Fresh Friday: Reminiscing R. Kelly and Prepping for the “Buffet Tour”

r-kelly

This Saturday, April 30th, I will be seeing R. Kelly perform at the Sprint Center in Kansas City as he will be promoting his newest album “The Buffet”. While I have only listened to a couple of tracks here and there from his new album, this concert is a bit of a culminating lifetime event for me, as R. Kelly has been an active part of my musical listening life since I was in 3rd grade. Yes, that sounds odd for a R&B artist who is known for singing sexually provocative songs to be booming through the earbuds of a 9-year-old Pinoy kid, but believe me, R. Kelly is sacred to me. R. Kelly (along with Bone Thugs and Harmony) was responsible for introducing my young ears to the world of R&B and Hip Hop, and even to this day, R. Kelly has always been considered one of my music staples.

So, to get ready for the concert, not to mention this weekend in general, I will be examining two R. Kelly songs that I have the closest ties to. Furthermore, they’re dope throwback jams (which come at different points in R. Kelly’s career), and they’re worth listening to in your car or in your place if you got company or are getting ready to go out. These two songs are not only R. Kelly classics, but in my mind, they are essentials in the modern R&B world as well.

“Down Low” featuring the Isley Brothers (1995)

Down Low was my first exposure to R. Kelly when I was in the 3rd grade and just discovering Hip Hop on MTV. I was living in Spokane, Washington, which is a cool town (I went to Gonzaga University, which is also located in Spokane, so obviously I did not hate the place if I decided to spend four years there to get my academic degree) but to be honest, is very white and for a while, was the biggest city in the state of Washington that was mostly Republican (that has changed a bit over the years, as more Gonzaga graduates are staying in Spokane, hence changing the Blue-Red spectrum). My only really exposure to R&B and Hip Hop was through MTV Music Videos, and while Down Low was not the first (That belonged to Bone Thugs’ “Crossroads“), it was probably one of the more profound and impacting songs/music videos I listened to that got me transitioning from grunge rock to R&B and Hip Hop.

To be honest, one of my reasons for the musical transition was at the time, I knew my family and I were moving to California, and I looked up to my cousins on my Mom’s side (the Filipino side) and they were all about Rap, and I wanted to associate myself with as much Hip Hop as humanely possible so I wouldn’t look like an ass hole who “didn’t know jack about music” in front of my cousins, not to mention my soon-to-be California classmates wherever I went to school to (which, considering I went to a Catholic school that was mostly white, proved to be fruitless, as not many kids in my class ended up listening to hip hop; they mostly were the punk and metal rock crowd, and I had my brief period of time with those genres as well). So, whatever I listened to that mirrored Rap, I was into, and R. Kelly, in my pre-pubescent mind fit in that category. It had the same kind of beat as Rap, though a bit slower and softer, and better yet, I could buy the albums because they didn’t have the parental advisory label on it.

When I moved to California the summer after 3rd grade, and was hanging out with my cousins in Vallejo, we went to the Wherehouse where they were trading and buying albums. Since they were a combination of 8th graders in middle school and freshmen in high school, and had parents who didn’t give a “F” what they bought musically, they bought all the cool stuff: Bone Thugs, E-40, Wu Tang Clan, etc. I could not buy that stuff because you know, I was nine years old and not only would the cashier not sell me a “36 Chambers” album on cassette, but my parents would flip their shit if they found out I was jamming to “C.R.E.A.M.” in my room (though as I got older and visited my cousins more often, they were able to sneak me cassette copies of their albums, and I was able to listen to them on my cassette Walkman; damn those days were great). So, as they bought “the good stuff” I decided to buy the R. Kelly self-titled album because a.) I had seen the “Down Low” music video on MTV when I was in Spokane and b.) it was the closest thing to rap I could get because it didn’t have a parental advisory sticker on it (the more I think about it, I have to imagine that the Wherehouse cashier was like “WTF????” when I paid the money to buy that tape).

Now, going back to the “Down Low” music video, when I watched it initially when I was nine, I loved it because I loved the beat, I thought R. Kelly was cool as shit, and the whole music video had this elaborate story with some serious production values, which catered to a wild-imagination kid like myself who also liked mystery stories and action films. But holy crap, I HAD NO IDEA WHAT KELLY WAS TALKING ABOUT OR DOING WITH LILA HEART IN THE DAMN VIDEO!!! I mean, the ripping off of her shirt; setting her on the kitchen island; the making out with him on top of her while she was only in her red lace bra (though I didn’t really know what a bra was at the time let alone lace); Isley getting all pissed off when he finds Kelly in bed with her (and taking off his sunglasses and whipping his ponytail back in the most dramatic fashion); Isley and his crew beating the shit out of Kelly (and eventually Lila to death…though you never see it); and finally, leaving him in the middle of the desert and him grabbing a bloody Kelly by his tanktop and yelling “LOOK AT ME!!! I DID THIS TO YOU!!”

