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From The Vault: Michelle Williams – ‘We Break The Dawn’

This week’s From The Vault comes courtesy of Michelle Williams and her 2008 debut secular solo single ‘We Break The Dawn.’

After the end of Destiny’s Child, the ladies went on with their respective careers: Beyonce pursued acting and of course music; Kelly Rowland serviced her sophomore effort ‘Ms. Kelly; and, to everyone’s surprise, Michelle released her first non-gospel project, the aptly-titled ‘Unexpected’. The electro-tinged ‘Dawn’ served as its lead single.

Penned by Solange Knowles and produced by Wayne Wilkins and Adam Frampton, Michelle’s first solo foray into the mainstream arena saw her score a US Hot Dance Airplay chart-topper. The song also managed a Top 50 placing on the Official UK Singles Chart. It never charted inside the US Billboard Hot 100 and wasn’t exploited the way it could have been overseas. Occurrences some cite politics and a lack of adequate promotion to explain.

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Directed by Phil Griffin, the track’s visual saw Williams and her dancer friends turn up on empty night streets. Sporting a new look and a refreshed image, the songstress looked like a million bucks in the visual which reached #1 on the MTV Base video countdown chart.

After returning to faith based music with her fourth effort ‘Journey To Freedom’, it seems Williams secular days are gone. Arguably prematurely, as ‘Unexpected’ makes for a compelling listen; one that showcases the singer’s versatility and viability  as a solo star.

Still, we’d like to know, would YOU be up for an ‘Unexpected’ follow up? Or is Michelle strutting her destined lane already?

Your thoughts?

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From The Vault: Beyonce – ‘Upgrade U’

September 4th.

This week’s From The Vault celebrates not one but, two milestones. For, the date marks the birthday of one of Pop culture’s brightest stars as well as the 10th anniversary of her sophomore effort.

Suffice to say, today’s pick comes courtesy of Beyonce and her infectious single ‘Upgrade U’ from her funkified ‘B’Day’ LP.

The hard-hitting cut saw Bey partner up with producer Swizz Beatz, songwriter Sean Garrett, and bae-turned-husband Jay Z.

Though the power couple had professed their infatuation with each other on prior releases, this instance centered on one-up-man-ship. Indeed, Bey and Jay traded vivacious verses about how necessary they were to the other. Both personally and professionally.

In being shamelessly materialistic, the track still managed to maintain the singer’s fervent feminist stance. Because at every utterance, she made it known that she had her own, was her own, and is such a catch that Jay could no longer be alone.

Commercially, the song was only released in the US as a promotional single. As such, it was a minor hit on the Billboard Hot 100 – peaking at #59. It was, however, a Top 20 smash on the Hot Hip-Hop/R&B chart where it reached the 11th position.

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‘Formation’ director and good friend Melina Mastoukas took the helm of the jam’s shinny video alongside Queen Bey.

In order to accentuate the luxurious lure of the song’s lyrics, Ms Carter is seen cavorting amidst expensive goods such as jewelry, diamonds and gold watches. All the while remaining the hottest commodity herself.

Never one to disappoint as a performer, the diva delivered with choreography and slickly hit her steps like a seasoned pro. As with the track, the visual and the movement therein have become iconic.

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If the 10 years leading up to ‘B’Day’ were used to establish Beyonce as “the hottest chick in the game,” the decade that followed saw her become an icon, a Pop culture force, and a undeniable legend in the making.  An enviable status achieved through sheer showmanship, philanthropy, and – above all – a dutiful dedication to her craft.

In recent times, “unpredictable” has become a Beyonce trademark. As such we’re  buckled up for what the decade ahead holds for music’s reigning royal. We imagine, there’ll be more surprise and excitement on the horizon.

So with that…

Happy anniversary to this R&B classic and the album it sits on. And the Happiest Birthday to Beyonce!

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From The Vault: Monica – ‘So Gone’

If there’s one guarantee with social media, it’s that there’s no such thing as predictability. This week’s From The Vault celebrates that with Monica‘s recently revived ‘So Gone’ – the 2003 hit behind the popular #SoGoneChallenge.

