29 November 2020

"When I Think of You" by Janet Jackson (1986)

The cover to Janet Jackson's When I Think of You (1986)
from the album she dropped that same year, Control.


Recently I was doing research on the Jackson 5.  And while in the midst of such I had came to a startling realization.  Yes, the constant presence of his (big) brothers early in his career logically helped Michael Jackson become grounded in the music industry.  But none of his siblings, outside of Janet, actually contributed to his immense fame in adulthood.  Now I know Jermaine may have had a hit or two, and cheesus used to play the damn out of Rebbie Jackson's Centipede (1984).  But only Janet proved herself successful enough entertainment-wise on a level worthy of being a sibling of Michael Jackson.

Michael (1958) was about seven and-a-half years older than Janet (1966).

So then after coming to that conclusion I was like okay, let me write an article about Janet Jackson.  Then it came down to ascertaining which of her songs, When I Think of You or that track she did with Q-Tip, was actually my favorite.  Ultimately, even though I would say the latter has more of a timeless quality, I went with the former because it's older and affords more of a reason to delve more into Janet's history.


And historically When I Think of You is in fact a significant song as it was the first time Miss Jackson, who went on to become one of the most-successful female singers ever, topped the Billboard Hot 100.  (She's achieved 10 number ones on the Hot 100 as of 2001).  It has also garnered gold certification in the US and has made it onto 10 music charts around the world.

Now going back to doing Michael justice, when this song made it to number 1 it also made Janet and Michael the only two siblings in history to both individually top the Hot 100.  And even now, over 30 years later, that's an achievement that's still yet to be matched.

When I Think of You, despite being an undeniable hit, didn't sell like crazy.  But it is the song which put Janet Jackson on the road to superstardom in a way that legitimized the Jacksons as a genuine musical family.  In fact even as I'm writing this article Michael Jackson's daughter (?) Paris just dropped her first song.  And that's what you call a true musical legacy - like Bob Marley for instance - that when anyone in your immediate family decides to come out with a track, the industry has to at least give them the benefit of the doubt.

Janet Jackson is in fact the youngest member of
the Jackson family.  But as you can see, even from
early on she already knew what time it was.


In fact Janet Jackson herself was far from what you would call a musical prodigy.  That's a somewhat-euphemistic way of saying that her first two albums before Control (1986) - with her debut project coming out when she was 16 years old - both "bombed".  Meanwhile if you or I were lucky enough to get signed to a record label and dropped even one corny album, our music careers would pretty much be over.  But again, this is not only a Jackson we're talking about but also one who didn't give in easily.  So as mentioned above, A&M Records still gave her the benefit of the doubt with Control.

Janet Jackson in the studio with Jimmy Jam (left)
and Terry Lewis (right) circa 1993. The pair produced
of her aforementioned 10 Hot 100 number 1s.

And this time around she not only 'got out from under her father' but also employed the services of producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis.  And even though you rarely hear about them these days, back in the dawgs they were amongst the musicians who defined the sound of R&B.  And interestingly out of the numerous hits they help create - working alongside the likes of Boyz II Men, Mariah Carey and the late George Michael - the artist they are most known for partnering with is indeed Janet Jackson.  And in addition to producing When I Think of You they also wrote the song, with Janet also being a co-writer.

Moreover outside of this track, they produced other hits from Control which went on to define Miss Janet's music career such as Nasty and the equally-unforgettable What Have You Done for Me Lately.  And by the time all was said and done, the album proved successful enough the earn the pair a Producer of the Year Grammy Award.


Meanwhile the music video was directed by an industry vet named Julien TempleAccording to IMDb it features Paula Abdul (although I couldn't spot her anywhere offhand).  It is also said to contain two of Janet's nephews (via her brother Tito), Taryll and TJ Jackson.  The pair later went on to become two-thirds of 3T, the group who dropped what I remember to be a slightly-frightening music video alongside uncle Micheal (which would be 1995's Why).  You may also notice that Janet is a bit on the thick side in the clip.  I remember back in the days there were rumors of her having weight loss surgery, but according to the singer herself those were lies.  Yet either way, it's pretty obvious comparing her then to now that she's had facial surgery.  And in noticing how pretty she was back then, well, let's just say it's bit challenging to understand how she rationalized that decision even though at the end of the day we know that she (and others) followed the lead of MJ.


And now comes to the real nitty-gritty, actually analyzing what the song means.  To be totally honest even though this is one of my favorites, I don't know any of the words to the actual verses.  However I would presume it's about, you know, love.  And whereas the wording isn't anything even remotely complex, the two verses do take slightly-different approaches to the matter at hand.