Yeah. I didn’t really understand any of that as a 9-10 year old. And to be honest, I really thought Isley was overreacting. In my mind, I was like “What’s he so mad about? Yeah they kissed and stuff, but they were just taking a nap! Why the hell was he flipping out?”

(Then again, I also thought the girl originally was his daughter when I first watched this, which got me all confused, because Disney animated movies (mostly Aladdin, which also came out at the time, and involved a dad trying to hook Jasmine up with a variety of suitors; so to me Aladdin and Kelly were like the same person) taught me as a kid that all dads wanted their daughters to find good dudes to marry. And I thought Isley was just trying to be a protective “father” in the opening scene of the music video (I also came to realize later that older guys could date younger women). This brand of naivety also came into play with AZ Yet’s “Last night” as I thought the verse “Last night, I was inside of you” was talking about a baby being born; they were talking about a baby, but more about making one than giving one, which I found out later in my teenage years.)

But then years later, I found out that Lila was Isley’s “woman” (never specifies whether she’s a wife, girlfriend or “side” of his), Kelly was having sex in secret with her at her request, and Isley was pissed because Kelly worked for him and trusted him (like a “bro”) and that’s why he flipped out and tried to leave him in the middle of the desert to die “Casino”-style (though he somehow not only gets to the hospital all right, but also the same hospital as Lila; this really was under-explained and deserved more…and yes, this is me demanding more from a R. Kelly music video, which sounds like sacrilege after “Trapped in the Closet”). I realized that this song was referring to having an affair and keeping it quiet, which in my teenage years sounded like the craziest concept ever, especially since I was pretty sheltered as a kid by my parents and anything beyond a monogamous relationship at the time sounded not only so against the grain, but also unfathomable because I assumed all marriages were “happy” partnerships. “Down Low” and R. Kelly exposed me to the underbelly of “secret” relationships, and in a rhythmic and entrancing way that encouraged me to push down the walls of “cloistered-ness” that I grew up in. That isn’t saying I got into a “Down Low” relationship or wanted one, but it made me realize that this “secret” world existed and as bad as it sounded, good music could come out of it.

And yes, this realization all developed in my middle and high schools years. R. Kelly had me examining the “morality” of infidelity through his 1995 hit song, all because I wanted to listen to hip hop. That is some Socrates shit right there, and in addition to a new realization of relationships, I also delved into R&B hardcore. Because of “Down Low” and R. Kelly’s self-titled album, I went on to buy other albums from artists like Keith Sweat, Blackstreet, AZ Yet, Boyz II Men and even Toni Braxton (though that was more my mom who loved “Unbreak My Heart” for whatever reason…I’m not going to ask her on that one).

And I did this all before I graduated middle school.

 

“Fiesta” (Remix) featuring Jay-Z, Boo and Gotti

The “Fiesta” remix came out in 2001, right when I was becoming a freshman in high school. The song was absolutely dope, as it was a hot track that was widely played on 102.5 and 103.5, two hip-hop and R&B based radio stations in Sacramento. To be honest, my listening to R. Kelly and R&B waned in my late middle school years, as I went through this weird metal phase where I listened to Limp Bizkit and Rob Zombie (I instantly regret and try to forget this period of my life musically). However, after being exposed to the “Fiesta” Remix, I was back all-in on R. Kelly.

During the Christmas Break of my Freshman year, I got a Borders Bookstore certificate and went to the music aisle to buy some CDs (because Borders had music, so why the hell would I buy books when I could by music instead? My parents hated me for this and stopped giving me Borders gift certificates as gifts when they realized I wasn’t buying it on books). In the “Top Hits” section, I found the TP-2.com CD which had the song “Fiesta” on it, and since I loved that song, and had fond memories of it from my younger days, I decided to use my gift certificate money on it.

There was one problem: it had a parental advisory label on it.

I remember taking about 10 minutes debating whether I should buy it or not. I looked at it, thought about going to the cashier to buy it, then I changed my mind, put it back, went to another aisle, saw some Matchbox 20 or shit like that, realized that I was compromising, and then would go back and stare at the TP-2.com CD some more. It was very similar to how I approached girls at dances in high school, with the only difference being that unlike the album which was still there on the rack, either a.) the girl would be dancing with another dude by the time I made the second pass-by or b.) they would be creeped out and wouldn’t want to dance (Yes, I didn’t date much in high school consequently).

After much deliberation, I grabbed the CD and decided to buy it. I remember sweating bullets as I gave it to the cashier, who looked to be a dude in high school or college. I thought he was going to ask how old I was or if I had ID, like I was buying beer or cigarettes or porn. But much to surprise, all that anxiety and worry came to naught. He rang it up, I paid with my gift card, he put it in the bag and I was on my way. He didn’t mention a damn thing about the parental advisory label.

And boy, I remember strutting out of that Borders with all the damn confidence in the world. I had just bought the TP-2.com and my first parental advisory album. It was like I just grew my first armpit hair or had sex for the first time. That’s how elated I felt as I gazed at R. Kelly in his white beanie, sunglasses and fur coat on the cover when I got home in my room with the door closed,  right before I popped it in to my CD Walkman (notice how I remained loyal to the Sony Walkman brand after all these years).

