Eddie Murphy Appears On The Oprah Winfrey Show
Paul Natkin

Music Sermon: Eddie Murphy's Music Career Is Not A Joke

Eddie Murphy's music career may not have the success as his comedy and acting, but it's quietly been his most consistent artistic avenue.

In 1984, Eddie Murphy was dominating Hollywood. At only 23, he’d become the biggest star of the Saturday Night Live cast, earned a Grammy and sold over a million copies of his self-titled comedy album. He had also jumpstarted his movie career with two box office comedy smashes, 48 Hours and Trading Places, which resulted in a $15 million deal with Paramount to produce and star in five more films.

Eddie was rock star level famous, a new epicenter of not just Black entertainment, but entertainment, period. And he fully embraced it, adapting the all-leather ensembles Axel Foley had to stop and laugh at when he first got to Beverly Hills. Having conquered acting and comedy, the star turned his attention to another facet of entertainment: music.

Eddie’s music career is a footnote for fans at best. He only had one real hit, and his last two releases flew largely under the radar. But what many don’t realize is that making music is more than just a hobby the comic has dabbled in from time to time. This isn’t like Lil Duval hitting a lick with “My Best Life” by accident. Eddie is, at heart, a frustrated artist. Think about it; there’ve been through lines of music throughout his entire comedic and acting career, from SNL on. From the beginning, his goal was to eventually have a full-scale entertainment show, reminiscent of the vaudeville days when everyone sang, danced, told jokes, and the whole nine. Eddie as a recording artist never quite took – probably in part because his sh*t was a little unconventional, but we’ll get into that - yet music is the one aspect of entertainment he never gave up on. He stepped away from standup, even stopped doing movies at a point, but was still in his studio at the crib. As rumors swirl of Eddie possibly returning to stand up with a $70 million Netflix partnership, there’s the likelihood that some music will be involved, so let’s prepare by reviewing the comedian’s efforts to be taken seriously as a recording artist.

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Even before making it in comedy, Eddie wanted to be a singer. ''I organized my own bands when I was in high school on Long Island,'' he told the New York Times while he was working on his first album. ''I was singing before I did comedy. I would do tunes by the Commodores, some by Earth, Wind & Fire, and then I'd do impressions of Al Green, or Elvis Presley. I was the band's manager, leader and lead singer. Actually, there were guys in the group who sang much better than me; I just wanted to be out front.''

His effortless, spot-on impressions made it easy for him to weave music into his comedy, going all the way back to Saturday Night Live.

Eddie added two parody songs on his 1982 self-titled comedy album. I discovered the better-known of the two, “Boogie in Your Butt,” my freshman year of high school when my best friend’s mother was walking around the house singing the song one Friday night.

Say, put a tin can in your butt
Put a tiny man in your butt
Say, but a light in your butt
Say, make it bright in your butt
Say, but a tv in your butt
Say, put me in your butt

Once she convinced my best friend and me it was a real song, we immediately grabbed the album, called a select few people, played it, and hung up (because we were 13, and *69 callback wasn’t a thing for another two years or so).

Once he hit superstardom and his brand identity as a comedic actor was solid, Eddie felt free to experiment with a legit album. He’d already put a piano and a studio in the crib, and he had access to pretty much any collaborator he wanted. Columbia Records, the label home for his comedy albums, became his home as a vocalist, and his singing career started in earnest with the one Eddie Murphy song everyone knows, the actually jamming “Party All the Time.”

Rick James was on the downside of his career when he found out – probably from friend Charlie Murphy – that Eddie had a couple of incomplete sessions with Prince before the Purple One eventually bailed on the project. Rick was still nursing resentment towards his one-time rival, and let that hate serve as fuel to deliver Eddie more heat than he’d had himself in two years.

“Party All the Time” hit #2 on the Hot 100 chart and stayed there for weeks, blocked by Lionel Richie’s “Say You, Say Me.” But it felt more like a Rick James song than an Eddie Murphy song. (That’s part of the issue with Eddie as a recording artist: he has no signature sound.)

