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From The Vault: Brandy – ‘What About Us?’

For our last From The Vault of 2012, we salute an artist that has been a highlight of our year and one we anticipate will continue to be as we cruise into 2013, She’s a favourite among our readers and is often referred to as the Vocal Bible. Of course, our penultimate pick is Brandy and her infectious hit ‘What About Us?’

Unveiled exactly 11 years ago, ‘Us’ was chosen as the launching single from Brandy’s third album, ‘Full Moon’, which proved an excellent choice since it was a worldwide smash and is among the star’s most recognizable songs.

Concocted by the omnipresent Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins alongside Lashawn Daniels, and Bran herself, the cut climbed its way to the 7th position of the Billboard Hot 100 and the Top 3 of the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart; it reached #4 on the UK, #6 in Australia as well as #16 in Canada.

Sonically similar to Jerkins’ work on Michael Jackson’s final album ‘Invincible’ (which was released only a few months prior), the track was -at the time- considered cutting-edge R&B, and in many ways still is. Indeed, the numerous hiccups, blipping and other high-tech sounds garnished the song (and housing album) with a distinctive futuristic coating. A coating that would go on to encourage others to try their hand at fusing R&B with alternate sounds. Influential has many definitions – and ‘Us’ is one of them.

To bring the record to life, B-Rocka turned to the great Dave Meyers who created a surrealistic world where the R&B singer reigned supreme over docile men. Complimenting the song to a tee, the VMA nominated clip would usher in a slew of look-a-likes (see:  3LW’s ‘I Do’, Britney’s ‘Boys’ and Celine Dion’s ‘I’m Alive’).

The music industry may toss, turn, sway, and shake; yet Brandy has and continues to deliver. Opportunities aplenty have presented themselves for her to hop aboard bandwagons, yet – regardless of commercial performance – she has proven with impressive consistency that she is a pioneer and an undeniable vocal muse for singers of the R&B persuasion and beyond.

If ‘Two Eleven’ is anything to go by, the soon-to-be Mrs Press still has a lot to offer, both sonically and visually.

Keep it up, B-Rocka!

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From The Vault: En Vogue – ‘Riddle’

This week’s From The Vault comes courtesy of En Vogue and their overlooked home-run, ‘Riddle’.

Serviced as the first single from their lastest LP  - and second as a trio – 2000′s ‘Masterpiece Theatre’, the radio mix of the track was helmed by hit-factory Stargate and incorporated elements from their 1992 mega hit single ‘My Lovin’ (Never Gonna Get It)’.

Unfortunately, the song didn’t catch on with the audience the same way ‘My Lovin” had almost a decade prior. Indeed, missing out on a Billboard Hot 100 placing, it only managed to reach #32 on the UK tally and chart inside the Top 40 of a few European countries.

Nonetheless, the track’s epic accompanying video ensured it remains a staple in the minds of many an EV3 fan. Crafted by Len Wiseman (of the Underworld series fame), the visual sees our dynamic trio play the role of vindicative scorned women who give a whole new meaning to the concept of “male-bashing”.

A great video which, without a spec of doubt, has aged astonishingly well – so much so that would not look out of place next to similar-themed visuals of today (see: ‘Telephone’, ‘Cry Me A River’ or ‘Caught Out There’).

En Vogue’s current situation is literally making our hearts break, because we firmly believe that out of all the acts who were super-popular in the 90′s, they (original line-up) are the ones who – on the merit of their ability today – could make somewhat of n impact with a comeback. Of course, any such return would be unlikely to yield  consecutive Top 10s”, but they could be a solid and celebrated Urban/AC fixture. For, something about those voices, harmonies, and ever-energetic routines renders the  En Vogue a timeless class act that could never go out of style.

Fingers crossed that the New Year will see the Funky Divas will let bygones be bygones and start focusing on sharing that magic with the world again.

en vogue riddle e1355665937343 From The Vault: En Vogue   Riddle

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From The Vault: Usher & Alicia Keys – ‘My Boo’

This week’s From The Vault pick features two R&B titans who joined forces for what would become one of 2004′s biggest releases. Of course, we’re talking Usher and Alicia Keys’ ‘My Boo’.

After the tremendous success of their albums, the Diamond-selling ‘Confessions’ and the Multi-Platinum ‘The Diary Of Alicia Keys’  – Ush and AK united to record the Jermaine Dupri produced track; a decision that would prove a wise one as it gave them their 7th and 2nd #1 on Billboard Hot 100 respectively.

In addition to its 6 weeks reign atop of the said chart – and a #36 ranking on the Decade-End tally – ‘My Boo’ reached the fifth spot of the UK charts and was nominated for two Grammys, winning one and losing the other… to none other than Alicia Keys and her signature hit ‘If I Ain’t Got You’.

The Chris Robinson directed visual complimenting the song’s lyrics saw the two singers reminiscing on the love that once was, wandering the empty streets of New-York and eventually meeting in Times Square.

