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A toddler that masters the violin while he is still crawling around in diapers probably sounds like a fictional story, or at least a true story that was exaggerated over time. But no, in this world, there exists a child prodigy that learned to play the violin at an exceptional rate. Not only that, but he mastered the violin at the tender age of two while other babies were learning to speak and use the toilet properly. It amazes me how intelligent this boy is. His intelligence has shocked people around the globe, but it may be his bravery that awed the most. The incredible violinist, Caesar Sant, has inspired thousands, if not millions, of people by constantly fighting and pulling through. While his life-threatening illness has been proven to destroy countless lives, Sant hasn’t allowed the disease to conquer him.
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Since releasing their debut album Welcome Reality in 2011, British band Nero has been burning up the electronic dance music scene. Collectively, the trio of Daniel Stephens, Joe Ray, and Alana Watson has risen from obscurity into a chart-topping band. While Nero has yet to reach the iconic status of a group like Daft Punk, the band is quickly growing in popularity. Nero also has a unique quality that distinguishes them from their peers: the vocals of Alana Watson.
Stephens and Ray first met each other when they were teenagers. They were introduced by a mutual friend and bonded over their passion for music. Stephens played the cello and Ray played classical guitar. Ray also received additional musical training while attending a specialist music school in Westminster, London. Stephens and Ray would later meet with Watson and begin collaborating on songs. Initially, Watson was a featured vocalist while Stephens and Ray were the primary artists. Over time, Watson continued to shine as a singer and became an official member of Nero.
After years of working diligently in the studio, Nero had a major breakthrough with the release of their debut album, Welcome Reality. “Promises,” the fourth single from the album, has been Nero’s biggest hit thus far, debuting at no. 1 on the UK Singles Chart in 2011. The song has a catchy, dubstep sound with a futuristic verve that’s present in many electronic dance songs. The beat by itself is good, but nothing mind-blowing. However, Watson’s singing transforms a solid track into an infectious tune. Her haunting and spine-tingling voice infuses “Promises” with a chilling vibrancy. Nero later collaborated with producer Skrillex to create a remix of “Promises.” This version was also highly successful and won the Grammy for Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical in 2013.
Following the success of Welcome Reality, Nero started touring their live show while perfecting their sound. In contrast to other electronic dance music artists, which rely heavily on DJing, Nero takes full advantage of Watson’s vocal abilities. Even though DJs can be entertaining at parties or clubs, they pale in comparison to a live performance from a singer. As Nero’s fan base grew, they began featuring Watson even more prominently.
In a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Nero talked about their future plans and the direction of their sophomore album, Between II Worlds. In particular, Watson described the evolution of the band as well as her expanded role as a vocalist. “It always felt like a natural progression to move in the direction of taking on more of a frontwoman role,” Watson explained. “It wasn’t something that was pre-planned […]Live vocals seem to elevate our fans’ excitement as it emphasizes the fact that we are really there doing our thing. The show has evolved to include more song-crafted tunes and gives it a slightly more band-y feel.”
The transition to full-fledged live performances is a logical choice. Electronic dance music is already energetic and high-intensity, so a live performance will galvanize the crowd to an even greater extent. Watson’s rousing vocals complement Stephens’ and Ray’s production while intensifying the band’s overall stage presence. As Stephens told Rolling Stone, “It’s worked really well having her more integrated into the show. The crowd gets to interact with her. Joe and I wanted the personal focus to be on her whilst we became silhouettes.”
Between II Worlds was released in September 2015 and has reached the top 10 of the US Billboard Dance/Electronic Dance Albums list. With the initial momentum of their second album, Nero is poised to expand its international audience. Although I’m not a huge fan of electronic dance music, I enjoyed listening to Nero. Watson is a talented singer, and I think it’s a wise decision to place her in the forefront. Other electronic dance music groups and artists should take a cue from Nero and enlist the services of a vocalist to reinvigorate the genre as a whole.
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Hip-hop changes daily. From the sound, to the look, all the way down to the acceptance of new ideas to expand the culture. I often find myself out of the loop on some things that the younger crowd of hip-hoppers thinks everyone should know because of how quickly things change, and how fast we’re introduced to the next coolest dance, song or artist. Very few people outlast the test of time, typically the artists who stay true to themselves are the ones that remain. The same can be said for lyricists; their command on the mic will always be key to great songs. Lyricism is slowly making a comeback, and Top Dawg Entertainment’s MC, Jay Rock, is one of the true MCs helping to keep the flame lit on the torch.
