Mariah Carey is snarky. After Eminem repeatedly dissed her and then-husband Nick Cannon, she made “Obsessed“, a smash hit that still ranks among the most popular songs in her extremely successful catalog. And she wasn’t afraid to bite back at Em: “See, the difference is, my song is on the radio and his, you have to search for it,” she said in 2009.
Of course I knew the brilliant “Obsessed” back then, but I just discovered Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel earlier this year and my first thought was, “how did it take so long for me to hear this album?” I’ve followed The-Dream for the past decade as a big fan, so it surprised me that until 2020 this album, almost-entirely penned and produced by The-Dream, somehow Mandela effect-ed its way from seeming nonexistence into my ears. And – surprise! – it’s her best work.
Most Mariah full-lengths are scattershot. And that’s ok! She’s made a lot of music, and plenty of it is top-notch. But for every “Vision of Love” or “Fantasy”, there’s usually some sappy filler that lines the rest of the album. Memoirs, however, hits over and over.
Much of Memoirs sounds exactly like what Dream was doing on his first three albums (AKA The Love Trilogy), and that is a good thing. “Candy Bling”‘s beat is almost identitcal to “I Luv Your Girl”; the screwed “lovin’ on my mind” vocals on “Ribbon” recall the same effect on “She Needs My Love”; the whole album is filled with ay-ay’s and oh-oh-oh’s that are hallmarks of Dream’s sound. No complaints there.
What separates the album from being just another Dream record is, of course, Mariah herself. Besides contributing her iconic vocals, the female voice in her songwriting is the antidote to what we hear excessively on Dream’s solo albums, namely the licentious tales of an extremely horny guy. Take “It’s a Wrap”: over a silky piano line, she begins, “Yet another early morning and you walk in like it’s nothing / Hold up, hold up, hold tight / Ain’t no donuts, ain’t no coffee / See, I know you seen me calling and calling / I should crack you right in your forehead”. Damn, MC. Sass is a consistent lyrical motif in this album, and she pulls it off. For the last few songs, however, Mariah changes her tune and goes full ballad mode, covering Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is”. She pulls that off, too.
In fact, Carey’s cover of “I Want to Know What Love Is” got the nod of approval from Foreginer’s Mick Jones, and broke the record for longest-running number 1 on the charts… in Brazil. It’s a euphoric end to her tightest album. I only wish that Spotify had a version of the album without the bonus remixes, so that I don’t have to hear a ridiculous techno mix of “Obsessed” every time the main album ends.
Loving life this morning as we reach 150 songs on the GSG playlist.
We begin with Andy Stott’s wonderful Faith in Strangers, then turn back in time for Patsy Cline’s Crazy. The Brazilian duo of Nelson Ângelo and Joyce follow with Comunhão, and after that is Abbey Lincoln’s spooky Lonely House. Next is underrated producer Suzi Analogue’s BeachCruiser, Shackleton’s Touched, and Trippie Redd’s Feel Good. The eternal dude Lee Hazlewood sings Friday’s Child, and Grover Washington Jr. plays the magnificent Lover Man. We round out this week’s selection with a track that really blew me away this past week, the veteran trumpeter Jon Hassell’s Dreaming.
In April, over 85% of people in the United States were under some form of lockdown. I spent most of the Spring in Philadelphia working from home, living with my girlfriend and my four other roommates. Moods were mercurial as astonishment turned to fear, confusion to fun and everything in between.
Now living alone and with some time to reflect (plus it’s not like the news cycle is still as crazy… right?), I’ve picked 5 key songs, and their accompanying moods, that defined my experience in quarantine.
5. Thundercat – “Dragonball Durag”
Mood: Fuck It
Thundercat was supposed to come to Philly on my birthday in late March, but alas, everything came crashing down. On March 13, he cancelled the rest of his then-underway tour by posting an extremely bass-boosted Ken Burns-effect of Michael Jackson. This was super on-brand for Thundercat, who released not only the best video of the year (above, directed by Zack Fox), but also the catchiest song in “Dragonball Durag”.
The start of quarantine definitely had moments of “Shit, I don’t have to go into work, I can just smoke weed and marvel at how bizarre everything is”. By eliminating the outdoors, life became an absurd continuum of domestic theater. Upstairs, downstairs. Entering a room was soundtracked by the opening bass notes of this song, which was literally fucking impossible to get out of my head. Any response (whether spoken or internal) to “how are you?” was inevitably “I feel kinda fly…” Bonus points for, like Thunder, being covered in cat hair. Not sure if I still smelled good, I don’t have a great sense of smell.
