Tuesday, October 18, 2005

"Bone-A-Fide," the new offering from T-Bone has hit the shelves in Christian music stores as well as mainstream record shacks.

T-Bone is one of the pioneers of Christian rap. He's been in the game for over ten years now. He's had his share of detractors and his share of supporters, each with their own view of his career.

Many of the differences of opinion about T-Bone really boil down to one's ability to reconcile the music and street lingo that come with rap music with the high-minded ideals that are the hallmarks of Christian music. Bone skids along each edge, and you're never quite certain where he's about to go. In one lyric, he's offering up praise to God, and in the other he's offering a not so subtle dis against music critics and other gospel rappers.

To understand Bone, you have to go back to the beginning. I should clarify first that I've always been a fan of T-Bone's work, so that may color this review a bit. His first efforts back in the 90's weren't his best, though. He had a lot of polishing to be done, was in desperate need of some good beats and hooks, and didn't really have much of a niche to inhabit in the Christian music world. The first time I remember seeing him at all was in Carman's laughably done travesty "R.I.O.T." which, while I admire the purpose, was blatantly an attempt to ape pop culture by a person who was (a.) too old, and (b.) far too un-hip to do so. T-Bone branched out on his own, though, and recorded the Hoodlum CDs. He very nearly made the mistake Carman made by trying to mimic the styles of the time. There was very little of T-Bone stylistically present on these discs. That's not to say he wasn't there in the lyrics, but you kinda got the feeling that you were listening to someone do their best impression of Snoop or some other West Coast rapper. The constant references to 2pac almost seemed like an attempt to be cool by attaching himself to their coattails. It almost masked the truth that T-Bone is a great rapper in and of himself and that he was just trying to give his influences props.

That all changed with 2001's "Da Last Street Preacha." The early 2000's were a difficult time for rap. Hip-hop had lost almost all of its leaders with the deaths of 2pac, Biggie, and Eazy E. It floundered for a bit, trying to identify the sound for the new millenium. Because of this, T-Bone didn't have a current trend to really identify himself with, and therefore, something amazing happened. T-Bone stopped relying on the image of others and developed his own. He let it all hang on and showed us what true "boneybone" style was. The CD was amazing and deserved its Grammy nomination. Bone has come a long way from indie Christian records and prison concerts--almost as far as he's come from his gangsta past.

The new CD, "Bone-A-Fide" outdoes them all. The beats are tight and the hooks are out of this world. Bone flows like water and proves once and for all that he's not just a good Christian rapper--he's actually one of the best rappers out there period.

It does take a walk into the mainstream, only this time it pushes it farther by including collaborations from secular gangsta rappers like Mack 10 and Chino XL. These are probably the first albums they've appeared on that don't carry parental advisory stickers. It's an unlikely marriage but it doesn't detract from the overall message of the album. It actually serves to enhance the message that the word of God and morality can reach what was previously considered unreachable. It shows that Bone's message is not just for the people in the pews, but rather for the people in the crack houses and strip clubs. T-Bone makes it clear that he's not selling out, even though he's attempting to reach a more mainstream audience.

Long story short, this CD is worth buying. Parents who are looking for a good, positive, curse-free rap record for their children should run, not walk, to the nearest shop and pick it up. People who are looking for a really good record by a positive, conscious rapper should get this as soon as possible.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Hey RIAA! Monitor This!

Those of you who download commercially available music, listen up. There's a way to get a lot of good music free and legally. Well, at least there is if you're a customer of the following stores and locations:

Rasputin Music and Dimple Records in California
Zia Record Exchange in Arizona
Graywhale CD Exchange in Utah
Independent Records in Colorado
Cats Music/Pop Tunes/Sonic/Monster in Tennessee, South Carolina, and Florida
The Record Exchange in North Carolina and Virginia
Scotti's Record Shops in New Jersey
Gallery of Sound in Pennsylvania
J&R Music in NYC
Bull Moose Music in Portland Maine and New Hampshire

The bi-monthly disc is called "Monitor This," and it provides full tracks from 20 or 21 different albums for listeners to sample (and then hopefully buy the CD associated with the song.)

Oh, and by the way, if you aren't fortunate enough to live near any of these locations, you can visit them online and stream the whole CD.

Now with most sampler CDs, you get a lot of non-established bands with nondescript songs, most of which you'd never expect to hear on the air. That's not the case with "Monitor This." You get top notch bands and top notch songs, though some of them may not be popular quite yet. Let's put it this way: the first "Monitor This" CD I picked up sat around for a while because I didn't know the artists. However, once a month had passed, I found it in my collection and realized it featured Evanescence, Jason Mraz, Simple Plan, and Revis before I even knew who they were. Since then, I haven't missed a disc.

Over the past three years, "Monitor This" discs have featured artists like Jane's Addiction, Dandy Warhols, Van Morrison, Finger Eleven, Nickelback, A Perfect Circle, Jet, Warren Zevon, R.E.M., Iggy Pop, Nelly Furtado, Primus, P.O.D., Moby, Counting Crows, Coldplay, Joss Stone, Polyphonic Spree, Twista, Tantric, Courtney Love, James Taylor, Cypress Hill, N.E.R.D., Norah Jones, The Vines, Ingram Hill, D12, Lenny Kravitz, Gene Simmons, Skillet, Beenie Man, Jill Scott, Quincy Jones, Breaking Benjamin, Bjork, Jimmy Eat World, Papa Roach, Elvis Costello, Korn, My Chemical Romance, Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, Chingy, Anthony Hamilton, Jackson Browne, Beck, Lifehouse, Lyfe Jennings, and the Game, just to name a few.

