Welcome to the new issue of How Does It Feel, a magazine about R&B fan erotica (I think?). Why is this issue doing to be better than the last one? Well, to put it simply, the last issue had some erroneous information. One of the editors of this mag, Alice Carr Blackwell, accused me of stealing one of her jokes I used in my introduction. Before I make my case of why my accuser was incorrect, let me go through a list of things that Alice has stolen in her lifetime:
There you have it. Am I snitching? Yeah. Do I enjoy it? Yeah, it gives me a thrill that only snitching can provide much like how Alice gets off on taking possessions that aren’t hers.
In this issue we have astrological profiles by Jess Bloom, an article by Steph Horak, an article by Sam Lavoie, an article by Lara Barker, poetry by Jess Carroll and illustrations by Colleen Ramage.
“There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supercedes all other courts.
– Patrick Maloney
Release Date: January 25th, 1994
With a sun in Aquarius, “Bump n’ Grind” makes you feel free and easy. Just vibe out to this song and understand that beneath the surface, it’s full of ideology and intellect. Nothing says equality like two people coming together for a bump n’ grind. If you want to enjoy it alone, that’s cool too. The stars tell us that this song would be great for masturbation or solo swaying. Be careful though! “Bump n’ Grind” has a moon in Cancer, which means it could make you way too moody, clingy and you might over do it re: masturbation.
Release Date: March 2, 2007
Not everyone understands this Pisces jam. “I’m a Flirt” wants to express itself but you might misunderstand what R. Kelly is saying. Water signs are so tricky like that. It’s not directionless! It’s exploring the deep ideas behind flirting and social mating rituals. On the plus side, when you’re feeling sensitive to criticism, throw on this track for an extra boost. Once you understand the true complexity of “I’m a Flirt”, the moon in Leo will direct you to the spotlight. It’s a real rags to riches experience for your soul.
Release Date: November 26, 1996
Ready to have fun? Pop on this Sagittarius song full of optimism and enthusiasm. “I Believe I Can Fly” resonates with different types of people. If you’re making a playlist for a mixed crowd like a bar mitzvah or work picnic, definitely include this track. Its moon in Gemini adds to the group appeal of “I Believe I Can Fly”. The song’s true essence is its Gemini social butterfly spirit so it’s great for group dance routines or shopping mall soundtracks. Basically, if there are a lot of people in one room, this song will work. For anyone who feels super connected to “I Believe I Can Fly” (like maybe it brought you to tears once), you’re catching the intimate Venus in Scorpio. Don’t associate this song with a failed relationship or it will haunt you forever.
Release date: September 23, 2003
Throw on “Hotel” when things get tense. It has a sun in Libra so it’s a real peacekeeper. However, stay away from this song if you’re trying to make a decision. That’s never going to happen with “Hotel” playing in the background. For anyone in a position of authority, like a judge or high school principal, play this song before your ruling. It will help you tap into equality and fairness.
Release Date: January 22, 2003
The Aquarius spirit is strong in R. Kelly’s music. “Ignition (Remix)” is all about doing something different and finding that personal space. Maybe for this song you need to carve out a corner of the dance floor and be free with your body. Another option is playing “Ignition (Remix)” while you’re in a hot tub. Be careful because this song will lead to revolution. Inspire your friends for a noble charity project by playing “Ignition (Remix)” over and over again. It makes people give. Fun experiment: play this song for your lover if you want more oral sex. Interestingly, the Virgo moon means that every detail of “Ignition (Remix)” has been precisely thought out. If you love structure and routine, this song will connect in a spiritual way.
XOXO Jess Bloom
There are only two names that rule the history of Soul and R&B: Motown and Stax. While they competed within the same genres and ruled the airwaves during the same eras, the two record labels had their own signature sounds. Here's a look at what made Stax and Motown such hit-making powerhouses.
Motown and Stax have many similarities, but it is their defining differences that make them so interesting. Musicians started both Motown and Stax during the turn of the 1960s. Berry Gordy Jr. was a 30-year-old African-American piano player, and Pop and R&B songwriter, who was teaching Smokey Robinson how to write songs when he founded Tamla Records in 1959 (incorporated as Motown Record Corporation a year later). Jim Stewart was a 31-year-old White country fiddler who had spent the previous four years recording country artists in his wife's uncle's garage under the name Satellite Records, before founding Stax Records with his organ-playing, soprano-singing sister, Estelle Axton, in 1961 in Memphis, Tennessee.
