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Archive for January, 2013

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Saturday, I was forced to write about the passing of the Ohio Players frontman, Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner, how funky he was and how he and his band mates were a topnotch ensemble of progressive musicians with deep roots in the church.. I emailed the blog to several friends, including a former label mate who has signed hit records, and artists and writes as well. Via return e-mail, she lamented how infrequently I blog, and I let her know that the muse might get me in cyber-print more often.

Had I given it more thought before I wrote back, it would have dawned on me that what was really missing is the general absence of funk, that bluesy, greasy, wayward child of soul that I was reared on.

I spoke with the Epicurean on Sunday morning. Early adopters of this blog will recall that because I went out on the Rock The Bells of skool hip hop tour of ‘08 as his guest, I came back from a month on the road filled with inspiration that I dared to share with my readers.

We got caught up; what the Knicks are shaping up to be, the merits of the new Cinemax series, Banshee, the honeys and Kendrick Lamar’s appearance the previous night on Saturday Night Live were all topics of conversation. The Ep congratulated me on tipping him and several others to how hot the young MC from Compton, USA was going to be and commented that, “It must feel good to know that you can still pick ‘em, huh?” Pickin’ ‘em early ain’t hard when they’re funky, and Kendrick Lamar most definitely is that.

Last fall, I intended to write something insightful about his major label debut “good kid, M.a.a.D. city”, something meaningful about his sense of place and time, his use of art as a weapon to fight his way out of the ghetto and share his vision with the world. I wanted to write about his poetic story telling ability that allowed listeners to “see” the small, rhythmic and cinematic gems that made his album the best record that I heard last year. I wanted to write about his sense of family, community and humor that permeates the project. And the sense of loss that gives the young MC the gravity to see it all so clearly.

But I didn’t because I didn’t think my writing would do the music justice, after all, I’m an entertainment exec, not a critic, and then it occurred to me that all I really wanted to write was this: Kendrick Lamar has been what I’ve been missing in music. I’m glad he decided to bless us with his skills.

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The R

Today we celebrate the birthday of one of the greats. and show our appreciation for his contribution. As he turns 45 -a milestone worth noting -we want to remind those who know, and inform those who don't, that Rakim Allah was as dope as it gets.

Because of the vague and less than codified commercial environment that gave rise to the hip hop business of the '80s, it's not clear to many who weren't there at the time, that he is one of the greats. When mainstream media discusses the legends and pioneers, his name doesn't come up when Run, Chuck D, Q-Tip and the Beasties do because he wasn't with labels that were as deeply committed or as financially equipped to exposing his genius as the others were. But like his more troubled but equally gifted contemporary, Slick Rick, he was one of the two greatest and most influential MCs of hip hop's golden age.

When he and his partner Eric B dropped "Eric B Is President" the major labels were not quite in business with hip hop yet. Def Jam was two years past having released "I Need A Beat" the company's debut release by LL Cool J, and was early into a distribution arrangement with CBS Records. "The Show" b/w "La Di Da Di," the smash 12" single by Doug E. Fresh and The Get Fresh Crew ft. the inimitable Slick Rick on beat box and vocals had come out the summer before and introduced a new direction from Harlem, USA that would soon be dubbed the "New Jack Swing". Jive Records had yet to sign Blastmaster KRS-1, but they were enjoying a strong run at the Black Radio format with WBLS-FM DJ, Mr. Magic's proteges, Whodini. MTV had not yet launched Yo MTV Raps. Tommy Boy Records hadn't released De La Soul or Queen Latifah yet, and hip hop was heard in clubs, sparingly on the radio, and was embraced by a rabid underground fan base.

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THE R AND ERIC B

On the whole, in New York, with few exceptions, rap records were confined to mix show exposure on weekends and the majority of them never received the regular rotation that would have given them longer life spans. WRKS-FM was chasing a youth demo and was the most likely to rock the realness with intensity, and so it was there on a Saturday night in May of ’86. I heard “Eric B Is President” for the first time. At the time, I was an independent promotion exec with the contacts, credibility and juice to get a rap record into a regular rotation, so I made it my business to be on the lookout for hot new releases that were signed to labels without the clout or connects to get their record rocked properly, so I listened to mix shows because I was on the lookout for opportunity and because hip hop provided hours of endlessly entertaining listening.

Red Alert was one of the weekend jocks on WRKS-FM with a mix show, and it was during his three hour weekly set that I heard the gravel voiced MC with the nasally delivery, and funky flow over the tricky stop and go kick drum program with the bass line from Fonda Rae’s “Over Like A Fat Rat.” At the time, Red didn’t crack the mike to speak, so I couldn’t tell who the brash newcomer was who was kicking it about how he, “came through the door/ heard it before/,” and how he would, “never let the mic magnetize me no more.”

The following week, I ran into Red on the set for the video of Run/DMC’s “Walk This Way” and asked what was the hottest new record he was playing at the time. He said, “That joint by Eric B and Rakim.”

