Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Return

It's been a long time...I shouldn't have left you...without a few words to reflect to.

Yes, it has been far too long since my last blog entry, but I'M BACK...with a vengeance. Well, not really. We're rapidly approaching the holidays. I'm still trying to get the premiere Boss Level EP completed, & still trying to make sense of all the nonsense. While I've been away, not much has happened. A few misunderstandings due to over done political correctness, but no harm, no casualties.

I fear that I'm growing restless. Every now & then, moments arrive where it almost feels like the world isn't enough. It's as if you're very soul is yearning for someone, something to stir it. Perhaps it was the Halloween season, but during my second month of living solo I began to watch more horror/thriller films wanting to be scared...challenging my psyche to not be affected by the many movies I was watching at the time. I wondered if there was something sadistic about wanting to be frightened. Fear is usually an emotion that most try to avoid, & here I was rushing towards it.

I got through "Trick or Treat," "Session 9," "Martyrs," "Rob Zombie's Halloween remake," "The Friday the 13th remake," "Paranormal Activity" & others. Still, no problem sleeping, but...I guess that's a good thing. Next on the plate is "The Fourth Kind" reviews haven't been too complimentary to this film, but two folks that I know said it creeped the mess out of 'em, so I'm definitely game.

Until next time...keep rockin'.

Monday, August 3, 2009

My love...My Wonder...My Weakness or Casualties in the Battle of the Sexes.

I absolutely LOVE women.

Like a chef admires the various vegetables, herbs, & spices. Like a writer is enchanted by words, rhythm, & meter. Like a visual artist enjoys color. Like a musician loves sound. I love women. I often think of the song "Thank Heaven for Little Girls," & though I'm not big on musicals, I enjoy this song in particular for its simplicity & honesty. From an early age I admired girls from afar. I watched in wonder at how they loved to dance, reveled in the sound of their laughter, & set adrift on their smile. There was always a secret, underlying fascination with them despite the boasts of cooties & numerous games pitting "boys against girls." No matter the challenge, the boys always won. As I grow older, I've began to, how the tables have turned.
I don't indemnify myself at all. Once things began to change from the innocent fascination to the complications of adolescence & young adulthood, a majority of the blame for failed relationships fell upon me. Some people have it all figured out early on. Others need the bumps and bruises of experience to gain that wisdom. Despite it all, my love remained; though all the while my awareness grew.
Recently, I had the opportunity to view "500 Days of Summer." I enjoyed it thoroughly. It was a very engaging tale of a moment in a young mans life enamored by who he believes is the "one." Throughout the tale the narrator is sure to remind the audience that this story is not a love story, & though love is a central element to the narrative...technically speaking, he's right. Summer, the object of Tom's (the protagonist) affections (& agitations), is the girl every romantic has known. The one that set the world on fire, only to leave ashes. The story hit home, but then I began to wonder. Throughout "High Fidelity," "The Apatow Trilogy," and even the new HBO series "Hung," there's such an interesting phenomena that is becoming so common as of late.
Recently, I read an article posted on entitled "The Argument Against Seth Rogen." While I enjoy Rogen's entire catalogue, the title sparked my curiosity. Within it, entertainment correspondent James Bassil delves into the persona that is common within the majority of characters Rogen portrays. Bassil argues that the new archetype that Rogen's characters promote is, as the Washington Post's Ellen McCarthy views, "the modern-day male: aimless & irresponsible." Bassil continues on the danger of continuing this archetype stating that...

"The new male ideal bucks all of those that preceded it in that it requires no ambition or aspiration to fulfill; if anything, it encourage us to regress, or at the very best, accept those worst parts of ourselves that we should have already matured out of."

