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From The Vault: Xscape – ‘My Little Secret’

The 90’s were overflowing with vocal groups. Last week saw us salute the males, so this week it’s the turn of the ladies. Today’s From The Vault pick comes courtesy of Xscape’ and their hit ‘My Little Secret’.
Served up as the second single from the band’s third and final LP ‘Traces Of My Lipstick’, the sultry groove, released in 1998, was produced by mentor Jermaine Dupri and written by band-member LaTocha Scott. It was the So So Def divas very last single together, as they decided to call it quit safter this release despite this single hitting #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #2 on the Hot Hip-Hop/R&B.
In similar fashion to TLC’s ‘Creep’ a few years back, ‘Secret’ deals with infidelity — this time with the ladies singing about the thrill sourced from entertaining a relationship with an « unavailable » lover.
Editor’s Sidenote: One can’t but smile at the brazenness of R&B singers for unleashing tracks like this, then flipping the script and singing about heartbreak and “triflin”. A little bit of everything for everyone, it seems…
Directed by Darren Grant, the video with its late-night-special feel, uses dark colors and shadows in a bid to accentuate the forbidden element of the lyrics. The soulful belles look particularly stunning in what is arguably their most celebrated visual.
With each release, Xscape had managed to gradually impose their brand of pure-R&B and we feel like, had they continued pushing through, they would have delivered even bigger classics for the genre, especially in a post-The Boy Is Mine world where all eyes were on Rhythm & Blues music.
Anyhow, today we’re tipping out hats to the ladies of Xscape for the gems they did deliver.

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From The Vault: LL Cool J & Boys II Men – ‘Hey Lover’

From The Vault this week salutes one of the biggest Hip-Hop/R&B tracks of all time: it’s ‘Hey Lover’ by LL Cool J & Boyz II Men.

Based on a sample of ‘The Lady In My Life’ by the King Of Pop Michael Jackson, ‘Lover’ was the first single to be lifted from LL’s sixth album, 1995′s ‘Mr Smith’ and was helmed by Trackmasters. 90′s fantastic four Boyz II Men were brought in to bring that certain R&B sweetener to the romantic Hip-Hop serenade.

A critical success, it was a chart homerun as well peaking at #3 on both the Hot 100 and Hot Hip-Hop/R&B charts and topped the now-defunct Hot Rap Singles tally. In the UK it was a Top 20 smash, where it reached the 17th position of the UK Official Singles Chart.

To cap it off, the classic won a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance, LL’s second in that category.

Hype Williams was enlisted (again!) to direct the song’s accompanying video which stands as Mr Todd Smith’s most celebrated visual offering.

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Collaborations like this always leave us wondering what would be their modern-day equivalents. Granted the talent is more sparse in this day and age, we feel no time is better than the present for the next iconic Rap-Sung collaboration to manifest. While we have our wishlist, we’d like to know yours:

Which pairing could deliver the best Hip-Hop/R&B track of the decade?

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From The Vault: George Michael – ‘Freedom! 90′

Over the years, the United Kingdom has been a resourceful land for fresh and authentic talent. Today, From The Vault pays homage to an artist that helped bridge the gap between the UK and the rest of the world. George Michael‘s ‘Freedom! 90′ is this week’s pick.

The third single from 1990′s ‘Listen Without Prejudice Vol I’, the Gospel-infused ‘Freedom’ – which was produced and arranged by Michael himself – is an introspective track that sees the crooner look back at his time in former band Wham! and the blessings and curses it had brought him. He also longs to become the man he never allowed himself to be. Seemingly just another pamphlet against authority and the darker side of fame, a closer look at the clever songwriting also reveals a song about the artist coming to terms with his sexuality.

‘Freedom’ was a huge hit for the ‘Jesus To A Child’ vocalist, peaking at #8 in the US and #1 in Canada. It only reached the 28th position of the Official Charts on home-soil but still is considered alongside ‘Faith’ and ‘Careless Whisper’ a George Michael signature track in the UK, evidenced by the musician performing it at the London Olympics 2012 closing ceremony.