4. Judee Sill – “The Kiss”
I got really into The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in March – about 3 years late, but this was unexpectedly perfect timing. Trapped inside, I could easily convince myself that spending hours exploring the cliffs and shrines of Hyrule was not hopelessly nerdy, but totally reasonable – practical, even. What better way to pass this time of uncertainty and anxiety than to enter a parallel universe, horseback-riding through lush mountain landscapes?
Definitely a good idea, and while the game had a nice soundtrack I usually preferred listening to other music while playing. Concurrently discovering Heart Food, a soulful folk masterpiece by Judee Sill, was icing on the cake. “The Kiss” is an impossibly gorgeous song. A mystical, angelic tear-jerker. In turbulent times it guided me towards love.
3. Cam’ron – “Losing Weight Part 2”
Remember wondering if it was okay to go outside? In the city, every run to the grocery store felt like a deadly mission. Surrounded by potentially contaminated bodies, buildings, light poles, I wondered where I could go and what I could touch without ending up sick.
I would play this game where I would take a walk, but if I saw anyone coming towards me or on the same sidewalk, I would turn or cross the street. It helped me feel like I was both dodging danger and making my walk more interesting (which, after staying inside for days on end, was helpful). “Losing Weight Part 2”, from Cam’ron’s brilliant Come Home With Me perfectly soundtracked these paranoid walks. Over an anxious beat that sounds like the Halloween theme, Cam raps about goons that will “rat-poison your relish”, and the vibe walking around was just fear. “It’s real dog, I live in the fire,” says Juelz Santana. Exactly.
2. ‘Til Tuesday – “Coming Up Close”
Some 80s rock ballads hit a soft spot. The day after the 2016 election I think I listened to Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love” at least 5 times, completely despondent. “Coming Up Close” is kind of like that.
‘Til Tuesday was Aimee Mann’s band, and you’ve probably heard their hit “Voices Carry” (FWIW I always thought she was singing “oh-so scary”). I can’t remember how I found “Coming Up Close”, but it was around the time quarantine began and I immediately fell in love. It’s very 1986: immaculate shimmering production, synthesizer, and just look at the hair on the cover art.
For all its 80s cheese, this song made me pretty sad. It’s incredibly wistful: Mann sings about driving around on a summer night, being sad, being alone in a hotel room. And I doubt I’m the only one who spent much of quarantine reminiscing about things we used to be able to do that we can’t anymore. Traveling without worry, going to a restaurant, having a party, even just y’know, human interaction, being able to hug people and stuff. Fuck, man. How many times was each depressive slump or existential crisis soundtracked by that grand chorus of “Eeverything souunds liike… welcome home, come hooome“. I suppose only Spotify will tell.
1. Odunsi (the Engine) – “Better Days”
Even though it came out last summer, I’m sure I listened to “Better Days” more than any other song this year. If we learned anything from Rex Orange County, it’s that “You got me fucked up” makes for a great chorus. Following this formula, Odunsi, the effortlessly cool young artist from Nigeria, created a classic.
With a title like “Better Days”, of course this would be the perfect quarantine song. Meditative, yet fun, danceable but not a banger, it’s the one to jam out to alone. For when you finish the work week and don’t have much to look forward to on the weekend, but at least you can relax. Feeling blue, but there’s a big twinkle of hope. Things might never be the same, but it’s not gonna be like this forever.
What a wonderland of a zoo, a cross between steaming smoke, atonal mystery and hanging, frothy ditties…
Brian Eno is an agent from some other time and some other place who seems to know something that we don’t but should…
There’s a scene in Y tu mamá también where the protagonists are driving across rural Mexico listening to Brian Eno’s “By This River”, and one of the stoned teens says “This song rules!” As someone who spent many a stoned teenage night with Before and After Science, I absolutely identify with this moment. Like the quotes above (from Down Beat and Crawdaddy! respectively) suggest, Eno was tapping in to something otherworldly with Before and After Science, a record that took two years to compose and represents an artist at a peak of his musical powers (Low, “Heroes” and Cluster & Eno were recorded in the same time period).
Like his preceding masterpiece Another Green World, Before and After Science mixes the art-rock of Eno’s first two albums with the ambient sounds he pioneered. But unlike Another Green World, the two sides are distinctly separate in their styles.
