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Review: John Legend's 'Love in the Future' LP Sells You A Dream

John Legend nestles into nuptial soul without a hitch

As “safe” as he seems, John Legend has always had a careless streak. Musically, he’s been the type of boyfriend prone to adulterous slip-ups, yet able to suavely explain (and thus successfully void) his negligence. (He once pitched dancing as a solution to a spat as if it were a thesis: “We can argue and fuss all night/But I propose that we go to the flo’ and just slow dance.”) Even in its mushy moments, his first two albums, Get Lifted (2004) and Once Again (2006), revelled in a sense of blind navigation. The cocky, considerate man occasionally marred by machismo made trifling love sound sexy. When he vowed to repent, it was usually behind a smirk.

This month (September), the 34-year-old singer/songwriter/pianist becomes a married man in real life (to his witty model fiancée Chrissy Teigen), and his fourth solo album, Love In The Future, parallels reality. “The title kind of embraces where I’m heading in life,” he’s said. “It’s the beginning of something new.” It’s also the end.

For R&B artists, the path from reckless singledom to stability is all but pre-paved, a fitting evolution that some (Justin Timberlake) nestle into better than others (Usher). Legend is easily an adult-contemporary standout. But the slightly dickish old-soul apologist has grown into a tamed humanitarian whose albums were becoming progressively less adventurous—the Alicia Keys career track. Though experimental, Evolver (2008) felt forced. Love In The Future eases up on the weak global pop & B and re-ups on soul. It all sounds “good for you,” like an ad for true love. Not always exciting; dull even, from the outside, but more beautiful up close.

Get Lifted, sophisticated as it was, spoke to twenty-somethings under construction. Future’s demo is much smarter. Instead of being aroused by danger and uncertainty, Legend leaps into domestic living. He sells odes and peddles wedding songs, including the vocally piercing “All Of Me” and lead single “Made to Love,” a spacy track about destined relationships on which Legend could pass for Cee Lo. He positions himself as Mr. Imperfect, cautioning against silly expectations on the gorgeously spare “Open Your Eyes,” a cover of Bobby Caldwell's hit of the same name (also used as a sample in Common’s “The Light”): “Are you expecting to find a love, love that’s right?/Darling, open your eyes/Let me show you the light/’Cause you’ll never find a love that’s right… Girl, you think you’re so wise.” He acknowledges his old self—“The Beginning” is an unofficial sequel to “Again” and “Another Again”—but this time “doing it again” means gladly boning the same woman, not falling into a cycle of cheating.

There’s minimal risk here. Much of Future glosses over the fun of being a fool because there’s a point when mischief just seems juvenile (your 20s are for making mistakes and all that). It gets a little alright-already. Legend’s “hey there” morning voice can only do so much with the album’s most mechanical lines (“Love is an ocean,” etc.). Still, he’s love’s ultimate salesman and you’re compelled to do as he sings now, not as he did.

When he does express confusion, it’s about the uneasiness of finding the one. For him, the crazy-in-love feeling is comforting. Built around warm soul echoes (Kanye West splits executive production with Legend and Dave Tozer), “Who Do We Think We Are” finds him willingly drowning in commitment while Rick Ross (always a strangely perfect complement) raps about jewels dripping on his Timberlands.

Legend still pushes sexy R&B, but this is date-night music, not Robin Thicke debauchery. What’s adventure? Playing hooky from church to make love in the living room. The rash and damaged women of his youth are replaced with a one and only whose biggest flaw is nitpicking her own. His foreplay is telling her to pick out baby names (“boy or girl?”). And babies are “love tax write-offs.”

