Banter on Tulips and a Tribe Called Quest, Jay-Z and John Coltrane, Outkast and Othello.


Music Milestones: the Top 26

I’m the first to admit it— I hate birthday posts. Not to knock anyone else’s hustle, but we all have them, so why the big deal? Why the superfluous self-congratulation? I mean, it’s not like we were there giving moms and pops a resounding big ups to Brooklyn when they made us happen, right? (lol) Lucky for me, this soapbox sentiment really doesn’t stop me from joining the sorry bandwagon. Witness all ye readers, my reflections on the last 26 years, in sound. And though, you won’t see me pitifully soliciting wishes of goodwill (feel free to stop by the comments box at the bottom), or presents (I’m a big fan of gift cards to Tower Records, Bloomingdale’s, Tiffany & Co. or just plain cash), I do feel a slight tinge of obligation—if only to the admiring fans—to publicize this little known world event. This year—this Saturday to be exact—I say goodbye to my mid-twenties, and hello to trying to "become a real grown up", pursuing not only my star on the Walk of Fame (lol), but those 2.5 kids, picket fence and a mortgage. And, if I fail, you’ll bear witness as I become the fly rhinestone glasses sporting, culdesac living, cat-collecting lady—with as LL Cool J rapped—da’ boomin system.

Presenting my first 26 years… in some of each year’s memorable songs

Michael, Michael, Michael—shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? (lol) Posted up on a brick wall with a tux, highwaters and sparkly socks, you stole my heart. Sure, you would one day descend into a typhoon of coo coo for cocoapuffery, but at that minute, with that song, only your music was "Off the Wall," in the very best way. It’s fitting that you marked Mahogany’s entrance on the world’s stage.

There is "music in the air and lots of loving everywhere, so give me the night," sang the ever-scatting, ever-strumming, always confident George Benson. This was the year the jazz guitarist turned pop singer made it Grammy good—several times over. And though I was still waddling in diapers, this song was such a classic I had to add the album to my collection in college.

There is perhaps no softer sentiment than a saxophone—Coltrane holds the highest title in my book. But since the Hamlet, NC native left us, many have tried to soothe us with the instrument. Few we took seriously. Jazz, we worried in the years since its heyday, was watered down, commercialized, too smooth. Maybe, but a man who called Philadelphia home changed all that thinking. Grover Washington, Jr. and Bill Withers’still timeless collaboration, "Just the Two of Us," showed that the music could be smooth and catchy, but still very earthy and real. It’s a classic still.

You’re walking down a sidewalk. Actually, you’re sort of strolling, tip toeing almost—sort of stealthily and flashy at the same time. You’re looking around you, in front of you, behind you for someone or something pursuing. And suddenly it happens. The sidewalk,rushed with your energy, wait… LIGHTS UP. I can still hardly contain the excitement the first time I saw the video for the infectious "Billie Jean" (years later, of course). Not only was Michael the coolest person on the planet, but he had the power to make the sidewalk rush with power too? How could I harness the sparkle too? I’m still trying…

The year Michael blowuptuated at the Grammys taking home just about every award possible for the previous year’s never-seen-before, never-will-be-duplicated-again, "Thriller." (Don’t worry, this is my last shout-out to the mostly old-nosed gloved wonder). And though, this song never made it to the heights that the title song and others like "Beat It" did, "Human Nature" will always be a great song in my book.

Sing it with me. "Your love" ["Your"], "So good" ["Good love"], "Deserves an Encore" ["Dee-serves an encore."] Cheryl Lynn, the less celebrated half of the now-classic duo with Luther, "If This World Were Mine," was no less a powerhouse vocalist all by her lonesome. The fact that this bumping song still gets heavy rotation on all the old skool stations is just the proof in the pudding.

Pinch your nose and sing along with her nasal, but catchy voice. C’mon, don’t front, you know you knew the words — "Baby, I know you’re wondering/ Why I won’t go ovah to your place/ Cause I’m not too sure about how I feel/ So I’d rather go at my own payyy-ace… I wonda-if-I-take-you-home, would you still be in love bay bay, because I need you tonight." Maybe she wasn’t the darling of the decade like Madonna, but on the radio in my neighborhood that hosted skreet roller skating and summer block parties, she ruled the roost. Straight Outta Hell’s Kitchen, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam (featuring Full Force), bumped "I Wonder if I Take You Home" with staccato phrasing and funky beats. And I ain’t shamed to tell you that the group’s greatest hits CD holds a place in my collection.