Jay Rock has a really strong following, and is a part of arguably the best rap group out. Top Dawg Entertainment is the premiere crew of MCs in hip-hop today. With Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q, and Jay Rock on the roster, it’s safe to say they lyrically have the best lineup of any crew in the game. Kendrick is undeniably one of the game’s heavyweights, but Jay Rock isn’t far behind. Jay Rock’s latest album 90059, dropped earlier this week. After listening to the album in its entirety, I can confidently say that it’s one of the best albums so far this year. The album really depicts what West Coast rap has evolved into. It’s the quintessential West Coast gangsta feel throughout, paired with one of the best lyricists in the industry.
90059, as one of the hooks states, is “the zip” where Jay Rock is from, Watts, CA. Growing up, Johnny Reed McKinzie Jr., better known as Jay Rock, chose to rap instead of indulging in a life of drugs, gangs, an almost certain path to an early demise. Having dedicated himself to his craft and telling his story on wax, Jay Rock quickly became a fan favorite. The stories he tells come from a place that many can relate to, and even if you can’t, don’t worry, Jay Rock’s lyrics, like on his song, “Fly On The Wall,” are told in such great detail that you can see the words turn to images in your mind. This is a song in which Jay Rock collaborated with the legendary Busta Rhymes, and Busta clearly tells him on his verse that he’s next up to blow. .
Support like that has got to be incredibly encouraging for someone that’s been on the grind like Jay Rock has. Busta is someone who often advocates for newer and slept on artists to get the recognition they deserve. Getting the blessings from the “O.Gs” in the game is something all rappers dream of. It brings a certain validity to listeners and fans such as myself, who prefer lyricism over the dances and catchy hooks. For the artists themselves, it keeps them focused and wanting to put in the necessary work to be able to have the longevity of someone like Busta. Jay Rock didn’t reach this level of success overnight, either. He’s put in the hours, and done his homework for quite some time.
Jay Rock first hit the scene in Top Dawg fashion. In 2008 he dropped his first single, “All My Life.” This was some people’s introduction to TDE. The song featured arguably the hottest rapper out at the time, and self-proclaimed “Best Rapper Alive,” Lil Wayne. Wayne was at the peak of his career, and Jay Rock was a new face. He was also one of the people that would end up being responsible for putting West Coast rap back on the map. Sure, we’re all familiar with Compton rappers, and have been for the last three decades. Although Jay Rock was from Watts, a place hip-hop may have never explored on such a big stage, his face was a new one, his story was a familiar one.
Jay Rock grew up like most boys with hoop dreams. Then as time passed, and life started happening, he soon realized his calling was elsewhere. Early on as a teen, Jay Rock admits he dabbled in drugs trying to find a way to feed his family. As the 29-year-old rapper put it, it was at about 18 or 19 that he realized he really needed to focus and figure out what he really wanted to do with his life.
Jay Rock decided to try his hand at rapping, and telling his version of the story. He hooked up with and started a group and independent record label with some fellow California rappers. The Black Hippy was the lead act from Top Dawg Entertainment, and burst onto the scene with a purpose. Prior to Top Dawg Entertainment, many rappers focused on getting signed as being the avenue to measure success. Getting signed isn’t for everybody though, and sometimes it can hinder your growth as an artist. Jay Rock had come to a crossroads in trying to further his career, and decided to try work with another group on a different independent label.
He had left briefly to pursue his dreams with Tech N9ne and Strange Music, who welcomed the then underground Jay Rock with open arms. His decision to join Strange Music was cool with his then former group and label mates of TDE, and there was no bad blood between the parties. Jay Rock spoke on of his time with the independent label, Strange Music, on Power 105’s The Breakfast Club. He said that he was able to learn a lot from them, specifically Tech N9ne. Adding that the reason he left is, “it’s hard to get where you’re going on a train that’s already moving.” Strange Music was moving with a full head of steam when Jay Rock joined, so it was better for him to go back to TDE, a ship he’d helped to build.
It was at that time that some advice he received repeatedly from his dad, had began to make sense. “When things around you start to change, you just stay the same. Your time will come.” For a long time, he wondered what that meant. But as soon as things started to change around him, it all started to resonate. Jay Rock didn’t change up, his surroundings did and a few of the people around him as well. By staying true to himself, and continuing to work hard, TDE and TDE fans were excited to hear that he had returned.