Perhaps what cemented this as a Pop-Culture moment lies in its uber slick visual. Instead of appearing in the video – in a bid to distance his image from his music – Michael turned to director David Fincher and 90′s larger-than-life supermodels Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington and of course Cindy Crawford to take the musical piece to the next dimension resulting in an editorial, moody-yet-funky 6-minutes-and-30-second-long masterpiece. Staying true to the lyrics, the video aims at destroying the caricatural image George cultivated during the ultra-succesful ‘Faith’ era. Explosive!

With record labels routinely trying to launch the next Mariah, Usher, and Beyonce to varying level of success, we feel they should go on a hunt for an heir to the mighty George. For that particular brand of honest and Soulful Pop would be refreshing and could definitely be a chart fixture in a post-EDM-crazed world.

Anyhow, ladies and gentlemen, here’s to George Michael at his best.

george michael freedom From The Vault: George Michael   Freedom! 90

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From The Vault: Michael Jackson – ‘Stranger In Moscow’

This week’s From The Vault spotlights yet another magnificent track, courtesy of the King Of Pop himself: it’s Michael Jackson‘s ‘Stranger In Moscow’.

‘Moscow’ was the last of five singles to be released from Mike’s 1995 ‘HIStory’ album. A qualitative classic, the Jackson produced cut remains a fan favorite thanks largely to its honesty and vulnerability. Written at the height of MJ’s 93 legal drama – first as a poem then developed into a full fledged-song – ‘Moscow’ deals with isolation and solitude. The slow pace and minor-key arrangements convey that very sentiment of sadness and loneliness.

While remaining rather composed throughout the bulk of the track, the bridge sees the vocalist burst out in anger, releasing his frustration about being mistreated and misunderstood.

In the US – where Jackson’s profile wasn’t at its best following much publicized controversy – the gem only peaked in the lower tier of the Hot 100, precisely at #91, but fared much better in Europe where it ascended to #4 in the UK, #1 in Spain, and #18 in France. In Australia the song reached the 14th position of the charts and peaked at #6 in New Zealand.

The black and white Nick Brandt-directed video mirrors the track’s theme and depicts sombre-looking characters including Jackson wandering the streets while the other passersby run counter in slow-motion – which is symbolism for the song’s lyrical narrative, as is the rain at the end of the video. Impressive CGI was used as often was the case with the visual artist’s biggest videos.

When it comes to fusing music and video together, it – quite literally – doesn’t get any better than Michael Jackson. Hopefully today’s talent follow in his footsteps and internalize the importance of delivering sounds and visuals that so envelope pushing that once opened they inspire generations to come. The likes of Beyonce and Lady GaGa are – at least – trying, but the industry would benefit from more.

There’s only one King Of Pop, that much is a given. Yet, the new generation would benefit from seeing his achievements and innovations as a challenge, rather than resting on their laurels. Momentary popularity is fleeting, greatness is ever-lasting.

Stranger In Moscow michael jackson thatgrapejuice From The Vault: Michael Jackson   Stranger In Moscow

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From The Vault: Brandy – ‘Talk About Our Love (ft. Kanye West)’

Our first From The Vault of 2014 comes courtesy of Brandy and Kanye West and their R&B groove ‘Talk About Our Love’.

Rolled out as the lead single from B-Rocka’s fourth effort ‘Afrodisiac’ which came out in Summer 04 after the singer took some time out to focus on motherhood, ‘Love’ was produced by West and was also written by him alongside Harold Lilly. Like most of Yeezy’s’ work at the time, the track was built around a Funk sample, in this case ‘Gilly Hines’ by Mandrill and featured Israeli violinist Miri Ben-Ari.

The song deals with a relationship marred by rumors, gossip and “he said, she said”.

