Maybe you've been with us for a few installations of Soul Sessions or maybe this is your very first time joining me. Either way, consider yourself in a one-on-one listening session with the artists I've discovered this week and want to share with you. Let me know which gems had you really bobbing your head or smiling wide in the comments!
MC K~Swift feat. Mankind - "Killing"
James Baldwin said, "To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage." This song perfectly illustrates the rage of those adversely and disproportionately affected by killings in this time and in this place. There are no complex decorations or intricacies to this music. It's very straightforward, with no hook and a repeating guitar riff. MC K~Swift shows expert emcee skills without acquiescing to common ways of engaging the genre, and Mankind matches Swift's passion and ability.
Jairus Mozee - "EQUAL RIGHTS"
Also known as "J. Mo," Jairus Mozee has worked with everyone from Grammy-award winner Lalah Hathaway to BJ The Chicago Kid. His musical and production skills are stellar, however this gem takes his creativity even further. Chopping up commentary from black men and audio from actual violent interactions with police, it's almost as if J. Mo is scoring the soundtrack to our struggle with this one.
Kev Choice - "Blues for Blueford"
On his recently released project Love and Revolution, emcee, pianist and composer Kev Choice ends with this striking instrumental tune for Alan Blueford, another black person killed by the police. It's a beautiful tribute, evoking the sorrow, confusion and reflection that comes with each of these tragic events.
Sincerely Wilson - "Love Junkie"
And in these times, we all need a little more love. This is a beautiful tribute to the object of his affection. The alternative and soulful take on contemporary R&B makes this one of the gems you'll be happy to uncover, and one that can be listened to on repeat.
VanJess - "Adore"
Building a bridge between the girl duos and groups of the 90s that brought the soulfulness and the trap sound of present day black music, this is one of those gems that's both nostalgic and relevant at the same time. It almost goes in and out of R&B and hip-hop, making one curious if either of the group members is actually an emcee. Check out their other music to find out!
Chris Turner & the Dropouts - "Love"
One of the gems from their Love Bomb EP, Chris Turner & the Dropouts really build a layered composition that takes the listener on a journey with the protagonist in this story, who is grateful to be alive but is still searching for meaning and purpose.
Kyle Shedrick - "War"
This is one of those rare times when I don't mind the use of autotune because this is an inspirational song with a turn-up sound. Listen to this when you're going to that job you hate, interviewing for that dream gig, or any situation where you'll face opposition or challenges. Then, stand in a Superwoman/man pose for at least three minutes, and you'll be ready to conquer anything.
What songs have been stuck in your head this week? Share in the comments below!
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Welcome back to Soul Sessions, where I've put together some of the best music found on Soundcloud for this week, no matter the genre. Because no artist wants to be "the next (insert name here)," I'm digi-crate-digging to bring you some of the best up-and-comers from all over. Take a listen and tell me what you think is fire in the comments below!
Chic Loren - "Right Here"
This is one of those beats that could easily overpower the singer, but Chic Loren comes in with that second soprano power. It's a hard-hitting love anthem for when your partner needs to be reminded that the adoration isn't dissipating, it's building (just like she does with those harmonies).
Paige Wells - "Runnin'"
I usually really dislike sampling, especially if the person is going to be singing over it (I'm less likely to dislike it if it's hip-hop). Paige Wells has me ready to change my mind as she uses one of my favorites, Adrian Marcel's "Weak After Next," to respond to his tune about the object of his affection running away from their budding relationship. It's an awesome take on why a woman might be unsure of giving her heart to a man, and Paige's voice definitely is complimentary to Adrian's. Collab in the future?
Ré Lxuise - "CHBYG"
So remember how Paige was talking about her hesitation for entering into a relationship with a guy? Well Ré Lxuise takes it next level when her guy keeps fronting and she's over it (CHBYG stands for "could have been your girl"). She was down for him, he played games, couldn't figure out what he wanted, and it just wasn't poppin' like that anymore. So, she hit the studio to let bruh know that he had the greatest her heart had to offer and he messed it up. The lesson here is that if you screw up a relationship with a musician, they'll just write a fire song about it and keep it pushing.
