Sunday, September 30, 2007

R&B singers fighting to be heard

At Del Frisco’s, sultry R&B singer Chrisette Michele wowed radio programmers, DJs and radio personalities on Friday.
Across town, less than an hour later, neo-soul singer Raheem DeVaughn wowed dozens of die-hard fans.
Both artists delivered smoky love songs and tunes about heartbreak and more. Michele is on the rise, getting attention with songs such as “Be Okay.” She performed for a packed crowd at Grand Central a few weeks ago and wowed them as well with several tracks off her solo debut, “I Am.” With a raspy voice and a seductive air that doesn’t rely on her shaking her hips, Michele is poised to separate herself from the female R&B pack.
DeVaughn is promoting his sophomore release “Love Behind the Melody.” His first album, “The Love Experience,” yielded the popular cut “Guess Who Loves You More.” On stage, DeVaughn is dynamic. He sweats, and isn’t shy about going into the audience and dancing on chairs or between tables. His voice reminds you of Marvin Gaye, and he tries to channel Gaye’s sensuality and sensibility.
He’s trying to establish himself in a genre that’s lost its luster in recent years, with John Legend being one of the few men to maintain national prominence. It’s a tough chore when artists such as Akon and T-Pain dominate the charts and radio with drivel about getting women drunk, or odes to strippers.

Q-Tip and Common rock Amos'

In an Aug. 20 blog entry, after I announced that Q-Tip would open for Common at Amos’ Southend, a reader commented that it should be the other way around.
During Thursday’s performance, Q-Tip made a strong case that he could be the headliner. The crowd, which stretched from the front of the stage past the sound booth to the rear bathroom, re-lived the glory years of rap as Q-Tip delivered both new and old tunes. (Hear my interview with Q-Tip on the Paid to Party Fo’ Yo’ Ear podcast on Wednesday afternoon.)
He opened with a funky tune reminiscent of a Parliament-style groove. Then he tested his chops singing on another number. By the midpoint of his 45-minute set, he and the crowd performed “Check the Rhyme,” “Bonita Applebum” and “Electric Relaxation.” He also performed his solo hits, “Vivrant Thing” and “Breathe and Stop.”
The best part of his set was “Scenario.” He invited two audience members on stage to rap lines from the song with him. Q-Tip started a verse, and each audience member had to finish it. The woman from the audience who joined him on stage got crazy love from the crowd. She rapped her parts correctly, confidently and then stopped. The guy who followed her mistook the concert for his own personal showcase. Along with rapping lines from “Scenario,” the guy freestyled and was quickly booed off stage. (Dawg, people paid to see Q-Tip and Common, not you.)
Common delivered a similar show to the one he did at Grand Central in May. He hyped the crowd, jumped around, and wooed a woman on stage. He performed more cuts off his new album, “Finding Forever,” such as the title track and “Break My Heart.” He gave fans a mix of old and new. The best part was “The Light.” It’s a song about love, and to hear nearly 1,000 people sing, “There is a light that shines…” was crazy-cool.
I was disappointed with Common’s treatment of “Misunderstood.” The track, on his new album, has a Nina Simone sample. It’s about people, such as a drug dealer and stripper, who make bad decisions trying to achieve their dream. The band slowed the song down so much that I barely recognized it. At the end, he gave shout-outs to all the people he says are misunderstood, such as Simone, 2Pac, Malcolm X and Michael Vick. Yes, Vick.
Yes, Vick made a bad decision, but throwing him in the same list as Malcolm X and even 2Pac is a stretch. They at least tried to uplift people with their words. Vick hasn’t -- yet. Maybe Common is just hoping Vick is misunderstood.