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8 Albums Celebrating Milestones in 2017/Those 2002 Albums, Though..

So, why eight albums on this week’s list? Read on to find out and relive those 2002 albums, though…because you most certainly will. 

Ashanti/Self-titled Let’s just get right down to business, because when it comes to the music of 2002, Ms. Ashanti was that business. Fresh off the hook from Ja Rule’s (ahem..)chart topping “Always on Time,” the diva served us life with the Marley Marl/Biggie sampling lead single, “Foolish,” (plus that Goodfellas inspired video, though) which spent an unprecedented eleven weeks on top of the Billboard Hot 100

Of course, it didn’t hurt that the former Princess of Murder Inc Records/Hip Hop & R&B was featured on, like, forty-five tracks that year(“What’s Luv?” “Down 4 U”…sigh), but it was this album and all of the pre-Ciara goodies that were laced all over it (“Happy,” “Baby”) that further proved that when it came to those grooves of 2002, Ms. Ashanti was always on time for all of us. 

Norah Jones/Come Away With Me Long before Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga gave us Cheek to Cheek realness and a touch before Xtina went all Back to Basics, Ms. Norah Jones served us with the lighter side of jazz with her whimsical debut set, Come Away With Me

While every song on the album still remains as light as a sun-kissed breeze (the title track, “Don’t Know Why“) the album itself was a straight up beast on the charts where it would go on to sell a whopping twenty million copies worldwide and continue with Grammy snatch (six for our girl) that still remains in a historical class of its very own. Although Ms. Jones doesn’t own our adult contemporary hearts these days like she used to, the magical music memories on her stellar debut will certainly last a lifetime. 

Nelly/Nellyville In 2000, the Band Aid promoting rapper made us learn that down home Country Grammar. (“Ride Wit Me” 4 lyfe). In 2002, he had us take off all of our clothes because he made it so f#$king “Hot in Herre” for all of us, which was soon followed by a romp on the Desperate Housewives set with Kelly Rowland in the “Dilemma” video.

There was a shoe or a song or something called “Air Force Ones,” which proves that if we were a tossed a one-way ticket to Nellyville right this very second, we would do it all over again, even the Country Grammar era for that matter. Right, Ms. Vanna? Let’s go. 

J.Lo/J to Tha L-O The Remixes/This is Me…Then While could easily spill about how 2002 was also the year that gave us….Bennifer, there’s just not enough words on the page for all of that. Especially since ’02 was also the year that Ms. Lo gave us not one, but two blockbuster records, the first being The Remixes album (“Ain’t it Funny” all day), which was followed a touch later down the road with the release of her third studio album, This Is Me…Then.

Yes, “Jenny From the Block” and “Dear Ben” are still the worst, but we’ll forever be grateful for the L.L. co-starring and (and Deborah Laws Very Special” sampling), “All I Have,” the Flashdance inspired clip for “I’m Glad” will always do it to us and the “Juicy Fruit” tasting, “Loving You” will always be quite delicious.

Because it was both of these albums that truly turned J.Lo from being a diva into being that diva. And we’ll never forget it. 

Missy Elliot/Under Construction Oh, Missy try to maintain…our lives when it comes to the funky fresh flavors on your still red-hot fourth studio album. Without going on and on here (because..this record), you must dive in at once and relive this glorious 2002 music moment, because there’s simply no flippin’ and reversin’ it when it comes to the Missy truth that will always be served up on her Grammy owning, career defining album, Under Construction. 

Christina Aguilera/Stripped Here…we…f#$king go, right, that now oh, so infamous Rolling Stone cover that truly served us Xtina realness when it came to this album? Gone were the Mickey Mouse ears and Britney comparisons, and waaaay in was Linda Perry, assless chaps, more Lil’ Kim, one “Beautiful” ballad and one “Dirrty” video that will forever remain in a delightfully skanky class all on its own accord. 

While we may never know when–or even if–Mizz Xtina will get up out of her chair on The Voice and serve us with Blonde (or whatever it was supposed to be called), but Stripped certainly gave every Xtina queen an album for days (sorry, Back to Basics), especially when it comes to album cut, “Get Mine, Get Yours,” which pretty much sums this era of the window destroying diva all sorts of up.

