ED GORDON, host:
This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.
(Soundbite of "Doing It Well")
Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Doing it and doing it and doing it well. Doing it and doing it and doing it well. Doing it and doing it and doing it well--well, well.
GORDON: If you recognized this tune as a rap song, you're not mistaken. Verve Records, a jazz label, is preparing a summer release of music it calls "Def Jazz," a smooth jazz interpretation of Def Jam classics. Def Jam, as you may know, is one of rap music's pre-eminent labels. Smooth jazz rap music, just one of the new releases competing to become part of your summer soundtrack. Here to give us an overview of this and other new releases for the summer is Vibe magazine editor Eric Parker--he joins us from New York; and from Los Angeles, Billboard magazine editor Gail Mitchell; and Janine Coveney. She's a writer and smooth jazz format manager for Launch Radio Networks. And they join us from Los Angeles.
I thank you all for joining us. Greatly appreciate it.
Eric, let me start with you, and ask you, as we start to hear Def Jam classics turned into smooth jazz, is this part of the mainstreaming of hip-hop, if you will?
Mr. ERIC PARKER (Editor, Vibe): I think it is, but it also has to do with hip-hop growing older. You'll notice that a lot of people from the hip-hop generation are in their 30s, some in their 40s, and they're starting to have different tastes. So it gives them another format for them to enjoy their records. So you take something like what you just played with L.L. Cool J's "Doing It Well." They enjoyed it on one level, and now it's something that they can enjoy on another level, maybe with--if they're in the office, or maybe it's something their parents might enjoy, and they can sit down and enjoy it together. So I think it does also bridge gaps to some degree, and I think it says a lot to the hip-hop generation actually growing up.
GORDON: Janine, to a great degree we've seen this kind of genre, this format, be a staple for smooth jazz, them taking classics in many areas. I think of--we had Lee Ritenour on recently. He's done a salute to Bob Marley, Mr. Jobim and the Motown sounds. So this is something that we're seeing with smooth jazz a lot.
Ms. JANINE COVENEY (Writer; Smooth Jazz Format Manager, Launch Radio Networks): Exactly. But what's new about this trend is the fact that hip-hop covers are now becoming part of the smooth jazz lexicon. Before it was always, you know, `We're going to do instrumental R&B in covers.' This is a phenomenon that's started, I guess, a couple of years ago when Hidden Beach did the first "Un-Rapped," where they had a lot of instrumentalists come in and redo hip-hop classics instrumental style. And they had three successful volumes of that. And as Eric just said, you know, it's the hip-hop generation has grown up, and, you know, maybe they want to hear the music redone in a way that they can listen to, you know, with their friends, at the office. And it's done very well.
GORDON: Very well. But, Gail, there are going to be purists as there were in, I guess, any generational music--as when you heard rock tunes turned to Muzak--that will suggest that this is just not the way to go.
Ms. GAIL MITCHELL (Editor, Billboard): There will be some that feel that way. Along with what's going on with the jazz and hip-hop, you've got the R&B remixes like the Motown remix album that just came out. And Atlantic just went into its files and came up with "Atlantiquity," I think, is how you pronounce it. And again, you are going to get--I was one of those ones. I'm a purist. And when somebody came to me about Motown remix, I'm like, `Oh, yeah, right.' But when you listen to this album, I think they've got a good balance of the classic, the original, what Motown meant to a lot of people, and then they also jazz it up a little bit and put a little contemporary edge to it so that the newer generation--'cause I've got kids nine and 11--you can sit there with them and listen as well.
Mr. PARKER: And by no means, I don't think that this is meant to be extremely hard jazz where, you know, the real purists would actually sit down and pick apart the saxophone, but I do believe it's meant to be enjoyed in much the same way elevator music is meant to be enjoyed--with a twist.
GORDON: We are also going to, through the course of our conversation, ask you guys to tell people what they should be looking out for this summer. Of course, during the summer people are always looking for music to play either now on their iPods or as they're driving around in their cars. Gail, you have a young man that you want people to find, and you want to introduce them to this gentleman.
Ms. MITCHELL: Yes, his name is Raul Midon. He's a half-black, half-Argentinian blind singer, guitarist, songwriter. I first came across him in December when Stevie Wonder did his Christmas benefit that he does every year. And everyone was waiting for Stevie and other name acts to come on, and you just see this person come on stage. So you've got the Forum here in Los Angeles, people are getting restless, but as soon as this guy came on and started strumming his guitar--just him and his guitar--the whole place grew silent.
(Soundbite of song)
Mr. RAUL MIDON: (Singer) Used to sit and worry about the future. Worrying about the future don't change the past. Used to think tomorrow would be better, but now I know that I'm doing the best I can. I'm just a man trying to find a reason to stand. Took some time to realize that I am what I am. And I wanna be rich. I wanna be happy and live inside a lovely chime spread enough to last a lifetime. I wanna be rich, more than a fantasy. Ride the winds and climb 'cause it's all a state of mind. It's all a state of mind. Na-na-na-na, yeah. It's all a state of mind. Wake up in the morning and I turn the page...