Those traits are bolstered by many of the male characters of today, men whose best days are behind them, turned a good thing bad, lack backbone, or are completely clueless. Am I a victim of the media I consume, or has the dynamic between man and women changed?
Just a few days ago, I was hanging with a lady friend who was asking me and others for advice on a certain situation between her & this guy she had just met. I don't like offering my opinion on situations involving people that I don't know, so I just laid back and observed. What I noticed was interesting to say the least.
Now, I used to half-believe the philosophy and laugh hysterically at the "Swingers" scene that discussed how long to wait to call a girl that you've just met, but this situation that I was witnessing was far from that. After attempts to "decode" a simple text message, a summit convened about when to contact this poor guy back and how to do it, via text message or phone call. Explanations were offered to as why one method would be better than another to ensure that the power lied within the hands of the female, where it, quote, "belonged."
Perhaps it was a joke that I took too seriously, but I couldn't help but begin to think of voicemail messages that went unreturned, text messages answered days later, & meetings/dates that were continually postponed. Memories began to arise of times in which the common dichotomy shifted and females offered to buy me drinks and ask me for my number (not that I had or have ANY problem with that...I'm an equal opportunity supporter). I would be lying if I didn't say the situation at hand wasn't a tad bit disconcerting.
I began to wonder if the female perspective of men had completely swung in the direction of what was being argued in the article as the new popular male archetype, "moronic, childish, irresponsible, & easy to manipulate."
Perhaps I'll never know, but what I do know is some things are better left unknown. The battle of the sexes will always remain, and while each side will argue that they're continually unable to "get" the other, I wouldn't have it any other way, for the fact that there is still such mystery to discover is exciting to me.
I'm already naturally drawn to so much of what makes a woman, a WOMAN. The curves of their hips. The outline of their lips. The supple, softness of their skin. The scent of their hair. Even the light of their smile, their enjoyment of the dance, & the sound of their laughter still inspire me to this day. I know hindsight is 20/20, but I think I've always believed that in many ways women have always held a power over men. It's a shame when they lose sight of it or allow past lovers who have jilted them to extinguish that light. What is even more disappointing is when we allow ourselves to get so caught up in the "game" we play so well, that nothing substantial forms or remains in its wake.
I know brother James said it best when he sang, "It's a man's world...but it wouldn't be nothing without a woman or a girl," but life is many things, compromise being one of them. Love should be as well.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Air To The Throne? or How I Learned to Stop Hatin' & Pay Sports Blogs No Mind

As I write this blog entry I wonder, "What's my motivation?" I mean, all that I've written and released here thus far has been pretty simple; a document of my life as it happens, trips down memory lane, & observations of whatever strikes me as interesting, but as of late, what I've read & stumbled across online is far different from my musings & rather disturbing. It hasn't been all disappointing. Surprisingly, thru Facebook, I've not only kept up with old friends but have had some enlightening political discourse that has lead me, & I hope others, to new discoveries. Believe me when I say, I'm not one of those people that expect the internet, television, radio, and every other form of media to function more informatively. I understand the business of entertainment because I'm in it, so I'm not surprised when Tony Romo breaking up with Jessica Simpson is discussed more on sports radio here in Dallas than what is happening in the NBA Summer League, MLB All-Star Game, or even the MLS or Premier League Soccer for that matter, but when this same mentality pervades every medium, it feels like things are getting dangerous.
I still remember the "Costas Now" feature on the phenomena that is affecting America right now as we speak, the death of newspapers and the rise of the blogger. As a blogger I appreciate the arena to share my perspective, but I understand that it's my opinion & I don't present it as anything other than that. Now, when I search for info about the NBA off-season, the top story is about Nike confiscating tape of Lebron James getting dunked on at one of his summer camps by a college student. It's not that this isn't a worthy topic to report, but what makes this story suffer is lack of information and an overt bias throughout the story. The main points presented were that A) it's a sad state we're in when corporate sponsorship controls so much of an athlete's life/career, & B) this apparently provides fuel for the discussion of who's the heir to the MJ's throne. The only problem with both of these points is the only way to support these points is thru speculation.
The entire Nike campaign for King James has been to differentiate him from Air Jordan. Where MJ had "I Wanna Be Like Mike," (Gatorade) Lebron has "You Shouldn't Want to Be Me...You Should Wanna Be Better Than Me," so before making Nike out to be an overly controlling entity trying to ensure James' "legend," perhaps one should wait and see whether or not it wasn't a means to utilize the footage within their marketing strategy. Doesn't the whole situation fall within the story of Lebron's slogan, to elevate one's game to surpass him. Also, I'm sorry, but one single dunk over someone doesn't make you a better player than them, nor does it elevate another pro player to a higher status since said situation didn't or hasn't happen to them.
The fundamental flaw in Skeet's column about this situation is that makes a claim that this will tarnish Lebron's legacy & strikes a comparison to Jordan while painting a picture in which MJ would never let this happen. For if Jordan would have ever been beaten @ his own camp, he and/or Charles Oakley (???) would strike fear and intimidation in all who may have witnessed the act to never speak of it again. Other than it being wrong that all these hypothetical situations are being presented, the problem with that picture is it already has happened, without his proposed results. Video footage is online of MJ losing a game of one-on-one @ one of his camps in 2003. Like a true champion, his response to how does it feel to lose 3-2 @ his own camp, "In life & in the win, you lose, you get crossed over, you get dunked all happens." Damon Wayans made more of the situation during the Q&A following Jordan's loss, but he is a comedian, & it was all in fun. Judging by the responses from many readers of the Skeet's column, & Kobe's comment of "You're not dunking on me at my Summer Camp," I think that many people have lost that ability to see things that way.

