Whenever a US artist performs a concert in London, you can almost always guarantee they’ll tell the crowd how much they love the city; some will even declare that our vibrant capital is their favourite place to perform.
Mary J. Blige went one step further. The much-loved ‘Queen Of Hip-Hop Soul’ decided that she would head to London to collaborate with a host of UK artists and producers for her latest album, aptly titled The London Sessions.
It’s certainly different. Featuring collaborations with British talents including man-of-the-moment Sam Smith, along with celebrated songstress Emeli Sandé, producer Naughty Boy and songwriter Jimmy Napes, The London Sessions has been described as “innovative” and “ground-breaking”, while Smith referred to the album as “the bravest thing”. But while many consider the album to be a significant departure from the fusion of hip-hop and R&B that Blige is best known for, the 43-year-old says it was by no means a stretch to create her latest offering.
“Not at all,” she confirmed to me. “In this music is me. You can’t take Mary J. Blige away from the music because it’s my vocals, plus the soul and the emotion – everything that is me – that is distinctive. I can’t hold anything back when it comes to being me, coz I’m me!
Just who is Terri Walker? Is she the neo-soul girl we first encountered on her 2003 album for Def Soul UK, Untitled? Or, as Channelle Love, perhaps the voice behind Salaam Remi’s The Champagne Flutes orchestral project, whose only release so far has been a single track on a 2008 Sex & The City soundtrack album? Oh, and then there’s the well-received Lady retro-soul project that she did alongside Nicole Wray for Truth & Soul Records last year – itself a tangent she’d run with while over in NYC to work on another solo project for Dame Dash. And don’t forget her brand new EP, Joe Buhdha presents Terri Walker, an excellent six-tracker just out, heralding a whole album come Spring 2015.
This past year saw several grime MCs out to take the genre back to its underground roots. But if singles like Skepta and JME’s That’s Not Me got all the kudos, albums like Ghetts’ Rebel With A Cause suggested grime didn’t have to choose one or the other – that it could encompass back-to-2004 songs from the brothers Adenuga, trap-grime like Meridian Dan’s German Whip as well as more polished fare. It’s the latter option that Ghetts took for Rebel, being incredibly well scrubbed, but without losing the raw spark that’s always defined him.
Perhaps not enough people noticed though, as he’s about to release it in an expanded edition, this time with an unplugged version of the album as a bonus disc. Live grime albums aren’t exactly thick on the ground, but Ghetts thinks the genre should also have a chance to land in a less electronic context.
Being known for your versatility is a road that’s often paved with difficulties for any artist and not least one from Jamaica, where rivalry is so fierce and trends evaporate faster than raindrops in the hot tropical sun. Straddling the worlds of dancehall and reggae isn’t easy, but then Mr. Vegas has never lacked vision and nor does his ambition stop there, despite a few ups and downs.
His latest album is called Reggae Euphoria for a reason. In the preceding 12 months, his private life was splashed all over the internet as his relationship broke down and he became embroiled in a custody battle for his daughter. It got quite nasty, and even led to him publicly breaking down in tears. Whilst real men can and do cry, dancehall artists aren’t always afforded the same privileges. Bounty Killer – who is hardly known for being sympathetic – dubbed him “Bacteria Boy” as Vegas’ career threatened to nosedive. The response was instant and spoke volumes about the younger artist’s powers of recovery as he saw off Bounty with a string of irrefutable facts.