Screen shot 2013 03 03 at 10.32.28 PM Book Review: Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being CreativeAustin Kleon’s book, “Steal Like An Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative,” was a book that I had been dying to read since it’s release date in March of 2012.  I constantly saw the book in my favorite hipster store, Urban Outfitters, however, for some reason I thought it was a fake book — a cute fake book nonetheless.  While on my trip to Portland and the awesome bookstore Powells, I finally got my hands on the little book.  To be small, the book is filled with lots of helpful tips to allow you to explore your creativity. Some tips were things we know as humans, while others were not so common sense.

With the book, Kleon focuses significantly on the difference between being creative and using influence for inspiration instead of stealing ideas.  This is detailed through ten different concepts.

I found this book to be very helpful in helping me explore my creativity because I feel like a lot of times as creative people in whatever profession, we are trying to figure out something that sets us apart and makes us different.  As a writer myself, I struggle with this a lot.  I want to be known as a journalist with a respected opinion like my idols — Danyel Smith, Lisa Ling and Raquel Cepeda, but I didn’t want to be like them. I want to define my own style.  After reading Kleon’s book I realize that I still have to define my own niche but looking to them as guidance, as well as their idols for guidance is fine and a good way to get inspired.

After reading the book there are some additional principles that I will take with me such as the following:

1. Keep your day job I know that this is a thing that I should do, however, every day I go to work I want to quit.  Granted, I work four hours a day, but, man — I hate working for and with other people.  They kill my vibe, especially all of their personalities.  Kleon says, “A day job puts you in the path of other human beings. Learn from them, steal from them.”

2. Leave your home “Your brain gets too comfortable in your everyday surroundings.  You need to make it uncomfortable.  You need to spend some time in another land, among people that do things differently than you.  Travel makes the world look new, and when the world looks new, our brains work harder.”

3. Write what you like “The best advice is not to write what you know, it’s to write what you like.  Write the kind of story you like best — write the story you want to read.  The same principle applies to your life and your career: Whenever you’re at a loss for what move to make next, just as yourself, “What would make a better story.”

4. Save your thefts for later “Carry a notebook and a pen with you wherever you go.  Get used to pulling it out and jotting down your thoughts and observations.  Copy your favorite passages out of books.  Record overheard conversations.  Doodle when you’re on the phone.”

I would definitely recommend this book — it’s a fast read, but good and informative nonetheless.  Plus, the compact size of the book helps to make this book a functional read a well that you can put in your purse, backpack and etc.

Purchase the book here

I’m always getting told that I am people’s favorite nerd, or book nerd – a badge that I hold near and dear to my big heart.  With being considered a book geek, I am constantly getting asked book suggestions.  Typically, I give my book list however, thanks to friends who have printed my list with 134 titles, and felt it was a little overwhelming I have now started a new thing.  I will be giving my suggestions based on books that I read that month and give my opinion of those you should and should not read.

Before starting that however, I got asked the other day about my can not fail book recommendations.  I tried to stop myself because I start getting excited, so I decided to list my top ten recommendations here.  I am however, not including some of my favorite books and staples like The Autobiography of Assata Shakur, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and The Alchemist.  I am going to list other options, check them out below. [Read More]

 Is She Really A Girl on Fire? Alicia Keys Album Review | Girl on Fire

Grammy Award Winning singer Alica Keys has come a long way from sitting behind a piano, with braids and beads singing about “Falling.”  She is now an accomplished singer/songwriter, wife and first time mother with Grammy’s, number one songs, and sold out shows under her belt.  She is also on a new label, RCA, since J Records is now defunct.  The evolution that Keys has gone through is documented on her latest effort, Girl on Fire.

For the album, which was recorded shortly after her wedding to producer Swizz Beatz, and the birth of her son, Egypt, Keys enlists help from a great roster: Emeli Sande, Stacy Barthe, Babyface, Swizz Beatz (baby daddy), Dr. Dre, Frank Ocean, Bruno Mars, and etc.  The album also includes collaborations from singer Maxwell, and Nicki Minaj.   The end result, is a beautiful album full of love, passion and excitement with where she is in life currently.  There’s also those “first time mom” moments that singers turn to incorporating vocals from their children, example: Whitney Houston’s “My Love is Your Love.”

