Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ghost in Santa Monica

There's one thing I 'll admit to missing about my days in the music business. The traveling. Free airfare, free hotel rooms and the occasional per diem, there's nothing like it. I managed to scrape together one out of those three of favorite things and that was enough to get me to the 1999 Billboard Music Video Awards in Santa Monica, CA.

At one of the parties associated the show, the bill was this: Blaque, Pink (this was before she started her punctuation fixation), Kelis, Warren G and Ghostface Killah. Since this was a video convention, the front of the stage looked like a paparazzi central.

Ghostface's partner in rhyme, Cappadonna would find himself out of the rap game and on the streets of Baltimore a couple years after this performance. He reportedly worked as cab driver for about a year before returning to the clan.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Skillz Wants Change, Too.

"Crazy World" is the latest single and video from Skillz taken from the perpetually forthcoming Koch Records debut "The Million Dollar Backpack." For some reason, Koch is treating the project like a heated seat cushion at Lambeau Field during the playoffs.

The veteran rapper is at his DIY-video best here, with an helpful assist from his fellow Virginians at Illusive Media. While not as BET-ready as his clip for the 2008 Wrap Up, its creativity and energy compensate fully, even without Skillz constant presence onscreen. The existence of this video magnifies his persistence and ingenuity, which is why he's still in the game.

A good buzz like this video creates only lasts so long. There needs to be a properly distributed Skillz CD in stores yesterday.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

I've Seen the Future

Although he lived more than an hour away in Virginia Beach, everyone in Richmond was excited when Teddy Riley decided to move to the Old Dominion. At the time, he was a seasoned hit maker, who continued to be successful even after the demise of Guy, a group that changed the landscape of R&B in the nineties. He went on to make hits with two different versions of Blackstreet and nearly every important urban artist of that era. Even Michael Jackson came to Riley's studio, "The Future," tucked behind what was a office building and completely invisible from the road.

The latter details led me and a lighting tech to drive past the studio at least once back in 1994. We had been asked to film BLACKstreet singing Happy Birthday to the then-editor of a new magazine called Teen People. Finally, we found the path behind the building that led to the studio. It was remarkable how well-hidden and accessible this place was. We walked into the studio two steps and that was as far as we got. A security guard woofed loudly, "Take off your shoes." We put our shoes in a pile of footwear on the plush beige carpet and stood there a few minutes before the diminutive Riley appeared. He said we would be doing the shoot on the tour bus, so we could wait outside. That was my five minutes in The Future.

Riley came onto the bus with a business associate that he was giving a tour. The man was well-dressed, didn't seem to know much about the music business, but acted like he had some money. He nodded knowing when the producer discussed his political dilemma of as traditionally voting for democrats, like good black folk, when it was really republicans who looked out for wealthy people like them.

The bus had a recording studio in the back, which was revolutionary back then. Riley explained that he used naval engineers to build the sound proofing so the rattle and hum of the steel horse didn't disturb his grooves. We were impressed.

We weren't on the bus long when the other members of BLACKstreet began to arrive. They assembled at the back of the bus and ran through the birthday song twice while we filmed. After the first take, Riley finished the song with some ad-libs about the editor of Teen People, who none of us knew. He then made sure I rewound the tape (he insisted on looking into the eye piece) and went over it with the next shot. After we broke everything down, I stepped back into The Future to hand off the tape to his assistant, but I kept my shoes on.

Future now
Yesterday, I noticed this article about Riley's former studio. I knew that his fortunes had taken a downturn lately, so I wasn't surprised to see the old place for sale. I'm sure its sure full of state of the art technology like CRT monitors, DAT machines, ultra-clean carpet and probably a couple of cassette decks. For Teddy Riley, the present caught up with The Future.

photo Vicki Cronis-Nohe | The Virginian-Pilot

Monday, February 04, 2008

Will Says Yes

Say what you will about Will.I.Am. I know I do. He dresses funny. He turned his cutting edge hip hop group into a radio-friendly pop construct, led by a pretty white girl. He recent solo album tanked and he gave Nas a reheated beat for his title track, "Hip Hop is Dead," confirming the premise of that concept album.

But deep down, Will is a down-ass brotha. Even when he makes predictable pop records, he sometimes laces them politically astute messages, something your average rock star is afraid to do. The music of the Black Eyed Peas these days isn't hip hop, but their stage performance, with their well-rehearsed choreography and energetic vocals may be the closest thing to it.

So, I wasn't surprised to see that Will chopped up Obama's New Hampshire speech, added a guitar, a piano and a few of friends to make a inspiring political statement. Unlike Diddy's ill-conceived "Vote or Die campaign," Will's work realizes political action is more than a fad or gimmick. It may start in the voting booth for some of us, but it shouldn't end there.

On this morning after the defeat of football juggernaut by team of misfits led by a young man many said wasn't ready for the job, Will's message is powerful strong.
I'm almost ready to believe that BEP can make another decent album, which they haven't done in years. Yes I am.