While spiraling into a John Legend binge listening writing this, it was easy to get lost in frivolous songs like "Alright" and “I Can Change,” where the playboy only half-pledged commitment, something Love In The Future gleefully champions. As younger artists like Frank Ocean and Miguel stumble and leg-drop through love on record, John Legend 4.0 is the wise Real Time with Bill Maher talking head, chuckling from the sidelines. He knows the future isn’t as exciting, but it’s definitely more stable. —Clover Hope (@clovito)

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Phil Emerson

E-40 The Ageless: Forty Water Memories of a Bay Area Rap Giant

In 1995 he was rhyming “Floyd Terrace” with “esopha-garus,” rapidly scrunching and expanding rhymes with torrents of slang, often hilarious and strikingly original. The audacity of E-40 has been his ability to be himself, a one-of-a-kind whose business savvy moved him far beyond rap, famously sitting courtside at huge events, funding films, owning restaurants and real estate, condos and cars, even dabbling in the tequila (naturally called, E Cuarenta). At over thirty releases, let us also not forget he’s one of the most prolific artists— in any genre— of the last three decades.

These days he’s community minded, glowingly giving back and accepting his role as local neighborhood champ. “You don’t always have to broadcast what you do on the internet or push it in the limelight or put it on the news. But I definitely do that sometimes because I want to influence other people in my position to do the same thing.”

All of this doesn’t detract from the fact that he’s never slowed musically, releasing double albums, side projects, and even trilogies in staggering artistic spurts. 2012 saw five total projects – three solo albums and two collabs with another enormous figure, Oakland’s own Too Short. His response as to how he’s able to remain in creative overdrive after all these years: “It’s all gravity.”

Practice Makes Paper, his latest release, is brimming with guests who not only add to the album’s interest factor, but also reflect E-40’s continual and far-reaching relevance. Swaths of guests include Method Man and Scarface, but also Chris Brown and G-Eazy, Schoolboy Q, Rick Ross, and others. Whether as E-Pheezy, Charlie Hustle, or 40 Belafonte, he’s one of the most uniquely consistent personalities in music, finding his style early on and never deviating. Musical landscapes change, and we grow older, but E-40 stays the same— there’s a comfort in that.

Here we talk about the early schemes of a young Earl Stevens, his relationships with other Bay giants, his time with Tupac, and other seminal, and at times peerless, moments in the career of the great Earl Stevens.

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VIBE: You started Sick Wid It Records in 1986. Tell us about the beginning. E-40: My brother, D-Shot, and I had a clothing store around the time we had just finished college. D-Shot did 22 months in Preston CYA, a California Youth Authority and after he was released, we decided we needed to slow down and stay out of trouble. So we bought a clothing store in the late 1980s and called it New Fat Clothing. We would just buy our stuff from New York or LA’s garment district and distribute them here in the Bay. At the time it was like a dice roll.

Tell us what you remember about the making of your first solo album, Federal. I was cold turkey out of the soil, you feel me? I was new and was leaving my old life behind to work on this life and use the money we’d to put into studio time. Whether it was $40 or $400, I used that money to invest back into myself. I’d walk down to Vallejo Check Cashing then walk straight to the studio and be like, “I need four hours for next Tuesday, here’s my deposit.” So while I’m at the store cashiering or stocking or whatever, I’d write lyrics and jot everything all down while listening to beats. Once I got to the studio, I’d finish like four or five songs easily and all of those those tracks over time became Federal.

What do you remember about the actual studio process and technology of the time? I remember doing it all on half-inch reels. Then a couple years later, we would mix everything onto two-inch reels. But those fucking two-inch reels held at most three songs! And each reel was something ridiculous like $350 each. It’s trippy because these days you can pay like a couple hundred bucks and have thousands of your songs stored somewhere. That’s how it was, at least where we were at in the Bay.

On the topic of the Bay, talk about your friendship with another local legend, Too Short. How did you two meet? It came about naturally. We had mutual friends and I knew him and his folks B.R. You know what that means?

B.R.? It means ‘Before Rap’ [laughs]. We had mutual friends but we never kicked it. I used to go to every Too Short show I could too. I don’t look up to too many, but I looked up to him. I grew up on all his stuff and was a real fan. We were on the same label for many years, he signed with Jive Records in ‘88 and I signed a distribution deal with them around ’94. We eventually did a record in 1996 called “Rappers Ball” and shot a legendary video with tycoons like Ice-T, Mack 10, Tupac and hella others. The grind didn’t stop from there though, we went on to do hella songs.