Friday, June 26, 2009

In Memoriam

It's been a while since my last post. Life has been a bit of a whirlwind. Shows in Lubbock & Houston, along with much time in the studio wrapping up an album as well as preparing for the push. It's been a bit crazy, but when a loss so great occurs, you almost have no choice but to stop & reflect on the weight of the situation. The loss I speak of is the death of perhaps the greatest pop artist this world has ever seen...Michael Jackson.
Trendsetter, trailblazer, an amazing vocalist, & so much more, the passing of MJ holds a deeper significance than that of simply the death of a celebrity. For many people throughout the world, Michael was the last icon. The term "popular culture" can be so broad, for fads that are identified with the times they inhabited can be absorbed within the ranks of what is considered popular culture, but Michael was more than that...Michael transcended generations. My parents grew up with the Jackson 5. I can recall digging thru my father's record collection & finding the "Victory" & "Destiny" albums in his crates. I never once reveled in the connection of how the "baby of the bunch" in a group that my father grew up with was the same man that I impersonated at family gatherings, parties, & anytime that I was on a smooth surface with socks & no shoes on.
As a youth and an aspiring musician, Michael remained the pinnacle of musical achievement, an international superstar, commanding performer, & expert songwriter. Much of my childhood contained Michael's music as the soundtrack, & even now, at the age of 27, his songbook remains undeniable. I hear tracks such as, "Rock With You" or "Thriller" & almost immediately I am taken back to time when I was just a kid watching "Moonwalker," seeing his 1993 halftime performance at the Super Bowl, attending Chicken Skates, & so much more. As I grew up & began to question everything, I also remember the allegations, secrecy, & speculation that began to outshine his achievements. Despite it all, there's still a joy that I hear in his music, an instant trip down memory lane to a more innocent time in my life.
Much can be said of MJ's eccentrics, but consider, if you will, other greats such as Miles Davis, Vincent Van Gogh, Salvador Dali, Ernest Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson, Beethoven, & so forth. Never has the genius of their artistry been shadowed by their personal lives. Their art becomes a part of the world's collective conscious, our culture, our lives, & in that they live on thru us. Much of my love of music is thanks to Michael Jackson, & for that I will forever be grateful. May you rest in peace, King of Pop.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Thunder Storm New (sort of) Macbook Y Mas!!!

Yes.  As I write this entry a storm is raging outside.  Plans were made to deliver and set up a PA system amongst other things @ the new rehearsal spot for the Boss Level but to no avail.  Funnel clouds began to appear over North Carrollton & Coppell, so traveling in the thick of the affected area with two gynormous B-52 speaker cabs and more seemed like a bad idea.  Despite this, what this abrupt situation afforded me was quiet time to write, read, and explore online thanks to a new addition to my quasi-new macbook.
Ah yes, my white model two month old macbook is a gem thus far.  Though my house experienced a very brief power failure, literally less than five minutes after my roommate called to request that his iMac be shut down, I still have battery life to enjoy the simple things, like viewing my friends short films on YouTube, reading other's friends blogs, checking out a few Katy Perry music videos (I wish I could say it was simply for the music...if it was, what would be the purpose of watching the music video) & sharing a little bit of my life & perspective with whosoever reads this.
The reason I needed a macbook was primarily to expand the sonic possibilities of my band & to do so with less gear than I use now, but I admit just being portable, untethered to a power source is oh so very nice.  Phase one complete...on to phase two, getting a kick-ass midi controller and diving into more of Reason & possible Ableton Live, but that is simply geek talk for all my electronic musicians out there.  What is far more engaging is how these devices affect us, for I know how it's affecting me.
As I said before, my primary reasons for the Macbook were to utilize it as a musical asset.  Too many times in the past have I been on the road away from the home studio longing to be able to create rather than waste time in hotels, vans, etc., but now that I've got it I feel energized to do much more.  I want to edit video, nothing crazy, just some video blogs...possible comedy sketches.  I want to stretch out into photography, nothing major just explorations in what is possible post point & shoot.  I want to do it all.
I think that's why I identify with producers and got my degree with a production emphasis.  I love creation, and want to inspire others to create as well.  I value individuality and originality, even when I celebrate it thru "quoting" musically or verbally.  I've never begun a project with an intent to plagiarize, but recognize when aspects of music, images, or stories coincidentally hold similarities to things past.  I believe that it was Igor Stavinsky that said, "Good composers borrow...GREAT composers steal."  Great quote, but very similar to T.S. Elliot's, "Immature poets imitate...mature poets steal."  I wonder who said it first.
Regardless of when it was said, all that matters is it holds truth within its words, for all that came before inspires what comes next.  Richard Linklater's, Waking Life led me to believe that the moment the ideas are out there those in tune to them gravitate towards them, use them as fuel to carry them to where they want to go or what they are trying to discover.  Though in this technological and informational age where the vehicles may have changed, the process remains as it has always been.  T.S. Elliot also was quoted saying that, "Art never improves, but the material of art is never quite the same."  What was good will always be good, I'm just glad to be turned on by another tool of the trade & look forward towards the possibilities.  I'm tuned in once again.  It is time to transform potential energy into something kinetic.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Artists' Burden


