Laissez les bon temps roulez

Note: This is a draft post I dug up from my archives. We went to New Orleans for our fourth anniversary in 2017. Still, it’s such a great city that I wanted to share my impressions. Mardi Gras is coming up so it seemed like a good time to do so. 

I finally went to New Orleans!

Ever since I learned about the roots of jazz music as a child, I’ve wanted to visit New Orleans. When I was nine years old I heard Duke Ellington ‘s “Take the A Train” and fell in love. That led me to George Gershwin, Thelonious Monk, Stephane Grappelli, Dave Brubeck, and more. In fifth grade I would go to Barnes & Noble to buy Jazziz magazine and the Beanie Baby collectors magazine (talk about divergent interests!). One of my top choices for college was Tulane University, until Hurricane Katrina hit and I was scared out of applying by the thought of another hurricane hitting while I was in school. Still, New Orleans was one of the places I knew I had to visit during my lifetime or I would regret it. 

Sidewalk graffiti on Frenchmen Street

Even though the city was hot, muggy and a little bit smelly in certain parts, there was a kind of magic in the air. The cultural melting pot was apparent in everything from the food to the architecture. There’s just something different about walking on 300 year old cobblestones; you can feel the weight of all that history. I’m a history buff, so we hit The Cabildo, the old U.S. Mint, and the Jazz History Museum. I learned so much I didn’t know! There were so many eras of New Orleans, and of course money is its own empire. As for the jazz museum, I’m a musician so being in the same room as Louis Armstrong’s trumpet had the weight of a visit to the Vatican. It was fantastic. Cafe Du Monde was so nice, we hit it twice. Both the beignets and the frozen coffee were absolutely to die for. 

Oops…I ate the photo op

I didn’t take many pictures because I honestly just wanted to soak in everything and remember it however I needed to. Most of the few pictures I did take were fuzzy, as if the place itself didn’t want to pinned down to a single expression. It was our first trip alone together since before we got married, and the week passed in a haze of new sights and sounds and romance. It wasn’t the farthest we’ve traveled but definitely the most memorable. I understand now when the natives say the city isn’t just a place, it’s a feeling. New Orleans…I’ll see you soon.

Jackson Square

LeToya Luckett is a hidden treasure

It seems like every year, there are fewer and fewer artists I’m really checking for. Maybe it’s because as I get older, I’m less concerned with the new club jam and prefer music that has longevity. The artists I loved as a child who were considered “old school” (Anita Baker, Earth Wind & Fire, etc) are still in my regular rotation. Now the acts I loved in middle school are considered throwbacks and the music industry has undergone a sea change.

One thing I always have been, and forever will be, is an R&B junkie. Right now, the culture is all about trap music and besides Beyonce and Trey Songz, there’s not much R&B to speak of. John Legend drops a rehash of second album every few years, and Anthony Hamilton is still making his trademark gospel love songs. But there are no true successors to singers like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, who gave us songs to dance to, power ballads, and everything in between. Mariah Carey can deliver a hit, but she very much straddles the line between pop and R&B. While she’s good for featuring a rapper (as evidenced by her recent collaboration with YG), you’ll never get anything close to a trap beat from Ms. Carey. But Ms. Luckett, on the other hand? She’ll bring the fire.

 

LeToya Luckett was, and remains, the most underrated member of Destiny’s Child. LaTavia pretty much fell off the face of the earth, nobody expected much from Michelle, and Kelly started getting her just due when she released her third solo album in 2011. However, LeToya’s lack of notoriety in the music world is partially her own fault. She released a solid debut album in 2006 which had a fairly popular single with Slim Thug (“She Don’t“), but otherwise was largely forgotten by everyone except me. 2009’s Lady Love was better because it established that LeToya was giving up on pop crossover songs and committing to the R&B genre. In the 8 years between albums LeToya has acted in three movies, three tv shows, and several gospel plays. While Kelly and Beyonce have both dabbled in acting, since Destiny’s Child final split they consistently put out albums every 2-3 years.

Still, Back 2 Life was worth the wait. LeToya has delivered a quintessential R&B album that’s fun, relatable, catchy, and easy to sing along to. It’s current, but LeToya doesn’t just mimic the trends. She takes the elements that work with her sound and makes them her own. She also put her acting skills to use by tying together the music videos for her three singles (Back 2 Life, Used To, In the Name of Love) and created a mini movie. LeToya clearly put a lot of thought, effort, and intentionality behind this album and it shows. If you like good music, give it a try!

Logic’s “Everybody” is the positive resistance album we didn’t know we needed

This is going to be a lengthy post because I’ve been a fan of Logic for awhile. Tex is super into rap, and so is Mr. Teenage Dream. So between the two of them I was kept pretty current despite my preference for soul and R&B. As a matter of fact, I’ve been put on to at least one artist on the XXL Freshman cover every year since they started. I knew about folks like Kap G (2017), Ty Dolla Sign (2014), Machine Gun Kelly (2012) and Wale (2007) waaaaay before they hit the mainstream.

Logic was on the 2013 Freshman cover, and of course, by that time I’d already added his mixtapes into my regular rotation. (By the way, Young Sinatra is still dope). I happily paid for each of his commercial albums so when I found out this week that his third album, Everybody, had dropped over a month ago, I made it my business to buy it immediately. Since then I’ve listened to it twice through in its entirety, and it’s stuck in my head. The concept, the production, the lyrics…it all blows my mind.

In a nutshell, the album is a musical journey based on a short story, “The Egg” by Andy Weir, which you can read here.  Logic explains it in the video below.