Ms. MITCHELL: You're--just very mesmerizing. He engages his whole self, physical self, into his music--the way he plays guitar. He's classically trained--flamenco guitar, jazz guitar, R&B. You can hear elements of Stevie Wonder in his music, Donny Hathaway. And it's all about, for me, the real music--soulful lyrics with meaningful lyrics and with someone actually playing the music instead of just pressing a button on a DAT machine going, `OK, lip-synch to this.'
(Soundbite of song)
Mr. MIDON: (Singing) ...and enough to last a lifetime. I wanna be rich, more than a fantasy. Ride the winds and climb 'cause it's all a state of mind. Ho, ho, ho, ho-oh.
GORDON: Let me ask you guys this. We listen to Raul and you think about someone like a John Legend or an Anthony Hamilton. For some time, this kind of music, quite frankly, was lost and could not find its way on the radio. And to the chagrin of some, it still doesn't get the airplay that many people would like to see it. So much has been commercialized, and you can only hear the same 10 songs across the country. Do you believe that this kind of music is starting to come back, Janine?
Ms. COVENEY: I personally do because the classics never seem to go out of style, and even a hip-hop commercial artist when they cite their influences, they always go back to Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Aretha Franklin. So the interest in that kind of music is still there, and we've seen it explode again with Alicia Keys and John Legend and, you know, artists of that ilk, the so-called neo-soul movement. And we have a lot of underground word-of-mouth artists happening. Maybe they're not being played, you know, 20 times on the Top 40 urban station--whatever. But people are listening to this music. They're saying, `Hey man, have you heard this thing? This thing is the bomb. You've gotta check this out.' And the singer-songwriter, the original, real musicianship is--never goes out of style, and it engages people's ears. They want to hear something new and exciting.
Ms. MITCHELL: That's, to me, where the XMs and the SIRIUS Satellites come in. IPod is helping that. I know a lot of people--I was talking to a young kid last night in his mid- to late 20s, and he says he doesn't even listen to the radio anymore. It's all iPod, and he's programming the music he wants to hear. And along with hip-hop, there's a whole underground movement, soul movement, going on. There's a lot of different chat forums, and people are exchanging ideas and things about music and new artists that they're hearing regionally at different clubs and things. So I agree a lot with Janine in that respect.
Mr. PARKER: Also, if you notice what's going on in hip-hop or in R&B, you'll see that John Legend, as Janine would say, or even Anthony Hamilton, they do get some light. Raul does get less when it comes to the hip-hop generation, but it would be interesting to see if once people start getting more interested in John Legend and Anthony Hamilton, whether they would steer towards a more pure sound like Raul. And that's what would be interesting to see.
Ms. MITCHELL: Yeah.
GORDON: Well, on the side of your pick, Eric, someone interesting who's been around, who started, quite frankly, with a great underground following, and someone who's been saluted for having a conscience in a world that is often debated whether or not we see enough consciousness in rap is Common. He has some new music out.
(Soundbite of "Real People")
COMMON: (Rapping) Yeah. Real people walking the streets; the streets, they's talking off in this beat. The city never dies. People walking, talking in their sleep, cold sweats and wet dreams, know how to get green. I think it's all in a jeep. Black souls raw and they deep, hype trying to talk with no teeth. Shorty said, `Ball up a tree,' a lesson we all speak at one point or another. What you expect from one who smoked a joint with his mother? Annoying the hustlers in a fatherless region. Through the pain, wish they knew that God...
Mr. PARKER: He's been around for some time. He first came out on the scene with a record that was really hard-core hip-hop, and it was beats and rhymes--the basics of rap. And he's evolved. He's taken his rap elsewhere and outside the realm of just beats and rhymes. He had more instrumentation on later releases. And he was often criticized because he chose to experiment in different directions. But with this album he's teamed up with Kanye West, who, if you've been listening or watching anything that has to do with music this year, you'd note that Kanye West has really pushed forth hip-hop and merged old soul with hip-hop music. And he teamed up with Kanye West, who is also from Chicago, and they put together this album. He's now signed to Kanye West's label, which is called GOOD, G-O-O-D, Getting Out Our Dreams--and what they're doing is putting a revolution in effect. It's an entire movement of good music. And this is one selection off of Common's album called "Real People," where it also has some jazz feel and he talks about what he considers real people.
COMMON: (Rapping) Can a dude break free and still get honored at home? I was told by ...(unintelligible) nature. When you're glowing, some will love and some will hate you. It's real people.
GORDON: And as I mentioned earlier, Common is one of those artists that ofttimes is mentioned when you talk about the consciousness of the artist and the idea of not just doing beats and sound, but saying something. Gail, we're starting to see that re-emerge. We saw that in the early days of hip-hop and rap. Do you think it's important to have that balance?
