Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Birthday Salute! Nina Simone


Eunice Kathleen Waymon (February 21, 1933 – April 21, 2003), better known by her stage name Nina Simone, was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and civil rights activist. Although she disliked being categorized, Simone is most associated with jazz music. Simone originally aspired to become a classical pianist, but her work covers an eclectic variety of musical styles that include classical, jazz, blues, soul, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop. Her vocal style is characterized by intense passion, a loose vibrato, and a slightly androgynous timbre, in part due to her unusually low vocal range which veered between the alto and tenor ranges (occasionally even reaching baritone lows). Also known as The High Priestess of Soul, she paid great attention to the musical expression of emotions. Within one album or concert she could fluctuate between exuberant happiness and tragic melancholy. These fluctuations also characterized her own personality and personal life, amplified by bipolar disorder with which she was diagnosed in the mid-1960s, something not widely known until after her death in 2003, though she wrote of it openly in her autobiography published in 1992. According to Nadine Cohodas, Simone's biographer, Ms. Simone was first diagnosed with multiple personality disorder and later with schizophrenia.

Simone recorded over 40 live and studio albums, the greatest body of her work released between 1958 (when she made her debut with (Little Girl Blue) and 1974. Her most well known songs include "My Baby Just Cares for Me", "I Put a Spell on You", "Four Women", "I Loves You Porgy", "Feeling Good", "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood", "Sinnerman", "To Be Young, Gifted and Black", "Mississippi Goddam", "Ain't Got No, I Got Life," "I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl", and "Love Me or Leave Me".

Her music and message made a strong and lasting impact on culture, illustrated by the numerous contemporary artists who cite her as an important influence. Several hip hop musicians and other modern artists sample and remix Simone's rhythms and beats on their tracks. In particular, Talib Kweli and Mos Def routinely pay tribute to her outstanding and soulful musical style. Many of her songs are featured on motion picture soundtracks, as well as in video games, commercials, and TV series.

I Ain't Got No...I Got Life

I Wish I Knew How It Feels to be Free

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Remember Dilla


Got til It’s Gone (Janet Jackson), Didn’t Ya Know (Erykah Badu), Woo-Hah! (Busta Rhymes), the Light (Common). Any of these songs ring a bell. If so, chances are you have already been touched by the spirit of James Yancey aka J Dilla. Dilla was your favorite producer’s favorite producer. He was a shaman of the MP3. He was able to make old grooves into new grooves in a single bound. The Detroit native and founding member of the music collectives: Slum Village, The Ummah and Soulquarians, is responsible for some of the most intoxicatingly soulful and addictive beats ever created. He would have been 38 years old today.

I discovered Dilla through one of his beat tapes at a friend’s house one day. Mesmerized in an audio trance by a song that I now know as Light works. I looked up from my beat coma with a look on my face that resembled somebody suffering from severe bubble guts and with my neck snapping furiously I asked “Who the fuck is this, Yo? He looked at me incredulously as if I had a booger smeared in my mustache and simply said “This is JDilla” and from that day on the way I heard beats would never be the same again. My musical life changed and for the next few days, I searched for everything I could find Dilla related. I learned that he had released albums with Slum Village, several solo records, a collaborative album with Madlib titled Champion Sound and a ridiculous amount of innovatively produced beats created from sampled records. The man created an impressive body of work and I felt blessed but disappointed that I had not heard of him sooner.

You may be wondering why I dedicated an entire post to a deceased hip-hop producer. Number one: It is his birthday today. Number two: As an audio junkie and beat enthusiast, Dilla is a hero of mine just like Ronald Regan is a hero to conservatives and Donald Trump is a hero to stupid and Number three: It’s my blog and I can post whatever the hell I want. Nevertheless, technically, he mastered the arts of the vocal sample, beat selection and synths. His signature was unquantized drums---the procedure that makes rhythms perfectly regular and grooves unbelievably tight. If you hear a Dilla beat and your head does not bob or your shoulders do not roll, you just might be spiritless or possibly an alien. Sadly, Dilla is no longer walking amongst us. He passed away from Lupus on February 10, 2006 just three days after his 32nd birthday, but with tons of recorded material and posthumous releases, Dilla heads around the world will keep his legacy alive. So do yourself a favor and get some Dilla in your life, you will thank me later. In fact I am listening to his album “The Shining” as I write this and all I hear coming from my speakers is life because---Dilla Lives!