The full studio album, How Could It Be, theoretically should have been massive. Eddie was one of the biggest stars in America, and major talent was involved in the project – in addition to James himself, Stevie Wonder produced a couple of tracks. But the album’s performance was meh, and Eddie was surprised. “I thought the album would be doing much better now,” he told the LA Times a little over a month after the LP dropped. “I look at Beverly Hills Cop. About 60 million people saw the movie. So you’d think at least 1 million would go out and buy my record. Unfortunately, I see now it doesn’t work that way.” (This is a lesson entertainers and “influencers” are still learning.)

The lackluster response wasn’t really surprising, though. Eddie’s actual music stood separate from his comedy. Look at Jamie Foxx – who is a classically trained musician, by the way – he sang and played every opportunity he got throughout his career, so him eventually releasing an album surprised no one. Eddie, however, wasn’t a singer, singer. He was like a play singer; he could hold enough of a tune to make the skits work, but nobody was walking around thinking, I really wish Eddie Murphy would record an album. He also didn’t really promote his music. He had already started shying away from media looks, so there were no TV performances or radio promo – things you need to do to let people know you have an album in stores. Most importantly, though, singing Eddie wasn’t the same Eddie fans knew; there was a more serious side in his music. “Look at the lyrics I wrote,” he continued in the same LA Times interview. “There’s feeling in them. They’re not funny. They tell how I feel about certain things.” But did fans really want social commentary, like the unity-preaching “God is Color Blind” from Murphy?

Once upon a time, an orange bus drove through the morning dew
And in the bus were children of assorted hue
Being shipped from the ghetto to a fine white school
But you know the people wouldn't let them through
We don't want no ni**ers in our school

And my God, ooh, is color blind
Blue, black or white, you can be a friend of mine
And don't ever judge another man by his race or creed
We are all different colors
But if I cut you, you'll bleed

Alternately, his songs could be playful, risqué and sexy. Eddie counted Elvis, The Beatles, and Bob Marley among his influences, but the songs that worked for him were more funk-driven, like “Party…” and the lead single from his Nile Rogers-produced sophomore album, “Put Your Mouth on Me.”

Did I mention that Eddie’s music was a bit all over the place? Again, he had no “sound.” He was experimenting publicly (which you can do when you already have all the money), reinventing himself musically with each release trying to make something work. In ’93 he released Love’s Alright, and the bizarre single “Whatzupwithu” featuring Michael Jackson during his peak era of weirdness, allegedly a trade-off for Eddie appearing in “Remember the Time.” Whatzupwithisvideo, though? This is really some “too wealthy to even care what people will think” ish.

The third studio album was a spectacular flop, and Eddie was still shocked about it. "If you look at Love's Alright and see who worked on the album, it's actually kind of funny that the record didn't do anything," he complained to the Baltimore Sun shortly after release. “From vocalists to musicians and engineers, we had everybody who's anybody working on that record."

As Eddie’s film career declined and he moved away from the public eye, there was still music. Every movie in the Shrek franchise closed with a funky performance from Murphey’s character Donkey, and he earned an Oscar nod for his (kind of dark) portrayal of the James Brown/Marvin Gaye/David Ruffin hybrid Jimmy Early in Dreamgirls.

But even though the public had failed to buy into Eddie as a serious artist and musician, he never stopped recording. He just wasn’t releasing anything. “All I’ve been doing is making music,” he said in an interview with Rolling Stone in 2013. “I haven’t been working on films, haven’t been developing movies or any of that sh*t.” After a decade, Eddie had two somewhat quiet album releases, in 2013 and 2015. And the singles for both were – wait for it – reggae. Like, Top 5 on the Billboard Reggae chart and everything (in fairness, the more niche the chart, the lower the level of difficulty to climb said chart – which is why Lil Nas X put “Old Town Road” up as country instead of hip-hop).

He tagged Snoop Dogg as Snoop Lion in on his 2013 single “Red Light” and went for social commentary again on 2015’s “Oh Jah Jah,” with lyrics inspired by Mike Brown’s murder and the Ferguson uprising.

The devil's on the move and the world's gone crazy (yeah)
Police in the streets shootin' down black babies

Eddie’s longest interview in over a decade is the first episode for the new season of Netflix’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. One of the biggest takeaways from the episode was Eddie telling Jerry Seinfeld that he plans to put together a new set and get back on the stand-up stage for the first time in over thirty years. Based on his interviews over the last several years, his goal of putting together a multi-faceted show is still in play. “Ultimately, I’d like to have my own band and play live,” he’s shared. “If I ever get back on stage, I’d do everything – music, comedy, a big stage show. That’s my fantasy.”

