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From The Vault: Mary Mary – ‘Shackles (Praise You)’

This week’s From The Vault pick is the crossover Gospel classic, ‘Shackles (Praise You)’ by Mary Mary.

Released at the very beginning of the noughties, ‘Shackles’ was the Atkins-Campbell sisters’ first ever single and stands as their biggest hit. After reaching the pole position on the Billboard Hot Gospel Songs, the cut managed to become a crossover hit placing #28 on the Billboard Hot 100 and coming at an impressive #9 on the R&B/Hip Hop chart. It proved to be a global smash when it hit the Top 10 of multiple countries in Europe as well as Australia.

The accompanying video, which to this day stays an MTV and VH1 favorite, underined the “life gets better” aura evoked by the song’s lyrics (which were penned by the group and Warryn Campbell).

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At the time, Gospel purist disapproved of the track and Mary Mary’s work moreover labeling it “too secular”. Although such claims remain a constant about Contemporary Gospel, over the years acts such as Kirk Franklin, Trin-i-tee 5:7, Yolanda Adams and of course Mary Mary have helped the subgenre garner recognition and respect from a greater sect of the faith-based community as well as from the mainstream.

In many ways, this release broke the shackles off old school ideology and bridged a colossal gap. In every way, then, ‘Shackles’ is a classic.

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Mary Mary continue their foray into the mainstream with their hit WE tv reality show, aptly titled ‘Mary Mary’. Click here to check out our interview with them on our sister site That Grape Juice TV. And be sure to keep it locked on TGJ TV for your Urban Hollywood fix!

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From The Vault: Rihanna – ‘Pon De Replay’

The year 2005 was a busy one to say the least. Indeed, Amerie was ruling the airwaves with her ‘1 Thing’, the Pussycat Dolls released the now-classic ‘Don’t Cha’ and Bow Wow served up one of the biggest hit of his career in ‘Let Me Hold You’

Still, in retrospect, that year’s biggest “contribution” was the launch of TGJ favorite, Rihanna! Alas, this week’s From The Vault is dedicated to the model’s debut single, ‘Pon De Replay’.

The infectious Dancehall/R&B/Pop fusion was produced by Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers and served as Rih’s lucky first strike. For, the cut reached the second position on both the American and British charts and peaked inside the Top 20 of every country it was released in.

‘Replay’s club-themed visual was a music channel regular and arguably showcases the upper echelon of Ms. Fenty’s limited showmanship (see: “come run run run run”).

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Dismissed as a one-hit wonder, few at that time would have deemed the stunner as one who’d go on to be one the biggest artists on the planet. A fact which re-affirms that, with the right backing, any-and-everything is possible. For, as much as we can appreciate the track, it doesn’t scream “Superstar Alert”, nor does the “singer” in the video.

After experimenting with her image and sound a plenty with varying results (see: rock chick, femme fatale, dance queen…), Team Rih have finally realized that what makes their “product” so palatable is its Island-bravado. Hence, there’s no coincidence that theres been a reversion to cooking up songs in the vein of ‘Replay’, and in doing so they’ve scored some of their biggest hits (see: ‘Rude Boy’, ‘What’s My Name’).

For all her vocal crimes, Rihanna remains a compelling concept as both a “brand” and “musical movement”. So much so that even when the going is tough (see: ‘Rated R’), all that was needed to remedy the predicament, was a referral to this her “genesis” for the map forward.  As the saying goeth, “if it ain’t broke, why fix it”? Of course, her voice is an entirely different story.

Randomness: Are we the only one side-eyeing the fact that this specific track has been relegated to a mere video interlude while on tour? It would have been ‘interesting’ to witness its evolution through the years. You know, kinda like Beyonce and ‘Crazy In Love’.

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From The Vault: Mariah Carey Performs ‘Emotions’ On MTV Unplugged

This week, From The Vault journey’s back, back to a time when Mariah Carey was an undeniable vocal titan.