If you’re familiar with Eno’s career, you probably know of his Oblique Strategies. This creation method takes the form of a deck of cards, with suggestions like “Ask your body” or “Not building a wall but making a brick”. Created by Eno and artist Peter Schmidt, this technique was utilized heavily by Eno in this period and inspired many, if not all, of the songs on Before and After Science (apparently over 100 tracks were written for it).
Schmidt’s contributions to Before & After Science are particularly notable. Apart from co-authoring the Oblique Strategies cards, four of Schmidt’s prints (including the image above) were included in the original packaging of the album. Schmidt’s work inspired Eno, and the prints included in Before & After Science seem to reflect the meditative, autumnal quality of the album.
As I mentioned before, the two sides of Before & After Science have different styles. With the exception of “Energy Fools the Magician”, the first side is a collection of upbeat, vocal-lead art rock tracks, with a standout in “Backwater”, featuring drumming from Can’s Jaki Liebezeit. It’s a great bunch of songs, but the second side makes the album a 5-star masterpiece, and for my money the greatest work of Eno’s career.
After the pastoral “Here He Comes”, “Julie With…” creates a celestial atmosphere featuring Eno’s Moog synth and bells. It is a dazzling six-and-a-half minutes. “By This River” is a meditative yet moving song made with Eno’s Cluster buddies Moebius and Roedelius. It has a descending piano line that embodies Schmidt’s watercolor depictions of nature. “Through Hollow Lands” is an instrumental piece that acts as a sort of preamble to the album’s final track.
If the heavenly sprawl of Eno’s many lengthy ambient works were distilled into a sublime four-minute “pop” song, the result would be “Spider and I”. Indeed, the album closer achieves the great beauty of “Discreet Music”, while the lyrics paint a youthful fantasy: “We sleep in the morning / We dream of a ship that sails away / A thousand miles away…”
Of course, Eno has continued to make stellar music over the past 40+ years, and any fan of ambient or work labelled “art rock” may have a different favorite in his discography. After years of listening to it, Before and After Science remains his dearest treasure to me.
Got rained on a bit last week, so this week starts off with some rainy songs.
Margie Joseph starts things off with How Beautiful the Rain, then Margo Guryan with Think of Rain from one of my favorite albums of all time, Take a Picture. Next, Morphine tells you You Look Like Rain and The Rain Parade (band of late Mazzy Star guitarist David Roback) declare This Can’t Be Today. The Rentals bring us out the rain with My Head is in the Sun (featuring Maya Rudolph on the chorus). Then Big Mello will Funkwichamind and the incredible Suga Free gets Angry Enough on one of his most brilliant tracks. Things get v relaxing after that with Gaussian Curve’s Ride, before moving back to rap with Artifacts’ Collaboration of Mics. 80s R&B singer Sybil closes things out with her cover of Burt Bacharach’s Don’t Make Me Over.
There are few artists I’ve followed as closely over the past decade as Main Attrakionz. The North Oakland-based rap duo of Squadda B and Mondre M.A.N. pioneered the Cloud Rap sound, along with fellow NorCal artist Lil B and New Jersey producer Clams Casino.
From 2009-2015, Main Attrakionz released a seismic amount of mixtapes, albums, EPs and singles under the Main Attrakionz name, as two solo artists, and in varying collaborations with their crew/self-made record label Green Ova. The most popular release in their vast and underrated catalog is the album 808s & Dark Grapes II (2011), an outright masterpiece bolstered at both ends by the classic tracks “Chuch” and “Perfect Skies“. Both of these songs were produced by the duo FRIENDZONE.
In 2015, MA’z made a major label move with the follow-up album 808s & Dark Grapes III, entirely produced by FRIENDZONE. An accompanying tour brought the two rappers to Philly, where I met them opening for Cappadonna. While the crowd was small, I celebrated the opportunity to see two of my favorite rappers, and they were receptive enough to invite my friends and me backstage to chill after their set.
After the tour, Main Attrakionz went on an indefinite hiatus. Sadly, James Laurence, 1/2 of FRIENDZONE, passed away in early 2017. L.W.H., another frequent producer and friend of the group, passed a year later. In this interview with Squadda B, conducted over Zoom in September, we caught up about these losses, his younger years, his production style and what he’s been working on in the past few years, including his new album Return of Dog, which is now streaming.
