All of the Lights: Lady Gaga & Kanye West – Soular

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Turn up the lights in here, baby / extra bright, I want y’all to see this / turn up the lights in here, baby / you know what I need, want you to see everything / want you to see all of the lights – Kanye West, “All of the Lights”

Kanye West and Lady Gaga… beyond, beneath, within, and without the flashing lights these two remained suspended in infinite existence. Modern Pop has known no before nor after these two… 21st century children will live to recount tales to their grandchildren of crucial kreugers emanating from nothingness, beautiful dark twisted fantasies in the midst of a blissfully bleak reality, the climate-shifting global state of monstrosity where beasts reigned as belles of the endless ball… a world void of time and space… a post-apocalyptic period where two prophets destroyed their own made world, an archaic rebirth after the darkest decade known to warholian man, a cultural sonicscape perpetuated by the synergy of two sources of sheer energy… in 2010 amidst all of the flashing lights Lady Gaga and Kanye West were The Sun: the ubiquitous body cultivating the craft through their presence and, even more so, propelling secondary stars to shine brighter in the darkness of their absence.

All of the Lights: Miley Cyrus & Rick Ross – Cop Lights

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Turn up the lights in here, baby / extra bright, I want y’all to see this  / turn up the lights in here, baby / you know what I need, want you to see everything / want you to see all of the lights – Kanye West, “All of the Lights”

 

Miley Cyrus and Rick Ross were our patriots on patrol this year. Living the high life where MiCy met Miami, these two lit up the Pop scape with the red, white, and blue hues of stars, bars, strips, whips, chains, gangs, and the incessant inability of ever being tamed. He was the Teflon Don: gun dirty, brick clean; she hung on a pole and a prayer: the jailbait-in-waiting, craving to be scene.

All of the Lights: Willow Smith & Far East Movement – Flashlights

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Turn up the lights in here, baby / extra bright, I want y’all to see this  / turn up the lights in here, baby / you know what I need, want you to see everything / want you to see all of the lights – Kanye West, “All of the Lights”

Willow Smith and Far East Movement whipped across the globe this year like junior jetsetters; their infectious electro-pop sounds emerged from obscurity and hit ubiquity at the speed of light, they broke records beyond the speed of sound with a sonic boom that resonated across the planet. The free-wired high-flyers captured the world in a state of infinite liftoff; illuminating the world like it was their runway, Smith and FEM lit up the skies like flashlights over an airstrip.

All of the Lights: Ke$ha & Eminem – The Bic

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Turn up the lights in here, baby / extra bright, I want y’all to see this  / turn up the lights in here, baby / you know what I need, want you to see everything / want you to see all of the lights – Kanye West, “All of the Lights”

Amidst the darkened sky of endless pop, visibly void of any specific stars; Ke$ha and Eminem emerged as groundskeepers sparking the scene from the floor – lighters up. This year we saw a party animal, a rehabilitated recovery, and a cultural cannibal unleashed; and behind the music we saw kindred kindling ignited, revealing both sides of the Bic: the disposable house-party-fueling flicker, and the timeless stadium torch.

This year Ke$ha served the purpose of the former, sparking the fire that fueled the gutter-grime-glitter sound lingering across basements and American airwaves like a tobacco smoky haze over the backseat of a golden Trans-Am. She opened the year with “Tik-Tok” and, by default of its January 1 release date, started the proverbial pop party with her entrance. Ke$ha was that frathouse staple – ready to spark the camel, willing to blaze the j, and able to pop the top off a Pabst at a seconds notice. She was the music that set the mood, the tunes that kept the backyard bacchanals alive, and – much like that flick-happy Bic with a flame as disposable as the fueled fun – she was out by the dawn, right before your parents get home. The Southern truckette raised Hell with tales of rogue revelry at rich kids’ parties, and was the exalted embodiment of too-drunk-to-function-but-lit-enough-to-keep-gunnin’.

All of the Lights: Drake & Justin Bieber – Nightlights #spoton

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Turn up the lights in here, baby / extra bright, I want y’all to see this  / turn up the lights in here, baby / you know what I need, want you to see everything / want you to see all of the lights – Kanye West, “All of the Lights”

Justin Bieber and Drake, Drake and Justin Bieber… Our neighbors to the North brought a bit of the every-Canadaian to American mainstream this year: Thank Me Later emerged as an emo-rap twist on Jagged Little Pill for the Tumblr generation, while Bieber Fever took stranglehold on a nation of young girls nary seen since the grip of Avril Lavigne’s necktie. Amidst all of Pop’s flashing lights surfaced these two – millions of teenagers’ charming knights, with legendary musical vises in tow as their shield. If the market was a castle, these two boys would be the steady fixture beside every princess’ canopy; this debonair duo amidst the still dark of the room are her pseudo-safety nets, and in reality nary more than her mere nightlights.