Ms. MITCHELL: I think it is. When I talk to different people and fans of music and people in the industry, the consensus seems to be that they're ready for something new, they're ready for something next. They're tired of just the straight beats. I've talked to some A&R people at some of the major labels, and they're saying the whole club thing and whatever is fine, but what do you go back home and listen to? And you really don't see a lot of oldies hip-hop stations out there, where they're going back and playing some of the more melodic things that hip-hop came out of with the beats and everything.
So I think that's one reason why the Common record has resonated. I think it debuted number two for us on the Billboard chart, pop chart, which says a lot. And a lot of that goes to Common and his persistence there with staying true to himself as an artist, and also what Kanye--as has been said before, what Kanye's bringing to the table, the whole melodic. People are ready for the melodic, for some substance in their lyrics.
GORDON: And, Janine, you've picked someone that a number of people may have heard of. She comes back and forth now and then with some very interesting music, very eclectic, and that's Me'Shell NdegeOcello. Let's take a quick listen to her music, and we'll come back and talk about the latest.
Ms. COVENEY: OK.
(Soundbite of "The Chosen")
Ms. CASSANDRA WILSON: (Singing) Your lips are like strands of scarlet. Your mouth is my temple. Your neck's an ivory tower that chills my (unintelligible). Your breasts are like fawns which feed among the lilies until the day breaks, till the sweet day breaks....
GORDON: What's interesting here, we should note, is that she has brought a number of people together, that with Cassandra Wilson up front singing and presenting music, if you will.
Ms. COVENEY: Exactly. Me'Shell NdegeOcello is somebody who's been on the scene for at least the last 12 years or so. She's somebody who's always followed her own muse in creating R&B, pop, folk. And she says that she--you know, she says he always wanted to kind of be in a band, and was kind of inspired by some of the Miles Davis groundbreaking ensembles where each of the musicians who came to the party brought something unique and different, and Miles could stay in the background. So she's brought together a group of artists, including Cassandra Wilson; Sabina of the Brazilian Girls, which is another new group on Verve that's gaining some heat; Kenny Garrett, saxophonist; Jack DeJohnette, Oliver Lake, saxophonist; Wallace Roney. These are all names in jazz. And she, herself, plays the bass, programs the drums, arranges and writes a lot of music on here, and does not do any of the vocals. So Cassandra Wilson takes the microphone on that one, "The Chosen," and it's just called "The Spirit Music Jamia Presents Dance of the Infidel." And Spirit Music Jamia is the name of her band.
And this is something that people are going to be talking about because of the way that it fuses Me'Shell's music with jazz.
(Soundbite of "The Chosen")
Ms. WILSON: (Singing) Come. Come. Come.
GORDON: And one of the things that you'll be able to do throughout the summer--and we're seeing this as a burgeoning industry, if you will. And Vibe, Eric, has picked up on this. There are a number of music festivals, whether it be jazz, R&B, rap, that you're going to be able to catch this summer, including yours in Atlanta.
Mr. PARKER: Right. We have a music festival this weekend coming up in Atlanta. And what we want to do is celebrate black music. We have artists like Lauryn Hill, TI, Kanye West, and they're coming together, and several more. But we're coming together to put together a celebration of black music. We're having several panels and seminars so people can feel as if they're taking part in the dialog of our community. And this is one of the things that we felt is a part of our mission, to unite our community, our musical community as it relates to our roots. Black music is what we do every day.
GORDON: Very quickly, before I let you guys go, something important happened this week, I think. And we saw George Clinton, after a 12-year battle, win the right to the master recordings of four of his albums, four of his most popular albums, including "One Nation Under a Groove" and "Uncle Jam Wants You," in court. And this is important for artists, because ofttimes, they don't own these masters. And in the long run, that's how folks get paid.
Ms. COVENEY: I'm just happy for...
Mr. PARKER: Right.
Ms. COVENEY: ...Brother Clinton, because this is a fight that he's been fighting for many years. I was at Billboard, you know, 12, 13 years ago, and was writing stories about the court cases to regain Funkadelic/Parliament music back then. And this guy is a pioneer. I mean, a lot of his music has been sampled by contemporary hip-hop artists. You know, his whole iconography, the whole mythology that came up around the music that he was making was really groundbreaking. So it took a long time, so I'm just happy for Brother George.
GORDON: Well, Eric...
Mr. PARKER: Wh...
GORDON: ...Gail and Janine, I thank you so much for your time. And, you know, as we move to the summer and move to music, one thing's for sure. If you want some fun summertime music, George Clinton is your man.
Mr. PARKER: That's right.
GORDON: We thank you so very much.
Ms. COVENEY: Yeah. Thank you.
Ms. MITCHELL: Thank you.
Mr. PARKER: Thank you.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Vocalists: (Singing in unison) Yeah! I love (unintelligible). Ooh!
GORDON: To hear all of our critics' music picks, just go to our Web site at npr.org.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.