Well, that and the Justified & Stripped tour, of course.

Justin Timberlake/Justified One word..”Britney” followed by five more words…”Cry Me a River Video”….do you really need anything else? How about, everything else on the album that started the still ignited JT era, including “Like I Love You,” “Rock Your Body,” and of course, “Señorita.” Ay dios mio, Mr. Timberlake. 

8 Mile Soundtrack Eminem….the dearly departed Brittany MurphyKim Basinger…”Lose Yourself”….no further questions if you dare to ask any when it comes to this soundtrack

 

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10 Unforgettable Beyoncé Grammy Performances

As if the announcement that Beyoncé would be performing with Coldplay at last night’s now infamous colorful Super Bowl halftime show wasn’t already a 2016 moment in itself, the diva once again gave us a heart attack all Super Bowl weekend long by dropping not one, but two big music surprises.

First up, on Saturday, Blue Ivy’s momma dropped the politically charged video for “Formation,” (anybody see it?) which would smuggle its music hot sauce into our halftime lives last night only to be followed by another announcement:The list of 40 dates on her about-to-be-sold-out Formation World Tour, which will make its grand stomp here in Philly on June 5th at Lincoln Financial Field. 

However, besides being the queen of Super Bowl weekend, Beyoncé has proved to be the slaying queen of the Grammy Awards, and now that sports biggest spectacle is behind us, there’s truly no Bey-tter time to get into the Grammy groove with the big show set to take the stage next Monday night, Feb 15th at L.A.’s Staple Center. 

While our beloved diva of surprises isn’t nominated or performing this year, you most certainly know that performers Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd, Rihanna and Adele have bowed to at least one of these 10 fiery show-stopping Beyoncé Grammy performances, well, except for the first one…you’ll see. 

 

Destiny’s Child/”Say My Name”/”Independent Women(Part 1)”/2001 Not unforgettable because it’s brilliant, but unforgettable because it’s sort of…terrible. Even Tina Knowles’ diva crafted sparkly get ups couldn’t save this messy performance that started off fine with the gals owning their Charlie’s Angels anthem, but it was when they intertwined the accompanying video for their Grammy winning “Say My Name” that it all became a bit confusing.

While the classic clip was playing and reminding us of all those other former members of Destiny’s Child (hey, La Toya!) the girls disappeared for a moment, only to come out even more sparkly than before (the quick change struggle was real, eh, Michelle?) while singing their name calling jingle in front of some crazy Cirque Du Soleil cage contraption that much like Ms, Williams, didn’t seem like it belonged there.  

After watching, it’s apparent that this had Mathew Knowles’ name written all over it. 

Latin Grammy Awards/2002 That moment when Destiny’s Child went all Mi Reflejo…priceless. 

Prince and Beyoncé/”Purple Rain/Baby I’m a Star/Let’s Go Crazy/Crazy in Love”/2004 Already the hottest diva heading into evening, a newly minted Beyoncé simply slayed it alongside The Purple One for an opening medley that we’re all still talking about. Ms. “Diva” certainly secured her five Grammy wins that night, not to mention this was the performance that started Bey’s Grammy reign whether it was snatching awards or owning the stage. 

“Dangerously in Love”/2004 As if her show stopping opening number with Prince wasn’t enough, Queen Bey came back to slay it on her own this time, looking gorgeously flawless draped in front of a live portrait set that was complete with dramatic dancing and that teal dress for days. Throw in a window shattering ending vocal breakdown and a very well-timed white dove that flies right into the diva’s palm, and it truly doesn’t get any better than that. 

“Listen”/2007 Served up right at the peak of the Dreamgirls/B’day era. Enough said. 

“Proud Mary”/2008 There are no words to describe one of the best performances in Grammy history. No words. 

“If I Were A Boy”/2009 An electrified Sasha Fierce was more than plugged in during this memorable Grammy moment that featured those vocals and her own personal SWAT team. 

