2011 Grammy Awards Recap: WHO IS ESPERANZA SPALDING?!?!?

And yes, this is a rant.... so enjoy!

The Grammy's this year has certainly been the talk on the Web these past 16 hours, especially because of the so-called upsets that took place (and for Lady Gaga's chickenhead-esque entrance). The biggest award surprises for the night were Arcade Fire for Album of the Year, Lady Antebellum for just about everything else, and for Esperanza Spalding beating out Justin Bieber and Drake for Best New/Breakout Artist... Well, at least a surprise for non-bloggers and the quote/un-quote "music elite" (including hipsters and indie folk).

So I guess this is where I enter my thoughts? Ok.

The Grammy's took a major-league turn from the award show we all thought we knew and hated to love before. The sickest thing about last night was that not only did the awards show music is still alive, but it showed how much the Grammy committee listened to the blogs and indie websites (i.e. Pitchfork, Stereogum, etc). Last night's show was heaven for this girl! (minus the whole forgetting to include GURU in their "In Memoriam" session, which I will get to SOON)

I'm sure between the time the nominees were announced and the time the Best New Artist award was presented, I was the only one betting my money on Esperanza Spalding (see tweet here). If you knew her and her music, you would have done the same. Yes, even over Justin Bieber, Florence & The Machine, Mumford & Sons, and Drake folks had plenty of reasons to root for her!

Reason #1: Modernizing Jazz in a Pop World
Esperanza Spalding is more than a chick who play that big ol' bass thing that looks like a cello (hence the diesel-like arms). She is a composer, one who is up on every style and sound of music people enjoy. If smooth and soulful is the call, she got it *cuts to her songs "Precious," "Espera" and "I Know You Know" from her self-titled sophomore album.* Her greatest composition from her six-year career (YES, SIX-YEAR CAREER!!!) comes from her 2010 album Chamber Music Society. It has all the elements of Black music in today's world, from a contemporary, abstract composition to the sexy, sensual and sassy lyricism and sound. Perfect examples are "Knowledge of Good & Evil," "Wild Is The Wind," "What A Friend," and "Winter Sun." Honestly, the entire album is Grammy-worthy!

Reason #2: The Sickest, and Most Unheard Jazz Vocals
When most people think of vocalism in jazz, they think either scat or strong and soft singing. That's not necessarily true for Esperanza Spalding. While she does scat and can sing strongly and softly, she adds another element to her voice, which is sort-of worldly and rhythmic. Whenever she isn't outright singing a song, she's using her voice as a literal instrument to pick up where her bass and other instruments leave off. Although I would say she couldn't last in the music world (especially the game) without her bass and composition skills, she wouldn't be half-bad with just her singing and song-writing. However, she has an angelic voice you can't deny, especially since she uses it to complement her music.... uses it AS her music at that! Perfect examples include "Chacarera," "Really Very Small," and "Apple Blossom."

Reason #3: History Would Be Made If She Won... Much Needed History
Did you know it has been 35 years since a jazz artist was nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy? I surely didn't until this morning. Without jazz, there would be no R&B, no soul, no hiphop, no prog-rock, no experimental, just none of the genres that require both rhythm and improv would exist. In a time where the most popular jazz artist (Black ones at that) have either been through a) four generations of music, b) only doing covers and remixes or c) implement every other genre into their sound, a jazz musician winning a televised award that usually goes to artists who fit the pop culture niche is the breath that jazz needed. Jazz has been used and abused by society as that dirty work genre - yeah, yeah, it's around and has done so much for society but it's boring. You can't dance to it. It's too deep and abstract. We've mashed so much into jazz it's hardly recognizable, let alone recognized, as real music. I'm glad Esperanza Spalding (among other unnamed jazz musicians) have brought jazz back to being a forefront genre in music, at least in the Grammy's eyes, thanks to the slight contemporary and pop culture merge in today's world.

I don't count out Justin Bieber and Drake as folks who won't last. They got oodles of time before they win the Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Album of the Year, etc. I honestly give them as soon as next year, especially if they take heed to the underlying message the Grammy's just sent to American music, including musicians, listeners, composers, producers, mainstream haters, pop culture critics, trend whores, and elitists alike: STEP YA GAME UP! WE DID.

Album Review: Adele - 21

Grammy award-winning artist Adele made a good decision taking some time to create her next album. Folks needed to fully digest 19, let alone her powerful hit "Chasing Pavements," before hearing something from her again. Yes, that album was that good! But people are all to familiar with the sophomore curse (where the artist either has the album shelved or it blows). Does Adele fall victim to that curse with 21?

Adele fires off 21 with "Rolling In The Deep," which highlights her throwback, Motown sound. While it's evident early that she's proving she's back like she never left, this is a sound that is beginning to go through the "let's play this out" phase. Fortunately, she later displays new perspectives in her songwriting, singing abilities and trying new sounds. The bad news is each and every songs is plagued by her out-the-booth affairs.

Can't knock her retro vibe though! The most surprising tracks on this album are "Rumour Has It" and "If It Hadn't Been For Love" because Adele steps out of the box folks have put her in while sticking to her retro roots.

Throughout 21 Adele's sound extends from just sounding retro, thanks to different variations in her singing, the production and her attitude. "Take It All" is a great example of this, as there are hints of almost every ballad-driven/uplifting genre (Gospel, Country, even Classical) plus her overall attitude towards her heartbreak. Instead of chasing her guy, she's telling him she doesn't want anything to do with him. "I'll Be Waiting" successfully shows her overall growth, as she gives listeners a new side to her vocal style. It's a refreshing song - it has that happy AT&T commercial feel to it.

21 has the most unique production clan with this year's music, which in turn makes Adele a more diverse artist than her previous work. Whereas 19 seemed one-dimensional in production, sound, lyrics, etc, this album is on some hi-def, 3D-type stuff. With the help of Rick Rubin and countless others, Adele improves dramatically as far as her sound goes.

In all of this "you can't tear me down" type of songwriting, the bad news (if you wanna call it that) is that each and every song is plagued by her out-the-booth affair with her former boyfriend. It's safe to say that the entire second half of 21's tracks reeks of heartbreak, revenge and empowerment (in that order). Luckily, these three raging emotions, as delivered by Adele, terrificly complement one another. Not to mention the artistry laced in every song.

Overall, there is no bad track on 21. One would think after winning a Grammy and having the greatest ballads of this generation that Adele would fall back. Instead she uses it get stronger, even through her breakup. Hopefully, this trend of making heartbreak songs will end soon with her because the world already has Jazmine Sullivan. Sorry, but it's true!

Star's Grade: A-