REVIEW: Eve’s “Lip Lock”

Eve photo Eve13_cover_zps0d9706e5.jpg On one hand, Lip Lock is Eve’s long awaited follow-up to her Eve-Olution album that she released eleven years. While a lot of other rappers would have given up with music and went a different route, Eve isn’t about to give up. In fact, she sounds as great as she always has and she definitely shows the void in female rappers in today’s mainstream hip-hop scene. Lip Lock (From The Rib/RED) has her catering to perceived modern tastes, so musically this is not the Eve of 2002. This is Eve 2013 style, with her rhyming over modern hip-hop and even a few dubstep songs, and yet through it all, it still sounds like the standards Eve created for herself. She’s never been afraid of merging with pop, as her duet with Gwen Stefani showed, and if she were to ever do a track with Lady Gaga, it would sound like “Keep Me From You” which features former Danity Kane member Dawn Richard in the Gaga role. While Snoop Dogg is listed in the assistance of “Mama In The Kitchen”, his contribution is limited to repeating the song title and three extra words. That’s it, no special verse or anything and with Eve proclaiming that she’s the lioness, it would have been perfect if Snoop brought his Snoop Lion persona to the song. No such luck. The instrumental sounds like indie rock chopped samples mixed in with a synthesized college band horn section. It may come off as a musical oxymoron but the vibe blends well, thanks to producer Swizz Beatz. Or since “Forgive Me” has a nice reggae vibe to it, maybe Snoop would have been welcome to drop a verse there, but with a lyric where she refers to having a “fire chocha”, one can only imagine how Snoop would’ve followed that up. “All Night” is a nice one produced by The Neptunes, in their trademark style of creating fantastic sounds that may come off as familiar but is definitely not.

“Grind Or Die” sounds like something Diplo would have thrown her way, but by this point in the album, it comes off like classic Eve with the kind of music she could have easily been doing in the last eleven years. Maybe she wanted to avoid overkill or watering down her music (or simply wanted to take a break from music), but the album credits say some of these songs date themselves as far back as 2007. Even if they are from that time period, they aren’t dated by any means. (Then again, we’re also not sure how these songs were tweaked to make them song more now than then.) The album ends with a remix of “She Bad Bad” that brings in Pusha T. and Juicy J, who tear up the track nicely. While I would have preferred for Eve to close the song, Juicy J.’s verse wraps things up nicely. The song that is sure to get a lot of attention is the one with Missy Elliott and Nacho, “Wanna Be”, where Elliott splits herself up in four with a melodious voice during the chorus, and the Elliott octave divider trio that would be what it might sound like if she was each member of Outkast. The last proper song features vocalist Chrisette Michele, “Never Gone”, where Eve thanks those who have supported her over the years and while her departure seemed longer than the norm, she explains herself lyrically and with the song title. It has a nice R&B/pop feel.

The downside is that with a pop song as the album’s proper ending and a remix which closes the presentation, Lip Lock sounds like an open-ended album, or that it isn’t quite complete. Up until the end, the sequencing of the songs and the styles presented blend well as a representation of what Eve is about and how she presents herself as an artist. The music begins with the modern production styles before having her rhyme over the type of music that made her a star. Without a proper moral of the story, it lacks the kind of “fuck you” punch Eve is more than capable of delivering. A possible remedy would be for listeners to rearrange the sequence so that Lip Lock could end in fine style. Lyrically and musically, Eve is in fine form and while this album is not 100 percent perfect, it is better than 95 percent of what is being passed off as hip-hop these days.

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REVIEW: Robert Glasper Experiment’s “Black Radio”

Photobucket Robert Glasper has been one of the more adventurous jazz artists in the last 5 years, managing to get a hold of a hip-hop following for his recreations of Dilla-productions while showing how much of a renaissance man he can be with some of his works. Black Radio (Blue Note) was gaining attention months before it was released, as people were discovering who would be sitting in on this album. It was a bevy of guests, and one by one, the names were being dropped. Was Glasper wanting to be more accessible, or simply widening his pallet? Nothing wrong with either, but it was the music people were either to hear.

