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I spotted this over at Necolebitchie.com last week and it made me smile. Brandy who is on the promo trail for her new single Put It Down (featuring Chris Brown)  took it back proper old school stylee! I was a big fan of Brandy’s I Wanna Be Down video when it first came out back in 1994 and it was funny to see her revisiting that dance from the video. Also, seeing her rapping along to the remix of that song, made me a little sad that she has retired her rap alter-ego Brand-Nu, before she even really got started with it, as she can spit!

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If like me you have been glued to the car crash reality TV mess which is Love and Hip Hop Atlanta, then you will be well aware of a certain Stevie J, an Atlanta-based producer/songwriter and the show’s resident bad boy. Pitched in the show as someone who has female artists literally fighting each other to work with him, in this instance former stripper and his side chick Joseline and trouble maker Karlee Redd, who are both portrayed as showing extreme thirstiness to get studio time with the music maker. In the case of Joseline, it’s to the point where Stevie, or ‘Steebie’, as she calls him in her thick Puerto Rican accent, can literally treat her like he owns her, even getting her to abort their baby, coz her being pregnant didn’t fit in with his plans.

Watching this show, it is hard to remember sometimes that Stevie J, who used to date rapper Eve, was once one of the hottest producers in the game, working with Diddy’s famed 90s production team the Hitmen and played a huge part in creating some of the biggest hit songs of the 90s. Website madamenoire did a recent post to remind us of his talents (outside of juggling women), and even though he hasn’t has a major hit in a long time you can’t deny his back catalogue is pretty impressive!

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I’ve been meaning to write this since the beginning of the week, but better late than never, right? Rather than pen a overall review, I thought I’d list my favourite things about the very insightful documentary, The Art of Rap, directed and presented, by Ice T. Hope you enjoy!

1)   The stories and anecdotes.

My favourite of these stories being KRS1′s hilarious revelation that he became an emcee after being an innocent bystander in a rap battle. According to him, one of the emcees turned to the crowd, picked him out and started dissing him hardcore about his attire. Well, Chris wasn’t having that. He  defended himself, buried the guy and the rest is hip hop history.

2)   The greatest sounding voices in hip hop  didn’t come naturally… At first.

MC Lyte is one of the most respected females to ever touch the mic, and has arguably the most recognised and projecting voice of any female rapper ever. However, she didn’t start out this way! Lyte reveals in the doc that it was down to much coaching from Lucien George Sr (the father of the brothers from 90s hip hop crew Full Force), which helped her developed that big unique voice we now all know and love! There are similar interesting stories to do with voices included in the footage from Chuck D and Muggs from Cypress Hill, but I’ll let you watch the film for yourself for those.

3)  Rappers are fans too!

I loved hearing Redman gassing about Eminem, and then Eminem reminiscing that after hearing a verse from Naughty by Nature’s Treach (as an upcoming rapper), it depressed him and forced him to rethink his own approach. But it was all down to the love of how good he thought his rhyme was! Elsewhere, Dougie Fresh reciting lyrics from his heroes Melle Melle and Kool Moe Dee was a joy to watch – he was like any other fan, giddy with excitement!  In addition, I’m sure Snoop Dogg’s perfect rendition of Ice T’s Six In The Morning, was one of the reasons why the Dogg Father’s slot in the doc was one of the longest included!

4) Rappers and writers/journos – we got so much in common.

This comparison is nothing new,  but this film took me back to the reason why I started writing in the first place, and reignited my creative juices – thanks Ice T!  I started writing as soon as I was able to string sentences together, from stories at primary school, which my teacher regularly read out to the rest of the class to plays which I would perform with my friends in the playground! Like a rapper, I get off on story-telling and documenting my experiences through words! Hearing Rakim and Eminem get all technical about how they write their bars, made me lean over to my bestie as we watched this in the cinema, and before I has a chance to say anything he said: ‘You can so relate, can’t you?’

5) Dr Dre has only spent two weeks out of the studio in 27 freaking years!

Damn! That tells anyone with half a brain that success doesn’t come easy! Also, if you love what you do, you will never really work a day in your life – it is clear that Dre spends so much time in the studio because he simply loves being there!

6) Joe Budden’s rhyme

This was one of the standouts for me in the entire doc. And I didn’t see it coming. This is not because I don’t rate him… But I guess if someone  asked me (pre-watch) who I thought was going to leave a lasting impression on me after watching the doc, Joe Budden’s name wouldn’t have been in my top 50, put it that way – I just haven’t really considered him like that in years, if at all. Granted, I know Slaughterhouse are doing great things and his credibility as an emcee has had a resurgence due to that project, but this one verse made me want to go and check them out a bit more thoroughly. What I also took from that is that there are so many dope rappers out there, but because of politics, wanting to go mainstream, losing their way/hunger/mojo (we’ve all been there) and trying to hard to follow trends, they kind of let go of that original flavour they first came with! If every emcee out now rhymed with that fresh mentality and heart they first possessed when they entered the game, we may have less superstar rappers but we’d have a lot more modern-day classic material – just my humble opinion! The business of hip hop turned a lot of good emcees in to not great rappers! Personally I blame a lot of that on the fans – coz a lot of times the wider audience doesn’t support what’s actually GOOD, and emcees/rappers need to eat!

