Musing on Musical Gentrification: Singers Using Other Singers in Commercialised Hip-Hop & R&B

11:55 Sep 15th, 2014 | 1 note

Now, as a young and naïve Commercial Hip-Hop & R&B fan in the 00s, I remember dancing in front of the TV to various catchy hook-based tunes from *NSync, Dream, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and, of course, Jennifer Lopez. This is somewhat embarrassing to look back on considering my stance on that sort of music now, but, hey, it happened. And it sounded really good.

Really, I should say “commercialised Hip-Hop & R&B”, as the process of making the sort of music I just described involved a lot of taking and then tweaking (usually watering down) various elements of the original genre for a more mainstream audience. As most of the acts that do this rely heavily on external help from songwriters, managers, producers and their labels, they have a similar level of pre-meditation to their identity to the “manufactured” artists of The X Factor, American Idol, Fame Academy and the like. One of the biggest problems I have with this phenomenon is that these acts are almost always white, while in the Hip-Hop and R&B industry, 99% of the acts are black. It’s as if the board rooms at these big labels have consciously decided that as part of the effort to make this music more accessible, they should recruit white acts. It feels as though the whole identity and culture attached to the original genres has been stripped away. It makes me uncomfortable, to say the least, but I’ll touch on that more another day.

No, today, I’m speaking on a specific aspect of this commercialised music, the use of (black) back-up singers. (Brackets, because they are always black.)

Jennifer Lopez is probably the most guilty of at least failing to mask the other singers’ voices when they effectively sing her parts. I used to love ‘Play’, until I heard it in a Topshop dressing room the other day and noticed that the voice singing the chorus sounded distinctly different to Jennifer’s, but oddly familiar. After a minute of thinking and flailing my arms about into an acrylic t-shirt, I realised that it was in fact R&B singer Christina Milian. The already growing black mist of cynicism in my post-adolescent soul expanded about 3 cubic-centimetres more.

Unsurprisingly, in ‘I’m Gonna Be Alright’, I’m pretty sure I can hear Soul singer Angie Stone in the chorus, even though she isn’t credited. So it continues.

Perhaps her management had been so flagrant in their use of other singers because it was the early 00s, and the big exposés of autotune and poor live performances hadn’t really emerged yet. But also, perhaps, because Jennifer was of Latin-American descent, assuming that her non-white status would give her more leeway in claiming connection to R&B music despite her (sorry guys) clear lack of vocal talent. No actual R&B act would have done this, however, without at least giving the other artist a credited feature. This is a Pop characteristic.

But what’s wrong with that? The Black Eyed Peas used Justin Timberlake uncredited in ‘Where Is The Love?’, some may argue. Apart from the obvious, “The Black Eyed Peas suck and employed a white female singer to get commercial appeal” response, I’m pretty sure Fergie could have handled those notes herself, and Justin was added purely for sonic enhancement. To thicken the sound, you could say.

Then why did Jennifer use these R&B acts? My own answer isn’t clear. I’m not sure. Using authentic R&B artists when you’re trying to imitate an R&B sound has merit, but not crediting those artists on the track seems shady. It’s as if they’re not worth the commercial attention, as if they need to be hidden. It gives me strong Milli Vanilli vibes.

Something’s not right, to put it plainly.

11:33 Apr 4th, 2014 | 5 notes


As part of the promotion for Flying Lotus’ last album, Until The Quiet Comes, Kahlil Joseph directed this short film. It received a Sundance Film Festival’s Short Film Special Jury Award in 2013, and uses imagery reminiscent of central African cosmology and tradition, transported to a ghetto-like neighbourhood in black America. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the shit that I live for. 

The imagery is so deep it’s spawned an analytical essay over on, here.

Best (Mixtapes) I Ever Had

3:13 Apr 28th, 2013 | 0 notes

So, as promised, here are my next 3 best Hip-Hop mixtapes of the late noughties.

18. MeLo-X - More Merch (2010)


'More Merch' was MeLo-X's 5th mixtape as a vocalist/rapper, and, in my view, his best to date. He showcases a great deal of creativity and skill in crafting different sounds, building on his chillwave/trip-hop/neo-soul sound from 'Audio Foreplay'.

This tape holds a spot at number 17 for it’s coherent sound as a mixtape - from track to track the vibe is consistent, taking the listener on a journey. Again, I feel it could definitely have been sold as an EP in iTunes in the very least, if MeLo really wanted to. But it certainly works beautifully as a mixtape.

MeLo-X also covers, remixes and mashes up songs by Quadron, Jade and Erykah Badu to name but a few, spitting a few of his own verses over them and adding his own musical arrangements, making them his own. His ‘Indie Hip-Hop’ style of music is unique to him, and a sound I haven’t heard outside of the UK Bass scene. It is exciting to hear this kind of experimenting with genres and as MeLo makes more and more music, I find his signature sound develops a genre of its own.