In the first, the singer is telling her sweetheart that whenever she's stressed out, thinking of him calms her down.  And the second verse is somewhat similar, whereas she likens dude to an anti-depressant.  But she also alludes to the notion of her love for him continually growing as time progresses.  Indeed when she thinks of him her thoughts doesn't drift to the things she don't like, you know, like a normal lover would do.  Rather whenever he comes to mind, 'all she thinks about is their love'.  So it really does sound like Janet is portraying the role of someone who is in the early stages of a romance, before you start also noticing things about that special someone which turn you off.  But I'm not trying to spoil the mood or anything.  After all, Janet was a tender 20 years old when this track came out.  So it's like, I just wonder if she'd be privy to drop a song like this today.


To me the 1980s and the mega-success of soloists such as Janet Jackson and Madonna marked a shift in the music industry.  Janet was someone who got her foot in the door due to, as aforementioned, the success of Michael Jackson in particular.  In other words she was not born with natural singing talent, as was Michael.  In fact she has an average singing voice, albeit one that has been thoroughly trained and on this track one can even say computerized.  Or stated otherwise, Janet's talent didn't make her a star; her drive did.  And since the 80s it has become more common for vocalists, who really don't possess anymore singing talent than the next man, to blow up.  Or let's put it like this - nowadays a pop musician's drive is perhaps even more important than his or her talent.

And this isn't a diss or anything, not as far as Janet is concerned.  Whereas she and Michael may not have been as buddy-buddy as some of us would like to think, again it was her efforts which truly legitimized the Jacksons, as a whole, as a musical family.  And she was one of the premiere artists who defined late 20th century music.  So I may just follow-up this article by researching Got Til It's Gone, i.e. the track she dropped with Q-Tip in 1997.

04 October 2020

"Stranger in Moscow" by Michael Jackson (1996)

This is another track I decided to analyze in depth because it's been playing in my head lately.  In fact a few days ago I found myself on the roadside spontaneously singing it, for at times I too feel "like a stranger in Moscow".  But it was also upon doing so I realized that, outside of the chorus, I don't even really know the words to it.  So it's like not knowing the words to one of your favorite songs is as good of a reason to research it as any.

The cover art to Stranger in Moscow (1996)

Speaking of Michael Jackson (1958-2009), he was indeed a polarizing figure.  I guess such is to be expected when you're the most-popular singular human being to walk the Earth during the 20th century.  People are going to be all up in your business, and along with the good comes the bad and even the straight-up lies.

But one thing I will say about Michael is this.  Even though he was hands-down the top musician in the world, he didn't come out with mediocre songs or drop half-ass collaborations just to make a quick buck.  No, MJ put his all into his music career.  In fact it has been said that part of the reason he died prematurely was because he overworked himself to death.  So even though Stranger in Moscow (1996) came out like a decade after his heyday, you can still tell that he put his full emotion into the track.

Who knew that Sonic, in his own way, contributed to the
creation of Stranger in Moscow?


But with that being noted, here's an interesting fact.  Brad Buxer, a composer who worked regularly with Micheal Jackson, has stated that at the "base" of the instrumental for Stranger in Moscow is actually music he and MJ put together to be used for the Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994).  And this is something which Michael himself reportedly admitted to.

An older pic of Brad Buxer, the dude who is said to have helped
Michael Jackson create the musical basis behind Stranger in Moscow
Buxer also worked with other classic Black artists like Stevie Wonder
and Smokey Robinson.

So why did Michael use chords from a song that he actually intended for a videogame?  Well the main console which Sonic 3 was featured on was the Sega Genesis.  And MJ, as implied earlier being a perfectionist, was frustrated with the quality of sound the machine could produce.  So apparently the Moonwalker just got fed up one day and bounced on the project.

However it has also been put forth that the reason he behaved so was due to what he was going through at the time - something we'll get into later.  But that being established, it is still widely held that some of the music he helped create made it onto Sonic, even if he wasn't credited.  So if true, he apparently still retained enough control over what he did produce to use it on his own personal song also, most notably Stranger in Moscow but also quite a few others.  And truth be told, according to the video embedded above, the ending theme to Sonic the Hedgehog 3 does sound, at one point, almost identical to Stranger in Moscow.


However at the end of the day, whether Michael had help creating this track or not, it is only he who is credited as its producer and writer.  The labels behind that put it out are Epic Records, Sony Music and MJJ Productions - the latter being founded by MJ himself.  The song was officially released on 28 August 1997, and it served as the fifth single from Michael's double-disc project entitled HIStory: Past, Present and Fture, Book I.

Michael Jackson's History: Past, Present and Future, Book 1 (1995)
cover art.  As implied by the imagery, he opted to stand strong despite
what he was going through around the time of its release.