Desmond Owens (feat. QUEEN) - "No Pay"
What happens when you invest in your relationship, figuratively AND literally? Desmond Owens tackles being taken advantage of emotionally and financially in this traditional soul cut. I really appreciate the musicality in this song, from the vocal layers to the live instrumentation. I could have done without the rap verse, but only because I didn't feel it was necessary with this kind of vibe. The speaking part at the beginning accomplished enough, including humor.
Drew Vision - "Pills"
Drew Vision just wants to have fun and compares his love to pills in this upbeat tune. The song boasts that one night with him will have the lucky girl hungover and addicted. With an infectious bass line and some very cool musical transitions (especially in the bridge), this talented singer recently released a full project, Balance, which you can stream on Soundcloud. Balance also includes a "Pills" remix.
MAAD MOISELLE - "Black Ice"
Drew might be addictive, but MAAD MOISELLE says she'll have him slipping, sliding and falling, illustrating her love as the elusive and dangerous black ice. The synths and drum pattern give a nod to the '80s, but this song doesn't sound dated at all. This is an awesomely danceable song to put on at a girls night in or on the way to your favorite spot to grab drinks.
Tay Walker - "Where Would We Go"
I'm sure current events have many people contemplating their mortality. Tay Walker takes an introspective route on this song, wondering what happens when one transitions out of this life and off of this plane. He also takes aim at society, questioning the way we treat each other and our planet. It's poetic without being lyrically cumbersome and beautiful without being overdone melodically.
Let us know your favorite new songs in the comments below!
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Welcome to Soul Sessions, where I put together the best songs I've found on Soundcloud for the week of June 5-11, 2016, no matter the genre. Introduce yourself to some artists who will soon become your favorites, and comment below with your favorite new music as well.
JoJo Martin - "Run On"
JoJo Martin is a well-known singer in the gospel world who went viral this week when he was called upon to sing at a Kirk Franklin concert. JoJo has been battling renal failure, going to dialysis, and has been on the transplant list for a new kidney for the past three years. His solo at Franklin's concert was a heartfelt plea to a higher power, and this song is a continuation of his resilience in the darkest of circumstances. It's more inspirational than directly religious, making it accessible to all listeners. The lyrics are strong, and you can hear the determination in his voice.
Gwen Bunn - "Unofficial"
This is for everyone in a 'situationship.' Gwen has such an original and conversational way of talking about relationships. With Gwen also on production, this is a sonically solid song, however, it will have the listener yearning for the kick drum to drop. The drums tease that way throughout the entire track, making it feel almost like an interlude to something else.
Sia Amun - "Flowers"
If you want to get into a serious groove with some live instrumentation, then "Flowers" is for you. It's the first single off Sia Amun's upcoming debut album Blue Dream, which is dropping later this summer. I was happy I ran across this gem, because she's got great tone and makes good harmonic choices. I'm looking forward to more music from her.
1-O.A.K. - "Fall Down"
Everyone has met that partner who has been hurt, and as a consequence, has their walls up. If that person wanted to write a song to sing to their love, this would be that song. I'm not big on singers using samples in their production, but 1-O.A.K. makes it work with updated drums here. This one's definitely gonna be on repeat.
Lee Mo - "Don't Have A Reason"
Her tone is spectacular, and the production is reminiscent of older soul music. Feeling intuitively that her love might be looking at someone else and might hurt her, Lee laments her sorrow. Admitting that she has no reason for these suspicions other than her gut, she speaks to a woman's intuition spectacularly here.
Tiyi Christopher - "Curious"
This is one of those tracks that grew on me the longer I listened to it. The production is solid from the jump, but I didn't know if this was going to be one of those template "freak me" songs. Tiyi makes the song interesting, building throughout and referencing classic boudoir songs from the '90s.
