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

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Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic album cover

 

Bruno Mars’ latest, 24K Magic, is tight and right. As I always say, if an album is less than 10 tracks (his is nine), the artist is either extremely confident that each cut is a body builder strong or they’re lazy as hell. Because it’s been four years since his last offering (Unorthodox Jukebox, which had just one more track than 24K), it’s clear Bruno opted to chef up a hearty entree as opposed to umpteen appetizers. Amazing albums, to me at least, aren’t long. The only classic double disc record I can think of off the top of my head is Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life.

Fortunately, Bruno went the short and sweet route and came through with 33 minutes worth of jammies, this time with an ‘80s and early ‘90s R&B vibe. Magic feels like vintage New Edition, Guy, The Deele, and Keith Sweat. There’s a heavy dosage of New Jack Swing and that bounce found in cuts like “P.Y.T.” from Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Below, I share some random, though fitting, thoughts I’ve had while listening to 24K Magic since it dropped halfway through November.

24K Magic – Shout out to Zapp & Roger. That talk box is glorious. Love Bruno’s gruff soul-rap voice.

Bruno Mars’ Pop Gold

Chunky – This SNL debut of “Chunky” was perfect. Chill choreography (love his backup homeboy dancers). Hoop earrings will forever be best paired with sass and a nice ass.

That’s What I Like – I have to try strawberry champagne to see if I like it or not and if I should have it with my lady. This bridge is sweet.

Versace on the Floor – Don’t think I’ve ever danced under a chandelier. Or sexed on a Versace rug. #Lifegoals

“Straight Up & Down” – Lyrically starts off like a Lonely Island song. “Girl I bet your momma named you Good Lookin’,” he sings.  “’Cause you sure look good to me.” Did Jeromey-rome, The International Lover, write these bars? Bruno makes nearly corny lines sound like cold game because he believes in them. Feeling the doo-wop vibes here.

“Calling All My Lovelies” – Another Lonely Island start. But damn, this is a good track. Slow bop ‘80s cool shit. “I got Alicia waitin’, Aisha waitin’/ All the ‘Eesha’s waitin’ on me,” Bruno explains to a woman that won’t pick up the phone when he rings. Trying to stunt on a girl that’s fronting on you is desperation at its finest. This would’ve been the soundtrack to my life from time to time when I was single. “Pick up the phone, pick up the phone,” he begs. “‘Cause all this loving needs a HOOOOOMMMME!” Also, that Halle Berry voicemail assist is highly respected flex move.

“Finesse” – The Finesse challenge warms my heart. I love seeing y’all dance. “Fellas grab your ladies if your lady fine,” Mars orders. “Tell her she the one, she the one for life.” Love songs are so much more fun when you actually have someone to dedicate them to.

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Bruno Mars | photo c/o Atlantic Records | shot by Kai Z Feng

 

“Too Good to Say Goodbye” – The only thing I don’t like about this song is its placement. Closing such joyous album out with a breakup ballad kind of leaves me with a queasy feeling. It’s like I spent the whole album dancing with the love of my life and now she’s leaving me while the Jackson 5’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” plays in the background.

(I must say, I feel like I’m being a bit of a hypocrite because I do like sad endings when it comes to film. They leave that bad taste in your mouth that seems to linger longer than the happy feeling you have when the story wraps and everyone is okay. It’s cool when art does that.)

Maybe that’s the feeling Bruno wanted? But I would have preferred an upbeat ending to this album. “Goodbye” could have been the first track and then Bruno could have spent the rest of the album winning the girl back. Or he could’ve put it after “Calling All My Lovelies” and made the narrative one where, after his ex won’t pick up the phone when he tries to make her jealous (all them ‘Eeshas would make a lesser woman answer), he really has to beg. Anyway, this is still a great song on an amazing album. All thriller, no filler.

Usher, Not Sounding Like Himself

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Usher’s Hard II Love album cover c/o RCA Records

 

It’s no fun when one of your favorite artists puts out a record that you’re not into.

Usher dropped Hard II Love two weeks ago and I had some comments about it. Sold them to Billboard. I’ll start first by saying I absolutely love three tracks on it (“Need U,” “Missin’ U,” and “Crash”) and there are—fleeting as they may be—some moments that feel really good to me. But overall, I didn’t enjoy it much and, essentially, my biggest gripe is that it didn’t sound like an Usher record.

Usher Sounds More Like His R&B Contemporaries On ‘Hard II Love’

Art is a representation of where its creator was at the time they made it. So if Usher ever reads my thoughts on his latest work, he may think, “What do you mean it doesn’t ‘sound like an Usher record’? I sang all that on purpose with my voice!”

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Fair enough. If he’s happy with the art he made, good on him. I will always respect a creative that gets their vision out.

Anyway, here’s the piece. I’m such a fan of his that I kind of felt bad being so harsh. I’ve been to at least three Usher concerts and will gladly go to another. So if you see me grinding up on my girl at one of his shows in the future, know that all criticism came with love. Like when one of the homies says your outfit isn’t as good as it could be, then suggests better options. Cool? Cool.

Kendrick Lamar’s untitled, unmastered Scraps and Why Artists Should Package Theirs Like Him

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Kendrick Lamar’s untitled unmastered. album artwork.