Eight years later, Usher and Alicia are still slaying the charts and blazing stages worldwide. Sure, neither may shift the type of units they once did (see: recession, rise of illegal downloading, and the general roller-coaster that is a “career”) . However, they remain major industry figures and have cultivated success narratives that serve as both inspirations to both newcomers as well as their chart rivals. Indeed, while some of the acts outselling both at present are popular, these two are also respected – a particularly important difference.

Talents like those never cease to amaze, so we’re confident these two have a few more successful decades in music ahead of them.

usher alicia keys my boo e1354466310962 From The Vault: Usher & Alicia Keys   My Boo

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From The Vault: Michael Jackson – ‘Remember The Time’ (Short Film)

“Do you remember?!”

Indeed we do remember Spring 1992; a window in which the late Michael Jackson was once again dominating TV, radio, and global arenas – thanks in part to this week’s From The Vault pick – ‘Remember The Time’.

Unleashed as the second single from the phenomenal ‘Dangerous’ album, ‘Time’ and the majority of said LP were produced by Jackson and (then-new) partner in crime Teddy Riley – marking a major musical shift for the King of Pop who achieved much of that title under the pupilage of Quincy Jones beforehand.

The New Jack Swing cut proved to be a commercial smash, peaking at #3 in both the US and the UK and securing a slot within the Top 20 of all the other major markets.

Beyond it’s chart run, the most exciting aspect of this single’s campaign was its fantastically flawless accompanying short film. Directed by John Singleton, and boasting appearances from actor Eddie Murphy, supermodel Iman (who played Jackson’s love interest), and basketball star Magic Johnson, the visual does a stellar job showcasing Jackson’s unparalleled talent, yet also Ancient-Egyptian culture. Indeed, for all the debate surrounding MJ and race, he made quite the statement enlisting an all-black cast in a quest to truly mirror the reality of the “historical era” the video tributes.

As you would expect from the greatest entertainer that was (and arguably ever will be), the video comes embedded with a killer dance-break – in the same vein Jackson himself popularised in the legendary  ’Thriller’ clip. In many ways, ‘Time’ and its accompanying visual are a source of inspiration for both professional dancers as well as a multitude of today’s biggest artists.

Michael Jackson’s passing left a void in many a heart and as the new generation of entertainer is rising, it’s evident that few pack even a fraction of the qualities that made him individual so special, so extraterrestrial.

So to answer the question MJ was asking: we will never forget! We’ll always remember his unravelled gift, his artistic vision, his alien stage presence, as well as his unshakable commitment to charity.

Long live The King!

Remember The Time michael jackson thatgrapejuice From The Vault: Michael Jackson   Remember The Time (Short Film)

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From The Vault: Christina Aguilera – ‘It’s A Man’s World (Live At Grammy Awards 2007)’

This is a man’s world but it wouldn’t be nothing without our little divas!

Today, our From The Vault pick comes courtesy of ‘Your Body’ songstress Christina Aguilera and her heartfelt tribute to the late great James Brown.
‘It’s a Man’s World’ is one of Mr. Brown’s many signature songs, and beyond that is without an ounce of a doubt considered a musical landmark. Released in 1966, it has been sampled by numerous artists such as Michael Jackson in ‘Bad’, Wu-Tang in ‘Gravel Pit’ and Alicia Keys in ‘Fallin’ and covered by Cher, Tom Jones and Celine Dion to name but a few.
Xtina’s Grammy Awards rendition of the quintessential track serves as one of her most glorious showcases to date. Taking place during the 2007 Grammy Awards, the petite powerhouse “churched it and worked it!”
Displaying incredible technique all the while conveying emotion, this makes for a more than a compelling experience, once again placing Ms. Aguilera in a league that she shares with the likes of Adele, Beyonce, and Amy Winehouse as the Voices of this generation. Receiving rave reviews from critics the world over, it is often cited as one of the most memorable Grammy performances of all time. All-time.
Christina, who is gearing up to the release of her fifth album ‘Lotus’ on November 13th, remains an untouchable talent as witnessed here; especially in this climate which sees singers-who-can’t-sing-won’t-sing topping the worldwide tallies.
Still, as was the proof with her last outing  (the underrated ‘Bionic’), in this industry it is not always about ‘The Voice’ (pardon the pun) and more about the packaging and perception – fronts Christina has struggled with on in recent years.
Nonetheless, with her hit-filled new album, the ‘Dirrty’ singer has an impressive arsenal to launch the biggest of Pop comebacks. Here’s hoping all involved “play the game” in a way which ensure she is once again…winning.
 From The Vault: Christina Aguilera   Its A Mans World  (Live At Grammy Awards 2007)

Is Christina one of the greatest voices of all-time?

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From The Vault: Lauryn Hill – ‘Ex Factor’

From The Vault this week journeys back to the year 1998, when a newly-solo Lauryn Hill released her signature ballad, ‘Ex-Factor’.