But there was one problem: the album didn’t have the “Fiesta” Remix! It had the original “Fiesta” song, which was cool, but it wasn’t the version with Jay-Z and Boo and Gotti.

I felt like I had just gotten a number from a girl at a dance, only to find out she had given me a fake (not to say that such a thing happened…sigh…okay it did…like I said, I didn’t have a lot of dating experience in high school; sue me).

After some time with the album, I grew to appreciate it. The original “Fiesta” song, though not as good as the remix, still had its moments, and I enjoyed the “I Wish” song more than most, even though it is really a depressing song that no 15-year-old freshman should be listening to. But the “Fiesta” Remix in my opinion is one of Kelly’s best. It’s at a time in his career when Kelly revamped his style and  blended his sound and writing skills into the hip hop genre. While LL Cool J and A Tribe Called Quest obviously came before when it came to the “Rap Ballad”, Kelly’s “Fiesta” was one of the major “R&B Hop” songs that fused an R&B song with a Rap flair. The song is flexible in all kinds of scenarios: You can put it on at a party, you can jam to it in your car, you can put it on when you’re hanging out with that special someone, and guess what? It’ll still be appropriate and match the mood. That is how great the “Fiesta Remix” is and what cemented Kelly with me as one of my favorite artists in the R&B genre, even to this day.

Kelly has had some highs (“Happy People” is one of my guilty pleasures; though lyrically it does sort of suck) and lows (“Trapped in the Closet” probably remains one of his most embarrassing and ridiculous ventures) in my musical experience with him. However, Kelly has always struck a chord with me when it came to how I developed my musical taste, and if it wasn’t for Kelly I wouldn’t have appreciated R&B music like I have over the years. R&B to me is like that girlfriend who you keep breaking up and getting back together with time and time again. Just when I think I’m going all House music, I am listening to Avant. When I am convinced I’m an Indie Folk guy, I am downloading The Weeknd’s mix tapes. R&B and me are forever twined, and R. Kelly is responsible for that, mostly thanks to “Down Low” and “Fiesta” Remix.

April 30th is going to be a big day. At midnight, I will be turning 29 years old, one year shy of 30.

It seems fitting to celebrate such a day with someone who has been part of my life for nearly 20 years.

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Fresh Friday: Remembering Prince Through “Purple Rain” and…”Batman”?

(Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures)

It was a somber afternoon today, as it was announced legendary musical artist Prince died today in his home at age 57. While this is obviously a huge blow to music community, as well as his legions of fans, this also hits me a bit personally. I have always been sort of a closet Prince fan of sorts. I had three of his “Greatest Hits” albums that I acquired for free from one of my uncles while I was in high school (I convinced him to give it to me as a gift before he put it out for a garage sale), and I used to jam to them sometimes during my morning commute to school. The Dave Chappelle “Prince Playing Basketball against Charlie Murphy” skit remains my favorite Chappelle’s Show skit over time, even trumping the more famous and popular Rick James and Charlie Murphy one. And when I first moved to Kansas City, the first concert I went to was a Prince cover concert at the Uptown Theater. So, this unfortunate passing of Prince, such an influential artist in the RnB and even Hip-Hop community, really has swirled up all kinds of thoughts and feelings of nostalgia in me.

So here are a couple of Prince Songs/Music videos that I am posting on this blog in honor of the legendary, though somewhat eccentric (the Carlos Boozer subletting story remains one of my favorite “WTF” stories of Prince) artist.

“Purple Rain Live at the American Music Awards”

I really wasn’t alive when the “Purple Rain” bonanza hit: the song, the film, all of it. That was really before my time, but that didn’t stop my cousins from familiarizing me with this greatness in my early years. Whenever I hung out with my cousins, there were really five things they exposed me to on a regular basis: Hip Hop, Video Games, Professional Wrestling, Van Damme Movies and Purple Rain (all very typical 90’s young Pinoy things when you think about it). I must have seen Purple Rain 4-6 times before I was the age of 13 (though my parents never knew it) and it became a regular part of my watching rotation ever since then. Even one of my exes and I bonded because we both had fond memories of Prince and his father scenes in “Purple Rain.” (Though in reality, that proved to be one of the “only” bonding moments we had in our relationship…hence why we are no longer together; but big ups to her for her love of “Purple Rain.”)

If you haven’t seen it, you are missing out on something glorious. Yes, it is a bit over the top, but for it’s time, it really was revolutionary, the first kind of Black “Rock Opera” of sorts that really broke down barriers from the typical White “Musical” we were all kind of used to (“Grease”, “Xanadu” etc). The songs were awesome, Prince was unabashedly raw and passionate in his portrayal of himself, and the story put an urban spin on a tale that was relatively reserved for white, blue-eyed leads. Purple Rain was the Jazz Singer, but blacker, cooler, better music, and supercharged to the point where you almost felt the cast was hopped up on something before each and every take. As a young Filipino trying to figure himself out, Purple Rain didn’t just open the door of my curiosity into the world of RnB and later, Hip Hop, it kicked it open and splintered the doors in true “Prince” fashion.

