Friday, August 19, 2011

Album Art Appreciate: F.A.M.E.

Art Direction and Design:
Courtney Walter & Team Breezy
Cover Painting:
Ron English

Note: There is a good possibility this album will be reviewed down the road, but that’s a different post for a different time.

Chris Brown is one of my favorite R&B artists.  He has charm and creativity with the vocal chops to back it all up.  Sure, he may not be a very nice, erm, human being...

... ah.

But I still like him as an artist and “F.A.M.E.” really cements his status as one of the biggest names in mainstream music.  Along with featuring some of the biggest hits of his career (“Yeah 3x, “Deuces”, “Look At Me Now”), the differing variations of genres featured on the album (pop, contemporary R&B, house, hip hop) make for an interesting and entertaining listen each and everytime.  My personal favorites off the album are “No B.S. (feat. Kevin McCall)”, “Should’ve Kissed You”, “Beautiful People (feat. Benny Benassi)” and the beautifully composed “All Back”, an overlooked ballad on the album that every Chris Brown fan needs to listen to (think “Crawl” from “Graffiti”, only better).
The album cover for “F.A.M.E.” is one of my favorites of all-time.  In an era when album art is glanced over as an afterthough (especially in hip-hop/R&B), it’s refreshing to see so much effort put in to “F.A.M.E.”’s cover.  It’s very colorful and active; it gives off a great vibe and pop feel.
The artwork of C. Breezy and his multiple counterparts is absolutely awesome.  Credit “F.A.M.E.”‘s artwork to contemporary artist Ron English, who does a phenomenal job on the cover, especially on Brown, who appears very realistic and eye-catching.  The expression on Brown’s face is my favorite part of the painting.  A stoic stare graces Brown’s shadow ridden face, trying to hide the pain the media has given him over the years thanks to...

... ah.

Brown tries to look past his past and get on with his career.  Looking at this picture with “Deuces” playing makes for a chilling moment.
The fabulous artwork blends well with the rainbow-esque background, complete with unusual pictures of Brown and random objects and the phrase “Forgiving All My Enemies” weaved through it all (gee, I wonder if that’s what F.A.M.E. means?) (actually, Breezy has mentioned that F.A.M.E. could also stand for Fans Are My Everything).  For more of Ron English’s work, check out his website here.  Also, here’s a video of Brown going more in depth about the art work, it's meaning and English’s influence on the singer.

Overall, this album cover gives a great hint at what’s to come when you play the CD... maximum fun and POP.

