MUSIC

8 Forgotten R&B Groups

As the popularity of R&B faded, these groups were lost to history.

During the '90s and 2000s, R&B groups were among of the most popular and profitable acts in music.

Iconic groups like Boyz II Men, Jodeci, and TLC reshaped the landscape of Black music. Their powerful vocal arrangements, distinct personalities, and chart-topping singles not only earned them millions of fans across the globe but respect and recognition from their peers, as well.

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MUSIC

Leave Your Man at Home: A Galentine's Day Playlist

From Diana Ross to Beyoncé, here arethe songs you need to celebrate.

Galentine's Day might've started as a bit in the Parks and Recreation universe, but Leslie Knope's holiday for celebrating her favorite women has since become an occasion for many ladies in real life.

Intended for celebration on February 13, Galentine's Day is best spent sharing the love with your closest gal pals—we recommend a potluck complete with wine and copious amounts of dessert—before sharing the following day with your sweetheart. If you're single this season, Galentine's Day and the following weekend also mark the perfect occasion to hit the town with your fellow bachelorettes, soaking in each other's companionship instead of wallowing over a lack of romance.

No matter how you're spending Galentine's Day, you need a playlist. We've compiled plenty of empowering hits—from classics and modern pop stars alike—to get your day (or night) started on the right foot.

Robyn, “Dancing On My Own”

Robyn's biggest hit to date is simply magical. It's a relatively simple dance-pop song that remains pretty level throughout, but "Dancing On My Own" still has a cathartic power that's made it the definitive sad banger. It's irresistible to sing along to, but the best part is you won't actually be on your own—you'll be dancing with your girls.

Follow the playlist on Spotify!

Galentine's Day

MUSIC

Before Taylor Swift: 6 Artists Who Were Screwed Over by Their Labels

Swift's very public feud with Big Machine Records has ignited a conversation about artists' rights, but she's far from the first superstar to challenge her label's actions.

Taylor Swift's recent attack on her former record label—which sold the masters of her music to another producer allegedly without her knowledge—has sparked a resurgence of conversations about musicians' rights to their own music.

Despite the dramatic nature of her accusations, Swift is far from alone in losing her work to a label; that's a story that's been repeated since the dawn of the recording industry. Even some of music's most iconic superstars have lost millions in legal battles over faulty contracts that they signed as teenagers.

1. TLC

TLC was a boundary-breaking girl-group that paved the way for the success of Destiny's Child and the like. During the height of their success in the 1990s, they were raking in millions of dollars—but due to a terrible record deal helmed by their manager, Perri Reid, they received only 7% of their record sales, translating to about $35,000 per year for each member. In 2018, Reid sued for $40 million in defamation following a VH1 documentary that portrayed her as corrupt and dishonest, claiming that the kind of deal that TLC received was just "the type of deal that new artists get."

Because of their debts, the girls were forced into bankruptcy at the height of their fame. Fortunately, they were eventually able to re-negotiate their contract with LaFace records, but the damage was done.

music artists bad deals record labels Image via Ebony Magazine

2. The Beach Boys

In April 1969, the Beach Boys sued Capitol Records for $2 million. All this began when the Beach Boys requested a termination of their contract back in 1967, also requesting $200,000 in unpaid royalties. Two years later, they still hadn't received the requested royalties and so ultimately won back nearly $1.5 million in unpaid production fees—though their conflict with Capitol Records continued, and their catalog ended up back on Capitol anyway, under the control of the Wilsons' father, Murray—who later sold all the band's masters to Irving Alamo Music for $700,000 without their consent. (The catalog would eventually be worth $30 million).

music artists sue record labels Image via Coastal Living

3. Kesha

Kesha's drawn-out battle with her music producer, Dr. Luke, ignited a series of conversations about recording contracts and the ways they often place artists between a rock and a hard place, with little room to escape under even dire circumstances.

In 2014, Kesha sued Dr. Luke, asking the judge to let her out of her contract, which would have forced her to record six more albums with the man who assaulted, drugged, and verbally abused her. The subsequent legal battle dragged on for years, and Kesha was denied almost everything she asked for, including an attempt to record an album on a different label while the lawsuits went on.

Eventually Kesha released a new album, Rainbow, produced independently but still released on Dr. Luke's label. The fact that Kesha lost her desperate, very public appeal to terminate her contract with Luke reveals the flawed, terrifyingly rigid power imbalance written in the DNA of contractual obligations between musicians and producers.

music artists sue record labels Image via Vox

4. Trent Reznor

The Nine Inch Nails frontman was shocked when he realized that his record label, Universal Studios, was selling his albums for an exorbitant price. He responded by advising fans to steal instead of dishing out their cash. In an impassioned 2007 blog post, Reznor wrote, "As the climate grows more and more desperate for record labels, their answer to their mostly self-inflicted wounds seems to be to screw the consumer over even more. The ABSURD retail pricing of 'Year Zero' in Australia. Shame on you, UMG [Universal Music Group]. 'Year Zero' is selling for $34.99 Australian dollars ($29.10 US). No wonder people steal music."

music artists sue record labels Image via Vulture

5. Prince

Prince received his first record deal at age 18, kickstarting what would become a career-long struggle with contracts and labels. Like Taylor Swift, he was an outspoken advocate for artists' autonomy.