After ironically struggling to garner attention with the shelved ‘All Eyes On Me’ in 2002, the R&B belle went back to the studio to cook up a second incarnation of the album. Clocking time with producers such as Missy Elliott, Mo was ready to re-rev the campaign’s engine in 2003. ‘After The Storm’ was the new title and ‘Gone’ served as its lead single.

It was the first time the singer unleashed the MC in her, which would somewhat became a habit for her from then on.

Released to rave reviews, the throwback cut – which samples The Whispers ‘You Are Number One’ – saw the R&B diva return to chart glory. The cut peaked at #10 on the US Top 10 and #1 on the Hip-Hop/R&B tally. It was also a Top 20 hit in Canada.

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For the Chris Robinson directed visual, Mo’ got her crazy on, playing the role of a suspicious girlfriend who goes quite literally insane thinking her lover is cheating on her.

Though we would have preferred it was by way of her latest album ‘Code Red,’ we’re glad Monica’s name is on everyone’s lips again.

Who knows how this whole #SoGoneChallenge came about, but we’re glad more people are taking part in it.

We love it when the today’s consumers appreciate the greatness of previous eras in music; so color us excited about the resurgence of this R&B classic by a highly gifted and enduring artist.

Monica, we salute you

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From The Vault: Craig David – ‘Seven Days’

Before Adele, Coldplay and Amy Winehouse, a young name from Southhampton was the one waving the British flag on a worldwide scale. His name’s Craig David and today we salute him on From The Vault.

This week’s pick is ‘Seven Days.’

Serviced as the second single from the singer’s debut ‘Born To Do It’, ‘Days’ was written and composed by Mark Hill alongside the David – like the large majority of the LP.

Thematically, the song retraced the week-long romancing of a newfound love interest. To this day, it’s Craig’s biggest hit and is considered his signature song.

Wildly successful on home soil, where it debuted at #1 with sales of 100,000 units, but was also a worldwide smash peaking at #10 in the US, #4 in Australia and #9 in Canada. Not bad at all for a R&B newbie in a Britney and N’Sync dominated landscape.

The music video, directed by Max and Dania, had a ‘Groundhog Day’ theme with Craig reliving the same day over and over until he finally gets with “the” girl he met on the street.

Popular the world over, the clip was nominated for Best Video at the 2001 BRIT Awards, but lost to Robbie Williams‘Rock DJ.’

Thereafter, David’s success was heavily concentrated in the UK — despite a marked effort to further break into the American market with his sophomore album.

Now, after a hiatus of sorts (which ironically saw him relocate to Miami), the gifted star is back. With new album ‘Following My Intuition’ due in stores on September 30th, the moral of the story is to never count out authentic talent.

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From The Vault: Lady Gaga – ‘Poker Face’

From The Vault journeys back to 2008; a time when a newcomer with an eccentric style was morphing into the definitive “one to watch”. Today’s pick comes courtesy of Lady Gaga and her monumental smash, ‘Poker Face.’

Like the bulk of its parent album ‘The Fame,’ ‘Face’ was helmed by the mighty RedOne and saw Gaga proudly broadcast how much of a bluffing master she is.

It was serviced as the second single from the LP and just like its predecessor was a worldwide phenomenon – peaking at #1 not only in the US but also in the UK, France, Australia, Canada, and more.

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Directed by Ray Kay and Anthony Mandler, the song’s visual was – for many – the first time the “Gaga” proposition was presented in all its glory: creative scenography, edgy concepts, high fashion, and MTV-style choreography.

The single’s success is undeniably synonymous with its video, which earned the entertainer a whooping four MTV Video Music Awards nominations. Deservingly so.

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Talents like Gaga appear so infrequently that we’re not sure there has been an act as striking as her since her arrival. With towering high highs and challenging lows, Ms. Germanota has bagged herself a storied career in a mere 7 years. And, from where standing, we feel there are many more exciting chapters yet to be written.

Will LG5 be the era that turns it all around for Mother Monster and sees her regain her throne as the leading lady of Pop? We heartily hope so.

