New Music Releases ~ The Real Dope

….from cmac, your quasi music critic.

So ya’ll know how much I love music.  I consider it my drug of choice.  I saw the dope man the other day and got some new stuff.  I wanted to spread the word and allow others to share in the joy.  If you want to get high with me, then stop at your local drug house record store of choice for these selections. 

Exist

This is classic Tony Rich… smooth and mellow.  The first track, “Part The Waves,” gets it all started and it continues with, “Jordan,” “Sugar Hill” and “Sweet Addiction.”  The tempo is consistent and it flows wonderfully.  As a friend of mine said, “I think somebody told Rich that, ‘Hey, you know you sound best when you sound like Babyface… and he ain’t singing no more.  So why not? ‘ You can jam this in the car on an evening ride or just chill on it with a glass of your favorite wine.

The Way I See It

This is something totally different than what you used from one of the creators of the group Tony Toni Tone.  This guy goes totally retro Motown on us with songs that sound like they could be in the movie Cooley High.  He even kept the songs to around three minutes to fit the era that inspired them.  Still he has enough insight to bring along Joss Stone, Stevie Wonder and Jay-Z.   With this CD you get nostalgia and four part harmony that you can’t help but to enjoy.

Fearless

OMG – this is FEARLESS.  This 21 year old is from Philly, and is a prodigy of Missy Elliott.  This has to go to my list of coldest and most innovative debuts.  Ok, first of all she has this raspy voice that reminds you of Lauryn Hill at times… especially on, “Need You Bad.”  When I first heard that jam on the radio I almost got pissed cause I felt she was biting too hard.  But when you travel through the CD she shows her own flavor in full form and it shines through.  I have never heard anything like this before.  Look, her first cut is called, “Bust Your Windows.”  As a guy I’m like, “What the…?”  But the song is so tight and you understand why she had to do it.  After that she gets on down and explores a plethora of subject matters with, “Lions, Tigers and Bears,” a very thoughtful piece on love and fear.  “Call Me Guilty,” deals with a woman’s last ditch solution to solve the problem of an abusive man that would make Mary J. Blige bow down!  “One Night Stand,” – funny about how a woman who prefers the fast life but runs across the wrong right brother and gets caught up, “making pancakes in the morning.”  This CD is sooooo refreshing!  Full of originality and style.  It’s a must have for your collection!

A Long Time Coming

From the surprise category – yes the same Wayne Brady your thinking of.  The, “Do I have to smack a bitch?” Wayne Brady from the Dave Chappelle Show.  You see like Jamie Foxx this comedian has the jones for music too.  And if you are familiar with Brady’s ability to imitate other voices, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he did this project.  Wayne Brady did Vegas for a while.  Apparently the record executives heard him incorporate his singing into the show.  They asked him to do it the way he had on stage without changing anything.  This is the result – an old skool soulful throw back sound that is mature and ready for immediate play on your CD player.  Brady has chops!  To go along with it he has great production value and my favorite word again… originality.  He definitely rocks his own style and took this work seriously.  It clearly shows.  This shit music is pimp!

And then there is this….

WHACK ASS ALBUM OF THE SEASON…..

Joe Thomas, New Man

I was listening to Joe’s, “New Man.”  I had to look at the CD again and make sure it wasn’t Neo or Chris Brown instead.  I don’t know what happened other than perhaps they are trying to draw a new and younger audience.  The funny thing is that the best parts of the CD of the last 5 snippets of music that is supposed to be released in Feburary 2009.  All five of those sounds hot!  I don’t know about the new man, but please Joe, bring back the old man!  On the upside at least the brother got resistered to vote yesterday thanks to Tom Joyner. 

Something Else (Includes Six Bonus Tracks) [Amazon.com Exclusive]

Looking forward to that Robin Thicke scheduled to be released on September 30th….

Droppin’ It Like Its Hot… Today

Its funny – I had never been a huge Eric Benet fan.  Thats almost by default though.  You see I have a lot of his music, and I really do enjoy his old school R&B flavor.  But for some reason I just never really took his music too seriously.  Perhaps it was his pretty boy image I shunned.  Kind of like watching Shamar Moore in movies.  I would say to myself, “If that n*gga wasn’t all pretty nobody would cast him.”  Perhaps it was the fairy tale failed marriage to Halle Berry.  “How can you mess that up brotha?  Damn! You IDIOT!!”  I don’t know. 

