Janet Jackson’s Birthday and Vid’ Style

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Janet Jackson | Michael Jackson’s “Scream” (1995)

 

Underappreciated legend Janet Jackson turned 51 today. Why isn’t she in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame yet? Why don’t I see more people wearing vintage Miss Jackson tees? How many of today’s alt-R&B singers are direct descendants of Janet’s quiet storm sleepers like Rhythm Nation’s “Lonely” or Janet‘s “Anytime, Anyplace” (Jhene Aiko, Tinashe…)? Ah, let’s talk about that another day.

5 of Janet Jackson’s Best Music Video Looks

Whipped up this fashion bit about Janet’s videos and the ‘fits she got off in them. Plenty of which wouldn’t look out of place on your favorite style blog.

Random Thoughts I Had While Playing The Weeknd’s ‘Starboy’ Album

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The Weeknd’s Starboy album cover | c/o Republic Records

 

In the music biz statistics confirm success, but not always quality. A lot of crappy tunes become hits. I can’t fully explain why yet. Hey, shit happens. So it’s refreshing when a good project does something noteworthy in the numbers department.

In the last few days The Weeknd’s Starboy album has racked up plays and purchases and the first wave of tallies resulted in the Toronto singer-songwriter breaking the global record for first-week streams on Spotify, with more than 223 million streams. It also broke their one-day record, with 40 million streams in 24 hours. To boot, Starboy opened at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart. So he obviously killed it on the scoreboard.

There’s so much I enjoyed about several of Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye’s 18-song newbie. His sound, which I used to describe as Sade-like—if she had done hard drugs, dwelled in the underworld and adored classic horror flicks—has broadened to shimmering ’80s pop while also staying true to his core. Here are some random, though fitting, thoughts I’ve had while listening to Starboy.

“Starboy” – Somebody woke up feeling theirself!  It’s so fun hearing Weeknd’s gentle Ethiopian  voice stunt so hard and talk his shit. His main and side chicks are out of your league.  New Edition is who he’s playing while he’s whipping his Bentley Mulsanne. G’ shit. Been enjoying his promo performances. That American Music Awards showing is the best of the bunch. I wish Daft Punk produced for me people, like on the Disclosure work-for-hire or complilation tip.

Random Thoughts I Had While Playing Bruno Mars ’24K Magic’ Album

“Reminder” – This isn’t my favorite track overall on the album (might be my fifth), but it  hits the hardest lyrically. From jump he’s on the assault, swinging on radio DJs that are more apt to play “blue-eyed soul” before his songs. I’m always intrigued by successful people who are still woke enough to know that the game is not all the way fair. This isn’t some rookie act crying foul. The Weeknd spent all of 2015 becoming a legit, pop chart-topping artist. Still, on the follow-up to the album that likely gave him the confidence to call himself a Starboy, he’s giving corny, racist music business gatekeepers the side-eye, like, “I see you.” Love that.

The first verse on “Reminder” is about how he achieved massive success while staying true to himself. “I let my black hair grow and my weed smoke,” he says. If you had asked me years ago if the House of Balloons guy with the Basquiat hair would become a pop star, I would have said something like, “Hope so” and put my hands in prayer position, because only God could make Dark Side MJ a Hot 100 killer. And that he did. Weeknd just cut his locks a few months ago.

And he’s fully aware of how crazy it is that he was able to make a song featuring a cocaine -reference in the hook hit record, one that Nickelodeon nominated for Best Song at their 2016 Teen Choice awards. It’s hilarious. “Starboy” also boasts a drug lyric in the hook, where his girl sees coke on the table, then “clean[s] it with her face/ Man, I love my baby.” Clearly, he’s still the same guy from his House of Balloons mixtape days, not at all concerned about cleaning up his content for fame. He’s winning on his terms. I can appreciate that.

Also, what’s the more cringe-inducing (though somehow fun) line—Abel’s “Got a sweet Asian chick/ She go low, mayne”  (Get it? Lo Mein, like the Asian dish) or Drake’s “Shout out to Asian girls/ Let the lights dim some” (Get it? Dim Sum, like the Asian dish) from “Over My Dead Body”?

“Secrets” – Can’t separate the rhythm of this song from 112’s “Dance With Me.” Take a break and watch the guys dance in oversized Adidas tracksuits. The clip’s tucked inside their video for “Peaches and Cream.”

“True Colors” – The song in a nutshell: “Pull all the skeletons out of your closet, sit them right here on the couch with us. I promise not to trip.”

“Starboy Interlude” – The Weeknd and Lana Del Rey’s characters get hot next to the microwave and stove. Made me think of Kellz’s classic.

“Sidewalks” – This would have been a solid song without Kendrick’s raps. I love the western feel the guitar rift adds. But this feature might be one of the best guest appearances of 2016—definitely the top verse of Kendrick’s year as a wingman. On top of the bars being top notch, he’s actually following along with the Starboy theme. I can tell he put actually thought into this verse, which is not a surprise when it comes to Mr. Lamar. Was cool learning how this cut came together.

“Love to Lay” – I’m a sucker for warm synth keys. The Weeknd makes great ‘80s pop.