The album opens with “Brand New Me” which was co-written with singer Emeli Sande. A song full of confidence, and independence as Keys sings essentially, as the title alludes to, not being the same girl she was before. Singer Stacy Barthe lends her hand to writing one of the most beautiful songs on the album, “When It’s Over.” The track features great production from Keys that would sound amazing live.  The song has a “My Love Is Your Love,” vibe ironically, and speaks to if her world were to end, at least she had her one true love.  Keys sings, “When they lay me down, put my soul to rest, when they ask me how I spent my life, at least I got to love you. When it’s all over, when it’s all said and down, at least I got to love you.” The track ends with an adorable outro from her son Egypt.

The production on “Listen To Your Heart,” laid out by Keys puts you in the mindset of Drake’s So Far Gone, Mixtape produced by 40.   The track speaks to having to listen to your heart unlike the cliché tells you to do with doing what your head tells you to do. “New Day,” which features production from Swizz Beatz and Dr. Dre, is a banger.  The song, which speaks to celebrating life and not letting the negative things you occur, break you down.  “There’s no limitation no, fill up your life, let me see your hands up one time.  I celebrate mine, cause I ain’t gonna get no more.”  The song, towards the end has a crazy beat breakdown – with heavy drums. Overall, the track evokes a great party like vibe with a positive message.

For “Fire We Make,” Keys recruits crooner and sex symbol, Maxwell, for one of the sexiest songs in her whole discography.  The Pop & Oak produced track, will for sure be a baby-maker, its sexy, sensual, and passionate.  Definitely, evokes some type of fire for the listeners, not to mention the horns in the bridge only add to the overall sexiness of the song.  “One Thing” has an old soul, like vibe, and beautiful lyrics definitely adding to the high points of the album.

For all the good that comes with the album, there are definitely downsides, which first become prevalent with the title track, which preceded the album.  The song, “Girl on Fire,” was charted at #22 on the Billboard Hot 100, and essentially was created for empowerment to be a metaphor for letting your light shine.  “Looks like a girl, but she’s a flame/ So bright she can burn your eyes.” However, what comes across is a forced effort that borders the line of annoyance and trying to hard.  The forcing only was further deepened with an added verse from Nicki Minaj for the “Inferno” remix, as well as adding Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas for her performance on MTV’s Video Music Awards.  “Not Even a King” has great lyrics, but Keys’ voice sounds whiny.

With this album, Keys, creates an album that clearly shows fans what she’s been doing since releasing her 2009 effort, Element of Freedom.  As a whole, the writing on the album is great — almost makes you forget that Alicia Keys isn’t the best singer around.  A lot of the lyrics on the album, especially “That’s When I Knew” speak to the way I want to feel about someone one day.

Final Rating: 3.5 / 5

Listen to the Stream Below, and Pre-Order the album here. The album comes out tomorrow.


nodoubt1 Push and Shove   No Doubt (Album Review)

Growing up as a Valley-Girl (Castro Valley Representative) No Doubt for me was an iconic group.  I grew up idolizing front woman Gwen Stefani for several reasons – banging body, good singing voice and amazing style.   Their debut album, Tragic Kingdom and Return of Saturn, are some of my favorite albums ever, so it was a no brainer that when I learned they were releasing their sixth album, I was ecstatic.

In 2001, No Doubt; Stefani, Adrian Young, Tom Dumont and Tony Kanal, released their fifth album Rock Steady. Since that time, the musical climate has changed – more about personas and personal lives than music realistically.  Also, since that time, Stefani has created an image and persona that has surpassed her band members with her bids as cover girl for multiple magazine publications, makeup endorsements, cologne/clothing line, and two solo albums Love.Angel.Music.Baby and Sweet Escape.  

Now, 11 years later, No Doubt returns to the scene with their sixth album, Push and Shove released September 25th.   With their new album, No Doubt revisits a lot of the same concepts that made them household names pre-hiatus – great production, great lyrics and concepts, as well as lovely and infectious vocals from Stefani.  Despite the lead single, “Settle Down,” not necessarily being a good indication of what the rest of the album will sound like – the album is great.