I gave Benet another chance over a year ago when I listened to his CD titled, “Hurricane.”  And though I didn’t care for the hit single, “I Wanna Be Loved, ” (perhaps cause radio tends to repeat songs so much they make me outright HATE them) I did enjoy most of the rest.  Then I got into his older stuff and enjoyed that too.

Now I am a big fan of his music and I really dig the new single, “Your The Only One.”  Talk about HOT.  That is the JAM!  His new CD is drops today and I will be picking it up with the quickness – at least this week when my personal music source hooks me up!  Benet’s music may be growing on me, but I also think he’s growing period.  The songs are mature – definitely not catering to the kids.  This is grown folks music – and I look forward to flowing with the vibes from a cat that puts me in the mind of classic R&B romantic songs.

 

Music Week:The Irony of Hip Hop, Gangster Rap, and Hollywood Success

 

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Growing up during the origins of rap music and what we now call hip hop, I witnessed an art which themes started with, dancing and bragging about personal likes and lighthearted fun.  Later, it expanded as some artist got into heavier subjects dealing with poverty, crime and life in the streets.  “The Message,” by Grandmaster Flash comes to mind.  Then along came the soap opera kind of rap like UTFO’s “Roxanne Roxanne” and Roxanne’s own response.  By the late 80’s, groups like Public Enemy were schooling us about politics and NWA brought a whole new change to the game by bringing gang life rhetoric and storytelling from Compton, California to the world.  I would say to some degree this was hip hop at its heights.  Perhaps I’m a bit aged though.  We still have an element of ghetto life and gangster rap out there, but it lacks the charisma and style of people like Mr. Scarface and The Ghetto Boys. 

 

 

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Hip hop has taken its share of hits from the public and some of it very valid.  From Tipper Gore to many parents, church goers, and culture critics, the lyrics and messages within the music has been widely critiqued and criticized.  Many blame hip hop for the ills of the black community and often in the world.  Sometimes it can be so ridiculous, as Ice Cube said on one of the songs from his new CD, “Raw Footage”, “If I shoot up the college, ain’t nothing to it – gangster rap made me do it.” Cube is one of my favorite rappers because he speaks truth to power.  And even when he’s hard, narcissistic, or brutish he is still creative and entertaining.

 

 

The ironic thing about the rap game now, is its being disdained by a large part of mainstream society when it comes to the content of the music – while on the other hand many artist are being embraced by that same society when it comes to rappers being portrayed in television and cinema. 

 

You got 50 Cent making a movie about his life and getting shot.  Ice-T did a song called, “Cop Killers,” that had almost the whole fraternity of law enforcement officers up in arms.  Now he has played an undercover narcotic officer, transferred to the Special Victims Unit on Law and Order SVU since 2000.  His character is even a Republican.  Maybe John McCain will use Ice’s character to appeal to the black audience.  SIKE!  I don’t know that McCain knows black people exist in this country.  But I digress.

 

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The MOST ironic figure in all of this is the above mentioned Ice Cube.  One of the founding members of the group NWA and one of  it’s primary writers, Cube doled out other American and law enforcement favorites, “F*ck The Police.” After the NWA days, Cube did his own solo projects and none of them have softened up in the least.  The lyrics are still sharp and the language is just as gritty.  Regardless not only has he done the “Friday” and “Barbershop” series, he done the films, “Are We There Yet?’ and “Are We Done Yet?” These are family favorites.  Cube has directed, written or produced 16 films, and after next years, “Welcome Back, Kotter,” where he will play Gabe Kaplan’s teaching character from the 70s sitcom and B.A. Baracus on the film The A-Team, he will have acted in 27.  His current film is another feel good family project, “The Longshots.” 

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This proves that America hates and love’s its hip hop stars.  They are intrigued at their talent but only appreciate it most when it fits their level of comfort.