Another Bay standout is Boots Riley (from the Coup) who is now an acclaimed film director. There’s that famous picture of you, Boots, and Tupac together. Talk about Boots. Boots to me has always been one of those dudes that stood for what’s right. I would literally see Boots at every show that was going on in Cali. We did a song called “Santa Rita Weekends” and I felt it was legendary and we just stayed in contact ever since. He had a song where he said, ‘I got a mirror in my pocket to practice lookin’ hard,’ which I always loved. That picture you mentioned was when we were doing a video and Pac just popped in. We weren’t even expecting him but he was in the Bay for a court date.

How was Tupac that day? He hung out all day. He was in the soil. All my in-laws, all my cousins, everyone, he showed genuine love to. We was deep in apartment complexes, Lucky Supermarket, and the local check-cashing place, and everyone was just taking pictures with him. I remember everyone becoming Pac’s security that day [laughs], nobody even think about popping a balloon, you feel me? People was trippin’ because Pac was in V-Town!

Talk about your relationship with him. How did you two meet? He shouted me and the Click out on the track “Representin’ 93” from his album Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. and I heard it. It was at a Juneteenth event in Davis and I saw Richie Rich, this rapper from Oakland. Rich was like, ‘Yo Pac wanted me to give you his number, he wants to holler at you.’ I said, ‘For real? He wants to fuck with us?’ Rich had already known Pac for years. So I hit him up and from there, there was no turning back.

What was the studio environment like when you two met up? Every time in the studio we had a pervin’ session, you know, getting warped, smoking big turtle, smoking that big broccoli. Every time there was a new deal, we’d be in the studio celebrating, getting twisted, making songs. It was like a family reunion.

On topic of songs, I’d like to talk about a couple classics of yours. “Captain Save A Hoe,” for instance was a hit with a very memorable music video. It was just comedy. Making the music video was tons of fun too. First of all, there’s a difference in having a female that you’re locked in with and she’s faithful, that’s beautiful. But sometimes dudes have females with more miles on her than Jet Blue [laughs] Every Tom, Dick, or Harry has had relations with your girl and you’re trying to make her a housewife? That’s “Captain Save A Ho.”

Another recent song of yours, “Choices,” became a huge anthem. How’d that come about? I don’t always talk in third person but I sometimes rap in third person and I was just talking to myself when I made that song. That’s like my inner dialogue, you know? I’m just talking to myself about making choices and I caught a flow that opened up the direction of the track. Asking myself a question, then answering it. Yup!

You ended up altering the lyrics for the Golden State Warriors’ run a couple years back. Sports fans, especially here in the Bay, see you at games all the time. How do you see the Dubs doing next season? I think they’ll be right back on top of the league. Of course the league has tightened up with good players but Dubs have a lot of experience and know-how from winning so much during these five or six years. I really hated to see KD [Kevin Durant] go but it was the right move. I think the legacy will continue.

We touched on your history but I’d like to highlight your community efforts. What’s your message when it comes to giving back? The thing is, you have to give back from the heart. You have to do it right and not just for show. For instance, when I gave out backpacks to some school kids, it was on the news and all that, which is fine, it’s all gravity. But I wasn’t just handing out backpacks, I purposely chose Jansport because they have lifetime guarantees, you feel me? So that if something happens, these kids can still help themselves and get another backpack.

Speaking of kids, what’s your take on current rap you hear? Do younger artists hit you up for advice? A lot of the music is out of hand and probably wouldn’t have lasted in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. It’s all gravity because I do like a lot of the newer stuff too. Some stuff people might not even think I’m into it. But for all you young artists: anytime anyone needs anything, needs any advice, I’m here for y’all.

