By Geoffrey Rowlands
Almost every week seems to see a new hottest rapper emerge on the North American music scene. Latest in the lengthy line is Memphis, Tennessee-born James Baker, better known to hip hop followers as BlocBoy JB.
Although still just 21, James does not fall into the category of overnight sensation. He began posting music on his SoundCloud page as long ago as 2012. This was around the time he was expelled from high school.
“I didn’t do nothing,” he insisted. “We had a fire drill about 15 minutes before the end of the school day. I just walked home off the fire drill. They did me wrong.”
He claims his failure to report back with the rest of his class was not the last straw as far as his behaviour at school was concerned. But other admissions suggest a different tale.
“While I was at school, I was never in class. I just used to be gambling. I was just about money. I knew I was smart already. Teachers used to be like, you are going to be a failure. They’d put me out of class. I didn’t care. I knew I was going to get rich off rapping.”
This did not happen immediately. He had a number of jobs with companies such as McDonalds and Popeyes but nothing lasted longer than a month.
“I couldn’t keep a job. When you have a job, your bosses get used to you and start treating you a whole different way. Just disrespect. I was also making a lot more money for those companies than they were paying me. I was just slaving.”
It was fatherhood which made him redouble his efforts to find rap success. His earnings had been funding his music but a new mouth to feed brought home the need to make the most of his talent.
“I dropped my first mixtape, Who I Am, when I had my little boy. That was two years ago.”
Not that music was his only means of income. Unfortunately, his other earnings were illegal.
“I’m really smart so nobody knows most of the things I did. I got locked up a couple of times for some stuff. There was a warrant out for me and I had this lawyer who told me I’d get a bond if I turned myself in. So, I did what he said and, bam, I’m locked up for about two months. I got out and dropped a song called First Day Bacc on the Bloc.”
He still works with the same producer who helped to create his first songs.
“That’s my man Tay Keith. We moved to a north Memphis neighbourhood called Raleigh when I was 14. One day, I was walking down the street and saw this open shed with a bunch of studio equipment. I went in, met Tay and got some beats from him. We were so young and everybody was friendly.”
Tay started out as a rapper but soon realised making beats was his forte. His star rose before BlocBoy.
“He started working with a bunch of famous names. But he doesn’t leave anyone behind. He kept working with me and I looked at Tay’s success as a motivation.”
Two more mixtapes followed Who I Am in 2016 with another three being released last year. One of his tracks, Shoot, became not just an online viral hit but spawned the ‘shoot dance’ craze.
“I came up with the shoot dance through seeing myself in the mirror. When I play my own music, I just do anything. I saw myself doing these moves and thought it looked good. I did the dance in the video and everything took off from there.
“I saw people doing it on Instagram. It started with just local people but I’d then see videos of football teams doing the dance in locker rooms.”
Music mogul Drake was also captivated by Shoot and the accompanying dance. He posted the song on his Instagram page.
“I replied to Drake’s post and he got back to me saying I was his favourite rapper and we gotta cook together. He had already worked with Tay and got the beat for Look Alive from him. The next day, Drake sent me his part of the song. I went into the studio and did my part. Three days later, Drake came to Memphis and we shot the video. It still seems like a dream.”
Look Alive stormed straight into Billboard’s Hot 100 at number six. It has made the top five in Canada and become a big hit throughout much of the world.
“This is just the start for me. I got another mixtape called Simi ready to drop. It’s named for a long-lost partner of mine who was shot down in front of his house two years ago. Of all the people, he was the one who always told me to keep rapping. The mixtape is dedicated to him.”
Many fans had all but given up on ever again hearing new music from soul singer Sade. It was 2010 when she released her last studio album, Soldier of Love. A greatest hits album, which included four previously unreleased songs, was issued in 2011.
Since then, all requests for new material had fallen upon deaf ears. That is until film director Ava DuVernay asked if Sade might consider creating a song for the soundtrack of her forthcoming sci-fi movie, A Wrinkle In Time.
Ava’s 2014 film, Selma, saw her become the first black female director to have her work nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. She received another Oscar nomination last year in the Best Documentary Feature category for her film, 13th.
“I never thought Sade would say yes,” Ava admitted. “But I thought I would ask anyway. She was kind and giving. We began a journey together that I’ll never forget. Working with her was a dream come true.”
A lyric video for the song, Flower of the Universe, can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7b8hitvfoE Links to behind-the-scenes videos and trailers for the movie, which stars Reese Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey and Mindy Kaling, can be accessed from this webpage.
Ed Sheeran has made yet more UK chart history. He has now become the first artist to have three albums spend an entire year in the top ten.
When Ed’s latest album, Divide, notched up week 52 in the top ten, it joined his previous albums, + and X, in achieving this mark. In fact, X is just a few weeks short of spending two full years in the top ten.
The previous record of two albums in the UK top ten for 52 or more weeks had been held by Ed alongside The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel. The Fab Four did so with Please Please Me and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band while Simon & Garfunkel registered with their Greatest Hits album and Bridge Over Troubled Water. The latter was actually in the top ten for 135 weeks.
Despite this amazing mark, Bridge Over Troubled Water only ranks fifth on the list of albums spending most weeks in the UK top ten. It tops the pile for individual artists but trails well behind the original soundtrack albums from four film musicals.
The King & I and West Side Story are tied for third place on 153 weeks. But they are way adrift of The Sound of Music with 233 weeks and miles away from South Pacific which spent an astonishing 276 weeks, well over five years, inside the UK top ten.
Years & Years
It has been three years since British synthpop trio Years & Years shot straight to number one with their debut album, Communion. Fans who have been waiting patiently for the follow-up should finally be rewarded later this year with the band’s as-yet-untitled sophomore album.
Just released is Sanctify, the lead single from album number two. The accompanying video is posted at www.youtube.com/watch?v=37lXjnflt9M A filmed interview with singer / frontman Olly Alexander talking about Sanctify, the band’s forthcoming album and his own outlook on life can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQohAZZUJ5E
A hotel visitors’ book signed by all four members of The Beatles will be offered at auction on March 24.
The band’s handwritten entries were made when they checked in to The Bull Hotel in Peterborough on December 2, 1962. They were in the city to perform as bottom of the bill in a concert at the Embassy Theatre which starred English-born Australian singer Frank Ifield.
John Lennon and Paul McCartney displayed their irreverent sense of humour in the hotel registry by writing 33 and 58 in the expected number of people to occupy their rooms. Either that or they anticipated hosting rather crowded after-show parties.
The visitors’ book will be sold by Omega Auctions as part of a Beatles Memorabilia sale at their Merseyside showroom in Newton-le-Willows. The expected price is around 10,000GBP.
Anyone interested in making a bid should e-mail [email protected] for more information.
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