Music Week:Celebrating the Producers and Composers

** Before we continue with music week, I just have to say that I am happy that I am alive to witness the historic events in Denver last night where Barack Obama was nominated to represent the Democratic party for president of the United States.  I am not afraid to admit that I cried.  More thoughts to come next week.  Now back to music week.

It’s one thing to be a great crooner or have a voice from heaven.  Gifts such as these come from The Creator and they are a blessing to us all.  However, having a voice does not mean one can make music that will last a lifetime.  Great music is often the culmination of a divine partnership between songwriter, producer, and artist.  And while the artist name is the one who gets the credit on the record, we must recognize the visionaries who work behind the scenes as well.  Here are some great songwriters, composers and producers we should never forget.

Burt Bacharach: Simply one of the best songwriters of all time.  Somehow he has managed to write songs that are timeless and have been successfully done over and over time and again.  Check out names of some of them:

The Look of Love, Walk On By, Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, Don’t Make Me Over, A House Is Not A Home, Alfie, Anyone Who Had A Heart, What The World Needs Now Is Love, Do You Know The Way To San Jose… and many more! 

This guy practially made the career of Dionne Warwick.  I don’t know of anyone who has a more classically universal songbook.

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Smokey Robinson :  During the Motown era Smokey Robinson was Motown!  He wrote songs for himself with The Miracles, The Temptations, Diana Ross and the Supremes. Martha and the Vandellas, Gladys Knight and the Pips, you name them.  He was a songwriting fool.  He managed to write successfully long after the 60’s, and is known for a second career of solo projects that included Quiet Storm, perhaps his most popular among night time R&B radio stations.  Smokey Robinson is an American treasure.

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Quincy Jones: Probably my favorite producer/composer of all time.  I would strongly suggest reading his book, “Q” The Autobiography of Quincy Jones.   There you will find that accolades and experiences of this icon who has been nominated for 79 grammy awards and has won 27 of them.  He’s done everyting from Pop, Funk, Soul, Big Band, Jazz, Pop and Swing.  The long list of legends he has worked with include Dizzy, Sinatra, Dinah Washington, Peggy Lee, and Lionel Hampton to name a few.  He’s also done several movie scores for various motion pictures and televison dramas.  He may be best known to the newer generation for his work with Michael Jackson’s, Off The Wall and Thriller.  If you read his book you will find that he’s probably lived on of the most complete lives possible for any person.  Without Q, 20th Century music would not be the same.

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Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis:  More on the modern tip, these guys started with a group called Flyte Time in Minneapolis.  While jamming with the group, “The Time”, they ventured into producing for the likes of The S.O.S. Band.  After a flight was delayed due to bad weather, they showed up late for a concert while on tour with Prince and were fired.  Probably the best thing that ever happend to them because they were able to go into producing full time.  From there they took off producing hits for the likes of, Cherrelle, Alexander O’Neal, Michael Jackson, Usher, The Human League, The Sounds of Blackness and many others.  Their most well known work was with Janet Jackson in her hey day.  Jam and Lewis really know how to tap into an artist core and bring out the best in them.

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Babyface:  To be direct Kenneth Edmonds owned the 90’s with not only his own hits, but with starting strong the careers of Toni Braxton, TLC, and Boyz II Men.  He also wrote and produced the music score for Waiting To Exhale.  I have a friend who is an accomplished bassist in his own right.  He is a frequent concert goer and has seen the very best groups and bands since the 70s.  He swears to this day that a concert Babyface gave two years ago in a small venue was the very best he has ever seen.  Babyface has a way with words and he can be vulerable and sly at the same time.  He says things most artist would never say – and makes it smooth and acceptable.

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Billy Strayhorn: Another old school icon, this guy wrote Lush Life at the age of 16.  Who has that kind of depth at such a tender time in life?  What is that about? He also composed, Take The A Train for Duke Ellington.  As a matter of fact he practially became Ellington’s exclusive composer until the time Strayhorn began to write musicals. 

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Duke Ellington said, Billy Strayhorn … “….Billy Strayhorn was my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes
in the back of my head, my brainwaves in his head, and his in mine.” Quincy Jones called Strayhorn, “The boss of arrangers.”

