Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Ciara "The Evolution" Review

The Evolution
Label: Laface
8.0 out of 10
By Norman Mayers

Ciara literally burst onto the scene two years ago with her ubiquitous hit “Goodies” and it’s equally explosive follow-up “1, 2 Step”. These two tracks alone were enough to push her albums sales past two million, taking her from unknown to current queen of dance-pop. With her sophomore release The Evolution, Ciara would have us believe that she is all grown up and has evolved into a whole new style. While that isn’t exactly true, Ciara’s The Evolution does stand as one of the best dance albums of the year. Where 2004’s Goodies was loaded with a lot of middling filler tracks, this new album remains consistent in style and quality.

The Evolution is about as good as it gets in terms of dance-pop production and style. Ciara’s style hasn’t exactly evolved but it has been streamlined focusing on her strengths, namely the ability to come up with some serious club jams. Many of the tracks literally explode with such force and speed that they are sure to appeal to fans of electronica, breakbeat and drum & bass. Album opener “That’s Right” and “Bang It Up” are crisp productions that crackle with kinetic energy and furious sparks of percussion. The majority of the album takes the classic breaks and sounds of 80s hip-hop and electro but updates it with precise skill. The list of producers includes The Neptunes (“I Proceed”), Will.I.Am (“Get In, Fit In”), Jazze Pha (“Get Up”), and Lil John (That’s Right”), so the results are pretty much destined to be on point.

The entire release bumps with exciting beats and catchy hooks such as the irresistible “Make It Last Forever”, which references Ron Base’s classic “It Takes Two”. The album highpoint is the first single “Promise”, probably the best slice of sci-fi R&B since Aaliyah’s “One In A Million”. With its undulating mid-tempo rhythm and robotic effects, its stands out on an album that is full of many standouts. “Like A Boy” is Ciara’s attempt at depth, with lyrics that suggest she wants to flip the script on heartbreaking men. But Ciara isn’t about lyrical depth; she’s about booty shaking, so it’s no wonder that the only weak areas of the album are her forays into ballads. The handful of slow jams are disposable at best as are the brief interludes describing her “evolution”.

Despite the few throwaway ballads, The Evolution is a very strong release that delivers what the artist is known for: hot beats, killer hooks, and club bangers. With this release Ciara has pretty much earned her spot as the new dancing queen of R&B/pop.


Monday, December 11, 2006

The City Gym Boys in LA

This weekend I had the privilege of meeting the City Gym Boys during their stay in LA. The City Gym Boys are a group of multi-cultural men who promote health and fitness in the inner city. They were in LA promoting their 2007 calendar. I got to meet them and chat with them and for the most part they are pretty down to earth and approachable even though they can sometimes look like they will rip your head off.

These guys have ridiculous bodies as well and are most definitely inspired! Enjoy the pics.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Photo Shoot With Tim Ricks

So I shot photos this week with Tim Ricks. I love how they came out. The style is very different from the Gregory Prescott shoot. I am really just in the stage of trying new things and seeing what different photographers can pull out of me. Well hope you enjoy this new expression of myself.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Gwen Stefani Review

Gwen Stefani
The Sweet Escape
Label: Interscope
7.5 out of 10
By Norman Mayers

Gwen Stefani has always been something of a music industry oddity. Rising to fame with her Southern California band No Doubt she became the face of a generation. No Doubt’s ska-pop sounds were just one part of Gwen’s repertoire as she re-invented herself as a fly white chick by hooking up with rapper Eve a few years back. With her solo debut, 2004’s Love.Angel.Music.Baby, Gwen further stretched her artistic muscle by referencing 80s pop sounds and Japanese fashion. L.A.M.B. wasn’t exactly the most consistent album even though it produced the monster hit “Hollaback Girl”. With The Sweet Escape, Stefani gets her schizophrenia in check and delivers a mostly streamlined set of bass heavy hip-hop cuts sprinkled with pop lyrics and soaring retro-flavored anthems. Although it’s far from perfect, The Sweet Escape is a far more enjoyable listen than Stefani’s debut and is destined to spawn another massive Hollaback single.

A part of what makes Stefani’s sophomore solo release a bit more accessible is the indelible stamp of the Neptunes. As the producers of “Hollaback Girl” it was inevitable that they be the main contributors to this album. Luckily, Stefani and the Neptunes do make an exciting team. The collaboration produces some of the Neptunes’ most adventurous work in years such as the mildly annoying yet entertaining lead single “Wind It Up” and the playful “Yummy”, which ends with a bizarre voyage into a mechanic’s shop (listen to the track and you will know what I mean). The Neptunes also pull the most radio-ready singles out of Gwen. The 808 heavy “Orange County Girl” could be the new California anthem while tracks like “U Started It” and bonus track “Candyland” are among the best on the album. However, it’s Swizz Beatz who comes up with the most likely heir to the Hollaback crown with the bumping chants and boasting raps of “Now That You Got It”.

But Gwen Stefani is more than just a rapping white girl. Many of the album’s highlights are the softer ones. Cuts like “Early Winter” and “4 In The Morning” soar thanks to Stefani’s girlish vocals and brilliant hooks that reference iconic moments from Madonna and Tears for Fears. There are places where things don’t quite click such as on the musical train wreck “Don’t Get It Twisted” and the Gogos inspired title track. Neither track has a clear direction, simply throwing a million sounds into a pot with pretty dismal results.

