Monday, November 23, 2009

Album review: Rihanna, RATED R (Def Jam)

Rihanna’s official bid for ultimate pop music domination is nothing short of epic. RATED R explodes with a genuine energy, confidence and vibrancy that is becoming increasingly rare in the charts. Shimmering with a black metallic sheen and future-shocked production, the album is a cinematic tale of being destroyed by a man and getting over it...eventually.

Along the way, the album’s protagonist is alternately vengeful, horny, and still kind of sad at the cost. The songs range from slow-burning sex bomb come-ons (“Rude Boy”) and robotic rock self-empowerment anthems (“Rockstar 101”) to dramatic power balladry (“Fire Bomb”) and stark, acoustic confessionals (“Photographs”). Rihanna even invokes the rapid-fire rapping of Peaches during the moody and atmospheric revenge fantasy “G4L.”

Coupled with the high-profile personal drama she’s endured this year, Rihanna has elevated from pop’s #1 contender to something much bigger: the opportunity to become this generation’s Tina Turner.

(Originally published on

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Talkin' on the phone with Kid Sister*

Back in 2005, Melisa Young was just another ambitious college grad working at Bath & Body Works in the mall by day. By night, however, she was crafting fun, electro-soaked rap jams as Kid Sister with her brother Josh, one half of Chicago DJ duo Flosstradamus.

After two whirlwind years of rocking parties and inspiring fawning blog-buzz, she was one of the first artists signed to DJ A-Trak’s burgeoning Fool’s Good label. When rap superstar Kanye West heard Kid Sister’s demo via A-Trak (at the time his touring DJ), he was impressed enough to add a verse to her second single “Pro Nails,” complete with a cameo in the song’s glossy video.

The promotional blitz around the rapidly rising single found Kid Sister doing everything from guest-spots on MTV’s Pete Wentz-hosted “F’NMTV” show to receiving a nomination for Best Female Hip-Hop Artist at the 2008 BET Awards. There was only one thing missing: an album.

Amid reports of her working furiously between shows with a series of producers, Kid Sister’s full-length debut went through one incarnation and track listing after another — its title was variously reported as Koko B. Ware and Dream Date — but never quite managed to see the light of day. Meanwhile, fans began to wonder if the record would ever come out. Thankfully, Kid Sis has finally put those fears to rest with Ultraviolet, a fresh batch of tracks that run the gamut from frothy club-bangers (“Right Hand Hi”) to sultry electro-pop that Lady Gaga would give her Gyroscope costume for (“Daydreaming”), to “You Ain’t Really Down,” a cover of the 1983 Status IV underground hit that she flips into an homage to ‘90s girl-groups like En Vogue.

Speaking to ShockHound on a cell phone from New York City, Kid Sister exuded a sassy cool amidst the chaotic blur of activity around her as she took a somewhat calamitous urban stroll.

SHOCKHOUND: It’s really early here, and I’m not much of a morning person. So please be kind.

KID SISTER: [Laughs] It’s okay, don’t trip. I went out last night, and I’m moving a little slow myself.

SHOCKHOUND: You’re really active in Twitter. You were recently talking about grueling rehearsals for your upcoming tour while you were in LA.

KID SISTER: Yeah, at the beautiful SIR Studios in Hollywood, California. I have a couple of dancers, Flosstradamus travel with me as DJs, and my brother Josh is also like my hype-man onstage. The sound guy, the lighting guy — a girl has got to keep her game together, you know? Hey, watch out!


KID SISTER: Sorry. I’m walking in Manhattan with my friend and she almost stepped in what looks like a huge pile of horse poop. Sorry.

SHOCKHOUND: No problem. Friends don’t let friends step in horse poop. So, your album went through a number of false starts and name changes…

KID SISTER: Yeah, we did away with the first one and reconfigured the whole album. The biggest difference is that we took off some mid-tempo songs and added more up-tempo ones. Songs like [early leaked track] “Family Reunion” will always be around. But for the most part, those songs won’t ever come out. Unless someone leaks them!

[Sound of rushing wind, a crash and a distant scream.]

SHOCKHOUND: Are you okay?!

KID SISTER: I’m sorry, boo. It’s just like Armageddon weather here in New York today and it just tried to take my phone. [Laughs] Can I get a vanilla latté?

SHOCKHOUND: I’m going to assume you’re not talking to me?

KID SISTER:: [Laughs] No. Sorry. I really need this coffee right now.

SHOCKHOUND: So after all of the delays, how does it feel to finally have a finished album to share with your fans?

KID SISTER: It’s so crazy, I’m so excited. It’s nuts. I couldn’t have ever imagined it would turn out like this. We just did the Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, Texas, and it was complete bonkers. All of these kids knew the words to my songs; there were babies and old folks and everyone. It was just a nice mix of people and that’s exactly what I want to see at my shows. I want everyone to come and feel comfortable.