Kiah Victoria - "Cold War"
Everyone faces different struggles. This song vividly describes the feeling that comes with thinking you're fighting a losing battle. Whether you're repeating bad habits or fighting your way back from a deep loss, this song will resonate with the feeling that sometimes even your own body is not on your side.
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It was strange to me when I saw Fantastic Negrito on an episode of Empire. "Actually real, good music on Empire?! No freakin' way." But there he was, getting down with Jamal on the show. It was serendipitous that he was one of the three featured artists at the Grammy Songwriter's Summit I was attending in my hometown just a few weeks after finishing the spring semester. The other two artists were interesting enough, but it was Fantastic Negrito who really captured my ear, my eye, and who I was utterly enchanted by. Each artist introduced themselves in song, and when he hit the stage, I knew I was witnessing something special.
Mystifying, his voice soared over us while he plucked a simple blues/rock riff on his guitar. He jerked about while singing, as though his song was moving him as much as it was the crowd. His jarring lyrics contained more honesty that maybe the audience was ready for, but if being an artist is about leaving your truth on the stage, Negrito is certainly an artist. He talked about his mistakes, his stumbles in relationships, and about being selfish, singing, "Yeah, I want everything you've got for no reason." He was a vision of imperfection turned masterpiece, a representation of the Oakland I've always known and loved. With our city (and the surrounding cities) going through sweeping change via gentrification and Fantastic Negrito's upcoming album aptly entitled The Last Days of Oakland, he's unafraid to share a bigger truth: All around the country, we're losing the neighborhoods and communities we've built, loved and cultivated to opportunism and greed.
Traditionally, black rock, rhythm, and blues have been musical documentations of black struggle. Negrito's music harkens back to that sound, bringing the message forward to relate to current struggles. Personally, he shared having a bad record deal as a younger man, losing everything and then leaving music. A tragic car accident that damaged his playing hand and the birth of his son would be his rebirth to music, this time on his own terms. His music is sometimes self-deprecating, many times critical of society, and always thoughtful. It doesn't shy away from loss — even the loss of an entire city. From Oakland to Brooklyn, his brutally honest music should give all of us being pushed out of 'redeveloped' areas hope because it is a reflection of a man who lost himself and is now seemingly losing his town. If he can find himself again, in the worst of circumstances, maybe we can find the cities we once knew. Fantastic Negrito made me feel like I could find Oakland again, and that maybe it could live.
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Now that Zoe Saldana has been thoroughly read, we can focus on another important element of Nina Simone's remembrance: Giving her a film that actually authentically depicts her life in its complexity, struggle and brilliance.
I saw the Netflix documentary, What Happened, Miss Nina Simone?, which I found demoralizing in its title and horrifying to watch. Once I learned that Simone's daughter actually had a lot to do with the production of that documentary, my horror grew. If you haven't seen it yet, I won't go into much detail. However, giving Ms. Simone's abusive husband a platform — which he used to mostly berate Nina — was an egregious error on the filmmaker's part. I left that documentary feeling like I knew her less than before I'd begun watching it. The Hollywood production can only be summed up as a circus, sensationalizing her life in ways that are just downright false.
But did any of you know that there is another documentary, and it's actually fantastic?! Jeff L. Lieberman's The Amazing Nina Simone was so thorough, thoughtful and precise that I reached out to Jeff after seeing it to gain more insight into his thoughts surrounding the film. I found him to be as thoughtful and honest as his film. Check out our chat below:
Blavity: Who is Nina Simone to you?
Jeff Lieberman: Nina Simone is an artist like none other. She is fierce and unapologetic. She is unique and unfiltered, giving listeners a true authenticity often unfound in our music universe. She is a freedom fighter, a woman of brave choices, bolds stands, a style icon, a serious risk-taker and uncompromising in her vision of black freedom and equality. She is also a brilliant musician who could take a song and totally make it her own, adding piano flourishes and unique vocal stylings that can induce utter joy or complete sadness. She is an overlooked musical genius, beloved around the world by devoted fans, and someone who has been saying Black Lives Matter since the 1940s, starting in her small Southern town at age 11, to Carnegie Hall when she proclaimed "Mississippi Goddam" at 31 years old and throughout the entire course of her life. As a fierce believer in social justice, she is truly my hero.
