verses to my friends to see what they thought.”

debut. LP cover

debut. LP cover

Like the mentioned emcees, sarob’s digital debut decent. blends head-bobbing jazz, soul and other surprising sample snatches that groove and rock.

An example of the musical compass set on debut. can be heard on the languid haze of “Tequila Mockingbird”; two other similar arrangements beam on “The Half-Decent Doodles (Vibes+Stuffs)” and the slightly more beat elevated “Yoga Pants”. sarob acquaints himself well on the majority of the tracks, barring the occasional beginner’s clumsiness, he is concise and hypnotic as heard on “Bum Raps”.

I called it decent. because that’s what it was to me. It wasn’t entirely focused, I recorded it and eventually threw it out there for people to listen to. It was haphazard but it was just a start. I just wanted to get the experience and it was time for me to get rid of all those what if’s”.

For something that may be just a passing fancy, sarob captures the restlessness of the black, upper-middle class male finding his way through a post-high school / collegiate adulthood journey.

With a sharper set of material and more practice, sarob could be one of those indie names to come out of Ohio and lend credence to the Midwest art cauldron theory. Rank: Above Average

[Editor’s Note: debut. is available for free as a digital download here; for additional information on sarob visit the aforementioned link and his Twitter page.-QH]

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