Ah yes, Justin Bieber… from the pixie frame, glassy eyes, lucid skin, and soprano voice, he is the spinning image of a miniature lightbulb – transparent and empty, emanating a subdued pure glow. Put him behind the vibrant shields of iconic figures, though – Ludacris, Usher, Kanye, Diddy – and he displays a magnificent display of soft colors and caricatures upon which a sea of princesses can gaze eternally for nights on end. Close your eyes, open your ears and hear his world of hollow harmonies; blink: eyes wide behind 3D spectacles and experience Justin Bieber 2.0 – a white dwarfed black hole pulling the Pop universe into oblivion.

All of the Lights: Taylor Swift & Usher – Flood Lights

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Turn up the lights in here, baby / extra bright, I want y’all to see this  / turn up the lights in here, baby / you know what I need, want you to see everything / want you to see all of the lights – Kanye West, “All of the Lights”

 

This year Taylor Swift and Usher flooded the nation in fluorescence. She spoke now, well after the deafening sounds of Swiftgate settled to a dull roar. He saturated the market in music, void of a message, but with a ubiquitous mask so clean it bordered translucence. They were so bright, so white, so everywhere, so endlessly empty, and yet so inescapably enveloping. Mainstream music’s absence of creativity opened the doors for an influx of sheer commerce, and this year panoramic sterility sold.

This is America, we love our flood lights – so bright and unyielding, so integral to the world of endless recreation of the most mind-numbing, so fundamental to the 24/7 push of profitable play – night games. These aren’t streetlights that keep stickball games going past the dusk on a Brooklyn block… these are those overhead satellites keeping NASCAR motorcades roving around in circles ad naseum at primetime for ad revenue. Swift and Raymond are those forces bleaching the scene, sweetening the mean, and softening the screams of midnight melody makers whose cathartic cries were held at bay during the day.

All of the Lights: Nicki Minaj & Katy Perry – Fireworks

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Turn up the lights in here, baby / extra bright, I want y’all to see this  / turn up the lights in here, baby / you know what I need, want you to see everything / want you to see all of the lights – Kanye West, “All of the Lights”

Once upon a rhyme two bubblegum nymphs lit up the pitch black pop sky with tales of teenage dreams and rose-colored weekends. Princess Katy Perry sang this year from atop her Golden Coast lollipop tower; while Dutchess Nicki Minaj led a brigade of bad Barbies across the hard candy-coated pop landscape. This year we saw the rise and reign of the psuedo-sexual siren; from adolescent dreams to Roman’s vengeful screams Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj exemplified both sides of Barbie – the pinup princess and the dutchess behind barbs. Amidst all of the flashing lights, these two were the fireworks that took fantastical flight.

Nicki Minaj opened the year launching feature after brilliant feature across star-studded tracks. She held court with the divas, the dons, and the du jours; throwing down with everyone from Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera, to Rick Ross, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Eminem, Ludacris, Usher, and will.i.am. Co-sign after co-sign Minaj built hype and suffocated hearsay. Before long, it seemed as if the collective culture’s eyes were glued to Nicki’s rocketeering rise, awaiting with bated breath the halogenic blast of her solo debut; Pink Friday was the explosive result. The album is truly Minaj’s child, and capstoned her rookie year exceptionally well. It’s the pink hybrid hue between that clean white naive newness and raw red monstrosity; it’s the bridge between the come-up of the work week and the kick-back of the weekend, where Miss Minaj continues to blaze somewhere in between as the not-quite-a-babydoll-but-not-yet-a-boss.

Unforgettable, Vol. 18: La Roux – La Roux

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The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill painted a music scene reflective of urban culture on the brink of a new millennium; eleven years later we – as a culture and creative class – have evolved and devolved from that reality. We have since found our souls in the synthetic, and were given our new sonic aesthetic with an anthemic 2009 soundtrack of our virtual reality.

Enter La Roux. La Roux is music that reaches beyond sound, into the mood and mindset of an apathetically passionate generation. Literally, “La Roux” is founded upon adamant ambiguity, fusing the masculine “Le Roux” and the feminine “La Rousse” to mean “The Red-Headed One.” That “One” would be none other than the Annie Lennox-esque frontwoman Elly Jackson. Jackson’s pale features beneath a fiery red coif depict brilliantly the sonic aesthetic of a colourless coloured culture.

Unforgettable, Vol. 17: Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

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In 1998 Lauryn Hill released a cultural landmark – one part enemy of the state, one part love story – which entirely rewrote the curriculum for hip-hop on the brink of a new millennium. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is H.E.R. story – of hip-hop and its truest personification. Lauryn recorded The Miseducation to resurrect a genre, a culture, an artist, and a girl headed towards commodification.

“Lost Ones” comes in right after roll call, on the heels of a visibly absent – but always present – Hill. This is the anthem. This is L. Boogie’s freestyle to introduce her voice and her vantage. Here we hear Lauryn literally taking it to the streets, and revisiting hip-hop’s roots: the battle. She is not battling any other one MC, she is battling them all – and the modern concept of what it means to be an MC. She knocks out her bio in 4 lines or less:

It’s funny how money change a situation,
miscommunication leads to complication;
my emancipation don’t fit your equation,
I was on the humble, you on every station.

