Ohio State Marching Band “Michael Jackson Tribute”

The Ohio State Marching Band is appropriately known as the “best damn band in the land” and you’ll probably agree after watching this Michael Jackson tribute that has gained a ton of attention and millions of views on YouTube. You’ll be stunned to watch the band simulate Michael Jackson moonwalking.

Underground Rapper of the Week: Das Racist

Underground Rapper of the Week is a new feature designed to raise awareness of rappers from all over the world who, if that world were a perfect place, would be more famous than they are. It will be updated every Tuesday before the sun goes down. Feel free to email suggestions of slept-on rappers from your city or wherever to: ezra.stead@gmail.com

When rap music and other aspects of Hip-Hop culture originated in the 1970s, they were wrongly seen by many as a passing fad that wouldn’t last long. Now that Hip-Hop has infiltrated all of popular culture and become perhaps the most important musical and cultural movement since rock and roll, it is fitting that it has moved into its postmodern stage, and no one epitomizes this idea better than the New York duo (or trio, if you count their hype man, Dapwell) known as Das Racist. Emcees Heems and Kool A.D. named their crew after a brief but memorable moment in the brilliant sketch comedy series Wonder Showzen, just one of the staggering multitude of pop culture references that fill their lyrics. As Heems explains it, “I think being minorities at a liberal arts college and that type of environment had an impact on both the way we view race and our sense of humor, which people often use as a tool to deal with race. I always felt like Wonder Showzen was a television show that captured that type of thing perfectly.”

This balance between humor and genuine anger at racism and other social ills fills DR’s music as well, competing with jokes, allusions and references for space in their absurdly dense lyrics over club beats that allow the casual listener to just bob their heads and dance, in case they’re not inclined to decipher what DR means when they describe someone as “hard to read like Finnegan’s Wake” (in an insanely catchy song called “Coochie Dip City,” no less). The irreverence of their wordplay and the fact that they first gained notice for the almost sublimely ridiculous single, “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” has led some to dismiss DR as joke rap, but this is an unfair label because they are actually extremely skilled emcees with an obviously deep knowledge and love of Hip-Hop. Heems sums their approach up quite well on “Don Dada,” from their first mixtape, Shut Up, Dude: “Is it parody, comedy, novelty or scholarly? A little bit of column A, a little bit of column B.”

With their follow-up mixtape, Sit Down, Man, Das Racist continued to gain respect as true lyricists, moving further away from both the “joke rap” label and the often equally irksome “conscious” one. However, this is not to say they don’t clearly embrace the power of humor, without sliding down the slippery slope of making actual novelty music. As Heems says in one of the most brilliant and hilarious interviews of all time, “All I wanted to do was make some jokes – mostly about race, though not necessarily consciously – over dance music that would serve to undermine it so Talib Kweli fans wouldn’t like it.” With their two mixtapes and the full-length debut album, Relax, Das Racist is proving to be no joke, even if their live show is a little bit like House Party 2.

Bullz-Eye’s Top Ten Music Moments of 2010: Staff Writer Rob Smith’s Picks

In my mind, 2010 will be remembered more for moments of strangeness, oddity, and lessened expectation, than it will be for transcendent music. The throwaway nature of pop has never been more transient or incidental; technology enables us to hear as much as we want and, by the sheer volume of those possibilities, to actively listen as little as we ever have. How else to explain Ke$ha and the Glee cast recordings, much less the continuing nonsense of Black Eyed Peas? Raise your hand if you think Bruno Mars or Rihanna are still going to be churning out hits ten years from now, or that Katy Perry (more about her below) will still be squeezing into latex after she and her pasty Brit hubby have two or three little Russells to contend with, and things start saggin’.

I will remember 2010 for several key moments:

Top 10 Music Moments of 2010

1. The Roots, Being the Roots. Are they the best band on the planet? It’s hard to argue when their versatility is put on display every weeknight, and when they reiterate their overall excellence by turning out two of the best records of the year (How I Got Over and Wake Up, with John Legend).

2. Dio, Chilton Die. We lost metal’s gentle sorcerer (Ronnie James Dio) and Big Star’s genius-in-residence (Alex Chilton) within a few months of one another. May they both rock in peace.


Read the rest after the jump...

Michael Jackson estate and Sony reach deal

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the estate of Michael Jackson and Sony have reached a record-setting deal worth $250 million. The terms guarantee the estate at least $200 million while giving Sony the rights to produce 10 albums of both new and previously material over the next seven years.

Since Mr. Jackson’s death on June 25, Sony has sold an estimated 31 million of his albums globally. By the first anniversary of his death, his estate expects to have earned $250 million from sales of music, merchandise and tickets to the posthumous concert film “This Is It.”

The advances being paid by Sony are to be offset by sales of albums as well as revenue generated by licensing Mr. Jackson’s music for uses like videogames, movies and theatrical performances. But unlike the megadeals struck in recent years by concert promoter Live Nation Entertainment Inc. with pop stars Jay-Z and Madonna, the Jackson deal doesn’t give Sony income from other parts of the late singer’s business, such as merchandise sales or fees for licensing his name and likeness.