7) Don’t get it twisted about Ice T, AND this dude’s address book is crazy!

Anyone knocking Ice T’s credibility in the game, due to forays into project such as the reality TV show Ice Loves CoCo, which follows the relationship with the self-professed original gangster rapper and his Barbie-bodied wife, should know that a leopard rarely changes his spots! Ice T knows hip hop and the fact that a lot of credible people wanted to be a part of this project shows that Ice has that respect! What I said in my above post is true, but like Joe Budden, that original talent, swag or flavour is always there in someone, even though you may not see it, due to them moving in a total different direction, gaining more success or maturing. But hopefully once in a while you still get to see that come out! Snoop Dogg has almost become a bit of a caricature to the mainstream media, but when you see him doing what he does best, there is no doubt that the original Snoop Doggy Dogg is in the buildin’! Holla!

8) New York and L.A have some beautiful skylines. For Real!

The connecting shots for the doc largely consisted of beautifully shot footage of new York and L.A Skylines. Simply stunning!

10)  Not everybody’s got it like Biggie, so just ‘do you’!

Treach was spot on when he said something along the lines of : ‘so many rappers boast about not writing down their lyrics and it shows, coz their rhymes are whack!’  The truth of the matter is, who cares whether you write stuff down or not, if it sounds dope then I’m sure most fans don’t care either way. But those emcees/rappers who are trying to prove something to everybody by deliberately not jotting down your lyrics and coming up with whackness? In the words of Jeru Da Damaja, ‘You’re playing yourself!’

10. Grandmaster Caz

I’m not afraid to admit I wasn’t really familiar with this cat before watching this, but I’m glad this doc gave me a flavour of what he is all about. He is a beast lyrically and an all round funny dude! Just my type of man! Another artist I look forward  to digging deeper into.

A Lil Gripe…

As with everything, there are always going to be things that everyone thinks could have been better, my main gripe in this documentary is I wasn’t too hot on Raekwon, Ras Kass and Q-Tip’s inclusion, and not coz I don’t like them as artists, the opposite in fact. I just felt  the weight they have bought to hip hop, and the part they have played in terms of the art  thus far was not reflected in the best way. I totally understand the lack of time and trying to squeeze everyone in, but I still believe that if the right questions where asked, or the right edits included, this could have been achieved.  With something called the ‘Art of  Rap’, some of the best to do it should have been asked more directly about the actual art, their art – coz some of us students really want to know that stuff!



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zap_policeThere have always been boy bands – teenage phenomenon’s with overly styled hair and cheesy dance routines, who are flocked by millions of young girls everywhere they go.

It is one of those facts of life we have come to accept.

But The Police, well, they were a MAN band. Yes they did have the millions of young female fans and were a phenomenon (thankfully the cheesy dance routines were a no-no and their hair was just blonde) but they were men.

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lisa lisa and cult jamOne of my favourite songs of all time period is Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam’s I Wonder If I Take You Home. Whenever I hear it, it instantly takes me back to my childhood. I still remember hearing it for the first time in 1985 while on a school trip at the final day disco! And it still remains a tune which gets rinsed in the clubs till this day. And is a staple tune, during summer barbecues!

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hanson-gal-quotes Having just performed five back-to-back shows at Kings College London Student Union, kiddy-pop band Hanson are back…

I remember purchasing Hanson’s single, the oh-so catchy Mmmbop, on cassette, back in 1997. I vividly recall walking up to the ‘H’ section and picking up the cassette thinking ‘wait a minute I thought Hanson were a boy band. These girls have lovely thick blonde hair.’ I seriously went home and listened to the tape thinking, ‘well they have high pitched voices, they could be girls’, but thanks to Top Of The Pops magazine I found out that their names were Isaac, Zak and Taylor, three brothers from Oklahoma. I then immediately felt jealous because they had way nicer hair than I did, whatever their sex.

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blondie-autoamerican-900.JPGGod, I love Blondie. Maybe this is based on the fact that lead singer Debbie Harry is the epitome of glamour with her iconic platinum tresses, framing those fab cheekbones and wildly expressive eyes… She’s my ultimate girl crush. However, she’s not just a pretty face! She also lent her voice to some of the most amazing tunes ever recorded.

