The Lovely Bones

October 18, 2009 § Leave a comment

lovely_bonesAs a young girl, I was the ultimate bookworm. Only something spectacular could tear me away from a good story. But after four years as an english literature major in college, I found myself exhausted by fiction and gravitating towards more non-fiction, specifically memoirs. Even my interest in memoirs was sporadic at best because with all the “required” reading from the “literary canon” one is expected to endure as an english major, I hardly ever had the time or desire to dive into a book for purely leisure purposes. Now out of school, the days of writing 20+ page papers on books that I couldn’t really enjoy because they seemed only a means to an end (I often found myself hurrying through novels to make the grade), are over. My freedom to indulge in leisure reading on my own terms has been renewed and I feel like a kid again!

With that said, last week I strolled into Barnes & Noble and picked up a copy of the 2002 New York Times best-selling novel,The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold.

When it comes to the latest books, my reactions are super-delayed. Rave about a book you’re feeling and several years later, you’ll finally have someone to rave about it with. I’m always late, not because I don’t value others’ literary tastes, but only because, well…I forget and each day the world is on to the next bestseller. Back in high school, I remember a classmate of mine raving about how wonderful The Lovely Bones was.

But, it wasn’t until last weekend when I was sitting through a preview at the movie theater that I remembered The Lovely Bones–a book I was supposed to have read 7 years earlier. This December the book will become a feature film, directed by one of my favorite directors, Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings Trilogy, District 9). And it actually looks like it’ll be a worthwhile adaptation, considering how Hollywood at times tends to miss the mark with beloved novels.

Only a week later, and I’ve read it from cover to cover. The Lovely Bones, tells the story of 14-year old Susie Salmon, who after being brutally raped and murdered watches from “her heaven” as her family, friends, and murderer move on with their lives. And that quick synopsis doesn’t even give justice to the depht of this debut novel from Sebold, which could have easily turned into a simplistic, sentimental, and melodramatic tearjerker. Instead, what you get is a deeply compelling story that examines how pain and loss can be liberated through love and accepting both the past and the present. There is so much raw emotion and truth unraveling within each of the characters in this novel, that as a reader you feel obligated to turn the page to see what unfolds next–even if it hurts. The novel is powerful and in some ways unconventional. Definitely worth a read, and come December hopefully worth a watch.


Overnight Celebrity “Drizzy Drake” Takes NYC Stage

May 27, 2009 § Leave a comment

Drake performing at SOBS

Drake performing at S.O.B.'s

Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing up-and-coming Canadian rap sensation Drake headline at my favorite NYC hotspot, S.O.B.’s for the Hot97 Who’s Next showcase with Peter Rosenberg. As expected, Drizzy held it down for a sold-out crowd, as he spit tracks off his red-hot mix-tape, So Far Gone, of which I’m sure would be a chart-topper if in fact it were a real album. Technically, young Drake is still an unsigned talent, having not released a major album. But, my, my the company this dude keeps. Lil Wayne has cosigned on his protege’s swagger from day one. And although Weezy wasn’t in attendance (that would have been a mess indeed), Drake had other supporters on hand, including the likes of Kanye West and Talib Kweli, among others.

Onstage Drake showed loads of energy and bravado, finding time to throw in quick-witted, cocky banter here and there that made me chuckle light-heartedly instead of roll my eyes (which often happens when the talented Mr. West opens his mouth). “Don’t say you will, unless you will,” he sings to a crowd of screaming girls in the front of the stage, looking down at his “you know what,” as he samples West’s “Say You Will.” Or an even better example is when he says to the massive crowd, “I’m a new artist, by the way. I don’t know if you can tell by this show.”

The cuts he performed included, his smash radio-hit, “Best I Ever Had,” “Unstoppable,” “November 18th,” “Successful,” “Uptown,” and every bachelor’s favorite track, “Every Girl,” among others. All in all, Drake’s 30-minute set was pretty freaking entertaining and all the buzz surrounding it was warranted. Afterall, dude headlined a sold-out show at S.O.B.’s without even dropping an album first.

