The Missing Link for the Dayton Arcade

The missing link for the Dayton Arcade                    May 18th 2013
By Christopher Joseph  

As the Dayton Arcade has sat mothballed for decades, debated about suitable usages, incurred continuous insurmountable tax debt and the probable structural damage for the centuries old building, one thing remains certain; it’s still empty.   An enormous hollow shell of its once formal grandeur of old, as ghosts of its glorious past whisper through the deserted eves.   

This glory is what keeps this abandoned maze of buildings alive.  It not only connects to Dayton’s history, its an amazing architectural feat only fully realized wandering through its vast corridors leading up to the fabulous middle arena under the rotunda.  The decor in this room is one to behold and truly missed in the current revitalization of the inner city core.  The maze of connected buildings cloaked behind a city block of normal downtown mediocrity is an amazing skill the architects don’t get enough credit for.

While the debate slugs along; What to do with this worthy classic building and who’s going to pay for it?   

Ideas abound from returning shopping to it (never would compete with modern malls), office space (boring and un-needed), relocating the public library (nobel cause but not likely), maybe a downtown grocer (not logistical), a museum would be idea but with the excellent Dayton Art Institute nearby and other worthy museums wouldn’t gather much steam, a hotel, a flea market, blah blah they all wouldn’t have enough support or money.   

The reason nobody can find appropriate funds for the desperate building; there isn’t a great idea to back up the fledging dream logistically.   

The missing link is envisioning one usage that could fill all five halls.  Something that would be worthy of the classic building, contribute to the inner-core of the city, have the funds to pay off the burgeoning debt, spark a huge revitalization unprecedented in all of the current ongoing projects.  

Ideally, this usage would be something wanted and needed in our city, our region, our state.   Something that would attract people from surrounding areas to travel here to again marvel in this unique center-point of Dayton.  

Surprised this idea has not surfaced in the twenty years since closure, you ready for this?  It hit me like a sack of bricks and I just had to shout it out to everybody.  
Envision this; a university.  

Not any university, Dayton is richly filled with excellent centers of higher learning such as The University Of Dayton, Sinclair Community College, Wright State University and many in the surrounding area such as Wilberforce University, Antioch College, Central State University, Wittenberg University and more in the countryside.  Not talking the pay for education Kaplan, Southwestern or Miami-Jacobs either.  

This university would have to be unique in stature, a niche school of high quality higher learning.  A school that would attract students from a wide range of cultures, regions, backgrounds and skills convening in unison for one specific goal.  A school that would fit into the current revitalization of downtown Dayton and more accurately the urban renaissance blossoming mere blocks away.  

Get ready for it.  

An ART university.  

Imagine with me the prestigious glamour of a top rated art school occupying the Arcade.   On the third street side colorful banners flowing from the impressive Gibbons front with students spilling out into the street showcasing their wares to the general public.  Courtyard square filled with painters, musicians, dancers working for their grade.  

Think of the concept of an Arcade besides the arches, its usually a group of stores or merchants displaying their wares (or video games etc.)  Our school would use this central advantage as part of the students grade.  On certain days the school would be open to the public to meander through the square as students dance, perform, display their craft in a festive atmosphere.  With enough students, the performances would spill onto the sidewalks around the four openings, out to Courtyard square.  This would enhance full downtown events such as Urban Nights, Art hops, holidays and celebrations.  

Dayton, for a technology and manufacturing hub, has one of the healthiest art centers for a mid-size city. The area has always had a healthy music and performing art scene.  The strength of the Victoria Theatre Association – including the Schuster Center, Culture Works, Dayton Art Institute, Dayton Visual Arts Center, Dayton Playhouse, and many art galleries and museums abound.  Dayton was home to the Land of Funk music scene of the 1980‘s which dominated nationwide, while the indie rock scene bubbles healthy underground.  The local village of Yellow Springs is an art haven.  Graphic arts, the most promising game-changer of the genre, is growing by leaps and bounds.  The local film scene is supported by gracious state-tax cuts and by local organizations such as FilmDayton and Cinema Arts Society.  Stivers and K12 churn out groomed students seeking opportunities.  Famous and upcoming writers, painters, poets, sculptors, etc; etc; call Dayton their home or started here.    Not to mention the many talented inventors hailing from here, these game changers altered history, their contributions are indeed a form of art.  

On the list of top art schools in the nation, Cleveland Art Institute is the only exclusive school devoted to the arts in Ohio. (Source US News, Top Fine Arts Programs) Other respectable entries include nearby Miami University and The Ohio University.  Nearby Indianapolis has a top rated art school.  Our school would represent southwest Ohio.  

Of the delinquent taxes, upkeep of an one-hundred plus building, upgrades (within an historical building), what public oriented function is able to receive heavy funding from government and wealthy contributors?   Education and art connoisseurs are high on that list.  Benjamin and Marian Schuster gave life to the landmark art and cultural center.  Ervin J. Nutter’s heavy contribution birthed the impressive Nutter Center Arena.  People gladly give their hard earned money to education and art, its the perfect combo.  Being secondary education, the government will have available funds as well.     

This would benefit our area greatly, fill an empty void in our hearts as the grandeur of the Arcade has deteriorated under our watch.  An arts school would not only restore this, but fill our lives with a new cultural center to cherish, educate our talented youth who may have instead venture to meccas such as New York or Los Angeles to reach their goals, infuse more money and interest into our downtown economy.  A healthy school brings with it, students who live work and play within the area, business that open up to support this.   

