Kanye's Graduation Party
We loves the cockiness and cleverness that is Kanye West. Last night 'Ye previewed his upcoming album, "Graduation" (G.O.O.D. Music), due Sept. 11, for a couple hundred industry insiders at New York's New World Stages -- and J.I. was there front and center.
As expected, the listening session was over the top from beginning to end. Everyone in attendance received programs (similar to the ones you get at Broadway shows) that included lyrics to every song on the album and replicas of the white retro sunglasses Kanye is wearing in the "Stronger" video.
J.I. lapped up a blueberry and vodka smoothie, courtesy of the open bar (which was also serving fresh popcorn straight from Chicago, Kanye's hometown), as the crowd -- which included Mos Def, Consequence, DJ Mr. Cee and Kanye's fiancé Alexis -- anxiously waited for the theater doors to open.
When we finally took our seats, Kanye was greeted with thunderous applause. "I believe with this album I've delivered the best album of my career," he said. "This is definitely a top 10 album in hip-hop of all time."
The 13-track set blared from the speakers while Japanimation played on a screen and a light show made the entire room glow (hence the complimentary sunglasses). J. I. LOVED the first seven tracks, which included "Stronger," "Good Life" featuring T-Pain, "Can't Tell Me Nothing" and the Lil Wayne-assisted "Barry Bonds." The rest of the audience, all of which were waving their hands in the air, bopping their heads and singing along, apparently agreed.
But 'Ye lost J.I. with track No. 8, "Drunk and Hot Girls." This slow tune was actually saved by Mos Def, who comes in with his familiar harmonizing on the bridge. The five subsequent tracks, which included J.I. favorites "Everything I Am" featuring DJ Premier on the ones and twos and "Big Brother" (a dedication to Jay-Z) brought excitement back to the crowded room. Kanye came out at the end and received a standing ovation as random women yelled out I-Love-You's and dudes praised him.
"I went back in the studio in the last few weeks with DJ Toomp and he said I should do more tracks. So, I did 'Flashing Lights,' 'Barry Bonds' and 'Big Brother,'" 'Ye told the audience about the album. "I feel like at this point a Kanye album is a service, more than it being a hit record or having high presales. I wanted to make songs that are people's theme songs."
When asked about sharing the stage with Jay-Z, T.I., 50 Cent, Diddy and Swizz Beatz during the Scream Tour last week in New York, 'Ye was smug: "I could give you the politically correct answer. It was cool. But, it would've been better with just me and Hov like we planned."
That wasn't the only friendly stab Kanye took at 50. At one point he mentioned the MTV Top 10 Hottest MCs List, in which 50 landed at No. 8, and said his (Ye's) work is only comparable to those of artists on "the top 10 list… Scratch that, from No. 7 and down."
Kanye also went on to say the idea to drop his album the same day as 50's was his and that it was a conscious decision to let "the press do all the work. If 50 didn't drop 'I Get Money,' I wouldn't have dropped my album on the same day. So, there has to be something there, something competitive there," he said.
"My album is neither negative nor positive, it's a reality," Kanye continued. "This album is whiter than any of my other albums and blacker than any album, if that makes sense." It doesn't really make sense, but hey ... 'Ye even namechecked Billboard, saying "I almost felt like crying when I saw my album jump 41 slots on the Billboard charts."
What A Scream
After a set by Yung Berg, the show quickly segued into a battle between Yung Joc and Lloyd to see who could perform the best lap-dance on an audience volunteer. Pulling off his tank top to screams, Lloyd mimicked cunnilingus on his volunteer, but Joc didn't want to be outdone, so he proclaimed he'd "freak it in my own way!"
After singing a snippet of R. Kelly's "Bump and Grind," he then humped his blind-folded audience member into submission before bringing out P. Diddy for "It's Goin' Down." Dressed in jeans, a yellow jacket and his trademark sunglasses, Diddy launched into his own hit, "Last Night," as the 20,000-strong crowd sang Keyshia Cole's verse.