SHOCKHOUND: Is there any particular song on the album that’s your favorite? Maybe one with a special meaning for you?

KID SISTER: They all are, babe. I’m like the Octo-Mom over here. They’re all my babies. Everyone is special.

SHOCKHOUND: Be honest. I’m sure even Octo-Mom has favorites.

KID SISTER: Well, maybe. [Laughs] But like any parent, I care too much to ever say it out loud. I’m proud of every single one of them. I put so much work into everything that I do. I’m pretty exacting.

SHOCKHOUND:: Gnarls Barkley singer and former Goodie Mob rapper Cee-Lo sings on the song “Daydreaming.” How did that come about?

KID SISTER: He had called me, and mentioned he’d be interested in doing something on the record. I was like, “You can do whatever you want!” He was so cool. I love him. He’s the nicest guy and really supportive of my music.

SHOCKHOUND: I saw on Twitter that you were anxious about a meeting with a certain producer to listen to tracks he’d made for you. You didn’t name the person in case the music “turned out to be wack.” So how did it go?

KID SISTER: Oh, I still can’t name that person, because they were kind of wack! (Laughs). It wasn’t like Pharrell or anything. It was this super-Top 40 guy. It happens.

SHOCKHOUND: So even though your debut album is just coming out, you’re already working on the next one?

KID SISTER: Yeah, for sure. You can’t ever rest. It’s always about on to the next thing.

SHOCKHOUND: On “Pro Nails,” you represented Chicago hip-hop with Kanye West. Now you’ve just recorded, “Everybody Wants,” a single with Chicago house music hero Green Velvet for the re-launch of his legendary Relief Records label.

KID SISTER: Listening to house is just part of growing up in Chicago. I used to go to this club called the Warehouse in Chicago where it all started. It was a laser tag place during the day. Do you remember laser tag? [Laughs]. But at night it was a club and we would sneak in to listen to all of the new dance music. So working with Green Velvet was like a dream come true. He’s like one of my biggest heroes growing up in that scene. I’m also kind of working with another Chicago house legend, Felix Da Housecat.

SHOCKHOUND: Given the great music he made with Miss Kitten, that should be an inspired collaboration.

KID SISTER: It’s something we’ve been talking about for a while now. It’s the craziest thing. I was born in this small town in Illinois called Markham. Oddly enough, Green Velvet also lived in that town. We lived like a couple of streets away from each other. Then my parents moved to a place called Richton Park. Felix Da Housecat lived across the major street from me. I was like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” How crazy is that? But that’s Chicago for you.

SHOCKHOUND: You earned a degree in film at Columbia College Chicago. Do you have any aspirations to get into acting?

KID SISTER: Oh, you know that I do. I started out in musical theater. I’ve studied acting for many years. It was definitely a bigger interest then than it is now. I just kind of let whatever happens, happen. I take it day by day. As long as it’s something I enjoy, I’ll do it the best that I can.

(I think you can figure out where the edit of this one was originally published. The pics are by Jeremiah Garcia. When I was working @ Metromix, I sent him to shoot her w/DJ A-Trak when they performed as part of "First Fridays" at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. Good times...)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Dirty Show came to L.A.* (NSFW)

Once upon a time, there was a guy in Detroit called Jerry Vile. He was in a band called the Boners. He went on to start a newspaper called Fun. Fun was like the original Vice, only much better and not as nearly as annoying. Fun eventually evolved into Orbit, which I'd term as the original alternative alt-weekly. Instead of covering local politics, Orbit covered local porn stars, drug fiends and night-crawlers. Orbit was amazing. Orbit is also where I scored my first writing job after college.

It would take forever to explain the Orbit Years, so I'll just tell you that it was way more fun than should be allowed by law. No one partied harder than the boss (and many tried). Sex, drugs and punk fucking rock were the order of the day in that office.

But what made Orbit special was the insane amounts of talent that graced the masthead. Guys like Paul Zimmerman and Glenn Barr and Tristan Eaton and Doug Coombe and David Keeps and Brenna Sanchez and I could go on. You probably don't recognize any of those names, but they're all fantastic artists that have influenced me in ways I'll probably never be able to fully comprehend. And it's all good.

Post-Orbit, Jerry Vile (AKA Jerry Peterson) went on to found "The Dirty Show," a wild erotic art show that's now been in existence for more than a decade. This past weekend, Jerry brought The Dirty Show to L.A. for the first time.

It has held in a truly seedy hotel in downtown, with each room decked out with art. A (pretty wasted!) Suicide Girl named Chloe played hostess. And there were so many Detroiters in the house I couldn't tell if I was at home or in heaven.