Who knew that ten years from then: she would be the exile that turned on the industry in the face of the corporate stranglehold on creative expression, she would be seen as a misunderstood genius whose public persona would be miscommunicated as “crazy,” whose post-success emancipation didn’t quite fit the conventional mold, and who would inevitably – beyond the crazy – seem quite content with herself working the unplugged circuit while hip-hop superstars dominated the auto-tuned airwaves? She did – here.

Unforgettable, Vol. 16: Madonna – Confessions on a Dance Floor

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In 2005, Madonna dropped the world like a discoball. She created one of the decade’s best albums as she had created her entire career: by producing a self-context so great that it becomes the world’s Pop conscience. If “the main problem with 2008′s Hard Candy was that Madonna seemingly didn’t care,” and “with American Life she cared too much, to the point where it came across pushy and self-important,” 2005’s Confessions on a Dance Floor was the perfect medium where she cared-enough-to-count. Madonna’s greatest strength is her narcissism. She is Pop, and Confessions is nothing short of a brilliant response to Madonna’s answer to her own morning inquiry: “Mirrors, mirrors on the ball: whose four minutes saves them all?”

Unforgettable, Vol. 15: Alanis Morissette – Jagged Little Pill

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Where we left off at Danger Mouse’s fusion of two absolutes – black and white – we delve further into the foggy haze of the future by looking back at where it all began; for this generation, we emanated as products of irony with one hand in our pocket searching for a jagged little pill to cure the confusion. Music is the most wonderful of all drugs; amidst the plethora of genres, artists, tracks, and tribulations Alanis Morissette’s album stands out as the Raggedy Ann within the proverbial valley of the dolls.

The 1995 culture-defining album Jagged Little Pill still stands as the most angst-ridden-apathetic, yet understated-articulate anthem for those on the fringe of Gen X and Gen Why Care? The tone, the timbre, the subdued style, and subjective substance flow as effortlessly through the recording as any given listener no doubt flowed through their bleak, semi-charmed life.

The only way to get through such a gray existence is to live through it and learn what you can in the meantime. “You Learn” rhythmically trudges along repetitiously like any given soldier plodding along a warpath, from seventies Vietnam to the 21st century Twietnam, the lyrics trek through the track as the anthemic voice in the back of any disillusioned youth’s head en route through battleground life:

I, recommend getting your heart trampled on to anyone, yeah. I, recommend biting off more than you can chew to anyone; I certainly do. Swallow it down (what a jagged little pill). It feels so good (swimming in your stomach). Wait until the dust settles. You bleed you learn, you scream you learn. You live you learn; you lose you learn.

It’s all about the little things, making the most of the mundane, if only for the sake of making something out of nothing – “life is plain; no pain, no gain, if I could I would resurrect: kurt. cobain.” *snap* *snap*

Alanis exudes a sense of beautiful contradiction. She’s starkly pure and clean, but worn and weathered. She’s bitten, but not broken. She’s bitter, but sweet. Her sound is folksy, but soulful and universally appealing. There are multitudes of layers within the simple acoustics. The sound lulls the listener into a deceptive state of passivity, while the sentiment strikes with the force of a lost lover’s scorn.

I want you to know… that I’m ha ppy for you. I, wish nothing but – the best, for, you both.

“You Oughta Know” is the Canadian “Not Gon’ Cry” meets Waiting to Exhale Angela Bassett meets 10 Things I Hate About You Julia Stiles meets criminal-minded Fiona Apple meets Betty Friedan meets the grit-flinging female to which Al Green awoke one Southern morning: it’s the fury against which Hell can nary hold a flame – it’s knocking at Uncle Joey’s door and it’s everywhere you look.

And every time you speak her name, does she know how you told me you’d hold me until you died, til you died? But you’re still alive…

… likely not by choice.

Unforgettable, Vol. 14: DJ Danger Mouse – The Grey Album

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Venturing out of the kaleidoscopic jungle fever pitch of M.I.A.’s Arular we find ourselves at the concrete crossroads between Brooklyn’s Marcy Projects and London’s Abbey Road with DJ Danger Mouse’s brilliant return to basics, the masterful Jay-Z versus The Beatles mash-up, The Grey Album. The Grey Album is a cataclysmic crux of two epic absolutes: The Beatles’ White Album and Jay-Z’s Black Album with the rhapsodic rodent at the helm. Burton blurs the lines and illuminates the bonds between good and d’evils to create a gritty grey area – platinum records sans the shine.

The Grey Album is a cultural reflection and blueprint. It is a hybrid of two artistic absolutes: Jay-Z’s Black Album as the pitch black to which he faded – the close to a career, the retirement, the sendoff, the assumed end; The Beatles’ White Album as their rebirth – the first album after the death of their manager Brian Epstein, and the first album on their own record label Apple – donning a pure white album cover with nothing but “The BEATLES” in black. The mash-up flips the roles and sees Hov’s requiem lyrics as a renaissance.