Broken Wings by MeLo-X/Jesse Boykins III on Grooveshark


 17. The Weeknd - Thursday [as part of the Trilogy] (2011)


At this point, feel free to substitute ‘Thursday’ with either of the other two mixtapes (Echoes of Silence and House of Balloons) he released at this time - ‘Thursday’ happens to be the first one of his I heard for a while, so my impression of his sound is biased towards it.

The reason why The Weeknd is here, is, again, because of the uniqueness of his sound. All of his songs sound somewhat dazed and ‘under the influence’ (some call it ‘dark wave’), and combined with his lamenting vocals, they prove for quite an experience. It’s almost as if The Weeknd passes you a cup of ‘sizzerp’ himself at the start of track 1.

Many people have said different things about The Weeknd’s voice, be it ‘lamenting’, ‘cry-wanking’, ‘the best musical talent since Michael Jackson’ (I’ll discredit that one because that is absolutely ridiculous I’m sorry. What makes it worse is that MTV’s John Norris said it.)…. or that it’s just ‘inherently sexual’ which I must say I agree with. Whether they like it or not, The Weeknd has grabbed people’s attention. Definitely a set of mixtapes to have in your collection even if you only end up listening to it once (which is pretty unlikely).

(EDIT: Grooveshark is playing up, so it’ll be Youtube links for a few posts)


16. Domo Genesis - Rolling Papers (2010)


When I first downloaded ‘Rolling Papers’ from the Odd Future website, I was skeptical about how good it would be, thinking Domo was just the crew’s token stoner rapper. While I may not have been 100% wrong, I must admit that ‘Rolling Papers’ was somewhat of a dark horse. Domo Genesis doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not, and in using these relaxed and low-budget sounding beats, the mixtape holds a strange charm.

'Supermarket' and 'Rolling Papers' are both popular tracks from the tape, the former being a rap battle between Tyler, the Creator and Domo in a supermarket, the later being, obviously, the title track, with one of Tyler's better early beats.

My favourite on the tape is ‘Drunk’. I first heard it playing in the background of one of the many clips Odd Future have of their antics over on YouTube. It’s quintessentially them. It fits their strange, homemade, ‘gang of crazy kids’ style perfectly.

"Odd Future, I’ll shoot ya, die slow"

Drunk (featuring Mike G) by Domo Genesis on Grooveshark



Remember, there’ll be more to come soon!

Best (Mixtapes) I Ever Had

8:10 Apr 27th, 2013 | 0 notes

Well, it’s been almost a year since I promised to do my Best (Mixtapes) Ever etc countdown, but better late than never! Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), in the time that’s passed between me making my Honourable Mentions list and now, a bunch more awesome mixtapes have come out, and I’ve had more time to consider my list and re-discover some old greats. This means, although I’ll still have a top 10, there’s gonna be a top 21 too.

Without further ado, I present the bottom 3 (not as bad as it sounds, there IS some tough competition)

21. Odd Future - Radical (2010)


Odd Future got big around 2009-2010, and I remember the first time I saw Tyler, The Creator’s 'Yonkers' video I rushed to download the entire Odd Future back catalogue. Some tapes shone brighter than others, but the one that best represented the whole crew was definitely ‘Radical’.

This tape has tracks by Mike G, Earl Sweatshirt, Hodgy Beats etc, so basically the whole crew, and features raps over popular instrumentals like Gucci Mane’s ‘Lemonade’ and Roscoe Dash’s ‘All The Way Turnt Up’ - much like most of the more mainstream hip-hop mixtapes you’d find online at that time - but obviously done in Odd Future’s own creepy style, with plenty of disturbing lines, and with some of the instrumentals pitched down (to sound weirder, no doubt). As Earl Sweatshirt brags “I know everyone has their f*cking version of this but.. no one did it justice”

As per usual, they seem to be poking fun at mainstream Hip-Hop, or accentuating their differences from the mainstream, in the very least - which is no bad thing. Being different works, especially for the Wolf Gang/Golf Wang/Flog Gnaw guys.

Round And Round By Hodgy Beats , Jasper And Mike G by OFWGKTA on Grooveshark


20. Mac Miller - K.I.D.S (2010)


Aside from looking like your average high-school ‘lad’ (or ‘dude about town’, whatever they call it over in America), Mac happens to be a very handy rapper. Starting with a sound that may not have been the most original, Mac has been putting out mixtapes (also an album) of consistent quality for the past 3-4 years, building a buzz around his name and honing his skills and sound. Some even had that coherent style that many music bloggers say Hip-Hop albums lack these days, because of a tendency to recruit multiple producers for one project. This does not seem to be a problem for Mac Miller, however.