But the song “Purple Rain” is amazing to listen to even after all these years, especially when you watch “live” versions of it on YouTube. This video embedded on this blog is from the American Music Awards in 1985, but it is similar to other performances posted online: Prince just kills it, letting it all out in his performance, putting his trademark emotion, heart and passion into every word of every verse of the six-minute song. Prince was a weird cat at times. My most recent memories of him (i.e. memories I experienced personally in the moment) when he was in the limelight was in my teenage years when he changed his name to “the Artist formerly known as Prince” and he was more known for his weirdness as well as his ambiguous sexuality and preference than his music. (In reality, it probably would not be such a big deal now, but in the 90’s, with the AIDS epidemic still sort of a fiery topic among people, this really was a huge topic of gossip discussion, not to mention a somewhat confusing issue at the time for a pre-teen like myself). Despite that whirlwind phase though, Prince will always be “Purple Rain” to me, even if I didn’t live in the moment like my older cousins did. The song above and everything related to it, will always be one of my more lasting memories of him as time passes after his death.

The Batman Soundtrack and “Partyman”

While my cousins introduced me to Prince and “Purple Rain”, Prince’s contribution to the Batman soundtrack is where I really went into depth into Prince and truly appreciated who he was. As a kid, Batman was my favorite superhero hands down, no questions asked. I had a ton of Batman comics, I watched the Batman Animated Show regularly, and the first Batman movie remains sacred to me to this day. Even with the release of Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, I still prefer Tim Burton’s original “Batman” from 1989. I love Michael Keaton as Batman for his more subdued performance of the Caped Crusader (in comparison to the “changing voice” Christian Bale). Jack Nicholson’s slapstick version of the Joker struck more of a chord with me than the more popular Heath Ledger version (on repeated viewings, it becomes harder to see why Ledger won the award for best supporting actor; he did a fine job, but I just liked Nicholson’s more “comic” version more). And as a kid, I had serious hots for Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale, and any role she has been in has involved me saying “But I liked her better as Vicki, the babe photographer who covered the Corto Maltese crisis.” Even some scenes that Nolan and Burton sort of shared favored the 1989 version more, with the most poignant and obvious comparison being when Batman in a vehicle is charging at Joker, only to result in Joker somehow veering Batman off course.

Here is the Nolan version:

Pretty cool. Pretty intense for sure. But here is the Burton version:

Oh fuck. I need a cigarette or something. There’s no question that the Burton version is better by leaps and bounds. I mean, he draws a gun with a long-ass barrel out of his damn pants and knocks out the Batwing with one shot which ends him back a couple of feet. Even Nolan knew he couldn’t match that kind of shit. So amazing.

But greatness of the Batman movie aside, it wasn’t until college where I really dug into the 1989 Batman even further (mostly due to the release of the Dark Knight my junior year) and discovered the soundtrack and realized how many Prince songs there was on it. Yes, Prince was the main artist on the Batman soundtrack. Yes, Batman, a comic book hero, and Prince was the featured artist. And in true Prince fashion, he did his share of music videos to help promote the movie including the much maligned, but cult-favorite “Batdance” and the video I posted above, “Partyman” which is featured in the movie.

And how is it featured? Well, the song comes on  after Joke gasses and kills everyone in a museum except for Vicki (whom he sends a gift of a gas mask before he does the act) and before he sits down for a dinner convo with her, he proceeds to jack up all the paintings in the museum with “Partyman” in the background. Take a gander:

And if that scene isn’t enough, the music video to the song is classic Prince: strong music with a good, classic Prince beat, and an utterly fucking nuts scene highlighted with true, passionate, typical Prince theatrics.

“Purple Rain” will always be his main legacy in the world of music and film. But his underrated contributions to Batman in a way that will never replicated again. Superhero movies take themselves too seriously these days, and in no way, shape or form would studios give that kind of creative freedom to complement a film like they did in Batman in 1989. Thankfully, if anything, Prince only helped add to the long lasting legacy of Burton’s Batman with his music and music video artistry.

So if “Purple Rain” is exhibit A of Prince’s contribution to film, then Batman should be a close exhibit B.

Or at least in my mind anyways.

Rest in Peace Prince. The music world misses you already.

Fresh Friday: Post Malone, OB OBrien, A Tribe Called Red and the 1988 McDonald’s Open

Post Malone and his basketball-inspired lyrics, make “White Iverson” one of the more refreshing Hip Hop tracks you’ll hear today.

This post is coming a little late, but I didn’t want to overlook another Fresh Friday, a place to share some music as well as some basketball gems lurking on YouTube. This week’s edition centers on Hip Hop, specifically Post Malone, OB OBrien and A Tribe Called Red, which is more of a dubstep meets hip hop meets Native drum music. It’s a real treat, along with the other two listed above.

