this zine is edited by
alice blackwell and liz fulton
this zine is dedicated to jeffrey lamar williams aka young thug
HAVE YOU EVER, BRANDY?
From the ages of four to fourteen, my family did not own a single television. Contrary to popular belief, this did not mean I never watched television; however, my access was severely limited. Play dates including begging my friends to watch Sabrina, The Teenaged Witch or The Secret World of Alex Mac instead of playing with Barbies or horses for the 100th time. For many years, this lacking was a badge of honour I wore proudly. Friends and neighbours alike would ask, “What do you do, watch your mircrowave?!?!” to which I would respond, “We don’t have one of those, either.” Shortly after, my parents purchased a microwave. But no television.
Then middle school started, and everything changed. Conversation amongst my peers ranged from who the cutest boy in the class was (s/o Chris T.) to the latest overly verbose drama on Dawson’s Creek. My friends and I even choreographed a dance to the theme song from Breaker High, which I only vaguely understood to take place on a boat (s/o Ryan Gosling and Persia White). I could no longer rely on Moesha fan fiction borrowed from my local library to keep up with after-school conversation. I NEEDED a television.
The height of my Brandy fandom had also reached unforeseen highs. This was the Never Say Never Era, with bangers like “Top of the World” and “The Boy is Mine” playing on Much Music. When the third single hit the airwaves, a ballad called “Have You Ever?”, I was convinced (like many girls my age) that it was about my plight...my plight regarding my lack of a TV. Funny as it may sound now, I was deeply depressed about this. Junior high was awful enough. Looking back on the lyrics, though, it’s hard not to laugh:
Have you ever found the one (tv)
You've dreamed of all of your life
You'd do just about anything to look into their eyes (tv’s eyes)
Have you finally found the one you've given your heart to (samsung 30”)
Only to find that one won't give their heart to you
Have you ever closed your eyes and
Dreamed that they were there (sony plasma)
And all you can do is wait for the day when they will care (Dad?)
This was not a case of “object sexuality” worthy of a TLC special where a small-time documentary filmmaker would exposes my sexual attraction to televisions. Rather, I simply wanted to fit in with my peers (don’t most teens?). And Brandy’s ballad spoke to my emotional pain and longing to feel like less of a misfit. Really, “And all you can do is wait for the day when they will care” might have been directed toward my father, who I needed to care about me fitting in (and buy me a damn television).
A couple of years later, we would get a television. In a moment of weakness following the removal of a grapefruit-sized tumour from my father’s spine by a top neurologist at St Michael’s hospital, who liked to wear a “Peanuts” hat ironically in the operating room, and subsequent hospitalization and six-month recovery, my father reluctantly agreed to get a TV. For years, he would blame the morphine and breathing tube he was hooked up to when my mother asked for his permission. A grown woman asking her husband’s permission to do something is disheartening, but that’s another story. By this time, however, I was decidedly anti-social...so television was more about killing all the time I had because I had no friends, rather than helping me relate to the few friends I had had previously.
High school, then, was a time of binge watching current television and classics alike, with a few notable exceptions that would have me ridiculed for years to come, namely Seinfeld and The Simpsons. I’m catching up on Seinfeld now, much to the delight of my friends. I have no idea why people thought it was funny when we were kids. Though the plot lines are not complex, the scenarios and humour is distinctly adult. I was, and will always be, a bigger fan of Frasier.
Coming back to Brandy now, the video and song make it clear that this is a love song about unrequited love with a person, not a television. However, I think the fact that I was able to imagine that this song was about my peculiar situation speaks to the power of the lyrics, melody, and Brandy’s heartfelt delivery, as much as it speaks to my mental instability. I do joke now about not having a TV at that time, and while I do think it facilitated me to develop interests outside of Eurkel’s latest antics, it also facilitated a social insecurity that would only worsen with time. Moreover, my friends now all have many interests that they developed during puberty, all while watching copious amounts of TGIF and YTV. And I did eventually blossom socially.