Ethan: I wanna start with your roots. I’ve never been to the Bay, but you talk a lot in your songs about North Oakland, “The North Pole”, “Ice City”… can you tell me what that was like growing up?
Squadda B: It was fun. The Bay Area is big on music, big on culture and shit like that so, as far as my school years I grew up hearing Mac Dre in 6th grade, going into 7th grade, hearing Goapele’s “Closer“. There are certain songs that are hometown hits that you hear out here that you probably wouldn’t hear in New York or somewhere else. It was definitely eye-opening as a kid being out here, a lot of different record stores in the area. We would see rappers all the time, advertisements everywhere. It was fun and real musical.
E: I love hearing rappers be specific about where they’re from, like I remember first hearing Big L say “139th & Lenox is the Danger Zone”. And you would say “63rd & Idaho” and talk about the 72 bus stop.
SB: Yeah, cause growin up, once I got into middle school I started listening to rock and shit. And I would hear Transplants talk about Adeline Street and I’m like, “I walk these streets everyday!” It was cool hearing famous people, even hearing Mistah F.A.B. yell out “6-deuce, Bushrod” on a big Oakland song, just kinda crazy to hear people who are in the public talk about where you’re from. That makes you feel special. So I might as well make other people in the area feel special.
E: Yeah, I feel like I can see the story when I get the specific street. Did Mistah F.A.B. come up with “The North Pole” by the way?
SB: I’m not sure, that was a little before my time, but I remember him coming to my middle school when I was a kid.
SB: He is the biggest North Oakland rapper. Money-B from Digital Underground is from here too, but I would say F.A.B. is the biggest.
E: What were some of your biggest influences outside of the Bay? Did you hear a certain rapper and think “that’s what I want my sound to be,” or was it more like “I’m gonna do this with my friends and we’re gonna do our own thing”?
SB: Well, I’ve been writin’ raps since elementary school, so it’s hard to say because I would write raps as Redman, Eminem, Jay-Z – just in my head like “imma rap as this person or this person”, so I was influenced as a kid by them. I was on Napster, I would download shit from Three 6 Mafia, B.G., Insane Clown Possee, anything that was on TV, but I was a little kid.
I remember when I bought Diplomatic Immunityin ’03 and I was like “wooow – this is one of the best albums I’ve ever heard! These beats are crazy!” There are certain albums like that, like Kanye’s first album, even Ghostface’s The Pretty Toney Album, and other Wu-Tang [that had that effect].
Being a little older, I remember watching TV and seeing The Jacka’s “More Crime“, that had more of an East Coast sample but was from the Bay, that was influential. Seeing Lil B make it from Berkeley, from my area cause I grew up in Berkeley too, that showed me that the music that I love – I could make too. I didn’t have to make Hyphy music. Seeing them do it, I felt like I could do it.
E: That was back when Lil B was in The Pack with Young L?
SB: I was in middle school! I was in 7th grade when “Vans” came out, and I remember seeing it on TV. There were girls from my middle school in their videos! It was a big deal.
E: Now, with Cloud Rap, I still see people talk about Cloud Rap today, but to me Cloud Rap was Main Attrakionz and Clams Casino and Lil B. Now I see it applied online to people like Playboi Carti, no disrespect to him, I just don’t know that Cloud Rap really exists anymore. Do you feel like it’s still around, or it’s not, or do you not really trip on how people use that label?
SB: It’s tricky today. I was 20, 21 coming in the game when I heard [“Cloud Rap”] and I embraced it. Now I’m like 30, like “uhh – what’s Cloud Rap?” It’s a tricky thing for me. I think what happened was, with the come-up of A$AP, and the come up of Lil B and Clams and shit like that, people just generalized a lot of shit, and by having a title for it people have a vision of what that’s supposed to sound like. For me, personally, around 2012 people started sending me so many beats that sounded like Clams that I was like “Nah, fuck this – I’m gonna go pay Zaytoven. I’m gonna fuck with The Mekanix.” It just got too clichéd. It got really watered down, so I started rebelling and working with different types of producers.
FRIENDZONE was always our guys so it was easy to bounce back and work with them. But as far as 2020, when you say “Cloud Rap” that brings people back to a certain time period. I think everyone that was from that time kinda moved on in one way or the next. It still exists, I mean shit, I’m still making music so you can call my shit Cloud Rap. I’m not gonna stop, whether people call it Cloud or not.