T-Pain started his set with a jail sequence, but he then "broke out" by emerging from the stage floor. He mainly sang songs on which he has appeared as a guest, including DJ Khaled's "I'm So Hood," Bow Wow's "Can't Get You Outta My System" and R. Kelly's "I'm a Flirt," but also played his current hit, "Bartender."
After a brief intermission, Ciara enticed the crowd with high-energy dancing. She and T.I. took turns on the T-shaped stage every 15 minutes or so, making transitions easy. Stalking a stripper pole, Ciara performed a sexy rendition of "Promise." Then, 50 Cent, her rumored boyfriend, surprised the audience by appearing to sing his part on "Can't Leave Them Alone." The pair coyly moved close to kiss but stopped short and smiled at the crowd. 50 then took over, launching into the street hit "I Get Money" while flanked by G-Unit's Tony Yayo, Lloyd Banks and Mobb Deep.
Things really got interesting when Wyclef Jean appeared and played the National Anthem on electric guitar as a precursor to "You Know What It Is" and "My Swag." While DJ Drama began cuing up the beat for T.I.'s "Watch What You Say," the crowd shook the floor as Jay-Z sauntered out from backstage to perform his verse. Drama promptly began spinning Kanye West's "Can't Tell Me Nothing," and sure enough, West materialized.
As he performed the first verse, 50 Cent came back on stage, running laps around the other rappers with a mischievous smile on his face. Jay-Z looked at him as if to say, "you're not supposed to be here," and even T.I. looked a little surprised, but it all appeared to be in good fun. Diddy got into the jogging act, but 50 made fun of his signature moves behind his back.
The show wound down with Jay-Z performing "Encore," Swizz Beatz popping up for "Money in the Bank" and the entire crew, guests and all, joining in for T.I.'s "What You Know." Before signing off, the stage cleared and T.I. thanked the crowd for supporting his first headlining tour. And as he sunk into the stage and sparks fell from above, there was little doubt this was an evening of music only "the king" could conjure.
The Boss' 'Radio' Cure
The first spell from Bruce Springsteen's "Magic" has hit the Internet, and it's a hot one: "Radio Nowhere" is a three-minute record that's darkly melodic and well more roaring than any of the introspective material from the last E Street Band record, 2002's "The Rising." If this song doesn't open Springsteen's threatened fall tour, J.I. will eat his hat. And it's a big hat.
The Boss seems to be channeling his old buddy Warren Zevon here, both vocally -- that's some gravelly sangin'! -- and lyrically: Springsteen can't find a damn thing to stir his blood on the radio (this happened in "Open All Night" off of "Nebraska" too, but that track was a little less lively), as he sings:
I just want to hear some rhythm
I just want to hear some rhythm
I want a thousand guitars
I want pounding drums
I want a million different voices speaking in tongues
This is radio nowhere
At the end, he demands, "Is there anybody alive out there," effectively repurposing his "Rising" tour stage banter into workable lyrics. That's just good for the planet.
The E Streeters take advantage of their brief cameos, too; Max Weinberg's crashing all over the place, Patti Scialfa turns up for obligatory harmony vocals in the chorus and damned if Springsteen didn't give a few seconds to Clarence Clemons' sax. Plenty of room for Steve Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren to get in there and tear it up onstage, too.
It's a Hard Knock Life
Tuesday night, Jaded Insider ventured to New York's R&B Spotlight Live in Times Square, where the weekly soul show became the Matthew Knowles Music World extravaganzaaaaaa. Daddy Knowles had around seven acts from his Music World label on the bill but J.I. could only squeeze in four before we had to beat it to Swizz Beatz' album release party.
But before we get into the irony of no liquor at a party (read: pandemonium), Knowles' first four acts were pretty good. The first performer, Miredys, crooned a Marc Anthony-style ballad, complete with Spanish guitars -- and it didn't hurt that she's former Ms. Puerto Rico. Next up was a trio called #1 Crush. They were almost like Avril Lavigne times two, plus her evil preppy twin from that "Girlfriend" video. They looked ready-made for the Disney channel with fun pop-rock songs. Their rock remix of Jay-Z's "Hard Knock Life" was pretty hilarious.