HIP HOP REMIX Countdown: #7 – The Neptunes

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The Imperial Skateboard P and Chad Hugo – better known as The Neptunes – are undoubtedly two of hip-hop’s paramount producers. If Kelis’ milkshake brought the boys to the yard, The Neptunes’ ice creams brought the billionaire boys club to the block with their signature intergalactic sound.

Pharrell paved the way for the futuristic funk stranglehold on the past decade’s mainstream sound. Tag-teaming with Hugo, Williams blended satellite synth and subwoofer shaking bass in a way that created songs that were not mere remixes, but fused genres to remake the entire Top 40. They took pop from bland bubblegum to bombastic boom, and took rap/hip-hop from the cold hard underground and into the blinding light.

Hugo and Williams’ discography jumps off the New Jack Swing kick of the early 90s where they worked with heavyhitters like Mike E, Teddy Riley, Blackstreet, Wreckx N’ Effect, and SWV. Their sound transitioned into the bass-driven vibe of mid-to-late 90s where they set the tone for the urban contemporary landscape, collaborating with rap royalty past and present: Noreaga, Total, Ma$e, The LOX, Puffy, and protege duo Clipse. One of the finest gutterfunk mixes of the era was ODB’s “Got Your Money” featuring The Neptunes first lady, Kelis.

HIP HOP REMIX Countdown: #9 – Mary J Blige

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Mary J. Blige is the undeniable Queen of Hip-Hop Soul. Her voice is the ingrained remix to a male dominated genre: she is the soul to hip-hop. Before Badu, Jill Scott, Floetry, and the crop of neo-soul crooners came along to balance out the scales, MJB was all we needed. In a career spanning two decades, when Blige blesses a track it remixes the whole genre. As with any true artist, to follow MJB’s discography and collaborations is to see a portfolio of snapshots capturing the urban identity exactly as it was within any brownstone and on any block.

Mary J. Blige is an artist whose artistry supersedes the remix. Yes, the remix of “You Remind Me” featuring Nice and Smooth is solid, but when she blesses a hip hop recording with her voice, the track approaches the stratosphere. In fact, the synergy of many of Mary’s collaborations with hip hop’s finest have, and continue to be a standard for what remixers attempt but in many cases fall short of creating, and in one special case, is the sound none will ever encapsulate.

Unforgettable, Vol. 13: M.I.A. – “Arular”

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Where we left off with the sonic schizophrenia of Kenna’s face, we now delve into M.I.A.’s socially schizophonic scape. Maya Arulpragasam came onto the scene in 2005 with her debut, Arular. M.I.A. mirrors the past – leading by sample – and marks the future. From sound to sentiment to style, she lays the groundwork for the new underground of which she spoke in NME

In people’s hard drives and their brains, it just hasn’t been outputted yet. We need a digital moshpit like we’ve never seen, harder than how people were doing it in the punk era. We need that energy, but digitally. It’s coming.

On the brink of her third album, and apparent rebirth, it’s important to see that we still have the same M.I.A. – with the same perspective – in a different package.

Arular came out when I was a freshman in college, and – in conjunction with the urban landscape of Manhattan as my backdrop – was instrumental in my musical maturation. Just as New York is a microcosm of the world, so Arular was a concentrated synthesis of sounds and global societies. Just as I was cementing my identity as a world citizen, so M.I.A. was constructing our cultural identity.

M.I.A.’s eponymous track – “Untitled” – marks her signature as much as ours: a general in the midst – and at the helm – of a lost generation. More so than most, Arulpragasam embodies this era: missing in action – we may not know where we are or what we’re doing, but we’re doing it big. Arular is that electronic indigenous sound of an era on the cusp of tradition and innovation. As M.I.A lays down her blueprint electronic to lead a tribe in the midst of unparalleled transition, so Arular reflects that ambiguity in being born free.

Unforgettable, Vol. 12: Kenna – Make Sure They See My Face

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GLADWELL: Welcome to Blink Radio. I’m Malcolm Gladwell and we’re here with Kenna who’s just about to unveil his newest work on the masses. Hello Kenna.
KENNA: Hello Gladwell.

Where Lupe Fiasco took a grip on reality and let his cool set the pace, Kenna Zemedkun pushed his mind to a fever pitch and made sure the world saw his face. Make Sure They See My Face is sonic schizophrenia. Kenna runs the gamut of sounds, styles, and sentiment in this psychotic masterpiece expressing the brilliance in bi-polarity.

Make Sure is a true catharsis, Kenna literally explodes onto the album with “Daylight,” a track best described as a sonic corona crowning an eclipse. The beats are bombastic funk; there’s synth riding along with acoustics, stratospheric effects alongside static bass, but it makes sense. From the ground up he takes solace in the places where most artists steer clear: the crazy. The only structure here is stream-of-consciousness, but with that he lets go and lets the listener into his mind – no matter how mad it may seem.

