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Hot Takes: Queens

Queens is giving us the music *and* the drama.

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*** Mild spoilers, because it’s a TV series, and you can’t really review apilot episode without giving a little info about what it’s about and what’s happening.

1. They had me at girl group. I will watch anything about a girl group, from Popstars to Cheetah Girls to whatever BET was trying to do with Miss Promithes Promithes producing a group of washed up stars from yesteryear. (Sidenote: That show was bonkers, but two of the songs are good: “Skeletons” & “Birds Eye View”)

2. Who is this Nadine lady playing Butter Pecan? I assume she must have smashed the audition process, because she’s been cast alongside three music stars with successful acting careers. Eve, Naturi, and Brandy have all made hits and proven themselves on the small screen, and Nadine/Valeria sticks out to me just a touch. She doesn’t really have the performing stage presence of the other three, so I hope she settles into that a bit better. I guess J.Lo thought she was too big for the role so they got a substitute?

3. Speaking of J.Lo, they really did Nadine dirty with this knock off dress.

4. “Nasty Girl” is not a good song. I do enjoy Swizz Beatz and his bag of tricks so I’m looking forward to the music they roll out, but I really don’t need to hear “Nasty Girl” ever again. Happy that Brandy/B-Rocka is getting her moment as an emcee again though! She stole the whole song from Eve if we’re being honest.

5. Eve has great comedic timing. I’ve missed her doing this. Also a pleasant surprise seeing RonReaco Lee pop up playing her husband, since he wasn’t listed in the cast. We don’t see enough of him these days.

6. The pacing and the cuts for commercial give me Ugly Betty, but the tone and the acting give me Empire, and that’s high praise. Hopefully they can keep the show on the rails.

7. It’s not exactly the series I predicted! I thought we were going to watch a season of episodes where they get ready for a performance, to see if they can do it. Well they did it in one episode, so I guess the show is mostly about their interpersonal relationships and not their ability to perform, which is great! We get the music and the drama.

8. “Hear Me” is a great song. Brandy does not make bad songs.

9. That cypher was hot fire! Everybody’s bars were on point. I assumed Lauren didn’t have the talent to back up her viral fame, but I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with that character too!

10. Queens had a solid debut. The pilot put in motion enough plotlines to fill a few seasons, not just one, and the cast (save for maybe Nadine) feels organic, like they would all exist in a group together. Some of the acting is a little stilted (I honestly don’t really believe Naturi as a lesbian church lady quite yet…) but they have time to let it gel and really come together. I think they will.

Score: 7.5/10

 

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Music

Christmas Music Playlists!

I’m here to get you right this season!

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It’s time!

Some of y’all (the ones with taste and home training) turn on the Christmas Music during Thanksgiving, because honestly, Thanksgiving is a bum holiday that don’t even have cute sweaters or any songs that slap. It’s just greens and football and colonialism.

Anyway!

I have not yet updated my Christmas Playlists for this year, but you can go ahead and save them and I’ll update as I listen to the new holiday releases. You should have already saved these last year but I’m feeling peaceful and generous, so I will share them again.

A Diva’s Christmas

This is for the folks who need a voice to carry the Christmas spirit. Real singers only.

As an avowed atheist, if you want me to care about some lady’s side-baby doused in frankincense, give me the message from somebody who knows what they’re doing behind the mic.

Fireplace Christmas

This is for the grown & sexy Christmas with warm mulled wine and a blanket.

It’s only about an hour and a half currently, so I need to really dig in Santa’s bag and come up with some more mood moments. Might put that on my todo list this weekend.

Ultimate Christmas Party

This is for the holiday function or the office cocktail party. Bops only!

I love all genres of music, so we’re covering the gamut from gospel to rock, country to R&B. What I don’t always love is a Christmas party where everybody is drinking and having a good time and the mood DIES because yet another maudlin version of “Silent Night” comes on. No ballads for my party, please.

Ultimate Christmas Party (Deluxe)

This is for the holiday party that needs some secular variety.

It’s the same playlist as Ultimate Christmas Party, but for every holiday song, there’s also a non-holiday hit by the same artist. I actually put this playlist on all year.

