Headphones On: J. Cole tops charts, here’s why…

J. Cole was that high school kid that kept saying “Ms. Bell, imma be a rapper one day.” I would respond by nodding and saying “OK well let’s just work on getting your project done for now.” Then I’d think “J is a great kid. He just needs to apply himself. ” Forest Hills Drive is J. Cole giving his personal stories by applying himself lyrically in a manner we have yet to see from him. The result is the number one album in the country and the best selling Hip-Hop album of the year. Forest Hills Drive has a coming of age theme with topics ranging from Cole’s first sexual encounter to the numbness of growing up without a father. He channels his inner Mos Def with raspy slow singing over a melancholy beat in “Apparently.”

Cole is great at giving the listener a story they can identify with. Being accessible is the key to remaining relevant at a time where it’s easy for the average music listener to get lost in the quantity vs. quality of Hip-Hop. Lately, listeners who haven’t given up on Hip-Hop have been flooded with subpar lyrical content and catch phrases over hype beats.  J. Cole balances the status quo by offering you a selection of anthems to compliment your perception of day-to-day life.

Cool facts about the album…

  • The album is titled after his address in North Carolina.
  • There aren’t any featured artists on this album.
  • The album was released without any supporting singles.
  • I did not see ONE commercial promoting this album. His promo team took a different approach.

Find the album, buy it, listen to it, or all of the above. It’s worth it.


K-Ci & Jo Jo at the Howard Theatre (Photostory)

The following is a photostory of my experience at the K-Ci & Jo Jo show at The Howard Theatre last weekend. Special thanks to Keith Estep Photography (who had no clue I was going to do this) for the pics!


Two baptist preachers walk on stage disguised as K-Ci & Jo Jo. Wait! Whaduya know?! It is K-Ci & Jo Jo. I wonder if they’re sober. You were thinking it too! We all are. What will they do? Will K-Ci strip down to bare chest and boxers? Will Jo Jo be able to carry a note? Who cares?! Just sing my song! My song = Tell Me It’s Real, Get On Up, All My Life, any Jodeci song, and their rendition of If You Think You’re Lonely Now.


Surprisingly K-Ci can still hold a note. He is not the sexy 90’s R&B brother from Jodeci anymore….wait! He was never that guy. It was Mr. Dalvin I was after. K-Ci was the voice of the group no one can deny that. The vest and tie are light years away from long black leather coats, shorts, and boots.


Jo Jo….can’t hold a note anymore. The sound folks kept placing annoying echo affect on the mics to help them carry the notes a little further. This didn’t help Jo Jo much. He sounded like a drunk uncle at Karaoke after bible study. He’s somewhat spiritual, somewhat hopeless, and you find yourself somewhat cheering for him to “sing it Jo Jo, SING IT!”


Please tell me that the above picture is does not look like Sunday night service at your local mega church just as they are about to ask for the offering. It sounded this way too. I swear that I was waiting for them to start talking about the building fund and how they were about to open a new church in the year 2017. Then claim it as God’s year because it ends with a 7.

To sum it all up the show was disastrous, but being the 80’s baby and 90’s R&B fan that I am I can’t help but love K-Ci & Jo Jo no matter what they do. The most realistic expectation of their shows is that you will be entertained and they will sing your favorite song of theirs. I am not sure if this song will sound like the song you call your favorite but it will be something like it.

Here’s a new joint from K-Ci & Jo Jo – Knock It Off

I did write a more serious review of this show. As soon as it’s up I will tweet the link @iamshellybell. Thank you for reading! Stay tuned for more photostory coverage of your favorite artists!


Regret Nothing Write Everything

Top 5 “You Didn’t Have to Do that” Moments in Music this Quarter

Publicity stunts are a common method of gaining attention for the purposes of selling albums or pushing products. However, there are five identifiable times in the last quarter that Hip Hop & R&B artist have taken their stunts to a questionable level. These superstars are super in the eyes of those who like their music. Their personal choices are not so super at all in these five instances.

xlargeimage from http://www.jezebel.com

5. Beyonce, did not have to call women b*tches or tell them to “bow down.” Let’s see, you blew the lights out at the Super Bowl, plastered your face on a Pepsi can and gave your usual generic self in an HBO special. Did you really need the attention from “bow down bitches?”


image from http://www.datpiff.com

4. Lil Wayne, did not need that last cup of lean. Dude, you have epilepsy. Admit it! By the way, your cups of lean must have leaned your lyrics because “I Am Not a Human Being II” is filled with ridiculous nonsensical metaphors. You used to be more crafty. Metaphors are great when clever else they are cheesy. You have always been the “shock-value” rapper. Lately, I have become less shocked and more appalled.

