Wednesday, February 1, 2012

As with cooks, too many guest artists can spoil the stew....

You know, every time someone comes out, I get compared to their hair style.  This time it's Esperanza Spaulding.  In yesteryear, it was Erykah Badu and her head wraps cause I was wearing head wraps.  And then when I had twists it was Rachelle Farelle.  There are but only so many ways black women can wear their hair…but I digress before I've even made my point.

Uber musician Esperanza Spaulding is coming out with a new record hot on the heels of her epic Grammy win last year - - which, btw, made me feel oh so good, like wow, music can really still make it at the Grammy's and the artist can still be herself.  But looking through the album's credits has brought me a stark reminder of the latest, and in my opinion dubious, marketing trends for Jazz.

Currently, Jazz is trying to become cool again by pairing Jazz artists with R&B and Soul Artists.  Not just because it sounds nice, but because frankly, it has the potential to sell more records.  Esperanza is ridiculous all by herself. Check her out…she plays bass while she sings.  As a singer who can play some piano, let me tell you, that can't be easy. She is a talented artist who happens to be cute and sexy.  Potent combination.  But…Jazz don't sell by itself.  A good selling jazz record maybe sells…15,000 copies.  By a well known artist.  Remember Casandra Wilson? She once sold 250,000 copies and Blue Note went nuts!  Now that album, "Blue Light Till Dawn", was an EPIC, lemme say it again: EPIC record. It was beautiful and interesting, and chocolaty and…mmmm…just great.  Here again, it was reinterpreting jazz outside of it's mainstream roots.  So just as Jazz albums have done since forever, on the new Esperanza Spaulding record they have a bunch of guest artists that could help broaden it's appeal; people like Lalah Hathaway (who is another artist I'm going to talk about), Algebra Basset, and Q-tip. Though I like all of these guests and agree together with Esperanza great music could be made, why can't I just hear her? I get the brand association calculations that those charged with marketing her must have made in suggesting these pairings, but isn't there also the risk in making the guests so important to the marketing that people won't actually get to know Esperanza better as an artist? That her voice will be a bit lost and/or diluted?

Robert Glasper is doing the same thing.  He's got longtime buddy Bilal, Ledesi (that track MUST be good, all he had to do was just let her scream a little, mm mm good!), Mos Def, Chrisette Michelle (dat girl can sang), and…Lalah Hathaway. To his credit, Glasper is exploring all sorts of interesting musical terrain, but my point is: will y'all even buy the record, or even listen to it if there are not some other people on it at the same time?! While I like a good guest spot just as much as anybody,  I want to simply hear the artist on his/her own sometimes. Alas the economics of the music business all too often dictates that I can't get my way, at least on this point. 


  1. I see what you're saying and don't know that I disagree in principle. But I do understand why jazz instrumentalists would enlist a little extra assistance. It broadens their audience. In the case of Robert Glasper, how many people have even heard of him outside the jazz community, even within it? Don't know that I think he needed to employ a cast of thousands, but hey, whatever floats your boat, Rob. At least he and Esperanza use artists with jazz chops and/or sensibilities. If Slash, Lenny Kravitz or Lil' Wayne were guests, I would definitely give the side eye.

    I actually have more problems when singers or rappers have a lot of "guests." To me that indicates you don't have confidence in your own voice. If you don't, why should I?

  2. Actually, Lenny Kravitz would be a great pairing. He's a wonderful musician. My point is that I wish that this didn't have to be, not so much that there's a problem with it. Pairings with more widely known people have happened since music first started being recorded, but I find that with so many guests, I get confused. Who's the artist again? And Esperanza is too talented to get that reaction. But this will project her to a larger crowd who I'm sure will embrace her...hopefully. :)