This weekend is kind of a mellow weekend around Kansas City, as typical with most long weekends. That being said, the Royals and Chiefs are both playing Sunday, so you known people are going to get after it when comes to grilling and even tailgating (the Chiefs play at home). So it’s important that you have some good sundries and beats to complement your time with friends, even if the focus may not be of the basketball variety.

This weekend’s beer of choice is Boulevard Funky Pumpkin. You want something you can easily drink, but you don’t want to have something you can down too quickly, especially on Sunday where the Chiefs and Royals will be playing back to back. Boulevard’s underrated October brew is a hybrid between a fall, Pumpkin ale and a sour beer. It’s a nice middle ground for those who may be averse to fall specialty ales as well as sour beers. The balance of sweetness and tartness makes this one of Boulevard’s more underrated ales, and you’ll feel good about drinking it too since Boulevard is a Kansas City brewery and you’ll be cheering on the Royals and Chiefs.

Now onto the music and basketball.

Post Malone “White Iverson”

I cannot describe how much I love this song. I heard it originally this summer while meeting up with friends from Portland. One of my friends loved it so much that he played it on loop like 48 times. Since then, my ears always perk up when I hear the song play. Whether it’s on my friend’s Sirius radio, as a ringtone, or blasting from the speakers at a coffee shop/bar at First Friday’s in the Crossroads, I just have to sit and sink in Post Malone and the song “White Iverson”. The beat is absolutely fantastic, mesmerizing and hypnotic, and Malone’s smooth voice complements the beat well. However, the lyrics is what puts the song over the top for me. There is always a risk when using “basketball-centered” lyrics. We have seen many examples of basketball rap songs or even rap tracks from basketball players fail miserably (this remains my personal favorite trainwreck ever). Post Malone not only avoids that, but somehow allows his lyrics to enhance the “coolness” of his popular track. Check out this verse below:

I’m ballin’, money jumpin’
Like I’m Davis from New Orleans

Or bitch I’m Harden, I don’t miss nothin’
Fuck practice, this shit just happens, know y’all can’t stand it
I have it, I’ll never pass it, I work my magic
High average, ball on these bastards, it makes me happy
It’s tragic, I make it happen, and all y’all Shaqtin’

God. Those lines are so freaking great. A song with an Anthony Davis, James Harden, Shaq and of course AI reference? You better be listening to this song as you read this.

OB OBrien “Schemin Up”

If you are a Canadian right now, there is a lot to be happy about. Canadian basketball is finally surging toward major respectability, especially when it comes to their national team which features young, likable stars like Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Olynyk, Anthony Bennett, Nik Stauskas and Robert Sacre (well…maybe not a star, but I love Sacre from my experiences interviewing him at Gonzaga). The Toronto Raptors are the new “in” team again, something that faded away after Vince Carter stopped being “Air Canada” and went to the New Jersey Nets. The Toronto Blue Jays are in the playoffs for the first time since 1995 (though they dropped the first two games of the series at home to the Texas Rangers), and the NHL season is underway, which means hope springs eternal for Maple Leaf, Canucks, Flames, Oilers, Senators, Canadiens, and Jets fans.

And when it comes to Rap music, Canada is experiencing its own renaissance as well. We all know about Drake, but there are also a lot of up and coming Rap artists that are starting to make their way into the mainstream as well. OB OBrien, a rapper from Hamilton, Canada who looks more like a Maple Leafs defenseman than budding musician, is a prime example of some of the Hip Hop talent from the land up North. While the lyrics aren’t anything special, his collaboration with Drake and P. Reign on this is a solid jam, and is a great party or club jam on a Friday and Saturday night. I do hope OB OBrien progresses his music, especially lyrics, a bit more as he gains more experience and popularity (I also hope so since I share the same surname as him), but this is a nice primer to Canadian rap music beyond Drake.

A Tribe Called Red “Working for the Goverment”

While working on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, I got exposed to A Tribe Called Red a First Nations electronic group from Canada. While their debut self-titled album brought them on the scene in a big way (especially the track Electronic Powwow Drum), I felt that their second album Nations II Nations was a better, more well-rounded album featuring a lot more collaborating First Nations artists such as Northern Voice. A Tribe Called Red seamlessly brings together electronic, hip-hop and traditional First Nations drumming music into their tracks, and their sound is unique and refreshing and causes you to get lost in it for hours.

“Working for the Government” is one of their newer tracks featuring Buffy Sainte Marie, and is a remix and revitalization of her earlier song of the same name from the 70’s. It’s 70’s meets modern day. AIM meets Wacipi meets dubstep. And it’s a great track that is the unique sound that showcases First Nations people in the light they deserve: creative, talented, and molding mainstream culture to enhance their own, not vice versa.