What do I gotta do to get you in my arms baby
What do I gotta say to get to your heart
To make you understand how I need you next to me
Gotta get you in my world
'Cuz baby I can't sleep
I wish I could tell Brandy herself what this song meant for me. I think she would have a laugh, and also offer a hug.
DIVAS BEING DIVAS, DOING THEMSELVES
In a golden dress with a pair of same-colour ultra-high stilettos, Mariah stood there, wagging her finger as if it controlled which key to sing the chorus of “Natural Woman.” Her mane is lion-like, her voice immaculate. She might just be a Siren whose voice draws you in wherever you are. Even watching her on the screen backstage, I was mesmerized. The tough part of finding white Skittles was over, and now I reap the rewards of listening to her voice go from middle C to something extraterrestrial. I’m sure if dogs could talk, they would say, “Damn, that bitch is in heat.”
She’s taller than you’d expect. Most of the divas on stage right now are around five feet. Mariah is easily five-ten, taller with those Pradas. You got to hand it to her though. She can sing. I love that she’s beyond these self-anointed titles: “Queen of Hip Hop-Soul”, “Miss Ross”, “Poor man’s Britney Spears.” Maybe the last was not self-anointed but you get the point. I think she’s great even if the machete that she asked for had to be scanned and checked about a dozen times by security. She needs her fresh coconut water. Her people said it has something to do with electrolytes. I like it for what it is – natural sugar water with an aftertaste of the tropics.
Here it comes. Aretha is starting to sing her part. Where is she going to take us tonight? How will Mariah stay on the ball with the Diva of all Divas on centre stage? Full of respect, she lets Aretha take the wheel. Celine. What are you doing? You’re singing over Aretha? It’s like a vocal jousting session and the only way to win is to watch, and not risk getting impaled by a giant sharp metallic stick resembling and closed umbrella.
Celine and Aretha are charging on their steeds and running towards each other with giant sticks with which to impale the other. Who wins? The viewers. (Mariah later confesses that she was appalled; no one takes away the spotlight from Aretha. Not even Mariah. She’s Aretha, damn it.) Too bad the whole group, including Gloria Estefan, forgot that this number was meant to be a tribute to Carole King, who wrote the song and is also on stage. Carole King does not get a solo tonight. Not once. Not in the history of Divas Live. I feel the earth move and it’s not because of love.
At the end, the last Diva standing is the one with the most material for shade-throwing at later interviews with Entertainment Tonight. VH1 is just there as the messenger.
White Calla lilies of New Hampshire,
Pinot grigio, freshly corked from the vineyard,
Young coconuts fresh arrived from Thailand via FedEx,
A single cockatoo that’s singing Honey’s chorus,
Poached salmon with truffles,
Duck confit fries,
Sleeping masks with aromatic lavender from Provence,
Fridge magnets from tourist spots on the Vegas strip,
Ice cream cart with ice cream and all the fixings,
Balloon animals excluding monkeys,
Vintage circus air pump,
White dwarf Holland lop rabbits with Timothy hay,
Sunflowers in Swarovski vases, facing westward
It ain’t easy being me.
$25000 in cash
Fiji water, post show grub,
No ACs, honey.
Room must be 73 degress Fahrenheit.
A microwave ready for popping some corn,
Clorets for times that I feel conscious about my breath, breathing
Into a mic with melodies written by David Foster and Diane Warren.
Potato chips, but no ruffles-style ones, please.
Of all the things that I have seen,
I would like a tank filled with three lemon sharks and some goldfish for feeding.
There’s nothing like a good reminder of life’s fragility than a shark tank.
I am invincible. Have you heard me sing?
KEEP ON PUSHING
I often hear The Impressions’ “Keep on Pushing’” playing around the city, when I’m at the bar, at the grocery store, or walking past a record store. The song is a timeless, emotional powerhouse that has an uplifting sound that carries decades of history into the present day. I never really considered the song’s origins, let alone its impact, until my friend, a fan of The Impressions, mentioned its significance in the Civil Rights Movement. This made me want dig into its history and I discovered it represents a significant turning point in black power music history.