This year was a tough one. Anita Baker’s "Rapture" remains one of the best CDs I own, "Been So Long" one of my favorite songs. But if we’re talking about songs that made this year memorable, I’m going to have to give the nod to the gentleman from Paisley Park. To this day, every time I hear Prince’s "Kiss", the face assumes a spunky attitude, the neck goes into an uncontrollable whop. Though I didn’t have his albums (my mother considered him the spawn of Beezlebub due to his racy lyrics), and though I was only six when this won the Grammy, I knew the song from the radio. The spare funk. The lyrics ("You don’t have to watch Dynasty-y to have an attitude.") The genius. Yeah--let the church say amen.

Allow me to second to get mushy. Actually give me a pass—I was only eight. One of the saddest movies I’ve ever seen was a... *cough*... freakin’ cartoon. With tears in my little eyes, I watched, heartbroken as Fievel and his sister searched desperately for each other after the little mouse became lost while his family immigrated to New York City. "And even though I know how very far apart we are, It helps to think we might be wishing on the same bright star." Sniffle. Still get choked up when I hear James Ingram and Linda Rondstadt belt out "Somewhere Out There" from An American Tail.

I was in the fourth grade. Had the best teacher I could ever ask for. Got to see my track and field idol Ms. Joyner Kersee tear it up at the Olympics in Seoul and on top of all that, I just knew I was grown with my stair step bangs (made possible by Isoplus) hot pink banana clip and plastic tie for my flourescent shirt. There was no end to the positive outlook. So it’s fitting that Bobby McFerrin's "Don’t Worry Be Happy" was my memorable song that year. Aside from the fact that no human being has had the ability to be able to make the sounds this man made avec no instruments, he just had so much contagious energy. And for a youthful Mahogany, it was the perfect accompaniment.

Listening to Jazzie’s spoken introduction, I came to know them as the funky dreds. Soul II Soul, the first tape I ever remember getting as a gift had the beat. They had the voice (thanks to Ms. Caron Wheeler’s powerful chords). And they had the privilege of heavy rotation. Like the song, I "[Kept] on Movin’".

Clown if you wanna, but one of the first tape singles I bought with my own money (it came in a cheesy cardboard sleeve of all things) was Kid N Play’s "Funhouse" from the sleeper hit movie of the same year. To this day, I can’t master that jump-over-your-one-leg-while-holding-the other-in-your-hand-move, but then again, I never learned how to rap either.

Sure I was kicking it in the suburbs of New Jersey, but that didn’t stop me from looking "across the pond" for some new music to add to my budding cassette collection. With soulful vocalist N’Dea Davenport fronting the group, this was the year of the still underrated Brand New Heavies for me. Rare British grooves + jazz + unmatched rhythm? I wanted them to "Stay This Way Forever" like my favorite song from their self-titled debut.

You may not take seriously the rap musings of someone who started her hip hop collection with Heavy D’s "Big Tyme" (1989) and the aforementioned 1990 movie’s 2 Hype dancing court jesters. Ahem, *cough* ask me if I care. (Lol) For me, this was the year rap became real. Real meaning it was emblazoned on my consciousness, thanks to our local radio station. Day after day I listened to C.L Smooth rap on Pete Rock’s supremely laid out track- "T.R.O.Y. (They Reminisce over You)." "Take the first letter out of each word in this joint/ Listen close as I prove my point," he flowed effortlessly. It was the first rap I memorized. And to this day, if you ask me to recite it in my sleep, after I give you the why did you wake me up scowl, I’ll simply pop up and say, "So Pete Rock hit me/ Nuff respect due/ When they reminisce over you. (My God.)"

Speaking of hip hop... The piece de resistance of all time, in my book anyway, was birthed this year. But it’s funny, I still can’t really put my finger on what made this group, this album, so special. Was it Ali’s fabulous integration of jazz on the tracks? Was it Phife’s constant clamoring for the spotlight (short bruhs never had it easy.) Or maybe Q-Tip’s laid-back, chill flow? Whatever it was—obviously the combination of all three— it worked. "Midnight Marauders" is and remains my favorite hip hop album. And in breaking tradition, I couldn’t just break down one memorable song from this release that made ‘93 oh-so-hype. So, it’s a tie— between "Award Tour" and "Electric Relaxation". Do dat, do dat, do-do dat, dat, dat…

Even though she guested on the fantabulous "Buddy" by De La Soul, I didn’t really know she could sing until I heard her belt out the title of my favorite Latifah cut—"U-N-I-T-Y, U-N-I-T-Y, that’s ah unity." If you didn’t know, you had betta ax somebody.