The video to this track, which I guess you could say is perhaps the best parts of the song, was directed by an English photographer named Nick Brandt.  And it's obviously the type of visual that's meant to be a work of art, one in which the viewer is tasked with interpreting what the images mean.  But at the same time, combined the lyrics the video is pretty easy to understand.  And as for me personally, I always thought the video was, you know, actually filmed in Moscow.  But it was in fact shot in Los Angeles, which is like Michael Jackson's hometown.  And that brings us to the actual meaning of the song.


Despite his aforementioned fame and wealth life wasn't all peachy for MJ, especially around the time Stranger in Moscow came out.  For it was in 1993 when he was first formally accused of child-sexual abuse.  These allegations took a serious and immediate toll on his career as well as health.

Moreover, you know everybody likes making fun of Michael.  This was true even before these accusations came out, and the mocking did not let up while he was going through this ordeal.  In fact in the aftermath, the media persecution of the King of Pop got a lot worse.

And no, they did not stop even after Michael settled with his accuser, Jordan Chandler, for a whopping $23,000,000 in early 1994.  In fact according to the The Washington Post the entire ordeal remained the main story in the news until the O.J. Simpson Murder Trial of September, 1994.  And as many readers can attest to, even well after Michael Jackson passed away in 2009 the media still hasn't stopped f*kin with him.  So I guess you can say this was the negative effect of being as rich and mega-famous - and eccentric - as Michael Jackson was.  Or stated differently he was never actually convicted of sexual abuse, even after a thorough and extremely-humiliating investigation.  Moreover he richly settled the matter with the accuser.  But regardless the media would not let the issue die down.

So in summation Michael was losing tens of millions of dollars in endorsements, even outside of the money he paid to Jordy Chandler.  Also his health got all messed up.  Then on top of that, people wouldn't stop making fun of him and prying into his private life.  Moreover on even an even more-intimate personal level, as this song reveals, he was also in an exceptionally-lonely state.

Wherever Michael went in Moscow, he was flanked by crowds.

According to the legend behind this song, Michael Jackson wrote it while he was indeed in Moscow.  This was during September of 2003, while MJ was conducting his highly-lucrative Dangerous World Tour.  And according to one in-depth account of his time there, despite being constantly mobbed by innumerable fans MJ was "as lonely as maybe never before".  In the same article it has been noted that it was a "surprise" visit he made to Russia just "a couple of weeks after being first publicly accused of child abuse".  Or stated differently, he likely already wasn't in the best of spirits even before he landed there.

Above is a short documentary on Michael's visit to Russia in 1993.  It's pretty informative, despite being in Russian. You can see that wherever he goes, there's multitudes.  Indeed MJ required a presidential level of security, even though he was in fact a long way from Starbucks.

Michael only seems to have one travel companion, some old Black dude that I don't recognize.  And not for nothing, but your chances of making friends are likely minimized when you're like hiding your face in public and running from crowds.  But at the end of the day, logically speaking nobody knows how it feels to be Michael Jackson other than Michael Jackson.  Indeed Michael was rockin' surgical facemasks in public like a good 30 years before they became fashionable.

Michael Jackson wearing a facemask in Russia during September, 1993.

So with that in mind it doesn't seem that he actually had beef with the Kremlin, as the first verse of the track implies.  Indeed even on the official Genius explanation of the lyrics it says that the "Kremlin", as used in the song, is meant to be symbolic of the powers-that-be, so to speak.  But Michael does goes on to say in the second verse that he was being 'dogged' by the KGB.  So maybe, considering that he was in fact accused of a heinous crime, the Russian security forces were conducting extra surveillance on him even beyond their already-infamous norm.  And overall, on Stranger in Moscow Jackson partially comes off like a celebrity who wishes he could shed his fame.  Using Russia as an example, he's tired of people always being up in his face wherever he goes.

And remember, once again, that the music video to this song was filmed in Los Angeles.  So ultimately the phrase "stranger in Moscow" can be interpreted as allegorical language, as in the way Michael felt everywhere he goes. This was an individual who, as ironic as it may sound, suffered from intense loneliness.  Indeed according to his own words he used to go out at night and randomly approach people in L.A., looking for a friend.  And with that being said, take a moment to imagine walking down the street and some pinkish-looking Black dude with like relaxed Jheri curls, indeed Michael Jackson himself, suddenly steps to you, trying to spark a random conversation.  You'd probably be left speechless, no pun intended.

So analysts of this song who look past its geographical origins understand that MJ was singing of his overall mental/social state at the time.  He had indeed experienced a "swift and sudden fall from grace" which had left him perturbed.  Or perhaps another way of looking at it is that, despite how many fans Michael may have had, he felt as if the world had turned on him in a way.  But at the end of the day, at least we can say that he got a dope song out of it.