The music that influenced black power and the Civil Rights Movement goes back centuries, and each genre played a significant role in where we are musically today. Slave anthems, gospel, soul, folk, jazz, R&B and hip-hop have all come together in different ways to shape our current music scene and each genre has immense political significance. What is so interesting about “Keep On Pushing’” is how it epitomizes the transition from black power music as an underground folk movement into the mainstream, and how artists like Kanye West demonstrate the influence this sound and style had, and continues to have, in their music today. Where Kanye pushed for gospel sounds to be re-embraced into the mainstream, artists like D’Angelo, and Kendrick Lamar show a return of sorts to the folk and jazz roots of music about black rights.
Music, poetry and song-writing were an essential part of the Black Power movement, in fact, songs and sounds were emerging around 1959 before any kind of nation-wide, organized political movement began. Odetta Holmes, aka Odetta (who really needs her own article), lay the foundations of fusing the beginnings of the black power movement with music, making songs that were influenced by spirituals, prison songs, jazz, soul, blues and played a big role in reviving folk - she was a major influence on Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, among others. Many early black power players identified as folk artists (Bob Dylan, Nina Simone) and identified with various political/community leaders like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. All these genres started to blend together into something that no one had heard before. Folk music was banned from the airwaves for being too political, and only whitewashed folk content was played. Eventually the Beatles took over the airwaves, and the musical movement’s hub moved from the Southern US and to the north and the west coasts.
Curtis Mayfield was a young musician who was living in the Cabrini-Green housing projects of Chicago when he and his group The Impressions had their first hit “For Your Precious Love.” Gradually becoming more and more political with his lyrics, he added new members to the group, and in 1964, when he was only 22, The Impressions merged the inspirational, positive and uplifting sounds and words of gospel music to produce “Keep on Pushing”:
Keep on pushing
I’ve got to keep on pushing (mmm-hmm)
I can’t stop now
Move up a little higher
Some way, somehow
‘Cause I’ve got my strength
And it don’t make sense
Not to keep on pushin’
Keep on pushin’
Now maybe some day
I’ll reach that higher goal
I know that can make it
With just a little bit of soul
‘Cause I’ve got my strength
And it don’t make sense
Not to keep on pushin’
Now look-a look (look-a look)
A-look a yonder
What’s that I see
A great big stone wall
Stands there ahead of me
But I’ve got my pride
And I’ll move on aside
And just keep on pushin’
The song was destined to inspire social activism from the start, becoming an anthem for Martin Luther King Jr.’s march forward and used decades later in Barack Obama’s keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in July 2004 (probably one of the most significant speeches of the past ten years) four months before he was elected President. This song, along with “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke, were two of the songs that really brought Civil Rights messages to American airwaves. It’s hard to imagine in our Kanye-West-saturated universe that this would have been the first time that gospel-influenced political-minded music was played in a nation-wide, mainstream context. In her book “Keep On Pushing: Black Power Music From Blues to Hip-Hop,” Denise Sullivan says that although the messages of “Keep on Pushing” were tough and critical, the complex harmonies, melodies and R&B appeal pushed the song into massive success, playing on the radio despite its underlying politics, where in previous instances political anthems had been absent. The song was a Top 10 hit that influenced international up-and-coming artists like Robert Nesta Marley and the Wailers, who had just started making music in Kingston, as well as those more firmly established in the folk scene like Bob Dylan, who featured a picture of the Keep on Pushing album on the cover of his album Bringing It All Back Home. This was also around the time that independent, rogue radio stations like Radio Free Dixie started blasting black liberation songs as diverse as jazz, Nina Simone and Sam Cooke across America. Another thing that Denise Sullivan touches on is how Mayfield was able to transform racism from a political problem into a human problem in this song, and how artists like Mayfield, Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett were creating a sound that was secular in content but influenced by the gospel background to create very impactful R&B and soul music.