-What it is world?!?!?!? It's been a while since my last post. I assure you that my Top 20 Albums piece will continue real soon. I've got some East Coast love on deck with explorations on "Ready to Die" by the Notorious B.I.G and "Enter the 36 Chambers" by the Wu Tang Clan, so stay tuned.
Anyways, I wanted to get back on the blogspot & give a little insight to what has been going on as of late. The main situation in my life right now has been the first official recording of my band, The Boss Level. The idea of the "Magnificent Beasts" EP has been in the works for a while now, and it's in the process of coming to fruition. Drums were laid down courtesy of Mr. Evan Gentry back in Mid-May along with most of the basic bass and guitar tracks, and little by little we've been getting closer to completion. Last night, I laid down the core vocals for one of our songs, "Danger," but it was so strange to perform it under these circumstances.
Music has always been the primary passion in my life, and creating it almost comes naturally. I can't really force it, so I'm constantly searching for means to spark the creativity. The strangest thing about it is that, most times, it's almost as if the song writes itself, and I have no control over the degree of difficulty the tune will provide for any of the band members...including myself. What's even more perplexing is the difference between performing in the controlled environment of the studio compared to the "anything goes" arena of the stage. Lately, I've found that when I perform material with the band, we all propel each other to attain that level (the "boss" level, if you will) of performance necessary to execute the song. I can feed off that energy and hit a vocal range unattainable in solo performance. Hence, the difficulty in performing in the studio.
I've always sang but never consider myself a singer. I still cringe a bit when that label is mentioned, for this vehicle is the first where I'm up front and center...for everyone to hear, so it's taken some getting used to. It's a very vulnerable position to be in, & it can drive you mad...if you let it. The only way to find solace is to surrender yourself to the song, and in doing so I've discovered it's not only an easier way to's the only way to be. As I tracked a part of one song in particular that held Twista-like amounts of verbage in a small space I recall telling Ryan, our engineer, "I need to stop writing such difficult parts." We laughed it up, but deep within the recesses of my mind I knew, I've never written anything for the sake of being difficult. I've only written what seemed right for the song, even if it meant not necessarily being right or easy for me or anyone else in the band.
There have been times where that very aspect of my creativity has rubbed some folks, including myself, the wrong way, but most of the time it works out for the best for everyone involved grew musically, technically, & artistically. We discovered the ability to tap into something within ourselves that we never knew was there, and that's what makes the entire process so exciting. I still get a kick out of playing recordings of our material to friends who upon listening ask, "Who's your singer," only to be pleasantly surprised when I tell them it's me. I enjoy it when folks who only knew of our guitar player, Josh, during the FTL days, revel in his sound, ideas, and prowess saying, "I didn't know he could play like that."
The truth of the matter is we as artists are slaves to our art. Some artists are genius, constantly attempting to break barriers in order to redefine our perception of what is possible & palatable. Some artists are freaks of nature that can effortlessly create or perform what most would deem unfathomable. Some artists are just in tune. They see, hear, and feel what is out there & translate it into something universal for all of us to tap into. I feel as though I belong to that third category. I remain open as a vessel for music to flow. All I do as a performer is attempt to relate the message as best I can...and entertain people while I do it.

Peace. Love. & All That's Beautiful in the World.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


It's been a minute since my last entry. The ongoing series of " My Top 20 Albums" is one that's going to take a while to complete, but there's much more to me than just music. I revel in the many aspects of life. Whether light or dark, the various subjects, stories, and characters (real and imaginary alike) within this world are always a delight to witness. Recently, my exploits and interactions have revealed details not only of those directly involved but of myself as well.
It's sublimely strange how certain things reveal themselves to you repeatedly. Perhaps, it's a means by which to ensure the message gets across, but I find that frequently, one can become affected while living life without ever causing an effect. It's almost as if we're on auto-pilot, watching the days go by. I may be far more guilty of this than most, and perhaps that was the reason why my mind keyed in on this reoccurring subject recently. Though it may not be as universal as the question of "What is the meaning of life," the "who are we" question is one that we all are plagued with at one time or another.
Are we simply what others perceive us to be, or is self-discovery something that begins and ends with us? I'm one to believe in the latter. Though, our relationships (or lack thereof) can shed a lot of light into the subject, who knows you better than yourself, right? Then again, ignorance IS bliss, even when it deals with your identity. Take for instance the classic scene from the existential comedy, "I Heart Huckabees" where Jude Law's character queries, "How am I not myself," and finds it not only difficult to find an answer but a ridiculous question in of itself. Perhaps Cee-lo sung it best with the Gnarls Barkley song, "Who Cares" as the third verse explores this very subject of self-actualization in the lyrics,

"You see, everybody is somebody.
But nobody wants to be themselves,
and If I ever wanted to understand me,
I'll have to talk to someone else... cause every little bit helps."

