Creatively Boundless

Deal or No Deal – Hill Coulson
Local and upcoming rapper Wiz Khalifa’s sophomore album, Deal Or No Deal, was recently released. It peaked on the iTunes music store as the top selling hip-hop album and number nine on the overall charts. Deal Or No Deal is partly a compilation of previous hits, but it also features ten brand new songs from a variety of local hip-hop producers. The title stems from Wiz’s controversial decision to drop his major record label deal with Warner Brothers and release the album independently. Overall, this album serves as a fresh reminder of the young rapper’s accomplishments and a buffer for what is yet to come. Even Wiz himself acknowledged that he is still working towards his “debut, for sure album.” However, that doesn’t stop Deal Or No Deal from sounding great and a surefire for producing some quality radio hits.
It begins with “Bout Ya’ll” – a pop-influenced medley featuring new to the scene Josh Everette who appears a couple more times during the album. Everette is reminiscent of a Trey Songz or Drake type rap-singer and complements Wiz surprisingly well. His presence signals a change in Wiz’s musical style from a hardcore “Pistolvania” rapper to more of a radio-friendly pop artist. Also featured is Curren$y of Young Money fame and often associated with superstar Lil’ Wayne. After teaming up with Khalifa to form the How Fly mixtape, they have been working together ever since. Interspersed throughout the album are re-mastered songs from Khalifa’s previous mixtapes, Prince of the City 2 and Flight School, such as “Who I Am” and “Take Away”. Although veteran fans may be disappointed with hearing repeats, these blasts from the past function well as get-to-know-Wiz essentials for newcomer listeners. The two masterfully produced breakout singles, “Red Carpet (Like A Movie)” and “This Plane”, show promise to gain national radio play and expand national promotion. Finally, the album ends on a nostalgic note with “Young Boy Talk”, produced by fellow Taylor Gang member Sledgren. It brings to mind the memorial songs of days gone by where Wiz name-dropped his city on a daily basis.
All in all, Deal Or No Deal is a solid release with mostly memorable songs and a couple of not-so-memorable ones. I would give this album a rating of 7.5 out of 10 for a great production value, thought-out choice of featured guests, and the bold audacity of putting out a record without a major label. The only downsides are some repetition in the lyrics and that there were no songs that really stood out from the others to me. However, I highly recommend that you purchase this album to support an excellent Pittsburgh artist, and more importantly to support an alumnus of Allderdice!

BP3 – AJ Allen

As one of the most influential rappers of his time Jay-Z seeks to make what he told MTV was “a new classic,” in the The Blueprint 3. With The Blueprint 3 being his 11th number one album, according to Rolling Stone, Jay-Z exceeds music legend Elvis Presley to become the solo artist with the most number one albums of all time.

There are many elements that have contributed to the success of The Blueprint 3. Jay-Z’s extensive list of collaborators for The Blueprint 3 includes Luke Steele, Rihanna, Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Young Jeezy, Drake, J. Cole, Kid Cudi, Pharrell, and Mr. Hudson. Jay-Z also utilizes a wide range of producers such as Swizz Beatz, Kanye West, Timbaland, and No I.D. The great diversity of this album assists Jay-Z significantly in capturing the essence of the “new classic” sound that he was attempting to grasp.

In a recent interview with Billboard Jay-Z talks about his track “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)” as an attempt to stir things up. Jay-Z states that the track was intended to go against the grain and challenge the rapid evolution of hip-hop. Ironically enough the track was not only produced but also encouraged by rapper Kanye West, who not too long ago developed an album completely dependent on the voice enhancing software. As the first single released from The Blueprint 3, “D.O.A” set the tone for the album as one that opposed the nature of contemporary hip-hop.

Not only is The Blueprint 3 appealing to the ears, but it also carries significant potential to progress hip-hop into a genre where established artists can propel their incipient colleagues into successful careers. In “A Star is Born” Jay-Z promulgates his hip-hop colleagues and gives panegyrics to those who he sees as nascent.

The Blueprint 3 is a diverse album that varies in subject matter, music, and style. There are jazzy tracks such as “Thank You”, “ poppy tracks such as “Empire State of Mind”, hip-hoppy tracks such as “One To The Next One”, and tracks that have their own unique style such as “D.O.A.”

The amalgamation of what Jay-Z calls “the forgotten pieces of hip-hop” are what has made The Blueprint 3 such a great success. As he told MTV, he attempts to deviate from the newly developed superficial standards that listeners have for hip-hop. He wants his music to reflect that, “It’s not about radio, it’s not about making gimmicks, it’s still about making music.”

