<p>Jay-Z holds Watch the Throne's three new Grammys</p>

Jay-Z holds Watch the Throne's three new Grammys

Credit: AP Photo

'N****s' in Grammys: Watch The Throne and the 2013 Awards 'race'

Kanye West and Jay-Z's popular song may have struck a (wrong) chord for voters

LOS ANGELES -- Nothing elicited more self-conscious laughter from a live audience at the 2013 Grammy Awards than during the pre-telecast ceremony, when Jay-Z and Kanye West's Watch the Throne won two honors for the song "Niggas in Paris." As is his custom at the Grammys, West was absent. But so was another element to this winner's circle: the full name of the song itself.

As it was announced, the term "Niggas" was bleeped out, as the censors would "f*ck" or "sh*t," and it sounded awkwardly funny, especially considering the accolade.

On Watch the Throne's release materials, like the tracklist, the title uses "Niggas." On the VEVO and YouTube video pages, "Ni**as." On the Grammy.com and to the night's attendees, "N*****."

To the Grammy voter, there may be more than just that term that remains unspoken.

As I mentioned in HitFix's Best and Worst tally, there's still residual racial underpinnings to the Grammys' top prizes. Song, Record and Album of the Year went to white artists (though Janelle Monae was the guest artist on fun.'s "We Are Young"); Best New Artist went to a white artist. Acts like Miguel and Frank Ocean were nominated for their turns at R&B crossover tracks and albums, but hip-hop went unrecognized in these lauded categories in 2013.

And despite earning nominations for these most-prestigious categories before, West has never won one, though he's collected 18 Grammys outside of Song/Record/Album Of The Year, mostly in the rap categories. To the producer, songwriter and rhymer, it's a matter of black and white (music), which is why in part he chose not to attend the ceremony this year.

"Eighteen Grammys, all in the black categories, though," West said during a solo concert in December. "I love Maroon 5, but when I lost Best New Artist to Maroon 5 … y'know what I mean? Or when 'Watch the Throne' and '[My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy],' neither of them got nominated for Album of the Year, y'know what I mean? Or when 'Niggas in Paris' didn't get nominated for Record of the Year, y'know what I mean? So don't expect to see me at the Grammys this year, you know what I mean?"

Kanye West doesn't bleep out the name of his own song when he says it aloud. And it's worth discussing that this is the first time in Grammys history that the term "n***a" has shown up for a nomination.

Of course, there were mountains of other hip-hop songs and albums worthy of top prizes, many of which don't use the term "n***a" in their title or otherwise. But the word is still popular and frequent in hip-hop vernacular with an implied "restricted usage." It's been adopted or "reclaimed" by some African-Americans, refused by others, and problematic overall within other races, classes and even between genders.

"Despite the false idea that we now live in a color blind society, racism still exists. And when Black rappers use the word they are like Beyoncé at the last Inauguration, lip syncing what many white folks in this country wish they could say out loud," wrote AllHipHop's TRUTH Minista Paul Scott last week on the term's Grammy appearance. "Perhaps most disturbing is that by rewarding such ignorance, it helps to legitimize the usage of the work in the eyes of White Americans."

Maya Angelou was publicly at-odds with Common a couple years ago over his use of the word "n***a" for the track "The Dreamer," on which the famed poet was featured. The rapper said the two agreed to disagree, that not only was the term “a part of me,” but that the song's accomplishment was generational. “I wanted young people to hear this and feel like they could really accomplish their dreams.”

The "acceptable usage" of "black" terminology and the hip-hop artform was the center of discussions this winter, as year-end lists were released and "violent rap" albums like Chief Keef's "Finally Rich" impressed "white" outlets like Pitchfork and Spin. Rap Radar's Brian "B.Dot" Miller shot back through Tweets like “please stop writing about MY culture,” and compared white critics' high marks of black music as promoting minstrelsy. He expounded further on his position during a recent New York Times popcast, which you should enjoy here.