GLADWELL: Without being too aggressive, and after hearing a little bit of what you’re doing on this euphonious ride, you seem a little all over the place. Is there a reason for that?
KENNA: Well, that’s a good question. I… think maybe I’ve just been a little… schizophrenic.

Make Sure is Blink Radio. Though it is Kenna’s second album, it is his phonic first impression. From one blink to the next Zemedkun gives a track-by-track, beat-by-beat snapshot of his artistic identity; and for every blink, there is a sonic boom.

Unforgettable, Vol. 11: Lupe Fiasco – “The Cool”

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Whatever it was that N.E.R.D. was in search of: Lupe Fiasco found with his 2007 release The Cool. What is Cool? Cool is a living contradiction. Lupe doesn’t avoid the nature of Cool – he clutches to it like an insomniac to the other side of the pillow. This album lives The Cool through and through.

“They thought it was cool to burn crosses on your front lawn as they hung you from trees in your backyard. They thought it was cool to leave you thirsty and stranded, Katrina! He thought it was cool to carry a gun in his classroom and open fire, Virginia Tech, Columbine – Stop the violence! They thought it was cool to tear down the projects and put up million dollar condos, Gentrification. They think it’s cool to stand on the block hiding product in their socks to make quick dime bag dollars. They think it’s cool to ride down on you in blue and white unmarked cars busting you upside your head. Freeze… ‘Cause the problem is we think it’s cool too. Check your ingredients before you overdose, on The Cool…”

Unforgettable, Vol. 10: N.E.R.D. – In Search Of…

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The “Unforgettable” project takes a look at the key and important albums that have come to define the alternative experience. With the deluge of music in the present era, these “unforgettable” and ultra-important gems are lost in the undertow.

“No one ever really dies… You believe that? Well, if not – for you – it’s almost over now.”

Where we left off with Justice’s French futuristic opera, we pick up with the album that almost was an electronic “eh,” but instead became a funk-infused flashback that found more in searching than most others did in attaining.

Pharrell “the Imperial Skateboard P” Williams, Chad Hugo, and Shay Haley, better known as N.E.R.D., while on the brink of The Neptunes’ next-level stranglehold on Western radio, retreated to Europe to release their highly anticipated debut album as a trio. Then, as modern lore has it, they recorded the original as an electronic album, decided it was trash (read: American Top 40 Treasure), went back in the studio to record the album with live instruments, and shipped it as a proper international release.

In 2010, in the spirit of moving on to the next one: I say we all embark on a similar search.

Unforgettable, Vol. 9: Justice – †

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At a time when nothing was sacred, everything real was artificial, and “America” was the culprit: we found freedom in the music – we found our Jesus and our Kubrick. Justice’s 2007 release Cross was the literal presentation of Arcade Fire’s standout album; the neon bible was authentic synth soul. The French came to the rescue again – via Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay – in a musical Yankee liberation movement. Cross was the 21st Century Lady Liberty, a shining beacon of hope for the sonically stranded stateside souls. Before Justice, it was just us brother – lonely.

When something falls out of place, take your time and put it back… to the start we go as Cross opens with “Genesis.” This is the kind of track that takes you back to confession, kneel before the turntable altar: because Justice is taking you to Church – not merely metaphysical, but a complete out-of-body spiritual experience.

Grammy 2010: Let’s Get It – Predictions, Punchlines, and Pop Waxed Poetically

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So, it’s that amazing time of year again… GRAMMY SEASON – let’s get it! I get excited during oddly specific times of year: my birthday, the first legit Spring day of the year, the first legit Fall day of the year, VMA night, any time when I get money and/or presents, the proper release of a music video/album that hasn’t leaked, and Grammy night. Yes, you’re thinking: “Well, that’s whack,” “Who watches that other than old people,” “Sunday is laundry night,” “Who is Grammy?” No, I don’t care.

This year is grrrrrreater than Tony the Tiger – yes, I say that about every year by and large because when it comes to this and the VMAs I can’t avoid the inner-Millenial child that gets brink-of-seizure status excited about any annual encapsulation of all things Pop… regardless of how terrible said year in Pop actually was. This year though, we’ve got: Lady GaGa opening. Assuming the Staples Center doesn’t spontaneously combust after said opening, they’ve also got: 3D Michael Jackson tribute (I knew saving 3D glasses from random childhood scenarios would come in handy… take that A&E’s Hoarders); Wheelchair Jimmy, Wayne, Eminem, and Travis Barker (yeah, Kanye’s absence downgrades that from win to “we’ll see”); “Andy Warhol” is large enough in the Grammy site tag cloud to make me pull out the silver hairspray; 11 of my 14 Dime A Dozen honorees are nominees; and… some other stuff.

Anyway, long story short here’s the rundown of my should win, will win, sayin’, and possibly a “doesn’t need the win anyway.”

The HARD 10: #6 Deftones – White Pony (2000)

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The HARD 10 are ten of the most graphic albums ever released that all left an indelible mark upon the listener and the industry as a whole. Do enjoy these tales and songs, and carry their power into your life, finding their unrepentant aggression to be as emotionally valuable as tears.