Racks vs. Maybe

If you tuned out your hip hop radio station this spring, then perhaps you missed Y.C.’s minor hit, “Racks”.  “Racks”, a southern hip hop tune, was fueled by it’s catchy hook, and not much else.  It’s beat, produced by Sonny Digital, isn’t all that groundbreaking, its lyrics are what you would expect from any southern rapper, and Yung Chris, or Y.C. for short (after some research on iTunes, I’ve concluded that the rapper’s stage name is officially Y.C.) was a virtual nobody until “Racks” hit the airwaves.  I mean, the guy has only released two mixtapes and hasn’t been featured in any other song besides his own.  In today’s world of hip hop, that’s unheard of, even from the worst rappers (although this didn’t stop Universal Records from signing Y.C. earlier this year).  “Racks”, however, pushed aside it’s lack of star-power and climbed up to #42 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #6 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts.
We now cut to another southern hip hop artist, Rocko.  Unlike Y.C., Rocko has been around the block a few times, releasing a studio album in 2008 (Self Made, which is very heavy on Drumma Boy production, if you’re into that type of thing), four mixtapes, and being featured on songs with Gucci Mane and T.I.  Rocko was also engaged to R&B singer Monica, but that, not surprisingly, ended with a split and two children out of wedlock.  The Atlanta-based rapper would have a minor hit in 2007 called “Umma Do Me”, which topped at #12 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.  In 2010, Rocko would release “Maybe”, a Gutta Beatz-production that, like “Racks”, played on a catchy hook and that’s about it.  “Maybe” made it’s debut on the independent album “Wildlife” and would later be released as a single.  It wouldn’t find the success of “Racks” though, as “Maybe” would only reach #52 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
Okay, so that’s taken care of.
When I first heard “Racks”, I was easily amused.  Hey, a no-name rapper bragging about money, girls, and cars... what a surprise.  To make matters worse, this song was a complete mess.  Y.C.’s autotune (okay rappers, stop using autotune now, it does not hide the fact that you have no rhymes or flow) and mush-mouth left me in a complete daze... what the hell was he saying?  After listening to this song many, many, many times, I eventually figured out what he was rapping, although it didn’t really matter cause most of the lyrics sucked (I’ll admit, some lines in the song were good... “got Keisha, Pam, and Nicki, they all wanna do a Minaj”).  But the hook, with it’s repeating motto “racks on racks on racks” (rack, for those of you who are far behind in their ghetto vocabulary, means one thousand dollars) was what kept me coming back for more.  It was very catchy and soon got me addicted.  With the song on repeat mode, I quickly made a few connections between “Racks” and another song released about a year before... Rocko’s “Maybe”.  The similarities between the two are astonishing.  Both songs:
- Are from up-and-coming Southern Hip Hop artists
- Are produced by no-name producers
- Relies on a catchy chorus to carry song
- Are about how both rappers are incredibly awesome
- Feature autotune prominently
- Feature a heavy southern beat (as expected)
- Feature one word titles
- Are good to dance to (which is always important to know)
Weird huh?  And yet, with all these similarities, both songs sound vaguely different.  “Racks” is much better produced and the beat is more interesting than “Maybe”‘s.  Sonny Digital is probably going to blow up thanks to this song, so don’t be surprised to see him around more often.  Y.C. also has more raw talent as a rapper than Rocko; his flow is very on-point in the tune.  “Maybe” relies more on it’s lyrics and delivery to get across the “I’m-awesome-and-your-not” motif of the song.  Rocko executes his worldplay and “smooth lines” perfectly to match the overall flow of the track.  This coupled with an above-average beat makes “Maybe” one of the best songs in his catalogue (for the record, neither Y.C. or Rocko are particularly good at rapping, but in context of their respective songs, they do a decent job behind the mic).
So who takes the cake?
In my opinion, “Maybe” is the better song.  Why?  It’s more original.  Yes, I know, the whole concept of “Maybe” is, like “Racks”, bragging.  However, Rocko does this is in a more charismatic way, teasing the listener of the many ways he is awesome.
“Maybe it’s my car,
Maybe cause I’m flexing,
Maybe it’s my wrist piece gotcha bitch gettin’ naked,
Maybe it’s my bracelet,
Maybe it’s my chain,
Maybe it’s my swagga gotcha bitch off the chain.”
This is so much better to listen to then “racks on racks on racks” (regardless of how damn catchy it is).  Rocko keeps this theme of “maybe it’s...” going throughout the chorus, which does a pretty good job of keeping it’s catchiness and, quite simply, pumping me up.  The production on the chorus alone is worth the price of the song; the beat does a lot of great things within the thirty seconds (drops, picks up, adds, hypes up... I don’t know how to explain it, you have to experience it).  Gutta Beatz, whoever the hell he (they?) is, does a great job here.  The verses, while not very good, can hold their own.  Some lines are repeated from chorus to verse, making Rocko seem like a lazy and uncreative songwriter.  Actually, a lot of the lyrics make Rocko seem like a lazy and uncreative songwriter.  However, for every four lines like “Maybe it’s yo nationality, baby is you latino?” there’s one line like “I told her if she make me cum, maybe I’ll let her go.”
“Racks”, while fun to listen to, and more popular, is not original.  It has no creativity or personality.  In fact, put Y.C.’s verses over any other southern beat, and it’s practically the same song.  Rocko’s lyrics, charisma, and delivery turns “Maybe” into an original and more enjoyable song while making listening to someone bragging about girls and money actually tolerable.  Not many people can do that, but Rocko, out of all rappers out there nowadays, can.
If you’re not into head-to-head combat, then take it for what these songs are worth.  They are party songs and not to be taken seriously; they are fun and fun to listen to, and that’s all there is to it.  The same can be said for Y.C. and Rocko as well.  Both of them aren’t good rappers and rely too much on the studio and their producers to make their songs work.  With Y.C. on a new record deal and Rocko still kicking around, you will probably see these two again.  However, these two songs are most likely the peaks of each rapper’s artistic talents.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Now Introducing...

People can hate everything.  Movies, books, video games, sports, Internet, cell phones, televisions, nature, rain, sun.... you get the point.  One thing people cannot hate is music.
Music will always be in your life.  You simply cannot escape it.  Everywhere you go, you are bound to hear music.  Music is a connection that runs deeper than the ears; it’s a conversation starter, a friendship builder, and to the very dedicated, a way of life.
I’m starting this blog because I love discussing my opinions with the world.  Yeah, not a lot of people really care, I mean, opinions are like assholes (bonus points for who can figure out where that simile came from).  But, if I can get just one person to read my thoughts and take them into consideration, I know I have made an impact, and that’s damn good enough for me.
This blog will cover anything that comes across my mind.  My main genres of music cover hip hop, rock, pop, and R&B.  Any metal heads and country fans... sorry, this is not the place for you.  I will try to split up the topics like so:
60-70% Hip Hop/R&B/Urban
15-20% Rock/Pop
Remaining %: Miscellaneous
(I spelled miscellaneous on one shot, get at me.)
“I Dig Music” will cover everything from these genres and break them down by specific topics.  You may also see some continuing series of blog posts (ex: Album Art Appreciate) and some other random goodness just to spice things up.
I know I am one in a million of music blogs, but dammit I will try my best to keep my thoughts as entertaining as possible.  Stay tuned, because I have a lot to say.