Christmas Favorites

This is my catchall Christmas playlist.

The holiday songs from all my other playlists plus other songs and instrumentals that haven’t found a theme to fit into.

So! Let me know what has come out recently that I should be listening to. I’m about to put on JoJo’s Christmas album and see what my good lightskinned cousin is bringing to the table.

 

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I had a band director like Adele’s English teacher.

Thank a teacher today!

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How can you not love Adele?

I was talking to one of my Musical Soulmates over the weekend, because when something new comes out that we both do/should/would like, we discuss it a little. I felt like Adele was likely not on his radar because she’s not really on mine, but 30 pulled me in, so I wanted to spread the good word. I am very close to becoming an Adele Fan after this album, but I’ve always liked her public persona.

Adele’s concert special just dropped and I would like to ask y’all again: How can you not love Adele? She seems to be such a genuine, decent, lovely person, and it is a known fact that people who loved their middle school English teachers are better than the rest of us. Watch this clip where she talks about a teacher she only had for a year but who impacted the rest of her life.

That teacher who excited you or makes you feel special does stay with you forever. If my middle school band director hadn’t let me “noodle in the stands” I wouldn’t be living in New York City right now.

Noodling is when you’re playing around on your instrument while you’re not supposed to be, and doing that at a football game in the stands when the band isn’t playing is a big no-no. I had been messing around on the piano at home before a football game and I was plinking out “Push It” by Salt N Pepa. I thought it would sound good at a football game, so I transposed it for saxophone (my instrument) and I decided I was going to teach it to my homegirl Britney at the game. Mr. Hooper, our band director, caught us and told us to stop noodling in the stands, and I asked him if I could teach her a song. He made us put our scarves in the bell to mute ourselves and I taught her “Push It.” Once she had it, I figured out the harmony to it, and Mr. Hopper let us play it like twice.

That was the first time I ever “arranged” something, but it gave me the confidence to play by ear. That confidence came in handy when our football team went to state, because there was a big mellophone solo in our second song during the halftime show, but the mellophone player got in trouble or something (I don’t remember what happened) and she couldn’t go with us. Mr. Hopper knew I knew everybody’s part, because everybody’s part was more interesting than alto sax, and he told me to play Christy’s solo for him in his office the week before the big game. He gave me some pointers, and the solo was mine. Walking from my spot on in the back of the formation to take my solo position on the 50 yard line at the state championship was probably the highlight of my life up through 8th grade.

Later that year I went to All-State Band and I thought one of the songs we played would sound good at a football game. I remembered what I could, made my own staff paper, and wrote it out for each instrument. When I asked Mr. Hopper if we could play it, he said yes, and even though I had the baritone transposition completely wrong, he asked me to stay after school. He told me I had a real talent for music. I was 12 or 13 at the time, so there were musicians who were objectively better at their instrument, because I had only been playing sax for a couple of years, but he told me he was impressed with my ears.

I never wanted to be a professional sax player, but I loved music. Mr. Hopper told me I had good ears, and I kept arranging music. I arranged marching band and acapella music all through college. I was able to start making a few extra coins and that supplemented my income when I moved to NYC and couldn’t find a job that would pay my rent. I don’t really do it much anymore, but Mr. Hopper was the first person to tell me I was really good at something, and you never really forget it.

So shoutout to the teachers out there. Somebody remembers what you told them, and it still makes them smile decades later.

 

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Album Review: Candiace “Deep Space”

A no-skips album from a Real Housewife? I couldn’t believe it either.

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Unpopular Disclaimer: I don’t need to like someone as a person to enjoy their presence in the ensemble of a reality TV show. Candiace Dillard is not one of my favorite people, but I think she works very well on The Real Housewives of Potomac. In the pantheon of badly behaved Housewives, she’s not a completely vile human being like Kelly Dodd, but plenty of what she says is wholly indefensible. She’s not a widely liked person the way Kandi Burruss is or a very sympathetic character along the lines of Sonja Morgan, so this project has an uphill battle, but we’ll come back to that.