Even though the brotha’s gone, I remember his warbling as if it were yesterday. "Japan are ya in da house? Everybody are you in da house? Baby, baby come on. Baby come on. Baby come oo-ooon." The soundtrack of high school's sophomore year was O.D.B. and Mariah teaming up for "Fantasy". Those were the days…

A hard year to choose — so many songs that come to mind — D’Angelo’s "Lady", Aaliyah’s "If Your Girl Only Knew", LL Cool J’s "Doin It Well", TLC’s "Diggin on You." All nice songs that recall the high school year before the college application process started and my only real concern was getting the outfits straight for Homecoming. I guess I have to give the nod to those bruhs from the Midwest, not because I liked their song—I hated it—but because it’s the most memorable. Because I made my dislike known, two of my high school friends, who I’ll call B and M, made it their business to corner me and sing it at every given chance. (Gentlemen, may your children be born looking like Shabba Ranks! lol) So, for this reason only, Bone Thugs’ "Crossroads" definitely sticks out as reppin’ 96. "Somebody, anybody tell me why/ [Mmmm… why?]"

Though DJ Kool’s "Let Me Clear My Throat" played incessantly on the radio, the song that truly had my ear this year was… Aqua’s "Barbie Girl." (lol) Just kidding. I don’t think anything played could compete with my love for the Notorious B.I.G.’s "Mo Money, Mo Problems." (A close runner up was "Hypnotize." We actually saw him smile in the video. Happy. Happy. Joy. Joy)

I counted it a small victory that the day before it came out, just as I was preparing to return to North Carolina for my second year of college, I snagged gold. I got the store clerk to hand me over Lauryn Hill’s debut album a day early. Immediately, I loaded it into my Aiwa and couldn’t stop playing it. There were so many songs like the radio-friendly "Zion" and "Ex-Factor" that were gems. But the one that I will truly remember was "Doo Wop (That Thing)." The harmony. The beat. The verse. Loved it all.

If I hadn’t heard Jilly from Philly sing the song on the "Roots Come Alive", I wouldn’t have known the words. Love Ms. Erykah Badu to death, but there is a thing called enunciation, which she still hasn’t mastered (she pokes fun at herself for this a few years later on "Mama’s Gun," singing "What good do your words to if they can’t understand you?"). Even with the audible gobbledygook, backed by the supergroup from Illadelphia, "You Got Me" still shined. Quest Love was on drums. Black Thought was on the mic. The song was on my mind. *singing* "Babydonworrayyouknowthatyougotme-e-e."

Sure, like Destiny’s Child sang, I was an "Independent Woman," nearly ready to take on the world. But the song that captured my attention was of a cooler sort…cooler than a Polar Bear’s toenail to be exact. Dem’ boys from the ATL released "Stankonia" (in my mind 1998's "Aquemini" was the more classic album, but this one was more ubiquitious) and though the radio-friendly hit was "Ms. Jackson" (a good song), my favorite, perhaps because it was the perfect song for a campus party stroll, was "So Fresh and So Clean." (Jay-Z and Mya’s remix to "Best of Me" was also memorable.)

The first CD I bought by Mr. Shawn Carter was also one of his best (second only to his debut "Reasonable Doubt" in my opinion). Though I got on the bandwagon late (my clean collection hadn’t yet resorted to thuggery with the genre being represented only by the pristine Q-Tip, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, Heavy D and a few candy rappers like DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince), I so appreciated the flow that was Jigga. Favorite song from this year was "Song Cry."