£££Justin Bieber-1736963

image from http://www.mirror.co.uk

3. Justin Bieber, you did not have to spit in a neighbor’s face, rough up a photographer, and try for the gangsta look. I get it! You’re trying to transition into adulthood while you’ve been viewed as little cool white kid with a middle school vibe. However, you have the opportunity to get features on grown-up music and not have to go to court for it! Try that!


image from http://www.huffingtonpost.com

2. Jay Z, you did not have to mention Obama in your rhymes to make us see you as king. Who was your open letter to? We see you tail-wagging at the political events! We get it. You’ve been to the White House. Yippee! You’re a smart dude so either you’re about to use this as some type of platform or Obama has a trick up his sleeve. Either way the “politicians never done nothing for me” line was a bit of a stretch being that you’re all over the Obama campaign. You’re still a hood dude. You got something out of the deal. A trip to Cuba maybe?


image shared by Facebook Friend, source unknown

1. Rick Ross, you did not have to rape a woman in your verse. It’s not a line about rape, you reply? It’s not a line about rape it is rape! You live in a male dominant society where just about anything can fly out of your mouth about a woman. Well, anything except date rape dumbass! You will quickly be shown who’s the “bawse” when you decide to slip a woman molly then have sex with her without her knowing. You thought that was cool? Dude you had the Reebok deal on deck, Wale’s album about to drop, and a bunch of cool non-rape shit about to happen. Did you really need to do that?

Overall, these artists are talented in their own right. I am not sure what has them scrambling for attention, but it seems to be pretty damn important to them. Maybe even more important than the brands they have created or could create in the future.

On Wale’s totally average best year ever, and being the best worst emcee of 2012

Shelly Bell, Writer

In being 2012′s most ordinary success tale, Wale is the best worst rapper of  2012.

In a year where hip-hop culture was an amalgamation of platitudes and  denouements, Wale’s success fit the most typical of rap standards. At no point  in the last 12 months did he do any of the following:

  • Unlike Jay-Z, he did not re-set the standard for hip-hop culture’s business  aspirations.
  • Unlike Nicki Minaj, he did not learn the cold realities of maintaining a  high artistic standard while being a rising pop superstar at the focal point of  a “360″ deal.
  • Unlike Kanye West, he didn’t date a woman best known for her body or whose  she’s had sex with.
  • Unlike Drake, Wale is not getting into physical fights with other artists  over relations with beautiful pop stars.
  • Unlike Lil Wayne, he isn’t a pop CEO by 30 who drinks lean, and is almost  perpetually seen shirtless, wearing skinny jeans and dancing around in  videos.
  • Unlike 2 Chainz, Wale is not a massively tall emcee with the ability to  simplify everything about their style and with a stream of incredibly puerile  adlibs, drive a stake through the heart of mainstream popular culture.
  • Wale is not Kendrick Lamar. How so? “Lotus Flower Bomb” and “Diced  Pineapples” feature the kind of immature poetics that never fail on school buses  and at senior proms, plus “Bag of Money” and “Actin’ Up” feature hooks that do  no favors for the sanctity of the rights of women, so, while making statements  that please part of the population, he does not gain a whole lot of  support.

However, in a year where rap bodied the mainstream, Wale did something so  incredibly basic yet so incredibly important. He finally put himself, and by  extension, his hometown of Washington, DC, on the map. Rap success has always  been a case of smoke and mirrors, but in the age of the internet, it’s literally  everything. Ask your favorite blog hot emcee about what happens when people stop  being likes and follows and start becoming real. From Kreayshawn to Big Sean,  the progression of new school emcees has been difficult for all, but seemingly  finally easier for Wale, arguably one the godfathers of hypebeast generation  rap. Whereas others saturate the atmosphere with videos, publicity stunts and  collaborations, it would appear that Wale is merely putting in work that’s  finally paying off.

Here are Wale’s three major success stories of 2012.

  1. Wale is making money! In the last 12 months he grossed over $20,000 a night  while performing more than 75 concerts. He is worth $6 million and barely missed  the Forbes Hip-Hop Cash Kings 2012 list. There are artist who are popular fan  favorites, but worth much less than Wale.
  2. Wale is still selling albums! Ambition, his sophomore album, went  certified gold in July selling over 500,000 copies. This is extremely notable  being that this album was released in 2011 and Wale has not produced a third  album nor an abundance of mixtapes in 2012.
  3. Wale is all over the Billboard Charts! In January and February, “Lotus  Flower Bomb” featuring Miguel oscillated between the #1 and #2 on the R&B  Hip-Hop chart. In April, “Sabotage” featuring Lloyd was in the top 20 on the  R&B/HipHop Airplay chart. By September, ‘Bag of Money” featuring Rick Ross,  Meek Mill, and T-Pain was #2 on Billboard’s R&B/HipHop Song chart.