Released to critical acclaim, the song was only a moderate hit for the Vocal Bible in the US, peaking at #36 on the Billboard Hot 100, #16 on the Hip-Hop/R&B charts; but it fared a lot better in the UK with its #6 peak position on the Official Singles Charts

Dave Meyers handled the visualization of the song, delivering a stunning clip which sees the protagonists drifting apart since they are never able to catch a moment alone because their house is constantly crowded. The use of intricate choreography was also a pleasant touch and one indicative of B growing the length and breadth of her skill-set.

With Bran hard at work on a new project, our thoughts are running wild just imagining what she will come up with this go around. We’re worried though, because Ms. Norwood always delivers a chapter and verse in musical brilliance.

As always, Brandy, we’re rooting for you!

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From The Vault: Mary Mary – ‘Shackles’

Today’s From The Vault pick celebrates the debut single of a group that has changed the face of Gospel forever. It’s the uplifting ‘Shackles (Praise You)’ by Grammy winners Mary Mary.

Released during the very last weeks of the last millenium, ‘Praise’ introduced the world to the ladies’ brand of Contemporary Gospel with Urban-Pop undertones. While not its originators, the ladies are renown for popularizing the Urban Gospel genre on a global scale

Indeed, with a peak position of #28 and #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Billboard Hot Hip-Hop/R&B respectively, the track managed to crack the British Top 5, reach the thriteenth position of the French Chart and went to #2 in Australia.

The Darren Grant directed music video aided the duo’s world domination. Showcasing how we can always overcome trials and tribulations – not unlike Michelle Williams’ ‘If We Had Your Eyes’ visual – it had a very appropiate blend of “preachy” and “sophisticated”. A true classic.

Mary Mary went on to become the most successful Contemporary Urban Gospel group thanks to this single and its parent album which taught the world how to perfectly mix “secular” beats and religious lyrics.

With the ladies gearing up for the launch of the third season of their hit WE tv show, we can’t wait to hear what the future holds for the group.

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From The Vault: Janet Jackson – ‘I Get Lonely’

Iconic. Innovative. Influential.

These are three words that would best describe Janet Jackson.

Today’s From The Vault pick is an demonstration of the indelible imprint she has left in our beloved Pop Culture. ‘I Get Lonely’ from 1997′s ‘The Velvet Rope’ is this week’s selection.

The work of then-fantastic four Ms. Jackson, Jam & Lewis as well as Jackson’s ex-husband and frequent collaborator Rene Elizondo, ‘Lonely’ is an authentic R&B track that sees Janet lamenting over being away from an estranged lover. A classic Janet “baby-making song”, its dramatic horns and sultry bass make for a sexy-sensual atmosphere which contrasts – in the best way possible – with Jackson strong yet vulnerable vocal delivery. The singer’s trademark harmonies are in full force as well. A triumph.

Releasing the track as a follow up to Dance-Pop mega hit ‘Together Again’ was quite the bold move at the time, but turned out to be a risk worth taking as it became the diva’s 18th consecutive Billboard Top 10 smash – peaking at #3 – and claiming the top spot of the Billboard Hip-Hop/R&B chart. In the UK, the R&B jam fared rather well too reaching the fifth position of the Official Singles Chart.

As it is often the case with the stage-blazer, the accompanying visual for the tune is as memorable as the tune itself. The Paul Hunter directed music video presents a flame-haired Janet in various futuristic sets including one where she – alongside her female dancers – engages in some silky smooth choreography, proving yet again that she is no one-trick-pony who can only do intricate high-octane routines.

From the fashion and hair & make up to the choreography, it is indeniable how impactful this video has been and is continuing to be: Britney’s ‘Me Against The Music’, Kelly Rowland’s ‘Motivation’, Rihanna’s ‘LOUD’ era look anyone?!

We won’t state again how seriously we’re anticipating Ms. Jackson’s return to chart glory. For today all we will do is salute yet again a tremendous artist who’s vision and audacity helped change the entertainment landscape forever.

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