Started From the Bottom
'I been waiting for this motherfucker the entire tour!" a more than jovial Drake announced to a near-capacity Toyota Center crowd last Wednesday night. "Everybody knows Drizzy Drake was born here in Houston."
He doesn't attempt to keep his distance from fans. Instead, he does that childlike rap maneuver every boy makes when he feels like he's said the most incredible thing ever — he bounces. All over the place. Drake by and large believes in every word that leaves his mouth, a live-wire version of jazz hands that by all accounts makes him perform like the biggest star in the world.
When it comes to radio's current standards, no one in rap is at his perch. There's just Drake stroking a magnificent owl and rattling off hit after hit, such as when his tour DJ abruptly ran through what seemed like an endless array of Drake songs and features from 2009's "Successful" to 2011's "Take Care." Rap has only one real caretaker of the Billboard charts, whether it be Top 40 or those niche R&B/Rap ones, and his name is Aubrey Graham.
Inside Toyota Center, all of that was on display and then some. In the background stood a large video board, at times playing different scenes and splicing in moments of the live show all at once. It wasn't a full-blown distraction, but watching that thing while hearing the car-door chime of "Connect" just seemed even better.
The "Would You Like a Tour" premise centered mostly around the release of his junior album, September's Nothing Was the Same, and for a good while it felt as if we would run through the entire album in succession. "Tuscan Leather" clanged out of the gate, boastful and broad while sandwiching in a coda from Whitney Houston's "I Have Nothing" in between performances of Take Care's "Headlines" and "The Crew." That's the moment when you realize Drake is in full command, every awkward dance move to a slow jam segueing into another big number.
No other rapper at the moment has a keener sense of when he's actually trolling people, and on this particular night, going after a stagehand who didn't necessarily have the show's tech aspects quite cold seemed fitting. "We doing this for Houston, my shit's gotta sound right," he told him, as cold and convincing as a Memphis pimp.
Though I suppose imagining Drake as a pimp in any form would lead to hypothetical questions like "Did the John respect you? I know he respected you..." Once that got situated, the crowd immediately got pulled into the jutting section of NWTS where R&B rules supreme, "Wu-Tang Forever" oozing into "Own It" and a small offering of "Connect," before Drake realized — party first.
Boom. Boom. Boom. Next came a rapid-fire succession of "Pop That," "No Lies," "No New Friends" and a more-than-engaging performance of his summer addition to Atlanta trap-rap group Migos's "Versace" record. This was Drake's kingdom, a pyrotechnic, elevated setpiece playground that connected with fans and made those who hate the man grit their teeth even more. He hit all his cues, and even if his singing may remind you of Aziz Ansari making fun of R. Kelly, Drake still commanded eyes and attention.
Which made the night's close seem fitting. For all his talk of Houston, Drake — maybe more so than any of his contemporaries who have funneled Houston's screwed-up sound into their own coffers — gets it about this city. So after the smoke and bang and giant pomp of "Started From the Bottom," he turned the lights down and asked the crowd to regale him by reciting 2009's "November 18th." His inaugural Warehouse Live performance played onscreen behind him and, in some sort of eerie home-movie vibe, it felt as if we were right back inside that ballroom, witnessing a future star.
Lauren Mayberry, singer of UK buzz band Chvrches, has learned a lot this year.
'The past year has been quite a change for us," says Chvrches front woman Lauren Mayberry during a recent phone interview.
In the past year alone, the Glasgow-based trio have become key players on the electro-pop scene. They've toured with Depeche Mode, sold out headlining tours across the world and earned a SXSW award for the best-developing non-U.S. band in March.
Much of Chvrches' popularity was achieved before their debut album, this year's The Bones of What You Believe, was even released: Last year, they released their first song, "Lies," solely online, which instantly gained attention. Their next single, the infectious "The Mother We Share," was one of summer's indie-pop anthems.
"The Internet has been important for us," Mayberry explains. "People first heard our single online and passed it on to their friends. We found our fan community online."