Highlights on the album begin with “One More Summer.”  The song is featured on the album three times with the actual production, acoustic version and a Jonas Quant Remix, but I’m partial to the original track.  The guitar that introduces the song sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the track.   The song speaks to essentially having a little more time for love using the summer love metaphor.

The title track of the album, “Push and Shove” featuring Busy Signal and Major Lazer serve as the perfect title track from the album.  Not only does the song have great lyrics but as a whole it’s one of the most standout tracks from the album in terms of production.  From the beginning of the song, the beat commands attention only lets Stefani to have the perfect background.  The song also somewhat will put you in the mindset of “Hey Baby,” perhaps from the Dance hall like vibe incorporated in both.

The production and lyrics of “Easy,” are both sexy.  Stefani sings,  “Put your hands up you’re surrounded/ they’re circling me/ cause I’m a hustler baby/ come on, I bring it on, can’t turn it off.”  As well as, “Gonna put it over there/ white flag in the air/ gonna get my way when I cease the fire, I wanna be with you.  I’m dropping everything, I wanna be there.”

The intro lyrics on “Gravity,” could work almost as a statement to where No Doubt are today.  Stefani sings, “We’re so lucky/ still holding on.”  While with, “Undone” the group creates a song that is reminiscent to previous classics, “Don’t Speak,” and “Simple Kind of Life.”  Stefani sings, “I’m broke, let me show you where it hurts.  I’m trying to be brave, this wasn’t in my plan and nothing you can do, I’ve changed.  It’s such a waste.”

Overall, with their latest installment, No Doubt created the album that longtime fans like myself have been waiting for.  The lyrics and production of the album both have a tremendous amount of depth and both evoke some type of feeling within me.  I think No Doubt’s veteran status as well as helped them to create this album – it’s almost like they don’t care.  Yet it’s not lazy at all. Kudos. Kudos.

 Review: Lupe Fiasco   Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Part I

Rapper Lupe Fiasco has become a name synonymous with controversy, skepticism, and scrutiny.

Since his humble beginnings and debut in 2006 with his album Food & Liquor, there has been a level of negative commentary that followed the MC.  From being introduced as a skateboarder who couldn’t skate, calling out Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh as racist and calling President Barack Obama a terrorist, Fiasco has created an out-spoken ego of sorts. The skepticism also followed the emcee with his last release, Lasers.  The album, which was commonly referred to by critics as Losers (*cough cough me*) was an almost lazy effort and a project that Fiasco himself didn’t support.  Whenever you have to recruit crooner Trey Songz for a jam, your album isn’t up to par.  In the album, there were some highlights: “All Black Everything,” and “I Don’t Wanna Care Right Now,” but as a whole not the highest moment in Fiasco’s musical career.

Fiasco’s negative place within music due to his public displays and last album all helped to make people questionable about his latest installment, Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Part. I which was released yesterday.  For the album, Fiasco creates a project that could be the soundtrack for the black militant.  Preachy on America’s injustices, the oppression of blacks through white supremacy, structural racism and etc among other topics.  For the album, Fiasco recruits production from: Soundtrakk, Fatimes & Built, 1500 or Nothin’, B Sides, Severe and more, as well as collaborations from Poo Bear (lol at his name), Guy Sebastian, Casey Benjamin, Bilal and etc.

With Fiasco’s album, there are some familiar aspects – his sister Ayesha and her introductory poem, as well as the reincarnation of a favorite from Food & Liquor with “Sunshine,” this time featuring Bilal for “How Dare You.” There are components of this album that work really well, as well as things that don’t work at all (production choices).   The good with the album first comes with the first official song on the album, “Strange Fruition.”  For the song, Fiasco recruits singer Casey Benjamin and creates a song in a way that references Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.”  Holiday’s track was based on a poem by Abel Merropol, a white man, protesting lynches.  With Fiasco’s update, he creates a song created around America and the institutional racism of the country.  Despite the song beginning with “Now I can’t pledge allegiance to your flag/ Cause I can’t find no reconciliation with your past,” the grove of the production courtesy Soundtrakk make the content not seem so preachy. [Read More]

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