“Drunk in Love” If you want to relive this steamy performance, grab a towel because we’re still drying off from this pearl clutching show starter that was all wrapped in Beyoncé…the album. 

“Take My Hand Oh Precious Lord”/2015 The most subdued, yet powerful Grammy performance that she has ever delivered. 

Stevie Wonder Tribute Medley /2015 Opening the powerhouse medley by getting the star-studded crowd revved up with a soulful call-and-response rendition of “Fingertips,” Bey soon excused her always fabulous backup dancers (because they have to be, right?) and welcomed Ed Sheeran to the stage as she jumped nearly two decades forward into the Wonder catalog with 1980’s “Master Blaster (Jammin’).” 

Taylor Swift’s ex and Beyoncé split the opening verses of the brassy Bob Marley tribute track before busting out a heart pounding vocal outro that segued into her final song of the medley and another surprise guest: Austin guitar wizard Gary Clark, Jr. who joined the duo for the Stevie classic, “Higher Ground.” #teamslayed

 

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Go On, Mr. Wonder

American music icon…living legend….musical genius….pioneer.

Those are just few descriptive words on a very long list of praises we could come up with to describe Stevie Wonder–an indisputable genius of not only R&B, but all popular music in general. Blind since birth, Wonder’s heightened awareness of all sounds helped him to cook up soulful, colorful music that coincided perfectly with his never-ending ambition to please his devoted fans. Nearly every music project he took on was crafted to perfection to mix with his trademark stamp of his cheery positivity–and for that all of us will be forever grateful. 

Born Steveland Hardaway Judkins in Saginaw, MI, on May 13, 1950,  Wonder was a premature infant and put on oxygen treatment in an incubator, which as a result of the excess of oxygen perpetuated a visual condition known as retinopathy of prematurity, which in turn caused his blindness. In 1954, Wonder and his family moved to Detroit, and in no time at all, a music-driven Stevie began singing in his church’s choir. From that heavenly moment, he blossomed into a genuine prodigy, taking on piano, drums, and harmonica…all by the tender age of nine years old.

While he was performing for some of his friends in 1961, Stevie was discovered by Ronnie White of the Miracles, who got the singer an audition with Berry Gordy at Motown where he was signed almost immediately. Once at the label, Stevie was linked up with producer/songwriter Clarence Paul, under the new name Little Stevie Wonder. He released his first two albums in 1962: A Tribute to Uncle Ray, which featured covers of Stevie’s hero and inspiration, Ray Charles, and The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie, an orchestral jazz album spotlighting his timeless instrumental skills on piano, harmonica, and assorted percussion. While neither set sold very well, it set everything up in 1963 for the release of his live album, The 12 Year Old Genius, which featured a new extended version of the harmonica instrumental “Fingertips.” Edited for release as an official single, thanks to Wonder’s irresistible, youthful presence, Fingertips, Pt. 2” bulldozed its way to the top of both the pop and R&B charts, all while making The 12 Year Old Genius Motown’s first chart-busting album.  

While continuing to whip up moderate singles (and dealing with a changing voice), none seemed to maintain the chart status that was on “Fingertips, Pt. 2.” level. In fact, as his voice changed, Stevie’s recording career was temporarily put on hold as he studied classical piano at the Michigan School for the Blind. Finally dropping the “Little” portion of his stage name in 1964, Wonder re-emerged the following year with the infectious classic, “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” which became another chart smash. Not only did he co-write the song, but it also reinvented him as a child performer and into a more mature vocalist in the music chart game, which would help in making his follow-up record, “Nothing’s Too Good for My Baby,” another smashing success. A short time after, Wonder started to blend social activism views into his work, which would appear in 1966  through his hit cover of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” and its follow-up, “A Place in the Sun.” However, Motown still had the ruling factor in Wonder’s choice of material, so this new direction would not yet become a major facet of his work…for the time being. 