Mayberry speaks humbly, sincerely grateful for her band's break.
"It's important to us that we never stop appreciating these things," she says of Chvrches' fan support and favorable media attention. "I'm just excited [the press] want to talk to us!
"We've each been in bands where we've traveled for hours to play a show and there's, like, eight people there, and we don't get paid," she recalls.
"Now," she continues, "we get to travel on planes and see different parts of the world we'd never thought we'd ever see, all because people are enjoying our music. It's pretty incredible."
Mayberry speaks softly and sweetly, her Scottish accent thick. She couldn't stand much taller than five feet, yet her opinionated voice belies her unassuming appearance.
A band "born on the Internet," Chvrches have always taken a hands-on approach, managing their publicity, checking their own e-mails and responding to Facebook messages — until recently, that is.
Fed up with the amount of sexually abusive messages she was receiving, Mayberry valiantly took a stand against "online misogyny," and penned a wisely worded editorial for The Guardian to speak her mind.
"Is the casual objectification of women so commonplace that we should all just suck it up, roll over and accept defeat?" she wrote. "Objectification is not something anyone should have to 'just deal with.'"
Mayberry, who earned a degree in journalism and a graduate degree in law, highlighted the dichotomy of the Internet age in her article — without an online avenue, Chvrches likely wouldn't have attained this level of success; with it, the band has opened avenues for explicit objectification, thanks to some grotesquely bad apples.
"We no longer directly e-mail with people anymore," she says, ruefully. "I liked having that direct connection with our fans, but [the abuse] was something that was happening all the time, on a day-to-day basis," she reveals. "It exists, so I'm glad I wrote the letter at the end of the day."
Mayberry, who cites blogs like Feministing and The F Word among her favorites, draws inspiration from past feminist movements in music.
"We should harness what was happening in Riot Grrrl," she says, referring to the '90s ideology, "like working from the ground up, starting dialogues and getting people to share their opinions."
She's admirably fierce in her activist thought, but Mayberry keeps her cool day-to-day — especially while touring, which is its own stress.
"We have a 'No Complaining' policy on tour," she laughs. "We don't succeed all the time, but we try."
After nearly a year of constant touring, Chvrches is eager to begin their next album, and already "kicking some song ideas about," says Mayberry. But first, the Scots will make their way down South, and they'll play Houston for the first time on Sunday.
Mayberry is particularly excited about one of Texas's finest culinary offerings.
"There are a lot of tacos in Texas," she notes, brightly. "And I can never eat too many tacos."
Chvrches plays House of Blues, 1204 Caroline, Sunday, November 24, with Basecamp. Doors open at 8 p.m.
Could beloved Houston rapper Bun B feasibly be a future mayor?
Earlier this month, Houston voters re-elected Annise Parker as the city's mayor by a wide enough margin that no runoff was necessary. According to the Los Angeles Times, Parker defeated her main rival, attorney Ben Hall, by 57 percent to 27 percent, which even apolitical types recognize as an old-fashioned country ass-whuppin'.
But this was also Parker's third time to be elected to Houston's highest office, and thanks to term limits she'll be well on her way to a senatorial or gubernatorial campaign in a couple of years, some think. Meanwhile, Hall, an attorney whose tax troubles were successfully exploited by the Parker campaign, hardly emerged as her heir apparent, despite his words "you haven't seen the last of Ben Hall" in his concession speech.
So to whom might the Bayou City turn for leadership through the latter half of this decade? The field is literally wide open, with only the usual allotment of ambitious policy wonks and green City Council members eager to move up in the municipal ranks being mentioned at the moment. It might even be time to consider an outsider — indeed, someone whose nickname is already "Houston's unofficial mayor."
How does Mayor Bun B sound?
Laughable, according to the popular Houston rapper, whose latest album, Trill O.G.: "The Epilogue, came out November 12 and who performed at the Houston Symphony's "Houston in Concert Against Hate" Anti-Defamation League gala last Thursday at Jones Hall.