In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed in the U.S.marking a huge milestone. But pushes for black rights in pop culture were still stifled, or outright rejected. It’s easy to see this even looking at “Keep On Pushing”’s album cover- the concept of pushing for equal rights is disguised by the members of the group shown dressed to the nines pushing a flashy red car, in a vision of 1960s American-ness and normalcy.
40 years later, in 2004, Kanye West was rapping on “Jesus Walks”:
So here go my single, dog, radio needs this They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus That means guns, sex, lies, video tapes But if I talk about God my record won't get played, huh?
It’s easy to see how the song-writing style of The Impressions has influenced Kanye West’s music- not just the gospel foundation, but the ability to use pop melodies and mainstream appeal to get powerful, difficult and frustrated sentiments to the masses (i.e. with Jesus Walks, Spaceship, Crack Music, All Falls Down, Touch the Sky) While religious themed genres were what got these messages out in 1964, Kanye argues that it’s the last way to get a song on air in 2004.
Although the beauty of “Keep on Pushing” empowers and moves the listener, the struggle buried in the lyrics is made all the more cryptic by its melodic guise. It doesn’t change to fact that popular music is an essential element of political change and community building, not to mention an amazing source of pleasure and enjoyment. And I only hope that this also acts as a bridge to the smaller, unheard voices that say so much that needs to be heard. Maybe the more chaotic soul music of D’Angelo and dark, gritty sounds of Kendrick are our era’s equivalent to the abrasive sounds of Simone and the quiet calls to action of Bob Dylan. In any case, listening to “Keep On Pushing” will now always take me on a trip back to all that song had in its wake.
MARIAH CAREY BY THE STARS
Astrological profiles of Mariah Carey songs based on their release dates.
Heartbreaker (feat. Jay-Z)
Release Date: September 21, 1999
If you’ve been considering a new sexual experience, let “Heartbreaker” be your guide. It has a sun in organized Virgo and a moon in non-conformist Aquarius—the perfect combination for getting serious about getting down. Loop this track when you’re booking a flight to finally meet that special someone off that site you delete from your browser history, daily. Loop this track when you’re having a “pre-orgy” meeting. Loop this track when you’re hitting poppers before heading to the club. The lyrics of “Heartbreaker” reflect its needy Venus in Leo. It’s a good reminder that everyone catches feelings and hearts break every day. They might come back incessantly, but lavish them with attention and they’ll eventually chill.
Fantasy (Bad Boy Remix) Release Date: December 18, 1995
With a sun and ascendant in Sagittarius, “Fantasy (Bad Boy Remix)” is full of fire. This isn’t a smoldering campfire glow: It’s a bright, wild flame lighting up the evergreen forest of your ear drums. A Sagittarius loves freedom and hates routine. When you find yourself doing a dull repetitive task like folding laundry or braiding your hair, blast this song and feel free. When someone is mad at you, shoot them a link to “Fantasy (Bad Boy Remix)” and they’ll instantly forget why they were angry. No one can reject the optimistic fire energy of this track. Plus, it has that sensual Scorpio moon looking directly into your soul. This is literally the best song ever made.
Emotions Release Date: August 13, 1991
Here we have another case of matchy-matchy sun and ascendant signs, but this time it’s a double dip on Leo. When you have the same sun and ascendant, it means you identify strongly with the image you present to others. There’s no fear of being misunderstood, “Emotions” knows exactly what’s up. With all that Leo, “Emotions” gets down with luxury, generosity and regal authority. Play this track and you’ll feel like royalty or a glam fascist leader. Listen to this song enough times and you’ll catch the Libra moon begging for partnership. Every queen needs a king.