Now that Mr. Wonder was getting just a little bit older, a little bit wiser, it was time for him to start taking a little more control of his work–and that’s just what he did. He co-wrote several of his next hits, all of which made the R&B Top Ten — “Hey Love,” “I Was Made to Love Her” and “For Once in My Life.” It was his 1968 album For Once in My Life that showcased his unstoppable ambition; he co-wrote about half of the material and, for the first time, co-produced several tracks. The record contained a Stevie-sized serving of hits also including “Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day,” “You Met Your Match” and “I Don’t Know Why,” with the singer striking gold again in 1969 with the pop and R&B Top Five hit “My Cherie Amour,”( a track in which he actually recorded three years prior) and “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday.” This was all followed by a true crowning achievement in 1970 when Wonder received his first-ever co-production credit for the album Signed, Sealed & Delivered;he co-wrote the R&B chart-topper “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” with singer–and soon to be wife–Syreeta Wright. 

Once the ’70s started getting their boogie on, Stevie’s career took a major turning point as 1971 saw our boy turning 21 and having his contract with Motown expire. Like the professional player he is, Stevie had set his music royalties aside in a trust fund which became available to him on his 21st birthday. A month before, Wonder released Where I’m Coming From, his first entirely self-produced album, which also marked the first time he wrote or co-wrote every song on an album and also marked the first time his keyboard and synthesizer productions dominated his arrangements. There were rumblings that Gordy was reportedly not fond of Stevie’s new work, and the album wasn’t a major commercial success, producing only the Top Ten hit “If You Really Love Me,” as well as the classic B-side flow “Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer.” All music shade aside, the set went down as a brilliantly ambitious attempt at Stevie making his first unified album-length artistic statement, with the world noticing that he was no longer content to release albums composed of fluff.  With that being thrown down, Wonder did not immediately renew his contract with Motown, instead, he used proceeds from his trust fund to build his own recording studio and to enroll in music theory classes at USC. He would also negotiate a new deal with Motown that dramatically increased his royalty rate and established his own publishing company, Black Bull Music, which allowed him to retain the rights to his music; most importantly, he wrested full artistic control over his recordings, as Gaye had just done with his groundbreaking tune, “What’s Going On.”

Now that our boy was going strong on his newfound creative independence from Motown, he had already begun really perfecting his genius craft. One perfection was his first set fully created at his new studio, Music of My Mind, a legendary album in which Mr. Wonder had not only produced, but played nearly all the instruments and written all the material, harking his arrival as a major, self-contained talent with a newfound vision that pushed the boundaries of R&B to its limits. The shimmering set produced a hit single in synth-driven serenade, “Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You),” which in a weird twist of fate, came out right around the time that his marriage to Wright went south. But keeping on, that same year, Wonder toured with the Rolling Stones, which would only further cement his legendary status by bringing his music to a large white audience. 

When it came time to record the follow-up to Music of My Mind, Wonder decided to reinvent his approach which led him to tighten up his songcraft while addressing his failed romance with Wright. The result was Talking Book, and it became the album that truly made Stevie a global phenomenon.  Going down nice and smooth as one of the greatest R&B albums of all time, the whirling set managed to perfect Wonder’s out-of-this-world music experimentations going on to be hailed as a music masterpiece. The famed singer would strike chart gold not with just the album, but for pretty much every song on the set, including the funky classic “Superstition,” as well as the jazzed up ballad “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” with both tracks going on to win three Grammys between them. However, Wonder wonderfully topped himself the following year on his next album, 1973’s Innervisions, a true concept record about addressing the state of contemporary society that certainly held its own against Gaye’s “What’s Going On” as a pulsating pinnacle of socially conscious R&B. The ghetto musical story of “Living for the City” and the the self-enlightenment  of  “Higher Ground” both took over the music charts with the album taking home a well deserved Grammy for Album of the Year. However, Wonder was lucky to be alive to enjoy the fruits of his music labor as while being driven to a concert in North Carolina, a large timber fell on Wonder’s car where the singer sustained serious head injuries and lapsed into a coma, but fortunately for the music world and for all of us, he made a full speedy recovery. 