The TL;DR of all this is that the human race is just one being, reincarnated until it has experienced every walk of life and can evolve into a higher existence (i.e., become God). Therefore the universe is just an egg that we have to hatch from by maturing enough to realize that every time we hurt someone else, we hurt ourselves.

That’s a provoking and comforting thought in these troubled times. Some days it all seems so hopeless. I stay away from the news because it can really f*ck with my mental state. No matter how happy I am in my little bubble, there is a lot of hate out there. A couple weeks back I was walking through Target holding hands with my husband, feeling blissfully in love and chatting about some silly thing. A white lady came up the main aisle, in the opposite direction of us and nearly jumped out of her skin. Her whole demeanor changed–her eyes widened, she went from walking slowly to doubling her speed, clutching her purse and looking down at the ground as she passed  us. “How do you know it was a race thing? Maybe she was just startled,” I’m sure you’re thinking. Well, there were five or six white people she would have just passed and we were the only brown people in sight, so I’m pretty sure it was a race thing. Sh*t like that is just demoralizing.

Logic gets it. And while many people are quick to throw it in his face that he could pass for white, that didn’t insulate him from many of the same struggles that poor black kids face growing up, along with the unique struggle of being called a racial slur by your own mother. Despite that, he maintains a positive outlook and his music is always hopeful. And hope is what we need right now.

Are you a Logic fan or never heard of him? If you listened to the album, what did you think? Let me know!

Get mad when it counts

There are a lot of valid reasons for black people to be angry: Police brutality. Disproportionate unemployment. The school to prison pipeline. That being said, I’ve seen a lot of outrage over trivial issues. Sure, human beings are both frivolous and profound. But there is so much anguish wasted on the  WRONG DAMN THINGS! For example: the current vitriol leveled at rap artist Iggy Azalea.

I like her music. It’s catchy and has that southern twang I’m used to from my favorite rapper T.I. However, I can be objective and acknowledge that Iggy’s no great MC. She’s not in the same class as Lil Kim, Outkast, or Biggie. But neither is Migos, Future or 2 Chainz, and I don’t hear anyone hollering for them to pay homage to the socio-political history of hip-hop.* I’m a history major, so I understand that it feels like white people only ever take from black culture without giving back- because that’s largely true. It happened with jazz and it happened with rock n roll; this is not new. The difference is that nobody who hasn’t been living under a rock would think that white people invented hip-hop. It took 30 years for the world to even receive a white rapper that would be taken seriously, and Eminem was judged by a much higher standard than any black rapper at the time. The man raps in iambic pentameter and it wasn’t until his third album that he really became mainstream and fully accepted into the hip-hop community. Black people may be a minority in this country, but we are the leading exporters of cool. The side effect of that is swagger jacking- imitation is the highest form of flattery, right? We should really be impressed that hip-hop is so powerful that it made a 16 year old white girl leave her country to chase a dream.

I say all this to say that if we’re going to start drawing lines about what real hip-hop is and isn’t, we need to start at home first. Example: Nicki Minaj. The girl can spit. She’s a lyrical beast. But she relies heavily on her sexuality to sell records (like Iggy) and often eschews hard core rap for poppier records that reach a Top 40 demographic (also like Iggy). I like her music, but Nicki is basically the Lady Gaga of rap: a massively talented woman who doesn’t exercise her full potential for fear that it won’t be marketable. I can’t entirely blame her though. The marketplace is flooded with subpar rap music. The fall of CDs, record labels, and traditional artist development means that music is fully democratized, for better and for worse. Soulja Boy got rich and famous off of a song he made in his bedroom, that never would have gotten past a label A&R rep. Future sounds like he’s singing into a water bottle. Juicy J’s flow sounds like ratchet nursery rhymes. I can’t understand what the hell Young Thug or The Migos are saying. 2 Chainz seems to exclusively make songs best heard in a strip club. Yet, the latter three can be heard all over the radio. But nobody is pointing at them and saying it’s a rap apocalypse, or that they don’t know enough about hip-hop history. If rap is “our thing”, then shouldn’t black artists be held to the highest standard? Shouldn’t we be boycotting all the artists who glorify sex, drugs, and female debasement before we start assuming that the lone white, female rap artist is single-handedly destroying the genre?

Personally, I don’t think rap has to be all one thing. Much like there are different subcategories of jazz, the same thing goes for rap. Some of it is political. Some of it is inspirational. Some of it is just good to dance to at the club, or blast in your car. There are lowbrow and highbrow elements to every artistic medium, and that’s okay. You wanna be mad at something? Don’t get mad because white people are saying “on fleek”. Be mad because the black girl who invented it didn’t think to trademark it, and now some white people are making money off it. Don’t be mad at Iggy, be mad that her sworn nemesis Azealia Banks twitter beefed herself right out of a record deal. Don’t be mad that Macklemore won the Grammy instead of Kendrick. Be mad the BET Awards are a joke, the Soul Train Awards haven’t cracked the mainstream, and black America still thinks the height of artistic merit should be determined by the whims of a panel of old white men who probably didn’t listen to the album.

There’s plenty to get mad at. Get mad where it counts.

 

*Speaking of which, when was the last time hip-hop was really relevant for being a political movement? Aside from the handful of rappers like Kendrick, Macklemore, Lupe Fiasco,  Common and The Roots who are known for socially conscious tracks- and a few others like Wale who participated in the Ferguson protests- hip-hop is mostly prized for its cool factor and being a party starter.