“A Lonely Night” – More ‘80s pop. This guy’s really good at hiding totally unpleasant conversations in danceable tracks. Imagine hearing this for this first time and bouncing along to the beat only to find out on a deeper listen that he’s telling a girl that she was just a one night stand “and if I led you on, then I apologize.” Oh, wow. Bummer. The mood of his instrumentals and the message they relay have an interesting relationship. In that regard, this is some “Billie Jean” Trojan Horse wizardry.

“All I Know” – Trap drums on thump. Futcha Hendrix being Futcha Hendrix is always welcome.

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A post shared by The Weeknd (@theweeknd) on

 

“Die For You” – Might be the first time on the album that he’s fully vulnerable and it’s epic. One of my favorite three songs on Starboy. What about someone would make you die for them? What would factor into that decision.

“I Feel It Coming” – Daft Punk open and close the Starboy story. The disco vibes are strong here. As are the Michal Jackson-esque vocals. His lyrics towards a girl who’s a bit fearful of what love brings are softer and just aggressive enough to let her know he’s the one. It’s a sexy, smooth dance closer. “Coming” is the finale of his short film MANIA, which is worth its 12 minutes. The first few of them remind me of Kanye West’s Runaway film. Somehow, Starboy starts with Weeknd being a supremely confident bad-ass kingpin and it ends with its star charmingly delivering his version of “Rock With You.”  What a trip.

Wale’s “PYT”

My guy Wale moonwalks when he performs sometimes. And his new single’s hook and title are nods to the god Michael Jackson. So yeah, I’m in.

Nice simple hook for the radio. A couple of slick bars for the rap heads. Looking forward to seeing what his next album SHINE is like. I’m hoping to get an in-studio sneak peak soon.

Prince and my Dad’s Saab

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When I was a kid, riding around Maryland and D.C. with my dad in his black Saab Turbo 9000 was special to me. Today, I stand tall at about 6’5, but I’m talking about back, back in the day when I was half this length. Dad would be getting ready to run an errand—a trip to the bank, to his tailor, to the store, wherever—and I’d sheepishly ask if I could come with. After I got the green light I’d toss on my sneakers, head down to the garage and sneak into the front passenger seat, hoping that it was a day where he was feeling cool enough to not banish his too short son to the back row. Once we’d get on the road, once the warmth of my behind melted away the chill of the brown leather seat beneath me, my attention would quickly turn to what music we’d be playing.

Cassette tapes used to jut out of every crevice and pocket our Saab’s interior had to offer. Anita Baker’s Rapture album here. The singer appears lovestruck and in a variant of the fetal position on the cover. Michael Jackson’s Bad there. MJ stares stoically at the viewer in a bad-ass biker boy get-up for that album’s art. We’d play those and more.

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Prince’s Sign o’ the Times album artwork

 

One album that also got much burn was Prince’s Sign o’ the Times. Unlike the aforementioned albums, the focus of the artwork for Times was not an image of its artist. Sure, Prince is on it, but he’s barely there. Half of his face is blurry in the bottom right corner. More-so seen in the picture is a drum set, keyboard and a guitar. I probably stared at the picture the most. “The music must be  really good on this album if the singer doesn’t care to be on the cover,” is likely along the lines of what I was thinking then.

And it was. On a nice day, my dad would put the windows down and let our music ring out. On many occasions we’d turn quiet streets into open air concerts as we whizzed by. Prince’s Sign was an special album on several fronts and stayed in constant rotation in the car.

As a child not yet able to grasp lyrical depth, all I knew was feel. Songs like “Housequake,” “Play in the Sunshine,” and “Starfish and Coffee” were my favorites. They sound like wild, genreless joy. The title track, cuts like “Strange Relationship” and “If I Was Your Girlfriend” always made me feel a bit uncomfortable. It’d take some more life experience for me to even partially understand the perils of drug use on society and how love could make someone trip out the way he did over the girl he’s singing to on those last two. I knew they were great tracks, but not why. That’d come later.

Memories, man. That’s what I thought about when I found out that Prince Rogers Nelson unexpectedly died this morning at age 57. He’s one of the guys that soundtracked good times with my dad when I was a kid.

Minutes after I got the news, I called Dad up at work to break it to him.

“No kidding?” he asked. No kidding. Another one of our guys is gone.

Michael Jackson passed in 2009 during my rookie year as a professional journalist. I was working at Vibe Magazine when the publication was on its last legs, weeks away from folding. Green, I didn’t quite know what to do. The veterans on staff shifted into an emergency mode of sorts, delegating tasks for top writers to handle. I was not one of them. So I sat there, sad. I pulled up Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker movie—one I watched endlessly as a youngster—on YouTube and tried not to cry as people went crazy around me.

I had that nostalgic feeling again today. Being a kid and enjoying that Prince guy whose album cover says, “It’s about the music” to me. So I opened up my Tidal app, the only streaming service that hosts Prince’s catalogue, and bumped Times.

Mourning people that didn’t know you is a strange thing. I never met Michael or Prince (Though I did at least see Prince in concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City years ago.) But he’s given me so much. And with those memories, Prince is still alive. Just like Michael is.

So I must correct anyone that speaks about prolific creatives like him in the past tense. Michael Jackson is, not “was.”

Prince is, not was, an icon.

Memorable art will always outlive its creator, as magical as they may be.

Legends are forever.