Let’s end this at the beginning; full circle. What music were you into when you were younger? Do you remember when hip-hop entered the picture? I was into soul music and R&B. The Bar-Kays, Cameo, Earth Wind & Fire. For all the young bloods out there, that’s where hip-hop started! And the first time I heard rap? It was 1979 at Franklin Junior High and I heard “Rapper’s Delight.” And that was it for me. Damn brother, that was forty years ago!

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Paul Elliot

Matt Muse Raps His Heart Out On 'Love & Nappyness'

Matt Muse used to hate love songs. Last fall, the Chicago rapper asked his Instagram followers what they’d like to see on his next project, and they answered resoundingly with demand for more songs like “Shea Butter Baby,” a hip-house love song that was a highlight of 2018’s Nappy Talk. “I think love songs are mad corny, so I was like ‘Hell naw,’” he laughs over the phone. “But then I’m thinking, ‘They told you their answer. What is a way I can satisfy this desire?’” Muse then faced the challenge of delving into love songs without repeating himself or regurgitating cliches.

Love & Nappyness, Matt Muse’s new project, explores love from all angles: romantic, but also platonic, familial, even spiritual. It’s an ambitious undertaking, but Muse succeeds through sharp writing and soulful production. It’s the best work yet by a rising artist in Chicago’s fertile hip-hop scene.

The rapper born Dexter Matthews found inspiration for the album in his church’s annual Agape Festival. “The festival was everybody feasting together in the basement of our church celebrating love,” he says. Included in the program were Greek and Biblical terms for various kinds of love that provided a framework as Muse wrote his verses and eventually became subtitles for each track. “Love doesn’t just exist in this vacuum of intimate relationships. It actually exists in all these other ways too,” he says.

The South Side rapper was careful to avoid the corniness he sees inherent to the love songs churned out by pop songwriters for “anybody who can look good and sing well.” “The way I automatically combat that corniness is the nappyness,” Muse explains. “It’s real, it’s me, it’s genuine. Everything I talk about in every one of these songs is one million percent real to me.” The EP’s title is less an Al Green reference than a celebration of freedom from external expectations, symbolized by his natural hair.

On the project’s first track, “St. Matthew (Agape),” Muse raps directly to God. “Now me at 26, 10 years from you / But searching for a verse to keep the congregation moved / Guess we ain’t that far removed but I’m still stuck & still confused.” I’d recommend that!Though he grew up intending to be a preacher, he stopped believing entirely after processing the deaths of loved ones in his teens. His distance from divinity is the heart of the song, where he laments earthly racism and disloyalty while admitting his own mistakes. It’s a credit to Muse’s pen that he balances the heavy subject matter with moments of levity, like when he imagines that God will “probably reply ‘Same phone, who dis?’” Muse stresses that his lack of religious beliefs didn’t divide him from his churchgoing family. “I still be pulling up to the church sometimes, people don’t treat me any different.”

Muse continues his family’s musical tradition, as he explains on “Family, Still (Storge).” He raps that his “mom’s in twenty-something choirs,” while his father, stage name Big Ed, has produced house music and rapped all his life. (One of his songwriting credits, Barbara Tucker’s “I Get Lifted,” was recently sampled by a house tribute from a fellow Chicagoan: Kanye West’s “Fade.”) Muse’s music career was kickstarted by an eighth-grade graduation gift from his dad, a drum machine. His younger brother raps and produces as well under the name Syl Messi, a fitting name because “his room still be dirty but his beats be kicking.”

The song concludes with Muse harmonizing to Mon’Aerie singing a yearning melody: “Rest your head and your heart / I’ll keep the family near.” The Chicago singer’s warm vocals add extra flavor all over the EP. “If I’m the heart and brains,” Muse says, “she’s the body.”