Obsessed Release Date: June 16, 2009
In the video for “Obsessed,” Mariah plays two roles. She’s the object of affection (aka, Mariah Carey) and the obsessed stalker (aka, Mariah dressed up as Eminem). It’s obvious that this is a Gemini song, the zodiac sign that’s represented by twins. “Obsessed” is all about the duelling extremes. It’s about the ongoing internal battle between light and dark, angel and demon, diva and stalker. This song might make you feel nervous if you’re a Taurus, Leo, Scorpio or Aquarius. Those fixed signs just can’t vibe to mutable energy. It’s the frantic untethering of extroverted flexibility. What is this obsession that shifts uneasily through the dichotomies of love and hate? The, at times, overwhelming psychosomatic results of projecting your incomplete Self on the Other. A clash of Jungian shadows seeking first revenge, and then comfort. An untouchable subconscious revealing archetypical connections faster felt than seen. How do we regulate our psyches and bring wholeness to the surface? In that moment, we will undoubtedly realize that it’s really ourselves with whom we’re so obsessed.
REVIEW OF BRYSON TILLER’S DEBUT,
T R A P S O U L
In a time when codeine-laced strip club bangers are semi-inexplicably making it to number one on the charts (make no mistake, I love it), in comes the Derby-City young buck Bryson Tiller, aka Pen Griffey Jr., a more cerebral, less political cousin of Kendrick Lamar. (Before you scoff at this comparison, listen to the album a few times and dare to tell me you don’t feel the same way.) Kendrick’s cousin has titled his debut “Trapsoul”, making his own unique version of both trap and soul in this stunning debut. While Young Tiller is a student of the genres, paying homage to not only to Weezy but also the goddess Mariah, Tiller seems only to be competing with himself (just like cousin Kendrick).
Tiller seems like he’s only just establishing himself in the Louisville scene, making scant reference to the world outside his own. Pleads to exes to get back together or to girls otherwise engaged comprise a lot of the album, as well as “I told you sos” to former classmates and his baby mama’s mama. On Ten Nine Fourteen he thanks Drizzy for the kicks, but this song plays like an interlude to the album, though his appreciation is sincere. Make no mistake though, “Trap” is not at all provincial - Pen Griffey’s ambitions are large and his sound, universal. On “Rambo,” he tells us “I'm as humble as they come, but you're fucking with the wrong one / Boy you're fucking with the wrong one.”
The production is clean and fitting with his sound and, while not exactly innovative, captures that intimate tiny room-with-just-you-and-him style made for stadiums that Drake has perfected. Moreover, the production works to showcase Tiller’s lyrical finesse and impeccable, multi-faceted flow – depending on the message, he flips from rapping to crooning, but you get the idea that he can say whatever he wants, however he wants, and still make his point.
Critics will likely label this album “too even-keeled” or “too perfect” –coded language for their rejection of a black superstar-in-the-making not fitting into the widely-accepted musical archetype of angry, drug-laden and off-centred. For example, in a recent profile, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar spoke of the public’s rejection of him during his basketball years, portrayed in the media as an unpatriotic villain in contrast to teammate Magic Johnson’s smiling, affable, white-friendly public persona.
More great things are surely to come (hopefully sooner rather than later) from this Louisvillain. I can’t wait.
Top tracks: Exchange, Right My Wrongs
ALICE BLACKWELL is studying to become a feminist counsellor. Her favourite song by Drake is “The Real Her”.
LIZ FULTON works in PR in the film industry. Her favourite Drake song is “Furthest Thing”.
ENRIQUE VELEZ GAUDITE works as a copy-writer and translator in Toronto. His favourite song by Drake is “Mine”.
JESS BLOOM is the co-founder of Studio Beat. Her favourite song by Drake is ”Best I Ever Had”.
CAT LACHOWSKYJ is studying film and photography preservation at Ryerson University. Her favourite song by Drake is “The Motion”.
FRANCES TANZER is pursuing a PhD in German history at Brown University. Her favourite song by Drake is “Connect”.