Tag Archives: music

Looking Out at the Views While Sipping Lemonade

59fc635f7dbe6b5cd1e07e5e605c96b5.640x640x1.jpgRecently, two of my favorite artists, Beyoncé and Drake, released albums (Lemonade & Views). Beyoncé has wowed the world once again with a visual album. The film to accompany Lemonade aired on HBO a few weeks ago & the soundtrack so to speak was Lemonade. The album is currently available for streaming on Tidal.

The film chronicled Bey going through an emotional journey of dealing with her husband’s infidelity. Each song represented each emotion that she went through during the process. It ended on forgiveness, which makes sense since she & Jay-Z are still together. It was very powerful to see her get so personal and raw with the world. I thought that her self-titled album was personal, but Lemonade takes the cake.

I love the album from start to finish, but here are my top 5. The top five are: “Hold Up,” “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” “Sorry,” “Freedom,” and “Sandcastles.” On “Sandcastles” you can hear Bey’s raw emotions in her vocals especially when she sings: What is it about you that I can’t erase?  You can hear her voice crack, and it sounds like she’s on the verge of tears. This song definitely delivers in the feels department. Beyoncé experiments with a lot of different genres on this album from rock, reggae, hip-hop, country and r&b.

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Meanwhile, after all of the speculation, push backs and rumors, Drake’s new album Views is finally here. Drake has delivered yet again with this album. In an interview with Zane Lowe, Drake said that this is his best album vocally and I agree. Drake is doing what he’s known for, which is mixing rapping with singing and once again it works. One of my favorite sections of this album is what I would consider the reggae section. The two tracks “Controlla” and “One Dance,” which is currently the #1 song in the country, both have reggae vibes to them and it makes almost impossible to not dance when those two songs come on. Towards the end of “Controlla” you can hear reggae artist Beenie Man and I felt that transition was genius.

Another great song on this album is “Weston Road Flows,” which features a sample of a Mary J. Blige song called “Mary’s Joint.” On this song, Drake displays his storytelling abilities while reflecting on his past. “U With Me?” is another great song on Views. It samples two DMX songs and has Drake wondering if his girl will stick with him. “Still Here” is also great for it’s uptempo jam style.

Both artists have delivered quality albums that I’m sure will be on a lot of “Best of 2016” lists at the end of the year. Lemonade and Views  are in our catalog for request but if you can’t wait, you can stream Views on Hoopla and Beyoncé’s previous albums are available for download on Freegal. Beyoncé and Drake will be making their way to Pittsburgh very soon. Queen Bey will be gracing the Burgh with her presence on May 31st when her Formation World Tour makes a stop at Heinz Field. The 6 God himself will be at the Consol Energy Center on August 17th when his Summer Sixteen Tour stops here.

Happy listening!

~Kayla

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April Recap

Art courtesy Marcel L. Walker. Click through for his website.

Art courtesy Marcel L. Walker. Click through for his website.

April saw another huge celebrity loss in Prince, which left all of us here at Eleventh Stack more than a little sad. On the happier side of thing, baseball season started, and Abbey highlighted some baseball-related resources. Sheila also helped us celebrate children author Beverly Cleary’s 100th birthday.

Kayla gave a big thumbs up to Kara Thomas’s The Darkest Corners and Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass. Kelly looked at the theme of displacement in Ranbir Singh Sidhu’s work, and Ross mused on cultural expectations in his review of Nookietown. Jess looked a few non-superhero comics, and Natalie enjoyed Jane Steele, a new adaptation of Jane Eyre.

In movie land, Ross explored the desolation of Sunset Edge and the iconic movie-related art of Drew Struzan. Tara reviewed Victoria, a film shot all in one take.

novelcureLeigh Anne plugged poet Martin Espada’s new collection Failed and Sharon Dolan’s Manual for Living. Suzy made us think about mistakes and how we handle them. Melissa considered a career change to bibliotherapist, and one of our volunteers wrote about her efforts advocating for the library. Brittany compared her childhood to those of refugee kids, and Adina highlighted some recent memoirs and autobiographies she’s enjoyed.

Of course we didn’t forget about food—Scott M. took us on a tour of local Greek food festivals and highlighted some of his favorite Greek cookbooks.