Others may help you get "there," but you have to make the journey on you own.

A friend of mine struggling with the failed, sometimes abusive, relationships of her past recently found herself sour from the "end" of another one. In making myself available for her to vent, I found her asking herself repeatedly, "is there something wrong with me, or do I just have bad choices in men?" Jokingly, I replied, "if it's the latter, then there must be something wrong with me!" Though we dated in the past, we're on good terms in the present, but my joke fell flat and she continued with the relentless self-depreciation that stemmed from all the negative she had heard throughout many of her past relationships. Once it began to get reproachful I calmly told her, "If you allow others to define you, you'll never really know who you are." I wasn't sure if I fully believed it when I said it, but it felt like it needed to be said.
My experience in the days that followed began to prove my claim. It began with an entry this week in the Yahoo! music blog, "Hip-Hop Media Training" written by Billy Johnson Jr. about soul star Maxwell's drastic change in appearance during an eight year absence from the spotlight. The article went into depth about how during his break, Maxwell abandoned his signature curly-locked fro as a means to assist in his anonymity and mark the start of a new chapter in his life and career. I rock a similar do and can empathize with him, though I don't have his notoriety as of yet. The strange thing was that while chilling with some friends over the weekend discussing a new band that I haven't heard of, my friend described the lead singer as having an, "awesome fro, but not as awesome as yours," to which I replied, "I'm banking on it." I can't deny that my hair helps in making an impression. I can meet someone briefly or perform with my band, and I know that once I'm gone people may forget my name or the song I sung, but they'll remember or recognize the brother with the crazy fro.
There are also times that people expect a certain type of personality from my appearance. I've been expected to be or viewed as a revolutionary, bohemian, rasta, hipster, and much more (all of which I'm not) from just wearing my hair natural. Truth be told, I never began to let my hair grow out due to an ideal that I wanted to translate thru my appearance. I moved from Houston and the barber I used for nearly 10 years to Fort Worth and barbers that I didn't like or could afford. It was cheaper & easier to let my hair do it's own thing. That was my motive...simple and plain, & though it may be a great ice-breaker (especially with drunk girls that just want to "touch it") my hair doesn't define me.
Self-esteem and awareness of self was presented again with a great documentary called "Heckler." I remember when it was on the AFI Dallas lineup last year. Though I was unable to catch a screening, thanks to DirecTV and the Showtime Network, it was recently made available for me to view. I recommend all that have the network to be on the look-out for it. The film follows Jamie Kennedy (Jennifer-Love Hewitt? Really? You lucky bastard) as he copes with the total flop of one of his movies. In actuality, it is basically a study in criticism; what motivates one to slander or sabotage another's creative work, and how it affects the artist. Containing great interviews with Bill Mahr, Arsenio Hall, Jewel, and many more, "Heckler" delves into not only why hecklers, critics, and bloggers alike feel the need to dish negativity but also how our current media environment fosters this behaviour.
One part of the film in particular features Dr. Drew and Bill Mahr speaking of how artists usually have to be pretty sensitive to create anything of merit, but the innate need of many to malign not only the work but the creator as well places the artist at risk mentally and emotionally. At times, I struggle with it in my own work. Aspirations to connect with the world thru my music confict with the doubt of whether or not my creations are "good enough." The only way to maintain my sanity is to be aware that it's impossible to please everyone. As long as the creative process and performance pleases me and in turn produces something that I can truly be proud of, then the rest really doesn't matter, for that alone can sustain me...not someone elses approval.
The idea of identity was also reinforced with my viewing of an awesome movie by the name of "the Wackness." A coming of age tale set in NYC during the Summer of '94, "the Wackness" tackles some weighty, dramatic subjects...identity being one.

"Men do the things they do to become the men they want to be."

Wiser words were never spoken, but that only scratches the surface. Our choices and outlook not only determine the course of our lives but our perception as well, and I honestly believe that positive energy attracts positivity. Though it may be difficult at times, there's always blessings to count & always another day to start anew. We all hold the power to make our lives what we want them to be; to be the change that we want to see in the world...and that, my friend, is absolutely beautiful.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Top 20 (In No Particular Order) - Chapter III

It's been a while, but I'm back @ it again, and this time I'm heading back to the East Coast to show some love.