What’s the Word (8/27/09)

A unreleased “Swagger Like Us” verse by T.I. check it out here.

A new song “Forever” by Drake, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, and Eminem listen to and download the song here.

Another Blueprint 3 leak “Ghetto Techno” download “Ghetto Techno” here.

New Fall Out Boy video for the song “A Weekend at Pete Rose’s” you can watch the video here.

Sneak Preview at the music video for Drake’s “Successful” ft. Trey Songz. You can watch the clip here.

What’s the Word (8/24/09)

Asher Roth’s new video from his album, Asleep in the Bread Aisle, “She Don’t Wanna Man” ft. Keri Hilson.You can watch the video here

Radiohead did their first live performance of their new song “Twisted Words”

Jay-Z is going to have a benefit concert on September 11 (the date that Blueprint 3 is released) at Madison Square Garden
Another song, “Reminder,” was leaked from the Blueprint 3 you can listen to and download it here

Amy Winehouse performed at the V festival with The Specials. This was her first performance in the UK since last years V festival.

A little bit of a new Kid Cudi song, “Cudi Zone,” was released. You can download “Cudi Zone” here

Bow Wow has released his new mixtape, The Greenlight Mixtape, you can download the mixtape here

Legendary British alt-rockers Oasis seem to be on the verge of a breakup (quite possibly for the 100th time). Rumors that the band may call it quits at the end of this tour after over a decade together began when they opted out of the headlining slot at the V music festival yesterday. Also, frontman Liam Gallagher, has alluded to a great deal of tension betwenn him and his brother, guitarist/ songwriter Noel Gallagher, saying simply “He doesn’t like me and I don’t like him, that’s it.” Similarly, Liam recently told NME magazine If doing a solo album makes [Noel] happy, yeah, it makes him happy. It would sound very civilised I reckon – that’s a f***ing awful thing – but maybe it’s a good thing for him.” While this could be just one of the many Gallagher family feuds that have happened over the years, Oasis parting ways does seem to be a possibility. Still, this shouldn’t come as a surprise from a band that’s broken up over the Gallagher brothers fighting more than once in the past.

What’s the Word (8/23/09)
August 23, 2009, 7:39 pm
Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , ,

What’s the word is a new segment added to keep our readers up to date on music news. Any suggestions on how to improve this section would be appreciated.

A new Jay-Z track was just released called “Off That” and it features Drake. You can listen to and download it here. On Jay-Z’s upcoming album, Blueprint 3,  you can also expect to hear songs featuring artists such as Kid Cudi, Rihanna, Kanye West and Nas. Blueprint 3 is expected to be released on Friday, September 11th.

The Pittsburgh Sound – AJ Allen & Kai Roberts
August 9, 2009, 1:44 am
Filed under: Features

Art lives on the corner of Baum and South Highland, at Shadow Lounge, where local artists congregate to express themselves. Though this venue offers a way for artists to grow collectively, some say many Pittsburgh artists are looking out for solely themselves. Many artists say selfishness, arrogance, and pride keep Pittsburgh artists from prominence.

In a glance around Pittsburgh’s hip-hop scene, one is exposed to a dismal reality.  Hip-hop appears to be a dying movement, illustrated through voiceless emcees, mere remnants of old graffiti art, gig-less D.J.s, and b-boys out of shape from inactivity waiting for hip-hop’s reincarnation.

The hip-hop music industry is dried up and an under-accomplished enterprise suggests E. Dan, the owner and operator of I.D Labs Studio, in Lawrenceville. He says there is not a much of a hip-hop scene in Pittsburgh, and that past years have shown there are little means for expression and production. He says the music industry was better a few years ago, but has declined as time progressed.

Over the last few years, Pittsburgh has shown that it has the capability to produce big name artists such as Wiz Khalifa and Pittsburgh Slim. The recent news of the closing of WAMO radio station is no help either.  “WAMO closing is sort of like the nail on the coffin to me,” E. Dan says with a slight chuckle.  He adds that WAMO is the only radio station that is dedicated to hip-hop and R&B.

With the lack of active establishments and means of promotion to local listeners, the status of the Pittsburgh music industry might be deterrent for young talent.   Other underground hip-hop enthusiasts see WAMO as a station that fails to adequately support its local artists. Though it is the only black-owned radio station in Pittsburgh, local artists such as Tim “SMI” Guthrie feels that the loss of the station is nothing to fret over.

