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The graduating class of Morehouse College was treated to quite the surprise at yesterday’s commencement ceremony.
According to CNN, Vista Holdings CEO and Founder, Robert F. Smith, led the Atlanta institution’s graduation proceedings with the promise of those seniors transitioning into their professional lives with absolute confidence, free of any debt to the school or a banking scheme. Smith pledged to pay off roughly $40 million in student loans for the class of 2019, the reaction to which was captured in a stageside (see below.)
In his address to the students, Smith insisted the graduates pay his generosity forward, adding “I want my class to look at these (alumni) — these beautiful Morehouse brothers — and let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward because we are enough to take care of our own community. We are enough to ensure we have all the opportunities of the American dream.”
The gesture adds to decades of advocacy and philanthropy. Smith’s Fund II Foundation offers grants for charities in five sectors: Preserving the cultural richness of the African-American experience, human rights, environmental conservation, musical education, and “sustaining the American values of entrepreneurship, empowerment, innovation and security.”
Smith also joined Angela Bassett and psychologist Edmund Gordon in receiving honorary degrees this morning.
A new Motown documentary is headed to Showtime this fall.
Announced via Variety this morning, Hitsville: The Making of Motown will chronicle the Detroit label’s rise from local force to global sensation, focusing on the period between the label’s 1958 founding and its relocation to Los Angeles in 1971.
The feature-length film is directed by Gabe and Ben Turner, executive produced by the label’s founder, Berry Gordy. It’s slated to feature interviews with the Hitsville honcho, along with members of an iconic roster of musicians. A Showtime rep tells Variety, “Hitsville is critical not only to the history of music in America, but also the history of America itself,” adding, “You’ve never seen Motown explored and remembered the way that Gabe and Ben Turner do it here.”
Hitsville adds yet another stellar music doc to Showtime’s rotation. The network recently released the Wu-Tang Clan close-up, Of Mics and Men, which joins an excellent Teddy Pendergrass documentary in If You Don’t Know Me By Now, and an exclusive license on Prince’s Sign O’ The Times concert film. Ample weekend couch-lock fodder.
No release date has been announced just yet, but Hitsville is expected to land by Motown’s 60th-anniversary in September. Hold tight for updates in the weeks ahead.
After countless (failed) attempts at a revival, Warner Bros. is finally moving forward with a reboot of the objectively bad Mortal Kombat film(s.)
According to Variety, the studio’s set a March 5, 2021 release date with production beginning this month in Australia. James Wan (Saw, Aquaman, The Conjuring) is set to produce, while Simon McQuoid is headed to the director’s chair for his feature film debut.
The original Mortal Kombat movie was adapted solely on the strength of the video game’s popularity, but was generally panned by critics upon release in 1995. It did, however, go on to become something of a cult smash, pulling in $120 million at the box office. The sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, was released in 1997, but barely broke the $50 million mark. It is widely acknowledged as history’s worst use of a $30 million budget.
On the console side, the video game franchise’s latest installment, Mortal Kombat 11, has been generally well-received, though, at the very least, touched by controversy. A character ending sparked a heated debate over the gaming community’s unchecked racism. Reddit users found themselves fundamentally divided over whether it was racist to erase the African slave trade in a video game. No word on how Wan and McQuiod will navigate that story arch.
As the musical guest on Saturday Night Live‘s season finale, Khaled rallied the characteristically expansive guest list for a pair of outings. His first performance featured a medley of the singles “Jealous” and “You Stay,” with Lil Wayne, J Balvin, Jeremih, and Lil Baby, all joining for the respective roles. On his second run, Khaled ramped up the regime, bringing out SZA for “Just Us,” and capping the evening with a tribute to the late Nipsey Hussle that featured appearances from John Legend, Big Sean, and more.
The a cappella group claim they haven’t received a penny in royalties for nearly half a century.
The surviving members of Brooklyn a capella group, The Persuasions, are suing every major label under the sun for unpaid royalties dating back as far as 1971.