Motown was named after Berry Gordy Jr.'s hometown of Detroit, also known as "Motor City.” The Motown headquarters was located in a white frame house with a sign over the front door that Gordy had hung, boldly naming the headquarters "Hitsville, U.S.A." It was clear from the beginning that Gordy had a distinct vision of what Motown would become. His vision included the tightly run assembly and production of nothing less than hit records by African-Americans, that would cross over into the Pop music world. In order to achieve his vision, he maintained complete control over every aspect of his business: Gordy personally chose and developed his artists, maintained control over the label's finances, held "quality control" meetings where he and his upper staff would approve which songs would be released, had his songwriting teams compete to work with the most successful acts, and oversaw the creation and production of smaller amounts of records in order to create as many hits as possible. Motown performers were required to wear approved clothing, learn choreography, adhere to strict codes of conduct both on and off stage, and attend PR lessons. The Motown Finishing School (run by Maxine Powell) was formed to ensure the professional behaviour of every Motown artist.
Unlike the strict oversight at Motown, Stax Records thrived on the collaborations of both songwriters and musicians. Named after the first two letters in his and his sister's last names, Jim Stewart and Ethelle Axton set the tone of partnership at Stax from the beginning. Located in an old abandoned Capitol Theater in Memphis, Stax broke down racial boundaries with its equal mix of both black and white employees and artists. In the height of the African-American Civil Rights Movement, this was not at all normal in the South. But there in the middle of it, in Memphis, Tennessee, was Stax Records producing unique soul music whose roots were based on the blending of musical backgrounds and influences.
The marquee outside of the old theater building summed up the heart of Stax Records. In response to Motown's "Hitsville, U.S.A." sign, the marquee read "Soulsville, U.S.A." - a distinction that implied the dedication to the art of making music organically as well as identifying themselves as a worthy competitor to the hit factory that was Motown.
The front of the Stax building housed the Satellite Record Shop (named after their original record label name) and was run by Estelle, who kept the artists informed on current music trends. The shop acted as a melting pot for musicians of multiple genres and was a research and inspiration source for Stax's recording artists. Musicians from around the area gravitated to Stax and were often soon signed to the label. Local songwriters Isaac Hayes and David Porter were signed to the label and soon became Stax's most successful songwriters, writing over 300 songs together.
Although both Stax and Motown were producing songs in the genre of soul music during the same period, their sounds were far from identical. The signature sound of Motown was a polished, sophisticated, Jazz-influenced Soul that showcased smooth vocals in the forefront of the music. Gordy wanted to produce music by African-American artists and musicians that would be popular with people of all races, social classes and regions, and was particular in how to achieve this. Musical techniques from early R&B music, like twelve-bar-Blues patterns, and Doo-Wop styles, were very rarely used. Instead, Motown's sound was one based on Pop structures, layered with Gospel and Blues techniques (like call-and-response and gospel vocal stylings) for its identification with Soul music. Teenagers were suddenly a powerful consumer demographic and Gordy marketed the music of Motown directly to this enormous paying audience by describing Motown's music as "the sound of young America.”
Behind Motown's signature sound was the house band known as The Funk Brothers. The Funk Brothers were formed in Motown's founding year of 1959 and were made up of musicians from Detroit's live music scene that Gordy recruited. These musicians were always on call and were under strictly exclusive contracts to ensure that the signature sound of Motown remained loyal to the label. The Funk Brothers were crucial in the success of Motown and created its unique sound that was consistent among all of Motown's releases from 1959 until Gordy abandoned the band by moving the label to L.A. in 1972.
While Motown's sound focused on precision and refinement, the signature sound of Stax was filled with emotional grit and raw musicianship. The sound of Stax Records was a stripped-down Soul that emphasized the lower end instrumentation of bass and drums and the explosive energy of its horn section. Horn ensembles were key to the Stax sound and would often replace backup vocals and guitar solos. As much as Gordy was scrupulous with control over recordings, Stewart let his musicians create with freedom. Singers were encouraged to make use of spontaneous Gospel techniques such as melismatic singing (one syllable sung over many musical notes) and shout-outs during songs (Otis Redding is a prime example of this). The unstructured lead vocals were mixed with the rest of the instrumentation creating a more genuine recording. The recording studio in Stax was located in the old theater room which was large and had sloped floors. This space gave the recordings a distinct deep sound with a sense of the extensive space of the recording room.