With deals such as this between a business and an estate, the business certainly employs more of a long-term strategy to making a profit. Michael Jackson’s estate, however, had to act quickly since it had a massive debt to pay off the massive debt caused by the King of Pop’s spending in recent years. Sony simply realizes everlasting appeal of Michael Jackson’s music. With the cash to back it, I think it safe to safe the company will recoup its investment.


Photo from fOTOGLIF

Dr. Conrad Murray pleads not guilty to Michael Jackson’s death

Dr. Conrad Murray, the physician hired by Michael Jackson to help him prepare for his comeback tour, has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter charges in the singer’s death.

From Yahoo! News:

Dr. Conrad Murray appeared in court in a gray suit as Jackson’s father Joe, mother Katherine, and siblings LaToya, Jermaine, Tito, Jackie and Randy watched from courtroom seats behind prosecutors.

Neither Murray nor the Jacksons showed much emotion as Murray entered his plea through his attorney Ed Chernoff.

“We need justice,” Joe Jackson said outside court.

Earlier, several people shouted “murderer” as Murray walked past a crowd of hundreds of reporters and Jackson fans on his way to a courthouse adjacent to Los Angeles International Airport.
Murray, 56, a Houston cardiologist who was with Jackson when he died June 25, entered his plea just hours after he was charged.

Superior Court Judge Keith L. Schwartz set bail at $75,000, three times more than the amount most people face after being charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Prosecutors had been seeking $300,000 bail for Murray, who was taken into custody by deputies but not handcuffed in public. He was expected to be released later in the day.

At the time of his death, Jackson was using various painkillers — notably propofol — to treat his chronic insomnia. Since propofol can cut one’s breathing and heart rate while lowering blood pressure, only physicians with the qualified training can administer the drug, and in a medical setting no less. The prosecution is stating that Murray illegally obtained the propofol and then was negligent in monitoring Jackson’s use. The charges carry a sentence of up to four years in prison.


Photo from fOTOGLIF

21st Century Breakdown: The iDecade: Michael Fortes’ Ten “Best” Albums of the Aughts

As the aughts draw to a close… who cares? Seriously, who really does care? Does it mean the same to you as it does to me? I ask because this is what I see:

The span of time between the years 2000 and 2009 was like no decade that came before in that, given the rapid and ever more sophisticated advances in technology, we’ve been able to create our own very unique cultural experiences. There may be no “i” in “team” or “us” or “together,” but “i” creeped into our TV viewing experiences (TiVo), our telephones (the iPhone), our computers (how about the iMac?), and – most significantly – the way we listen to music (iTunes, the iPod, etc.), which is arguably where many of our personalized media experiences began in the first place. Which is great, on one level. If we only want to hear what we want to hear at the moment that we want, we can have that experience for relatively little money, at any time we please.

But on the other hand, what was threatening to become reality pretty much happened in the ’00s – we collectively eliminated the possibility of there ever being another Beatles, Elvis Presely or Michael Jackson, someone that most of us can all agree on. Given that Michael left us mid-way through the last year of the decade, we have effectively lost our last great pop culture figure, and even he was vulnerable to the pressures of our shape-shifting culture. The one album of all original material he released this decade (2001′s Invincible) was not only one of his poorest sellers, it also sucked way more often than it didn’t. Granted, we still have two Beatles left, but even Paul McCartney hasn’t been able to produce an album that could unite all of his old and young fans the way his work with the Beatles continues to do.

Which brings us to the album itself. It’s not completely dead, and will always have a place so long as musicians think of themselves as artists and still revel in the joy of creating a cohesive work of art. But let’s face it – fewer people are buying albums (on CD, that is – digital download sales and even sales of vinyl records continue to increase, though not nearly enough to offset the decline in CD purchases). And that translates to fewer people who can come together to agree on which ones are great, and which ones are best forgotten. And fewer people to care.

Having said all that, in conjunction with our End of Decade series, I present to you my picks for ten best albums of the decade, in no particular order. These are albums that, for one reason or another, connected me to many, many different people over the past ten years, all of whom mean something to me. Maybe you’re one of them, or maybe you will be someday.

Doves – Lost Souls (2000)
Queens of the Stone Age – Rated R (2000)
Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes (2008)
M. Ward – The Transfiguration of Vincent (2003)
Brian Wilson – Smile (2004)
The Gutter Twins – Saturnalia (2008)
Beck – Sea Change (2002)
Ambulance LTD – LP (2004)
Erykah Badu – Mama’s Gun (2000)
Herbie Hancock – River: The Joni Letters (2007)

The King of Pop is dead! Long live the King of Pop!

Who would’ve thought that I’d be sitting here on June 25, 2009, drinking to the memory of Michael Jackson?

Not me, that’s for goddamned sure. I’d been following the various stories about his upcoming residency at London’s O2 Arena, idly wondering if perhaps the outrageous number of sold-out shows might well inspire Michael to tour the States again. As it happens, my wife was pondering the very same possibility. She and I have our own informal lists of artists we’ve never caught in concert but hope to see someday, and he was a lock for both of us. That’d probably explain why, when I told her the news of Michael’s death earlier today, she burst into tears.