Our selection comes in the form of Mimi’s ‘Emotions’ performance at her now-iconic MTV Unplugged session.

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‘Emotions’ was the first single lifted from the songbird’s 1991 sophomore set of the same name and became her fifth consecutive #1 in the US Billboard. The song was also a Canadian Top 5 and a Australian and British Top 20.

If ever you weren’t privy to what we call a flawless vocal performance, this -quite literally- is it.

MC engaged her entire vocal range to intensify the performance, dabbling in Jazz and Gospel, while all the while remaining markedly “Mariah”. Even her stage presence, albeit not her strongest feat, was on point. The choir (which included a young Kelly Price) was also a potent touch, rendering the whole affair even more uplifting and vocally impactful.

Without a shred of doubt. this is the Mariah we fell for and hold in the highest regard. Her ability to hit those notes both confidently and effortlessly was uncanny. Indeed, there was no sign of the “painful constipation” sound or visual she seems to channel these days when reaching for those same notes.

Still, no matter the deterioration her voice has endured over the years, Mariah vocally remains a sturdy step step ahead of many of her counterparts.

Her upper register is not what it once was. That much is a given. Hence, we wish future releases will see her rely mostly on her astonishing (and somewhat underrated) middle and lower registers, so that she can exude the same confidence as in this showing while on stage. After all, there’s little point cooking up a vocal masterpiece in the studio, and falling to pieces when time to replicate live. A problem she has faced on numerous occasions in her latter day career.

An ever-adaptable chameleon, we’re sure the masses wouldn’t mind exchanging some of their lofty vocal expectations from Mariah for some of the “magic” she displayed here. A magic that has been missing from her live showings for years now.

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From The Vault: Beyonce, Rihanna, Ciara, Mariah, Mary J & More Perform ‘Just Stand Up’ Live…Together

It goes without saying that we love  our divas we do here at  That Grape Juice. So  imagine our excitement when 2008 brought with it the ‘Artists Stand Up to Cancer’ project and its larger-than-life line up.

Helmed by the legendary combo of L.A. Reid and Babyface, ‘Just Stand Up!’ was released released in August 2008 as part of the ‘Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C)’ charity / cancer research campaign. Fronted by somewhat of a “super-group”, consisting of Mariah Carey, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Rihanna, Fergie, Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge, Natasha Bedingfield, Miley Cyrus, Leona Lewis, Carrie Underwood, Keyshia Cole, LeAnn Rimes, Ashanti and Ciara; this project was many a fan’s dream come true… or worst nightmare.

The single achieved moderate success in the US where it peaked at the 11th position of the Billboard Hot 100 and was also popular in Canada where it reached at #10 on the official charts. It was a Top 40 hit in the UK (#26) and in Australia (#39)

Following the initial buzz of the recorded track, the featured artists assembled to perform the cut live during the ‘Stand Up to Cancer’ TV special; a huge feat in itself given the schedules of the largely A-list line-up. And while Etheridge, Crow and Rimes couldn’t hit the stage, the stars (who were joined by replacement Nicole Scherzinger) put on quite the show.

While staged for an amazing cause, any such showing, naturally, calls for comparison. We’re sure you know we feel nailed it vs those who sounded like they were gargling concrete; but we want to know what you think:

Who did best?
Who should have stayed?
Where was Ciara?

Sound off below!

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From The Vault: Monica – ‘The First Night’

After the mammoth hit that was her classic collaboration with Brandy ‘The Boy Is Mine’, all eyes were on Monca (pun intended) to see if she could deliver a smash of a follow-up.