 

A few days ago news came out that the latest Star Wars movie The Force Awakens, which came on in theaters in December 2015, would be released on DVD in April. As is the case nowadays, the blockbuster movie will be paired with bonus features that include the chance for fans to see a documentary on the making of the movie, find of how the costuming came to be, and, of course, watch deleted scenes.

The latter feature is always a questionable one for me: “Why would I want to see what was purposefully left on the cutting room floor?” It’s a question I always wonder before inevitably pressing play. What occurs next is some version of harsh criticism (“Why didn’t they include XYZ?! That would have fit perfectly!”) or thankfulness (“Whew! I’m so glad they left this junk out!”). And the same goes for music and album releases. Though when an album comes out, the way its “extras” are packaged with the actual “standard” album is a bit more messy.

For example, the standard version of Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo album technically ends with Frank Ocean’s words on “Wolves,” the thirteenth track on the album. It’s perfect. But what immediately follows Ocean’s thoughtful lyrics is a goofy Collect call from imprisoned rapper Max B. The Harlem rhymer, iconic for his cool ways effectively gives West permission to use the eventually scrapped Waves title. The entire skit is unnecessary. By including it on Pablo, Kanye is basically saying, “Hey guys, Max B approved of me using a title that I eventually decided against. Just thought you should know.” And because this bonus track sits right next to “Wolves,” it effects the quality of the album as a whole. From Max B on, four tracks that clearly don’t fit the mood of TLOP play, ruining the good standing of the actual standard album.

Kanye West: Pablo Creates and Loves Seeing You Flourish, Too

This morning I woke up to my younger brother’s text: “KENDRICK’S NEW ALBUM IS GREAT.” He was excited. As was I. The Compton rapper apparently released new material last night, just a year removed from dropping his critically acclaimed To Pimp a Butterfly album. Once I hopped on my MacBook to check out the music, one glance at its track-listing told me that the cuts are essentially ones that were left on the cutting room floor from TPAB recording sessions. Their titles are all calendar dates, suggesting that the eight songs were made while Lamar was working on his Grammy-winning masterpiece. This collection is suitably called untitled unmastered. That says it all.

So with that in mind, I wondered what I usually do: “Why would I want to hear what was purposefully left off the album?”

Well, I do appreciate that Kendrick didn’t carelessly fling these songs at the end of Butterfly. So I can separate the two from each other. It’s a gift Kanye didn’t give me. And I for sure want to have more insight on what one of this era’s greatest musical minds was thinking and creating when he made his second landmark album. untitled unmastered. is not an album as much as it is a mixtape of rough drafts and ideas that didn’t make it out of the cocoon. Still, as marvelous as Butterfly is, some of those ideas, are bound to be good, right?

In this case, RIGHT!

“untitled 03 05.28.2013.” is this gem that he dynamically performed on The Colbert Report in December 2014. “untitled 08 09.06.2014.” debuted on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in January, another fervent performance of a song that I couldn’t listen to a studio version of. Until now.

Other tracks are solid, but are clearly sonically out of place on TPAB, like “untitled 02 06.23.2014.,” which sounds too trappy for the funky jazz vibes that dominate the true album. But it’s cool to know that Lamar wasn’t a complete shut-in and at least put some time in to trying out different genres within Hip-Hop.

It’s also crazy to think that all eight of these songs could have made the TPAB had they been shined up to 100%, which all don’t seem far from. As far as content, they all are Butterfly-worthy, from the apocalyptic future Lamar envisions on the opener (“The ground is shaking, swallowing a young woman/ With a baby, daisies, and other flowers burning in destruction/ The smell is disgusting, the heat is unbearable…”) to the culturally divisive third track to uu‘s closer.

So in the case of untitled unmastered., yes, I’m thankful that these tracks weren’t Butterfly bonuses. But I’m also glad these saw the light of day. Clearly, Kendrick loved them enough to share live, possibly finished, variants of them on television. And I’m looking forward to unpacking their content, which rivals TPAB cuts in most cases.

Other artists should adopt Lamar’s method of releasing bonus cuts/deleted scenes. Don’t ruin the shine of your proper/standard album by sitting it’s premature siblings next to it, as promising as they are. When you can recognize the difference, it’s easier to fully appreciate both.

Majid Jordan Album Review for Billboard

 

Majid Jordan cover

Drake’s OVO Sound duo Majid Jordan dropped their self-titled debut album recently and I wrote a review of it for Billboard magazine.

“Majid Jordan masters the art of being weary on the dance floor with their self-titled debut album.”

That’s the first line of it. What I appreciate most about them is their packaging of sad love songs.

“Why you wanna be my love?” Majid asks after wondering why a girl all of a sudden wants to be in a relationship with him. Usually these types of lyrics would sit on top of slow, sullen music. But the duo brings these feelings to the club and make it danceable. It’s odd, in the sense of Wow, am I crying/contemplating this fucked up situation I’m in with the person I’m dating while I’m partying? It’s an awesome ability math those lyrics with that music.

I wish Billboard’s rating system wasn’t out of 5. 10 would be better, so that ratings could be a bit more exact. I would have preferred to give it a 7.5 out of 10, rather than a 3.5/5 for whatever it’s worth. I know a C grade is still a C, whether it’s a + or -. But wouldn’t you want $75 instead of $70 if you had a choice? Just sayin’.

Anyway, check out the review and give the album a listen. It’s a solid start to what’s hopefully a long career for them.