Though he initially planned against featuring any guest rappers, Muse tapped Pivot Gang member Joseph Chilliams for a verse on “Myself (Philautia II).” The song shares a subtitle with “Ain’t No,” which is a dexterous boast like vintage Lupe Fiasco, but “Myself” is about self-love in a physical sense. “Love how you treat me baby,” Muse sings on the hook. “But first let me treat myself.” As the sugary sweet beat dissolves to drums, Chilliams raps “Looking in the mirror, I just gotta thank the lord / In love with myself just like Regina George.” Chilliams is familiar with showing his feelings, his humor and his Mean Girls knowledge, dating back to past projects like The Plastics and Henry Church. “Listening to Joseph Chilliams’ music was a huge inspiration for me to even be comfortable being as vulnerable as I am on this song,” Muse says. “To me, he embodies self-love in the way he raps.”

Muse addresses romantic love on “Love Wrong (Eros),” a sequel of sorts to “Shea Butter Baby.” If the fan-favorite track depicted puppy love, “Love Wrong” documents the same relationship later, as the two navigate disagreement and miscommunication. “Both songs are about the same real person. ‘Love Wrong’ is a more in-depth analysis of what her and I have experienced since being involved with each other,” Muse says. “The realities of it, like ‘Oh we gotta learn each other, this sh*t doesn’t just work overnight,’” he continues. The song ends on a hopeful note, as he chants “We gon get it right” like a mantra to get through the tough times. Muse is still seeing the woman who inspired both songs, after all.

Perseverance through discord and death is the common thread through Love & Nappyness, the same grit in the face of adversity that drives hometown heroes like Kanye and Common. Muse is releasing his latest work independently, and he passed up opportunities to play festivals in order to book the release show, his first time headlining. For him, the payoff has been worth it. “The whole theme of my year,” he says, “has been betting on myself.”

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YouTube/VEVO

6 Pop Culture Tributes In Normani's Jam-Packed "Motivation" Video

Since its release this morning at midnight (Aug. 16), Normani has been the name on everybody's lips. The former Fifth Harmony member dropped a video for her latest single, "Motivation," which shows off the 23-year-old's incredible dance moves and also pleasantly pays homage to some of our favorite visuals and pop-culture moments from the 2000s.

"Motivation" was produced by ILYA, and Normani revealed that Ariana Grande was one of the song's co-writers. The video was directed by Daniel Russell and Dave Meyers, who is as iconic (and throwback) as it gets. Take a look at a few moments the video pays homage to below.

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106 & Park (0:00- 0:29)

BET's music countdown show is the basis for the visual. A teenage girl is shown running into her living room, and she is eager to see if one of her favorite music videos will be shown. To her delight, Terrence J and Rocsi announce that Normani's video will be playing.

Beyonce, "Crazy In Love" (0:30-0:42 and 2:43-3:08)

A given considering Normani's vocal appreciation of the Queen Bey. To start the video within the video, 'Mani is seen strutting down the street a la 'Crazy In Love' with denim bottoms and a white tank, serving us life on a silver platter.

She also served us sexy choreography in the rain, a likely homage to Bey's iconic video. The bedazzled outfit screamed 2000s, but there was no denying there was Bey influence for the scene.

Ciara, "1, 2 Step" And/Or Ashanti, "Happy" (0:45- throughout)

Normani storms into this scene with energy, which prompts everyone else to get in formation and dance with her, reminiscent of when Ciara showed us how to 1,2 Step. Much like in the homage, everyone rallies behind CiCi to have some fun.

This could also be an homage to Ashanti's "Happy." Videos in the 2000s were clearly all about dancing in front of houses, and with the synchronization of both groups of dancers, we could also lean towards Ashanti being a definite inspiration.

Jennifer Lopez Feat. Ja Rule, "I'm Real (Remix)" (1:42-2:13)

The 2000s were all about the basketball court too, and "Motivation" screams "I'm Real." The OG video features J. Lo and Ja playfully canoodling on the court, which is also what we see during Normani's take on the hit.

Britney Spears, "...Baby One More Time" (1:54- 2:05)

You can't deny that this particular scene has Brit Brit written all over it. The Louisiana native, who is a former dancer and gymnast, pulled out all the stops in her debut music video. Normani (a fellow Louisiana girl as well as a dancer and gymnast) pays homage in a very loaded way.

via GIPHY
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