Monday, March 31, 2008

The Other Brother

I had the unfortunate experience of telling a friend of the Levert family about the death of Sean Levert this week. The day after the singer's death, I was interviewing public intellectual Cornel West for my day job. Since I knew he had worked with Gerald Levert on one of his spoken word projects, I asked him for a comment about his brother Sean's passing. The skilled orator struggled to find his words. He hadn't heard the news.

I I read him the AP article as he listened in disbelief. I felt like the grim reaper as I transcribed his stunned reaction. I managed to work in one last question, but the conversation I had enjoyed was over. Nothing kills an interview like a death notice.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Breath Control

Screwball's KL died this week from asthma attack. Screwball was hard to the core and I loved their music from the first moment I heard it. The were like five Freddie Foxxes or M.O.P. at the end of a really bad week.

I saw them at the next-to-last Impact Convention in Miami. They were performing at a Tommy Boy party hosted by Prince Paul and were onstage when I walked in. It was an typical industry gig, with people milling around the club, glancing at the stage occasionally during lulls in conversation. They did a short set and closed with F.A.Y.B.A.N., a banger as politically incorrect as it is a heartfelt and justified. A lot went down in Miami that weekend, but this performance alone would've made my trip.

As a longtime asthma sufferer, I've always had a deep respect for the spitters in the game with this chronic disease. Rapping is all about breath control and for those of us with asthma, so is living.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Steady As She Goes

Of all the R&b songbirds to come out of the U.K. in the last years, Corinne Bailey Rae seemed the be one most likely to enjoy a long career. While Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen fought battles against themselves, Bailey-Rae kept putting out good music. She released an expanded edition of her self-titled debut with a handful of new songs, an Itunes exclusive live session EP and her voice graced songs by Amp Fiddler, Al Green, Herbie Hancock and Marcus Miller. She's also got some great covers of Justin Timberlake's "Sexy Back" (which she almost dignifies) and The Raconteurs "Steady, As She Goes," flowing through the internet tubes. You can also find her on tribute albums to Fats Domino, John Lennon and a planet earth.

Bailey Rae always seems to hit the mark just right. Even though the songs on her debut are all about being in love, the emotion she brings make each one seem like a singular expression. If there's a feeling I got about her after hearing the album, it was that this was a woman who loved her man.

Corinne Bailey Rae's husband was found dead in his apartment on Saturday. Jason Rae, 31, was a saxophonist who backed his wife, Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson. Police are investigating his death and have charged a man with distributing controlled substances.

It doesn't take a therapist to figure out that Corinne Bailey Rae is probably devastated. If she grieves as hard as she loves, I hope she's being looked after by those close to her in this time. It's a tragic situation that will take time to overcome and process. For those of you who do that sort of thing, keep Corinne in your prayers. She may need our voices now.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

More from the Left Coast

More from my brief visit to the West Coast back in '99. Warren G was also on the bill with Ghostface Killah at this party during the Billboard Music Video Conference in Santa Monica. Kelis, Blaque and Pink also performed. Kelis had just come out with her screaming song and Pink was just a white girl singing typical R&b and hadn't yet thought about flipping the "i" in her name upside down.

With the exception of Ghostface's performance, it was a typical industry concert, where the performers are largely ignored by record company people and their associates, who are too busy chatting to pay attention. The discussions continued throughout Warren G's performance and he let it be know that it wasn't unnoticed. The talking died down for a minute, but they eventual went back to doing what they do. Makes you wonder why they got into the business in the first place.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Another Shameless Promotion?

Back in 1999, I was introduced to a young lady at a music conference worked in video promotion. That was odd enough. After nearly 10 years in the game at that point, I thought I knew everybody. Yet, here was this person who I had never heard of who worked for a company who'd name I didn't know. I asked a couple of questions about her work and she wasn't forthcoming. The more I pried, the less she said and soon the person who introduced us was giving me that look.

Later, I found out what she and her company were up to. She was in video promotion, all right. The outfit she worked for, named after a popular condiment, performed a special service for record companies. They would make repeated calls to MTV's request line in support of the project of whichever label was paying them. They were able to move songs up the charts and appear more popular than they really were by plugging up the phone lines with dubious "requests." I was floored.

I was also very naive. When mentioned this practice to a friend at one of the West Coast's top rap labels. She mentioned she was doing something similar in her office. They were using a mentally retarded person who worked in the office to call video channels when he wasn't dumping wastebaskets.

When I read this morning that Youtube's most watched video ever( 89,750,739 views), a blogger-made clip for Cansei de Ser Sexy's "Music Is My Hot, Hot Sex," might have had its ranking inflated by "bots," it reminded me of what I learned about the inside of the promotions game. I can't say a record label or a saucy marketing company is behind this effort, but I'm sure they're taking notes.