LL Cool J’s "Luv U Better" made my buy the aging and ever-wack rapper’s "10". I still get clowned, but I don’t care. This was a hype song, even if "Ladies Love Cool James" raps like the Cat in the Hat. (Lol)

OutKast blew up the charts for "Hey Ya" and as much as I loved the video featuring Andre 3000 serving as backup for his own all-Andre band (complete with singers displaying their "jazz hands"), I have to give the nod the duo between Ms. Knowles and Mr. Carter. "Crazy in Love" was the "get hype" song of this year for me. This was the year I finally had to convince myself to finally stop saying I "just"graduated from college (*sigh*), I needed some new thing to get excited about (Lol)

When the Black Album dropped, I being the ever-stubborn listener, wasn’t swayed by all the buzz. What could Jay-Z possibly do to try to match his debut and "Blueprint"? And then I heard "Encore". As much as I think Kanye is on the special bus on the mike, behind the boards, the man is nothing short of genius. John Legend pushes the piano keys. I, moving forward on my many roadtrips to New York City and D.C., pushed play—repeatedly.

This year it’s just sooo hard to pick the one that screams "2005" in the year of Mahogany. After hearing droves of rappers/singers descend upon the airways, without—I’m certain— as much as the ability to spell their own names, I have heard only a few good songs. But, there are some leading contenders like Mariah’s throwback to old Mariah, "We Belong Together." And of course, there is the ever grandiose wall of sound that is Mr. West. (My personal pick of West production is Common's "It's Your World"). But to symbolize the year— I think I'd lean towards something more universal. As Ms. Shirley Bassey sang famously for the James Bond soundtrack and in his sample, "Diamonds are Forever." Only time will tell, but they just might be *wink*...


Hope Floats?

My hope is built/
On nothing less/
Than Jesus' love/
And righteousness/

I had to sing this hymn to myself to help me get some of my thoughts together... away from the constant informative but trying buzz of NBC and Fox News. Away from the inundation of articles, pleas for help, and cries of mistreatment by our "justice for all"-promising government.

All this week and last, I read the stories of the unlikely (families saving themselves by scratching out of attics, many successfully just escaping their watery graves), the improbable (a six-year-old left to care for six children all under the age of 5, after they were separated from their mothers) and the downright impossible (Bush saying that no one could have predicted the damage that the storm and the ensuing levee breakage could wreak on New Orleans. ) I nearly fell apart looking at the photos of the scene in Time's cover story on the flood and the aftermath. One woman—-a heavyset black lady--could have easily been somebody's Ma'Dear, or the nice woman at church who makes the chicken fundraiser dinners to raise money "for the chulren to go to school." Could have been, except for the fact that she was floating face down, arms out as if she were momentarily seized by the Holy Spirit. But the picture made it ever so obvious. This was no Sunday morning passing move of the ghost. It was her final resting place.

To a slightly lesser extent, my emotions weren't any more quieted when I saw two more photos, circulating on the net, which paired two groups of people— one white and one black, both equally desperate, dragging black plastic trash bags of items they obtained. The difference, as an angry Kanye pointed out so bravely (even if a bit jumbled) on NBC last week, was that one was described as "looting", the other as "finding". How a photographer shooting from the air could have done enough reporting to differentiate remains to be seen. But what appeared to have happened was res ipsa loquitor. It spoke for itself. Black people, it seemed, stole. While, white people did what they had to do to survive.

I could hardly make sense of the images I was seeing. And, a question kept popping up in my head — why exactly was this happening again? Our country, which could send commandos into David Koresh's Waco, Texas compound at the drop of a hat; which could find Saddam in his narrow, underground lair; which could in its infant years, wrestle itself free from an oppressive British monarch with nothing but a ragtag militia determined to scratch out its independence, could not muster even the slightest bit of concern that people.were.dying? I listened to Mayor Nagin's expletive laden pleas...and understood.

I hate to get on the bandwagon and state the obvious, but talking to a friend last night, we wondered what might have happened if Hurricane Katrina hit—say, yuppie Connecticut? Or maybe suntanned Malibu? Would people have been left to drown simply because their leader was more content to fly above with his dry and safe canine, then to actually touch down and walk (maybe swim even?) among the people, still fighting for their very lives. Maybe his mother conveyed the government's attitude towards the hurricane victims best, when she spoke of the victims, "many of the people who, you know, are very underprivileged anyway", who had been evacuated to Texas as being in a situation that "works very well for them." Yes, Mrs. Bush, I'm sure these people think it's just the cat'spajamas. (Send my apple pie to George H.W. See him on the golf course.) Meanwhile, the senior Bush's octogenarian peers lie on conveyor belts at a Louisiana airport, some slumped in their wheel chairs, others bobbing in rat-infested, filthy waters because of circumstance and poverty.

I'm told hope floats.