The original Arcade had apartments available to residents, these would be the initial dorm rooms.  As the school grows, other vacant buildings in the area could be changed over to dorms.  This would grow the downtown population by hundreds every school semester.  Others could fill in more lofts and apartments across the area.  

Of the great halls that face each block, the school would be easily divided into sections for performance/dance, visual arts, tech/film/broadcasting and music.  The centerpiece would again be under the rotunda where they all convene for student performances and showcases, art, sculptures, or open to the public for events.  The arcade concept again for students.  An architectural gem such as the Arcade is a match made in heaven with art, so surprising again this has never been considered.   

Not to take away anything from local art programs at Sinclair, UD or WSU they could collaborate on projects for support.  Possibly, general educational programs would be done at Sinclair before completion of a Bachelors.  They would be both downtown and in proximity.  Smaller niche schools such as the International School of Broadcasting could be incorporated into the curriculum.   Building an art school from scratch is a daunting but exciting collaborative effort I believe would be hugely substantial.   The Victoria Theatre Association, Dayton Art Institute and other respected establishments would all be invited to be on the board of directors.  Co-ops between downtown business and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base could intern Graphic Arts, Web designers and other technological art students.  The Arcade would be upgraded into a digital hub benefitting the new renaissance of art.   

A prestigious art school churning out top-notch students would be valued worldwide and a new city achievement to add to an impressive list.  The time is now to get the ball rolling as the building deteriorates, taxes and funds stack up, interest is lost.  Academic funds and support is out there.  Antioch College recently came back from oblivion when its parent Antioch University pulled the plug from the fledging school.  The support was massive to bring it back to life.  While Antioch had alumni and supporters, arts does also and always needs new movers and shakers.  I feel strongly this idea will garner stream and could become reality with the right team pushing it through.  

I could say I’m an idealist and budding artist myself (writer, new book Road Kill out now!  Can Google it!) and when something that feels right hits me, I run with it.   After the recent push of a dedicated few to address the possibly of the Dayton Public Library moving to the Arcade, inspiration hit as I’ve always thought an art school would be excellent in our area.   These ideas come to me from time to time and I share, people like my ideas, but oddly they get approved and implemented quietly and I may only get a ‘thanks’.  I had recently suggested the city should link the Oregon District with the Third Street Cannery by buying the lot at the corner of Wayne and Fifth.  I wrote over a dozen movers and shakers in the area, only one responded with a ‘thanks’.  A few months later I see in the news how the land was bought for this service, no mention of who came up with it.  I also dreamed up an idea for Aviator Park to complement Dayton’s creation of the airplane with an educational amusement park that could be built on McCook field.  Only one person thanked me and silence.   

This time, this idea is so large and beautiful I had to take it public.  Inspired by the articles in the Dayton City Paper about the library/arcade I am sharing this with everybody.  The magnitude of this is large and life changing and I would love to be a part of it.   

I even have a perfect name.  

Get ready for it.  

THE ARCADE ACADEMY OF THE ARTS UNIVERSITY or Triple AU for a nickname.  I can see the banners and flags draped over the grand entrances and skywards to the awesome rotunda.  The name is classy and prestigious while honoring the history of the arcade.  I believe the arcade founders would be proud.  The Arcade Academy would be a historical landmark educational facility for art and cultural life, leaving a legacy for students and generations to come.   What else could you do with this historic one hundred plus year old building?   I hear cicadas.  Let’s make it happen!   

Christopher Joseph

The trouble with Bookmarking sites

The issue I have with Bookmarking sites is essentially, what’s the point?  Sure, I have a Pinterest, I have used Stumble Upon and I take it there’s about a couple dozen more not so popular floating around but really, I don’t use them often because they can be well, quite boring.  The definition of bookmarking as defined by Brick Marketing is:  The concept of social bookmarking can be compared to personal bookmarks, or favorites lists. These networks allow people to add links they like, not just their own. Social bookmarking can be used by anyone, but is generally utilized for business to business information, or business to consumer information.

We use bookmarks on our desktop to identify sites that we visit often, this is a useful tool if you forget the web address or go back to a favorite article to re-read.  With social bookmarketing we are in a way sharing this same information.  We are also, in a way, doing free marketing for companies.  When I post a picture of the Ford Flex as a future vehicle I would like to purchase, I share this information with my ‘friends’ that shows my ‘likes’ and ‘goals & aspirations’.  My friend Darryl in Arizona might say, ‘hey, I like that Ford Flex, I may buy one also’.  Sure, I shared and introduced something personal or special with my ‘circle’ of friends, but at the same time I just promoted and marketed for Ford Motor Corporation.  Do I get a marketing bonus for promoting for a major auto corporation?  Um, sadly no.  Social bookmarketing is essentially the same as good ol’ fashioned mouth of mouth communication.

The unfortunate thing is, sure it makes one feel good to introduce a friend to something hip, something lively they may not have known about before. Artistic endeavors fall into this vein. If I hip my friends to the new artist Joey Bada$$, a young rapper from New York that has a jazzy laid back flow, intelligent word play; with well thought out story subjects that reminds me of the mid-90’s hip-hop heyday of A Tribe Called Quest, Black Sheep, Pharcyde joints I still adore to this day. Many of my friends have dismissed the current crop of rap stars for the overinflated commercialism that perpetrates the radio today. If I can share a new artist they probably would have never heard of, I feel satisfied.

