For Those Who Can't Sleep On Hip Hop

In honor of the great Teena Marie, below is an interview conducted with her. During our talk, she shares her love for music and discusses a lifetime of creating it. It was with sadness that we learned of her passing, however, we were blessed to have had the opportunity to hear her story first hand. There is no question that her songs will be rediscovered by future generations of music fans seeking soulful inspiration.

Teena Marie Interview
In a day and age of commodity artists who are forgotten shortly after a year or so of a radio hit, and in an environment where hit artists of yesteryear are remembered only by those who were raised on their sounds, it is rare to find an artist who continues to resonate with new and old audiences decades after launching their career.

Teena Marie stepped on the scene in ’79 and continues to touch music fans with her amazingly soulful voice. Not only has her music swept her fans off of their feet for years, but she has also influenced new generations of hit makers. The list reads something like a who’s who of Hip Hop stars, including Jadakiss, Ludacris, The Fugees, and Snoop Dogg.

Teena Marie’s history and career within the music industry is about as distinct as any artist today, from her start on Motown (signed directly by legendary Berry Gordy), to decades later releasing records with dirty south royalty Cash Money Records. If that’s not impressive enough to distinguish her from other divas, she is one of the most successful Caucasian R&B artists of all time, whose discography boasts a treasure trove of hits. Beyond that, one of her funk soaked masterpieces, “Square Biz” happens to also place her on a very short list of female artists to first bring rap onto radio. The only other lady on that early list is Debbie Harry. Blondie’s “Rapture” and Teena Marie’s “Square Biz” both became radio hits in 1981.

Teena Marie shares her thoughts on her start with one of funk’s most iconic stars (the late Rick James), explains the inspiration behind her current culture and soul rich album “Congo Square,” discusses her career and the music business with candor, gives her insight on today’s Urban music, all while exuding sincere passion for her craft and love of music. She is engaging and delightful, but what else would one expect from legendary soul diva Teena Marie aka Lady T.

I would like to go back to the beginning for a moment, if you could tell me a little bit about your upbringing and how you were influenced by the soulful music that you ended up creating for so many years.

There was just all kinds of music in my house. I have five brothers and sisters so everybody was listening to something different. My oldest sister loved Motown. My brother liked a lot of the San Francisco groups, like Sly & the Family Stone and Janis Joplin and some real soulful stuff like Otis Redding. Then my other sister liked pop music. My mother and father had great, great musical taste so there was a lot of Sinatra around the house, Billie Holliday, Sarah Vaughn. Just great, great music in my home.

I love music period, but I just really, really love the Motown sound and as I got older I really loved male vocal groups like the Dells and the Dramatics. I love the beautiful harmonies and stuff like that.
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It is with sadness that we learned of R&B legend Teena Marie’s passing earlier today. Various sources, including CNN and the Huffington Post reported that the legendary singer passed away during the early hours of December 26th.

She was an incredible talent and an immensely soulful singer with a career that spanned three decades. In an interview with Insomniac Magazine, when asked what she attributes to the longevity that she’s enjoyed in the highly competitive music industry, she shared, “I think it’s a combination of passion and truth. Definitely a gift from God.” She also discussed her connection to fans, mentioning how tools such as Twitter helped her keep the connection going. On the day before her death, the singer tweeted the following quote from the late jazz great Sarah Vaughn, “May you never grow old, and may I never die…” Lady Tee and her amazing voice will live in the hearts and playlists of her fans for years to come.

Below is a YouTube video of Teena performing her hit “Lover Girl.”

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(Photo credit Kainr- used under Creative License on Flickr - Some rights reserved by kainr)

For years, many new artists have asked me, “What do I do about the problem of piracy?” It’s true. Many people are copying music. However, if you’re a new artist, you should be so lucky to have people want to copy and spread your art. Let Gaga, Ke$ha, Katy Perry, and Bruno Mars worry about people stealing their music. Instead, in the new era of immensely saturated music industry, new artists should find ways to get people to want to consume their music in any manner possible.

Interestingly enough, I had an unknown artist and friend explain his quite opposite approach to worrying about piracy. His angle was to let people pirate his music. He almost had it right, but not quite. He said, “My marketing plan is to leak my music to Bit Torrent sites and let bootleggers do the rest.” I told him that this wasn’t much of a marketing plan. First of all, more than likely, a real-life bootlegger is looking to copy music that’s already popular. Secondly, not so devious infringers are also probably illegally downloading music that they search for, which means they’re already aware of it. The key word is “aware.” If they don’t know who you are, it’s unlikely they’ll care enough to actively find you.

Instead of worrying about piracy, sweat obscurity. How do you do that?

1. Perform at any logical occasion that arises. You never know where potential fans lurk.
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After learning of the passing of the great Bobby E. Davis of the S.U.R.E. Records, I pulled footage of us talking about the record pool’s importance, in regards to the music industry. This footage is from 1999, and it’s so interesting to hear about S.U.R.E.’s rich history and the value that it provided to both upcoming music industry professionals and the industry as a whole. You may not have heard of him since he wasn’t a performer or a high profile music executive, however, for many reasons, Davis was a hero in Urban music- including Hip Hop, dance and other forms of club music. A brief glance into Davis’s forward thinking can be found in the January 22, 1983 edition of Billboard magazine. In that issue of the staple music industry publication, Davis states, “…video will be the future. It is a tremendous force in the exposure of new music.” Davis was referring to the pool’s initiative to have video systems installed in night clubs to further push the music experience. Today, this is a common place in many clubs and dynamic DJ sets.

Below is an excerpt from the original post about his passing, and then segments one and two of my interview with Bobby E. Davis during a visit to New York nearly a dozen years ago. We discuss the importance of the record pool, and he also recalls his thoughts of first meeting with me a teenager in the eighties.

Bobby was one of the nicest people in the music business. Since the ’70s, he’s supplied records to some of the most influential DJs in urban and dance music. His company was a staple for breaking records for decades in New York City. Bobby has also mixed many dance and club records since the early ’80s to 2000?s. I first met Bobby as a teenager in the Bronx. He was a great role model and mentor. He provided inspiration for inner city youths, aspiring musicians, artists, and DJs. Bobby was a positive force. He had an uplifting spirit and great personality. It is with sadness that I say goodbye, however, I am so happy to have known this wonderful man. Thank you Bobby. You will not be forgotten. -Israel Vasquetelle

(Thanks to BJ Wheeler for operating the camera and to Anthony Torres for logging footage.)


A great night of comedy featuring stand up comedians Charles McBee, Liz Days, Brian Frange, Bridget Trama, Mike Feeney, Kevin Keith, Roxanne Racitano, and Veronica Blackwell.

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Related post: Interview with comedian Kevin Keith

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