**Tomorrow- the irony of hip hop, gangster rap, and Hollywood success

Music Week:Great Talent, Pop Music & The Legacy of Whitney Houston

Great Talent, Pop Music & the Legacy of Whitney Houston

 

I want to share a long running debate I have had with some of my friends for years. The question is at what point if any, should an artist submit to or break from the mainstream of low musical expectations and plot an uncharted course of musical trailblazing?  By low expectations I merely mean making music that is simple and without much substance and yet may sell millions, based on the name, talent and credibility of the artist. 

 

When I look at the career of Whitney Houston for instance, I see a woman with the voice truly sent by God.  Her debut album is exceptionally classic.  It has a variety of cuts such as, “You Give Good Love,” Saving All My Love For You, and George Benson’s remake of “The Greatest Love of All.”  She also featured up tempo hits like, “Thinking About You,” and “How Will I Know.” There was no song you had to skip over.  What a way to shoot out of the cannon.  Houston became a household name based on that release.  She was the hottest thing smoking!  I thought she would have the musical significance of Aretha Franklin and Natalie Cole.  The problem I have with her now is that her first release is STILL her best… by far if you ask me.

 

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The music from Houston after her debut has been mostly pop dance hits and watered down ballads that seem to be targeted towards white audiences.  Its not that I have a problem with white audiences either. Lord knows they buy and enjoy music too.  But the issue for me was that she started out soulful and audiences both white and black rallied around her music. It was R&B album with a touch of pop that was so good, IT crossed over and the mainstream came running.  It was the mid 80s so it was almost impossible not to have any elements of pop.  We know from the sounds of Motown as well as that of the jazz greats – and has such been proven with Hip Hop, that white and mainstream audiences will follow good music.  Houston brought something so exceptionally special to the table that she was totally embraced by the most sophisticated musical lovers as well as the simple.  She was one of only a few artists who could have done an R&B album, then turn around and do a pop record, then gospel or jazz, even country – and still her music would have been anticipated and celebrated.  That’s how good she was.  The last time we’ve had such a talent who had the courage to stretch himself like this was Ray Charles.  Check his catalog.  In addition to the be-bop and pop stuff he is well known for, he was also a top selling country performer.  He tried all kinds of music. Because he was a true artist who could master any genre. 

 

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Houston dabbled with gospel on the soundtrack of, “The Preacher’s Wife,” as well as a few duos with her good friend CeCe Winans.  She never did jazz or country.  We did get a lot of dance hits from her, and she did some good work on the soundtrack of, “The Bodyguard.”  

 

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Now the take I get from some of my friends is that she had to go for the money. Pop music sells and that’s the bottom line.  She simply gave the people what they wanted.  I say that’s fine…if she was Beyonce’.  Beyonce’ is a great performer, but hardly has the chops of Whitney.  Whitney brought them in with an R&B album. So even if her people felt she had to do a pop record to bring it all the way home, after that she had the stuff to write her own ticket.  After her album, “Whitney,” a very good pop record, this was the perfect opportunity to explore greater musical heights.  This is what Madonna did after doing popcorn bubblegum records like, “Holiday,” “Lucky Star,” and “Crazy For You.” Madonna didn’t bow down and become a slave to the mainstream, but became a trailblazer believing she had the stuff to stretch her audience.  And she did!  Cause she’s Madonna dammit!  And she still got the millions.  Whitney had the same juice but did no such thing.  I don’t know whether to blame her for not recognizing her own potential or her handlers for selling her out for a dollar. But as one who adores and appreciates the art form of great musical genius, I don’t care how much money she made or how many CDs she sold.  From the pure artistic perspective her musical career failed miserably.  Had she not taken the path of least resistance, she would be recognized as a musical icon – a diva beyond reproach.  Instead, she is thought of more to be a drug addict who had a crazy assed husband.  That’s my take – Whats yours?  Did Whitey give us the best of her musical potential?