Gwen Stefani will probably always remain one of those artists that projects style over substance, yet she continues to make some of the most interesting music in pop. Very few artists in the mainstream can hope to produce an album as wonderfully weird as The Sweet Escape.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Nintendo Wii Launch Event

So I just landed my first freelance assignment with a magazine called BizBash. They basically cover events as a guide for event planners. My first event was for the Nintendo Wii launch party in Hollywood. It was pretty cool. Of course it was open bar but they had lots of huge video game displays and stations throughout the venue for you to play with. Mix Master Mike of the Beastie Boys fame was on the decks playing some proper hip-hop beats.

There were a bunch of celebrities strolling through there which was kinda interesting. I counted Justin Timberlake, Marlon Wayans, Freddy Rodriquez (Six Feet Under) and Macy Gray. Plus I saw that really hot girl from that old WB show Popular. The dark haired one, not that blonde bitch.

Anyway, the people were just ok. A bit too Hollywood wannabe for me and not enough solid networking going on. But I was definitely more excited about my first asisgnment for Biz Bash. Things are moving forward in my freelance career.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

My Hot Air Balloon Ride - Ventura, California

I had the unique privilege this past weekend of getting to ride a hot air balloon. I went on a press trip to Ventura, California which is about an hour north of LA. It's a beach community but the sorroudning land is used for agriculture: strawberries, avacado, lemons, etc. I had to get up at the crack of dawn but it was so worth it. It was so quiet and gentle in the balloon as we drifted over the crops and valleys. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I love my job!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Nu-Soul Magazine is Here!

Image hosted at PICTUB.com

After about 2 years in the making I have finally launched my website, Nu-soul. It's an online music magazine focusing on the sounds of soul and electronica. I have found that throughout my life I have listened to these two genres but they have a common link. Soul music is of course an African-American tradition but most do not realize that most forms of electronica were also created by those of African descent. Genres like techno, house, drum and bass, and breakbeat can be traced back to African-American traditions such as soul, funk, hip-hop and disco and are simply the modern forms of these styles. My website Nu-Soul hopes to explore these sounds through interviews, articles, reviews and more. Click the banner above to go check out the site!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

More Joshua Tree photos

Here are a few more shots from the shoot I did out in Joshua tree. I have to say I am really happy with the way these turned out. Thanks, Gregory!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Joshua Tree Photoshoot

I did a photoshoot for photographer Gregory Prescott a few weeks ago. I really hate modelling and all that but this was a great opportunity to do something really artistic and to try something new so I went for it.

First off I had never been to Joshua Tree here in California and it was amazing. It's a national park near Palm Springs where you can find the bizarre looking Joshua Trees as well as the most amazing rock formations. We basically walked around a random area and just kept snapping pictures at places we thought were interesting. The final pictures are beautiful and unlike any I have ever done before. Hope you enjoy!

Gregory Prescott Website

Friday, September 29, 2006

San Fran - Day 2 The Love Parade

My second day in San Fran was all about the Love Parade, or Love Fest as it is called now since Berlin reclaimed the Love Parade name this year. It was an amazing event. An electronic music parade in the streets and a festival in front of City Hall that lasted all day. Young and old, gay and straight, ravers and hippies, rich and poor, every race, every sound, every style. The Love Fest was an event of unrivaled beauty and freedom that I will not soon forget. The best part was when my friends went back to the hotel and I was left to wander the festival grounds on my own. The beauty and love that I experienced was like a dream. I met a variety of characters that made me feel at home in this strange place. It reminded me that you are never truly alone. The universe is always there to take care of you.

Later that night it was off to the after parties. First we headed to the Civic Center for the official after party. This was just okay. It was a rave style atmosphere in an enclosed civic center so it had a "been there done that" feel. We headed over to the SOMA Arts Cultural Center for another after party called Love Infusion. This was the proper vibe for me and my crew. A chill outdoor area with trees and bean bags was the centerpiece of the venue, but there were three rooms inside playing breaks and trance. I was able to meet more San Fran people in an intimate environment. All around this was an excellent trip. I will be returning to San Francisco soon enough.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

San Francisco Day 1

I am back and fully recovered from my wonderful trip to San Francisco. I went there to cover the San Francisco Love Fest for Prefixmag.com but also finally get to see the city since I have written several stories in Black Meetings & Tourism. Thank you to Tim at the CVB and Debbie at the Hilton San Francisco for everything. I got a excellent press kit from the CVB that had passes to many of the city's attractions as well as a pass for the train and the bus that really came in handy.

I arrived in San Fran early on Friday morning (around 9:30) and I took the train to my hotel. The Hilton is located on O'Farrell street, three blocks from Market street, and close to Union Square, so basically it is in the heart of San Francisco. Everything was in walking distance. No sooner had I sat my bags down was I back out the door to explore this magical city. San Fran reminded me of New York but much cleaner, not as crowded and with nicer people. It is just beautiful and I snapped photos of everything.

In one day I explore Union Square, Chinatown, Nob Hill, Market Street, The Modern Art Museum, The Embarcadero, The Waterfront, Fisherman's Wharf, I walked from one end of Powell Street to the other, Haight Ashbury, and the Castro.

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