A Dime, A Dozen: Lady Gaga and Kanye West – Monstrous Mavens

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And then there were two: Lady Gaga and Kanye West – the only two.

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Lady Gaga and Kanye West are the artists of the decade not only because they embodied Pop culture, but because they were integral catalysts engaging and propelling those artists and works that built this decade’s Pop landscape. Madonna and Jay-Z set the blueprint from a dictating parental standpoint. Gaga and Ye set the blueprint directly blazing the path, as conductors leading the way for the new creative class of which they themselves are members. They didn’t need a subtitle outside of their own names because their names are Pop – however, one can’t resist an alliterative play-on-words.

Lady Gaga: Pretense: Lady Gaga as we know her was created – not born – in 2006. Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” depicted the goddess’ epic emanation from the ocean. Zephyrs, symbols of spiritual passions, blew the goddess of love, sexuality, and beauty onto the shore. Lady Gaga emanated from Stefani Germanotta. Bowie, Warhol, Queen, and Lady Starlight – symbols of pure Pop Glam passions, blew the modern iconography of love, art, sexuality, and beauty onto the world’s greatest stage: New York. Gaga is only three years old, but her creator was as integral to Pop Art – within this or any decade – as her creation – if only because of the masterpiece she made.

A Dime, A Dozen: Madonna and Jay-Z – Pop Pillars

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Round 6 of “A Dime, A Dozen” brings us to a pair that needs no introduction (that was easy): Madonna and Jay-Z

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As far as modern culture is concerned, there was no “before Madonna” or “before Jay-Z,” these two go back with American Pop like babies and pacifiers – we were the babies, they appeased our early adolescent pop culture confusion, and fed our pop hearts (watch this space). This list wouldn’t exist without either of these Pop pillars. Essentially, not enough can be said about the overall impact of Madge or Hov on modern music and culture. However, said impact is by-and-large concentrated in their heydays of the 80s (Madonna) and 90s (Jay-Z). Yet, in the midst of bubblegum pop tarts and auto-tuned out wankstas, Madonna and Jay-Z remained relevant. They were not so much out of touch with the young mainstream, as they were elevated monarchs presiding over their pool of possible heirs.

Madonna and Jay-Z are not only Pop’s pillars; they are the architects, Godparents, and yin and yang. They don’t collaborate with one another, they act independently to build each of their niches – which combines to create a panoramic baseline for Pop. The 2009 VMAs indicated just that:

The VMAs open with Madonna — $120m “360″ deal for 10 years, about to come out with her epic greater-than-greatest hits CD/DVD collection: Celebration, reminding the world of her icon status, not that she trying to steal the spotlight from the Taylor Swifts, but that she built the stage they’re on right now — and the VMAs close with Jay-Z — $150m “360″ deal for 10 years, off the heels of his 9/11 concert and Blueprint 3 release, reminding the world of his icon status, that he’s not battling the Gucci Manes, but that he christened the battlefield, he’s reminding the pop princes, princesses, and paupers how to look at the big picture and get into the empire state of mind. So, the middle is all filler but the bookends are steady — thanks, Live Nation, you corporate behemoth you.

As architects Madonna and Jay-Z (literally) laid the blueprint throughout the decade.

A Dime, A Dozen: Britney Spears and T.I. –– Southern Phoenix

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Round 4 of “A Dime, A Dozen” finds its focus on The South –– and the two who proved that it could indeed rise again: Britney Spears and T.I.


Britney Spears and Tip Harris: these two from the belly of the map went from trendy to trendsetting in two tales of pop glory that had many Northern Aggressors fearing a second coup d’etat from below. However, both Spears and Harris tumbled before reigning triumphant. It’s only a loss if you lose the lesson –– or weapon.

Straight shooter Lil’ Wayne once said, “This is Southern, face it. If we too simple then y’all don’t get the basics;” if nothing else, these two embodied the two most basic elements of American Pop this decade: “Sex Sells; Crime Pays.”

A Dime, A Dozen: Beyonce and Justin Timberlake –– Bandstand Breakouts

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Round 5 of “A Dime, A Dozen” brings us to a woman of fate and the captain who went solo before his ship sailed out and sunk: Beyonce and Justin Timberlake.

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Beyonce and Justin Timberlake: This pair led two of the biggest gold mines of the 2000s before breaking western harder than a Frisco earthquake –– but it paid off and thus is why they are indisputable Pop icons of the decade. Destiny’s Child is one of the best selling female groups of all-time (wait imma let you finish <–– watch this space). *N Sync, one statistic: 2.4 million albums, 1 week –– and Justin still went solo like he had no strings attached. Knowles is like a Diana Ross, and Timberlake like an Elvis who distracts you with an MJ studded glove. These two remained relevant in a decade where their new selves rendered their original selves irrelevant –– they were the video that killed their own radio stars.

A Dime, A Dozen: Amy Winehouse and Lil’ Wayne – The Inkwell

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Round 3 of “A Dime, A Dozen” brings us to the tatted – but oh so talented – tandem that is Amy Winehouse and Lil’ Wayne: The Inkwell.