5) Ready to Die: IT'S THE N-O, T-O, R-I, O, U-S, YOU JUST LAY DOWN, SLOW!!! Mr. Christopher doubt one of the illest emcees to rock the mic. He made brothers on the big side elevate their mack status so that it wasn't just the pretty boys having all the fun with B.I.G Poppa, and growing up was so very necessary. My deep appreciation and awe didn't begin with "Poppa," but rather a song entitled "JUICY." It was basically a b-boy's dream on wax. "Birthdays were the worst days. Now we drink champagne when we're thirsty," and "Thinking back to our one room shack, now my mom pimps an Ac(ura) with minks on her back." It was what every young man from a middle income and below family fantasized about. Growing up...handling theirs...and taking care of his own, all painted so vividly through lyrics delivered as though it was a personal moment you were sharing with B.I.G. I recall hearing many folks, famous and infamous, from Brooklyn speak of how when B.I.G got put on, it was like everybody made it. I can feel that thru the song as well, and I'm from Houston, TX.
It was more than just vivid storytelling & delivery that made B.I.G so ill lyrically.
Even in simple "gangsta" talk of, "7 mack 11's, about 8 thirty-eight's, 9 nines, 10 mack 10 mack ten's the shit never ends" there's a clever rhyme scheme. What's even more striking is where the "ammunition list" was from the 95 freestyle, much of the "gangsta" content within the album carried far more deeper meanings. Much of the material within the album contained suicidal & paranoid undertones where as a listener you were torn between admiration & pity for this proposed protagonist. "Damn, niggaz wanna stick me for my paper." Ready to Die was more than an concept album...more than the debut of a vital was a movie on wax.

6) Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers): As a child, & still much to this day, I've held a reverence for the martial arts. Bruce Lee was my hero. Saturdays would be spent watching cartoons first, & martial arts movies afterwards before going outside to become a ninja turtle for the day. Yeah, I was stupid like that, so it wasn't too surprising when I first heard the 9 deep squad of ill lyricists from the slums of Shaolin it was automatic. I was hooked. The "G-Funk Era" was in full effect. Medium tempo, funky beats with smooth delivery from the likes of Snoop, Warren-G, Dr. Dre, etc. were on full blast. Then, all of a sudden, something raw came from the east. Everything from the content of the lyrics to the lo-fi sound of the boom-bap was gritty. This wasn't music to ride out to, for where the west-coast sound resembled the Cali lifestyle, the 36 Chamber painted a picture of cold, hard New York City streets. At times it was dangerous & threatening, other times it was wise & humorous. Never before had I listened to hip-hop & felt the ominous tone that was present within that of a Metallica, but the Wu brought that hype, like you wanted to just smash some shit. Songs like "Protect Ya' Neck," "Bring the Ruckus," "Clan In Da Front" were the soundtrack to many mosh pits, boxing, & wrestling matches with friends, while "Can It Be All So Simple" the CLASSIC "C.R.E.A.M" exposed the perils of life in the projects for urban youth. The WU was undeniable, & along with Nas, Notorious B.I.G, & the Fugees, the East Coast Hip-Hop Renaissance had begun, & as a young b-boy in the middle of the two regions pushing the boundaries of Hip-Hop, the early 90's couldn't get any better. That is until two brothers from the ATL set it off for all of us in the South, but that's another story...for another time.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Top 20 (In No Particular Order) - Part Deux

Alright, we go.

3) Purple Rain:
-What can I say about this album that has not been said before. Released when I was only two years old, Purple Rain remains the definitive album from the most important musical artist of my lifetime. My method for judging an album's importance in my eyes has many factors, but, perhaps, the most important criteria is my ability & desire to listen from end to end. Purple Rain is one of those few recordings.
Thinking back tho how this album affected me, I can't help but to think of it as an album that no one, no matter what race, creed, sex, or age could deny. Throughout my life, times would arise where I would return to music of Purple Rain and revel in new discoveries that were only possible thru my physical and musical maturation.
I mean, when my dad and older sister would jam it, there were certain songs that would be off limits to my ears. "Darling Nikki" crosses that line of what is and what is not suitable for younger children, but it's still perhaps one of the illest tunes ever (madd props to Dave Grohl for an awesome rendition of that song). I still get intresting thoughts anytime I meet a girl named Nikki. I can't help it, I'm imaginative.
Another odd realization that I had while writing this is that I've only owned this album on vinyl. Perhaps my purchase it was a subconscious decision in order to connect to an earlier time, back home. A small way to relive digging thru my pop's record collection. Either way I bought it, still own it, & if it wasn't for having Purple Rain on vinyl, I wouldn't have discovered what lies within the secret backwards track at the end of the album. My Numark TT200's reverse button made that investigation short yet oh so sweet.
I truly do thank God for artists such as Prince. As a young blaxican in America, I became aware at an early age that there are many forces at work to keep everyone in neat little boxes. Being bi-racial, at times, was rough. Ridiculous arguments of whether one inherits their race/culture from their mother or father ensued between myself and everyone who had an opinon, but I viewed it all as a part of the program. For, when limitations on what's marketable, accessible, and possible for individuals are made, it becomes far more simple to disseminate ideas and goods to the masses.
My parents made sure not to allow me to fall into that trap, raising me to be culturally aware but not stereotypical, and Prince was the first artist I learned of that supported that ideal. The first brotha since Jimi to get down on a guitar and just ROCK! Prince turned music, fashion, and the entire world on its ear with Purple Rain, including a two year old from Houston, TX. And for that...I'll always be grateful.