Black Radio could be a statement. This is a collection of all new material with The Robert Glasper Experiment collaborating with a number of soul vocalists and a few rappers to show what “black radio” is all about. However, if one were to turn to the average black radio station in 2012, you might not hear any of these artists. Perhaps that’s the point. The album is a throwback to the soul of the mid to late 70’s and early 80’s, back when music felt like family and the people involved were loved and respected as aunties, uncles, and grandparents. You respected your elders, you never raised a hand or voice, and much of that family vibe was carried on by some but ignored or passed off as non-essential. As soul music changed into something else, it remained hidden but was always. It manifested itself with a new name, but the neo-soul pushed by the media was nothing more than the old soul, and being old was not looked upon. But it had to be neo, be it new or neon, and sadly, going back to a soulful and funky vibe would eventually divide people into thinking modern R&B was what the music was all about, while everything else was “jazz”, code word for “old people music”. If you want me to be blunt, consider this music of the old people.

When you hear people like Erykah Badu, Ledisi, KING, Me’Shell NdegeOcello, and Lalah Hathaway, you are hearing some damn good soul. In this context, you also tend to hear the roots of this music, which is very much in the jazz tradition. You hear the warmth and sexiness of some of these tracks, but that leans to gospel too, the feel good jubilation that is very much about spirituality and a relief that one has made it through one more day. Musiq and Chrisette Michele duet in “Ah Yeah”, but the vocalist who literally steals this album is someone that I was not fond of when I bought his debut album. In fact, I put it on eBay right after I bought it. Over the years, I’ve changed my mind and now get into what he’s doing. That singer is Bilal, and he has two songs to his name, “Letter To Hermione” and “Always Shine”, the latter featuring Lupe Fiasco.

The music is perfect for a Sunday afternoon picnic, but as I had stated in my brief comment about it on Twitter, one wants to hear this with scented oils and a pitcher of water on the nightstand, it’s that type of album. You can dance, you can slow dance, you can relax and celebrate this with friends, or you can get nude and turn off all the lights, but it’s an album that is meant to be listened to as a whole, first and foremost. The album was once celebrated as an invitation to the party, if not an emotion or mood, and this is a party you wish you did not have to leave.

The album ends with a smooth and luxurious cover of Nirvana‘s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, and as a longtime Nirvana fan, I wondered how they were going to do this. Glasper does a brilliant job. As for its placement here, it might be a statement in itself. More than likely, whatever the state of black radio is in 2012, this album will probably be ignored. It might be heard on a few smooth jazz radio stations, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Nirvana cover received the most attention. It should, as the arrangement might startle those who are used to the original’s solidarity for individuality, but Black Radio is very much in the same vein. As the last verse in the song states:
“and I forget just why I taste
oh yeah, I guess it makes me smile
I found it hard, it’s hard to find
oh well, whatever, nevermind”

Has soul and jazz been tossed off and forgotten, in a “eh, nevermind, who cares” manner? The song originally ended with Kurt Cobain singing “a denial”, and in a way, is black radio in 2012 in denial of the true strengths and power of the music. Yes, this music very much can make you and I smile, and when you turn on the radio, sometimes it’s so hard to find. Fuck it, nevermind, it’s not here. As distant as Nirvana may be to soul, funk, and jazz, the moment you isolate any musical and lyrical reference without its costume, you realize how distant the music has become from… itself?

It’s something to ponder, but maybe if one really needs to find the good stuff, then Robert Glasper is offering people a chance to tune into his network. Black radio once served the community, and perhaps Black Radio is meant to do that for those who wish to seek what has been lost, or at least to relocate the musical welcome mat that was arguably destroyed by gentrification, from the outside or the inside.

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