B: What has her music meant to you?
JL: Her music has had a special place in my heart. It's introduced me to a time and era that I find especially captivating, and given a counter-narrative to the Civil Rights Movement that is hard to find anywhere else. I've danced to her music, sang her music, been consoled, been uplifted, and listened in awe to some of the ways Nina brings life to a song. It's hard to describe exactly why her music touches me, whether it's her sound, tone, lyrics, piano interludes, the deep androgynous lusciousness of her voice or her choice of song, but it's been a big part of my life for the last 20 years.
B: What do you hope people take away from your documentary?
JL: My intention with this film was to help tell Nina Simone's phenomenal story, and help bring more context to her music, life and incredible accomplishments. When I discovered Nina's classical music background, her politicization among friends such as Langston Hughes, Lorraine Hansberry and James Baldwin, and her tremendous unrecognized musical role in the Civil Rights Movement, I felt that her fans would gain an even greater appreciation for Nina and her music. One could watch the film and then go home and listen to her music again with new context and knowledge to the meaning of her iconic songs. I also felt that many of her fans often wondered about Nina's behavior and that too often Nina was dismissed as crazy. I felt speaking about Nina's mental illness could perhaps bring compassion and a new understanding to Nina's life, and at the same time, I wanted the film to show that it wasn't just mental illness that drove Nina's bold and controversial choices. I wanted people to understand her bravery and brilliance, and what it takes to truly be an artist that fights for the causes near to one's heart. In 1963, people were not used to a black woman demanding equality and respect, and they certainly weren't used to hearing someone like Nina voice outrage at segregation, racial violence, and economic inequality. It's easy to dismiss Nina as "crazy" or "violent" as often people like to do when they don't know her story or when certain films choose to focus on the most sensational elements of her life. When you see The Amazing Nina Simone, I challenge anyone to not realize that her defining characteristics were brilliant and brave.
B: What was the most difficult part about creating the film? How did you overcome that challenge?
JL: Making a documentary is tough work, and even more difficult when producing it independently, without the strings of corporate or investor interests. Taking on a subject as complex as Nina Simone adds another level. I also wondered if not being from Nina's era or culture would affect my ability to truly understand the nuances of her experience. I also feared that others would have the same question. To add to this, once I began the project, another VERY well-funded production began a competing documentary on the same subject, which posed a whole new set of challenges. Carving a place for the film has been a challenge, but out of the 3 Nina Simone films, I am most proud that I overcame all these challenges, completed the film, and been on the right side of history. The film has been embraced by audiences in over 65 cities, and Nina's fans have heard the TRUE story of Nina's life, career, challenges, ups and downs, as told by over 50 of her friends, family, band members, lovers and fellow activists. That has been no easy task, but every audience member that sees the film and gasps, laughs or sheds a tear has given me a tremendous confidence that we are truly honoring Nina.
B: If you could have cast someone to play Nina Simone in the Hollywood depiction, who would it be and why?
JL: Impersonating Nina Simone is a job that I wish on nobody. Nina is a powerful figure, and more complex than any of us will ever understand. Even those who I've interviewed speak about all these different sides and personalities that I'm not sure anyone could ever capture completely. I think it would take an actress of tremendous experience and acting chops to even begin to take on that role. My best suggestion would be Alfre Woodard, who has proven herself throughout many decades as an extremely strong actor. I would also suggest Viola Davis or Lorraine Toussaint. No prosthetics or dark-skinned makeup would be needed for any of these actors — elements that are a distraction and make a caricature of Nina Simone. It goes without saying that Hollywood has a history of casting lighter-skin actors, and Nina even felt that her dark skin and wider nose were obstacles throughout much of her life, including the reason she was never featured on the cover of a magazine, like Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross, her lighter-skinned contemporaries.