 

P.S. – If you think I’m crazy look at the career of Marvin Gaye.  He started off in the Motown assembly line of being a pop crooner.  He decided that his music was not significant enough and did, “Whats Going On.”  This is where his career took off.  He’s not known for, “Heard It Through The Grapevine,” or “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” with Tami Terrell.  Berry Gordy was totally against What’s Going On the single.  Said it sounded too jazzy.  Marvin had it released without Gordy’s knowledge.  Though initially infuriated, once he saw the first week sales he acquiesced and demanded that Marvin complete the album. Gaye said yes under one condition… “I have to do it the way I want it done with no interference.” Gordy again has to roll with it.   The rest is history. 

 

Tomorrow we celebrate the great composers and producers.

Music Week: My Favorite Female Vocalist

 

My Favorite Female Vocalist

 

For day two of music week I would like to talk about my favorite female vocalist. The female songstress has always been special to me because even as a child her vocals and expressions have kept me in touch with my feminine side. They have help to give me a respect for the beauty and grace of the woman.  As these women sing of love, heartache, redemption or simple fun – the female vocal is one that is a direct expression of God’s love and nurturing.  I will list my 10 favorite female vocalist and a few notables that I had a hard time leaving off the list.  Who are some of yours? 

 

Aretha Franklin – The daughter of the late Rev. C.L. Franklin, Detroit’s own is simply the Queen of Soul

 

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Gladys Knight – A true diva even back in the day, and still going strong. No one has a voice that sounds like her.  One of my favorite songs of all time still… Neither One Of Us, (Wants to be the First To Say Goodbye.)

 

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Chaka Kahn – Ok so I am showing my age here with all of these mature sisters.  But you can’t beat the longevity factor of the first three noted here.  Khan could also be ranked tops among the most beautiful singers of all time.  Musically her voice is off the chain and she has demonstrated the ability to mix Rock and Roll with Funk as she did with Rufus, as well as knock out a ballad or a jazz number with ease.

 

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Natalie Cole – This songstress has some of the most significant songs of my life.  I remember when my mom would play her 8-Tracks during Saturdays when we had to clean the house.  I still know all the words to my favorite two albums of hers, “Unpredictable” and “Thankful,” both released in 1977.  She reinvented herself by following in her father’s footsteps in doing music from the standard jazz songbook.  I hear she has had some physical challenges nowadays.  Get well Natalie!

 

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Phyllis Hyman – Talk about a true diva, a virtuous songstress.  OMG!  One of the best ballad singers of all time – This woman voice was deep and sensual.  It was easy to tell that she sang from her heart and many of her ballads held personal value.  Though her life ended tragically her music lives on.  She was and always will be a treasure to me.

 

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Nancy Wilson – Performing since the age of 15, this songstress comes with a resume as fat as the lard at a southern fried chicken contest!  Such an elegant voice, she is a ladies lady who personified class and grace.  Though her catalogue is most extensive, she can’t go anywhere without the song that starts with the line… “You’re so late – getting home from the office.  Did you miss your train?  Were you caught in the rain?  No don’t bother to explain…” (Guess Who I Saw Today)

 

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Stephanie Mills – She is the little woman with the big voice.  I grew up on this iconic figure as she belted out her music with a voice stronger than any on the market.  She sounds like a grown woman with the soul of a teenager.  My favorite song from Stephanie, “I Feel Good.”  “Home” is not far behind.

 

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Teena Marie – I truly came of age on the music of Lady T.  100% performer she gives one of the best concerts one will ever witness. Her ballads are timeless and though many have enjoyed Teena’s music over the years, she has a cult following as well of people like myself who have all of her music and will follow her wherever she goes. She truly has a voice from heaven and sings with loads of love, compassion, and attitude.

 

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Minnie Riperton – Only Mariah Carey comes to mind when I think of the octaves this incredible artist possessed.  Her voice was truly an instrument and she sang like a horn.  She will remain in our hearts.

 

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Sade – Sade Adu is a gift to all of us. An incredible artist whose music takes the imagination to far away places, I have been fortunate to see her for her only two performances in St. Louis.  A truly original artist, from the beginning Sade came with a brand and stuck with it.  No pop for this lady – she ain’t trying to make you dance. But you must pay attention!