The house band that created the signature Stax sound was Booker T. and the M.G.'s. Starting in 1962, they remained the Stax house band for 8 years. Unlike the Funk Brothers, who were rarely even credited on the hundreds of hits they helped create, Booker T. and the M.G.'s were regarded as artists in their own right at Stax and released their own music while also working as the house band. Instead of demanding perfection, Stewart allowed the Stax house band to improvise and record live instead of on separate takes. The freedom to create the music themselves, rather than having an arranger give them orders of what to play and how, was crucial to the genuinely improvisational and loose signature sound of Stax Records.
These house bands backed some of the most successful artists of the '60s and '70s. Stax Records was home to a diverse family of artists including soul singers Otis Redding, The Staple Singers, Wilson Pickett and Isaac Hayes, Blues legend Albert King, Blues/Soul artists Booker T. and the M.G.'s, and country/soul artists Delaney & Bonnie.
Motown boasted some of the most iconic artists of the era, including Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson Five, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Commodores, Rick James, The Isley Brothers, and Lionel Richie.
After the scandal of payola in radio (payment given to radio DJs by record company executives in exchange for extra airplay), many radio stations would only play one single by each record label at a time in order to ensure their objectivity. In order to solidify the success of their labels, both Motown and Stax created subsidiary labels that had their own rosters of artists. Motown's sister labels included Tamla, Gordy and Soul, while Stax's subsidiary labels included Volt, Enterprise, Chalice, and Hip.
With their enormous success and signature sounds, Motown and Stax proved that not only could musicians and singers achieve success based on their sounds and styles, but also that both producers and record labels were able to create signature sounds that would become legendary.
Stax Records produced 167 hit songs on the Top 100 pop charts and 243 hits on the Top 100 R&B charts over the span of 15 years. The Stax Records building is now home to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, as well as the Stax Music Academy. Current artists signed to Stax Records include Ben Harper, Charlie Musselwhite, Angie Stone, and Booker T. Jones.
In 1970 alone, Motown Records had 16 records in the Top 10 and 7 hit records at #1 on the charts of the year's total of twenty-one. Motown's more recent artists include Erykah Badu, Babyface, Stevie Wonder, Ne-Yo, India.Arie, Boyz II Men, Brian McKnight and Michael Jackson.
Both Berry Gordy Jr. and Jim Stewart have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Gordy in 1988 and Stewart in 2002) and have become legends in music history.
As rap was entering its golden age in America in the mid-to-late 80s, it was likely assumed that the genre’s penetration into Francophone culture would happen in Montreal. A French-speaking city with a dynamic Anglophone minority, North American yet European in temperament and contumacious in behaviour, Quebec’s metropolis was positioned to become the first Francophone hub of this musical movement. No such thing happened. In fact, the first popular French rap song from Quebec (Ça rend rap) was composed by a group of comedians called Rock et Belles Oreilles and was more humour than aesthetic commitment. Dubmatique (Soul pleureur, La force de comprendre, Un été a Montreal, etc.), Montreal’s first legitimately influential French rap group, was awarded at the province’s equivalent of the Grammys, Le Gala de l’ADISQ, as best Alternative Rock Group for there were simply no hip-hop categories. That actually happened in 1997, not in 1987! Since then, the local rap scene has thankfully exploded, accommodating Dead Obies’ subversive Frenglish post-rap, Sans Pression’s and Muzion’s modern, urban hip-hop as well as Loco Locass’ politically conscious poetry.
Nevertheless, if one is truly interested in learning about the origins of French rap, one must turn to France and to the country’s second largest city, Marseille, in particular. A cosmopolitan city with large Muslim, Jewish and Armenian communities, Marseille is the birthplace of the defining French rap group IAM (Imperial Asiatic Man). It is impossible to tell the full story of French rap without telling the story of IAM at its fulcrum. IAM formed in 1989, inspired by America’s East Coast rap scene (Wu-Tang Clan in particular) and Middle Eastern and African music. Their influences can be seen in the names of the multicultural group’s founding members: Akhenaton, DJ Kheops, Shurik’n, Imhotep and Kephren. As the band progressed they came to realize that since rap was fundamentally an American genre, US artists would always have the advantage, in terms of their production quality. In order to exist and thrive, French rap had to rely on the quality of its lyrics to find its true voice and purpose. IAM has always succeeded in cleverly choosing words with underlying meanings. For instance, one of IAM’s first hits, Tam-tam de l’Afrique, is a song focused on the depredations of slavery which samples Stevie Wonder’s Pastime Paradise, a cool four years before Coolio did the same on Gangsta’s Paradise.