E: I think “In This Room” is my favorite off the new album, and I just love hearing your production. Your style to me is so important over this last decade. I remember before I even heard Main Attrakionz or Squadda B, I heard “I Will” by Danny Brown [prod. Squadda B].
SB: Oh shit.
E: I felt like, “This beat is so cool!” With all the samples, the sped-up vocals, I was like “Who did this?”
I remember in college, first hearing Back to Playtime, when you flipped that “Angel of Mine” sample by Monica, that was so unexpected. I used to smoke in a parking garage, I was living on campus and didn’t have a place to smoke so I would go in this parking garage, and I remember playing that song [“MicrophoneTeen“] and just being like “Wow.”
It’s crazy, it’s been 5 years since that last Main Attrakionz tour. I was on Instagram and saw a picture of us in Philly at the show, and I can’t believe it’s been 5 years. What was the rest of that tour like?
SB: It was some funny stuff. Some of those show dates were in places where we didn’t need to be at – like it was fun, it’s all in the game. We were signed to a major label at the time, Neil Young’s label [Vapor], so we were doing it the Neil Young way. It was pretty fun, but at the same time, it wasn’t fun. When you’re performing in front of 4 or 5 people in an unknown city, that shit can get to your head. Especially being 24 at the time, I was kinda like “Eh, I’d rather just be smokin’ weed right now.”
But it was definitely a growing time for myself. It was a time where I was getting more into reading, more into health, fitness, shit like that, so it was a growing-up period. Which was weird on the road, and with a team, not only Mondre but our managers, our tour managers and shit like that. It was a lot, and we definitely had to call that break afterwards. It was just like, it got to a point where it was a lot, it was bringing us to different places as people.
E: Yeah, I can understand that frustration. I mean I can’t understand that frustration because I haven’t lived that tour life! But I feel like things changed after that with the loss of James from FRIENDZONE, and even after that with Logan [L.W.H]. I know that must be so personal, because I felt like that hurt for me and I never even met these guys. Would you be willing to speak on how that affected you?
SB: It affected me a lot. To this day, I feel like those are my biggest fans. So, to lose two people where it’s like, whenever I dropped anything they were the ones to hit me up first. They had the most passion throughout the years. Before FRIENDZONE produced for us, James was always a fan, they both were. To lose James, and then Logan? That’s like your biggest support team passing away, a year after the other. And they’re both our producers.
I was knee-deep in the Green Ova Records thing at the time, 3 different producers, 3 different rappers, so I was kinda busy. I was told by another member of the group, and we were definitely sad about it, but it was a busy time so it was kinda weird, I didn’t really get to reflect on it. I still haven’t, really. It sucks. I may not have talked to them every day, but monthly, for sure. Them giving me feedback, them showing me other rappers, their presence meant a lot. I can’t put my situation as far as Rocky and Yams but [it was like that].
But losing Yams, that hurt too. Yams is a reason why my face [got out there]. A big reason, for sure.
E: He connected you and Rocky, right?
SB: Yeah, Rocky reached out, but it was probably Yams.
E: Everything I’ve read about Yams was about his power as a connector, whether it was you guys, or Kitty Pryde, or all these young people who really started to pop around that 2011-2012 time, it was amazing how he found all that.
SB: Yeah, good dude! Losing them two, I can only imagine how Rocky felt losing Yams. That’s a little bit of what I felt losing James right after our major label album [808s III], and then Logan after. It definitely felt like, it’s easier for me to stop making music, although I never will. But to not have those two voices texting me, it does something.
E: What else have you been doing? Did you ever wake up and feel like, “I’m too frustrated with this rap shit, I need to find another hustle or another job”?
SB: Fasho. I mean, I came in that way, I’m a fuckin’ high school dropout! Just started making beats, started rapping. Luckily, I met Lil B, and my dude Deezy D, he’s the reason why I got up with Clams in the first place, cause Deezy was rapping with him. But if it wasn’t for that, man, shit is tough. After 808s III, when I started moving on on my own, it’s been tough for sure. Every day has been waking up like “Man, I’m ready to hurt somethin’.” So I just took that energy into the studio. Whether it was a good day or bad day, a rich day or broke day, no matter what day it is, that passion is always gon’ be in me. Always was in me, since I wrote my first raps in elementary. I always had that… dying desire to express myself, to put out music, to have people like it, to inspire people. I’m also shy, I’m also yada yada yada… it’s a lotta shit going on but I’m definitely gonna keep it going.