It’s time for me to take you back to 1980. Blondie’s new album, Autoamerican, is due to hit the soundwaves this November… and it’s going to utterly transform the face of the music industry FOREVER!

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NirvanaFirstly, I want to make it clear: I’m not writing this as a critic, or a music connoisseur, and neither am I writing as the wise adult I should be on my way to becoming.

I’m writing this as someone who grew up with Nirvana, despite coming across their music a good seven years after Kurt Cobain’s death: I still can sing almost each and every line of their songs by heart and their bitterness, angst and anger have never ceased to be a part of me.

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gabrielleBorn Louisa Gabrielle Bobb in Hackney South London, this notable British songstress launched her music career back in 1993 with the infectious UK number one single Dreams. The track, taken from her debut album Find Your Way, spent three weeks on the top of the charts and the production was originally based on a sample from Tracy Chapman’s classic Fast Car.

At the time, the song was the highest ever UK chart entry scored by a debut artist.

Aside from the fact she had a distinct voice and the song relayed such an accessible message, the main thing that stood out about Gabrielle, when she first came out, was she wore an eye-patch. In the video for Dreams most people thought this was merely a fashion accessory, but it soon became apparent there was more to the story. The mystery went un-solved for a few years and then it was revealed that the singer suffered from a condition called ptosis (which causes drooping of the upper or lower eyelid).

But that didn’t stop her chart domination, and she continued on her successful ride by picking up a BRIT Award for Best British Breakthrough Act, and lit up the charts with  melodic corkers such as  Rise,  Out Of Reach – (the one on the Bridget Jones soundtrack), and the Shai cover If You Ever, a collaboration with East 17. There was also my personal favourite Sunshine. She picked up another BRIT in 1997, this time for Best British Female. Her sophomore album Rise was also a huge hit, although subsequent album releases were not as successful.

What stands out about all he aforementioned tracks, (for me anyway), is the melodies. They are in a word: beautiful. So many effortless notes travelling down twisty, bendy roads which lead you to a fulfilling finish. They touch something inside of you and make you tingle. As cheesy as that sounds.

I also feel Gabrielle didn’t really get the credit she deserved for her song-writing talent, as she wrote most of her hit material and the tracks featured on her popular albums. This was kind of rectified in 2008 when she  picked up the prestigious Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Collection.

But what made our Gabs shine through most, however, was the fact most people could relate to her. She was always came across as a real person and very down-to-earth in interviews. There was a story that came out at the height of her fame, where the father of her then-baby son was sent to prison for murder, and she spoke out about it with dignity, even though it was obviously very traumatic for her, thus showing the average Joe that everyone has their problems, even millionaire popstars.

She really did appear as if  she could almost be living just next door to you, popping round for a cuppa every now and then. But of course she probably lived in a big old mansion somewhere out in the country, with all the royalties she picked up. But good on her!

Word on the street is Gabrielle is back in the studio and should have a new album out by the end of the year! Can’t wait!

By Lara Piras

Ed Says: Gabrielle definitely helped popularised the finger-wave hairstyle when she first surfaced in 1993, along with Renee from US r&b duo Zhane who also sported the look in the early 90s ! I had the style and loved it!

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‘Straight outta Compton… A crazy mutherf***** named Ice Cube, from a gang called N**** Wit Attitude!’ Blam!

When I first thought about writing this post, I questioned why my 11-year-old self was so excited to hear these opening lyrics blasting out of the speakers of my older brother’s record player for the first time. It could have been  hearing a couple of ‘rude’ words so blatantly on record that made my ears perk up ? Maybe that was part of it, but truth be told I wasn’t getting hyped over swearing at that stage… After all similar language was being shouted out in my school playground near enough everyday.

Nope, from what I can recall, it was more a combination of that hardcore pulsating beat and the pure passion and sense of urgency in the voice of the speaker. It all made my head spin – but in a good way… Nah, scratch that, in a great way! At the time I didn’t know that said voice belonged to O’Shea ‘Ice Cube’ Jackson, who at the age of 17, was not much older than me. We even shared a hairstyle in the much-popular 80s do the ‘Jheri Curl’, neither of our finest moments I’m now thinking. But unlike me, Cube can be forgiven because of what came with it.

