GV – Live Performance of “Full Time Grind”
For a website like OnStage which is actually focused on live performances it’s always nice to feature a live performance video and even better when the video is from our favorite rappers, Gangsta Villains. This was shot at Ras Lounge which is fast becoming the sound stage for emerging artists in the DMV. As with smaller venues, there is a challenge for video shooters of tightness, lighting, and sound quality. But typically for GV they just get onstage and go. “Full Time Grind” displays the stage presence and gritty high energy they are known for and that we think will keep them lighting up venues for quite a while. You can check out more videos from the group in the OnStage Video Showcase, and at GV’s YouTube channel. Follow them on Twitter @Real_GV for info on upcoming shows.
HOP DA Great – “Life of the Music”
Somebody on Twitter said that posting links to videos would never help an artist get a recording contract. Maybe so, but if you are an artist posting links to really good videos you definitely aren’t harming your chances of getting noticed. We checked out a link to a video by HOP DA GREAT and if he doesn’t have, or doesn’t end up with, a recording contract then good luck to the thousands of hopeful hip hop artists who are nowhere near as good as he is. “Life of the Music" is a solid song and video that preceded another really good “themed” video “Motivation PT 2”. Both showcase his musical dexterity and are extremely well produced. We’re looking forward to see what the future brings for HOP DA GREAT. You can look forward to seeing more of his videos in the OnStage Video Showcase.
Lefty Gunna – “I’m Still Here”
The best Rap lyrics paint story lines that listeners can relate to, and old school narratives still do this a lot better than most of what we hear from so many younger MC’s these days. Hard times, grinding, 40’s, and disappointing our mothers are part of the reality of the urban landscape. Lamborghinis, $40,000 chains, moving “tons” of cocaine and dropping bodies, all while never going to prison or having ever traveled more than 50 miles from the neighborhood you grew up in, is that BMF wannabe fantasy BS we keep hearing though. That’s why “Block Boss” Lefty Gunna and his old school video “I’m Still Here” is so poignant and impressive for us. It skips the pretentiousness and keeps the beats even, the flow raw, and the visual backdrop recognizable. DC is the home of swagger so yes there’s bravado, and even more in his newer video “Money on My Mind” but it rings truer coming from the Block Boss.
Young Roach – “Girls Wanna Party”
A basic prerequisite for a Hip Hop video is that it should either make you think, or make you dance. When it does neither it’s a waste of time. In “Girls Wanna Party” Pittsburg MC Young Roach strikes gold with the “… make you dance” rule, delivering up a bouncy tune full of catchy phrases. The story line is hilarious. Add to that the video is well shot with subtle transitions and effortlessly slides in product placement for Clique Vodka, and you’ve got a winner. We’re lining up an interview with Young Roach so won’t say much more here except check out “Girls Wanna Party” and take a look at his other videos on YouTube. He’s having fun and why not? There’s a lot of artistry and potential there. And oh yeah, Shout Out to the Honey Badgers!
Nu-Era – “I Speak”
R&B aficionados checking out this very well done video staring Nu-Era are probably comparing them to names they recollect from a storied list of great DC bands. One name that came to mind the first time we saw “I Speak” was the legendary DC group, the Unifics. If you know that Nu-Era and sibling group Trilogy III are the musical progeny of the great Osiris Marsh, the comparison is not a stretch by any means. With a career trajectory skillfully stewarded by manager Holly Howse, Nu-Era has deftly transitioned from cover songs of many of the great acts of the 60’s and 70’s to leveraging their collaboration with Trilogy III on songs like “Wassup” and “From BMore 2 DC”. It was just a matter of time before we were treated to a full blown original classic. Straight up traditional singing is a rare commodity in music today. Nu-Era is carving out a place beside the great DC groups that have gone before them.
I am going to start this review by stating my conclusion upfront: I believe that RAtheMC will one day be mentioned amongst the pantheon of elite female MC’s that includes the likes of MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Lauryn Hill, Salt-N-Pepa, Bahamadiah and, Da Brat. Now let me get into the review of her latest offering, The Grace Jones Experiment, which will detail some of the reasons I have come to that conclusion.
