The BET Awards played Sunday night. They didn’t play so much as they occurred. It was a mixture of bad taste, poor production and confused purposes. What was initially intended to be their annual slickly produced presentation of the current state of affairs in the Urban Music community was disrupted by the sudden and tragic death of The King of Pop. In a fit of cultural responsibility, BET was forced to do the thing that it does least well: honor the rich, historic legacy of the Black Music experience.
To be totally fair, the timing of Michael Jackson’s demise on Thursday, not only caught the channel ill-prepared to celebrate the life of the most successful artist to ever receive exposure through its feed, but it made the larger point that the Urban Music community didn’t quite know what to make of the passing of the legend. He hadn’t exactly been revered in the later stages of his life, and it was apparent that not many of those in attendance had given much thought to his circumstances recently, and they were not quite certain why their moment to shine had to be used to honor a guy who hadn’t been hot in years. But who can blame them? The fallen superstar’s own father took advantage of a red carpet opportunity to promote the launch of a new label to be helmed by him.
JAMIE FOXX THE HOST OF THE BET OCCURRENCE
As the host of the evening’s proceedings, Jamie Foxx was doing too much. He was there to promote his latest J Records release, provide witty master of ceremonies banter coming out of the commercials, and pay tribute to the music and persona of Michael Jackson. The poor casting choice of Foxx, and Ne-Yo singing the J5 classic “I’ll Be There” was a colossal mistake. Ne-Yo performing, “The Lady In My Life” was more than the young LA Reed protégé should have been entrusted with, and The Cash Money clique performance with Drake, its hot property of the moment, dramatically illustrated how strong production does not necessarily produce artists with the ability to deliver on stage. Perhaps it could all have been blamed on the alcohol. BTW- the performance of Hova’s new joint that proclaims the “Death Of Auto-Tune” prompted Foxx (in a post-game interview) to defend his smash “Blame It On The Alcohol” for its liberal use of the studio device made hot by the ubiquitous production style of T-Pain. T-Pain can only hope that Jay-Z’’s pronouncement falls on the apparently deaf ears of the current Urban A & R community.
OVERDONE? FRIEND TO THE DEAF?
There were some highlights; the O’Jays, members of the 2005 class of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame were given a “Lifetime Achievement Award”. Tevin Campbell was in fine form and looks like he may be on the comeback trail. Action adventure star, Tyrese shone brightly as a member of an O’Jays tribute group that included, Johnny Gill and Trey Songs. I wondered if Mr. Songs had ever owned or heard the group’s classic Gamble & Huff produced “Family Reunion” or the Afro-centric “Ship Ahoy”. If so, his performance didn’t suggest a familiarity with the material. I’m a little partial to the O’Jays as I’d been assigned to work with them during my days as an EMI A & R executive. My input consisted of agreeing with pretty much everything they wanted to do, and our collaboration resulted in the mid tempo, “Somebody Else Will” turning into a highly charting radio hit. It’s worth noting that lead singer Eddie Levert also lost two performing sons to untimely death, Shawn and the legendary, Gerald, two members of the excellent trio, Levert.
Overall, it appears that Black Music is, at best, in a transitional period. The sales of the Michael Jackson catalogue are reasserting the strength of the currently underserved Black Pop market; their hunger is not quite being satiated by Chris Brown and Ne-Yo. Soul-based music fans have been driven underground and are making the music of Eric Roberson, Ledisi, N’Dambi, Conya Doss, Raphael Saadiq, Jill Scott and other so called, Neo Soul artists a viable alternative to “mainstream” industry market dominance. I didn’t see any of the previously mentioned artists on the BET Awards.
The King is pulling the industry out of its doldrums in the same way he did when “Thriller” was originally released in ’82. Back then he had a little help from the late great, Luther Vandross when the same label released Luther’s second album, “Forever, For Always, For Love.” Those 8 songs really began to pave the way (economically speaking) for the strongest live attraction in the history of Black Music. Luther was a ladies’ favorite, and could pack almost any sized venue with his tributes to romance. This time, another ladies’ choice may provide some needed lift: Maxwell.
THE LADIES CHOICES
Next tuesday, Maxwell will release his fourth full length studio recording since his 1996 debut “Urban Hang Suite” his homage to Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You.” “Blacksummer’snight” is the first installment of a trilogy to be released over the next two years, and is a follow up to “Now” the smash collection that provided a needed soothing source of reassurance in the wake of the September 11 disaster. Nearly eight years later, and amidst great anticipation the soul man has dropped “Pretty Wings” which to these ears sounds like the record of the year thus far. It’s the first track from the project, and it’s a gently apologetic mid-tempo tale of remorse that has become the fastest mover in the history of the Urban AC chart. The Prince influenced vocal starts with the sound of a glockenspiel/chimes in it’s intro that recalls Michael Jackson’s cover of the Stevie Wonder lullaby “With A Child’s Heart” and closes with a vamp that features a horn chart that references the Rascals’ “It’s A Beautiful Morning.” The video clip of the cut is a gorgeous slice of fantasy that intercuts a more simply styled Maxwell performing the song without the afro or braids, and singing on a simple set while three different paramours are set free through their dreams of Maxwell and begin to float upwards. Beautiful imagery.
AFTER EIGHT YEARS…THE SILENCE ENDS ON TUESDAY
The new single “Bad Habits” is a pleasing bit of reggae funk about addictive love. But the show stopper is “Stop The World” a joyous celebration of conquest that features some prominent organ playing, crisp drumming and begging that ends all too soon.
In 2006 I spearheaded a return to the music business for the too long absent D’Angelo. In August of that year I participated in a meeting in New York with the Neo bad boy, his then label Virgin and their former Black Music chief, Jermaine Dupri. While in New York, I was staying at Eric Goode’s Maritime Hotel, and on the morning of the meeting I awoke in a hotel with no running water. August in New York is particularly unforgiving, and the prospect of a label meeting without a shower was out of the question. The hotel manager on duty was kind enough to pay for cab fare and an admission to the 10th Street Baths the legendary Turkish sweat lodge, and spa to the hip hop elite. After a steam, sauna and massage I was resting in one of the common areas in the facility and I ran into Maxwell. We’d seen each other around campus since the beginning of his career. Since I knew that he’d been recording for sometime, I asked, “How was the new record coming?”
He said, “Fine.” He was underselling.
1 love to Manjit, The Ep, Stuart Mattheman, Toure, David Belgrave, The Ab, Bonnie Thornton, Melissa King, Wah Wah Watson, Spy Bar, Ken Wilson RIP Frankie Crocker