The "otherness" of the term "n***a" and rap as a "black" artform is absolutely deserving of a similar conversation, as hip-hop's predominant influence on popular music for the last two decades obviously hasn't relieved the creative tensions in the ranks of informed voters at the Recording Academy.  The conflict of colorization is the reason why this website and others can't (and, to some, absolutely shouldn't) spell the complete term "Niggas" in a headline, nor allow the word spoken at the Grammy Awards by a professional announcer, or give greater pause to white journalists and music lovers like myself as I urge voters to reconsider any bias that puts a higher value on "white" music than black music.

The control and fear of a single word can sometimes overpower the clout of great artists like Jay-Z and West, and not just because of any over-intellectual hand-wringing. The subtle and (literally) unspoken lines of inclusion/exclusion are how the art from people of color is quietly, frequently and wrongly shuffled into the "safe" racial categories to stay. If the Grammys neuters power -- positive or negative -- from terms like "n****", then it's more than just a laughing matter.

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<p>Kaskade</p>

Kaskade

Kaskade on Grammys: Dance awards ready for primetime, Al Walser's 'forced' nom

Veteran EDM artist and Academy voter urges his colleagues to listen harder

LOS ANGELES -- Longtime dance artist and voting Recording Academy member Kaskade had some strong words for his colleagues at the Grammy Awards tonight. He was among the nominees (and presenters), but appealed to the show organizers: bring the Best Dance Recording and Dance/Electronica Album honors to the primetime telecast, and not continue to sequester it to the pre-telecast ceremony.

"We're selling more tickets than any other artists out there. And I feel like it's our time to move into the primetime now. It's a slow evolution," he told reporters backstage at the Grammys. The Academy "has really embraced us... There's a lot of us out there."

So it's time to for EDM artists to "move from Nokia to the big room."

And while he feels that the 2013 awards have represented dance artists and dance music "better than ever," Kaskade did address the disruptive inclusion of Al Walser among the Dance Recording nominees. Walser -- little-known to U.S. listeners outside of Grammy365 social network users -- nabbed a spot next to names like Skrillex and Calvin Harris due to his lobbying efforts directly to voters through the online program.

"The Grammys are putting in the necessary means that nothing like that ever happens again, that it really truly does reflect what's happening, that it's not somebody's friend that squeaked by," he said. "It felt very forced. No one was really aware of who [Walser] was and what was going on. It wasn't a representation of what was actually happening with the music and our world. It was kind of out of left field."

A representative from Walser's camp was present in the press area and tried defending Walser as deserving of the nod.

"No one's refuting that [Walser] works hard," Kaskade countered, adding a little dig: "The space suit was a good touch."

Kaskade, instead, encourages the listening habits of voters to influence their opinions. "They need to listen to the music. I'm a voting member myself. People who take it seriously should take the time out to listen to the music."

The producer and DJ has the credentials to back up his thoughts, and will be adding to his catalog with a new album this year. He is in the "final stages" with the set and will release it in late spring or early summer, with a new tour starting next month.

This year marked his first nomination for a Grammy Award, even with seven albums behind him. He said now, at least, there's a few EDM songs on the radio, even though dance music has been "picking up steam for 20 years."

"We're all in amazement that we're here. Dance music was big a decade ago and didn't have any [Grammy] categories."

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<p>From &quot;We Found Love&quot;</p>

From "We Found Love"

Grammy Awards: Mumford & Sons movie and Rihanna win video categories

'Big Easy Epress' amps Old Crow Medicine Show and Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros

LOS ANGELES --  In the first two awards issued today for the 55th annual Grammy Awards, two of the biggest nominees from the night already run away with wins. The clip for Rihanna's "We Found Love" featuring Calvin Harris won Best Short Form Music Video, while "Big Easy Express" -- featuring Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros and Old Crow Medicine Show -- earned Best Long Form Music Video.

The former was directed by Melina Matsoukas with Juliette Larth & Ben Sullivan as its producers. Rihanna, however, wasn't on hand to accept the award, which made its bow first at 1:10 p.m. PST. The pop superstar is probably busy getting ready for the big show tonight.