The album/mixtape is bookended by an intro and outro track titled “Jesse Boykins III” which features Ra giving the listener insight into why she chose the title of the project and what to expect, and then telling them her hopes for what they get out of it at the end. Both of those tracks also feature airy vocals that provide their own narrative to the project sung masterfully by, I’m sure you have guessed by now…Jesse Boykins III. That type of almost academic approach to beginning and ending the album give the listener a cue as to what is in store: something that the artist obviously took her time to actually THINK about. So much Hip-Hop music today is just a stream of throw away cliché-brand name-trending topic-latest gadget mentions strung together in a semi-entertaining fashion over a beat that sounds good on club speaker systems. That’s fine, if all you want to do is dance, but for those of us that actually grew up on Hip-Hop and revel in hearing it when it’s done well, we are often left wanting. RAtheMC definitely does not fall into that category.
Specifically speaking about this project though, there are some really good beats on here - from producers like P. Murph (Million Miles Away, Brand New), Lil Dope Boy Fresh (Believe), Slash Water Boy (Write It Down) and others, along with a some neo classics including The Rain produced by Timbaland and Dead Wrong which was originally done by Easy Mo Bee but the version here is the Hitmen produced remix. So let it be known that RA knows how to pick a beat. She also knows a thing or two about marrying good beats with great vocal performance as well. I said it that way because RA doesn’t just rap. Another thing that makes her stand out from the pack is that she can effortlessly weave back and forth between rapping and singing. In the current market where Estelle does this with great aplomb but firmly plants her feet in the R&B world and Nikki Minaj does it but plants her flag in the pop arena…it seems there is definitely space for this to be done well in Hip-Hop (since Lauryn appears to be gone for good). The line that once existed between R&B and Hip-Hop has been slowly eroding since Jody Watley collaborated with another great MC nicknamed RA (the track was called Friends for those of you who don’t know or didn’t remember) and has now officially vanished. While others are doing it too, not everybody makes it work. On the song Million Miles Away, RA successfully manages to essentially make a modern R&B record where her poignant rap at the beginning of the track sounds like a feature on her own song! Then she reverses that aesthetic on the uptempo “Believe” where she gets her man on the raps (with some well placed beat drops to highlight her witty wordplay) and RAtheSinger comes off as a featured R&B siren.
Throughout the project RA sprinkles samples of the real Grace Jones in interviews and even one from Boomerang where her character is being introduced and it comes off like she got Grace to agree to be the narrator. The clips speak to themes that RA mentions in her lyrics and the image which she has carved out for herself (an image that is diametrically opposed to the current trend of female MCs). The samples do one other thing for me, and that is they identify RA as an artist who painstakingly works at putting together a cohesive project that gives the listener more than just music and says she is not afraid to get her manicure dusty by digging through the crates to pull that off. This is Hip-Hop artistry at a very high level!
For fear of being too verbose Im going to quickly run through some other highlights. For those who are from DC , NE especially, “Where Brookland At” is a real treat as Ra navigates her way through familiar streets (and for those not from DC, No that is not a typo). Though Ra keeps features at a minimum here, Phil Ade really brings a lot to “Fall Back” with great lyricism (how many listeners even know what an estuary is) and energy and Javier Starks comes through with terrific flow bouncing between double time and standard with ease. Hopefully no one is offended by her use of “OJ Simpson” in her metaphorical murderfest, it’s another standout cut. On “The Pain” RA flips the familiar beat to a more meaningful statement on her journey and her abilities. Finally “Brand New” is definitely one of my favorites because of both the autobiographical storytelling elements and because of the inspirational tone that is worthy of a Willie Jolley or Zig Ziglar. There are many other highlights as well both musically and lyrically but to sum it up, these have been the main reasons I came to my conclusion: The Grace Jones Experiment places RAtheMC head and shoulders above much of her competition and really leaves the listener anxiously anticipating her next offering, which will hopefully be some big splashy major label debut!