The Brit songstress Vickie O'Neil was next up, but her voice was a bit too soft to really hear what she was singing. Wynter Gordon came after, and she was fun. Not as fun as Lady Luxe, a sassy female trio that reminded us of Destiny's Child when Mama Knowles still did their hair and dressed them. Who didn't like "Say My Name?" And if you say no, we know that you're lying.
We headed out after Trin-I-Tee 5:7, a well-seasoned female gospel trio, blew us all up to heaven with their inspirational tunes. Sidenote … we heard that Michelle Williams is currently working on a secular R&B album to follow her two solo gospel albums. We liked Michelle in the gospel vein, but follow that path right? Unfortunately, we had to skip out on Solange's performance, though Beyonce and Mama Knowles were there to support.
Now, on to the Swizz party. After being yelled at by security, we coolly snuck into what seemed like a little loft party with a great crowd. Inside, G Unit's Hot Rod ambled around, while Translation Marketing's Steve Stoute shook hands with WMG's Kevin Liles. Former BET host Free, the Retro Kids, Universal head honcho Sylvia Rhone, Hot 97's DJ Enuff and Program Director Ebro tried to get their groove on.
Unfortunately, after approximately 30 minutes, the party hit a dry halt when the open bar ran out of not just the free stuff, but liquor completely! You couldn't even buy a drink. And it only became more ironic when Cash Money's Baby waltzed in to his single, "Pop Bottles" and couldn't even get a Hennessy shot. Shame, shame, shame. They eventually re-stocked the bar but ran out again after another hour ... of liquor and glasses. Wow. By then, we felt robbed and went home. Still, Swizz, with his ascot and wife Mashonda, looked adorable nursing his drink. Lucky.
The New New Pornographers
"Hey Neko," a friend of hers says next to her.
"Good show, Neko."
She placed her head down the bar again, with a smile. Rising up, we told her the same sentiment: "Great show." She smiled and said, "Thanks anyway."
For somebody so chatty a half hour on stage before, Case was awfully quiet after the New Pornographers' CD release show at Bowery Ballroom last night. We've seen A.C. Newman, Case and the whole band together in their various incarnations before and the banter has always been a pleasant aside. Last night -- either out of nervousness, ill-preparedness or simple silliness -- the witty banter nearly overtook Newman's tight, short pop songs.
The group tackled much of the new "Challengers," which we feel is just shy of the greatness that is "Twin Cinema." Newman led a Bejar-less 10 piece band... but with 10 pieces and two hours to kill, the band took a lot of laid-back liberties, which involved references to spanking, "Strange Brew" quotes and having awkward back-and-forths between Case and Newman.
"We'll be taking requests," Newman said at one point. "And we'll keep taking requests until we hear the song that we wanted to play anyway," Case would retort. Most tracks from "Challengers" and "Twin Cinema" were tackled (and shocking few from "Electric Version"), including our fave "The Jessica Letters."
Let us give credit/credit due: Kathryn Calder often gets put on the back burner in reviews due to the beautiful boiling pot that is Case, but the lady matches up with Newman's voice so well, it'd be devastating without her.
Sadly, we missed Vampire Weekend, who opened for the New Pornos. This power-pop group has been making news of its own lately, signing to XL Records -- a weird and wonderful label for a weird and wonderful band. We caught the four-piece play a couple months ago at Brooklyn's Glasslands Gallery (with killer rock troupe Bear Hands) and instantly understood the hype: the songs are catchy, the players fun to watch and a sound uniquely blending sunny, tropical beats and melodies with pop-rock our mom would love to entertain over dinner. You can catch the group on tour now through the end of the month, plus some East Coast one-offs in September. VW's first single, "Mansard Roof," will be out on Oct. 23 and the debut album will be released in January.