To remedy this problem, what are local hip-hop artists doing to aid local talent and build a stronger hip-hop industry in Pittsburgh?  E. Dan said that to build the industry, Pittsburgh artists must take chances on venues that will showcase hip-hop music and elements of hip-hop culture.  He adds that there are very few establishments that are bent on showcasing and recording.  Two notable exceptions were the Shadow Lounge located in East Liberty and I.D. Labs.  E. Dan calls his studio a place where local artists can record, collaborate with one another and market their products.

The Shadow Lounge attracts a diverse group of people who share a common interest in local music. Guthrie, a local artist and co-founder of the Shadow Lounge, believes that the lack of success among local artists has little to do with talent. Guthrie sees a lack of marketing and production.  He also believes that success is relative. In the words of Guthrie, it “depends on what you’re in it for.”  Guthrie describes that the Shadow Lounge is an establishment that showcases local talent and gives local artists the means of expression.

Loran Boksenbaum, a Shadow Lounge attendee, felt the reason for the limited success of local artists was their passivity. Boksenbaum thinks local artists need to be more proactive in promoting their music.

Local poet Luqmon Abdus-salaam has an optimistic attitude. Abdus-salaam said that talent is not hindering local artists but selfishness amongst local hip-hop artists is. He adds that many artists are looking for their prosperity for themselves but not their fellow artists. Instead of working together to achieve success they conflict with each other, Abdus-Salaam said.

Another local hip-hop figure is Armstead Brown, the co-founder of a hip-hop competition called Rhyme Calisthenics, which is held at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theatre in East Liberty. Brown calls it an emcee competition that challenges the diversity, skill, style, and endurance of 16 local rappers.

“We wanted young rappers to be more expressive and more versatile with their music, ” Brown explained.  Established in 2007, the competition has continuously grown in popularity and funding.  Now with corporate sponsors such as Nakturnal and community support, the competition is gaining influence in the Pittsburgh area.

“Pittsburgh has a lot of great talent,” Brown says in agreement. He said that young artists have to learn to embrace the hip-hop culture, and to create an individual and creative voice in their music.

Aside from establishing venues and programs, E. Dan believes that the responsibility rests on the hip-hop community. “It’s up to the artists,” he says.

Contemporary Jazz – AJ Allen
July 21, 2009, 6:22 pm
Filed under: Features

A few days ago I started a Pandora station in search of, what I consider to be, Contemporary Jazz. I figured that adding elements of both Amy Winehouse (jazzy pop) and A Tribe Called Quest (jazzy hip-hop) would help me to reach a happy medium. I feared finding the top 40 pop artists that are too often worshiped in the modern music culture. On the pop end I found myself listening to Sara Bareilles and Norah Jones both who use jazzy elements in their music more often than one would think. On the hip-hop end I found myself listening to more Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, Black Star, and the Fugees (with some of Lauryn Hill’s solo work). On the Jazz end I heard, Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, Sam Cooke, and even Frank Sinatra.

One of the artists that really stood out to me was Adele. Her influences, Etta James and Jill Scott, add a soulful element to her music which iTunes classifies as pop. She is not the first British pop artist with a soulful voice; in fact her voice is reminiscent of Joss Stone’s but they differ in their musical styles. Adele does an amazing cover of Sam Cooke’s “That’s It, I Quit, I’m Movin On,” through which she shows her outstanding abilities as an artist. After listening to this I thought to myself that this is the Contemporary Jazz that I was searching for because of its ability to be representative of both modern music and the soulful music of Sam Cooke’s time.

“That’s It, I Quit, I’m Movin On” – Sam Cooke

“That’s It, I Quit, I’m Movin On” – Adele’s Cover

While listening to my music, I noticed that some of today’s pop artists have in fact made attempts to connect with the music of the past. I knew that all music is a result of music in a prior era and that music has evolved. Regardless, I thought that the majority of today’s pop artists had lost touch with the past and therefore the quality of their music had deteriorated. Through my listening experience the last few days I discovered that not all pop music has deviated too far from its roots. Songs like Norah Jones’ “Don’t Know Why” and Corine Bailey Rae’s “Til it Happens to You” show a logical progression or evolution from one era to another. Finally, I discovered that Jazz of yesterday has evolved into the Pop & R&B of today, and that the artists of today still appreciate the music of their predecessors.