K.I.D.S has a very chilled out and relaxed “Boom Bap rap” vibe, which Mac seems to have found works best with his voice and lyrical themes, and I’m not complaining. From beginning to end the beats stay “bumping” without being repetitive. It works. Maybe that’s why Lord Finesse wanted to sue Mac Miller for royalties on one of the tracks.

(and of course the taster track is ‘Good Evening’. I’ve used it in about 5 different mixes I recorded this year. Why not? :D)

Good Evening by Mac Miller on Grooveshark


19. J. Cole - The Warm Up (2009)


No real surprise here, J. Cole’s 2nd official mixtape, one of his best, sits at number 19 of this list (maybe a little closer to the bottom than it should be, sorry man).

J. Cole is THE rap storyteller of the late noughties, with real life tales and relatable stories of personal struggle and ambition delivered over beats that pay homage to Hip-Hop greats such as Kanye West and Notorious B.I.G. The music on this tape is full of emotion, with all of that classic 2Pac and early Jay-Z (‘Real Hip-Hop’) sound, and none of the superficial ‘bottle-poppin’ music that has characterised mainstream Hip-Hop since the late 90s.

Though from here on out J. Cole’s sound does get bigger and better, I feel it’s important to mark out where exactly he began to make the music for “the big leagues”, which is in my opinion, on this mixtape. Well worth the download. As with a lot of the top mixtapes on this list, I have listened to this one all the way through countless times, and I truly feel this could stand up as an EP if not an album.

Knock Knock by J. Cole on Grooveshark



And there you have it. More to come in a few days.

3:21 Mar 19th, 2013 | 0 notes

So Action Bronson retweeted the kid PokeyStix (meeee) and somebody replied suggesting this become a new mixtape title. If it does… you know…. it came from me hahaaaa

Joey Bada$$ - Wendy & Becky

6:23 Feb 26th, 2013 | 0 notes

I rate this song loooooadsss simply because I rate Joey. He’s the future. Boom.

Best (Mixtapes) I Ever Had - Honourable Mentions

3:27 Sep 6th, 2012 | 1 note

I figured I’d get these out of the way first… the mixtapes that didn’t make it on to the list for whatever reason, but are still pretty dope… go cop them if you’re reading this. You’ll notice that most of these mixtapes came out in 2009, or 2010. *shrug* Those two were good years for mixtapes this side of 2005. They were also when I got into downloading them :/… so, uh, yeah… there may be big gaps in my knowledge. But whatever.

YelaWolf - Trunk Muzik (2010)


Dude has a great sound, the beats are bassy and… banging (hate saying that but it’s true), and it showcases his ‘Bama life and style :}

And for those who actually think it’s up for debate, dude is DEFINITELY better than MGK. Stupid.

Some proof…

Stage Lights (Remix) by Yelawolf on Grooveshark

You can download the mixtape here.

Azealia Banks - Fantasea (2012)

Azealia Banks - Fantasea (mixtape cover)

This one may have been a little obvious, but to those who have actually been listening past 212, Azealia is somewhat of a lyrical force to be reckoned with these days. Well, at least in terms of originality, and again, having a good sound. The 90s house feel that most of these beats have go great with her style, and though she does risk sounding a bit repetitive in places, I still have this bad boy on repeat.

FIERCE by Azealia Banks on Grooveshark

Mixtape download’s here.

Dom Kennedy - From the Westside With Love (2010)

Dom Kennedy - From the Westside, With Love (mixtape cover)

For me this one was a grower, but after a while it earned it’s place amongst my favourites. It’s a very chilled out, crusin’ around the neighbourhood on a hot day type of sound, and shows Dom cooling, being himself as he always does. No trap beats, no unnecessarily loud “buss-ya-shit-open beats”… and it makes it all the more loveable. Don’t get me wrong though, some of these beats still grab your attention, but they have  a kind of relaxed rock about them. I’m a bit too English to really explain it though, heheh.

Speaker Phone (Dial 143) by Dom Kennedy on Grooveshark

And you can get that here.

MeLo-X - Audio Foreplay

MeLo-X - Audio Foreplay (mixtape cover)

Again, this one should be pretty obvious given how much I’ve gone on about it in earlier posts, but I figured I should at least include it somewhere, as people still aren’t really giving MeLo-X the credit he deserves. Amazing sounds here, Hip-Hop + some UK Funky House (I mean the Donae’o, Crazy Cousinz type) + Dance + House + MeLo’s own jumpy glitchy beat style. He covers/remixes songs, some instrumental, some with vocals, and they all have quite a lofi, spaced out edge to them. Genius.

Mixtape includes one remix of a cover of Drake’s Houstatlantavegas. Beyond hot. (EDIT - Grooveshark doesn’t have it. Clearly too hot.)

Download link for that tape is here.

Aaaand that’s it for the honourable mentions. I’ll do the countdown tomorrow.