According to Billboard, the estates of James “Bro” Caldon Hayes, Herbert “Turbo” Rhoad, and Jesse “Sweet Joe” Russell, have joined living members Jerry Lawson, Jayotis Washington, and Raymond Sanders, under the representation of attorney Larry Zerner to file suit against Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, Capitol Records, Sony/ATV and Concord Music Group. The group claims to have never received any royalties from physical sales, streams or licensing for nearly half a century.
While they made money on the road, as an a cappella group, The Persuasions weren’t exactly chart material. They did, however, find new life in 2015, when Jamie xx snatched the hook for “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” from one of their songs. The following year, the British producer’s single was licensed to Apple for an iPhone 6 commercial.
In a statement to Billboard, Zerner claims “We asked them for the contract. We said we are not getting paid. You are licensing these songs. Where is the contract that gives you the basis for that. Do you think you have the right to do that and not pay my clients. We tried to get an answer and we got no response.”
The surviving members and the estates of the group’s deceased maintain that they never signed over their IP rights, adding that some of the group’s members could not even read or write.
Zerner estimates the backpay could be worth “millions of dollars.”
Approaching the end of May, there’s still no signs of Freddie Gibbs and Madlib‘s Bandana. But the duo isn’t waiting for a release date to begin the festivities. Earlier this week, MoMA PS1 announced the line-up and schedule for the 2019 installment of their weekly Warm-Up event series.
On July 6th, the Piñata duo will open the series with a headlining set, featuring supporting slots from Kelly Lee Owens, duendita, Kedr Livanskiy, JOY, and more. The Warm-Up will continue every Saturday of July and August with appearances from Smino, MIKE, AJ Tracey, Deem Spencer, and more.
While Gibbs half-confirmed a May release for the project last month, Bandana remains on the lam. The good news: it’s reportedly stacked with features from Yasiin Bey, Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, and Killer Mike. The bad news: there’s still no date. And according to a post with a sliver of new music from Lord Quas’ Instagram (see below,) the duo’s still “hard at work clearing samples.” So yeah, it could be a minute.
Earlier this week, Nas detailed his first introduction to the Shaolin assassins — meeting RZA when he was still Prince Rakeem, getting acquainted with a cross-borough crew that spoke the same language as his QB clique. And in a new bonus clip, the lens dials in on a park bench along The Hudson, where Masta Killa is locked into a round of chess with GZA, recounting how The Genius brought him into early Wu-Tang sessions and tasked him with learning one verse, which would eventually close the 36 Chambers assault, “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’.”
Tyler, The Creator and Megan Thee Stallion lead the list of must-hear long-plays — the former offering a frenetic Flower Boy follow-up, the latter punctuating a breakout year with her diabolically daggering debut album. Meanwhile, Dam-Funk,Duckwrth, and the mighty Wu-Tang Clan, each chime in with projects bearing abbreviated runtimes, but ample heat.
The standalones are just as heavy. GoldLink dips into Afrobeats with Maleek Berry and Bibi Bourelly. Chance The Rapper links with budding Houston rapper TisaKorean on a light and travel-safe loosie. River Tiber reemerges on a sprawling and soulful haunt. Georgia Anne Muldrow sustains her year-long streak with another glistening genre blur. IGBO and MonoNeon bless the air and their hook-up with a playful purple gem. Snoh Aalegra and Raveena submit respective slow-burn spectacles to the r&b canon. And that’s just half the script.
Hear it all and so much more in this week’s episode of The Round-Up below. Hit the link to subscribe to Okayplayer’s Spotify channel and never miss another beat.
After weeks of teasing a new project, Tyler, The Creator‘s IGOR has finally landed. And in short order, the project’s first full clip makes a tender and torched lead single out of the Charlie Wilson and Playboi Carti-assisted “EARFQUAKE.”