Overall though, the impact of our ‘sharing’ or free marketing is hard to evaluate unless you get some hardcore feedback. On Facebook or Twitter the likes and re’pin’s give some testament to your reach, but what exactly are the bookmarking sites really supposed to do? Social networking sites you can essentially bookmark likes and trends already; plus a lot more – bookmarking sites are most narrow-minded, not in what you can post, but how you can.

Of the gamut of bookmarking sites available I would have to say Pinterest is the most unique and worthwhile one to use. With everything linked together you can post on the site and send it right to your social networking sites making it more useful. Whats cool about it is the format used and presenting a story in pictures. You can link with your friends and also show off to strangers, promoting a worthy cause or interest you are interested in. Pinterest seems geared more towards women though and I’m sure I can find data to back this up, that’s okay, I like to share with women. If I write something I would like shared I know women will take care of me better than most men, its just common sense.

Now, overall, the bookmarking sites seem to be a likely portal for corporations to sell their goods as that is the mold it is originally built under. Oddly though, they have not figured out ways to manipulate it like they used to rule other forms of media. That really is a good thing. Still, unless I find a way to make some residuals off of my online to mouth free marketing, I will save my sporadic bookmark sharing to worthwhile causes, goals, and artistic endeavors with the occasional product pitch if I just have to share my great find! Maybe I just want to keep it for myself?

Drake credited for New Aaliyah track ‘Enough Said,’ Respect or Tampering?


By Christopher Joseph

Blackground entertainment recently released an unheard of track from the late singer’s catalog to great fanfare and scrutiny.  The diva who was one of the industry’s brightest stars in music, film, and fashion at the time of her untimely death in an airplane crash in 2011.  

Digging up artists catalog’s is always a risk for the estate that controls their work and the labels that churn it out.  Posthumous releases abound from artists such as Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Jimmy Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, TuPac, Notorious B.I.G, Kurt Cobain, and countless others to either great fanfare or disappointment.  When artists put out a release, they want their best artistic and hit driven material represented, the management usually the later.   Stuff that doesn’t make the official release usually ends up on the cutting room floor in various states of production.  There are reasons the artist themselves never released the work.

Artists usually put their inventory in the trust of either their management or family estate.  The labels also have a contractual stake with the artists work which continues after death.  With the thin line of masters, publishing, producers and other factors to consider, many times the legal woes with new estate owners can last for years about who has control.  Such in case why it took years to hear any hidden recordings from Jimmy Hendrix or Bob Marley.  It’s even more difficult in the case of major bands such as the Beatles who only have one surviving member left and many different hands that have controlled their huge output.  

Money is usually the background factor as depending on what the artist owned or didn’t own, they are still in debt.  Labels give considerable amounts of advance money for artists to finish their projects, hopefully it will be recouped with a hit release, bad albums result in artists getting dropped from labels and owing money.  If an artist doesn’t own their masters or publishing, they will sink deeper in debt.  Such as the case with M.C. Hammer.  Whitney Houston, while an extremely exceptional singer did not write or control her music and owed her label thousands upon her death.   A new greatest hits package is already slated for release and new music is coming off of her last film ‘Sparkle.’  Watch as other tinkering with her work comes years after her death.
Aaliyah is listed by Billboard as the tenth most successful female R&B artist of the past 25 years, and 27th most successful R&B artist overall.   Slant magazine said Aaliyah has been credited for helping redefine R&B and hip hop in the 1990s, “Leaving an indelible imprint on the music industry as a whole.”  With such a legacy to uphold deceased artists such as Aaliyah deserve their posthumous works delivered with an extra sense of care.  

Surprisingly, Blackground Records her label home, seems to be fumbling with the latest posthumous release since 2005s Ultimate Aaliyah.  Earlier this year Blackgrounds Jomo Hankerson, son of founder Barry Hankerson, announced the new album coming this fall.  Aaliyah’s brother Rashad in a Huffington Post article claims that, “No official album [is] being released and supported by the Haughton family.”

According to Billboard, again, when Blackground announced that current chart topper Drake and producer Noah ‘40’ Shebib was executive producing Aaliyah’s new release, controversy erupted.  Some criticized the fact that Drake, who has continuously expressed his love for her music, would oversee an album when he had never actually met her.  Aaliyah’s brother Rashad Haughton posted an official statement on Facebook that her immediate family will not support this project, which Drake later countered by claiming that, “Everybody from her family to her old management and label” were behind the record. reached out to Haughton but had not received a response as of press time.   Jomo Hankerson is Aaliyah’s cousin.   

The uproar is summed up in a recent Village Voice article’s disdain for the Drake assisted single ‘Enough Said’ as it circles the internet,

Many Aaliyah’s fan are miffed that longtime collaborators Timbaland and Missy Elliot aren’t involved with the new project.    Hankerson reached out to Drake and Shebib on the strength of his work with Alicia Keys (Un-thinkable (I’m Ready) and his unique sound.    With the album just in the early stages Hankerson has confirmed that Timbaland and Missy Elliot will participate in the assembling of the LP.  Not clarifying if they would actually have produced songs.  

Nevertheless, with no official release date for the posthumous release, the label officially debuted the single “Enough Said” by Aaliyah featuring Drake to Soundcloud early August.  The cut features ghosty vocals over a slick beat with Drake dropping his signature monotone.  Three hours after it was posted on August 5, the song racked up more than 100k clicks.  The listens are easily in the millions now.  