Stranger in Moscow made it onto the Billbaord Hot 100 yet only peaked at number 91.  To put that into perspective, that's the lowest any Michael Jackson song which ever appeared on the Hot 100 has ever charted.  But it did reach number 50 on Billbaord's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.

But more importantly, Stranger in Moscow did manage to top the charts in the Czech Republic, Italy and Spain.  Additionally it made it all the way up to number four on the UK Singles Chart and charted in over 20 countries overall.  It also re-charted in handful of European countries in 2006 (again reaching number one in Spain) and in 2009, in the latter case presumably after MJ's passing.  But it didn't sell a gazillion copies like some of his other hits.  And perhaps in this particular instance that wasn't necessarily his goal.

But that being said, as implied earlier the negative press he was receiving affected its performance.  So it's pretty amazing that it still did as well as it did, proving that verily it is a quality track and that at the end of the day the Moonwalker was a force that couldn't be denied.  Indeed HIStory itself sold in excess of 20,000,000 copies.


I had to give another shoutout to the music video because now that I think about it, it's my favorite Michael Jackson.  The audio and visual combine to tell a comprehensive, easy-to-follow story, and even to this day I would say the aesthetics are beautiful.  This track has stood the test of time better than most of Michael's bigger hits.  And here's an interesting fact - the slow motion they used in it is said to be a technological predecessor to the bullet-time effect used in The Matrix (1999).


I sympathize with what Michael Jackson was going through when he came out with Stranger in Moscow.  No, I'm not trying to insinuate that I know how it feels to have thousands upon thousands fans, unlimited dough and still be lonely.  But one thing this song helped me realize is that chronic loneliness is chronic loneliness, no matter who is suffering from it.

Michael Jackson chillin' with one of his homeys, Hollywood child actor
Macauley Culkin.  It was pretty obvious that Michael was not comfortable
in his natural skin which may have logically, in various ways,
contributed to his loneliness.

Indeed as the old saying goes, "it's lonely at the top".  And truth by told MJ was too rich and famous to be hanging out with other Black celebrities.  In fact I would say that was part of the reason he tried to make himself White, because his success had reached a point where he could no longer identify with his own people, so to speak.  But maybe, just maybe he should have tried a little harder.  After all, you can't spend all of your time hanging out with like Elizabeth Taylor and Macauley Culkin and sh*t.  So conclusively, I guess if there's one ultimate lesson to be learned from Stranger in Moscow it's that even enviable success has its disadvantages.

16 September 2020

"Superstition" by Stevie Wonder (1972)

If you "believe in things that you don’t understand" the consequences, in two simple words, is that "you suffer".  That is how Stevie Wonder sums up the main sentiment behind Superstition (1972).  And while I’ve heard this song frequently over a span of time, I realized that I never really took a close look at the lyrics and what the implications of them were, until now.


The cover art to Stevie Wonder's Superstition (1972).
Notice the broken-glass effect.

The track starts out with three distinct drum kicks.  Then enters the electric keyboard grooving along with the percussion.  Stevie opens his narrative as if he is observing someone, a person who is superstitious, right in his line of sight.  And this individual is not just superstitious, but very superstitious.  And afterwards is where it gets interesting, as Stevie says:

Then the rest of the song is a variation on these same types of lyrics, so I want to just focus on these few major superstitions Stevie is very-concerned about people believing in that are mentioned in the first verse.  Let’s try and break it down.


The number 13, to those who subscribe to the sort of superstition Stevie is referring to, is a very serious thing.  The superstitious are those who would refuse to live on the 13th floor, and some people would even refuse to set foot on a so-called 13th floor.  The seriousness with which this 13th floor is taken has had a profound effect on not just individuals but also the construction industry.  For instance a recent study by The Atlantic, based on New York City Housing data, found that out of 629 buildings in NYC with 13 floors or more, only 55 of these structures actually labelled the 13th floor as what it is - the 13th floor.  Rather what you would typically see is an 11-12-14 sequence on elevator buttons (as pictured above).  But 13?  Oh no.  

Further research on the number-13 superstition would suggest and most commonly points to a New Testament biblical reference.  For those who are superstitious, it is thought that the number 13 is 'bad luck' because it is a reminder of Judas Iscariot, who many consider the 13th apostle and the same indivdual who betrayed Jesus, leading to the latter's crucifixion.   That being said, it is my opinion that this is probably not the entire reason structural engineers build 13th-floorless skyscrapers in New York City.  But who’s really to say?

Next, Stevie states that the "13 month old baby broke the looking glass".  Ok, let’s stop and think.  How many times have we heard that breaking mirrors is 'bad luck'?  Mr. Wonder seems to make a passionate plea against believing these sort of things throughout the track.