1993 marked a turning point in the group’s career. IAM released their second studio album Ombre est Lumière (literally Shadow is Light) making them a mainstay on France’s popular radio stations. The song Je danse le mia was particularly popular and, to this day, remains closely associated with the band even though it strays significantly from IAM’s usually serious and pessimistic lyrics. The song samples George Benson’s Give Me The Night and is an ironic depiction of a typical early-1980s Marseille soirée. The funky melody makes it part rap song, part dance song. The song’s true meaning is how time flies by in life which is captured in the song’s nostalgic yet never saccharine lyrics such as: “Je te propose un voyage dans le temps via planète Marseille” (“I am offering you a time travel experience through Planet Marseille”). Ombre est Lumière also covers more serious issues like international politics in J’aurais pu croire as well as immigration, tolerance and integration in Où sont les roses.
Four years later, IAM released L’école du micro d’argent (The School of the Silver Mic) to overwhelming popular acclaim. This magnum opus remains the best-selling French rap album in history with up to 1.5 million albums sold and is considered to have influenced countless French-speaking rappers while also pushing the genre to new heights in la francophonie. The album includes many of the group’s most revered songs such as Elle donne son corps avant son nom, L'Empire du Côté Obscur, the delightful display of bravura Demain, c’est loin and several more. It is also notable for its socially conscious lyrics such as in Petit frère, in which the group warns destitute suburban youth about the lure of the perfunctory Scarface lifestyle. Since L’école du Micro d’argent, the group has produced four more studio albums (Revoir un printemps, Saison 5, Arts martiens et …IAM), the last two in 2013. These have all sold well and kept the group relevant, helping them to avoid the dead level of mediocrity despite being active for 25 years. Though IAM has led the way, many other artists from the city have established themselves such as PSY 4 de la Rime, Fonky Family and Bouga.
The story of IAM remains the story of Marseille. Why is it that the old Mediterranean seaport developed such a unique hip-hop culture? Whereas Paris-area rap is far closer to American gangsta rap in its violence and histrionic buffoonery, Marseille’s groovier rap songs remain characterized by melancholy and love for the city. In fact, it’s not surprising since despite their city’s flaws, les Marseillais enjoy a true sense of community, as opposed to Paris, where new immigrants and the impoverished are segregated in the notoriously conflicted banlieues on the outskirts of la Ville Lumière. Regardless, thanks to trailblazers like IAM, Marseille hip-hop has found success with a trenchant, though often somber and reflective rap that is different from mainstream North American and Parisian hip-hop. The rebellion of Marseille’s rap should be no surprise in light of the city’s contrarian history. After all, wasn’t Marseille (then known as Massilia) one of the few cities that backed Pompey instead of Caesar in The Great Roman Civil War?
As a woman who has been listening to hip-hop and RnB since the 90s, I fondly recall the hit singles Creep by TLC, Go Downtown by SWV and Let’s talk about Sex by Salt-N-Pepa, which were sung -- no, proclaimed -- by all female groups who were clearly large and in charge of their own sexual prowess. If you’re like me, you may have a penchant for songs of this nature, which at the time seemed revolutionary because they amounted to a female power pose. They were anthems of female carnal liberation in an era when male sexual expression was predominant in sometimes obscenely sexist tropes in the hip-hop and RnB scene (glaring example: “Face down ass up” or every 2 Live Crew song ever but also Tupac, Bel Biv Devoe, Biggie, ad infinitum). Despite the trend toward misogyny, there were a few male challengers throughout the 1990s. I’ll never forget The Roots’ music video for What They Do, featuring women lounging around a pool in silver bikinis shaking their thangs for the male rappers who are in fact The Roots themselves poppin’ bottles and parodying the player’s lifestyle. In contrast to the video’s mainstream imagery were lyrics that presented a refreshing critique of phony rappers who pose as moneyed pimps in their videos, along with a barely disguised warning to "Never do what they do". So, that was a big 1UP (remember Super Mario?) in the game of unshackling hip-hop and RnB from the chains of sexism.