So, we might as well get prepared for Eddie on guitar in between the jokes, because with all his other accomplishments and successes, he’s gonna keep giving us this music until it clicks. Until he realizes the vision he’s had since his foray into a singing career: “I’d like to hear people yelling for me to sing. That would make me feel good.”

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#MusicSermon is a series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past.

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'The Last Train To Paris' Turns 10: Revisit Diddy's Aug./Sept. 2010 VIBE Cover Story

YOU EVER WATCH a control freak mellow out? It’s fascinating. When said micromanager is Sean “Puffy” Combs, it’s an enlightening ordeal altogether. Sitting at trendy Asian eatery Philippe Chow in New York City, two days before LeBron James announces that he’s taking his show to South Beach, Combs has talking points: impact and legacy. “This ain’t a regular run,” says Combs of his two-decade laundry list of accomplishments. “I’m saying that in the most humble way possible. I’m me and I’m seeing it. Most times the impact of what you do you don’t even live to see it.”

He’s the only patron seated for the evening, lounging at a table that comfortably seats eight. This is clearly a Sean John zone. His voice remains even, but the arrogance skyrockets. “It trickles over into sports. It goes into the way the free agent negotiations are going. [Athletes] have that belief. But that level of confidence as Black businessmen wasn’t really there. Unforgivable swagger. That shit wasn’t there.”

Translation: Sean believes that his ambition has been infectious. In his “humble” opinion, his drive has taught the have-nots that not only can they have, but they can be gluttonous and acquire wealth rather than riches. Will it ruin his day if people don’t agree? Not really. But he’d still like the legacy to be accurately documented. His reactionary reflexes have given way to him thinking long term, which could be why he’s unfazed by trivial shots like 50 Cent’s claims of having nude pictures of his artist Cassie. He’s more interested in guiding careers—Rick Ross, Red Cafe and Dirty Money, among them. And really, he’d like to do square biz and have your kids’ kids respect him like his contemporaries admire Warren Buffet. That would truly be money in the bank. In the meantime, he wants to mellow with a plate of chicken satay and talk Diddy legacy.

VIBE: You have said that rap’s heavyweight class consisted of Jay-Z, Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Drake. Do you still believe that?

Diddy: Definitely. I feel like Drake is somebody that entered professionally in the heavyweight division. He didn’t come in as a middleweight, he didn’t come in as a light heavyweight, he came in as a heavyweight. He’s gonna be a force to be reckoned with for a while. He is the definition of a new age musical rapper . . . going forward a lot of rap artists are going to have [singing and rapping] in their repertoire.

What’s the ranking in that heavyweight division?

Jay, Kanye, Wayne, and Drake.

Jay still No. 1?

Hands down as far as worldwide impact and due to this last album [The Blueprint 3]. He’s moved up in the rankings.

People don’t realize that you two are friends and not just industry acquaintances.

Over the years as we’ve grown, Jay and I have needed each other. We’ve needed to be able to pick up the phone and call somebody that can understand what each other was going through. We needed each other to motivate each other; we needed each other to push each other. We needed each other to support each other and also to challenge each other. He’s definitely been a great friend to me. There’s never been anything that I’ve asked him to do or he’s asked me to do that we really haven’t done for each other.

Give an example of when you had to pick up the phone and call Jay for assistance.

I wanted to do something game-changing with Sean John. And I just picked his brain. I did [a fashion line] before him but I think that business-wise he did a lot of things better than me. He picked the right time to get out and get his check, to sell his company. We sat on the phone and talked about itŃput our egos in our pockets. I didn’t see Sean John versus Roc-A-Wear. I just saw that my man over here is doing it [and I had] a couple of offers for Sean John. It was a beautiful conversation, ‘cause we’re sitting down at this restaurant and we’re talking about apparel. We’re not talking about music. It was a beautiful moment. Two quarter-of-a-billion dollar companies—just getting advice from your competitor. It was something that you heard rich White boys do.

Dr. Dre said that the last beat that floored him was “All About the Benjamins.” How does that make you feel?