Director Emmett Malloy was around for his honors helming "Big Easy Express," which followed the Mumfords, Edward Sharpe and Old Crow around on their short stint touring from a locomotive around the South and Southwest United States.

"Thank you to the bands for letting us join a pretty remarkable trip that will be etched in my head forever," Mallow said in his acceptance. "The country we live in, I've never seen so beautifully than on a train."

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Listen: Fitz & The Tantrums release dance-happy 'Out of My League'

Listen: Fitz & The Tantrums release dance-happy 'Out of My League'

HitFix
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Readers
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A different kind of retro

Fitz & The Tantrums earned a reputation for being a bit of a '70s soul-funk revival band as they grew in popularity in 2011 and 2012. For the recordings -- and for 2013 -- it looks like the sextet is bringing back a little of the '80s.

"Out of My League" is the first single from Fitz & The Tantrums' new album "More Than Just a Dream," and you can hear it below. The set will be out on May 7.

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<p>&quot;Paul's Not Home&quot;</p>

"Paul's Not Home"

Credit: Third Man

Jack White at work on new solo album and drops track with Butthole Surfers' Gibby Haynes

Label man an axe-wielder already 20 songs in to a 'Blunderbuss' follow-up

Surprising no one, Jack White says that he's already knees deep into making a new solo album, the follow-up to 2012's "Blunderbuss."

Talking to BBC 6 Music, the Third Man Records founder and current Grammy nominee said “I’m writing a lot of songs for another record… I have over 20 tracks I’m working on right now.”

America will be hearing a bit more from White this coming weekend, as he hits the stage for the 2013 Grammy Awards in support of his three nods at this year's ceremony, including Album of the Year.

White also revealed in his interview this week that 25,000 blues tracks originally released on Document Records are going to be remastered and reissued on Third Man Records. That's a lot of tracks, maybe even more than he's produced in the last two years. BAH-ZING.

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<p>Elton John on &quot;Chelsea Lately&quot;</p>

Elton John on "Chelsea Lately"

Credit: E!

Elton John guesting on new Queens Of The Stone Age album, because why not

Sound City man sits down with another great on 'Chelsea Lately'

Dave Grohl not only wielded his fame for good for doc "Sound City," but he has also been able to wrangle more music stars for his "Chelsea Lately" takeover this week, last night's guest Elton John included.

The "Rocket Man" singer sat down with the Foo Fighters frontman to confirm something nobody expected: that he would be featured on the forthcoming Queens of the Stoneage album.

"Recently Elton and I recorded something together, something people wouldn’t imagine the two of us doing together," Grohl started. Imagination... yes. That's what this takes.

Grohl, Trent Reznor, the Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears, Mark Lanegan and Brody Dalle (of the Distillers, and also Homme's wife) are lined up to guest on the new QOTSA set as well, with release and title TBA. Grohl had that rock band's frontman Josh Homme on hand for "Sound City," and the two collaborated with Trent Reznor for a new song "Mantra."

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Listen: Another new Prince song 'Breakfast Can Wait' rises
Credit: AP Photo

Listen: Another new Prince song 'Breakfast Can Wait' rises

What are you waiting for

I would almost never call Prince "headphones" music, but his production and engineer expertise sometimes warrants a closer listen. "Breakfast Can Wait" is a flirtatious, sultry little jam (with an annoying octave pitch, but whatever), and his halcyon call for you to hit "snooze" in favor of a pajama-less party sounds so pure and clean next to your eardrums. So delicious, I could eat it... for... some other meal.

This is the third song the Purpleness has "leaked," quotations due to the fact that you can purchase it now from 3rdeyegirl.com, home to those other recently released tunes. No word on a new album yet.

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<p>Fitz and the Tantrums</p>

Fitz and the Tantrums

Fitz & The Tantrums announce 'Dreamy' new album

'More Than Just a Dream' due on May 7

Fitz & The Tantrums' sophomore set will finally drop this spring. "More Than Just a Dream" is due May 7 through Elektra, a change-up from the soulful band's first album drop through indie Dangerbird.