Judging by Wale’s success he should be in the running for rapper of the year,  but by setting a standard that is great when rap is either extraordinary or  terrible, he’s not exactly the world’s most eye-catching choice.  The most  notable ideal that makes him worth mentioning is that instead of becoming an “instant superstar,” Wale appears more savvy about the game, and is willing to  become a consistent rap presence. When  interviewed by Forbes Magazine this year, he expressed his need for he and  his team to have more than “y’all.” In joining Rick Ross and Maybach Music, Wale  now has a solid platform upon which to grow and develop a top-tier standard for  himself to use to reach greater heights, and by extension finally give DC  artists a measure of excellence by which to gauge their success. I am not a Wale  fan in particular, but I am in awe of the underdog story here.

If you are glancing back at 2012 and looking for great lyricists you will  instead find bubble-wrapped nostalgia waiting to be delivered to the future.  Ultimately rap, and hip-hop culture as well, have become akin to a game of  Pac-Man – hands, joysticks and various levels of little monsters.  In being  one of the few rising emcees able to maintain a level of humanity in this game,  he may be rap’s best emcee of 2012. Instead of winning with a series of cheat  codes, he’s taking his time, playing every level and as Wale  told Forbes, he’s “aiming for the highest score.”

Four Reasons why Miguel is better than your favorite Male R&B Artist

When a male artists goes from the close-cut popped collar R Kelly/Chris Brown R&B thug look to the puffy haired tight black leather jacket Prince/Bruno Mars look it’s a sign that their management is strategically grooming them to be the number one artist of their time. Usher and Chris Brown have survived over a decade of musical evolution keeping R&B alive by acting as extension cords between the powerful fist-pump movement and a dying melodic breed of Hip-Hop/R&B mixed hits. Singer/Songwriter Miguel broke from the shadows with single “All I Want is You” featuring J. Cole.

Putting two newcomers on a track with a huge push for a video and radio airplay is just a trick up the sleeves of music execs. The industry likes to toy with audiences by dangling new artists in front of us to see what we’ll bite. Miguel’s second single “Sure Thing” pushed his debut album up the charts and fired up the goodyear blimp reading “LONG LOVE R&B!” The tale of “How R&B was saved” is not done yet. Miguel has figured a formula that I imagine will become the mechanism by which artists that follow him will adapt into their unwritten “indie to mainstream” bylaws. How did Miguel go mainstream and end up #1 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip Hop Airplay chart in 2 years?

  1. Androgynous Music and Appearance: Great musicians know to let your eye and your ear define their work for you. Miguel’s initial look was clearly heterosexual urban male and his genre was clearly R&B. He has now evolved into a look where his sexuality can only be defined by your perception. While Frank Ocean proclaims his sexuality in blog posts then leaves the world to judge his music, Miguel leaves the world to judge his look and makes the music he wants. Smart man.
  2. Patience and Production: In a microwave society patience is not just a virtue it’s a magic trick wherein the magicians know that the more magic they produce the more fancy the magic looks. Miguel released 3 EPs early this year including Art Dealer Chic Vol. 1 in February, Art Dealer Chic Vol. 2 in March, Art Dealer Chic Vol. 3 and in April. He then proceeded to release his CD in 2 EP parts including Kaleidoscope Dream: The Water Preview, Kaleidoscope Dream: The Air Preview. His sophomore album Kaleidoscope Dream was released in October and is a combination of both Kaleidoscope Dream EPs plus five new songs. Most artists want to own the Summer while Miguel just focuses on owning the year!
  3. Videos: The formula for success in the music industry has always included music videos. Miguel’s videos have a underlying themed use of shadows, blank space and him. While the videos he has created thus far have not been particularly story oriented they make you feel like they fit the song. This is evidence that as artistic as Miguel may be he recognizes that the imagery necessary to grab an audience has to be complimented with a touch of the song’s reality. For example, in the video for “Adorn” he only actually shows signs of adornment for the one woman in the black veil. He realizes that as much as he would love to go crazy with concepts he has to ease fans into it. I imagine that the videos will be a lot more weird/cool in the future.
  4. Cloning: Pablo Picasso said it best “good artists copy, great artists steal.” Stealing in this case is an intentional deed meant to develop a creation that spreads to a crowd that the original artist didn’t reach. Miguel’s hair, tight clothing, black leather jacket, video woman in a black veil, video color schemes, rhythms and topics are all stolen from Prince, namely his video for 1986 hit song, “Kiss.” The great thing about this is that he does it right in front of you without reservation and does it well! He is the epitome of what Picasso meant in the sense that no one will complain about a great artist stealing from a great artist all in the name of greatness. The fans of the R&B thug Miguel can’t help but transition into the puffy haired tight clothing Miguel because either they or their parents are most likely fans of Prince. Prince is undeniable therefore, being high above average and looking “Prince-like” is a win!