With so much talent over there at TDE, you might wonder just how much those guys learn from one another? Or how do they motivate each other to put out such quality music? Jay Rock touched on that briefly in a recent interview with MTV after his album’s release. “That dude (Kendrick) don’t sleep with this sh-t. That’s what gives me inspiration to keep going. We all learn off each other and feed off each other’s energy.”
The West Coast is back and here to stay. Jay Rock is almost certain to have a meteoric rise to the top of the game with this sophomore album. And no sophomore jinx seems to have worried the veteran rapper. 90059 was done in classic fashion, with something true hip-hop heads from each generation will appreciate. He provided us with something you’ll “Wanna Ride” to. The album is his “Telegram” to the rest of the industry and “The Message” is Jay Rock is bringing the heat!
– Blake Holmes
Unknown singers and dancers are being found out by small-time and big-time companies. It’s sort of incredible to think that one day you could be singing in front of your Panasonic camera, making a home video, and then a month later you get a call from a large record company asking you to fly to the big city and sign a deal with them. It isn’t something that can happen to anyone, but it can happen if you’re a talented, English singer and guitarist. James Bay is a lucky guy that happened to be videotaped during a live show in a pub and he got a call to come to New York a few months later. He is very young, but for the amount of time that he has been on the scene, he has proven he has got what it takes to run with the best of them.
Bay became inspired by blues music after hearing Eric Clapton’s single, “Layla,” when he was only 11 years old. In an interview with Mark Savage, a journalist and blogger for BBC News, Bay was asked how he got started playing the guitar. “There was a guitar that my uncle owned and never learned to play. He sold it to my dad and when I heard Layla, that was the tune that really grabbed me. I said to my dad, ‘wait, there’s a guitar, right?’” Eric Clapton’s song definitely provided a lot of inspiration for Bay to go towards a career in music. However, growing up in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, a small English town, he did encounter plenty of music during the World Music Festival as a child. The World Music Festival is an extravagant event where Bay grew up listening to music from different corners of the world: from English heavy metal bands to African dance music. The World Music Festival showed him various music bands at a young age and gave him motivation. He listened and was encouraged by the music at the festival, but he learned about music through his own teachings. At first, it was books and people online. He would read hundreds of books about guitar playing and different types of rock and classical music. People he talked to online through chat rooms would give him helpful information, but he still didn’t receive everything that he could have. But then, along came a little application named YouTube. He was able to watch thousands of videos about guitars and music in one location by just hitting the play button. YouTube was a huge factor that Bay took advantage of at a young age, and by watching these videos, he learned about the music that he plays for us today.
Dark of the Morning, Bay’s first extended play, included five songs and was released in July of 2013. Of the five, I personally enjoyed his single, “Stealing Cars.” The song isn’t as popular as some of his others, like “Hold Back the River,” or “Let it Go,” but I liked this song better than the others because of his voice. His singing voice is very clear and very powerful in all of his songs, but in this one, his voice seemed to portray his feelings with an even stronger tone. One thing that fans of his will notice in his music video is the fact that he isn’t wearing a hat, something that never happens. It could be considered blasphemy for us to see Bay perform without wearing a hat, but the lyrics are so good that I think we can overlook that. Dark of the Morning is an EP that hasn’t made the top of the charts by any means, but contains five underrated and underappreciated songs that have powerful messages. On the other side of things, Let it Go, his second extended play, gained a lot of media attention in 2014, with the album getting a top 10 placement on the iTunes chart and his popular single, “Let it Go,” earning #10 on the music charts in the UK. “Let it Go,” was all the rage during the summer of 2014, giving us a song that female fans could listen to after an extremely, gut-wrenching break-up. The song that was endorsed by the famous singer and songwriter, Taylor Swift, and several others, earned him the Critics’ Choice award, an award in Britain given to artists who gain media attention through their music, earlier this year.
As a twenty-four year old young man who has been playing guitar and singing for about ten years, he has a remarkable voice and excellent skills on the guitar. He hasn’t received real fame until a few years ago, releasing his first songs through Republic Records, a huge record label in New York that first signed Bay on. Once he was signed to the record label and his songs began to flow through the media, Bay got his first taste of international stardom – such a young age, too. It’s only been a couple of years since his fan base grew to a sizeable amount, but in those few years he has made a name for himself with his extraordinary talent.
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