Looking glasses, otherwise known as mirrors, are believed to be bad luck if broken or shattered.  This idea stems from belief systems dating back to at least Ancient Rome/Greece It was believed among those who have long spread what we now come to know as superstitions that mirrors were a reflection of the soul, and breaking a mirror somehow damages the spirit or whatever.  Basically, that is the most common explanation about that portion of Stevie Wonder's lyrics. 

The "seven years of bad luck" is a very-interesting part of the song to explore mainly because seven, as I came to learn, has a lot of different meanings and interpretations to a lot of different people, and not all of them are based on superstitions.  In fact a brief search on the number seven will render a wide variety of results.  The most common explanations regarding it once again point back to Ancient Rome, as it was commonly believed that it took seven years for one's soul to renew itself (after breaking a mirror).  There is also a lot of other information regarding the number seven having significance related to belief systems dating back to antiquity and beyond.  Seven is also notably a prime number, which basically means that it can only be divided by itself or the number one.


Stevie Wonder (center right) alongside his mom, Lula, Little Richard (far left),
Chuck Berry (second to right) and others after winning a 1974 Grammy Award
in the category of Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male for Superstition.  This was
actually the first of many Grammys he won throughout his career.


Stevie Wonder, in his Grammy-award winning, chart topping hit single Superstition, attempted to touch upon some very serious issues with lyrics that are relevant even now, some 50 years later.  The song offers advice to those who believe strongly in things such as walking under a ladder or throwing salt as being a harbinger of things to come.

13 September 2020

Road to the Riches b Kool G Rap & DJ Polo (1989)

The late 1980s was perhaps the most-pivotal point in the history of rap music, even though it's often overlooked for more-exciting eras in the genre's history.  This was when rap was, generally speaking, transitioning from its original subject matter (social consciousness and dance) to what it has become today (money and gangsta).  And many of the popular artists from those years straddled between these lines.  In other words they often presented themselves as being in tune with the 'hood or perhaps even criminals, but they didn't tend to go as far as to actually brag about committing crimes or shooting people.

One of the rappers who defined this era was Kool G Rap.  Kool G Rap is someone whom I would say if he were born like 10 years later (after rap music really blew up), he would have been a multi-millionaire.  He is extremely-talented and was one of the last great rappers from the days when New York was basically the only place on Earth where rap music was coming from.

The cover to the Road to the Riches single.

And he was even more influential than I presumed before starting this research.  For instance I'm now reading the Wikipedia page of the Road to the Riches album, and it's saying, shockingly to me at least, that this project "is often cited as the beginning of the mafiaso rap genre".  Mafiaso rap was basically the East Coast version of gangsta rap.  Indeed the article goes on to list rappers "such as... Nas, Jay-Z [and] The Notorious B.I.G." as artists who were directly influenced by this project.  Meanwhile, the only reason I really decided to write about this song is because it's been playing in my head lately.

The cover to the Road to the Riches album.

Yes, this article is about the track, not the overall album.  For the second single released from the aforementioned project was itself entitled Road to the Riches.  Readers who are actually familiar with Kool G Rap should instantly recognize this song as one of his many classics.  And again, since we're talking the 1980s, this doesn't mean that it sold a bunch of records or achieved massive chart success.  Rather, as mentioned prior, Kool G's tracks were mad-influential.  However this is not to imply that Road to the Riches was completely overlooked, as it did manage to peak at number 16 on Billboard's Hot Rap Tracks listing.

As has already been alluded to, in the 1980s even popular rappers didn't tend to be mega-rich.  Also, this was a time before it became standard for rap artists to front like they have dough which they don't or were compelled to portray themselves as millionaires in order to be accepted.  Indeed the hip-hop acts that were really selling records back then were the likes of De La Soul, PM Dawn and the Beastie Boys.  And you know, nowadays if someone dropped a track called "Road to the Riches", dude would be talking about banging 1000 strippers in a gold-plated airplane.  But Kool G, in keeping it real, was rather rapping his about ambitions to make it big and more to the point the lessons he learned along the way.

Now Kool G. Rap's shtick, if you will, wasn't as much his street persona as it was the fact that he was, even to this day honestly, an extremely-talented lyricist.  In fact back in the late 1980s, the only individual rapper who could hang with him style-wise was perhaps Big Daddy Kane.  When people use the term spittin' to refer to rap that's what Kool G. Rap does - he spits.  He was one of the most-notable examples that rap music had become way more sophisticated than it was during its original days of the late 1970s, just a decade before Road to the Riches came out. 