Random Highlights

*Before the show begins MC Lyte hits the stage…not really sure why…who knows maybe she’ll make a comeback?
*“DJ Class in this b**ch…” You know the hot club track, “I’m The Shit” from DJ Class feat. Ye. Love that joint! DJ Class popped up onstage to perform it before Drake hit the stage.
*Bun B joins Drake onstage for “Uptown.” He pretty much kills it.
*Drake jokes about his seduction skills as he croons along to R-Kelly’s “Feeling On Your Booty,” “Birthday Sex,” and Usher’s “Can You Handle It.” According to this ladies’ man, New York women are the perfect women who could give him the perfect night.

I’ll be uploading some more amateur video footage compliments of me shortly! Until then, I’m sure you can find a slew of footage on the internets.

Toni Morrison Returns With New Novel

November 2, 2008 § Leave a comment

Toni Morrison is my all-time favorite novelist, so when I heard she was finally penning a new book, “A Mercy,” I was ecstatic that I’d be able to add her ninth effort to my book collection. Like her Pulitzer prize-winning novel, “Beloved,”  “A Mercy,”  centers around the separation of a black mother and daughter during the 17th century slavery period, where a grave sacrifice is ultimately made. The mother sells her young daughter to a stranger in exchange for payment of her master’s debt, all the while with the hopes her daughter will have a better life. Consequently, the novel explores the young daughter’s life in the home of her new master, where she is searching for the love and acceptance she never had from her mother. What’s different about this novel is that Morrison also explores the plight of non-black characters who are indentured servants. And unlike many of her other novels, many of the central white characters are sympathetic. In a recent NPR interview, Morrison explains that she wrote the book to remove race from slavery by pointing out that white slaves had just as many hardships as black slaves and were often unable to buy themselves out of slavery. However, she does acknowledge that their experience was different in a way. “The only difference between African slaves and European or British slaves was that the latter could run away and melt into the population. But if you were black, you were noticeable,” she says. In the end, Morrison hits us with a narrative that is lyrical and moving without being overly-sentimental. Her characters are rich and layered and while she revisits some of the same themes from some of her earlier works, such as sacrifice, femininity, identity, forgiveness and love, the novel doesn’t seem like a mere repackaged formula. Her novel will be available for purchase November 11.

Toni’s Best Novels

If you haven’t read all of Morrison’s novels yet, I’m ranking them all!

1) Song of Solomon, the coming-of-age tale of Milkman, the novel’s young black male protaganist who embarks on a quest to discover his family’s ancestry and in turn find himself. With memorable characters and an ambigious ending, Morrison’s penned a well-plotted masterpiece.

2) Beloved, a mother’s ultimate sacrifice: kill her baby rather then see her enslaved gives rise to a haunting tale of redemption, sacrifice, and love. Exploring the brutal realities of slavery by focusing on a mother and daughter who struggle to lead a life of normalcy after escaping from slavery, while being haunted by the incarnation of the mother’s dead daughter, is one of Morrison’s most beloved novels.

3) The Bluest Eye, her debut novel is a tear-jerker, but its examination of racial identity in the eyes of an abused black teen who yearns for blue eyes is powerful.

4) Paradise, although not praised for being one of her most accessible, this female-centered novel is well constructed from start to finish and takes a literary risk in that the entire book is written in flashbacks and has interlocking characters. The story revolves around the conflict between a group of women who live in a secluded convent and the sexist men of Ruby, a fictitious all-black town.

5) Sula, the story of two black female heroines who grow up together and later grow apart as they seek parallel paths in life. The novel answers the question: what is it like to be an black american female with authenticity.

6) Jazz, a historical novel set in 1920s Harlem pays homage to the Harlem Renaissance and the emergence of jazz music with its style of writing which uses the call and response technique, which gives the characters in the novel room to explore the same events from different viewpoints. Centered around an act of violence (a man’s young mistress is shot and killed at a party), the novel is the story of a  love triangle filled with a myriad of themes, including jealousy,  redemption, and spirituality.

7) Love,  this non-linear story plots the lives of several women and their relationships to the late Bill Cosey, the beloved but also flawed central black male character, before and after his death.

8) Tar Baby, an exploration of the forbidden love between a privileged black woman and a poor black man reveals racial divides within the African American family as a result of American racism, and class issues.

The Effortless Soul of Jazmine Sullivan

September 30, 2008 § 8 Comments

When I first heard Jazmine Sullivan, I was in the car unfazed by the latest in radio rotations. I can’t remember exactly what I was listening to, but it was lackluster and expected like much of what’s on radio today. Then Sullivan emerged with “Need You Bad.” In awe, I kept asking, “who is this woman with this voice?”