Basketball Video of the Week: 1988 McDonald’s Championship: Boston Celtics vs. Real Madrid

The late 80’s marked the beginning of the NBA starting to globalize their brand and game. Part of that stemmed from the 1988 loss in the Olympic Championship game, but also a lot of it stemmed from a lot of the talent that existed globally, especially in Europe. Now, basketball is probably one of the most global games, and is certainly the fast growing sport in terms of popularity globally (and closing fast on Soccer, who seem to not be able to get out of their own way with all this corruption in FIFA). Just this pre-season, the NBA Global Games featured not only NBA exhibitions against European clubs such as Real Madrid, Fennerbahce Ulker Istanbul and EA7 Emporio Armani Milan, but also other European clubs on American soil (EA7 played Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv in Chicago). Basketball is huge, and the growing diversity of the game and its players is only good for the sport and its fans.

The 1988 McDonald’s Championship is pretty much where the global revitalization started, as the Boston Celtics traveled to Spain to take on Real Madrid, who featured star point guard Drazen Petrovic, a legendary player of Croatian descent who played for the Portland Trail Blazers and New Jersey Nets (and the focus of one of the best 30 for 30’s ever, “Once Brothers”). The Celtics won 111-96, but Real Madrid and Petrovic showed the potential European basketball and players had and that the NBA game could benefit a lot from the European style. And that has been realized today, as European players and strategies influence the NBA and even college game in so many ways from the pick and roll to the stretch 4.

Ironically, the Celtics played Real Madrid in this year’s Global Games in Spain earlier this week. The score? 111-96. The same exact score 17 years ago.

It makes you wonder if that’s a sign of more things to come for the game globally.

Fresh Friday: How to Dress Well, Sports, Chet Faker and Bosnia and Herzegovina a Budding Basketball Force in Europe?

How to Dress Well (the stage name of singer Tom Krell) is one of the rising PBR&B artists that is worth listening to extensively.

In this edition of “Fresh Friday, we’re going to take a look at some “chill” beats from some up and coming Indie artists, and examine Bosnia’s win at the FIBA Under-16 European Championships and whether or not it’s a sign that Bosnia is a European dark horse in development. As it is officially October, it means Fall is upon us, it is time to shelf the shorts and t-shirts and bring back the flannel and jeans, and basketball season is nearly upon us. Hence, it is even more important to build up some chill music on the Spotify queue in anticipation of basketball junkies’ late nights with NBA League Pass. D-League on YouTube, FIBA Global Pass (via LiveBasketball.tv) and Euroleague TV (if that thing will launch of course…if anybody has any updates, please let me know…I’m committed to covering more Euroleague for this blog) as well as cheap, but classy sundry choices that make the basketball addiction feel a bit more normal (even when in reality it is not).

This weekend’s beer of choice: Pabst Blue Ribbon. Cheap, classic, from Milwaukee (which is always a good thing and a hell of a lot better than St. Louis), and readily available in the Midtown area of Kansas City. There is a lot of good music going on this weekend in Midtown and Downtown Kansas City (with Of Monsters and Men being the headline weekend act in KC tonight at the Midland Theatre), so as you’re spending your money on tickets and covers to see some great shows, counter that with something cheap to drink that will make the night a little bit easier on your wallet.

So on with the music and basketball for “Fresh Friday.”

How to Dress Well “Repeat Pleasure”

There is something utterly endearing about “How to Dress Well”, the stage name of Chicago-based R&B singer Tom Krell. His style makes listeners hark back to older R&B acts like Immature and Boyz II Men, but has a modern-day Hipster-ish hue in the mold of say a Bon Iver (especially his voice, which makes one think of Justin Vernon, as it is hypnotic, but not exactly the easiest when it comes to deciphering lyrics). Krell started out as a nameless blogger who released new audio tracks anonymously via his blog “How to Dress Well” (which later became his stage name). In an era when self-promotion is huge in the independent music scene (I can’t tell you how many indie artists will follow random people just to get people to listen to their stuff…not that this is bad, but this is what it takes to get noticed musically as an artist), Krell seems to be a true artist, caring more about his craft than fame. He probably is more talented than most of the modern-day R&B singers out there in the scene now, but he goes unnoticed because he doesn’t have the marketability (he doesn’t have the flashy style or appearance of a Ginuwine or Tyrese for example) or product-promoting aggressiveness of some up and coming artists. But, that is refreshing, and it’s just a matter of time before “How to Dress Well” becomes more mainstream. His albums, including his most recent, “What is this Heart?” have all received rave reviews, so he is on the cusp of becoming a bigger name in the indie and R&B scene.

The track above, “Repeat Pleasure” is classic “How to Dress Well”: a nostalgic but chill R&B tune that is great to listen when un-winding from a long week day or a long night out…especially if you are spending it with a significant other (wink…wink…)

Sports “Panama”

I witnessed Sports playing live at “The Riot Room” in Westport about a month ago. They looked like something straight out of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” or “Dazed and Confused” and I guess I was expecting some kind of Punk Rock act. Instead, I was greeted with a super chill, heavily electronic group that featured a nostalgic 80’s sound that made you think of 80’s artists like Huey Lewis and Phil Collins. I was thoroughly entertained by their set, even as they struggled to get the sound they wanted from their equipment and the sound system.