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Seemingly limitless, infinite, amounts of ungodly God-given talent flow through the veins of these two. Amy and Wayne are those kids in the corner who your parents warned you about – but didn’t need to because they were out of your league anyway, in their own special way.

A Dime, A Dozen: Christina Aguilera and Coldplay – Mainstream Maestros (Honorable Mention)

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Round 2 of “A Dime, A Dozen” is the duo-that-didn’t-quite, the couple-right-outside-the-court: Christina Aguilera and Coldplay, my honorably mentioned Mainstream Maestros.

Pretense: These two… these two, these two. Coldplay could’ve been where Radiohead is, and Christina could’ve been where Britney – eh, well when you see the rest of the list you’ll see a better parallel <– hint) – is. That said, Christina and Coldplay are technically great artists, they pay attention to composition, and the classical art behind music – which I appreciate. They are also deliberate with their works – deliberate to the point of releasing an album and then disappearing for a few years; only to come back with a wildly successful, thoroughly enjoyable, and critically acclaimed piece, touring for a bit, running the award show gamut, and settling into a hibernating state for another few years before beginning the cycle yet again – which I appreciate. That said, thus is why they are not in the Court – they take too long. They are too traditional in method – message notwithstanding – to be Pop’s best of the decade. I cannot ignore the sheer talent and artistry of Christina Aguilera or Coldplay though.

A Dime, A Dozen: M.I.A. and Radiohead

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My year-end review is a recap of the greatest Pop artists of the past decade.

Pretense: Pop and celebrity are like high school; so, I made a list of my top artists and paired them up Homecoming style –– five couples in the court, two with the crown –– to give you “A Dime, A Dozen:” ten years, twelve artists (and an honorable mention couple, because in America: we’re all winners –– certificates of participation for everyone).

Court Couple the first: M.I.A. and Radiohead Foreign Firestarters

M.I.A.:  Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam, the technicolor artist – British by way of Sri Lanka – burst onto the scene with her explosive debut album, Arular, in 2004. By the official release of her first album she was already an underground staple with a collection of acclaimed visual art, and the widely-shared “Galang” and “Sunshowers” tracks storming the internet. Point blank: M.I.A. was much needed and right on time in 2004. In a sloppy seconds, twice warmed (and screwed) over Bush-era world we needed outright rebellion and revolution – of the rhythmic persuasion. Namely:

SwaggerJacks and Cowboy Hats, Hits, Misses, and Hot Messes: AMAs 2009

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AMA night: the poor man’s Grammy night. It is fitting that Taylor Swift George Bushed the show, seeing as the recurring thought through my head between 8-11pm last night and 2000-2008 was “alright, let’s just get this over with.”

The theme of last night’s show was apparently “SwaggerJack” (from the VMAs to the CMAs, from BEP to Gloriana, and everywhere in between) – that or “country fried wtf” (read: Reba “Who Let the Gingers In” McEntire). Either way, every so often – in the midst of the cacophony of clownery that was the American Music Awards – there were a few moments that mattered; so let’s scan the sea of SwaggerJacks and momentarily memorable moments that mattered for a minute.

Janet Jackson: Technically great performance – nice set list, decent choreography, diversified look back at a noteworthy career. What was lacking was the “everything else” factor. Janet’s opening was an on-point introduction to the awards show that would pale tragically in comparison to the VMAs, relive the god-awful question mark that was the CMAs, and be a style-and-substanceless shell of Americana. Janet had a fire during the VMAs – a spark, a catalyst – that was undeniable; and that spark fueled the pop spectacle that followed. The AMAs was structured to be a great show, like Janet’s technically great opener, but where the VMAs were controlled chaos, the AMAs were just controlled.

Unforgettable, Vol. 8: TLC – CrazySexyCool

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T-Boz, Left Eye, and Chilli: from the shade of a summer block party, to the champagne room of your mans-an-em’s favorite bar. The move from Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip to CrazySexyCool, showed a growth during the two years in between that sounded like twelve –– age: ain’t nothin’ but a number. The anthemic urban contemporary album is a staple of 90s music; it is like any hustler’s down-bottom: your ride or die, never fail, glitzy/grimy when you need it to be, solid go-to. The group matured, but more importantly, they did so together. Their sophomore effort reflected the urban music world’s trinity: three distinct parts of the same unified entity. The sound and demeanor reflect a subdued confidence, the sleeper swag so indicative of 90s female R&B music. The title says it all, and it is really all you need: Crazy, Sexy, Cool.

Unforgettable, Vol. 7: Aaliyah – Aaliyah

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Age ain’t nothin’ but a number, gettin’ down ain’t nothin but a thang…

so simple, so straight-forward, so smooth –– so very extra smooth. At 14, Aaliyah set the foundation for a theme that would resonate through her career. Aaliyah was (forgive the overused terminology, but) subterranean silk sleeper swag: well-versed within the R&B/Hip-Hop arenas –– though never breaking to Beyonce or Alicia Keys status (which added to her persona –– she wasn’t a diva, she was fierce just being Babygirl), enlisting on the likes of two unknowns: Missy Elliott and Tim Mosely (Google them, I think they’ve got some independent tracks on YouTube) after working with the 90s R&B staple, R. Kelly, smooth vocals –– not overbearing but instrumental in her signature harmonies –– and so incredibly laid back in a take-it-or-leave-it way.