Again, a label has decided to ‘update and artists sound.’  As Hankerson says, “The idea was to release new music for her diehard fans, and also reintroduce her music to a new generation that doesn’t really understand how much influence she has in the music that they’re listening to today.”  This seems to be the same reasoning behind other posthumous releases from Biggie, Tupac, Bob, Amy, Jimmy, Kurt.  

Do we really need to update their sound for a new generation?  Are we being selfish to keep prolonging an artists career for profit or to respect their legacy?  Do artists really consider that works they rejected already would be retrofitted years after they passed?  Drake was a mere starry eyed pubescent old when Aaliyah passed.  Sure, its the ultimate fanboy reality to work with your ‘dream idol’ but she’s gone, its not the same.  

Same with the others, you see the output Tupac had upon his death. Once he was released from Clinton Correctional and signed with Death Row records (Ironic in itself), he knew his fate was sealed.  His tremendous output was a result of extended studio overtime producing hundreds of tracks that resulted in the series of posthumous works that came after his death.  Is this the blueprint of an artist who speaks of death coming in his young life, putting his affairs in order?  Or should all artists contemplate their legacies will be tampered with after their passing and should plan accordingly?  An artist’s work is their legacy, Picasso, Beethoven, Shakespeare, Hitchcock, James Dean have all lived on in their respective crafts for decades, centuries, as new artists honor and interpret their work.   

Michael Jackson, Elvis, and the Beatles have had tight reins in their contracts looking into the future, others seem not to consider this.   Artists in control of their own destiny have sealed tight artistic control even in death, their legacy stays intact as they envisioned, not letting the weaker material surface.  Tupac is now a hologram, is this respect using new technology or just plain creepy?  

Upon Aaliyah’s anniversary of her death August 25th, lets all be proactive to demand respect for her legacy.   We, as fans should be the ultimate guide for the controllers of her fate to respect.  While I respect Drake’s eagerness to ‘bring back her sound,’ the new single ‘Enough Said’ is really, enough said, you did it.   Now that new archives have been uncovered, stop tampering with them now and let other more capable artisans that cultivated her sound, understood her living and breathing emotions, continue their hard work.  They are still here, pushing the boundaries of music, this is not the time to hand the ring over to newbies just because they happen to be the current hot talent.  

Ultimately, the one guarantee in our lifetime is death, we all have an expiration date.  Some early, some later.  What all of us do with our lives will either effect another person’s life positively or negatively or you will just be a footnote in history.   Living artists, keep this in mind as you go about your craft, never know who will be tinkering with it in the future.   As the famous educator Horace Mann quoted, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”   An artists testament is the emotive relationship you have with your fans, this is their victory and their legacy.     

How the Drake formula could save R&B boy bands!

How the Drake formula could save R&B boy bands.  
By Christopher (CJX) Joseph

Okay, okay, hear me out!  I know you’re saying – WHAT??   For the record, I’m not speaking of real BAND’s, musicians incorporating strings, percussion, keys such as Mint Condition, Tony, Toni, Tone, or the Roots.  And yes, I’m talking about that Drake, the solo artist currently riding the top of the R&B and pop charts, read on.   

I’m talking about the boy and girl bands, the ones with pop sensibilities who incorporate fashion, looks, and the latest dance moves with slick harmonizing, doo-wop over music tracks or a-cappella that equate to hits.  Most of us quenched our musical thirst when young on these groups no matter the genre.  You remember the great boy bands of the 1990s, Boyz II Men, Jodeci, H-Town, Shai, 112, Blackstreet, Guy, Next, New Edition, Jagged Edge, Dru Hill, Color Me Badd, Portrait, Soul IV Real – they was all over the place ruling R&B radio!  The ladies had there share also, TLC, Destiny’s Child, Envouge, Jade, SWV, Total; to name a few.  Trust, our parents didn’t think BBD was true R&B, but it was catchy and something to dance too, just as their parents probably didn’t like their music, its a cycle.  

The formula was tried and true from the sixties when doo-wop ruled the pop and R&B charts.  Such classic Motown era groups such as The Temptations, Isley Brothers, The Supremes, The Drifters, The Shirelles, The Miracles, The Dells, Booker T & the M.G.’s, Martha and the Vandellas, The Four Tops, to early 1970s Jackson 5, O’Jays and Labelle.   

In many ways the 90’s mirrored the success of the 60’s; with updated formulas.

 The cycle is sure to repeat again as history teaches us.  

It’s hard to pinpoint what killed off boy bands.  The late 90’s saw huge success with pop bands Blackstreet Boys, NSync, 98 Degrees and All-4-One who blew up then fell apart.  R&B bands of the early 2000s barely became, imploding upon impact such as Ruff Endz and Ideal.  One scenario is the overwhelming super sugary boy band imagery was being killed by hip-hop hardcore posturing.  When Puff pulled out shiny suits for Mase it was a wrap, nobody wanted their men looking like idiots on stage.  Boys crooning to women, shoo-wopping, begging, was considered weak and pathetic.  The era of cool is in; guys have to stand on wall at dances, posture outside being hard, pick fights with a hapless soul who step’s on his new kicks.  Women today don’t even appreciate a man that has dance-floor moves or expects him to ask her for a dance.  It all goes hand in hand.  Michael Jackson would probably have a harder time getting established in the hard core generation.  