Prince had a multitude of conflicts with Warner Bros. and persistently rebelled against their influence. When the label wouldn't let him release albums on his own schedule and refused to grant him ownership of his own masters, Prince changed his name to a symbol he called the "Love Symbol" (a combination of the male and female gender signs) in order to spite them. He also began performing with the name "SLAVE" written on his cheek.

music artists fight record labels Image via Iraisrael.com

"I wanted to buy my masters back from Warner Bros," he said in a 1999 interview with Paper Magazine. "They said no way. So I'm going to re-record them. All of them. Now you will have two catalogs with pretty much exactly the same music—except mine will be better—and you can either give your money to WB, the big company, or to NPG. You choose."

Eventually, Prince was able to purchase his masters through a deal with Warner Bros. that was contingent upon him releasing his own album. Later in life, Prince began advising young artists not to sign any record deals. However, in the years leading up to his death he signed a deal with Jay-Z's streaming service, Tidal, embracing streaming as an alternative form of distribution—despite having called the Internet a "Matrix" designed to benefit powerful labels at artists' expense.

music artists fight record labels Image via Vulture

6. Big Mama Thornton

Willie Mae Thornton created the original version of "Hound Dog," later covered by Elvis Presley. It eventually became one of the most litigated and contentious tracks in history, sparking widespread reflection on songwriters' autonomy, profits made from cover tracks, and racial dynamics of musical profit.

Elvis Presley wound up paying Thornton around $500 for his cover of "Hound Dog," the song that would launch him to superstardom. Back in the 1950s, it would have been nearly impossible for Big Mama Thornton to contest Elvis and secure the rights to her work—and so today, some are arguing that people like Big Mama Thornton are owed reparations for the profits they lost out on when their songs and styles were taken and profited off of by white artists.

Image via Medium

While each of these artists certainly lost out, it's important to remember that they are the ones who actually made it into the public eye, and there are so many others who didn't come close, by no fault of their own.

Though we often think of the music industry as a sequence of bright stars, triumphant stadium shows, and extravagant after-parties, its actual history is probably more like a graveyard, haunted by the millions of artists who never made it, because they unwittingly sacrificed their careers and livelihoods to corrupt executives and bad contracts.

Today, streaming has complicated the traditional artist-label dynamic, enabling some creators to circumvent label conflicts entirely—but the digitization of music brings its own share of problems. While streaming services are raking in billions, a recent study revealed that artists and labels are receiving disproportionately little amounts of money compared to the profits they bring in.

It seems that as streaming takes control of the music industry's finances, labels are getting a taste of their own medicine; and even in the virtual dimension, corruption still reigns supreme wherever big money is involved.

"fantasii" Photo by Naima Green

The more and more I listen to fantasii, the more I realize it's a futuristic space where Black women are allowed to love and evolve on their own accord...

Multimedia artist E. Jane is mesmerizing. Their album fantasii is sensual, dreamy, and delicious deconstructed R&B that rattles and echoes as though the mechanics of the genre have been misplaced in a Soundcloud file in "Blade Runner 2049." On fantasii, artist E. Jane explores their alter ego as Mhysa, where the sounds of tomorrow are the sounds of yesterday: the fun is in discovering the little nuggets and musical references to TLC and Janet Jackson. Covers of Prince's "When Doves Cry" and Beyonce's "Naughty Girl" are found on tracks "Tonight" and the album's impressive closer, "For Doris Payne." (The album references a infamous jewel thief, Doris Payne, who has a criminal record dating back to 1952.)

Mhysa's fantasiiNaima Green

fantasii takes on a multi-layered nature, often separating into fragmentations that find themselves whole through Mhysa's eerie lyricism. What could easily seem like a high-school mixtape transforms into a beautiful, poetic entanglement of all the small intimacies women allow and protect from their lovers, friends, and family.

"Strobe" is a cheeky, intergalactic club anthem documenting the camera flashes Myhsa sees when they find their rhythm on the floor. It's a fun, light, self-hype song that adds a needed boost of energy to the album. On a more poetic note, it details the small pleasures Black women find in music and dance.

"Bb," a reminiscent account of a failed relationship still haunting Mhysa in the present, sounds like it's buffering until it drops you into a pool of atmospheric longing as Myhsa whisper-sings, "Do you think about me now?" There's a feeling of isolation and estrangement as the production counterattacks with a claustrophobic breath.

"You Not About That Lyfe" literally sounds like the sonic equivalent of a Myspace layout circa 2008. Cluttered and messy, it repeats its song title like a Pac-Man regurgitating and purging its internal coding.

"Spectrum" speaks to this exchange of loyalty and togetherness, a hallucinogenic ode to "believing" in a greater connection amongst humans. The song is stunning and ends before you can gather your footing, both ecstatic and sedated by the ethereal production.

Mhysa's presence on the record is gorgeous. Many tracks follow the echo of their voice as it quietly dissipates into the background — the experience is rejuvenating somehow, like being invited to a slumber party where all the girls can braid hair, speak on their favorite episodes of "Moesha" and "Girlfriends," and sing Beyonce lyrics in front of the mirror without judgment or shame.

