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.
Here’s another entry in our #TheOnesToWatchIn2012 series. We caught up with DC native Daryn Alexus whose new mixtape release Vintage Heart. Modern Love just dropped on datPiff on Valentines Day. We were impressed with the styling and classiness of the intro video and added it to our OnStage Video Showcase for your viewing pleasure. As you can see from her responses below, Daryn is a sophisticated, confident artist and we think the future is full of big things for her. Welcome to the Stage, Daryn!
Daryn, tell us a little about yourself….
I grew up in DC. Lived in NE but uptown, NW, was my playground; running up and down Georgia Ave. Playing kick ball with friends on Brightwood Elementary playground. Shepherd, Alice Deal, Wilson, and Duke Ellington all played a huge part in who I am. I met so many different amazing people. The culture in DC is insane! Even as a child I loved it. Most of all Caribbean day every summer, ‘The Ave.’ filled with people. All these things inspired me as an artist, from my sound to my personal style. A sense of freedom just reigns over DC and I’ve embodied the spirit of my city. Now, being in Chicago for college, just really extends that whole vibe.
Describe yourself as an artist, and your approach to your music…
To describe me, Daryn Alexus, as an artist, would be like trying to convince a smoker that cigarettes kill. You could probably do it, but getting him to quit is an entirely different effort. I say that for many different reasons. None in a cocky sense, as in to say, “I’m indescribable,” “I only do me,” or “I’m one of a kind.” I say it’s difficult to describe me because at any given moment, I may change. I don’t like too much of the same thing all the time. I’m a heavily emotional person, and I like to go off what I feel. I’m a huge believer in destiny and following your heart, trusting your intuition, and if something doesn’t feel good, don’t do it, and If it does feel good, dive face first directly into it. I treat my music this way. I make music based on what I’m feeling at the time, based on what feels good to me. ‘Vintage Heart. Modern Love.’ felt good this time around, but for my next tape, that sound may not feel good for me. I can’t make music based on what I think people will like, and though I want the world to love my music just as much as I do, that can’t be my main focus. If I like it, I’m going to write it, I’m going to sing it, and just put it out there.
What’s the future hold for Daryn Alexus?...The future is so exciting to think about! I really want to finish college and focus 100% on music. If any amazing opportunities come along before I get to finish school then that’s even better. The sooner I can just do music the better. Though ‘Vintage Heart. Modern Love.’ just dropped on Valentine’s Day, I’m already working on my second project and I’m super excited about it. It’s also being produced by Dee Lilly, who’s also a DC native, and it’s sounding great already. It’s going to be set to release this summer! But Before then I’ll be releasing full length videos for some of the songs on ‘Vintage Heart. Modern Love.’ and I’m also really excited about that. So the near future is looking very bright! As a newly emerging artist I just hope to continue to learn and grow as an artist, and meet more and more talented people to work with. All in all, I’m just a hippie, I want to, create art, change the world, and live free. That’s all.