 

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So goes it for my top 10. This list was no easy task and I had to drop some great divas – some of whom I am still conflicted about.  These notables who could crack any list of mine had I not been retricted to ten include, Rachelle Ferrell, Roberta Flack, Denise Williams, Mariah Carey, Chante’ Moore, Anita Baker and CeCe Winans.  And don’t sleep on Stevie Nicks, Annie Lennox and Randy Crawford!

 

Tomorrow – Discussion of the great artist, pop music, and the musical legacy of Whiney Houston.

 

 

BB&G Presents: Music Week

Music is a huge part of my life.  I always said if I had to choose to be blind or deaf I would have to forfeit sight because my eyes only allow me to see the physical.  Through my ears I can hear words that have power and melodies that spark imagination which can create images as real as eternity itself.  Truly there is a song for every thought, feeling and emotion.  Music tells of the tragic, the triumphs, the dreams and the hopeful.  It takes the temperature of the times, tells of the past and projects towards the future.  Bob Dylan once said, “I don’t care who makes the laws, as long as I write the songs.”  This alone should tell you the power of music.  It can make you laugh, throw your hands up, dance, cry, reflect, and even go to sleep.  From R&B to Jazz, from bee bop to hip hop, country to pop, bossa nova, folk, classical and reggae – music to me reveals the soul of the world. 

This week I would like to share some of my perspectives of the music that helped shape my life.  As well as discuss with you some ideas of yours and mine regarding differing music subject matters.  I will start things off but invite you to join in and make this discussion as diversified as the music itself.  I figure we can start off with a week’s worth of subjects and see where it goes from there.  Lets kick it off with our first topic.

Big Time Freshman Debuts

You ever come across an album that you hear from a new artist, and the album is so good they darn near have to play every song on it before its past its prime?  Boy oh boy I can think of some, especially during the 80s and 90s that just jumped off the charts either mainstream or just in my own personal mix.  These are a list of 10 of some of my most significant debuts that rocked my earphones and are still classics today.  Agree or disagree with mine?  Tell me some of yours!  Remember it has the be the artist’s first album!  I started to put down Michal Jackson’s “Off The Wall.”  But not only did Michael have a full career with his brothers previously, he also had solo projects during those early years.  So that album didn’t qualify.  Lets get to it!

Mary J Blige, “Whats the 411”  July 28, 1992

Keith Sweat, “Make It Last Forever”  November 24, 1987 – Sweat has since had many very good projects and has successfully produced.  But none top this first stunna!

Whitney Houston, “Whitney Houston” 1985 – Produced by Kashif! Remember that dude? We will have a discussion about Whitney later in the week.  A pure R&B soul classic piece of work.  She has since made a lot of money, but hasn’t done anything to touch this one yet. 

Toni Braxton, “Toni Braxton” – I mean can you have a better debut than this? Everything on the album played on the radio extensively.  For a long time she lived off the reputation of this CD!

Teena Marie, “Wild And Peaceful” – A little old school for some of you.  But Teena broke out a flavor that was all her own, totally original a mixture of R&B grooves with classically technical vocals and a bossa nova jazz tempo. 

R Kelly, by Public Announcement “Born Into The 90s” – This Chicago native borrowed from the best of them.  But his sound is still a brand that is well respected.  R Kelly makes hits cause he simply knows what people want and he gives it to them.

Sade, “Diamond Life” 1984 – I don’t even need to elaborate on this.  You already know!

Amy Grant, 1977 – Ahh surprised huh?  You can’t sleep on Grant.  I used to call her Amy ‘Grammy’, as she has six of them.  Remember too that in her early career her music only sold in Christian bookstores.  She is a pioneer. 

TLC, “Ooh On The TLC Tip”  1992

LL Cool J, “Radio” 1985 – Probably the longest running career for a hip hop artist.  Ice Cube has to be the next in terms of relevant and currently influential performing hip hop artist for a quarter of a century.  Though the music is pre-historic by today’s standards, Def Jam was on a wing and a prayer back then, Radio still rocks today.

Ok – So I know there is a lot more out there and it’s impossible to cover close to all of the best debuts ever.  Tell us some more and bring some more to my rememberance!