Tag Archives: Dr. Dre

Straight Outta Compton: A Film Review

It can’t be easy making a biopic.

Err to much on the side of leniency and you get a sappy, self-congratulatory, and ultimately meaningless popcorn flick. Err to much on the side of harsh truth and you’ll often get a vicious hatchet job.

Now try doing that while the main character’s still alive.

Suddenly there’s the additional burden of being honest and fair and avoiding litigation at the hands of the offended and his or her legions of lawyers.

Now try doing that with eleven characters at once.

Against all odds, Straight Outta Compton does just that.

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Blood, Honey, and Bicycles

It’s about two in the afternoon on a Friday, and I’ve clearly surpassed my self-imposed noon deadline. This is kind of an awkward place to be, because I’m clearly lacking the motivation to write, and all of the topics that I’ve been planning on tackling require a lot of research, so . . .

I’m going to talk about a topic that I know little to nothing about: music.

Holly Brook on the left, Skylar Grey on the right.

Last summer I wrote a post called “Holly Brook is Skylar Grey,” about singer/songwriter Holly Brook Hafferman, who took the stage name Holly Brook, released an album, and years after rebooted her persona as the current Skylar Grey.

If you really don’t have time to read the six short paragraphs that make up my first post, I hypothesized that her song “Dance Without You” was a clear indicator of her wanting to start anew without the baggage of her past self. With that being said, I was legitimately surprised when I discovered recently exactly where her new path has taken her.

I subscribed to Skylar Grey’s email newsletter a while ago for curiosity’s sake, and found a link in my inbox one day exclaiming that the lyric video for the song “C’mon Let Me Ride” had hit YouTube. Here it is:

It’s definitely catchy. It’s also a song that begins with the lyrics “If you got a sweet tooth / You can taste my watermelons.”

Skylar Grey began her career singing the bridges to rap songs such as Dr. Dre and Eminem’s “I Need A Doctor,” and Lupe Fiasco’s “Words I Never Said.” While not the best use of her songwriting abilities, at the very least they tackled common topics such as loneliness and regret. “C’mon Let Me Ride” is a song about sex.

The following is an acoustic session of Holly Brook performing the titular song from her album “Like Blood Like Honey”:

I don’t want to hammer this point, because I feel it’s obviously overstated after watching both videos. At the very least let me point out that both songs have their foundations in comparison, riding a bicycle, and blood and honey, and leave it at that.

Promo art for the single "C'mon Let Me Ride."

According to Wikipedia, what Holly Brook was to indie-pop-rock, Skylar Grey is now to pop and hip hop. I definitely get that artists of every medium are going to grow and evolve in their craft, but have difficulty getting behind her choices. According to Rolling Stone the song is supposed to be satirical, and “a jab at ‘overly sexified music, media and the girls who try and imitate it.'” I guess I’ll leave it up to you whether or not that’s communicated well.

That same article also reveals that her original project under the Skylar Grey moniker, “Invinsible” is being reworked as “Don’t Look Down,” on which the aforementioned single about bikes will be featured. It just seems like a lot of image refinement in a very short period of time, and if she’s accurate in saying that the song is “about as far as [she takes the playfulness of her album]” I’m not sure what fans are supposed to expect, or how it will ultimately turn out.

Tupac and the Digitally Embalmed

So if you haven’t heard [I hadn’t until yesterday], there was a hologram of Tupac that performed at Coachella.

ImageAnd yeah, yeah, we know it wasn’t actually a hologram now, that it was some mirror-projection-onto-glass-thing-that-the-Wall-Street-Journal-explains-better-than-I-could. And we know that there are rumors of a tour of this faux-Tupac, and people are alternately asking when Kurt Cobain will show up and decrying the monstrous zombie-raising performance.

The thing is, you could argue that the hologram/projection isn’t much different from showing videos and voice recordings of the dead. When that technology was new, I imagine people thought it pretty eerie that they could see their loved ones move and breathe and speak on a screen.

Interesting thing: They needed to project the image onto a mirror below the stage, which created a lot of light, which is why I think they made the animation look like it was lit from the bottom - it looked like the glow from the projection apparatus was part of the lighting system.