4) Chronic/Chronic 2001:
-YES! These albums occupy a long chapter in my life that spans from 5th grade until today, for Dr. Dre held my fascination from an early age. When I was around 7 or so, my family ventured out west to visit family in California. Legend has it, while sightseeing in San Francisco, we stopped by a boutique record shop that just so happened to have some b-boys getting down on some cardboard in front of the shop.
I felt compelled to represent the great state of Texas, so at the right moment I worked my way onto the floor and began to pop-lock, floor rock, and backspin my way into the good graces of the store owner. Impressed by such a young b-boy with ill skills, the store owner rewarded me with a LP entitled L.A. Beats. It was a compilation album that contained my introduction to the good doctor, who was then dj and premier songwriter/producer for the World Class Wreckin' Crew.
There were two cuts by the crew on the album, but one in particular made a connection; it was entitled "Surgery." Containing a refrain that consisted of a simple repeat of, "Dr. Dre....Dr. Dre....Dr. Dre....Dr. Dre, Dre, Dre, Dre, etc." "Surgery" stuck in my head and made it Eazy for me to make the connection the next time I came across the good doctor.
Around the time I was in third or fourth grade, a healthy consumption of "YO! Mtv Raps" and sneak peeks into my sister's cassette collection made me aware of the most dangerous musical group at the time, N.W.A. Dre was a founding member, premier producer, and featured MC within their ranks, droppin' knowledge and ill sounds with songs like, "Express Yourself" (the video is INSANE).
Now, fast forward a year later. I'm in the 5th grade with my own bootleg cassette copy of the Chronic that I purchased from the Conoco corner store on Aldine Mail Route. I don't support bootlegging or piracy, but I knew that a solo album from the central player in shaping N.W.A's sound was an album I had to own (I made my own legit purchase later in life to support the cause). My friend Albert and I used to finish our school work early just so we could jam the Chronic in class. A simple covering of the parental advisory label with my thumb afforded us the opportunity to listen, quietly, with headphones @ one of our media stations.
I can still recall one of my most favorite things to do would be to wait until my teacher, Ms. Coulston, would leave the classroom for a brief moment, then fast forward to Warren G on the phone asking some unaware female, "Did what's their name give that to you the other day?" then pull the headphones and put the tape player's speaker on full blast for, "Deeez Nuts!" That drove the class wild, and I enjoyed connecting with my classmates thru laughter.
the Chronic was much more than just adolescent hi-jinks for me. That next phase for Dr. Dre was another phase for me as well. The "G-Funk Era" held so much classic material in my book. There was no doubt that the West had a stranglehold on the game, and the Chronic seemed not only to be the definitive album of that era, but the catalyst for the entire West Coast takeover that would follow in its wake.
2001 was perhaps the greatest follow-up album ever created. I can't recall the exact moment that I discovered it. Perhaps it was the video for the next episode and the slow-mo scene where one of my favorite Latina models of all time (I don't really know her name...I just remember her on the covers of Lowrider Magazine and as a Juggy on the ORIGINAL Man Show) was in pristine form on a stripper pole, in a perfect orbit right before the beat dropped. It was a perfect visual, and set off another chapter of aural domination for the good doctor. By far the cast of characters within this installment trumped the previous release. Return appearances from Snoop and the Dogg Pound were more than welcome, but introductions to Hittman and appearances by Eminem, Xzibit & one of Houston's finest, Devin the Dude, were absolutely ridiculous.
There's cuts off of both of these albums that stand alone as undeniable classics, but there still remains a high replay value from front to back if you're in the mood for musical motion pictures. I highly anticipate the third installment in the trilogy, but it's strange when I look back realize that an album from '93 and a follow up from '99 still remains on my iPod, is enjoyed thoroughly by the crowd and myself when I perform certain selections @ various shows, and will perhaps carry on in later years as a hands down banga without ever sounding dated at all! I could be wrong...but I doubt it. These two albums can stand alone, each in its own right, but feel complete when combined. Despite six years between them they compliment each other beautifully, and that astounds me. They are, musically, what Batman Begins & the Dark Knight or Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2 are visually, and to me, they are the soundtrack to my adolescence, yet vital and relevant works today. In other words, the Chronic/2001 is...timeless.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Top 20 (In No Particular Order)