My definition of a good rap - not a poem but a rap - is that with rap even if the person reading it on paper is not a rapper or even familiar with the particular song, he or she will find himself rapping.  Take this stanza from the first verse of Road to the Riches for instance:

But enough of me sweatin' Kool G Rap.  The first verse of this song focuses on the frustration the rapper faced as a result of being broke.  He found himself bustin' his ass at a conventional job but only bringing home an inadequate minimum wage in the process.  Moreover, he suffered from the type of humiliation that comes with girls not wanting to holla at you because of your meager cashflow.

But he didn't just accept things as they were.  Rather he realized that his ambition "to be a billionaire" would take "hard work for years".   And even more specifically he conceptualized, i.e. fantasized, that he could make such dough via the rap game.  And verily by the end of the verse, he is celebrating the day that he landed his first record deal.


The rapper begins the second verse by putting forth that prior to becoming a professional musician he instead chased money by selling crack "on the block".  Furthermore, he lets it be known that he was in fact a successful drug dealer.  You may recognize this tale as being the most dead-horse-beaten origin story in rap music history.  And yes, rappers who have come off as such, on the East Coast at least, have more or less copied G Rap's style in that regard.  And don't take my word for it, as this is an assertion that has been made by people a lot deeper into the study of rap music than myself.

In the process of bragging about his illicit come-up the rapper goes on to compare himself to the likes of Al Pacino and Rudolph "Pretty Boy" Valentino and accordingly presents himself as a gangster, not a gangsta.  The difference is that even though Kool G is talking about 'shooting up stores' and 'letting the pistol smoke', there isn't that feeling that he actual does such things but is rather portraying a character.  This is not to say that he never actually ran the streets.  Rather, let's say that he isn't actually glamorizing this lifestyle but is more like recounting a period from his personal history.  In other words the first verse is based on him blowing up via music, while in the second, which represents the past, he is making dough by selling drugs.


Meanwhile the best way to comprehensively describe the third verse is as a street-based social commentary.  In other words G Rap is for the most part still portraying a drug dealer.  But he is recounting his experiences in a way that illustrates just how dangerous the streets can be.  And overall, you can say the passage reads sort of like a PSA.  For by its conclusion Kool G has decided to 'make a U-turn' in terms of his lifestyle in the name of not getting himself incarcerated.  For he knows that the "rules are different", i.e. very-violent, in prison, and people who are not really about that life are exposed:

Also the third verse features some of the track's other illest lyrics, such as:

So in putting all three verses together, Road to the Riches comes off like the tale of a young man with stars in his eyes deciding to pursue his material dreams by becoming a rapper as opposed to remaining a drug dealer.  For after he becomes personally knowledgeable of the latter, he perceives that path more like the road to the jailhouse rather than to a steady cashflow.  And this idea is further buttressed by the track's music video (which it contains its fair share of blingin' and guns anyway).


Back in the days ghostwriters were virtually unheard of.  As such this song was written exclusively by Kool G Rap.  And its producer, in addition to DJ Polo, was another of Kool G's partners from early in his career - the legendary Marley Marl.  In creating the instrumental they sampled a 1974 track by the Commodores called Assembly Line and a 1978 tune by Billy Joel entitled Stiletto.

A depiction of Marley Marl, who was amongst the
first celebrity producers
in rap music. He was also
perhaps the first to perform vocally alongside his artists.

This particular song came out on 14 March 1989 as part of the Road to the Riches album.  And the labels behind it are Warner Bros. and Cold Chillin' Records.  The latter was perhaps the most-popular label in the entirety of rap music during the late 1980s, with Marley Marl being their central artist.

Kool G Rap, circa 2014.


The way of the world is that pioneers rarely get to fully enjoy the fruits of their sacrifices.  For instance you have someone like Jackie Robinson who made about $3,000,000 (in today's money) throughout his entire career, whereas Black baseball stars nowadays (i.e. those who came after him) can earn up to 10 times as much in a single season.

But this is not to imply that Kool G Rap got cheated or anything like that (although his career did suffer in the name of the gangsta rap).  After all a bunch of rappers, including permanent A-listers such as Eminem and the aforementioned Jay-Z, have cited him "as a major influence" on their careers.  Instead it just bothers me sometime how like dudes today can be selling records, as well as fans bopping their heads, based on storylines that can be traced to an artist whom many of them may have never even heard of.

06 September 2020

"Apocalypse" by Wyclef Jean (1997)

A few week ago Lauryn Hill's name popped up while I was doing research on Cardi B.  More specifically, besides Cardi she is the only other female to have won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album.  But L Boogie did so as part of a group, that of course being the Fugees.  So when I came across that fact I was thinking to myself 'wow, it would be kinda cool to do research on a Fugees' song'.  After all, they are like my favorite rap group ever.  But I couldn't think of any particular one of their tracks that I felt like researching.  So then I started ruffling through their entire catalog and decided to write an article on Apocalypse (1997), which has long been one of my favorites, albeit a Wyclef solo track.

