Keith discusses what he looks for in a rap hit and how Amber got caught in the cross-hairs.
My spirits were high moving into Episode 4. I felt that the previous "adventure" challenge, my first as a judge, was a success. There was a fun, positive vibe on set and, more importantly, a couple of very strong songs emerged. My attitude was like, "we're finding our groove here. . .LET'S GO!"
I found out that Rodney Jerkins would be our guest judge for the this episode and was psyched about that. We'd worked on a string of hits together back in the day (Brandy and Monica's "The Boy Is Mine," Monica's "Angel Of Mine," and Whitney Houston's "It's Not Right But It's Okay") and have remained friends over the years.
When it comes to the rap genre, my bar is very high. During my radio days I was a massive supporter of "conscious," thought-provoking hip-hop music by A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and Eric B and Rakim. Additionally I was an A&R VP at Arista Records during the label's incredibly potent ventures with both Bad Boy (Notorious B.I.G) and LaFace (Outkast).
As I mentioned last week, I wasn't present for any of the hook challenges, nor did I have knowledge of any behind-the-scenes drama with the cast while they were collaborating. Again, this was to ensure my complete objectivity while checking out the live performances and gauging hit potential. I respected that decision regarding my role because in "real life" I'm generally not in the studio while songs are being written. But I must say I've never reached out to a songwriter or producer to say, "Hey, we're looking for a smash single for Britney and by the way. . .throw in a line about super powers and while you're at it, add just a twist of opera!"
So here we go...on to the performances.
First up was Johnny with Jes and Scotty. I overheard some chatter among the crew on set that Johnny looked pretty ridiculous in his performance gear, but I actually thought he delivered some star wattage. For a guy who last week personified the pure essence of folksy pop-rock, I thought his transition to Luda-style hip-hop was really impressive. As for the song itself, I thought the concept was solid and the lyrics were strong, but that creepy, cinematic, operatic hook melody just didn't do it for me, despite everyone else's enthusiasm!
Sonyae, Nick, and Melissa were up second. I thought Sonyae's verse flow was very natural, honest-sounding, and commercial, and yes, I officially became a fan. Nick’s counterpoint on the pre-chorus also felt inspired. Unfortunately the hook just didn’t slay me. It sounded a little under-cooked to my ears.
Finally, Jackie, Amber, and Brian hit the stage for "Super Duper Rapper." TOTAL CRINGE. I was squirmy, uncomfortable, and just mortified during that performance. I leaned over to Kara and asked "how did this happen?" "Rodney liked the hook," she whispered, almost apologetically. Yikes. It's not like I don't have a sense of humor. In fact, I LOVE "clever" when it comes to songwriting. But this came off as offensive shtick. In fact, it reminded me of those corny song parodies that morning DJs used to concoct. . .always a turn-off for me.
Poor Amber with the canopy bed and the kind heart of a nurse. . .who in hindsight took a bullet for Jackie. If only Amber (and Brian too) had been more assertive during the writing session, but hey, I get it. How painfully exhausting it would've been to confront, take on, and re-direct Jackie Tohn, who was so unhinged and manic in tonight's episode.
Amber, I wish you only the very best. Your closing scene was full of pride, grace, and dignity. Love that. I have a feeling we'll be hearing more from you in the months ahead, and I'll look forward to that.