There are also plenty of young women who I feel truly "get" Nina (like India Arie) and could potentially capture Nina's height of artistry in the 1960s. However, I think it's important to recognize that this biopic chose to portray Nina in the 1990s, the final decade of her life when Nina was in her 60s. In the controversy over the black-face makeup, prosthetics and casting choice, this is scarcely being mentioned in the press, and this is my larger issue with the film. While I believe Clifton Henderson (whose story "Nina" is loosely based upon) had good intentions when he first began caring for Nina, he ended up isolating her from friends and family, over-medicating her, and taking large percentages of her payments. This is not an uncommon ending for many celebrities of a certain era, and perhaps an interesting story if Nina had not had six other decades of phenomenal musical accomplishments, civil rights stands, and been a symbol for so many people of freedom, pride and artistry. To overlook these moments in favor of sensational drama like Nina brandishing a gun and throwing champagne bottles is not only an insult to her very rich and complex life, but is a blatant white-washing of her achievements as a black woman in 20th century America. It exposes the deep ignorance of the cast, director and production team. Having read the script for the film four years ago, I can say that anyone involved in the production was deeply aware of the choices they were making with this production and should be held responsible.
I love narrative films and have seen great films that portray real people. However, I think the only person who should be playing Nina is Nina. Her story is not fit for the condensing and sensationalizing that are part of the formulaic approach to conventional Hollywood biopics. Nina's story and genius lives on in her performance clips, and anyone who truly wants to know the real Nina should see the real person as told by over 50 of her friends, family, band members, lovers and fellow activists in The Amazing Nina Simone. I say this not as the director of the film, but as a fan.
For More Information About Jeff's Documentary Visit www.amazingnina.com
What are your thoughts about how Nina Simone is portrayed? How would you like to see her story told?
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Every great breakup song requires one secret ingredient: A mix of petty.
R&B artists are known for hitting below the belt when it comes to lost love, failed relationships and infidelity. Check out 27 of our favorite petty R&B songs from the past.
1. "I Don't Ever Want to See You Again" Uncle Sam
And we didn't see him again after this song.
2. "Friend Of Mine" Kelly Price ft. Ronald Isley, R. Kelly
When you resort to a three way call by means of exposing a cheater, you've hit peak petty.
3. "Just Be a Man About It" Toni Braxton
Why did she have to bring his mama into it?
4. "Secret Lovers" Atlantic Starr
When you have enough time on your hands to hide and write a song about your infidelity.
5. "Same Script, Different Cast" Whitney Houston & Deborah Cox
She gave the other woman a warning?
6. "Bills, Bills, Bills" The First Destiny's Child
Where is the responsibility here? Who loans their car to the unemployed if they're not using it to seek employment?
7. "Obsessed" Mariah Carey
MiMi could've just called Eminem and told him to stop talking about her.
8. "Woman to Woman" Shirley Brown
But ma'am, did you talk "woman to your man"?
9. "One Woman Man" Dave Hollister
Let's reminisce on how we used to get it in, but I gotta girl now.
10. "My Little Secret" Xscape
"I like being in the same room with you and your girlfriend, the fact that she don't know, that really turns me on." Welp.
11. "Bust Your Windows" Jazmine Sullivan
Who has the time or money for court dates?
12. "Confessions Pt. II" Usher
So if she wouldn't have gotten pregnant, you would have nothing to confess? Oh okay.
13. "No Scrubs" TLC
When you resort to name calling.
14. "Don't Mess with My Man" Nivea ft. Brian Casey, Brandon Casey
15. "Chante's Got A Man" Chante Moore
According to her Unsung episode, Chante had many men.
16. "I Don't Wanna Know" Mario Winans
What you don't know won't hurt you.
17. "G.H.E.T.T.O.U.T." Changing Faces
The spelling alone deserves a space in the petty hall of fame.