What’s your favorite book, movie, or album from April? Let us know in the comments.

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Punch a Higher Floor

Art courtesy Marcel L. Walker. Click through for his website.

Art courtesy Marcel L. Walker. Click through for his website.


Around 2011 I was dating a girl who loved Prince. She often talked about how she’d been to a few of his concerts when she was younger. When we got back from the bars, she’d often put his albums on. We spent many nights dancing around her kitchen until the early hours of the morning, frightening her cats and annoying her downstairs neighbors as we sang along loudly and badly with Prince, particularly the Purple Rain soundtrack. It was during these sleepless hours that I was introduced to “Let’s Go Crazy.” That song will always be an anthemic battle cry for me.

Later I was looking up clips on YouTube and found the video below. Watch as Prince reaches heretofore unmatched levels of face-melting as he shreds his way through the solo of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” proving unequivocally that Prince was a supremely talented performer. I know I’ll miss him.

-Ross


I would not be exaggerating if I said Prince was involved in two of the best nights of my life.

Picture this: New Year’s Eve, 1991. I’m at an under-21 dance club called Club Nitro. I’m 14 years old and no doubt I was wearing what I considered “dress up” clothes: black bodysuit, jeans that were far too big for me and Doc Martens. I didn’t have big hair, but it was most certainly curled by the Caruso Molecular Steam Hairsetter. The song at midnight was “Diamonds and Pearls“.

One by one, my friends were asked to dance, until it was just me leaning against a wall. And then a boy that I had crushed on for months asked me to dance. I had assumed he was unaware of my existence. I got to dance to Prince on New Year’s Eve with my crush. He even kissed me at the end of the song.*

Beer Barge, 2014. The Commonwealth Press Beer Barge is an excellent way to celebrate Pittsburgh’s Craft Beer Week. Two hundred of your closest friends set sail on the Gateway Clipper for three hours of bands, craft beer and dancing. The final song on the 2014 barge was Purple Rain. It was an epic night. Look!

*Never spoke to me again.

-suzy


iwoulddie4uIt’s really hard for me to remember a time that I wasn’t singing Prince songs. His music was everything I wanted to be a part of – dancing, freedom of expression, being yourself, sexuality, fast cars and motorcycles, and on and on. He was an icon of my generation. Not just a rock star or superstar, but a certifiable icon (I run on at the mouth about the book which will convince you of that fact in this post from a couple of years ago. I STILL recommend this book on a regular basis.). Prince’s death has made me put him into a category that I certainly never wanted him to be in – artists I wanted to see perform live, but never got the chance to. It pains me that he’s now in that “box”. I always thought there’d be more time. But don’t you always think that?  Going crazy is going to be a little harder for me now.

-Melissa M.


One of my greatest parental accomplishments is providing my kids with a well-rounded musical education. Her One Direction fanaticism notwithstanding, my 14-year-old daughter proudly shares that she is the only person among her friends who can name all four Beatles. She’s heartbroken that Janet Jackson postponed her tour because, “It’s the closest I’ll ever get to The King of Pop himself.”  She’s not a child of the ‘80s, but an offspring of two of them, her knowledge of these artists acquired from us having their music on heavy rotation.

But whether it was the suggestiveness of his lyrics or something else, somehow I’d failed to introduce my girl to the power of Prince.

Until Thursday.

“He’s a good singer and all, but I don’t quite get why everyone is so sad about him dying,” she tells me.

purplerainDig if you will, then, the picture of us watching Purple Rain, its R-rating be damned. She’s laughing at the outfits, the Aqua-Netted hair.  I start speaking in fragments about how the ‘80s were such a confusing and sad decade — not only for me, but for all of us who were finding love and ourselves in an era of being scared to death that falling in love could kill us.  And then came Prince, singing and celebrating these feelings that were so powerful, so intoxicating and so dangerous enough to be slapped with a Parental Advisory sticker from Tipper Gore.

My nostalgia isn’t quite enough for my girl — she’s been down similar Memory Lanes of mine before — so I go for backup.  Like me, my high school friend Leah also is watching Purple Rain while trying to explain her sadness to her own daughter.