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From The Vault: Lil Kim – ‘Ladies Night (ft. Missy Elliott, Left Eye, Da Brat, & Angie Martinez)’

20 years after its release, Lil’ Kim’s ‘Hardcore’ remains hard-hitting. With an incredible singles-run, iconic videos and impressive chart stats, the Queen Bee delivered a debut era that defined dynamite.

From The Vault ventures back to that time with the female anthem ‘Ladies Night’ (Not Tonight Remix).’

The cut was co-billed ‘Not Tonight,’ yet the version serviced a single was this remix. And, though the original was produced by Jermaine Dupri, the incarnation of the track that was a worldwide hit was helmed by Rashad ‘Ringo’ Smith.

It famously (and heavily) sampled Kool & The Gang classic ‘Ladies Night’ and saw Kim backed by the fiercest female squad. Who else but Missy Elliott, Left Eye, Da Brat, and Angie Martinez. The latter of whom is renown for her radio career, yet at the time was dabbling in Rap.

This A-list cast managed to take the song all the way up to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Rap charts; Kim’s third consecutive on that tally. It peaked at #11 on the UK Singles Chart and was a Top 5 hit in New Zealand, reaching #4.

Directed by Lance Riveira, the accompanying visual was a girl power affair and featured notable cameos from Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifah, T-Boz, groups Xscape, SWV, Total and Blaque, as well as actress Maia Campbell.

Scenes of the ladies performing were juxtaposed with clips of them being pampered by chiselled assistants. Also inter-spliced was footage from the movie ‘Nothing To Lose’ – starring Martin Lawrence – for which the song was included on the soundtrack.

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Togetherness. It’s a concept that seems to be long forgotten when assessing today’s musical climate. One need not look beyond the “bad bitches” solely needing themselves on their “team.” Or the posters glorifying the “bad blood” which exists between them. The modern crop of female acts have taken the “lonely at the top” concept and run with it. Olympic style.

Kim’s gripe with some of today’s top femcees has often centered on their “supposed” lack of solidarity. Which, regardless of which side of the argument one falls on, is difficult to deny.

In any case, songs such as this, ‘Lady Marmalade,’ ‘Telephone’ and ‘Bang Bang’ prove that there aren’t many things as impactful as female acts united on a track.

We patiently await the next. In the meantime…

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From The Vault: TLC – ‘Red Light Special’

“Don’t go too fast, don’t go too slow, you got to let your body flow”

As baby-making bangers go, few can rival the timeless sensuality served up on TLC’s 1995 smash ‘Red Light Special.’ For that reason and many more, the bedroom masterpiece is this week’ selection for From This Vault.

Written and produced by the the legendary Babyface, ‘Special’ was serviced as the second single from the group blockbuster record-breaking sophomore set ‘CrazySexyCool.’

After flipping the gender script with ‘Creep’, the girls made way for some sexy time with the release of this track (which itself preceded the educational tone of follow-up ‘Waterfalls’.)

Missing out on the #1 spot due to Montell Jordan’s monumental ‘This Is How We Do It’, ‘Special’ peaked at #2 on the Hot 100 and #3 on the R&B tally. The cut was also a Top 20 hit in the UK.

Re-affirming their commitment to breaking the norm, the trio skewed edgy with the track’s accompanying video. In TLC’s world, prostitutes are males and Left-Eye is the pimp. A point that is often overlooked, yet one that was a powerful way of furthering their female-empowerment mantra. Matthew Rolston directed the visual, which was set in a brothel and featured then-model Boris Kodjoe.

Fittingly, there are no better words to describe TLC than “crazy, sexy, and cool”. Whether they were tackling social issues or goofing around, those three components were ever present. And now, years on, their message is ever-during.

These days, there are many a crazy, sexy and cool act. Yet, sadly so few have anything interesting to say. Different times, right?

In any case: TLC, we salute you!

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From The Vault: Rihanna – ‘Unfaithful’

Looking at Rihanna‘s post ‘Umbrella’ success, it’s hard to believe she was once labelled a one-hit-wonder. Today we journey back to 2006 – just before she cemented her “here to stay” status.