I’ve got some plans to drop more. Definitely in 2017 I took – well, I never really took a break – but in 2017 and 2018 I didn’t drop a solo project. I was working with a group on that time, and we were really putting our time into each other. We just ended that and [I’m] feelin’ good, feeling better than where I left off, for sure.
E: Man, you’ve definitely inspired me, and I’m glad that you’re still doing it. You texted me saying you’re working on another album?
SB: I’ve been working since ’17 and not putting shit out. I got a few things that I haven’t put out that I’m still working on, I’ve got an album with Dope G and Pepperboy, I’ve got a Green Ova Records album that hasn’t come out. But as far as solo stuff, I can do an album in a month. I feel like at this point, I’ve got a flow and I know where I’m at.
For a second I stopped sampling, if you listen to Squadda Mania there’s not one sample on there. That taught me something, but I wasn’t really getting anywhere with that. I feel like to make beats without sampling, the way I wanna do it, I would have to buy so much hardware. 2017 was tough because it involved getting the gear, getting the skills, putting the time in, that shit was tough! I’m in a way better position now.
E: Are you still doing it on the MPC?
SB: That’s a new thing.
E: Oh, okay, cause on “Ounce and a MPC” I wasn’t sure if you were talking about back in the day, or today.
SB: It’s today! That’s something new. I think I got my first MPC in 2016 or 2017 and I didn’t know how to use it. Really until quarantine, then I started fucking with the MPC. I started [way back] with a computer. I think it was 2016 I started working with actual keyboards, then in 2018 I was like “Fuck it, I’m going back to the old shit, this shit is hard!” But now I’m back, bout to go crazy. I got an instrumental album out December 2.
SB: Dream Beach! That shit is hard. We did that at Fantasy Studios [in Berkeley], it’s closed now but I started going in 2017. As a kid, in Kindergarten the bus would drive past the studio that just says Fantasy on the outside, and I thought it was a toy shop. But I finally looked it up in 2014 or 2015 and found out Lil Wayne went there, Rancid, Green Day, and I started going there. Dream Beach came out here for a little bit and we just knocked that shit out.
E: I noticed that there’s not that much of your stuff streaming from the early days.
SB: Yeah, there’s a lot going on with that. It’s different rules, man. When [Main Attrakionz] was coming up, it was no rules. I mean, there was but it was “fuck the rules”. Now the people that used to say “fuck the rules”, they’re not saying that no more!
Maybe one day we can get all the old classics up, but I’m not in a position to do that, unfortunately.
E: Yeah, that’s understandable. I love having all that stuff on my computer. I remember back in high school [2009-2013], you could find anything if you just google an album and “.zip” or Megaupload.
SB: It’s over! But yeah, I’m definitely gonna do the best I can with my output, to have y’all get my music… I wanna start dropping a lot, getting visuals going. I got a few.
But in this game today, people are used to seeing you every day… I never really felt like an Instagram Live type dude, I know there’s Twitch… it’s just weird, I don’t really know how to fit in. So, instead of not doing nothing, which I was doing for a second, imma just go back to the old way and just drop music and videos as much as I can.
It can be intimidating for older artists, I mean I’m not an older artist, but it’s something new every day. Now you got old rappers thinking they gotta appeal to the Tik Tok-ers and shit. Crazy. All of it is confusion. Once you just say fuck it and step out, the music will turn around, so that’s my plan.
E: I like that mentality. It can be hard to keep up, and with all the craziness of COVID and social injustice, social media can be bad, or too overwhelming. To be an artist in that same realm, as all of that is happening, that’s hard for me to imagine.
SB: My heart goes out to all the other artists. I’m blessed to be able to keep on working and do what the fuck I do. My heart goes out to everyone in the struggle during these times. People who have fans and have people who depend on their music to keep out going, it’s tough because, shit I don’t feel like doing this shit half the time, but I love it! But it’s a lot that people go through everyday. If you don’t wanna put out music no more, I understand it.
Me, imma do my best to keep going. I appreciate what the fans and everyone who’s ever liked anything I’ve done has helped me do with my life. I’ve been able to travel the world, all types of shit. So imma keep this shit going.
After a much-needed vacation I am back to update this possibly endless playlist of mine.