“I told her Prince was my generation’s Justin Bieber and One Direction and Taylor Swift and Jay Z and Beyoncé all rolled into one,” Leah says, via Facebook. “I think she understood that but what I didn’t say was Prince was also our coming of age, our first dances and first dates and first loves. He was the end of our childhood and the soundtrack of our youth and our young adulthood. I’m mourning Prince but I’m also remembering the way I felt back then and realizing that I won’t ever feel that way again, but when I’m watching and listening and singing, I can almost get there.”

The purple-tinged audience is waving their hands (“we had lighters back then, not cell phones,” I explain).  I turn the volume up louder, as one does in homage to Prince. The guitar soars through the TV, through the house, through our souls. And watching my girl, enraptured now, I begin to connect with something I’d long forgotten.

-Melissa F.



When I found out this past Thursday that Prince died I was stunned. It’s still weird for me to talk about him in the past tense. This may be odd to say, but I’ve heard a lot of people these past couple of days say the same thing: I never imagined him dying. I thought that he would be 90 years old still doing concerts singing “Purple Rain.” It’s sad, crazy and strange to think of a world without him, but alas we have to.

His passing didn’t just affect me. It affected my family because my mom is a huge fan of his and she got me into him. She’s loved him since he first came out and she had a poster on her wall of him with a big Afro from Right On! magazine. When my aunt & uncle first met each other, they broke the ice by talking about their common love of Prince. This is a monumental loss. I’ll end this by naming my top three favorite songs of his: “When Doves Cry,” “The Beautiful Ones” and “Adore.”

-Kayla


The summer of 1984, I was home from my freshman year of college. In school, I had been a DJ heavily into prog rock, and worked at the music library where I was introduced to classical and world music. My boyfriend was a guitarist in a hardcore punk rock band that frequently played at CBGB’s and the like. I also happen to be very light-skinned, and my boyfriend, very dark-skinned. This was still fairly rare in the mid-80s, even in New York. We would turn heads walking down the street. Light- and dark-skinned people alike would give us the hairy eyeball.

Our whole group of friends were quite snobbish when it came to pop music. We collectively derided the MTV phenomenon, and all of pop culture as a rule. When Purple Rain came out, my boyfriend and I wanted to see it, but we didn’t want any of our friends to know. We snuck away, even coming up with a cover story of what we were doing instead. It was the first time either of us saw mixed-race couples depicted anywhere. The aspect of one’s race was a non-issue. We were also completely mesmerized by Prince himself. We laughed at ourselves for liking the movie so much. We went to see it again the next day.

-Joelle


In the Spring of 1986 Prince’s “Kiss” was released. At the time, my family didn’t have cable TV, and the whole music video generation was quickly passing me by. But, you know who DID have cable, and MTV? My Grandpap. We would go out to his place on the weekends, visit with him and help him with stuff around the house. Right after that song came out we were over there. I had heard it on the radio, but lacking MTV, had never seen the video. For whatever reason, I was the only one in the living room, as everyone else was in the kitchen, or out in the yard. I turned on MTV and watched some videos. That’s when I saw the video for “Kiss.”

As a 10-year-old boy, growing up in a white, working class, Catholic home, this video opened my eyes in some remarkable ways. I remember thinking “OK…so HE’s wearing high heels … and SHE’s playing the guitar … that’s not … what I expected.” I feel like seeing Wendy Melvoin playing the guitar did a number on me. It let me in on a whole new world of what was possible, and opened up doors of who could do what.

It wasn’t at all what I expected, and I loved it. Billy Bragg and Morrissey (two of my musical heroes) have talked eloquently about how seeing Bowie at an impressionable age really impacted them. I feel that this song and video did something similar for me. The stripped-down funk sounds, vocals still loud and screamy enough to anger a parent, and the gender bending clothes and sexualized dancing was pretty intense, and it hooked me.

The impact of Prince’s music was felt far and wide, not least by me in a fantastic way that I’m fairly certain I never could have expected.

Rest in Power.

-Eric


How did Prince affect your life? Share your memories and tributes in the comments, and put one of his albums or movies on reserve.