But when did female recording artists start to flip the script and make catchy, danceable hits that clearly say I don’t think so to the male ego? Beyoncé and Ciara weren’t the first to do it, and a nod indeed goes out to Salt-N-Pepa, but both Princess Cici and Queen Bey have taken listeners a few steps further toward understanding men’s abuse of power in romantic relationships. In her video for Like A Boy, Ciara dresses like a b-boy in sweatpants and flirts with the idea of switching up gender roles, acting hard and getting away with cheating just like her fictitious male partner. Beyoncé's If I Were a Boy imagines the life of a carefree heartbreaker who is unconcerned with the repercussions of selfish actions, while highlighting the potential for romantic reconciliation through reciprocity and demonstrated appreciation of a woman's love. These songs may hint at an evolution in contemporary hip-hop and RnB, amounting to a re-orientation of played out he-said/she-said lyrics and an assertion of more complex and critical narratives on love, trust and power dynamics between the sexes. On the other hand, they may just be a reprieve from the frequent portrayal of women in popular music as either vengeful femme fatales (see Blu Cantrell’s Hit em up style) or helpless princesses-in-waiting (see Brandy’s Sittin up in my room). Either way, female recording artists -- and some men too, hello Frank Ocean -- have been surprising audiences by holding a mirror up to tired hyperbolic ideals and gender stereotypes while still making hits that move us. To quote hip-hop scholar Dr. Tricia Rose, it's not too much to call for music that "reflects a much richer space of culture, politics, anger and sex than the current ubiquitous images in sound and video." I hear that. Time to throw on some sweatpants and turn up Dej Loaf.
Pull up your pants (Just Like Em')
Take out the trash (Just Like Em')
getting ya cash like em'
Fast like em'
Girl you oughta act like ya dig (What I'm talkin' bout')
Security codes on everything
Vibrate so your phone don't ever ring (Joint Account)
And another one he don't know about
Wish we could switch up the roles
And I could be that...
Tell you I love you
But when you call I never get back
Would you ask them questions like me?...
Like where you be at?
Cause I'm out 4 in the morning
On the corner rolling
Doing my own thing
What if I?...
Had a thing on the side?
Made ya cry?
Would the rules change up?...
Or would they still apply?...
If I played you like a toy?...
Sometimes I wish I could act like a boy
If I were a boy
Even just for a day
I’d roll outta bed in the morning
And throw on what I wanted and go
Drink beer with the guys
And chase after girls
I’d kick it with who I wanted
And I’d never get confronted for it.
'Cause they’d stick up for me.
If I were a boy
I think I could understand
How it feels to love a girl
I swear I’d be a better man.
I’d listen to her
'Cause I know how it hurts
When you lose the one you wanted
'Cause he’s taken you for granted
And everything you had got destroyed
If I were a boy
I would turn off my phone
Tell everyone it’s broken
So they’d think that I was sleepin’ alone
I’d put myself first
And make the rules as I go
'Cause I know that she’d be faithful
Waitin’ for me to come home (to come home)
If I were a boy
I think I could understand
How it feels to love a girl
I swear I’d be a better man
bought this new plant from no frills
big and beautiful
is just sitting in the middle of our bedroom
the hydroponics place
that sells the cheap pots
is never open
we've gotta go there
instead of where
wherever it is that you buy the
Pat Maloney is El Presidente of Radomatbest.com
Jess Bloom is a Gemini with a moon in Sagittarius and a heart full of R. Kellly. She’s bossy at studio-beat.com
Stephanie Horak- Music writer. Founder of the music blog Stories Behind The Songs (storiesbehindthesongs.tumblr.com) and contributing music writer for Skullcandy Canada (http://ca.skullcandy.com/blog). Obsessed with music trivia.
Sam Lavoie is a Montreal-based soon to be lawyer and a long-time troubadour
Lara Barker aka DJ VISA Electron (shout out to CREDITCARD$) first listened to Brandy, Whitney Houston and NaS as a tween on a Sony Megabass Walkman. She quickly became adept at hitting the stop and record buttons at just the right intervals to make RnB mix tapes off AM640 and has more recently discovered the variety and convenience of Soundcloud. She fell for D’Angelo’s falsetto at age 16 but discovered Prince much later in life. Lara is currently listening to the Louis Mattrs cover of “Oh My” by Tweet and enjoying the resurgence of sweatpants and sneakers in popular fashion.
Jess Carroll is a Toronto-based writer who has contributed to Carbon Paper, Hermie Island, i-D, and Juxtapoz. She's never had a poem published until now, but has high hopes for a poem-laden future.
Illustrations by Colleen Ramage