But the thing about the performance that makes it different from just a new way of looking at recordings of dead people is the new content. The animation of Tupac, at the beginning of his act, shouted “What’s the f*** up, Coachella?”. The choreography of his performance wasn’t just a recording – the people who animated him studied the way he moved, but they controlled his body and created something new. In a sense, Tupac was performing new material.

The Illusion of Interaction
And this is the real issue – not just the commemoration of the dead. We’ve been recalling the dead, through art and technology, as accurately as we can for as long as humans have been dying. But the faux-Tupac isn’t just a 21st century version of an Egyptian sarcophagus mask. What they wanted to create with the Tupac animation – which is why the fact that it was in front of a live audience was such a big deal – was the sense that Tupac was interacting with Snoop Dogg and the audience, just as a real live performer would.

This is about creating an illusion of interaction, and while a scripted interaction with an animation might be actually quite close to the way concerts can be formalized and scripted (like pro wrestling), it’s still just an illusion.

Snoop Dogg and Tupac, both about 25, in 1996

One of the weirder things though, for me,  was the age discrepancy between Snoop Dogg and Animated Tupac. Snoop Dogg is 40, and has grey hair. When Tupac died in 1996, Snoop Dogg was like 25. Tupac, who was shown as a young, shirtless 20-something, would be turning 41 this year if he were still alive, and might not look as good as his hologram did in white sweatpants.

Snoop Dogg, 40, and the Tupac Illusion, still 25

The juxtaposition of digitally-embalmed washboard-ab Tupac and 40-year-old greying Snoop Dogg was probably the most eerie element of the whole performance.

If this trend continues, I think the problem is the illusion of interaction. The essence of human existence is interaction – it’s why we still feel a little weird hearing about guys dating digital AIs, and why the most popular games are the ones that allow you to play on the internet with others. Interaction with humans, illogical and annoying as we are, can’t quite be simulated. And judging from Snoop Dogg’s awkward performance with faux-Tupac, our interactions with the digitally animated dead will always fall a little short of the real thing.

Holly Brook is Skylar Grey

At the age of 18 Holly Brook Hafferman, going by her first and middle names, was signed to Machine Shop Recordings, Linkin Park’s vanity label. Two years later she made it big by being featured and singing the chorus on Fort Minor’s fourth single, “Where’d You Go.” Holly Brook’s debut album, Like Blood Like Honey, dropped two months later, on June 6th 2006.

The above video is one of the only music videos I could find of her on YouTube, and it’s a live recording and not a professionally filmed one. While nothing flashy, it manages to sum up pretty well where she came from musically, “heartache and self-discovery over heavy piano chords.”1 Like Blood Like Honey managed to hit number 35 on Billboard’s Heatseekers Albums chart, but soon after she faded into obscurity.

This year Holly Brook reentered the music scene under the new stage name Skylar Grey, and went on to do big things. She helped write sections of Eminem and Rihanna’s hit “Love the Way You Lie” and was featured on tracks by both Diddy-Dirty Money and Lupe Fiasco. Her debut live performance as Skylar Grey was at the 53rd Grammy Awards where she performed “I Need A Doctor” alongside Eminem and Dr. Dre.

Already having accomplished so much this year Grey is currently working on her solo studio album, titled Invinsible. Below is the only video currently on her VEVO YouTube channel, a music video for the song “Dance Without You.”

Although it’s never directly stated who it is Skylar Grey would like to “dance without” it seems apparent that the person is Holly Brook, and the video drips with (unsubtle) symbolism. Evidence can be found in her black clad character’s actions bordering on murderous [the neck-snapping action at 1:35] towards her hospital gowned alter-ego and her dismissively stepping over the latter’s prone body at the video’s conclusion. The message is clear: It’s time to change and move on.

It’s impossible for anyone to judge Skylar Grey’s decision to change her image and genre of music, especially taking into account her past with the music industry.The chorus of “Wanted,” a song from Like Blood Like Honey, begins with the words “I will be wanted / I will not fall from grace.” Maybe this was just her way of making those words ring true.

1. AllMusic’s review of Like Blood Like Honey. Source: http://www.allmusic.com/album/like-blood-like-honey-r836849/review

2. In reference to her fall out of fame she’s quoted as saying “[s]uddenly I was chewed up and spit out,” admitting a lot of confusion over what had happened in the past. Source: http://www.latimesmagazine.com/2011/06/hooked.html