Reads to Read: D’Angelo, Kraftwerk, Ester Dean

Postscripts to/Suggested Reading to my post, Beyond the “Ghetto University” from March…

From GQ’s piece on D’Angelo, by Amy Wallace, which you and I both should read in its entirety:

Already Michael [that is, D’Angelo] was developing into the musical connoisseur that D’Angelo is today. His Uncle CC was a truck driver who moonlighted as a DJ, and he had a huge record collection. This was the beginning of what D now calls “going to school”—delving deep into jazz, soul, rock, and gospel history, from Mahalia Jackson to Band of Gypsys, from the Meters to Miles Davis to Donald Byrd, from Sam Cooke to Otis Redding, from Donny Hathaway to Curtis Mayfield to Sly Stone to Marvin Gaye. When Michael was 8, Gaye had just made a comeback with “Sexual Healing” and won two Grammys. “Everybody was talking about him,” D’Angelo recalls. “Everybody.”

Also, Sasha Friere-Jones on Kraftwerk at the MoMA opens the piece with coverage of Kraftwerk’s influence on early hip-hop and pop music.

The Bronx d.j. and hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa was in the audience at the Ritz. He had found Kraftwerk’s 1977 album, “Trans-Europe Express,” in a record bin several years earlier. “I was just looking at these guys on the cover and saying, ‘Whoa, whoa, what the hell is this?’ ” he told me. “Wow! Something’s here that’s very funky, and I got to play it for my audience.” He added that Kraftwerk’s battery of gear at the Ritz made it look as if they were playing “washing machines.” (Because of the difficulty of re-creating their recordings with such complicated equipment, the band has visited the U.S. only seven times in its forty-two-year history. Now they use laptops.) The following year, Bambaataa, along with the musician John Robie and the producer Arthur Baker, combined the beat of “Numbers,” from “Computer World,” and the melody of the title track from “Trans-Europe Express” to create “Planet Rock,” an early hip-hop song that spawned a small clutch of genres, including electro, Miami bass, and Brazilian baile funk. “Computer World,” Kraftwerk’s masterpiece, sold less than a million copies, yet its influence has been surprisingly broad—even Coldplay, for its single “Talk,” from 2005, has used a melody from the album.

One song on “Computer World,” called “Home Computer,” has a distinctive, ascending arpeggio that feels a bit like bubbles rising quickly through mercury. That arpeggio shows up in LCD Soundsystem’s single “Disco Infiltrator,” from 2005. It’s also referenced in Missy Elliott’s “Lose Control,” from the same year. A few days ago, I was walking through SoHo and passed the Uniqlo store, with its painfully fluorescent lighting, which illuminates only slightly less fluorescent clothing. Nicki Minaj’s hit “Starships,” a savvy combination of dubstep and traditional house, was bleeding onto the street. When I listened closely, I realized that this version was actually a mashup with one of the many songs that has used “Home Computer” ’s arpeggio.

A sample of a sample of Kraftwerk? Sample train detected! Unfortunately, Frere-Jones kept repeating the piece’s banal subheading, “How did a pop band end up in a museum?” Um, how did a pop band not end up in a museum? Have you seen pop bands? Or museums?

In fact, Whosampled, above, doesn’t know who Nicki sampled. Could it be Norwegian beatmaking duo Tor Hermansen and Mikkel Eriksen, aka Stargate, the subjects of  John Seabrook’s  article, along with “‘top line’ writer Esther Dean”. They write songs for the likes of Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson.  Plus Ester Dean can do this:

Dean has a genius for infectious hooks. Somehow she is able to absorb the beat and the sound of a track, and to come out with its melodic essence. The words are more like vocalized beats than like lyrics, and they don’t communicate meaning so much as feeling and attitude—they nudge you closer to the ecstasy promised by the beat and the “rise,” or the “lift,” when the track builds to a climax. Among Dean’s best hooks are her three Rihanna smashes—“Rude Boy” (“Come on, rude boy, boy, can you get it up / Come on, rude boy, boy, is you big enough?”), “S&M” (“Na-na-na-na COME ON”), and “What’s My Name” (“Oh, na-na, what’s my name?”), all with backing tracks by Stargate—and her work on two Nicki Minaj smashes, “Super Bass” (“Boom, badoom, boom / boom, badoom, boom / bass / yeah, that’s that super bass”) and David Guetta’s “Turn Me On” (“Make me come alive, come on and turn me on”). […]

“I go into the booth and I scream and I sing and I yell, and sometimes it’s words but most time it’s not,” she told me. “And I just see when I get this little chill, here”—she touched her upper arm, just below the shoulder—“and then I’m, like, ‘Yeah, that’s the hook.’ ” If she doesn’t feel that chill after five minutes, she moves on to the next track, and tries again.

Holla back!

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