Keeping on with his adult career reinvention, his next album, 1974’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale, was a bit less mainstream than its predecessors, but still contained those hits, including, “Boogie On, Reggae Woman” and “You Haven’t Done Nothin,” which would propel the legend to take home his second consecutive Album of the Year Grammy. But over the next few years, Wonder “retired” to his studio and spent two years crafting a large-scale project that would stand as his magnum opus, his 1976 smash, Songs in the Key of Life. The magnificent set was crafted up as a two-LP-plus-one-EP set that pulled praise to Wonder at his most ambitious levels. Some critics called it brilliant, but most critics hailed it as his greatest masterpiece and the culmination of his career. This was the album that would serve us with “Sir Duke,” Stevie’s magical tribute to music in general and Duke Ellington in particular, as well as the funky “I Wish” and  “Isn’t She Lovely,” one of his most famous tunes that was written for his daughter. Of course, there was also “Pastime Paradise,” another famous Stevie track that would later be deliciously sampled as the backbone of Coolio’s mainstream rap smash “Gangsta’s Paradise.” 

With a tremendous amount of energy having been put into Songs in the Key of Life, Wonder was musically quiet over the next few years, finally returning in 1979 with his instrumental Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants, which was actually the soundtrack to a never-released documentary. Although it helmed a handful of pop songs, including the hit “Send One Your Love,” its quirky flirtations actually confused most listeners and critics. But being that Stevie was still on fire, the set managed to crack the Top Ten on the album chart. It was also during this time that the press had speculated Stevie had gone off the deep end, and it was soon that Wonder rushed out the straightforward pop album Hotter Than July in 1980. The sultry reggae-flavoring of  “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” returned him to the top of his chart game as did album single, “Happy Birthday,” which would become the theme song of the successful campaign to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday with Wonder being one of the cause’s most active crusaders. 

Once the ’80s got its leg warmers in gear, Wonder kept keepin’ on, crafting a follow-up album that was unfortunately plagued by delays, suggesting that he might not be able to maintain his one-time visionary genius. But he kept busy in the meantime, with “Ebony and Ivory,” his racial-harmony duet with Paul McCartney, which hit number one and found a music home on his greatest-hits set, Original Musiquarium I, which featured his biggest hits from 1972-1982. That was followed by his production of the soundtrack to the Gene Wilder comedy The Woman in Red, which wasn’t quite a full-fledged Stevie Wonder album but did feature a number of new songs, including “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” While absolutely adored by the public (it was his biggest-selling single ever), the cheeky number was panned by critics, but nonetheless, “I Just Called to Say I Love You” was an across-the-board number one smash, and won Stevie an Oscar for Best Song.

But finally, in 1985, Wonder completed his Hotter than July follow-up, In Square Circle, which was led by his last chart topping solo single, “Part Time Lover.” He also performed on the number one charity singles “We Are the World” by USA for Africa and “That’s What Friends Are For” by Dionne Warwick & Friends, and returned quickly with a new album, Characters, in 1987. The record wasn’t a hit on the  pop charts, but found music life on the R&B charts, giving lead single, “Skeletons” a lot more music bones, as well as becoming his final release of the ’80s. Wonder wouldn’t return to form until 1991 with the soundtrack to the Spike Lee film Jungle Fever, with his next full album of new material, 1995’s Conversation Peace, becoming a commercial flop despite winning two Grammys for the single “For Your Love.”

Pretty much since the late ’90s all the way until today, Motown has released a number of remasters and compilations attempting to define and repackage Wonder’s vast legacy and to undoubtedly make sure his memorable music catalog keeps on going from generation to generation. These music days, there’s no need to argue that his mystical, powerful musical influences helped paved the way for the neo-soul movement that came to prominence in the late ’90s. The words on this page truly only scratched the surface of Wonder’s impact on contemporary popular music, all the more reason for his rightful induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. For those who got the dubious chance to see him this past summer at Philly’s Dilworth Park for his surprise pop up concert, and for those that are seeing him during his Songs In The Key Of Life Tour, are truly lucky to get to be in the presence of such music greatness, because truly, they certainly don’t make them like Stevie anymore.

Go on, Mr. Wonder.