“Who’s that?” I asked.

That joint where the kid says, “You thought I was a doughnut/you tried to glaze me.”

Very dangerous record. The previous Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class that included the Beastie Boys, left Eric B and Rakim on the outside looking in. True hip hop heads who are concerned about such matters were bewildered by the slight, and made their disappointment known. Questions of an uninformed voting body that didn’t recognize authenticity arose. Murmurs of racism could be heard. Personally, I am not certain that Rakim has recorded enough to be recognized, but if its a question of pure talent, there has never been a rapper with more. Happy birthday Rakim, everything changed after you got on the mic.

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Back when everything coming out of the radio was funky, the Ohio Players were amongst the funkiest. In the early '70s they'd had a modest run of important and mildly commercially successful releases that were fronted by keyboardist and vocalist, Junie Morrison. Their string of dope and provocatively titled albums "Pain", "Pleasure", "Climax" and "Ecstasy" were required listening. The album covers were crazy. Classic color flicks of hotties covered in honey, provocatively dressed as fireman, wearing leather, and chains or tantalizingly threatening to tame undisciplined lovers with whips. The music was progressive; a combination of jazz, blues, gospel and acid that stuck to your ribs like home cooking. They were the truth.

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A dispute within the band and with their label, caused them to leave the independently distributed Westbound Records and sign with Mercury, one of the corporate recording giants of the era, and to switch lead vocalists to the blues influenced guitarist, Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner. These proved to be fortuitous decisions.

It was early ’74 when the newly configured Players released “Skintight” the title track from the classic album for Mercury and begin what ultimately proved to be the commercial and creative peak for the band. This was also the first single that featured “Sugarfoot” on lead vocals. He was blusey, churcy and street all at the same time. His guitar perfecly complimented his lustful and tender features on “Fire”, “Love Rollercoaster” and the classic, “Heaven Must Be Like This”. A few hours ago, I found out that “Sugarfoot” died, the world is a little less funky tonight. RIP

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Sugarfoot

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The Poet

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BOBBY WOMACK

I’m taking some time off of Facebook. Too many posts of uniformed opinions by shallow and callous people were wearing me down and increasingly, it became less and less inspiring. I don’t want to come off as someone who needs FB for inspiration, but when it is good, I have a network of friends, contacts and associates who have thoughtful and witty observations to share, and insightful comments and opinions to offer on a wide array of topics. I consider myself blessed, and I am grateful to have access to the various ways that many of them think.

I like to be informed, and one of the things that I enjoy most about the site is the newsfeed feature. I have curated my group page “likes” so that several well respected news organizations send developing and breaking stories across my monitor all day. I also have many friends in media so they augment that news flow with personal posts from publications that I may or may not have on my newsfeed.

I have missed a story or two since late last year because I am curbing my TV habit too. Are these New Year’s resolutions? I don’t know, but I am resolved to both read and write more, and I can’t seem to figure out how to do more of either if I’m watching TV or surfing FB all the time. In my attempt to regain my time and make it more productive, I have restricted my social media get down to Twitter and Tumblr. As a result, I have discovered an amazing Tumblr page called The Electric Typewriter. It’s an amazing site that contains essays and articles written by top shelf journalists and authors. Check it out when you can.

And on Twitter, one of my former label mates, Tweeted a story that has shocked many of us in the music and arts community, Soul Music icon and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, Bobby Womack has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. One of the greatest singer/song writers of my childhood will no longer be able to remember the words to “Harry Hippy”, “A Woman’s Gotta Have It”, “Across 110th Street” and “I Can Understand It”. This latest tragic development comes on the heels of his recent recovery from colon cancer.

We only met once. He had a hit duet with the ’60s British blue eyed soul singer Lulu. The president of EMI got excited about the record and in a label wide marketing meeting, he announced that he would be proud to sign Bobby Womack. I am not certain that anyone in the room knew who he was or how to reach him for a meeting-so I did my thing.

Legendary entrepreneur Sparkie Martin was the manager at the time. I reached out and set up a morning meeting that they were on time for. Even though it was 10:00 AM, Bobby had already been drinking. It made no difference to me; I was honored to be in the presence of a great historic figure.

It was soon apparent that Bobby really had no intention of signing with some kid at a major label, but he was upbeat and polite. Once we got that out of the way, I played demos for him from D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar” album so that I could get his take. I told him that I’d run into Isaac Hayes on a flight from LA, and given him a lift home. During the ride, I’d also played the same demos for Black Moses, and he said, “Damn, he sounds like me, don’t he?”

Bobby didn’t hesitate and said, “Isaac is full of shit. He ain’t never sounded this good.” Bobby may have already forgotten that he said it, but along with his music, I never will.

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Shouts to Edna Collison, Darnell Martin, Amy Linden and Soul City</p

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