Her classic “street but sweet” aura personified the era of urban contemporary music. Forever under the lingering shadow of controversial marriage rumors, her age was nothin’ but a number indeed; and forever in the midst of an unfaltering ability to effortlessly exude –– and be the essence of –– urban contemporary culture meant gettin’ down (and making music for you to get down to) was nothin’ but a thang.

Unforgettable, Vol. 6: Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreak

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If Graduation is Fame, 808s & Heartbreak Kills. In the wake of Graduation’s superlative Indian summer high, 808s and Heartbreak is the inevitable comedown – the crash of the coldest winter. West described this album as “Pop Art,” in its ability to merge hip-hop credibility with mainstream appeal to innovate authentic music in a way only paralleled by Pink Floyd: Welcome to heartbreak – the dark side of the moon.

Unforgettable, Vol. 5: Kanye West – Graduation

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Graduation is that October Song” masterpiece: a piece of art that needs no external interpretation because it is complete in and of itself. At the most superficial and benign level, Kanye is Alex Trebek and Graduation is “Jeopardy:” a series of answers engaging you to question.

It is a fact that when immersed in the surreal, people’s ability to make sense of the world around them is increased. The fragmented fantastical enhances our ability to connect themes and build structure – when given fantasy we are best equipped to perceive reality.

Thus is Kanye’s Graduation. An artist of West’s caliber is beyond “this world;” his ability to connect words, ideas, art forms, the abstract and concrete, is unreal. Nowhere is this more present than in his masterful encapsulation of modern life – above and below: Graduation.

Unforgettable, Vol. 4: Amy Winehouse – Frank

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Amy, Amy, Amy… born to blossom, bloom to perish, sleep to wake again. Drake says you can’t bring the future back, but when Winehouse asks of herself in 2003’s Frank “Where’s my moral parallel?” she defied that theory. Back to Black was the fateful answer –– the artistic masterpiece, and beautiful disaster –– but as it preceded the U.S. release of Winehouse’s true debut, pre-“Rehab Frank became the answer to its own question.

Unforgettable, Vol. 3: Amy Winehouse – Back to Black

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As the old saying goes, “the sun never sets on England;” so the new saying seems to be, “the talent never fades in Britain,” and in both cases it is in the darkest moments where light burns brightest. Enter Amy Winehouse. Before Hov’s heavily-mediated man-on-a-mission 2009 Auto-Tune massacre, Amy killed it softly; before Roc Nation rocked “all black everything,” Amy Winehouse took it Back to Black. Let’s revisit the death and renaissance of rehab.

Unforgettable, Vol. 2: Lily Allen – My Second Mixtape

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Fresh off the heels of her brilliant My First Mixtape, Lily Allen released the appropriately-titled follow-up, My Second Mixtape. Compared to MFM, MSM is darker, heavier, more urban, more chaotic – like Day & Night. It’s unforgettable because from the mindset of a young artist facing the sophomore slump – an artist fed up with the scene, coming down from the freshman high, in search of a definitive, unique voice and place — comes the musical mosaic of an artist on the brink of senior status.

Whereas MFM was a UK millennial girl’s devil-may-care-but-i-care-greatly look at her persona in relation to music – all of it – MSM delves deeper to the core of her person in the midst of modern music. Like MFM, MSM has an infectious sound; it is a smattering of drum n bass, r&b, rap, psychedelic, etc. There’s dozens of themes and messages hidden within the lyrics, titles, and beats – again, Lily requires dissertations not reviews – but beyond the complexities is the simple fact that everything this girl produces, makes sense. More importantly, everything she produces makes sense of everything of which she is a product.

Unforgettable, Vol. 1: Lily Allen – My First Mixtape

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Good Morning. What’s so special about Saturday morning? Depends on whether the Friday night before it was memorably forgotten… Art is said to imitate life, but it is an amazing moment when the imitation collapses in the presence of life as art. Much like that one strikingly familiar stranger from an otherwise forgettable Friday night, Lily Allen is that one perfectly imperfect artist – person – in an otherwise forgettable genre of overproduced pop avatars – personas. Her understated introduction to the world, My First Mixtape, was that Saturday morning wake up from the flashy Friday night of .com 40 puffery. Fear not: all isn’t lost in the MySpace generation; for the ten thousand avastars, there is Lily Allen: the reason, that just so happens to rhyme with silly. So, allow me to reintroduce herself…

My First Mixtape is a taste of why Rolling Stone said,” Lily Allen is not just a pop star. She’s a genre.” Vis a vis, Allen’s albums don’t call for reviews; they call for deconstructions.