It’s humbling. I was in the studio with Dre the other day. He started working on a record for me. Watching him as a producer is watching greatness. We had a lot of similar traits. It was like looking in the mirror. He would ask questions like, “How you feel about this?” People don’t really understand true producers want to know how you feel about things. We are some of the most observant people on the planet.

You’re a lot more into the music now than the last time we spoke.

I was waiting to get a lot of inspiration from the outside and it just wasn’t coming. And I’m not knocking anyone’s hustle that’s out there. I just come from musical history that musically people gave more of themselves . . . I was able to go back and listen to all the great records that I made. I ain’t do it on purpose. Like sometimes I’d be in a club and the DJ was just throwing tributes and would go deep in the crates. I would be like, “Damn, I forgot that I made that one.” It just gave me a deep connection and another level of confidence for me to do me.

Are you feeling more comfortable writing on your own?

Yeah. I learned a lot more. I feel a lot more confident and free. On this album, I wrote like maybe two or three records by myself. But I still like writing with somebody. It helps me. Not using it as a crutch, but I get better results from co-writing; having my own feelings and thoughts, and, you know, getting some help with it. I love the feeling of collaboration, community in the studio. I don’t like being the mad scientist and being in the room by myself.

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Desus & Mero Bless A Bronx Bodega With A Year's Worth of Rent

You know them as the hosts of the hit Showtime series Desus & Mero, aka "the greatest show in late-night history, featuring only illustrious guests." These days you might catch them chatting with President Obama, but  Bronx natives Desus Nice and The Kid Mero have never lost touch with their roots as the Bodega Boys.

"On our first podcast me and Mero used to have to ride the train back afterward," recalls Desus. "And basically our conversation on the train sounded exactly like the podcast. And somebody was like, 'Yo, they sound like two guys you hear in the bodega.' Which was true, because when you hear guys in the bodega, they talk very passionately about things. They may not have all the facts, but they're talking with their hearts."

"Their confidence is strong!" adds Mero with a laugh.

"That's just us," says Desus. "We're raised in bodegas. Probably 90 percent of the food we grew up eating was either our mother's cooking or chopped cheese sandwiches."

"Facts," Mero confirms.

Ever since the pandemic hit, New York City's community bodegas have served as a lifeline by providing New Yorkers with daily necessities, especially in neighborhoods where door-to-door gourmet food delivery is not an option. But staying open hasn't been easy—the daily risks of doing business under threat from a deadly virus—not to mention a spike in robberies and violence—has made running a bodega very challenging, to say the least. But day in day out, in good times and bad, they find a way to keep their doors open.

"If your block is the solar system, the bodega is the sun," says Mero. "The hood orbits the bodega."

So when the makers of Pepsi cola decided to give back on the bodega owners who provide life-giving sustenance and ice-cold soda to NYC's five boroughs, they reached out to the Bodega Boys as their official goodwill ambassadors. Today Desus & Mero appear in a short film called The Bodega Giveback, which highlights the way one Bronx bodega overcame extreme hardship—and the way Pepsi is helping them keep going after 2020 comes to an end.

For Juan Valerio and his son Jefferson, the proprietors of JJN Corp Deli & Grocery in the Bronx, 2020 has been a horrible year. Juan still remembers when he came to America with his father in 1990. "To buy a bodega at that time was well over $100,000," Juan recalls in the short film, which you can watch above. "It was a dream that seemed unreachable. I never thought I would achieve it. And now this is what I do. My whole life is here."

Then in April 2020, tragedy struck when Juan's father lost his life to COVID 19. For the first time in three decades, the bodega had to close its doors down briefly. "It’s something very powerful to lose what you love the most in a split second," Juan recalls with emotion as his son comforts him with a hug. "Life goes on. And I decided to come back because he always taught me to work. To stay closed was disrespectful to him."

"He had to shut down for a little bit," says Desus. "But then he reopened cause the community needed him. Cause the lockdown a lot of stores closed down. And in the Bronx, you can't really get stuff delivered. And he's the hub. We heard stories of what he did, so we were like, how can we give back to him? Shout out to Pepsi with the Bodega Giveback. And just giving him a year's rent—that's the most amazing thing you can give a bodega owner. Shout out to Juan and his son. The look on their face when they really get it—you see the appreciation."