Other factors include the arrival of free internet music, country crooning took over the top of the chart and most boy bands beat their own selves up, vying for spots on VH1’s behind the scene.  Eerily similar to the 60’s, the front man or woman started to break out the pack.  Relationships are hard to maintain from marriage, former school chums to being in with your boss, things happen.   Michael broke away from his brothers, Labelle morphed into just Patti, Diana became the only Supreme.  In the 90’s New Edition lost Bobby and found Johnny, then reemerged as an energized BBD and then back to formula as one crew in 1996.  Recent times, except for Justin Timberlake or Beyonce, not many former group members have enjoyed solo success.    We are all individuals with our own wants and needs but having a family that supports you is crucial to your survival.  A group needs to have each others back under a ton of pressure to succeed.  

Which brings me to the current state of R&B bands.  On the national scene they are nill to none, not even actual musical bands are making major waves.  Theres been a few attempts such as Day 26.  I watched with interest as noted producer Andre Harrell rolled out his pet product of Hamilton Park, a four man crew of harmonizers to high fanfare.  Unfortunately the hype didn’t equate into chart dominance.  Despite industry grooming of the highest degree, the groups singed earnestly about romantic love and sexual desire but came out flat and uninteresting over equally insulting bland grooves.  The result was about as exciting as getting your teeth pulled.  While they were a pleasant throwback to the b-boy bands of the 90s, it didn’t resonate with audiences.  

Obviously the industry is feeling the pressure, as national television has churned out reality shows devoted to doo-wopping, dancing groups such as the Sing Off to mixed reviews.  In the wake of American Idol and X-Factor we are overdosing in competitions.  

In the new era of build your own brand, every hopeful singer, rapper, musician is posting videos on Youtube to hopefully gain a million hits and promote and market themselves to eventually get noticed (more on that another article).  Groups striving for this are almost nonexistent as it would take a team effort while still struggling.  Has to be another mindset to believe in the dream, but it can happen.   

So how the heck could Drake of all artists save an R&B band?  Analyzing the current state of R&B/Hip-Hop radio, the R&B has taken a back seat to hip-hop.  At the same time rap artists are embracing R&B greater than before and vice-versa, ALA Chris.  Drake has capitalized on blending the two genuinely into a vibrant career.  Back when Bone Thugs and Harmony first blended harmonizing with rap, most rappers disdained the thought of mixing the two.  Ever since Melle Mel hopped on Chaka Khan’s huge hit ‘Feel For You’ the obvious hitmaking gene was apparent, putting a hot rapper on a R&B song meant ‘hit.’  Rappers vice versa, looking for that ‘soul’ put a singer on their hooks.  

Still, rappers themselves wouldn’t be caught dead flipping a singing verse.  It took a while for it to take hold, Biggie crooned in sarcastic fashion on ‘Playa Hater,’ Mos Def a ‘rappers rapper’ can sing his butt off, most notably, Nelly merged the two quite successfully commercially to much criticism.  Other rappers, who probably sang in the first place, morphed into successful singers such as Cee Lo Green, T-Pain, and Queen Latifah.   Lauryn Hill had probably the most critically acclaimed rap/R&B hybrid before going M.I.A.  Not to mention Ja Rule, who did some type of deep throated attempt that sounded vaguely similar to singing, but it equated into hits.  Now full fledged spitters such as Kanye West and Lil Wayne have flipped the auto-tune switch into warbling out singsongy tunes.  That would have never ever happened a mere twenty years ago!   Speaking of auto-tune, if you need constant tweaking to enhance your craft by technology, then you have no place in a doo-wop band.  A good band can impress live as well as in studio.

Drake grew up with all this cross-blending.  He is a product of North American cultural blending in many ways.  His Memphis father played in R&B bands while his Jewish Canadian mother was a teacher.  Drake’s formula of displaying synonymously his emotions singing, spoken word verbiage and then a rhyme is catchy and captivating audiences.  He can flip formats easily within a tight timeframe.  Some criticize him for ‘being too soft’ or ‘not rhyming harder,’ or being to mediocre, but charts don’t lie.  While far from the first to exploit this combo, it’s in his D.N.A. as the formula obviously works. Within a few short years he went from a being a nobody, pushing works online, spurning out underground mixtapes.  His catchy hooks and obvious talent emerged, catching the eye of industry heavyweights, most notably Lil Wayne.  No easy feat, he topped the charts independently, before coming under a bidding war by labels, eventually signing with Wayne’s Cash Money.  Most important he is one of the leading entertainers for the crucial under 13-25 set that spends cash, and lots of it, on music, fashion and related goods.   This is important for advertisers as the young drives the popular industry and sets the standards into the next generation.  Face it, Drake and the current crop of young stars are shaping the minds of our children.   

Time to capitalize on this groundwork and bring your A game to build better.  

Getting labels out of your head, think of Drake as just what he is, an entertainer.  Not a ‘Rap’ artist, and not a ‘R&B’ or ‘Pop’ artist with talent.   It helped when accepting Nelly, and its whats happening now.  

A young hot b-boy R&B Band needs to come out raw, edgy and unadulterated.  Everybody wants to go back to Boyz II Men mega-success dreaming of ‘End of The Road,’ ‘I’ll Make Love To You,’ ‘Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday,’ and other sweet melodies.  Boyz II Men is the blueprint of R&B bands and a hard act to follow.  The irony with that insanely great music, bad copies won’t make a dent in todays R&B/Hip-Hop hit driven radio.  Such was the barrier to Hamilton Park and Day 26.  Yeah, the former sang about love over the computer – a la ‘sexting’ and had a song called ‘Grindin,’ but they sound awfully tame to current hit makers Nikki Minaji, Trey Songz, Travis Porter, and Chris Brown himself who has turned himself into a sensitive ‘bad boy.’  A true ballad of losing the love of your life you want to transcend to different genres and be long lasting.   Following bad advice, both groups threw expletives in their attempts of ballads halfheartedly.  An expletive does not work in a begging ballad where you want the girl to forgive you.  It may work if you don’t care what you did to the girl, but it seemed forced and out of place, probably to portray the group as edgy.  One word, FAIL.