From Tulsa, Oklahoma, Sports has one album out “Naked All the Time” which just recently came out this summer to some good reviews. The album is worth a listening to on Spotify or buying on ITunes, as many of the songs are the kind of hypnotic, hip and head swaying tracks that are great to jam to at a small get-together when you just need something to fill the space but not overpower the people in attendance. People will remark that it sounds familiar, as if it were something from the 80’s, and that is where you can come in and say it’s actually a band that is currently active. Sports is that kind of “Wow, I didn’t know they were an active band” remark-generating act. By knowing who they are, it will make you seem “cool” and “cultured” in the music scene with friends and even acquaintances, even if you only know them because you stumbled upon them by accident one Friday night in Westport.

So yeah, keep “Sports” on the playlist, especially “Panama” which is one of their albums’ best tracks.

Chet Faker “No Diggity”

Any time Hipster culture can clash with my own personal nostalgia, I am hooked. That was the case when I was listening to one of Spotify’s playlists (Indie Chill: Covers) and stumbled upon this. I loved this song when it came out performed by Blackstreet. I was in like the fourth or fifth grade, and this single was in my music collection along with Keith Sweat, R. Kelly, Boyz II Men, and AZ Yet. And yes, I was in the fourth and fifth grade. And my mom was totally cool with me listening to this music. Music that featured lyrics like this, from AZ Yet’s “Last Night”.

Last night
I was inside of you
Last night
While making love to you
I saw the sun , the moon
The mountains and the rivers
I saw heaven when I made sweet love to you

Again. I repeat. I WAS IN THE FOURTH AND FIFTH GRADE WHEN I WAS LISTENING TO THIS. By the time we talked about sex ed in 6th grade, I knew a lot about the sexual reproduction process because that’s all that was talked about in my music collection. Maybe that’s why my mom let me listen to all that R&B: Keith Sweat, Blackstreet and AZ Yet could teach me about the “Birds and the Bees” so my parents didn’t have to.

As for Chet Faker’s rendition, it is not the original Blackstreet of course, but for covers it stands out firmly on its own. I like the chill, lo-fi remix to the classic R&B track, and it is the perfect track to jam to while reading or writing or just hanging out in your apartment. Faker has a fantastic voice and unique sound, like lounge meets indie pop meets soul. He’s worth checking out more of if you dig any of the three listed above, with his first major EP “Thinking in Textures” being a good start.

Replay of the Week: Bosnia and Herzegovina-Lithuania FIBA U16 European Championship

Bosnia and Herzegovina may be one of the most intriguing basketball countries as of late. While we know about the impact Jusuf Nurkic had as a rookie with the Denver Nuggets, the intimidating center may be just the tip of the iceberg of what kind of potential Bosnia and Herzegovina may have in the future. BIH didn’t do great in the FIBA Eurobasket 2015, as their Men’s National Team went 1-4, finished last in their group, and failed to make it out of group play (though they did have an exhilarating win over Israel in their third game). However, the future of their program may be quite bright, as evidenced by their Under-16 Boys squad.

BIH’s youth team went undefeated in the tournament, with big wins over France and Germany in the early rounds, a big win over Spain in the semifinal, and then a 85-83 win over Lithuania in front of a packed pro-Lithuanian crowd (as the U16 European Championships took place in Lithuania). The game was also a showcase for BIH star Dzanan Musa who scored 23.3 ppg, nabbed 9.0 rpg and dished 6.3 apg in the 9-game span. The 6’6 shooting guard displayed an incredible shooting touch, as he regularly sized up Lithuanian defenders in the tape above and made all kinds of incredible “Curry-esque” shots from beyond the arc. Only 16, Musa is an international player that will be worth paying attention to and following as he grows older and transitions from development ball to more serious professional ball, be it in Europe or here in the States.

Also, another thing worth noting about BIH’s win over Lithuania was the celebration in Sarajevo following their victory. Just look at the picture below and see what I mean:

God, can you imagine what the city would do if they won the FIBA Eurobasket? Or World Cup?

I can’t…really I can’t considering that scene above and its massiveness. But I will say this: the U16 championship game and the BIH celebration in Sarajevo is a reason why I love European and International basketball. Fans really care…a whole hell of a lot…when it comes to national pride in sports, especially basketball.

Fresh Friday: PBR&B and Spain Out-Duels France in the Eurobasket

The Weeknd (left) and Frank Ocean are two “PBR&B” artists worth jamming to this weekend (or all weekends in general).

Every Friday, I’m going to post a few music choices and a game replay you should watch to fill your weekend. I know I have tried to do the weekly “themed” posts before in the past, but this one is so simple and up my alley that I feel comfortable making it a weekly thing.

For those who don’t know, PBR&B is something I’m relatively new to and have been digging as of late. The official definition of PBR&B is this according to Wikipedia:

PBR&B, also referred to as R-Neg-B, hipster R&B, indie R&B and alternative R&B, is a term used by music journalists to describe an emerging, stylistic alternative to contemporary R&B.