Donning a powder blue suit and platinum blond(e) bowl cut, Tyler morphs into the world’s worst musical guest for a Tracee Ellis Ross-hosted talkshow. After an intro from the Black-ish star and a formal request to “not smoke cigarettes or anything that smokes,” T proceeds to awkwardly, but assuredly, unwind. Eventually he smokes something that smokes. And, of course, burns it all down.
On May 18th, 1999, Rawkus Records released Soundbombing II, the landmark album paved the way for one of the greatest independent rap runs ever.
In the summer of 1999, the rap industry was moving into previously unexplored territory. Twenty years after the very first rap 12-inch was released, the genre had finally become the top-selling in terms of sales. Rap was the most popular kind of music amongst the youth and the most sought after demographic from brands and corporations looking to sell products to both Generation X and burgeoning Millennials. There was a time when rap music couldn’t be played on Black radio while the sun was still up. Rap was once relegated to the very back of the record store, partially because it wasn’t regarded as real music and partially to discourage shoplifters (since they would essentially have to sprint through the entire store in order to escape with their ill-gotten vinyl, cassette tape, or CD long box.)
All of this could be said for mainstream Rap music but underground/indie Rap in 1999 was perceived much like a red-headed stepchild. It was dismissed as “backpack Rap” where hundreds of lyrical-spiritual-miracle loving “heads” who lived for obscure references, punchlines, metaphors, similes, internal rhyme schemes, multi-syllable rhyme schemes, speed, and remarkable breath control had nerdgasms over vinyl singles that were insanely hard to locate. They existed only to nod their heads furiously to songs with 30 bar verses — no hooks — and thumb their noses at everything on the radio. That was the general consensus. “Backpacker” was often used as a slur/derogatory term in a world where Swizz Beatz and Mannie Fresh ruled the radio and the charts.
Rawkus was the leading brand in underground rap in 1999. Whereas other indie Rap labels made their marks selling 12-inch vinyl singles and CD’s through Web-based mail-order marketplaces such as Sandbox Automatic, Underground Hip-Hop, and Hip-Hop Site, and physical storefronts like Fat Beats. Rawkus did all that and sold a significant amount of CDs. Rawkus had the advantage of being well funded, this meant they had quite a promotional budget. They could secure print ads in all the major and independent music publications. They could afford TV spots, ad space on the radio, and they could shoot videos for their big singles which landed in the rotation on BET, MTV, and MTV2.
On top of it all, they had Priority/EMI doing their distribution. This allowed Rawkus to compete with major labels in terms of reach. This was something other leading underground Rap labels like Fondle ‘Em, Dolo, Stones Throw, Solesides, Hydra, Rhymesayers, and Conception couldn’t do. Rawkus had been building up to this point for years. Back in 1997, they released two seminal projects: Company Flow’s Funcrusher Plus and the first edition of their compilation series Soundbombing. In 1998, Rawkus further established themselves by putting out the double CD compilation Lyricist Lounge Vol. 1 and the highly anticipated project Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star. They had made such headway that Funkmaster Flex was even playing Rawkus songs on Hot 97. After making several key signings, Rawkus was set to drop multiple projects in 1999, using Soundbombing II as the foundation of their releases going forward.
Photo Credit: Brad Barket/WireImage
Between their flagship artists who released popular vinyl singles — like Sir Menelik, Shabaam Sahdeeq, RA The Rugged Man, and Talib Kweli & Mos Def — and new signees, like the Cocoa Brovaz (Smif N’ Wessun), Da Beatminerz, and The High & Mighty, Rawkus was ready to make a major push that year. The label co-owners Brian Brater and Jarret Myer had funding from James Murdoch (the son of billionaire Rupert Murdoch). They assembled a team that included lead A&R Black Shawn; associate A&Rs Mike Heron and Sally Morita; radio promotions guy Ben Willis; and Kevin Shand, who did distribution and sales. Gang Starr Foundation’s Headqcourterz headed up the Rawkus street team.
This outfit was behind one of the most successful stretches an underground Rap label ever achieved.