-Team Eleventh Stack

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January Recap

January has been marked with loss—the deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman, the closing of a favorite restaurant. But good things have happened, too: David Bowie’s newest and last album, Blackstar, came out. We celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. And we read a lot of books, listened to a lot of music, and watched a lot of movies.

Big MagicWe once again set our reading resolutions for the new year, and Melissa F. helped us start off right with Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Kayla gave us a list of her favorite R&B and hip-hop albums of the decade so far, suggested songs to go along with Between the World and Me and shamelessly plugged the television show Shameless.

Leigh Anne introduced us to poet Gregory Pardlo, and Whitney celebrated Lewis Carroll’s birthday. Ginny wrote an excellent and thorough book list on body positivity.

bookofunknownamRoss summed up his reading accomplishments from 2015, and Natalie got a head start on her 2016 resolution to cook better meals for her family. Scott M. suggested some good reads from Latin America, and Jess began her 2016 reading challenge with a play. Kelly resolved to get in trouble, and Joelle explored Brian Eno’s music.

In February, we’ll be writing about books, movies, music and more by our favorite African American artists. We hope you’ll join us!

-Team Eleventh Stack

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My Five Favorite R&B/Hip-Hop Albums of the 2010s (So Far)

 

Black History Month is soon approaching, but it doesn’t have to be a certain month for me to talk music. This post is all about R&B and hip-hop, specifically some of my favorite r&b and hip-hop albums of the 2010s.

Beyoncé: 4

Year released: 2011

This was the album where Bey went back to her R&B roots. Personally, I feel that this album doesn’t get enough credit for how good it is. This album spawns the girl power anthem “Run the World (Girls),” a beautiful love song “1+1,” and one of my all time favorite songs of hers, “End of Time.” I feel like this album was overshadowed by her pregnancy.

drakeDrake: Take Care (also available on Hoopla)

Year released: 2011

This was the album when Drake mania exploded to another level. It’s also where the assumption that Drake is emo began. Personally, I don’t think that he’s emo. I just think that he’s comfortable with expressing how he feels, which is refreshing. This album is one that you can press play & let it ride. One of my favorite tracks on this album is “The Real Her” that features Lil’ Wayne & Andre 3000, who delivers my favorite verse on the song. This album also features the classic “Marvin’s Room,” which spawned several remixes over the summer of 2011.

Miguel: Kaleidoscope Dream

Year released: 2012

Miguel carefully avoided the sophomore slump with Kaleidoscope Dream. This album is what made Miguel crossover into mainstream attention. This album features the Grammy Award winning, timeless single “Adorn.” The album is alternative R&B & it works. It’s a great album from start to finish.

J. Cole: 2014 Forest Hills Drive

Year released: 2014

J.Cole has always made great music, but this is the album that finally made the naysayers pay attention & give him his long overdue credit. Cole did a very brave thing with the release of this album by having it come out without releasing any singles. This was a bold decision, but it worked because it sold a lot in its first week. Not many artists nowadays can do that. This album was a story, with each song being a snapshot into a different time in Cole’s life. It’s a great album not only for hip-hop, but for music in general. The album features “Apparently,” which is a great song and the first verse always gets me emotional when he talks about his mother.

Chris Brown: F.A.M.E.  

Year released: 2011

This album was Brown’s comeback album, and in my opinion, his best album. On this album, Brown showcased that he could do practically any genre of music, even rap. He proved that on the blockbuster single “Look At Me Now.” This album earned Brown a Grammy for Best R&B Album in 2012. It was well deserved.

kendricklamarHonorable mention- Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d. city (also available on Hoopla)

Year released: 2012

This album is one of the best rap albums that I’ve heard in a long time. This album is basically Lamar’s autobiography set to music. Throughout the album, listeners can hear snippets of his friends and family on different tracks. It gave audiences a closer glimpse into the life of Kendrick Lamar.

These are some of my favorite R&B/hip-hop albums of the 2010s so far. What are yours? Let us know in the comments below.

~Kayla

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Hey Babe, Let’s Go Out Tonight

 

david-bowiememorial

Image from:  ca.hellomagazine.com

 

Monday morning I was home, and had somehow avoided watching or listening to the news or going online to check my social media news feeds. When I finally logged in around noon, the first thing I saw was a sad post in my Facebook feed, mourning the loss of David Bowie (born David Robert Jones).