Yet it was Mission Accomplished with ‘The First Night’, the second single lifted from her 1998 sophomore album, also titled ‘The Boy Is Mine’. Penned and produced by Jermaine Dupri, the track charted at #1 in the US Hot 100 and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop charts, and peaked inside the Top 10 of the Canadian and British charts. It was Monica sixth US Top 10 single and serves as one of her signature songs

The song is built around a sample of Diana Ross disco classic ‘Love Hangover’ and the now-Mrs. Brown pulls out yet another flawless vocal performance.
Lyrically, ‘Night’ boasts a very similar theme to Janet Jackson‘s 87 hit ballad ‘Let’s Wait Awhile’ -albeit much more sassier- with its central narrative being hooked on new boyfriend but insisting on furthering their like of each other before they take the next step in their relationship. Or as Mo’ would say it, before they “get down”.

Through the years, Monica has managed to stay a R&B force to be reckoned with and, contrary to numerous artists, has never turned her back on the music that made her a household name. Over the couse of her 15 years career, we’ve seen the diva evolve from a young vocal acrobat to a seasoned songstress; continues to surprise us with the quality each release and every live performance.

Ms. Monica we salute you.

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From The Vault: NSYNC – ‘Girlfriend’

With the world at large drooling over the The Wanted and One Direction, it is safe to say that boybands are back in style.

Indeed, more than 10 years have passed since the last “boom” courtesy of the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC – who dominated charts globally. One of the latter’s last ever singles, ‘Girlfriend’, is this week’s From The Vault pick.

The track served as the final single from their blockbuster curtain-call ‘Celebrity’ and was a Top 5 hit in the US, the UK, Canada and Australia. Originally produced by multi-talented Wade Robson, the video mix for ‘Girlfriend’ featured rapper Nelly and was helmed by the mighty dynamo duo The Neptunes – who would go on to produce the bulk of Timberlake’s debut.

This more Urban, edgier sound was a departure for the boys, who before that were serving up cheese-flavoured bubble-gum in abundance (not to take away from the classic statuses of ‘Bye, Bye’, and ‘It’s Gonna Be Me’). The tune was also a hit with critics (as was its parent album), and is considered a fan favourite.

Its drag race-themed visual echoed the edgy; and is clearly a visual Team Bieber had on loop before shooting the youngster’s latest vid, ironically titled ‘Boyfriend’. The ressemblance is uncanny.

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We can’t say we are eager for a NSYNC reunion (although another JC solo run is a *must*). Still, we’d amply appreciate if the new breed of boyband stopped wallowing in the cheese, and actually concentrated on giving them young girls (and boys) something to really scream about. Today’s superstar’s should be building on the foundations set by their predecessors…not peeing on it.

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From The Vault: Missy Elliott – ‘Gossip Folks’

Here at That Grape Juice HQ, we love us some Missy Elliott! What’s not to hail about her? Killer flow, stellar songs, outstanding videos, impeccable stage shows and ever-enduring humility.

From The Vault this week journeys back to the year 2002 when Elliott released ‘Gossip Folks’ as the second offering from her fourth album ‘Under Construction’.

‘Gossip’, an open-letter to critics and bandwagon “fans”, was produced by partner-in-crime Timbaland and featured Hip-Hop heavyweight Ludacris. It was yet another hit for the rapper-singer-producer-songwriter, peaking inside the Top 10s of the US and UK charts. The song’s unusual chorus is built around a sample of ‘Double Dutch Bus’ by Frankie Smith.

As is always the case with Elliott, the accompanying visual is quite the event. Boasting CGI aplenty and appearances from the likes of friend Eve and then-protégé Tweet, the video was also notable for its tribute to late artists and friends Jam Master Jay, Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes and of course Aaliyah.

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With breakthrough act Azealia Banks confirming that she and Missy are to log in studio time, and with Timbo claiming her highly delayed album ‘Block Party’ is finally poised for released in June, the triple-threat seems on the right path to continue her reign as the one-and-only Queen of Hip-Hop. And we, for one, can’t wait!

Missy’s career is one to be both celebrated and adhered to as the definitive rule-book for Hip-Hop hopefuls. For her status is one achieved on the merit of skill and ever-flowing creativity; not scandal or gimmicks.

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