|New Album Reviews by Eric ArnoldScarface, Stevie Wonder, Mary J. Blige
After the violent deaths of gangster rap icons Tupac Shakur and Notorius B.I.G., it’s hard to listen to the genre in exactly the same way. Scarface (known for his work with the Geto Boys and his solo albums), however, is not your average gangster rapper. Originally from Houston’s Fifth Ward, if any gangster artist has earned the title of O.G., Scarface is the one. In his career, he has moved past simple murderous lyrics to complex murderous lyrics, but more importantly, he is more than aware of the consequences of the gangster lifestyle. The Untouchable seethes with social commentary, as Scarface illustrates with verbal pictures the economic reality of the inner city in graphic–and sometimes chilling– detail. On “No Warning,” he cautions that “99.9 percent of the time, you gon’ die” if you “live fast and young.” “Sunshine” offers a glimmer of hope, even while describing a hopeless situation, and on “Money Makes The World Go Round,” Scarface and guest rapper Daz provide an excellent analysis of capitalism. On “Smartz,” he signifies about man’s inhumanity to man, saying, “I turn my ax to my neighbor/ And my back to my saviour.” However, the most poignant moment comes on the ironic “Smile,” featuring the late Tupac Shakur. When Scarface calls for “a moment of silence,” it’s almost like he’s eulogizing Shakur (the album was recorded before Tupac’s untimely death). The album’s crisp production was mainly done by Scarface, with help from N.O. Joe, Tone Capone and Dr. Dre (who appears with Ice Cube on the superstar posse cut “Game Over”). Scarface has survived the ghetto by becoming one of its most effective storytellers, yet it is best to remember that he did so against tremendous odds.
“The Greatest Hits Collection”
Stevie Wonder is a musical legend, and as such icons go, it is well nigh impossible to have too much Stevie in your collection. Song Review, thus, is a 2 CD-collection which should be irresistable for Wonder fanatics and casual fans alike. Song Review’s 31 tunes take the form of a retrospective of Stevie’s entire career, from late 80’s middle-of-the-road fare like “Part-Time Lover” and “I Just Called To Say I Love You” to classic 60’s Motown soul like “I Was Made To Love Her” and “Signed Sealed Delivered” to 70’s funky grooves like “Higher Ground” and “Boogie On Reggae Woman.” In addition to Stevie’s many hits, a moving tribute/cover of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” (from the Get On The Bus Soundtrack) is included. All of the tracks have been digitially remastered, and a booklet with liner notes reminds us that its been 35 years since Little Stevie Wonder (as he was called then) made his first record. No matter how old you were when you first discovered Stevie, this album will recapture some of that magic for your CD player. And even in the midst of the most saccharine moments of Stevie’s melodious mastery, Wonder’s gift for songwriting and composition make what could have been utterly meaningless dittys sound ever so meaningful. He has often been called a musical genius, and it’s hard to argue with that assessment. Wonder’s range of emotional expression through music and lyrics has only gotten deeper as his career has flourished over the years; he seemingly never runs out of ways to say “I love you.” Mary J. Blige
“Share My World”
MCA Mary J. Blige’s music is reminiscent of the blues. Not so much music-wise, but more in terms of the blues feeling, the sadness and loneliness which is transformed in the hands of a powerful artist into a tribute to life, resiliency, and self-resourcefulness. Like Billie Holliday before her, who translated the blues feeling into jazz, Mary J.’s inspiration has come from all the pain she has felt in her life. You can hear it in her voice. She has the gift to make a simple turn of a phrase imply untold depths of emotion. But even deeper than that, she makes the listener want to root for her, to say, “go on, leave him, girl. That man’s no good for you.” It’s as if we have taken a personal interest in her life, like we actually care about what she’s going through. We don’t feel that way about every singer, of course; Mary J. is special, and Share My World is not only a strong follow-up to 1995’s My Life, but may be her most soulful album yet. Over the album’s 17 tracks, from “I Can Love You” to her duet with R.Kelly, “It’s On,” to “Not Gon’ Cry,” her recent hit from the Waiting To Exhale soundtrack, Mary J. brings the pain like never before. It’s been written that she’s less angry and more comfortable with herself than in the past, yet it is precisely her ability to express her inner turmoil which makes her a diva for this day and age. Share My World makes titles like “The Queen Of Hip Hop Soul” seem irrelevent; she may be part of the hip hop generation, but she is a Queen of Soul, period.
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