Surely this must be a hoax, I told myself.

Sadly it was not. Over the course of the day, the main thing that struck me was how many people (from completely different walks of life) where in mourning or disbelief over his passing. It takes a cultural icon of a very unique and special stature to garner this sort of grieving from so many different people around the world.

You too have probably engaged with Bowie’s music or art at some point in your life. Today the Eleventh Stack bloggers would like to share their own favorite David Bowie songs or memories, and we encourage you to share as well in the comments section. Farewell, Mr. Bowie — the world is made a little less interesting by your passing.


It’s nearly impossible to choose just a couple of favorites from Bowie’s vast catalog of amazing music, but if I must, these are my current choices. Ask me next week and I may choose different titles.

station to station“Golden Years” (Station to Station, 1976) – This is one of my husband’s favorites, too. It’s hard for me not to play air guitar or otherwise jam to this song.  I love the refrain: “I’ll stick with you baby for a thousand years. Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years.”

“Modern Love” (Let’s Dance, 1983) – Although the backup singers annoy me slightly, I still adore this song. I had no idea what I was listening to the first time I heard it on the radio, and I kind of hated it and kind of couldn’t get enough of it. It just got into my head, and the more times I heard it, the more I loved it.

My favorite Bowie pop culture moment is when he turned out to be the shape-shifting leader of the Guild of Calamitous Intent on Venture Brothers. I don’t care that he didn’t actually do the voice. It was too awesome for words.

-Megan


We had a white cat growing up with two different colored eyes that my aunt named Bowie (aka The Thin White Duke). I thought it was such a lame name for a cat. The only thing i really knew about Bowie at the time was that he was the dude wearing tights in Labyrinth that gave me strange and uncomfortable feelings.

Fast forward ten or so years, and Bowie’s music would become an essential part of the soundtrack to the rest of my life. I love so many of his albums, but hold a special candle for Hunky Dory, since it was the first record of his I bought on vinyl as a burgeoning wannabe music nerd.

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Special mention should probably go to his 1977 album Low, which I still find haunting and beautiful to this day.

-Tara

[A tip: the library owns many David Bowie albums on CD, but most of them have a wait list at the moment. However, our streaming service Hoopla has many, many Bowie albums that you can check out right now. If you’ve never used Hoopla and would like some help we’re always happy to lend a hand.]


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If Between the World and Me Had a Soundtrack

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Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a wonderful book and a necessary read. It’s very powerful and eye-opening. The book is basically a letter to his son about what it’s like to be black in America. After I was done reading this book, I began thinking of songs that connect to it. So here’s five songs that would be on the soundtrack for Between the World and Me.

This is one of Michael Jackson’s most powerful songs. Jackson is calling out the powers that be and saying that they don’t care about his people. This song fits with Coates’ idea that the “system” doesn’t care about the black community and that it never did from the start.

I have always enjoyed the songs by Tupac where he is talking about the state of the world. This song is almost 20 years old and it’s still sadly relevant. Shakur talks about how the world hasn’t changed, and he mentions police brutality, which is still obviously a problem. This song connects to the book because Coates talks about the many unarmed black men & women who have been killed by the police.

On this song, which is one of my favorites by Marvin Gaye, he’s singing about the state of the world and how it bothers him. This connects to Coates’ book because some of the same things that Gaye is singing about Coates is talking about. It’s sad that 40-plus years later we’re still having these same issues.

This is one Stevie Wonder song that I would consider underrated. It’s a great song. Wonder sings about things like race relations and different issues going on in the world. The themes here link nicely to Coates’ discussions on race and culture.

J. Cole is one of my favorite contemporary rappers. I would consider him not only a rapper, but also a storyteller. In this song, Cole tells of his dream where he was trapped in a city where he got robbed at gunpoint. In a separate dream he and his friends were the ones committing the robbery. This song reminds me of Between The World And Me because there’s a part of the book when Coates talks about when he was younger and he saw a boy pull out a gun during an argument and how that changed him.

Between the World and Me is a book that will make you think. I’d like to believe that these songs will do the same thing. If you’ve read this book, what songs would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments below!

~Kayla

 

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