The long and short of it is, Candiace has a better voice than any Real Housewife who has ever put out a project. I hesitate to call her a better singer than Kandi, because Kandi has more range and better ears (both of which make you a better vocalist), but her voice is more naturally soulful without trying and her timbre isn’t nearly as polarizing as Kandi’s. Being a better singer than the Housewives isn’t a high bar to clear, but Candiace’s voice can stand in the same lane with any of the R&B singers of the past five years or so.

But are the songs good? You can have all the vocal talent in the world, but if the song is bad, you’d need to be Whitney Houston to pull it off. Deep Space is a cohesive, polished, high-quality selection of very short songs. The average length of a track is about two and a half minutes because Candiace and her team have hardly written any bridges. The instrumental is excellent, the verse is excellent, the chorus is excellent, and then it’s over. As a student of 90s R&B, a school of which Candiace has also clearly matriculated, I need the bridge.  It not only lengthens the song and prolongs my enjoyment, but it also gives me that extra level where you can transition to show out on the last chorus.

Candiace also doesn’t need interludes. They may serve to reach out to her fans from the show, but for those of us who love the music but not the Reality TV Character, hearing a clip of her fighting with her husband tarnishes the project. Countess Luann makes music for her fans. Candiace has made an album for the public at large, so I hope she keeps that in mind going forward — your fans will come along with the general public when the music is good, but the general public is not as keen to support a reality TV star when we are being reminded that this album is indeed the offering of a reality TV star.

My other criticism may be a strength depending on your point of view: It’s not solidly current or solidly throwback. I’m not sure what the market is for this sound. R&B isn’t popular right now and I can’t tell if this is going to appeal to fans of both Tamia and Chloe.

Criticisms aside, Deep Space really is a no-skips album (aside from the Interludes, which I don’t count as tracks). Openers “Cause a Scene” and “Hands In The Air” are the hoodbrat sides of Candiace with just enough 808 to drop it low. “Is It Enough” is the most immediately stage-ready song — you can imagine the live band and Candiace on a small stage with two backup singers. It’s very much giving mid-90s Chucky Thompson, slinky and sensual without being overtly sexual. The background vocal here, as well as “Benefits” and “Situationship,” take a couple of notes from Janet and Brandy to great effect. Janet’s DNA is baked into the feel of “Do It (Nostalgia)” which could’ve been a bonus track on 20 Y.O. sung by Monica. The Queen of the DMV Ms. Traci Braxton Herself makes a surprise appearance on “Stay With Me,” and Candiace could be a Braxton cousin with her delivery (I didn’t initially realize Traci was on the track when I was listening in the shower — their voices were so similar). Deep Space closes with “Win,” a retro-soul gospel track that hit my atheist spirit just right. It’s going on my Sunday Cleaning playlist immediately.

Candiace has an exceptional product with all the makings of a successful career, but it won’t be easy. Other than Cardi B. and Bethenny, reality TV stars don’t transition into other areas of the entertainment business successfully. Bethenny was polarizing, as Candiace is, but Bethenny launched an entire brand that struck at the lucrative diet/weight-control market. Candiace is every bit as talented as Cardi B., but Cardi had two great advantages before launching Invasion of Privacy: she was popular and her genre was popular. Cardi B. was a personality hundreds of thousands of people had rallied behind before she was ever cast on Love & Hip-Hop for two seasons. Her appearance on the show only grew her fanbase, so there were a lot more people rooting for her to win when “Bodak Yellow” came out and became an instant classic. And the reason her single took off so quickly was, aside from the fact that it’s insanely and immediately catchy, the market was ready to make space for a female rapper to give Nicki Minaj competition. “Bodak Yellow” wouldn’t have been as successful if it was released by a man, released by an unnattractive woman, released by someone who was less likeable, or released in 2002.

You have to hit at the right time with the right product by the right artist. A slightly retro R&B album in 2021 from a largely unknown and highly polarizing personality is a challenge I wouldn’t take on, but I’m glad Candiace has. Deep Space is an R&B album that I was looking for this year when most of the girls are whispering or leaning too hard into trap music. I’m here for it Ms. Dillard, but let’s get some bridges on the sophomore effort and leave any references to Bravo back in Potomac.

Score: 7.5 / 10

Songs to get into:

Is It Enough

Benefits

Do It (Nostalgia)

Drive Back

 

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