The cover to Wyclef Jean's first solo album The Carnival (1997),
which despite not being gangsta is one of the classic hip-hop albums
of the 1990s.

This is the first actual song featured on Clef's debut-solo album, Wyclef Jean Presents The Carnival (1997).  The project itself was a notable hit, going double-platinum in the United States and platinum in Canada.  And it looks like the biggest single from it was the moody Gone Till November.  Indeed Apocalypse was never released as a single.  But it is, in my opinion, the most-memorable track on The Carnival, even perhaps moreso than another sleeper contained therein, the posse cut Street Jeopardy.

French singer Danielle Licari, whose voice Wyclef
throughout Apocalypse.


Taking nothing away from Clef's impressive lyrical display, the most-outstanding part of Apocalypse is actually its instrumental which, of course, was produced by Clef himself.  That is because said instrumental relies heavily on a sample of what I would call an opera song but is classified under the contemporary-classical genre on Wikipedia.  And said track is entitled Concerto Pour Une Voix (tr. "Concerto for One Voice", 1969) by an old-school French vocalist named Danielle Licari.  And her sample is used throughout, with Wyclef actually rapping over her voice.


Despite how many records he has sold, Wyclef's skills as a rapper have never been truly appreciated.  Fundamentally he raps about the same things other rappers do - violence, women and life on the streets.  But he isn't gangsta which is the main reason why, even back in the 1990s, you wouldn't necessarily find someone bumping Clef in the 'hood.

But that being said, Apocalypse is an outstanding lyrical outing for those who can appreciate it.  No, Clef may not be Slick Rick when it comes to storytelling.  But he is still able to relay a comprehensive and entertaining tale in this song.  Indeed The Carnival is somewhat of a concept album which, according to Genius, Apocalypse is intended to set the tone for.

The intro and chorus center on Wyclef setting an ominous mood, including warning the listener of "100 horsemen at your door".  That phrase fits into the narrative presented in the second verse in particular, whereas the rapper is being harassed by undercover police.  In the end he reveals that he was imagining the whole scenario, as it in being 'all in his mind'.  But yet and still, he concludes the passage by acknowledging that police brutality is in fact real.

The first verse is more along the lines of your standard Fugees' braggadocio rap.  In other words Clef is addressing his rivals and touting his proficiency as an opponent.  But instead of coming off like a murderous hoodlum, he uses more-creative metaphors and in the process drops a few Biblical references.  In fact he concludes the verse by prophesying some type of war, i.e. the Apocalypse.

And although, once again, he manages to tell an engaging story in the second verse, that's not necessarily the reason I am impressed with his rap.  Rather it is the uniform flow, seemingly without the utilization of punching (i.e. voice-track splicing), he is able to put together despite the fact that the lyrics, at certain points, are quite-complicated, on top of the verse being rather lengthy.  Also the Danielle Licari sample, which is pretty-outstanding itself, plays throughout.  In other words Clef is rapping on top of other vocals, which is another difficult thing to do.  So if nothing else, you have to give the man an A for effort.


The multi-talent Wyclef wrote and produced Apocalypse.  And his cousin Jerry Duplessis (aka Jerry Wonda) also contributed in the latter regard, though he is not credited as one of the main producers.

This song came out on 24 June 1997.  That is the same day that the album it is featured on was also released.  As aforementioned, this was actually Wyclef's first project as a soloist (although it features the Fugees throughout).  And this particular era was also around the peak of his career as not only did the Fugees drop a highly-successful album prior (1996's The Score), but shortly thereafter came what is arguably Clef's most-celebrated solo project, The Ecleftic (2000).

The label that put out Apocalypse was Columbia Records.


Back in the days some of my homeys who preferred hardcore rap wasn't feeling the Fugees at all.  Indeed even to this day when you talk about 1990s rap music, gangsta acts like Biggie, Tupac and NWA are the ones being celebrated.  Such is the state of American society.  However I appreciated what the Fugees did for hip-hop.  Even though they did deal with adult topics, as illustrated by Apocalypse, they didn't present themselves as killers, sex fiends, drug dealers or advocate violence.  But honestly speaking, the reason this track has remained one of my favorites even after all these years is due to its unique, opera-laced instrumental.

19 August 2020

"WAP" by Cardi B ft. Megan Thee Stallion (2020)

I had been reading about this track - or more specifically the controversy surrounding it - for well over a week now.  But I had no intentions of actually researching it until I noticed that it not only reached number one, almost two weeks after its initial release, on the Genius popularity chart but also the Hot 100 itself.  That's when it became apparent that there may be more to WAP than just a momentary shock value.