NWA, N****z with Attitude, everything from their name to their lyrics came with a ‘I don’t give a fuck’ swag firmly attached! YESSSS! *light bulb moment* That’s what it was – I heard that from the very first time! I was a young girl growing up in north west London, Kensal Green by way of Harlesden, while NWA, a group which also consisted of Andre ‘Dr Dre’ Young, Eric ‘Eazy E’ Wright, MC Ren and DJ Yella were, as the song unapologetically, announced ‘Straight Outta Compton…

NWA’s official debut album of the same name (1988) hit hard! How could it not with lyrics like that? They weren’t pretty, that’s for sure – a lot of it was damn right wrong.  When someone is proclaiming… ‘So what about the bitch who got shot? Fuck her! You think I give a damn about a bitch? I ain’t a sucker!’ as Eazy did on the track, you gotta know that isn’t something you actually want to agree with. And of course I didn’t. But it was still music to me, ‘my music’ and I couldn’t help LOVING it, not the meaning of every lyric that was spat, often with more venom than a truck filled with poisonous snakes, but how it made me feel, which wasn’t violent or angry, just kinda free.

Of course it wasn’t my world or my story. I’d never even heard of Compton (in Los Angeles, USA) up until that point, but I could certainly relate to being strong, being passionate and being black and proud. That was what was inspiring to me.

Interwoven between the obscenities, there was a clear message of empowerment and standing up for yourself against those who try and bring you down. In the case of NWA, the police were a huge focus for their anger. Album cuts such as F*** Tha Police blasting police brutality and racial profiling, made NWA extremely significant in giving a large chunk of young African American men, namely those living in US ghettos across the country, a voice. They could relate. Heck a young black kid from Nottingham who had been stopped and searched by the police for no reason other than the colour of his skin could relate. I had an older brother, uncles, cousins and a dad who could directly relate.

Like a lot of hip hop music in the 80s and today, NWA also appealed to white male teens (many of them from middle-class homes). It was anthemic, the beats were addictive, the lyrics were charged and everybody wanted to be in NWA.  They wore bomber jacket, shell-toe Adidas, baseball caps, neck-breaking gold rope chains and walked around like they owned the world! Well, everybody apart from moral group,  politicians and the of course parents who didn’t want their kids listening to ‘that mess’. The FBI even tried to shut them down, and they were labelled ‘the world’s most dangerous group’!

NWA also spoke to young middle class females, judging by the appearance of actress Gwyneth Paltrow on the Graham Norton Show earlier this year (below).

The group’s audience was strong and this was reflective in the sales of Straight Outta Compton, which went platinum, as did their follow-up EP, Five Miles and Runnin’, which didn’t feature Ice Cube, after he left to go solo, following contract disputes.

Speaking of contracts, the one Cube refused to sign was drawn up by Eazy E, who owned Ruthless Records (co-founding it with Jerry Heller, who went on to become NWA’s manager), NWA’s label.  Not many give Eazy, who passed away from complications from AIDS in 1995, props for his business acumen regarding NWA. Whether you share the view that he was shady or not, that doesn’t take away from him being one of the first hip hop players to own their own label, albeit one initially funded from money he made in his former ‘career’ as a drug dealer. The likes of Diddy and Jay-Z made that factor very cool in the 90s. But before them, following on from Russell Simmons, Eazy was also flexing as a label boss and signed acts such as D.O.C, Bones Thugs and Harmony and both Dr Dre and Ice Cube before they became NWA.

I remember having a recent debate about NWA and Public Enemy, over which was the most important group. I guess that totally depends on who you are asking. Most people I know would kiss their teeth at the mere mention of NWA being any sort of comparison to Public Enemy, and maybe for the majority they are not. But for me as much as I respect Public Enemy and wholly cherish a lot of the songs that are now stone-cold classics, NWA is a totally different monster for me, and that is all based on how I connected with them in my formative years. I guess I never had that experience with Public Enemy. Maybe as an 11-year-old who had posters of New Kids On The Block on her wall (Yes, I am a very eclectic, and WHAT???) I was looking for somewhere to channel another side of me and I found it  in the music of NWA.

Whiel in the group, Dre and DJ Yella handled production, while Ice Cube and MC Ren wrote the majority of the lyrics. After they broke up in 1992, Dr Dre went on to become one of  world’s most respected producers, discoverer of the world’s biggest rapper Eminem and someone who also introduced us to Snoop Dogg and made history with Death Row Records.

Ice Cube, who went on to have a handful of notable solo albums and became one of 90s rap’s most prolific voices with a solo career that will no doubt be etched in hip hop history. He then surprised a lot of people by carving out an uber successful Hollywood career as a bankable actor, producer, writer and director in both film and TV.

DJ Yella also released a solo album in 1996, called One Mo Nigga Ta Go. But these days he is best known for his  successful career directing porno films, and has a whopping 150 under his belt.

Mc Ren has released five solo albums since NWA disbanded, including Kizz My Black Azz, which went platinum in 1992.

Yesterday would have been Eazy’s 47th birthday, his 20-year-old daughter, Erin ‘EB’ Wright, is now taking up the baton by releasing her own single, What I Wanna Do. Check out her story  and a snippet of the single below!