Basically you would be silly to publicly call Miguel gay, whack, or corny without acknowledging those things as totally cool and acceptable. R&B is not dead yet. In fact it will take a conscious yet imaginative grind life artist like Miguel to help keep it alive. His recent hit “Adorn” has been released 3 times, once on his EP Art Dealer Chic Vol. 1, once on his EP Kaleidoscope Dream: The Water Preview, and finally on his sophomore album Kaleidoscope Dream. Now Adorn has placed him at number one on the Billboard Charts for Hip Hop/R&B Airplay. This is only the beginning. Watch his method work the madness. If you’re not a fan of Miguel now, soon you won’t really have a choice.

By Shelly Bell

Rhythm and Beef: Trey Songz can’t take constructive criticism?

Biggie and Tupac went to war over assumptions, Drake and Chris Brown came to blows over a girl, now Ne-Yo and Trey Songz beef over a simple critique. Hip-Hop beef is historical for building and breaking careers while R & B feuds are few and far between. The machismo thrown around in interviews and diss tracks often builds a wall of silliness between artists. Whereas wild statements from the artists once raised issues, there is now usually a radio station, reporter, or blogger dousing the fire with loaded questions and sarcasm that provoke the artist into a defensive state. Power 105’s The Breakfast Club (DJ Envy, Charlamagne, and Angela Yee) is known for being entertaining, informative, and provocative. Their recent interview with Ne-Yo shifted from questions about recording reference tracks for Beyonce, to gay rumors, to marriage, to endorsements to causing an issue between the Grammy award winning vocalist and Trey Songz.

During the discussion in question, Charlamagne asked “Are you inspired by what’s out now, musically?” Ne-Yo immediately responded “no.” Charlamagne repeats the response in an attitude of surprise as if to ask Ne-Yo “Are you sure?” This opened the door to poke and prod for specific names. This is that moment when radio personalities get to stir up trouble by strongly encouraging artists to express personal feelings against other artists. DJ Envy threw the first jab by asking “What do you think about Frank Ocean?” Ne-Yo describes his feeling by saying “on some records it’s a little too cool for the room” meaning the lyrics are abstract and confusing. However, Ne-Yo expresses that Frank he has an emotional connection to his work that is missing in R & B music right now. Then Charlamagne slides in with the sucker punch by asking “do you have conversations with them like do you see somebody like Trey and say Trey step it up…”

In light of Ne-Yo’s new position with Motown Records as the Senior VP of A &R as well as his award winning track record he was comfortable enough to say that he feels that Trey Songz could be better. The manner in which he expressed this was subtle and simple. He didn’t go into detail about what Trey could improve on. He acknowledged that he has communicated with Trey Songz and that his overall feeling is that Trey Songz could be “a serious problem in this R&B world” meaning an amazingly revered artist if he would add an emotional connection to his work. This was not a rant, there were only 3 minutes left in the interview. He answered the question openly and honestly, then followed his critique with “no disrespect to Trey, love Trey to death.” Trey Songz didn’t take these comments as love at all. He expressed to iHeart Radio show hosts of 106 KMEL “I’ma talk to Ne-Yo when I see him….ain’t no need to have that conversation for the world to hear and I feel like that’s a sucker move”

A true sucker move is responding to constructive criticism with “I feel like that’s a sucker move.” Trey expressed that Ne-Yo has never mentioned these thoughts to him therefore I can fathom the comments being viewed as deceptive. From Trey’s point of view he could be pondering questions like so is this what Ne-Yo was thinking of me this entire time? We’ve been on tour together and celebrated my birthday together did he not take those opportunities to give feedback on my work? Has Ne-Yo spoken about this in private with other artists or A&Rs? These are all viable questions. However, Ne-Yo was just responding to a question and nothing more. Even the energy from The Breakfast Club was not dramatic or forceful at all.

Trey Songz then appeared on Hot 97’s Peter Rosenberg show on the day his album dropped expressing that he does not want to discuss his beef with Ne-Yo. However, due to the existing rivalry between Hot 97 and Power 105.1 there is a constant tug of war with getting new music and interviews first. This was evident by the remark made by Cipha Sounds that Trey came to the interview with topics that were off limits and he wanted to ensure that they got the news first. Hot 97 missed the boat! WHOMP! WHOMP! WHOMP! Instead of accepting this and moving forward to talk about the album K. Foxx tried to push the envelope as much as she could but it turned into a smart lipped back and forth moment between she and Trey. He stood his ground with sarcasm and arrogance. He repeatedly told her that he didn’t want to give energy to the situation and what needed to be handled would be handled between Ne-Yo and himself.

The beef between Ne-Yo and Trey Songz offers a wonderful glimpse into the nature of both beef and the state of R & B in the modern era. An issue was started by radio personalities, fueled by social media and ended with a tweet. Given the nature of R & B’s arguably middling success at the present time, the working relationship between Trey and Ne-Yo is much more beneficial than letting thirsty radio personalities hawk over beef.


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