We begin this week’s addition with a gem from the Music From Memory label’s excellent compilation Uneven Paths, Violet Eves’ Listen Over the Ocean. Houston’s Screwed Up Click (Southside Playaz) then revels in the delight of Drought Season, before Brazilian legend Tim Maia delivers the equally joyous Jurema. Next, relax with Roxy Music’s classic More Than This. Following that, one of my favorite types of music, emotional E-40 (I Hope U Get This Kite). The super-talented Caroline Says is next with I Tried, then things get mystical with the Bone-Thugs classic “Eternal”. The great Strawberry Switchblade are after that with the wistful 10 James Orr Street. Then we go wayyy back to 1942 with Glenn Miller’s (I’ve Got a Gal in) Kalamazoo (peep the 1942 flows). Wrapping up, a Babyface classic in The Deele’s Shoot ‘Em Up Movies.
How does one describe the sound of the beat on “Pony”? Belching synthesizer? Squelching vocoder? Hungry jury? I like to think of it more as a croaking toad, but whatever the case may be, the timeless classic vaulted both Ginuwine and Timbaland into stardom for good reason.
There’s a lot more to Ginuwine’s debut album, however. Timbaland and Ginuwine’s Virginia-based crew (including Missy Elliott, among others) came up under the tutelage of Jodeci’s DeVante Swing. Transplanted to New York, where Jodeci was working with the late Andre Harrell’s Uptown label, Ginuwine and the 23-year-old Timbaland recorded in Rochester (where Jodeci made their third album) and Ithaca. The late, great Static Major wrote the hook for Pony, and the rest of the music was Timbaland’s creation.
Timbo’s value and influence here cannot be understated. The use of space, bass, stuttering drums and unconventional (often squeaky or “squiggly”) sounds created something darker and cooler than the majority of 90s R&B, and it still knocks to this day. What makes both Ginuwine and Aaliyah’s voices so perfect for Timbaland’s production in this time is their sense of restraint and minimalism. Instead of belting and warbling like R. Kelly and Mariah Carey, Timbaland’s singers brought something slick and chill to fit snugly into the folds of Timbo’s futuristic grooves. Nothing is rushed on Ginuwine… The Bachelor: no song runs under 4 minutes in length, and most are over 5. Maybe it’s the lack of immediacy (outside of “Pony”, the album’s first proper track) that has kept this album from being canonized alongside other R&B classics.
The Bachelordoes have the songs, though. “Lonely Daze” flips the guitar from “You Are Everything” with a sublime performance from Ginuwine. “Only When ur Lonely” is perhaps the most emotionally charged track here, building to a superb climax (sampled well by the Ginuwine-worshipping PARTYNEXTDOOR on “Muse”). Throw in a great cover of “When Doves Cry”, complete with Timbo’s deep background vocals (10 years before Futuresex/LoveSounds!) and you already have a few standouts. Also, Missy Elliott raps over Portishead’s “Numb” on “G Thang”.
“World is So Cold” is my favorite track here. Any R&B song that can make me wistfully stare out of a window (other examples include Aaron Hall’s “I Miss You” and Tweet’s “Smoking Cigarettes”) is an instant classic in my eyes. This one also has one of those amazing moments where everything goes up an octave, adding significantly to the impact of the ballad. After some unnecessary 3-second interludes (remember when silent interludes were included at the end of CDs?), The Bachelor concludes with a banger in “550 What?”. The drums and group vocals will have you wanting to party at Ginuwine’s address, even when you have no idea where the hell they are talking about.
Ginuwine’s follow-up 100% Ginuwine rules too, that one being his final album-length collab with Timbaland. “Pony” and other hits have stayed in the collective conscious, thanks in part I guess to Magic Mike and Parks & Rec. But Ginuwine’s debut should be taken seriously as an R&B classic, and a wonderful document of the blossoming of Timbaland’s fruitful career.
As September slips away I have to continually remind myself not to spend so much time on social media before the most wonderful time of the year (election season). Barring that, the series of tubes we call the internet remains a great place for music. Here are ten more additions to my boundless canon.
Björk’s classic Come to Me seemed to fit in with my selection of mostly dreamy tracks, and following that is a great exotica instrumental from The Beach Boys, Diamond Head. Then, my favorite sound out of Nashville, Lambchop with We Never Argue. I recently started listening to Tortoise and was impressed by Along the Banks of Rivers, so that’s here. P-Funk has also been in heavy rotation, so I’m including the incredibly underrated I Just Got Back by Parliament. Next is Shy Glizzy, probably my favorite rapper right now, with the classic White Girl (bonjour to you all). Dungeon Family member Joi doesn’t get a lot of shine, so I included her sexual Narcissa Cutie Pie. After that, Ulla with I Think My Tears Have Become Good. Pharoahe Monch’s amazing Queens comes next, and I round things out with the effortlessly cool AltéCruise by the young Nigerian star Odunsi the Engine.