1) Innervisions/Songs in the Key of Life:
-If someone asks you, "What's your favorite Stevie Wonder album?" don't kill yourself trying to decide. It's a trick question. I had to allow room for both of these albums on my list for many reasons that merit equal adulation to each, but make it very difficult to choose one over the other. Innervisions affected me perhaps like no other album in my life.
The night that I bought it I lied on my top bunk in my freshman dorm room and listened to it, front to back, for hours on end. A story formulated in my mind drawing its narrative directly from the music on the album. SOBER...I swear. I even started what was my first failed novel based directly on characters and scenarios from the album. Then, after a light case of writer's block & hesitation from securing rights to Stevie's intellectual property, I abandoned the novel. The most fascinating thing about Innervisions to me is that whether or not it is seen as a concept album, I'll always view it as one. There's a message in the music...a connection between the songs on it...a clear concept that presented itself to me...& I'll always love it because of that.
Songs in the Key of Life placed a far more different spell upon me. Following Innervisions I began a string of Stevie Wonder discovery. I mean, I knew Stevie before this moment. A few Sesame Street mash-ups & Cosby Show cameos (JAMMIN' ON THE ONE....words to live by), but it was at this time that I began to KNOW the Wonderment of Stevie. My research not only afforded me a far deeper appreciation of Innervisions (LISTEN to "Higher Ground"), but it also introduced me to Songs in the Key of Life. In high school, I learned the lay out of the piano and chord structure in order to figure out songs that were hittin' on the radio so I could arrange them for my marching band to rock the stands during football games, but "As" was the first song that I taught myself to play. The entire album was a journey, and as I get older, it's almost as if I bear witness to everyone living it...including myself. Songs in the Key of Life is to me, as the Neverending Story was to Bastian...if you catch my drift.

2) Kind of Blue:
-Miles's all there. I recall learning of how this album marked a seminal shift in tonality, arrangement, and composition in Jazz. Modality as a concept was presented in high definition throughout this work. Looking back, I think this also was another moment where I was perplexed by the difficulty in imagining a time where sounds I've grown up with were foreign ideals. I thought, "Two chords...thirty-two bar form, pretty simple," and then in hearing how folks at that time were like, "Where's the top of the form...I'm getting lost over here ?!?!?!?" helped me to realize that these jazz giants were human beings. Geniuses? Yes, but human nonetheless. Nevermind that. All that is necessary to understand and recognize is Kind of Blue, the entire album, is beautiful...classicaly beautiful...timeless. It doesn't hurt that the entire group is like a dream team of jazz music masters as well. Miles, John, Cannonball, Jimmy, Paul, Bill/Wynton. I need to put that on a t-shirt.

2 down....18 to go???


Thursday, April 2, 2009


HELLO YOUNG WORLD!  Welcome to the first of what will be many accounts of the way I see it.  "Who am I?" you might be asking.  Believe me, I was thinking the same thing.  Excuse me for not introducing myself.  My name is Daniel J. Hardaway.  Born and raised in beautiful Houston, Texas, now living in the wonderful city of Dallas.  Those from Texas may view the vibe of these two cities as night and day, but I find a way.  Throughout this journey, for that is essentially what this "blog" is, you may find amusing commentary, random reflections, bold declarations, and hopefully, I'll find...myself. 
Isn't that the point?  You live, you learn, and thoughts form within your mind.  Too many can drive a man insane, so it helps to have a means by which to release and reflect, but I don't want to bore you with the "heavy" stuff.  Right now, I'm caught in a moment that will be most definitely etched in my memory.  I'm currently writing this from my friend and musical brother, Evan's house.  We're in a band called the Boss Level, and tonight we perform @ none other than one of my many favorite musical sanctuaries, the House of Blues.
This Houston location is fairly new, but being able to rock the stage tonight is still somewhat surreal.  I'm sure it will hit me onstage, and now is not the time to dig into the origin of the Boss Level.  All that's necessary to know is we're a fairly young band & this is a big opportunity.  So glad we've made it, but now's the time to make it and own it.  All in all, it just does this music lover's heart some real intense good to be able to share my love with my friends and family all where everything began for me...CLUTCH CITY BABY !!!
It seemed appropriate to start something new on such an occasion, so here's a toast to coming home.  Damn, it feels good.

I'll leave you with a few recent random thoughts...

  -Luling City Market is the best smoked sausage in the world.  If you know that, you know me.

  -"Loop, Swoop, & Pull" is not only the most effective shoe tying method, but possibly the next D-Town Boogie craze.  "Bunny Ears" method is simply a cute ploy to teach kids who suffer from ADD. 

  -I love the Rockets, but I don't know if I can stomach another first round playoff match up against the Utah Jazz.  I love jazz, but not the Utah Jazz.  There isn't even Jazz in Utah, and if there is...then I'm sure it sucks!

  -Music is oh so amazing.  (This thought isn't that random.  It appears frequently in my mind.  Stay tuned for my top 20 albums of all time list!)