- Five Films to Watch About Stonewall … Besides Stonewall - 29 September, 2015
- Symphony: An interview with Raymond Yiu - 25 August, 2015
- Raymond Yiu’s Symphony to debut at BBC Proms - 12 August, 2015
This week I check out hot new releases from Jazmine Sullivan, Elle Varner and Gabby Ca$hmere.
Jazmine Sullivan – Mascara
When I first heard Jazmine Sullivan’s song ‘Dumb’, featuring Meek Mill, I suspected it would be a one-off and the singer would go back into hiding. Thankfully, I was wrong. The latest offering from the singer before her new album, Reality Show, drops next Tuesday is ‘Mascara’.
The beat is typical of the past few year’s rap and R&B and gives it the perfect backdrop for the singer to tell us about a relationship purely based on vanity, with no depth. She sings about how her hair and ass is fake, but she couldn’t care less because her attractive appearance gets her everything she needs. Sullivan then goes on to gloat about how ‘these bitches stay mad because she’s living the life’.
But we soon learn that Sullivan’s perks come at a cost: she’s no longer allowed to be fully human, but must present herself as perfect at all times. The facade of confidence and bravado give way to vulnerability and fear, as she sings:
‘So I never leave the house without make up on / I keep mascara in my pocket if I’m running to the market / ‘Cause you never know who’s watching you / So I gotta stay on (stay on) / I, I gotta stay on…‘
On the surface she’s criticizing her man, who she works tirelessly to impress, but really it’s Jazmine’s comment on the music industry and its standards. In her YouTube documentary about making her album, Sullivan explains her struggle to feel beautiful and retain a positive self-image in an industry where ‘nothing about her physically is celebrated.’ She goes on to say that she works really hard to be confident in herself and to stop chasing other people’s idea of perfection. She also discusses how the music industry’s standards are unrealistic and unattainable; how it’s often crafted to make average people feel like shit. Most importantly, Sullivan says she feels like she was put in the music industry to ‘shake things up’.
It all ends on a sombre note, as Sullivan watches her character being trapped by everything she had believed was the key to her freedom.
If this song is any indication of what we can expect on Reality Show, then I think it is safe to say this well-respected singer-songwriter is well on her way to accomplishing her mission.
Elle Varner – Cold Case
Elle Varner recently released the video for ‘Cold Case’. It’s a warm opening, soon to contrast with Elle speaking sarcastically about how beautiful love is in its early stages: ‘he not cheating on you, not fucking some other bitch‘.
Then the infamous Kill Bill siren sound kicks in, and the beat drops.
Varner’s rich voice seethes with hurt and anger as she sings about her determination to discover if her man is cheating. Better yet, she has already made up her mind and she’s just looking for evidence.
‘My eyes and ears are open wide / Gon’ take my time but I’m gon’ find / The answer to this mystery / No, you ain’t heard the last from me…‘
It’s a departure from Varner’s usual sound, but it’s a welcome one. The beat complements her voice well and perfectly fits with the subject matter. On top of that, Varner’s ability to make the listener feel her emotions as she’s singing them, always works in her favor.
It will be interesting to see what Varner’s new album will sound like. Will she goes back to the sound she became known for on her first album or will she continue this single’s risk-taking?
Gabby Ca$hmere – Rather Have You
Anyone who was listening to hip-hop during the early to mid-2000s will almost feel like they’ve heard this song before. Featuring Marques Callaway, it samples Teddy Pendergrass’s ‘Close the Door’ and opens with Marques Callaway’s soulful voice.
He sings about how he’d rather be with his girl than have all the riches of the world, because she’s been with him since the beginning. She’s a talented rapper, chronicling her relationship from humble beginnings to the top – where they can enjoy all of things they never had together. Their lyrics play off each other as if they’re in a conversation about their relationship.
The influence of hip-hop and R&B from between 2002 and 2005 is evident in the beat, Ca$hmere’s flow, and song structure. One particular song that came to mind was Young Gunz’s 2003 hit, ‘No Better Love’. This can, of course, be both a help and a hindrance to the success of this record. The song will get your attention if you miss music of that era, but radio may be less keen to play a song that sounds like it arrived 10 years too late to the party.
Ultimately, Ca$hmere and Callaway are both talented artists, and I’ll be waiting to see how well they navigate the current musical landscape with their classic sounds.
That’s all for this edition of Give It a Listen. What new songs have you been playing on repeat this week? Let me know.