If you asked me at any point over the last 8 years what my favorite song was, I’d probably say Immature’s “I Wanna Know U That Way”. I discovered the R&B boy-band’s early track via a Spaceghostpurrp sample of the track’s face-melting keytar sample. Immature quickly became my favorite boy-band, these adolescents providing the soundtrack to many a high school night of cruising around in the ’03 Honda Pilot.
The members (led by a young Marques Houston, then known as Batman) were aged 12-13 when their second album Playtyme Is Over came out. The kid on the cover with the eyepatch is Jerome Jones, then known as Romeo (later Young Rome). Romeo predated both Lil’ Romeo in name and Nelly’s band-aid in fashion sense by rocking the eyepatch for years (apparently Brandy hit him in the eye). Batman takes the lead here on vocals, while Romeo occasionally raps (like on his adorable “Walk You Home” verse), and third member LDB basically plays the background.
What makes Immature special? Ostensibly, they were just one of several New Edition clones; a factory made formula designed to gain traction on the “Urban” charts, with contemporaries in Hi-Five (“I Like the Way (The Kissing Game)”) and Another Bad Creation (I kid you not). Where Teddy Riley produced Hi-Five at Jive and Dallas Austin produced ABC for Motown, writer/director to-be Chris Stokes (You Got Served) was at the helm for Immature (for Virgin on the debut, then MCA). While Riley and Austin are both certified legends, I think Stokes had a bit more proving himself to do. Jermaine Dupri and “Tricky” Stewart(!) assisted on the debut On Our Worst Behavior, but that album is super scattershot and as the group’s name implies, the youngsters were underdeveloped vocally – they were literally 10! There are some serious standout tracks, like my favorite song mentioned at the top of this piece, but it is not a great album.
Playtyme Is Over is. They almost completely ditched the New Jack Swing thing here – which is a good idea, because you can’t beat Teddy Riley – in favor of a smoother sound. Opener “I Don’t Mind” lays down the vibe – summertime in Cali, cruising in the jeep, just oozing that inexplicable 90s cool. “Never Lie” became the group’s biggest hit and still is to this day. This always surprised me, because the back end of the album hides two absolute jams, which I believe could have hit bigger if released as singles. “Sweetest Love” snaps – think TLC’s “Diggin’ On You” (released 3 months later!) with a bit more punch in the chorus and you’ll be there. Then “Just a Little Bit”, which has a kind of Backstreet/N*Sync synth groove (one that French producer Onra would later sample) and killer background vocals. Both songs rank among the top of the Immature catalog. But I haven’t yet touched on this album’s greatest track, “Constantly”.
What a trip it is to be a young teen in love. Few R&B ballads capture the absurd pain and longing quite like “Constantly”. So picture me, 18 and lovesick, pulling over the aforementioned ’03 Pilot to cry to “Constantly”. Have you ever pulled your car over to cry? It is very cathartic. I mean, just listen to the lyrics here: “You look so fine / I often pretend / That you’re my girl / At least my friend”. Damn. Oh, and that high synth note after Batman sings “Every single way of every single day / I start driftin’ away” – incredible shit.
If “Ambient R&B” were a thing it might be my favorite genre. Maybe I’ll explore the idea further another time, but as a seeker of this particular sound Playtyme Is Over ends with an absolute blessing: “I Don’t Mind – The Vibe Mix”. And what a vibe it is. Simply a version of “I Don’t Mind” with no drums, the subtle difference nonetheless creates an indelible atmosphere, allowing the listener to bask in the harmonies and open spaces of the song.
Immature’s legacy seems largely forgotten, and that’s a shame to me. They would go on to release two more good full-lengths as Immature before rebranding at the turn of the century as IMx, releasing another pair of albums with middling results and eventually separating. Marques Houston continued a fairly successful solo career as a singer and actor. The group reformed in 2015 for an EP released on Soundcloud that mostly harped on 90s nostalgia (with an updated “Never Lie”), but of course failed to beat the peak they hit in ’94. Playtyme Is Over is an excellent album that stands up against almost any 90s R&B release.