When I finally figured out who she was, I realized I had been sleeping (unintentionally) on Sullivan for a few years while others were already acquainted with the 21 year-old sensation who has been on her native Philly scene for quite sometime. And I know it’s cliche, but it’s also true: Sullivan is beyond her years, and it’s effortless. I haven’t been this excited about a female vocalist since Amy Winehouse.

As I listened to her debut album, Fearless, which dropped last week I found myself instantly immersed with not only her signature raspy alto (which has been likened to Lauryn Hill) but with her storytelling which is rich with imagery and frankness. Each track (she penned the entire album) is like a story or diary entry that allows the listener to not just hear the compositions, but feel the weight of the raw emotion that Sullivan breathes into each note. This is music that makes you feel–makes you think.

Another interesting facet of Sullivan’s album is how she is able to tackle different musical genres in terms of production, without falling flat. In her first single, “Need You Bad,” she sings over a reggae beat and gets a little help from Missy Elliot, whose production makes this sizzle even more. The result is a track that sounds perfectly authentic, despite the fact that Philly-bred Sullivan is not an Islander.

Her latest single, “Bust Your Windows” is beautifully arranged and produced by Salam Remi, known for his work on Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black. The first thing that came to my mind upon hearing it was a flamingo-infused melody, which is an unexpected choice of sound considering the piece is a revengeful tirade about a woman who is so heartbroken by her man’s infidelity she transfers her anger over to a man’s most prized possession–his car. It’s her raw realness in this track that I admire the most, as she is unapologetic.  “You see you can’t just play with peoples feelings/Tell them you love them and don’t mean it/You probably say that it was juvenile/But I think that I deserve to smile,” she cries.

She serves up the same honesty in “In Love With Another Man,” except this time the tables are turned and Sullivan plays the adulterer. The material in this song showcases her maturity as she vocalizes the illogical nuances of love and the emotional toll it takes. “You treat me so much better than him/And if I was sane there’d be no competition/But…I’m in love with someone else,” she admits, leaving her Aidan for her Mr. Big. Lyrically and vocally Sullivan distinguishes herself from the rest of the R&B female pack in this powerful ballad.

Sullivan’s album is full of other strong offerings like, “Switch,” a witty track that plays almost like a funny 60s musical in terms of its up-beat melody, where she is upfront and unyielding about her attraction to her date’s best friend.  Another gem, the hip-hop infused “Call Me Guilty,” rings the alarm on domestic violence as the bruised woman takes the law into her own hands.

But my favorite track on the album (constantly on repeat) has to be “Lions, Tigers & Bears,” because it plays on a popular song of the same name from “The Wizard of Oz” while unveiling the artist’s vulnerability as she juxtaposes her confidence in all other areas of her life against her fear of falling in love. Again her honest lyrics hit home for some listeners and are paramount to this track. Her vocals are backed by fairytale-like string compositions. The result is a fluid piece that is dramatic and filled with heavy emotion from start to finish.

Sullivan’s Fearless at first sounds like a misnomer because it is filled with some tracks that hint at a fear of love and commitment. But that theory isn’t at all sound when we look at Sullivan’s musical risk taking. She borrows from several musical styles but still allows her distinct voice and personality to shine through. And in terms of lyrics, maybe it is her honesty in sharing her utmost fears and flaws that make her essentially fearless.

My Grade: A

Best Tracks: “Lions, Tigers & Bears,” “Need You Bad,” “Bust Your Windows,” “Fear,” “In Love With Another Man,” “After the Hurricane,” “Switch” and “My Foolish Heart.”

The Artistry of “No Place”

September 25, 2008 § 2 Comments

Still photos from "Ethnography of No Place" video by Saya Woolfalk and Rachel Lears

Still photos from "Ethnography of No Place" video.

One look at contemporary artist Saya Woolfalk’s work, now showing at The Studio Museum of Harlem’s “New Intuitions” exhibit, and you’ll find yourself enchanted by beauty that at first glance seems lively, as her imagery is full of color with an almost child-like allure.