This week’s From The Vault pick is ‘Unfaithful’.

The follow up to 80’s kissed ’S.O.S,’ ‘Unfaithful’ was the work of winning squad Stargate and Ne-Yo; a collective who’d craft a slew of other hits for her down the line.

Serviced as Ms. Fenty’s first ballad single, it was quite a risk given the domination of danceable cuts.  Yet, it would quickly become apparent, the pick paid off as the track became the stunner’s third US and UK Top 10 – peaking at #6 and #2 respectively during Summer 2006. With the single reaching the Top 10 of several European countries, it was safe to say RiRi had almost completely done away with the notion of being a novelty act.

Based on the 2002 movie of the same name – starring Richard Gere, the song’s accompanying visual saw Ri stray on her boyfriend. A visual mirroring of the lyrics, she is depicted feeling remorseful about the act. The cinematic piece showcased a more mature side of the star; one that would only heighten comparisons to idol-turned-rival Beyonce (who is routinely praised for being able to do it all).  It was the first of many Rihanna videos directed by Anthony Mandler.

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Kudos to Def Jam for releasing this track as a single; for not only did the gamble paid off,  it was a huge brick in the wall that is RiRi’s giant sized career.

The song reclaimed the narrative concerning her voice (or lack-thereof) and made her an act capable of selling an “emotional” ballad. This, in spite of whether folk thought her vocals  fit or not. Most importantly, they gave her that real, raw and relatable appeal that’s been her unique selling point ever since. Indeed, she wasn’t the scorned female, the victim, instead she was the abuser, the guilty one, the bad girl.

And just like that, a star was really born and – as they say – the rest is history.

After a decade and some change in the game, how much more mileage do you think “that Rihanna reign” has left in it?

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From The Vault: Beyonce – ‘Deja Vu’

2016 saw Beyonce get all the ladies and fellows in fiery ‘Formation.’ However, a decade earlier, it was all about the Funk.

2006’s ‘Deja Vu’ is this week’s selection for From The Vault.

After eliminating the competition and doubt about her solo viability with a perfect run of singles from her first LP and announcing the end of Destiny’s Child, expectations were rather high for Ms. Knowles to deliver with her sophomore set ‘B’Day’.

With ‘Deja Vu’ she managed to swiftly come back swinging. Sonically similar to ‘Crazy In Love’ thematically and musically (with a guest feature Jay Z to boot), the cut was produced by Rodney ‘Darkchild’ Jerkins.

A Stateside hit, the track peaked #4 and was also a smash overseas, topping the UK charts and reaching Top 20 status in numerous European countries.

[Sidenote: Surely we’re not alone in longing for a Bey x Darkchild reunion?]

Just like ‘Lemonade’ 10 years later, the song’s visual was shot in New Orleans and depicted the diva in various high fashion ensembles. Directed by Sophie Muller, the editorial piece saw a boisterous Bey striking many a pose and dancing up a storm.

Prior to then, the singer – still under 25 – had only scratch the surface when it comes to her sensuality. As such, the video was deemed “controversial” due to its not-so-subtle interaction between her and then-boyfriend Jay.

It’s funny what a difference a decade can make: from premium Pop diva to music royalty, the past 10 years have seen Mrs Carter go from strength to strength and establish herself as a trailblazer, an artist cemented in Pop culture eternally.

Will the next 10 years see her join the likes of Michael, Janet, Whitney, Madonna and Prince?  Untouchable figures; the rare breed whose star’s have soared past the highest skies into Pop Nirvana. We firmly believe so.

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From The Vault: Michael Jackson – ‘Human Nature’

It’s difficult to digest that seven years have passed since music lost its largest and most luminous star.

This week’s From The Vault is dedicated to the one and only King Of Pop, Michael Jackson. Our selection comes in the form of 1982’s ‘Human Nature.’

Released as the fifth single from the monumental ‘Thriller’ LP, the cut was penned by by Toto’s Steve Porcaro and John Bettis. Production, as like was of its housing album, was helmed by musical genius Quincy Jones.