Mhysa's fantasiiNaima Green

The more and more I listen to fantasii, the more I realize it's a futuristic space where Black women are allowed to love and evolve on their own accord, a space for Black women to celebrate their voices and bodies. Often these spaces do not exist in reality, so it seems only fitting that Mhysa would present this fantasy in a cyberspace where women can be tender one moment, and indulgently independent and selfish the next. fantasii is an ode to Black femmes, women and queer narratives rarely depicted in R&B.

Infamous Jewel thief Doris PayneGetty

Like Doris Payne, whom Mhysa dedicates the closing song to, you are as cunning as the face you wear, whether that be a jewel thief, a mother, a sister, a multimedia artist, or a queer, cyber-diva. In celebrating the ever-changing nature and evolution of women, Mhysa reprograms the look, the feel, and freedoms of their world.

Mhysa "fantasii"Naima Green


Shaun Harris is a poet, freelance writer, and editor published in avant-garde, feminist journals. Lover of warm-toned makeup palettes, psych-rock, and Hilton Als. Her work has allowed her to copyedit and curate content for various poetry organizations in the NYC area.


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Rising Star

Wishing for some '90s TLC and soul?

We premiere the latest single from ESP Evolution, "Wishing On A Falling Star"

From Eric B. and Rakim to Macklemore and Lewis, the power of a tight production combo can't be denied. Which is why we're happy to bring you the force of LA's ESP Evolution, a unit comprised of Lady Capri on the vocals and Overdose on the beats. Only ESP Evolution aren't cooking up another slab of dancefloor bubblegum, with tropical beats or trendy samples. Natch, ESP Evolution are cooking up what they call "unstoppable" old school soul taking upon themselves the mantle of The King and Queen of Soul Rock. Their latest edict? A rollicking, as one would say, single called "Wishing On A Falling Star," which they're publicist kindly hucked at my email box.

Why don't you pop a listen:

Man, there's so much going on here! The beat is pure TLC, it's airy chorus sliding up and down like the puffs in a puffy jacket; within two seconds, Overdose's old school keyboards and Lady Capri's huffed 'yeah, yeahs' have brought us back to the '90s and the perfume is still in the air. Unsurprising, of course, when you consider Overdose's pedigree: he's previously worked with some of Aaliyah's posthumous releases, the '90s R&B star whose material has been spinning in the hearts and souls of every heartthrob for the past two decades. He's also claimed to have worked with rappers like E40 and R&B crooners like Tank. Names that are associated not with chasing after the latest trap beat or simmering dubstep crunch but are interested in something else entirety, nostalgically yearning for a '90s that remains always summery and always safe. Listening to "Wishing On A Falling Star" for the requisite third or fourth time, I heard the sidewalks of the suburbs of Nickelodeon TV blocks, the sun beating on the neighborhood kids playing the neighborhood boombox.

"We wrote 'Wishing On A Falling Star' because now more than ever, it's important that people hear the message of not giving up," either Lady Capri or Overdose told me via email and even that timidly PC-vagueness was reassuring. Its message was, indeed, like those bald Spice Girls anthems, to not give up and keep grinding after that proverbial thing, a common sentiment in an industry of so many forgotten souls churning ceaselessly. When Overdose raps out "never stop wishing" as a kind of insolent command, addressed to both the woman he will do it to "on sea and dry land" and his listening audience and himself, the last evident by the admonishing gesture, "God, are you listening?" It's like DJ Khaled, but sincere and soulful and with enough talent to clutch a guitar. Gucci.

Feel free to chase after the ESP Evolution on Facebook, Twitter or tha 'gram.

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MUSIC

TLC Shares Two New Tracks

The "No Scrubs" singers are also expected to release a new album

Last year, TLC started a kickstarter asking fans to donate money to make their final album. The much-covered campaign raised over $100,000 in just two days, even receiving a $5,000 donation from Katy Perry. Since the campaign ended, there hasn't been much word on the progress of the album or even when fans could expect it… until now. Ahead of their Japan concerts, Chilli and T-Boz released two brand new songs exclusively on Japan's iTunes. While the rest of the world will have to wait to hear the full version of the tracks, their previews popped up on Apple Music earlier today.

The songs don't sound like anything on the radio today. Both harken back to the days of Y2K pop—the era TLC released their legendary track "No Scrubs." Joyride is a good ole' smooth bubble-gum pop track, something that early Britney or Christina would have sung. Chilli sings on the track in her iconic velvet voice. While "Haters", a true bop featuring T-Boz's signature rasp, has a more hip-hop sound to it.

TLC's last full-length album, 3D, was released all the way back in 2001, shortly following Left Eye's death. As a duo, Chilli and T-Boz have operated more as a legacy act, making guest appearances here and there to perform their throwback hits, rather than releasing new music.


So it'll be interesting to see if the girls can achieve top 40 relevancy again. It'd be a shame to see the girls simply ride on the catalog of their old hits and the new album simply get overlooked or under-promoted. The comebacks of dated acts don't always end well, just ask Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block.