But this isn’t child’s play in the slightest. A closer look at Woolfalk’s art and you’ll discover that she has constructed an otherwordly universe paired with an imagined culture of her own in an arbitrary attempt to challenge the foundation of what we consider to be reality.

She calls her world, “No Place” and asks us to rethink our assumptions on race, sexuality, nationality, identity, and cultural specifity. How is this knowledge formed? How do our perceptions influence the way we understand ourselves and different cultures? How do our cultural norms subject a sense of “Otherness” to members of a society who aren’t us? How does one break free from the “culture industry,” as Woolfalk puts it?

Create your own world, your own culture.

The aesthetic of “No Place” lies in its ability to appear surreal and yet real at the same time. Faceless, mysterious figures traverse a multicolored verdant wonderland that stretches beyond our imagination through an array of portals, such as paintings, sculptures, installations and a video.

The brightly colored landscape that these figures inhabit is much like our world. There are flowers, rivers, trees, buildings, as well as natural fixtures that have yet to be discovered. Each figure is an individual at best. No two figures are alike in outward appearance although all are sculpted from the same recycled plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, and newspapers–materials the artist borrows from our world. Each character has something that distinguishes their personage.

Painting entitled, "Cartography of No Place."

Painting entitled,"Cartography of No Place."

Woolfalk’s lifeforms and the world she’s created for them convey more meaning in her video, “Ethnography of No Place,” which is shown on a loop at the exhibit among her myriad of paintings, installations, and sculptures that tell the same story. The video, which she created with cultural anthropologist Rachel Lears is the most interesting part of her whole exhibit because it is within this video representation of “No Place,” that we can see her subjects come to life as they are documented in daily routines. The feature is split into six segments: Diary of a Phantom Ride, Self and Landscape, Death and Kin, The Emptiness of Equivalence, Meeting, and Empathy.

The video plays like a documentary at some points as the female narrator’s voice is monotone. At other times it seems like a read along storybook offering little substance. The presentation is whimsically weird. But as you watch the participants outfitted in faceless bodysuits adorned with colorful foliage (identical to the figures in the paintings and sculptors at the exhibit) interact with each other, realism prevails as they dance, mate, engage in rituals, nurse their young, and lay the deceased to rest. The manner in which some of these acts are performed in the video are inspired by cultural forms from places as close as New York and as far away as Brazil, Japan, and Africa.

One of the main themes parlayed throughout the video is sexuality, which is another culturally constructed concept that Woolfalk attempts to expose. The figures in the video reproduce using sex organs that are implanted in their heads. In one scene, a female figure kneels on the ground with her legs partially open as she slowly removes a sex organ from inside her head and inserts it between her legs, simulating sex.

Painting entitled, "No Placean Anatomy"

Painting entitled,"No Placean Anatomy."

Woolfalk’s exhibit at best is an experiment that exposes how the ways in which we comprehend cultures that aren’t our own can lose their authenticity as a result of the assumptions of the outsider’s perspective. By creating a fantasy-like world she is able to use her creativity to promote awareness of this dialogue and, of course craft unique and visually stunning imagery in several formats.

Woolfalk’s work is just one of three other installations from “The New Intuitions” exhibit at The Studio Museum of Harlem now through October 26th.

Ne-Yo…Running Out of Ink?

May 3, 2007 § 2 Comments


The innovative ink in R&B wonder boy Ne-Yo’s pen has finally run out. Coming off his critically acclaimed debut album, In My Own Words, Ne-Yo returns with his new album, Because of You, which hit stores May 1. Unfortunately, his new album is nowhere near as brilliant as his debut, which declared him the new “it-boy” of R&B with its eloquent and catchy lyrics matched with stunning vocals and production. Maybe Ne-Yo is cursed with the sophomore slump. Or just maybe he’s run out of ink from penning the last of his good material for R&B stars like Beyonce (he wrote her #1 single, “Irreplaceable”) and Rihanna (he wrote her summer hit, “Unfaithful”).

Regardless, I expected more from Ne-Yo. Don’t get me wrong; the album is not horrible. It’s just not memorable lyrically or production wise. In the majority of his album, Ne-Yo talks about sex, love, withered relationships—typical R&B material. Whereas Ne-Yo covered this material with lyrical prowess in his debut album, he was unable to repeat his strong efforts.

There are exceptions of course.