The cover art to what may prove to be Cardi B's
greatest track ever, WAP (2020).


And in terms of the track's shock value, such would obviously began with the lyrics.  For instance there is a sample playing in the background during certain junctures of the song which repeats the phrase "there's some whores in this house".  And all things considered said "whores" would be a reference to the artists, who throughout present themselves as highly-sexualized (i.e. promiscuous) beings.  Indeed in this day and age women embracing their sexuality using traditionally less-than-flattering terms has become somewhat of a cultural phenomenon.  But during one latter part of the song, at least in my opinion, said sample comes off as being a bit demeaning, as if it is mocking the artists, if you will.

Speaking of which many of the lyrics, at least on the version of the song I heard via its official music video, are more or less drowned out by the instrumental.  This was perhaps by design, as the visuals themselves are obviously intended to garner the majority of the viewer's attention.  But that being said, Megan Thee Stallion definitely comes off as a more-legitimate rapper than Cardi B.  And that's not an insult against the latter, as Cardi did not began in entertainment as a rapper.

And in terms of the this track's lyrical content, I know I have written about this phenomenon before, though perhaps not in this very blog.  But basically rap music is such that the lady artists have evolved to become female versions of their male counterparts.  So for instance just like dudes be bragging about their wealth, so do the females.  And just like how the male rappers tend to focus on their street credibility, the ladies too now do the same.  And so is the case with sexuality also.  So instead of say a man boasting about the size of his penis or what have you, in this case we have females bragging about their "wet-ass p*ssy" (acronym = WAP).  But it ultimately leads back the same idea of the artist being exceptionally good in bed.  And from a female perspective, as illustrated in Megan's first verse, such is always manifest in their ability to use their bodies to monetarily exploit men as well.  But like a quintessential male rapper, what this song primarily focuses on is just the artists' enjoyment of good sexual intercourse, and their partners in that regard pretty much being tools.


I don't want to go about over-analyzing the official video to WAP (embedded above, though I don't necessarily recommend watching it).  But what I will say is that it is the most-sexualized music video, that doesn't actually feature (hardcore) nudity, I have personally ever seen.  Moreover this is not a case of say images of strippers being interlaced with those of ugly-ass niggas throwing money at them.  No sir, WAP is almost entirely T, A and scantily-thonged crotches.  And it should be noted that there are also quite a few visual references to lesbianism.

Mary mother of Gad...


Cardi B is arguably the most-successful solo-female rapper in the history of the industry.  And that's saying a lot considering that, as alluded to earlier, she took up the craft relatively late in life.

Megan Thee Stallion is a more-recent phenomenon.  I researched a couple of her songs in the past - including that crazy-ass Captain Hook (2020) sh*t - for another blog I worked on.  But prior to WAP she was actually making headlines more for a highly-publicized contract dispute and beef with a male rapper, Tory Lanez, as opposed to her music.  And for the record, this is the first time she dropped a track with Cardi B.

Megan "the Stallion" is seven inches taller than
her current rival, who happens to be a male,
fellow rapper Tory Lanez.

Meanwhile the artists behind the instrumental, Ayo The Producer and Keyz, are respectively from Florida and New York.  They often work as a unit, as they had on this song, under the collective name Ayo & Keyz.

The aforementioned sample was derived from a 1993 track, by some dude named DJ Frank Ski, called Whores in This House.  In fact the entire lyrical content of that song features him chanting "there's some whores in this house".  And whereas it has been noted that the track is somewhat of a classic, I personally never heard of it.  However my partner in crime, Seriez Premiere, has assured me that it is indeed an old-school banger.

The director of the music video to WAP is a dude named Colin Tilley.  And whereas that may not be a name most of us ever heard of, he actually has a sh*tload of music videos, in addition to a number of major-industry awards, already under his belt.  Indeed it can be said that the music video to WAP is more attributable to the track's success than the song itself.  In fact when WAP did appear on the Billboard Hot 100, it debuted at the number 1 position, which is a phenomenal feat.  Moreover just to note, WAP has already been certified Gold, and I think it's safe to assume that it will at least reach Platinum before all is said and done.  And lastly, the label that put this track out is the ever-present Atlantic Records.


Whereas the late-20th century wasn't necessarily the puritan days of American history, I still can't imagine being a teenager, turning on the TV and seeing a music video like WAP playing.  But with that established, I'm not about to go on some type of moralistic tirade.  Rather as I see it, the lyrical and visual content of this song are a sign of the times.  Moreover the music industry, as with entertainment in general, is such that shock value sells.  So neither Cardi B nor Megan Thee Stallion created this situation, i.e. female sexuality being openly used to lure audiences.  But they are the mainstream artists who, at the current moment, have the least reservations about capitalizing on it.