Peaking at #7 in the US, it was ‘Thriller’’s fifth Top 10 single. Unfortunately it was not officially released in the UK, but didn’t dent it’s popularity in the region.

With its mesmerizing production and melodies, ‘Nature’ has been sampled many times over the past 30 years, most recently by Chris Brown in ‘She Ain’t You’ and of course by SWV for the remix to ‘Right Here’ back in 1992.

Uniquely, a video was never shot but numerous are the live performances which make for very emotional moments. Michael showcased that he didn’t always need an army of dancers and fast-paced music to make people “feel”, he could also rely on his voice and a magical musical arrangement and let the magic happen.

Seven years after his passing, with today’s biggest artists struggling to bring anything new to the table, it’s becoming more and more clear why Michael was and still is the King Of Pop. And no we’re not saying that to diminish them. We simply mean that in his lifetime, as an artist MJ, has done EVERYTHING there was to do with a precision and a determination that only he possessed. Thus making it hard for anybody to keep up.

From reinventing himself, to using shock tactics to make people listen, to experimenting with different genres, and writing socially woken music, he will always be the ultimate star. One whose impact is resonates both music and pop culture.

Mike, we loved you then, we love you now, we’ll love you forever. Long live the King!

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From The Vault: Keri Hilson – ‘Turnin’ Me On’

This week’s From The Vault comes courtesy of an artist who hasn’t released new music in six years. ‘Turnin Me On’ by Keri Hilson is our latest selection.

After penning songs for your favorite artists and enjoying worldwide success with Timbaland thanks to monster hit ‘The Way I Are’ in 2007, the tide was oh so high for Hilson when time came to prove herself as a bonafide solo act.

Following two false starts (see: ‘Return The Favor’ and ‘Energy’), she finally struck gold with edgy cut ‘Turnin Me On.’ If ‘Energy’ saw the beauty keeping it classily clean, ‘Turnin’ saw her play dangerously dirty.

Produced by Polow Da Don with additional production from Danja, the slice of gritty R&B featured Lil’ Wayne and finally garnered Keri her first solo hit after peaking at #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #2 on the Hot Hip-Hop/R&B.

Erik White was chosen to direct the track’s visual and came up with a simple yet effective performance video which showed Ms. Hilson serving attitude, sass and commendable choreography.

With cameos from Rich Boy, Polow and Leah Labelle, the clip drew comparisons to Aaliyah’s work as well as Destiny’s Child’s ‘Soldier’.

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It’s hard to believe that it’s already six years since Ms. Keri Baby was doing the ‘Pretty Girl Rock.’ A tad too long ago if you ask us. In order to keep the masses “turned on,” one shouldn’t step away from the spotlight for too long.

With a new project in the pipeline to be released this year, let’s hope Keri can remind the world – and by the world we mean her fanbase, radio and iTunes – why they chose to ride with her in the first place.

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From The Vault: Christina Milian – ‘AM To PM’

Christina Milian‘s debut single ‘AM To PM’ serves as this week’s From The Vault pick. Join us as we journey back in time to when the beauty was one of her generation’s most promising up-and-comers.

Produced by Swedish maestros Bloodshy & Avant and written by the then-19 year old in 2001, it was the first taste of her self-titled debut.

With its Pop-Urban flavor, it introduced the masses to the singer “Christina Milian” as opposed to the MTV VJ. It reached the 27th spot of the Hot 100 in the US and #3 in the UK.

‘AM’s visual was helmed by director extraordinaire Dave Meyers and featured Milian scheming her way out from the family home to go party with her friends. Honing in on the era’s near necessity for “performance,” the clip boasted synchronised choreography and a dynamite dance-break too. All very early 00s.

Granted the whole affair was coated in dollops of Disney realness, it made for wholly enjoyable (and memorable) video.

Ms Milian never quite became the Pop star she was poised to be; which is a shame if you ask us. She ticks all the boxes requisite for break-out stars at the time – radio-ready music, serviceable vocals, a stunning look and engaging visuals.

Still, when all is said and done, the one thing that C. Mili is not is a flop – as evidenced by her arguable omnipresence in music, TV, and cinema.

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