Sex, of course sells, but isn’t everything.  Most R&B revolves around it or the romantic foreplay that leads up to, or the heartbreak afterwards.  Jodeci, were known for sexual escapes such as ‘Freak’N You’ and ‘Feenin’ and emotional ballads such as ‘Cry For You”.  However, their first huge hit was ‘Forever My Lady’ which was a ballad about a young man having an unexpected baby with a girlfriend.  Not only was he okay with it, he vowed to take care of his woman and the baby.  That was risqué then as it is now, with unplanned pregnancy in teenagers and young adults a topic of controversy.   It was ballsy and honest, and equated into an adoring legion of young women who appreciated this.  The initial introduction to the group was established.  It cemented the foundation for their romantic and sexual ballads that became their legacy.  Other bands such as Dru Hill followed this concept.  Comparing to Hamilton Park again, they sang of ‘Thing Called Us’ where the lead singer balked at having a baby with his love and then had to explain why, the poor guys said ‘sorry’ every five-seconds…omg wrong move.  

Day 26, the hyped up boy band who won P. Diddy’s Making the Band reality show, also came and went.  Officially disbanding a mere three years after their ballyhooed win; they produced no chart hits.  Despite well written sweet ballads, they failed to relate to the audience at large, despite a decent fanbase to build upon.   One would think with Diddy and Andre Harell’s music cred and history of crafting hits, the cohesion and output would have been stronger.  

Audiences don’t want to hear men begging and being soft, at least not right off the bat.  In a time when masculinity is being challenged by economic hardships, lack of opportunities, education and environmental disparity, equating into a high rate of black men incarcerated, or just down and out, confused and disoriented.  

Boyz II Men cut their teeth with their emotions that overflowed the lyrics with a-cappella harmonizing.  They connected with the audience, such as how Jodeci did with ‘Forever My Lady.’   ‘It’s so Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday’ was an emotional punch that resonates still today.   They showed diversity doo-woping over new jack fast drum beats on ‘Motown Philly.‘   Building on this, they opened your eyes with ‘Uhh Ah’ that oozes of sex you up conquests.  “Please Don’t Go’ was that emotional coup de grace to keep your disgruntled love.  Toping it off with the Babyface killer ‘End of the Road’ lamenting on the lost of a true love, no apologies, no begging, it was just sad to see it over.   Like any relationship, we started off dancing with them, shared a sad moment, built up to a sexual point, then asked the love please don’t go, then summed it up by the end of the road.  It was a process, a storybook play by play as all four members would trade off and speak directly to their audience on an even level.  They resonated with us, and we got to know them like our next door neighbors.  

The group of the new generation obviously has a heavy load history on its shoulders.  Don’t sweat it, know it well, and look to the future.  

You want to be in a supergroup?  Here’s a little advice to get started:

1.  Teamwork is priority one.  The band first needs cohesion.  Keep your ego in check! The band members need to be a team first and foremost.  Once the musical ride starts, its hard to slow down and check yourself.  
 The band must figure out what direction they want to go in and then throw it out the door.  Artistic goals aside (Leave that for the inevitable solo album) the goal of a group is to connect with an audience to help develop your inevitable sound.  There is three or more of you that must be in cohesion in how you approach this.  Use your artistic talent to work as a team to feel out your audience.  Boy or girl band, your primary audience is women, they drive music and fashion.  Cater to them, listen to them, feel where the vibe is.   Write a list of relevant topics and pick the best out of them, start here and craft accordingly.  If men feel your message and how you approach women, you will gain their audience.  ‘Forever My Lady’ was probably nobody’s first choice but was ultimately the only choice.
Feel your music.  Its one thing to have well written songs and another to pull the emotion out.  Listen to Adele ‘Someone Like You,’ you feel where her heart is, it resonates with your soul.  Do your homework and listen to the 90’s and 60’s huge groups, watch their videos and concerts.   Laughed at Michael Jackson boo hooing on a track?  Suck it up, it sold millions, cry, but keep it real.  Turn around and listen to Hamilton Park or Day 26, there’s a huge difference.   Be able to sing over live instruments or tracks or nothing at all.   Topics can break out of the requisite sex triangle, but keep them relevant to what your audience wants or needs.  Feel good music is a miss in today’s current landscape and usually equates to a hit done correctly (i.e. Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince ‘Summertime,’ Jodeci’s ‘Get on Up.”).  Musicianship is working in harmony together and feeling the vibe and pulse of your listeners.
Stay current.  A new group needs to feel the pulse of what the listening audience is jiving too.  You go off on a musical tangent cultivating strings from Morocco, channeling monks in Tibet, and harvesting clogging from Switzerland, you’ve probably gone too far.  Do be creative and push boundaries, the key is not going overboard.  
Don’t let the outside world pressure where the team’s mindset is.  Dance in tangent what your group is comfortable with; don’t go overboard, doing backflips and breakdances just because somebody else is.  Wear what works with the group, not what’s trendy or what somebody says you should.  Listen to what your advisors suggest but ultimately follow your instincts and be comfortable with how you come off.   You’re a team, so communicate and take a vote on it, will avoid much of the unnecessary bickering of minor issues.   Keep your mojo intact.  
Let all the band members shine.  Obviously everybody has talent, why let a member take a back seat while another blows up?  Trade off vocals every song.  A member does tenor, a member drops a rap, your bass man comes on, a member does a falsetto, keep it fresh, keep it poppin.  Same as in interviews and when speaking alone about the group.  Nobody is the solo star, go back to#1.  
Rap.  Yes, you’re an R&B group but rap took it over quite a bit ago.  Rap replaced the bass man who spoke poetry over the track before a member wailed out a verse.  Think dropping a fly Barry White rap before your bandmate drops his line.  Most hits today flip back and forth between the two formats, its enviable.  Your rap member must have good lyrics, delivery, and have street cred.   This isn’t Pretty Ricky, fans can spot a fake.  
A-cappella – if your crew can’t blow over pure air, you have issues.  Enough said, its nostalgic and is easy to crossover.  Especially an emotionally charged song.  Somebody beat box?  Throw it in.  
Hire good management and read EVERYTHING.  A team member is upset they didn’t get paid for a show in Albuquerque, then the whole team is upset.  Go back to Rule #1.  Your management works for you, something doesn’t seem right, negotiations broke down somewhere, you act as a team to rectify the issue.  They are there because YOU have the talent, but at the same; artists need time to be focused on your talent so you need a good staff to help guide you.  You are dependent on each other, so in essence they are your extended team, make sure they are right for your group.  
Support your team, somebody wants to cut a solo album? It’s enviable, everybody is an individual foremostly.  Somebody will feel their voice is not being heard and they want to stretch their artistic chops, it will happen.  Why we have #6, but it will still rear its head.  Dependent on your contract, if your group is your main bread and butter, a solo release might not be a wise career move.  It gets muddy here, but a way to alleviate this when you first sign into any contract, make sure their is a clause that allows individuals, on their FREE TIME, the free range to work on side projects.  See rule #1.   A cohesive team member will know that in side projects, they still represent the crew and will act accordingly.   Remember #1, speak about this together before anybody decides to slip off.  
Have fun, like any great career, its something you want to do for a long long time.  Think Isley Brothers here.  Most groups don’t last longer than a few years if lucky.  Try to have breaks, run away (as in vacations!), treat the work seriously but don’t take it home with you.  Your family, mind, spirit and soul will thank you.  
 Most importantly, treat your crew as you would your fam.  This is your new fam.  You’re going to be doing about everything together besides use the restroom.  You want your union to come off naturally.  The members of TLC didn’t know each other well when first introduced.  Their then manager Pebbles made sure they took a significant amount of time to get to know each other before they started cutting records, the rest is history.   Off duty from recording, invite the new fam over for a BBQ, play some ball, a little Madden, have fun.  Go back to #9.  Also see #1.  

So heres where Drake comes in.  Our dream team R&B boy band.  
Our young supergroup would consist of Drake, our leading man who croons with heartfelt passion, sharing his emotions right on his sleeve he is himself, not portraying a character in his music.  Same time, he can flip it into a tough rhyme, flowing well over any type of beat.  Fans are eating this up, he’s on to something, but his limits should influence a group to do better.  Drake’s extremely limited range keeps his monotone baritone simple and in our group, his slow talk spoken word, while not actual singing, would be equivalent to our Barry White rap.  Repeat – no auto-tuning!     

Drakes nemesis is Chris Brown, obviously over their shared interest in pop queen Rihanna.  They was obviously cool just a mere year or so ago when Drake dropped a guest rhyme on Brown’s ‘Deuces’ hit.  What’s a popular group without some controversy?  Two leading males battling over the same girl would make excellent stories to sing about and tension to keep the drama going.   Brown’s soulful tenor fuels an emotional journey while staying safely in a middle range.  He also has decent rhyme skills for them to battle rap together.  In our group, the team is #1, so all drama aside, you would come back and crank out groundbreaking music together.  Drama is a part of life and it fuels great stories.   Keep the M.O.BS mantra.  

Bruno Mars tenor would compliment the two, with his soulful crooning, light falsetto, soaring octave and note range, with overall talented musicianship.  Bruno’s stamina and power range, while limited, would compliment Drakes monotone and Brown’s nasal ness.  A member that could pull out a guitar or play the piano is a decent touch of a singing group.  Drake has a good working relationship with soul hipster The Weeknd, but for our group we need one down home ‘sanger.’  As an after thought The Weeknd, Drake and buddy Trey Songz would make an interesting superstar trio; they keep their egos at the door and don’t play it safe, pushing the limits of their talent.  

Our fourth singer needs to be that classic ‘deep throat’ baritone bass singer.  That K-Ci & Jo Jo champ, that guttural from the throat, bring the whole soulful bringing down the house gospel crooning to the group.  Not many of the young cats on the national scene blow like this, as it’s seen as too ‘old school’ or ‘not cool.’  They get sent right to urban contemporary formats or classified ‘neo-soul.’   Problem within a group dynamic is the baritone has to be kept tied down as they are prone to run away belting out ooh’s and ahh’s.  Teddy Pendergrass comes to mind as he couldn’t be contained in Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes.  Many have tried to copy his success but end up being the scream-o annoying singer, doing too much.  That singer that about passes out on stage doing a seizure.  While an important component, this singer needs to realize they need to keep their antics toned down and just dip in the kool-aid for well planned dramatic effects.  The group’s hype man dropping a guttural ad-lib per-say.  Youngest singer even close to this on a national level would be Bilal or Billy Porter.  This person would be the hardest to tackle down into a packaged group format.  It would though be very beneficial for them as they would build an audience with a hitmaking group.  If they eventually want to go solo its a prepackaged audience.   Keep #1 in mind while working with your team.  