18. "I Hope She Cheats on You (With a Basketball Player)" Marsha Ambrosius
Kobe and Shaq set her up for this layup.
19. "F**k It" Eamon
The mature way of handling things.
20. "The Way It Is" Keyshia Cole
The entire album. Every single track.
21. "Doin' Just Fine" Boyz II Men
"I mean I don't care about you anymore but just so you know I'm not mad." -Boyz II Men
22. "Last Time" Trey Songz
"Let me hit just one more time before I go back home to my girl." -Trigga
23."Sideline Ho" Monica
"Yous a ho" is always a great conversation starter.
24. "Free Yourself"
This song sounds like Fantasia is giving him a long-awaited pardon from a prison sentence.
25. "It Wasn't Me" Shaggy
But it was you.
26. "Same Girl" Usher & R. Kelly
Because somewhere in America this very conversation is being had, likely on Twitter.
27. "The Boy is Mine" Brandy & Monica
They sound like toddlers arguing over a toy. "Not yours, but mine."
Is it just me or does every great R&B hit involve some type of phone call?
Tell us in the comments section your favorite R&B songs deserving of a petty title.
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BJ The Chicago Kid could easily become the next Tank. And not that sexy, shirtless, crooning, "Please Don't Go," Tank. That bitter, giving-up-soul-music-via-Instagram Tank. Why? Because he's an actual musician, who has found the magic balance between musicianship and aural relevance. Although every listener isn't a musician or a songwriter and some only want something head-noddable, there are plenty of creatives who are looking for something that both makes them shake their backside and reaches their inner emotional core. BJ's new album, In My Mind, can appeal to the casual listener, the creative and the random passerby alike. To reach the widest range of demographic possible, his core audience - THAT'S YOU - has to actually purchase his album.
Here's the thing: In this new digital era of streaming, the musician of substance has a hard and long row to tow. They must compel our musical and emotional sensibilities so much that we are willing to spend that all important 7-12 dollars on something that they spent months, maybe even years, thousands of dollars and sleepless nights creating. Every single person who takes the time to buy this album is investing in the future of the artist by communicating to the record label that they are a marketable and monetarily viable product. In turn, the label will continue to invest in the artist, who won't be relegated to just urban radio stations or smaller venues when performing. Record sales speak to who will listen on the radio, who will show up to a concert and who will purchase merchandise at the concert. Streaming listens are nice, but they don't say as much as a swipe of the credit card does.
Many of us who complain about the state of music are culpable in the demise of meaningful music because instead of cashing out for a quality product, we wait for someone to upload it to Youtube, Soundcloud or one of the many other vehicles for musical piracy. We can't expect artists to invest in the music that rocks our bodies and souls if we don't invest in them when they make it! And let me tell you... In My Mind is FANTASTIC. From tracks clearly influenced by Jodeci, such as "The Resume (featuring Big K.R.I.T.)" to sweet, ethereal songs such as "Falling on my Face" to the collaborations we've come to love and expect such as "The New Cupid (featuring Kendrick Lamar)," there's something for everyone without the album losing its cohesiveness.
Another growing trend is that so many of these artists give us a ton of free music before they officially release an album to try to hedge their bets that we'll pay when they finally ask for that nominal fee. To date, BJ has released four free mixtapes (five, if you count the short tribute to D'Angelo), giving us more than a glimpse into his musical style and evolution. Is it too much to ask that we'd now contribute to his official album release? I hope not.
Frankly, if I were you, I wouldn't do it just for BJ The Chicago Kid. I'd do it for all of the fleeting artists who we look back upon with regretful nostalgia. Buy his album for that J. Holiday album you streamed on your computer and burned a cd of for the car. Do it for that one time you did Brandy's Afrodisiac shady by borrowing (and never returning) it from your homegirl instead of grabbing your own copy.
Because I might have soul music "in my mind," but if the industry doesn't know that, it could soon be out of sight.
Buy In My Mind here.
Have you listened to In My Mind? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
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