The first single from "Dream" will be "Out of My League," described in a release as "an exhilarating slice of pop-soul."

The Los Angeles-based sextet released "Pickin' Up the Pieces" in 2010, but grew in stature much more substantially in 2011, when they performed at some of the country's biggest music festivals. That growth was also amped by their single "MoneyGrabber," so with any luck, "Out of My League" will have the same effect.

Second album releases are also crucial for a tour-heavy band like Fitz, giving them a promotional opportunity to head back into the waters. When I interviewed lead Michael Fitzpatrick in 2012, he was all too aware of the need to grow, as well as the need to satisfy with the songs.

"For me, the focus is  songwriting, like challenging myself as a songwriter, as a producer, to make sure that I like really push myself, evolve and write the kind of songs that I think are going to hopefully sustain us for a whole other record. I don't want to suffer from the sophomore slump," he said at the time.

This time, it's producer Tony Hoffer (Beck, M83, Phoenix) who is helping to shoulder the weight of a new record. The biggest hurdle may be radio, and moving over to a major may help. Elektra (an "independent entity within Warner Bros.") was dormant for a minute in the aughts, but relaunched a couple of years ago by moving over the careers of Bruno Mars and CeeLo; Elektra's new president Jeff Castelaz co-founded Dangerbird, and so his success has been their success, too. So there's hope?

The single release, as well as expected tour dates, will follow soon.

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Review: Jim James 'Regions of Light and Sound of God'

Review: Jim James 'Regions of Light and Sound of God'

HitFix
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Readers
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My Morning Jacket frontman's funky solo step outside of arena-sized jams

In his work with Monsters of Folk and on all the varietal Yim Yames tracks, its easy to hear that Jim James has a "small music" streak in him when he's not fronting arena jammers My Morning Jacket.

And make no mistake: there are what I'd call "jams" still on "Regions of Light and Sound of God," with keen, rolling guitar lines and long instrumental sections. This solo set contains more hooks and melodic pop ideas tucked in the back pocket of James' jeans, flourishing with the help of horns and sampled drums. Pushed to the front is James' delicate alto, as opposed to his full-throated tenor, dreamily looping through left-of-center world rock like "All Is Forgiven" and time-travel funks like awesome opener "State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)."

At times he channels George Harrison to cool, wallpapery, new-age effect. The close-eyed groove of "Dear One" and acoustic hybrid "A New Life" feel amicably retro, in its lyrics of "babes" and "stardust" and "daily every minute your possession of my mind / ticking synchronicty of time." Other times, he's chopped up his pop-folk motifs and re-assembled them into a similar sonic magic that the Dirty Projectors have (here's looking at you "Of The Mother Again"). Conceptually, it's "inspired by life and the novel in woodcuts 'God's Man' by Lynd Ward." Sonically, it's an earful.

"Regions of Light and Sound of God" is progress for James, with nuanced and progressive performances all over its, well, regions. Not every song will captivate the listener, but maybe that's the secret to relaxing and enjoying  James' little mists and mystics.

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<p>Local man starts from bottom</p>

Local man starts from bottom

Credit: AP Photo

Listen: Drake drops new song 'Started from the Bottom' a week early

HitFix
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Readers
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Rapper posts open letter to fans, hype machine revs up

Drake told the world he'd be dropping a new single on the weekend of the Grammys, but it appears "Started from the Bottom" wished to make itself known a few days early.

The Young Money MC and singer hatched the song on his OVO website, along with an open letter supporting the song's claims that he "started from the bottom."

"I feel sometimes that people don't have enough information about my beginnings and therefore they make up a life story for me that isn't consistent with actual events," Drake said. "My family and my second family (consisting of the best friends anybody could ever have) all struggled and worked extremely hard to make all this happen. I did not buy my way into this spot and it was the furthest thing from easy to achieve."

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