Tag Archives: R&B

#BounceSkateandRock: An Overview of Janet Jackson on Blogcritics

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My essay on Janet Jackson’s complete discography is up for reading now on Blogcritics, where it was first published. To celebrate the return of the R&B legend, look back with me across the 10 albums that built Jackson’s legacy from the ground up. Keep in mind, this freelance gig was a one-time deal as I’m still busy with preparation for my book currently. More details on that next month.-QH

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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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Lenny Kravitz’s “Strut” Reviewed on Blogcritics

Kravitz, circa 2014

Kravitz, circa 2014

My essay on Lenny Kravitz’s new album Strut is up for reading now at Blogcritics, where it was first published. Kravitz hits it hard and fast on his 10th album in his third decade of recording. The record is in stores today. Make sure to check it out!

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Jody Watley Visits “Paradise” on Her New EP

Cover to Jody Watley's Paradise EP

Cover to Jody Watley’s Paradise EP

She’s back again, though to the initiated Jody Watley never left. The Queen of Cool’s Paradise EP is her return to music since her last ambitious undertaking,  2006 / 2009’s The Makeover.

Watley’s R&B has always been progressive and the arc of Paradise is no different from Watley’s past endeavors―somewhat. This time, Watley exchanges the electronically charged rhythm and blues from her last three records with a classic / contemporary fusion of disco. Understand, this isn’t your little brother’s hipster disco, nor is it just a retroactive Shalamar redux. Paradise melds elements of the aforementioned disco genre from today and yesterday.

Horns announce the lead single “Nightlife”; the song’s beat whacks and whips in a modern way, ensuring her dominance of the dancefloor in 2014. The energy levels don’t dissipate after “Nightlife,” they keep hustling on the multi-layered Los Angeles funk of “Dancer”. It’s here that Watley’s commitment to quality is made clear with her longtime producer (and friend) Rodney Lee co-piloting Paradise. Thanks to Watley, Lee and Co., Paradise maintains its bright exterior with heart from a production standpoint.

Vocally and lyrically Watley still has it with her integrity colored escapism―see the MdCL remix of “Tonight’s the Night”. “Sanctuary” and the CD exclusive cut “Everlasting” steal the spotlight on Paradise though. Both songs capture the slippery sensuality that made “Still a Thrill,” “I Want You” and “Whenever…” classics. Watley’s lowlit tones imbue these calmer tracks with an enthralling presence.

“Nightlife” (Dave Doyle Remix)

Directed By: Ray Easmon, Jody Watley, Steve Willis

The only real sticking point with this project is that there isn’t more. This sonic avenue definitely would have lent itself to an album’s span. While you could never accuse her of being shy on previous platters, this recording finds Watley dancefloor bound like never before. The new EP will assuredly appreciate in value like much in this R&B icon’s versatile discography. Ranking: Semi-Classic

[Editor’s Note: Paradise is available at most digital music outlets; the CD is exclusively sold through Jody Watley’s own online boutique. For details on Paradise, Jody Watley and her current affairs, visit her official site.-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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