One of his best tracks, “Do You,” has Ne-Yo questioning an ex who has moved on, whether she still cares. “I know what we have is dead and gone/Too many times I made you cry/And I don’t mean to interrupt your life/I just wonder do I cross your mind,” he cries. “Because of You,” Ne-Yo’s first single about his addiction to sex is also a winner, but mostly for its catchy melody, which mirrors “So Sick,” from his last album. Surprisingly, Ne-Yo does take a risk in “Sex with My Ex,” with its edgy 80’s infused rock sound. However, in this track he seems like he’s trying too hard to imitate Prince, which doesn’t come off well. Maybe, Ne-Yo will redeem himself with a slew of hit singles for other artists—something he has yet to fail at.

Best Songs: “Do You,” “Make it Work,” “Angel,” “Say It,” “Because of You,” “Crazy” feat. Jay-Z

My Grade: B-

Crazy/Beautiful: Amy Winehouse Is Kind Of A Big Deal

February 23, 2007 § 1 Comment

Surely, by now you have heard of Britain’s highly-anticipated musical import, Amy Winehouse–coming to an American music store near you March 13. Well in case you haven’t, I’ll clue you in before her award-winning 2006 album, Back to Black, finally hits the U.S. Back to Black has been in heavy rotation in my CD player ever since a friend put me up on it a few months ago, illegally I might add. I’ve got a love jones for this album, and that doesn’t happen very often in an age where everything sounds the same. Winehouse is kind of a big deal in Britain, and she’s been ruling the charts since her 2003 debut, Frank. Winehouse hype is circulating heavy around the blogosphere, and mainstream music outlets like SPIN and Rolling Stone are taking notice—finally.

Why? Winehouse is everything that popular music today isn’t—crazy/beautiful. I’ve coined this term especially fitting for Ms.Winehouse because initially her lyrics, although strong and witty, can be quite wacky. “What kind of fuckery is this/You made me miss the Slick Rick gig,” she complains in “Me & Mr. Jones (Fuckery). Even wilder, Winehouse prefers weed over sex. “Don’t make no difference if I end up alone/ I’d rather have myself a smoke my homegrown/ It’s got me addicted, does more than any dick did,” she professes in “Addiction.” The lyrics, all her own, are inspired from her experiences, which include forced trips to rehab for substance abuse (“Rehab”) and frustrations with being “the other woman” (“Just Friends”). For the faint of heart, Amy is not. She’s too exciting and unordinary to fit in that box. Her vocals and lyrics compliment one another and jump out in each track. Up-tempo fiery frustrations and mellow affirmations of love and heartache are vocalized, and laced with 60’s Motown inspired soulful tunes, creating arrangements that hint at familiarity, while still carrying a unique element. R&B producers Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson fuse the guitar, piano, trumpet, violin, and even a tambourine with vibrant sound mixing to create stylish melodies with bounce. There are even some slight covers on the album, like “Tears Dry On Their Own,” which mirrors “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

Winehouse’s softer side comes into focus on several tracks, like “Love Is A Losing Game,” and the title track, “Back to Black,” all which focus on the excruciating pains of love gone wrong. This is where the latter portion of my coined term (crazy/beautiful) for Winehouse shines through. Her crazed lyricism from previous tracks is replaced with astonishingly beautiful poetic verses, like these two verses from “Love Is A Losing Game.”

Though I’m rather blind

Love is a fate resigned

Memories mar my mind

Love is a fate resigned

Over futile odds

And laughed at by the gods

And now the final frame

Love is a losing game

Winehouse pours her heart into these songs vocally and her range is just right. This diva actually can hold a tune.

Summing up the album brings to mind two songs that will indefinitely heat up the singles charts once Winehouse hits the States. The songs, “Rehab” and “You Know I’m No Good,” the latter which features rapper Ghostface Killah in the U.S. version, are musically satisfying. On first listen, these songs are intoxicating due to the stylishly original beats and lyrics, which are sassy and unsullied.

Categorizing Winehouse into just one musical genre is limiting. She’s a little bit of everything. Winehouse is blues, indie-pop, hip-hop, R&B, and funk. At best, however Winehouse is a 60’s girl group member gone solo who just so happens to be trapped in the 21st century. She’s an eclectic and feisty songbird, or should I say songraven on her way. Look out for her.

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