We have seen the Elvis Presley of our generation, and he was Michael Jackson.

You can’t overstate Michael’s importance to people who grew up in the ‘80s. Sure, his time with his brothers in the Jackson 5 during the ‘70s resulted in some damned fine music, and I’ll gladly trumpet the merits of his 1979 album, Off the Wall, as the second best thing he released in his career, but you know it and I know it: Thriller was the shit. It sold 26 million copies, it produced an unprecedented seven Top 10 singles, and it was the soundtrack to my teen years. No matter how “alternative” my tastes in music may have gotten, from the Sex Pistols to the Velvet Underground, Robyn Hitchcock to Social Distortion, I have never hesitated to acknowledge that Thriller is one of my favorite albums of all time. I get how people who didn’t live through the astronomical success of the record can’t conceive how you can know that Michael was accused of pedophilia and yet still declare that he was and, to a certain extent, always will be the King of Pop.

But it’s true. He is.

That’s not to say that his reign hadn’t been without its problems, obviously, and the problem with an album like Thriller is that, after the dust has settled, there’s only one question left to be asked: how the hell do you follow it up? It’s easy to say that Michael never came anywhere near matching that record, but, hey, I just listened to “Dirty Diana” and followed it up with “Smooth Criminal,” so don’t tell me that Bad doesn’t have some kick-ass moments on it, too. I don’t necessarily have the same level of love for Dangerous (although “Remember the Time” has definitely withstood the test of time quite well), but I do think that, had he opted to release the new-material disc of HIStory – known as HIStory Continues – separately rather than couple it with a best-of disc, a lot more people would be praising it today. I still think “Stranger in Moscow” is one of the best songs the guy ever did, and if you’ve ever been sympathetic to the plight of a young boy growing up in the spotlight and never getting a chance to be a kid, then the song and video for “Childhood” just might make you tear up…like it’s doing to me right now.

But I’ve got to be honest: Michael’s last studio album, 2001′s Invincible, didn’t do a whole lot for me (“You Rock My World” and “Butterflies” excepted), and I’ve spent most of the last five years doing nothing but criticizing the guy for not doing everything in his power to mount a comeback.

Back in 2004, Michael released his poorly named Ultimate Collection – a seemingly random selection of singles, album tracks, rarities, demos, and previously unreleased material from the vaults – and I took him to task for it. “With everything he’s gone through in his personal life in recent years,” I said, “what he really needs far more than anything else is to kick-start his musical credibility. The perfect way to do that would’ve been to put together a definitive collection of all of his hits, spread out across as many discs as it takes to do the job properly…and I’m talking somebody-shake-the-cobwebs-off-‘Farewell My Summer Love’ definitive.”

But he didn’t.

In 2005, he announced that he was busy producing an all-star charity single called “I Have A Dream” to help raise relief funds for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

But he never released it.

And when the 25th anniversary of his most iconic album rolled around, he celebrated the event not by taking the opportunity to release a new album but, rather, to drag a bunch of newer artists into the studio to either remix or re-record songs from Thriller.

At the time, I said…

It’s clear that Michael Jackson has brought in these younger and – let’s face it – hipper artists in order to make the statement, “Hey, world, I’m still relevant,” but, as ever, he just doesn’t get it. Nowhere is this more evident than on the DVD that’s included in this package, which provides the album’s three iconic videos (“Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” and “Thriller”), along with the performance of “Billie Jean” from the “Motown 25” television special that serves as the 1980s version of the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” He didn’t need to bring in a bunch of young upstarts; all he had to do was take this DVD and the original nine-song CD version of Thriller, hold them aloft, and say, “This is why you should respect me!”

But he didn’t.

What hurts the most about Michael dying now is that, finally, it looked like he was going to get off his arse and do something about reclaiming his legacy as a superstar of pop. He had these sold-out dates in the UK, and for once, despite all of the false starts he’d offered over the course of the last half-decade, it looked like he was actually going to come back.

And, then, he was gone.

I found out about Michael’s death just as I was walking out the door to take my three-year-old daughter along with me to the grocery store. She was already in the car, in fact, so when I went outside and got behind the wheel, I felt obliged to tell her why I’d taken so long.

I said, “Michael Jackson died, sweetie. That’s why I’m a little upset.”

“You liked him?” she asked.

“I did,” I replied. “He was one of Daddy’s favorite singers.” Then I hesitated for a second and clarified, “Well, maybe he wasn’t one of my favorite singers. But he was very, very important to me and Mama. We listened to him all the time when we were growing up. And that’s why we’re sad.”

And, then, my daughter – God bless her – put the whole thing in perspective by asking a single question: “But you can still listen to his music, right?”

Absolutely right. And that’s why, when we sat down to dinner at the Harris household tonight, we did so listening to Thriller.

Goodbye, Michael. Thanks for the memories…and the music.

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