Released during that year’s last quarter, ‘Ex’ was the second single lifted from the artist’s magnum-opus ‘The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill’ - an LP hailed by many as one of the albums ever released. Written and produced entirely by Lauryn herself – as was the case with the vast majority of the LP – it tells the tale of a draining relationship from which the singer wants. Due to their rather public fall-out (over Hill going solo) the song’s theme caused the masses to question whether she was referring to ex-boyfriend and former collaborator Wyclef Jean.
The track, which is built around a sample of Wu Tang Clan‘s ‘Can It Be All So Simple’, though not as successful as its #1 predecessor ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ still managed to peak at #21 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #7 on the Billboard R&B and fared even better on the UK tally where it charted at #4.
The Malik Sayeed directed visual does a great job capturing the moody vibe of the song and illustrating the dynamic of the fragile relationship relayed in the lyrics. It’s little wonder, then, that the clip is still a regular on music channels.
Undeniably, Hill’s fans have been waiting for a proper follow-up to the masterpiece that is ‘The Miseducation’. Judging by the quality of some of modern music, we’d say the industry is in need of another release from the singer-rapper. The rise of artists such as the late Amy Winehouse, Adele (two of the best selling artists of the last 10 years) and Gotye (‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ is among the best-selling digital singles of all time) has proven that the world is still hungry for real talent whose output  concentrates on the music and the music only. Also, Lauryn’s ‘thing’ was never about gimmicks, rent-a-rappers or jumping on the latest musical bandwagon, just some pristine art in musical form. We feel like, with the right set of songs, Ms. Hill could be back on top in no time, but the question is, do you?
Lauryn hill ex factor e1351447778908 From The Vault: Lauryn Hill   Ex Factor

Can Lauryn Hill achieve a comeback in today’s day and age?

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From The Vault: Shakira – ‘Hips Don’t Lie (ft. Wyclef Jean)’

Alongside  the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce, mom-to-be Shakira has played a major part in celebrating curvier figures and showing the world that you don’t have to look like a stick-thin Calvin Klein model to be beautiful or successful.

The latin stunner’s 2006 triumph ‘Hips Don’t Lie’, again a reference to her flawless body, is this week From The Vault pick.
Featuring Fugees maestro Wyclef Jean, ‘Hips’ was also helmed by him, Jerry Wonda and saw Shakira herself act as a co-producer as well. The second single from her 2005 English sophomore LP ‘Oral Fixation Vol.2′, the Columbia-meets reggaeton track achieved phenomenal success securing a Top 10 status everywhere it has charted and topping the Singles tally in of over 25 countries including the US (her very first), the UK, Australia, Japan and France. It is among the biggest-selling digital singles of the last decade with sales of over 10 million.
Being a Shakira single, you already know the accompanying visual for such a colorful song will be the business, right? Right! Capturing the essence of Colombian culture, the Sophie Muller directed piece sees the future  ’Voice’ judge yet again showcasing awesome choreography in a carnival-like setting complete with traditional clothing, all the while Wyclef and his wingmen desperately vie to get her attention.
The gem was nominated for seven moon-men at the 2006 VMA’s and eventually won the ‘Best Choreography’ award. And with good reason too.
With Shakira set to start her most demanding task yet – as a mother, we sincerely hope that when the time has come for her to get back to her what we love her for, she’ll come back to such brilliance as this right here. For while her last English effort ‘She Wolf’ boasted select moments of brilliance, it housed nothing as instant as ‘Hips’. As this song and her world-cup anthem ‘Waka Waka’ proved, Ms. Mebarak has an ability to deliver ‘exotic music’ which appeals to everybody without ever being cheesy.
Put simply, Shakira, we’re ready, whenever, wherever!
shakira From The Vault: Shakira   Hips Dont Lie (ft. Wyclef Jean)

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From The Vault: Amerie – ’1 Thing’

This week’s From The Vault pick is lifted from the catalogue of one of R&B most underrated acts, Blasian beauty Amerie and her signature smash ’1 Thing’.
Boasting incredible production from Grammy-winning producer Rich Harrisson, ’1 Thing’ was taken from Ms Rogers sophomore set, ‘Touch’, and served as her breakthrough single, giving her an exposure that was lacking at the time she released her fantastic debut ‘All I Have’.
The Go-Go cut was a Top 10 hit in the US where it charted at #8 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop charts. Its #4 placing on the UK Singles Chart as well as it reaching #13 on both the Australian one and the European Hot 100 Singles Chart has cemented its status as a global blockbuster.
Also notable about the gem is its incredible music video. Directed by Chris Robinson and the singer herself, it depicted the diva in a markedly different light than on her previous visuals. Leaving the girl-next-door image in her periphery, Amerie channels her inner femme-fatale sporting high-fashion clothing and engaging in stellar choreography courtesy of Tanisha Scott.
Regrettably, the ‘Why Don’t We Fall In Love’ belle was never quite able to reproduce the triumph of ’1 Thing’, although her subsequent material has always been qualitatively up-to-par.
And while this has never prevented us from enjoying her more recent offerings – especially the classic ‘Because I Love It’ LP, we feel she should definitely get a share of the “commercial success pie”. After all, she is part of modern R&B’s finest.
Amerie thatgrapejuice e1350232853813 From The Vault: Amerie   1 Thing

What is keeping Amerie from commercial relevance?

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