Jay-Z’s concert at SXSW was live-streamed last Monday and it was more than just a dope show. For the 16 million plus viewers who saw it live or in the immediate aftermath it was, whether this insight has sunk in or not, a taste of the future of live entertainment. SXSW is arguably the most important tech meet-up of the year and despite all the unveilings of savvy new apps and software and various interactive gizmos, a music concert was the most engaged topic on Twitter! To be fair, music has always been ingrained in and been an essential part of SXSW and Jay-Z’s was not the first concert streamed from the venue. But turning an intimate 60 minute concert in a 3000 seat venue into a major event with 16 million virtual seats required two things; a high wattage star, and the substantial progress in streaming that has been occurring almost without notice over the past year. It’s that improvement in the quality of streaming that stands out the most for us at OnStage and other companies working in the same space. Being able to deliver high definition, buffer free, perfectly synchronized streamed concerts is after all, the goal that we are working towards and the content we’ll be bringing to you in the very near future.
Staying on the topic of videos for a minute, it’s worth mentioning that our area is chock full of remarkably talented directors and videographers. At OnStage we watch a lot of videos and post the ones we really like. We review or comment on all the videos we put up in the OnStage Video Showcase and as often as not you’ll notice we mention the quality of the videos themselves. There are some names of these new-age filmmakers that stand out and so, in no particular order, this is our shout out to them. If you’re making music in this area there’s almost no question you’re also looking to engage your fans and potential fans with a video that shows you at your talented best. These are the folks we think will really help you with that. We’ve taken the liberty of maybe merging the work of some directors with behind the camera folks without properly differentiating the roles but only because we don’t know the intricacies of all of the working relationships. But that’s what the comments section is for; we welcome your corrections and observations and invite you to follow us on Twitter @_OnStageDC.
Comprised of photographers, producers, directors and editors, 1st Impressions is a very busy studio and a few examples of their work with local artists are prominent in the OnStage Video Showcase. We’ve got “Breathe” by Ashton Travis which has quality shots of Mt Pleasant as a background. And they’ve done work with Violet Says 5 on ‘Under my Back Seat” and of course their signature video, “Cremate Em” with Fat Trel. They’ve also done projects for Wale, Raheem DeVaughn, JR Writer, Cassidy, and an ever growing list.
Clipstar is an up and coming video production company with an already impressive body of work to stand behind their slogan “We make hit videos.” We like the gritty realism in the background of the Young Sir video “Rollin” which is featured in our Video Showcase. For a full sampling of what they do, check out their YouTube channel.
Cool Kids Forever Films
Some of the most popular videos of the past year are the work of Cool Kids Forever. They have credits on videos by Phil Da Phuture, KingPen Slim, Phil Ade, and Garvey The Chosen One. A video we especially like is “Told You So” by Uptown XO ft Diamond District directed by Langston Sessoms which you can also see in the video showcase. They actually shot this during Hurricane Irene. Talk about overcoming technical and logistical difficulties! If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery then Cool Kids Forever have a lot of admirers in this area because we see a lot of newer companies shooting the same panoramic backgrounds found on CKF videos.
So, if We Recommend some YouTube channels from local artists, producers, and music companies there’s one thing you should keep in mind; there are a number of really high quality channels operated by folks from the DMV. So many in fact that what we decided to do was just throw a few links out there as a way of getting the ball rolling. Hopefully, those of you reading this will add a comment with more recommendations or just shout out your own YouTube channel. You can do that in the comments section below, or hit our Twitter page @_OnStageDC.
We think this is a good topic because there’s an evolution going on with YouTube and being in front of it is critical in the music business. Astute artists see the potential to do more than just share your latest video with the hope it may blast off and go viral and the next thing you know Baby or Rick Ross is calling you. There’s too much churn and over-saturation on YouTube for that to happen, even if you knock down 100,000 views in one month. To even get noticed you’d have to do something like 100,000 a day! So the trend is not to think of YouTube as your one-in-a-million shot, but as one of the main components of building your brand and developing a loyal customer base. Music is a business. A business needs customers. If you’re making music you should be using YouTube to acquire customers.
With that in mind, we’ve taken a look at what DMV music folks are doing on YouTube and offer a few examples with our observations and suggestions.