I am a big fan of R&B, or at least old-school R&B and have been rather disappointed and put off by most R&B and Hip Hop music nowadays that is in the Lil Wayne and Gangster Rap varieties. However, PBR&B, as well as some emerging “Hipster” rap artists (such as Post Malone and OB OBrien), have suddenly emerged as constant plays in my Spotify playlists. I’m still relatively new to this genre of music, but I have a feeling PBR&B is going to join my music collection in the next few months.

Also, I am going to post the France-Spain Eurobasket 2015 game in its entirety. I’ll go into more reason why you should re-watch that game rather than another SEC or NFL football game this weekend.

Blood Orange “Stuphin Boulevard”

Blood Orange’s “Stuphin Boulevard” is the kind of track you pop in when you’re cruising in the streets of Kansas City and it’s 1 to 2 a.m. and you’re not quite ready to go home, but you are unsure what to do. The track has a surreal, haunting, chill beat to it, making it the perfect late night “jam in your car when you’re alone” track.

Blood Orange is the stage name of Dev Hynes, a British Indie Pope and R&B singer who epitomizes what it means to be PBR&B. Hynes was formerly known as “Lightspeed Champion”, but has found his niche under the “Blood Orange” name. He has created two albums under the “Blood Orange” moniker: “Coastal Grooves” which came out in 2011 and “Cupid Deluxe” which came out in 2013.

Frank Ocean “Pyramids”

Frank Ocean is pretty much a household name with those who give a damn about Hip Hop or R&B music in any kind of capacity. Whether it is the popularity he generated from his 2012 album “Channel Orange” or his cameo in popular mainstream tracks such as “No Church in the Wild” which featured him, Jay-Z and Kanye West, PBR&B and Hip-Hop aficionados can appreciate what Frank Ocean has to offer. Pyramids is the ideal Ocean track: funky, poignant and chill in a way that makes it the perfect track to put on in multiple scenarios. Whether it is a small get-together with cronies or when you’re hanging out before making your way out to the social scene in the city, “Pyramids” hits all the right spots.

And, at nearly 10 minutes long, “Pyramids” is the rare “long” track that doesn’t feel long. Even at the 8 minute mark, I’m still yearning for Ocean’s track to continue its trance-inducing beat, as it puts the listener in such a state of transcendent chill that is rarely touched these days by some of the more modern R&B artists. Ocean may have come onto the scene thanks to bigger names such as Kanye, but it’s obvious that Ocean, thanks to tracks like “Pyramids” has proven himself as a standalone talent in the R&B scene, especially the PBR&B one.

The Weeknd “The Hills”

With over 200,000,000 hits on YouTube, it is safe to say the Weeknd has reached somewhat mainstream status. But, you can’t help but feel there’s something so “anti” and “hipster” about the Canadian PBR&B artist. “The Hills” is the perfect microcosm of what the Weeknd is about: crazy ass lyrics that border on psychotic, and a sick, hypnotizing beat that thrusts you into the kind of “mood” that encourages you to be down for a long night in the Urban atmosphere. If there is anything that can be “classified” as “Friday Night Hipster” music, the Weeknd and “The Hills” would rank near the top.

There is a lot to like about The Weeknd and the state of Canadian Hip Hop, which seems to be pushing the PBR&B movement more than ever. The Weeknd may not be PC or the kind of music you can play around your 12-year-old cousins or at a family gathering with your 50-year-old Filipino aunts and uncles. However, for those who like to go out, explore the Urban scene at half past midnight, and like beats that put you in a “down” state of mind on a Wednesday or Thursday night, the Weeknd simply can’t be beat.

Replay of the Week: France-Spain, Eurobasket 2015 Semifinals

In 2014, despite playing on their home turf, Spain was upset in the FIBA World Cup by the French national team, which was playing without patriotic leader Tony Parker. Considering all the hype going into the FIBA World Cup was whether or not the USA team (without many of their superstars like Durant, LeBron, Wade, Paul, and Harden, to name a few) would be able to beat a talented and deep Spanish squad on their  turf, the French upset deflated what would be the eventual championship game in Madrid (which the USA cruised to).

In the Semifinals of the Eurobasket the following year, France faced off against Spain again, and it was pretty much a de-facto home game for the Les Bleus. With a raucous home country crowd, Parker back in action, center Rudy Gobert starting to enter “superstar” status, and Spain missing superstars such as Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Ricky Rubio, and Jose Calderon, it seemed like a given France would cruise to a championship game appearance in the 2015 Eurobasket.

Somebody didn’t relay that message to Spain, as they came out and upset France in overtime 80-75 in an exciting back and forth game. While one has to admire the play on both sides, it was Gasol whose star shone the brightest, as he dropped 40 points in arguably his greatest international performance of all-time. Hardcore basketball fans should watch this replay (despite it being commentated in Greek) for Gasol’s performance alone, as it may be the last  hurrah for one of the best international players to ever grace FIBA and NBA competition.

Have a great weekend! Keep “Schemin Up!”