"Too many skeletons in the closet, lol," Bun told Rocks Off recently via e-mail.
But what about those skeletons? Certainly Houston voters have proved they can be a tolerant lot, and Bun B the OG rapper now has plenty of company in his bio, sharing space with Bun B the Rice University comparative-religion professor, Houston Symphony collaborator and trusted friend/adviser to Houston's current mayor, who asked Bun to sit on her task force against texting and driving in April. People have certainly run for mayor with fewer credentials than that.
UGK's lyrics frequently criticized the guns and drugs that were rife in their hardscrabble neighborhood, while Bun and late partner Pimp C were never shy about celebrating the psychotropic indulgences that temporarily removed them from their grim surroundings. But they also never backed down from a fight, and never, ever rolled fake. Surely many voters would flock to a candidate like that, not to mention someone who understands the finer points of grippin' grain and switchin' lanes.
One of Houston's leading political analysts says that kind of street cred could be invaluable in a mayoral campaign.
"I think one way for him to embrace the image is to use that as a way to create a real, visible narrative of what's happening out there, and letting people know that these problems need to be addressed, and he is a good person to do it," says Dr. Brandon Rottinghaus, an associate professor of political science at the University of Houston. "A traditional politician may talk about those issues, but maybe hasn't lived it, where in his case he has lived it and it gives him some credibility in a way that doesn't give credibility to a traditional politician."
Rottinghaus likens Bun's hypothetical campaign to that of someone like the former Minnesota governor Jesse "The Body" Ventura, who in 1999 ran as the same kind of brash, outspoken maverick he was for years as a popular WWF wrestler, where he often played the "heel." Ventura's straight-shooting message connected with Minnesota's voters, and he served four years in the state's highest electoral office.
"The campaign ads he ran were all about how he was gonna wrestle the opposition, and it was time for a change in Minnesota, and he had kids with little Jesse Ventura action figures who were pummeling the competition," says Rottinghaus. "So they made that image work for them.
"Imagine Bun handing out tiny wood-grain steering wheels at campaign stops. Sadly, there's also one big, unfortunate reality of politics: It's boring. Many duties involved in governing a large city like Houston consist of drudgery like enduring long council meetings and haggling with other city officials about various budgets, because there never seems to be enough tax money to go around." If people are already calling Bun Houston's unofficial mayor, Rottinghaus suggests, why mess with a good thing?
"Maybe the best kind of use of his time is to kind of be the unofficial ambassador of Houston," he says. "It strikes me that that kind of activity is probably as valuable, if not more valuable, than actually campaigning [and] governing in an office. Maybe it's the case that being the kind of unofficial ambassador gives you the freedom to choose the things you want to work on, and maybe gives you more impact for the time you put in."
Ask Willie D
Hard Out Here for a Pimp
A reader thinks her boyfriend may be keeping something important from her.
Dear Willie D:
I have been seeing a guy for a little while now and he is always with me, but we don't do anything outside of being at my house. I feel like he is embarrassed of me or something. I treat him like a king and he knows I like him, but he is so emotionally detached. On top of that, I think he's a pimp. Please help!
A pimp? How do you conclude that he might be a pimp from him not doing anything in public with you? It appears that you're only telling part of the story. Maybe he is a homebody like me. But not quite, because I'm mindful that women like to get out, do things and go places. They also like public displays of relationship affirmation, so periodically I reserve quality time outside of the house to spend with my lady.
Action speaks louder than words, but unless he tells you directly that he is embarrassed by you, I don't think you should waste unnecessary energy thinking the wrong thing. As long as the people who are important in your life know that you're together, nobody else matters. Well, not unless that nobody is the police.
You see, he could be a fugitive on the run from the law who's using your pad as a hideout to lie low until things cool off. So if you're ever sitting at home watching America's Most Wanted on TV with him, and you see his picture pop up, play-sleep.
Ask Willie D appears Thursday mornings on Rocks Off.
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