One listener described the disc as a "Now That's What I Call Music" CD sent back from the future.

The past 2 issues featured these sweet tracks: "Come On, Come In" by Velvet Revolver, "Wordplay" by Jason Mraz, "Sittin' Sidewayz" by Paul Wall, "Hello Lonely" by Theory of a Deadman, "These Words" by Natasha Bedingfield, "Welcome to Jamrock" by Damian Jr Gong Marley, "Save Me" by Shinedown, "Photograph" by Nickelback, "Supastar" by Floetry, "Wings of a Butterfly" by HIM, "Get Stoned" by Hinder, and "Happens All the Time" by Cold. There are more, but you can get the full list (and listen to them) at www.monitorthis.com.

If you just want to listen, go to the page. If you actually want a copy of the disc, there's only one catch: you have to buy one of the CDs featured on the disc (though many of the stores I mentioned earlier aren't necessarily strict on that, as long as you buy something or at least look around for a while!)

It's completely legal, and it's a good thing. The RIAA can't sue you for it, and you can get a ton of the music you want for a very reasonable (sometimes free!) price. You'll find yourself looking forward to its release every other month!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Percy Miracles: The Ladies Champ EP has got to be the worst promotional CD in recent history.

A quick glance at the cover doesn't offer much hope. There's someone on the cover apparently trying to eat his microphone all while hoping to look like Rick James with a mouthful of gold teeth. Quick research shows that Percy is part of a touring group called "Little Brother" who are currently involved in the Fall 2005 Hip Hop Soul : Music We Wish Was on the Radio compilation. Doesn't sound good. Atlantic Records published this, so it must be a case of hideous image/perfect vocals, right?


The first track, "Sweet Percy," was a trip into auditory hell. Not only were ALL the vocals completely flat, but the lyrics were hokey and cornier than the whole state of Iowa. It starts off with a terrible riff on Eminem in the first track where Percy's saying "Turn it up in my headphones. That's what all the young people like to say in the beginning of their rap records." Yeah, THAT won't alienate your young fan base.

There's a bunch of attempts at stylistic vibrato that just sound like someone who didn't quite make it on to American Idol.

There's this absurd moral bent on the first track. Don't get me wrong; I'm not against morality in black music at all. I just think it's way cliche to have a record that's otherwise completely hedonistic and/or just complete crap then have the artist drop in one nice Godly tune to try to assuage his or her conscience of it. It's also hard to believe you're some big role model when your collaborations are by artists going by the names of "Poohnany" and "Big Trick." (I've never understood why they don't just call themselves "Vagina" and "Prostitute." Same thing, right?)

A sample of the lyrics at their rock bottom: "You have God, you have Jesus, you have the Son and the Holy Ghost/I said 'oh my father, oh my God, that means the most.'" A third grader could compose the lyrics. And in the end, the artist knows that he can succeed and overcome in life simply because of the fact that he is, and I quote, "sweet sweet Percy."


I checked out all the other tracks, and they're basically the same. Percy sure does talk a whole lot, and most of the time it's some fake hokum nostalgia about what nightclubs were like when he was young (probably speak-easies.)

There's an odd tribute to his old music teacher. Percy's talking again, and then he starts speaking in some child voice and then in a woman's voice, which is the point where most of you are probably turning the CD off, much like this reviewer did.

If you turn it back on, you will find a short non-musical message about how abused wives can be stars and girl you just KEEP that head up, which is then followed up by a ballad about some evil woman who cheated on him, with the last lines being "For that light-skinded b***h that broke my heart/you dumb b***h/i saw ya tongue kissin' him/i saw your t*ts/show me your t*ts b***h/i saw you say let me see your p***s/you mean this/it's the cleanest/that s**t wasn't right/i got love for you/now i'm going back with my boo/dumb a** hoe/ f**k penn state n***a." Aren't dichotomies grand?

The back of this soon-to-be-thrown-away EP package says this: "He's sold over 10,000,000 records in
Bulgaria... His concerts have sold out community centers around the world..."

Wow bragging rights galore, eh?? However I don't think the last line is true: "He's back to reclaim (wait, don't you have to have been it once before in order to reclaim???) his title as 'De Kaing of Black Music.'" Well, "Kaing," you can start by sitting on the throne that your promo EP was just flushed down.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Natasha Bedingfield's new CD, Unwritten, is one of the better pop CDs on the market.

The album was met with mixed expectations. Music lovers remembered her brother's CD from a couple years ago, and while that album was a good effort, it seemed a little too saccharine at times. They should've known better than to compare siblings, though, because in this case, Natasha delivers the goods with both power-pop hooks and amazing vocals.

Unwritten begins with the Top 10 hit "These Words (I Love You)" and doesn't stop there. Natasha belts out the lyrics, with a sass not heard since Pink fell off the charts. She's no Britney, and she lets you know it right away. Not content to whisper her songs, she belts them out with an amazing range and an incredibly strong voice. Unlike many other pop stars, she doesn't need to mask a sub-par voice with raspy, low-pitched vocals or depend on sexy videos to make up for lack of talent (though she is easy on the eyes.) She comes off powerfully and surprisingly soulful for a Brit.

Download "These Words" if you need a sample. Otherwise, hurry out and buy this CD!