In addition to having full-page ads in music publications, the video for Common and Sadat X’s “1-9-9-9” was in rotation on BET and MTV. Rawkus went a step further by distributing a promotional snippet mixtape by J-Rocc & DJ Babu of the World Famous Beat Junkies. Needless to say, Rawkus’ aggressive approach yielded great returns — far beyond what most underground Rap labels experienced.
On May 18th, 1999 Soundbombing II hit store shelves. The album was powered by the popularity of “1-9-9-9,” Eminem’s “Any Man,” The High & Mighty’s “B-Boy Document 99,” and Company Flow’s “Patriotism” among other Rawkus songs which were prominently featured on And1 Mixtape Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 by DJ Set Free and Nex Millen. There was even a special Rawkus Soundbombing II episode of BET’s Rap City that aired around the time of the compilations’ release. Due to all of these factors, the album did even better than anyone could’ve wildly anticipated out of the gate.
In the June 5th edition of Billboard, Soundbombing II not only debuted at #6 on the Top R&B Albums chart and it entered the Billboard 200 at #30. There were multiple Rawkus releases in the Top 10 Rap Singles and there was going to be a Soundbombing II series of double-sided vinyl released for their rabid fanbase on five different 12-inches. At the time Rawkus was moving anywhere around 50K units per vinyl drop or occasionally even upwards. By locking down the crowd on Stretch & Bobbito’s WKCR, Jay Smooth’s Underground Railroad show on WBAI, DJ Riz and DJ Eclipse on Halftime Radio Show — in addition to Sway, King Tech, and DJ Revolution’s The Wake Up Show — they had already secured a faithful core audience who frequented Fat Beats or copped from online marketplaces. But they had made inroads to the wider mainstream Rap audience and had converted some of them to the cause of the Resistance.
Why was Soundbombing II so crucial? Its overwhelming success paved the way for a landmark 1999 for Rawkus. In June, they released Company Flow’s Little Johnny From The Hospitul and DJ Spinna’s Heavy Beats Vol. 1 which was followed up by The High & Mighty’s Home Field Advantage in August. These albums set the stage for Rawkus to drop Mos Def’s Black On Both Sides and Pharoahe Monch’s Internal Affairs in consecutive weeks in October. These albums helped to raise Rawkus’ profile to the point MTV greenlit a sketch comedy show based on The Lyricist Lounge Show which debuted in early 2000.
Rawkus had become the leading brand carrying the flag for underground Rap as we were deeply entrenched in the Jiggy Era.
Snoop Dogg Lyricist Lounge - YouTube
Another reason why Rawkus’ accomplishments were so timely is because the entire landscape of the music industry was changing. By May, it was reported that “mp3” was the most searched term on the Internet — ahead of “sex.” On May 19th, 1999 it was announced in major business periodicals that MTV was going to purchase The Box meaning that it would join MTV, MTV2, VH1, and BET as Viacom owned music video networks that were portals for urban music. The music industry was scrambling to find ways to regulate music and curb unauthorized downloads of ripped mp3 via sites like MP3.com, MusicMatch and Goodnoise. The industry was trying to create copy-protected CDs or anti-copying protocols for digital music downloads.
Of course, all of this was made moot on June 1st, 1999 when Northeastern University student Shawn Fanning released the beta version of Napster which spread from Northeastern to Emerson College, Boston University, Berklee College Of Music, MIT, Harvard, Boston College and over 50 institutions of higher learning with high-speed Internet in the Metro Boston Area. From there, Napster spread up and down the Eastern Seaboard then nationwide. Nothing would be the same after Summer 1999 but with the perfectly timed release of Soundbombing II, Rawkus was able to establish itself as a powerhouse right before the inception of the brave new world of P2P sites.
Photo Credit: Bob Berg/Getty Images
Dart Adams is Boston-based creative who has written for NPR and Producers I Know. Follow his latest and greatest @Dart_Adams on Twitter.