Unfortunately many of the leading males on R&B radio, video channels, Youtube etc; with the exception of Usher, sound awfully interchangeable.  A group riding the current group’s coattails, using elements of what is popular (a la Drake) but focused on differing themselves by pushing the boundaries of popular music; would make that dent in contemporary R&B/Hip-hop hits driven formats that rule the charts today.  

Written July 2012 Christopher (CJX) Joseph

Coffee & Cigarettes: Topics of Race, Relations, and Music in the new era.

Part 1: In the Mixx
Back in the early 90’s a good friend of mine had an epiphany while we shared beers at a popular bar. For as we partook in the ancient ritual of male bonding, while seeking sexual encounters with the opposite sex, we observed a metamorphosis taking place within our generation. As the mixed crowd flirted and gyrate to rock and rap, we discussed that we were witnessing what we felt was going to heavily contribute to eventually ending racism. Our theoryzation was that the ability to mingle comfortably under the same grooves championed the melding of the various American cultures.
Generation ‘X’ as we are proclaimed, had grew up immersed in the relatively new sounds of hip-hop and ‘MTV’ videos. As we watched mega-cultural icon, Michael Jackson ride to the top of the R&B and pop charts effortlessly, dancing backwards on lighted yellow brick roads or battling dancing thugs or zombies we also watched him struggle with his own personal demons as the pressures of stardom zapped his inner soul. As we found out later a potent mixture of family drama, skin aliments, diet, and self-esteem played a part in his transformation into what we dubbed him as ‘wacko jacko’, what played out on the small screen was that this man, one of – if not the biggest icon we will ever witness in our lifetime, was seemingly having issues with his ‘blackness’. How fitting his follow-up to the supersized ‘Thriller’ CD, ‘I’m Bad’ was launched with the oddly communicated ‘Black or white’. While the song basically dealt with interactions presented in fact or fictional terms ala black or white. The sub-message, albeit unintentionally, presented itself strongly with his new facial cream, numerous chin and nose surgeries, and the slim posture was that our beloved Michael, all the way up to his untimely death, seemed to be confused with his own complexion.
The success of M.J., hip-hop, and MTV came only a mere twenty years since African-Americans celebrated the signing of the Civil Rights act which finally had given everybody equal rights in our America. For each age group this has represented something different, while our fathers were still adjusting to the new age, still weary after years of destructive violence and relentless condemnation, we basked in it, and were the first to enjoy the benefits. While our generation greatly appreciated the struggle our fathers, before us, gave, we still grappled with the aftermath and what exactly did it mean to us. In the late 60’s and 70’s as our parents, the baby boomers, grappled with war, protest movements, free love, drugs, and rock and roll, it left a wake of confusion as we watched them struggle with their identities. What now made a true American? What exactly ‘is’ a true American? John Wayne and Doris Day were the American standards of yore, now women had burnt bras, gays parade proudly down our streets, and rap icons Run DMC proclaimed to ‘Walk this Way’, jamming all the way up the charts with of all crews, seminal rock band Aerosmith. Hip-hop music with its thumping beats, poetic lyrics, and artistic imagery yelled loud and proud, who we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going and everybody was welcome to join in the big party whether you got the message or not. While our elders chided us for not being radical enough as we still deal with lingering injustices, in reality our music was our protest movement. When we blasted Public Enemy “Bring the Noise”, rattling our trunks, moving windows and causing older folks to cringe – that was our protest. Hip-hop rebellion was just the beginning.
Like the Virginia Slim ad proclaims ‘We’ve came a long way baby.” It’s nothing now to have an Asian man mixing up the latest hip-hop with techno and new age music. Hell, half the time he’s making harder beats than his American counterparts. It’s not surprising to see an African-American male rocking a cowboy hat and tight jeans while bumping Big and Rich. Mixed couples can comfortably walk down the street holding hands with maybe only a few scorns from non-approving eyes. As all the cultures blend and mix we appreciate each other in ways our forefathers would have never imagined. While racism still rears its ugly head such as the anti-semantic old-timer firing in a museum dedicated to the past injustice against Jews, newer generations just don’t relate to the arguments of old.
From what we discussed those many years ago, now is enhanced by the fruition of all that good music, partying, videos, and Michael Jackson clutching his Johnson, screaming ‘Black or White’. We of the now generation, see black or white, or brown and beige, fact or fiction, much differently than our fathers of yesterday, we didn’t experience their pains and frustration firsthand but we felt the aftershocks, and that feeling erupted in our music. Generation Y is even further removed, reaping the benefits of cross-pollination. Just as IPod’s and the web today, are as normal as TV’s and automobiles’ yesterday, so is multiculturalism. In the wake of the success of Obamanation, with his own mixed heritage, change has come and its here to stay, and as the good Reverend MLK proclaimed in his famous “I have a Dream” speech, we the children, walking hand in hand, (not essentially) are recouping the benefits. As we all journey along our various paths discovering life, to take a moment to find comfort in the fact, that in a small crazy way, our generation did its task in shaping future cultural relations, all while shaking our ass, in the mix.