"It really hit home," said Mero. "Cause it's like, we're children of immigrants. So that could have been us—if we didn't get seen by the right people and put in the right positions, we coulda been workin' alongside our dad at a bodega. And then watchin' your grandfather pass away and then comin' back because you know how important you are to the community. Like, that's really selfless. It's just a dope story. And those stories occur all over the place, it's just people don't see them. Cause they don't get exposed on a national level. But a brand like Pepsi can put that on a national stage and be like,  "Yo, look—this is a mom and pop establishment for real. And these are the small businesses that you supposed to be supporting."

The release of The Bodega Giveback kicks off a larger holiday giveback from Pepsi this season that includes cash gifts to bodega owners and consumers across NYC's five boroughs.  “Pepsi has so many longstanding bodega partners in New York City,” said Umi Patel, CMO of North Division, PepsiCo Beverages North America. “They are not only pillars of the community, but they have gone above and beyond to take care of their loyal customers during the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have worked around the clock to stay open, filling shelves to ensure their customers, friends, and family have the essentials they need to stay home and stay safe. They have even shifted their businesses to meet the needs of the community, offering new delivery options, adding crucial items like masks and gloves, and more, all while dealing with their own personal challenges of the pandemic. We are proud to do our part in giving back to these unsung heroes.”

From now until December 20, Pepsi will also be surprising customers at local bodegas across the five boroughs by gifting pre-paid credit cards of up to $100.00 per customer.

As Juan says in the film, "one hand washes the other, and with both, we wash our face."

Check out our full convo with Desus & Mero above and the short film, The Bodega Giveback.

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Courtesy of Level.com

Level Announces Their 'Best Man 2020 Awards' Featuring Entertainment Elite to Everyday Kings

It is a hard feat for media brands to survive the content landscape these days. To pull off the incredible undertaking of informing an audience as a new publication in the digital space is damn near impossible, yet the team at Medium's Level has done just that. To celebrate making their mark as a one-stop information shop for black men with their one-year anniversary this week, the team of bright and witty editors has launched their first annual Best Man Awards 2020.

The plan to honor the brand that started in December of 2019, focused on the interests of African-American males, has expanded into encompassing the efforts of a few good men during this mess of a year that is 2020. In doing so, those that broke through barriers of personal pain, new business frontiers, and support of others are highlighted and given the rightful pedestals to gain well-deserved props.

Of the 12 awards, esteemed gents like Swizz Beatz, Timbaland, and D-Nice are saluted as Quarantine Kings for their Verzuz and Club Quarantine (respectively) social media music creations that entertained the masses during the dogged days of our universal shut-down. There is also a heroic soul of a man who protected a black woman and her family from the surrounding presence of racist neighbors on his own time and dime. They have an award for Father of the Year, where former NBA all-star and champion, Dwyane Wade shines as a glowing example of understanding and ushering in new ways of parenting in today's society.

With the awards being a noble move towards giving Black men some much-needed praise in 2020, Level made sure to round up the last 365 days with themes on "The State of Black and Brown Men" as well. Essays that cover the realms of political ideology, coping with covid among Blacks health care workers,  how Black men fell short of protecting Black women, and exploring what Black men see when they look in the mirror (a piece that is a user-generated content driver/audience-led convo). All hard topics that need to be detailed, yet are rarely in a space for deep-dive convo.

Helmed by former VIBE editor-in-chief, Jermaine Hall, Level's editors explain their thoughts on the special coverage and celebration of their one year old brand:

“With the Best Man Awards, we wanted to lean into people who are doing incredible things to support society and publicly thank them. Anthony Herron, Jr is a hero. He stepped up to protect someone he didn’t know because, as he saw it, harassment is unacceptable. LEVEL wanted to make sure he received a nod for his heroics. But there are also several celebrities who are doing things outside of their jobs. D-Nice, Swizz, and Timbaland helped us cope through music. And it wasn’t a paid gig for any of them. They responded because people needed help healing so they provided care. That’s a strong attribute of the LEVEL man. It’s certainly is the definition of men being their best selves."

Click here to read about these individuals and learn more about the Best Man Awards 2020. Excelsior to Level.

 

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