Bronx Rapper Tim Dog, RIP

Categories: Obituaries

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Tim Dog
Yesterday, famously antagonistic Bronx-born rap artist Timothy "Tim Dog" Blair died of a diabetic seizure at the age of 46.

One of the most boisterously brash voices ever heard on a rap record, Tim Dog was the epitome of the hulking hip-hop bully archetype. Debuting in 1987 as the featured guest opener of Ultramagnetic MCs' "A Chorus Line," Dog premiered his signature style in his very first outing. By adopting Big Daddy Kane's famed syllable-chopping flow and morphing it from a smooth roll call of rhymes into an unrelenting barrage ("Procrastinator, laid her, hate her, played her, sprayed her / You wanna be taught? Later.") divvied up between statements that each sounded like a unique hybrid of boasts, threats and insults ("I'm so large, I boned your girl Emily"), Dog birthed one of the most consistently entertaining personas in hip-hop.

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Ween: In Memoriam

Categories: Obituaries, Ween

"There are things in my life that no one can understand except Aaron," Mickey Melchiondo noted of his bandmate Aaron Freeman in 2007, when they—as Dean and Gene Ween—put out their last album, La Cucaracha. "We kind of have a parallel life. We went through everything together: junior high school, being broke, getting evicted, meeting our wives and ex-wives, having kids. We make, penny-for-penny, the same income, because we don't do anything other than the band. He's like my brother. And a lot of getting this record together was getting back to that. But there are other things where I can talk to anyone but Aaron."

Apparently, the same is true of Freeman, who perhaps accidentally announced Ween's breakup in an interview with Rolling Stone. "This is news to me," Melchiondo wrote on Facebook, "all I can say for now, I guess." Perhaps it's all a horrible mistake, something to be talked out as only two old friends can.

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Donna Summer, R.I.P.

Categories: Obituaries

In the two-family house where I grew up in Bensonhurst, the two musical acts I heard most often, blasting from stereos at the top and bottom of the house, were the Beatles and Donna Summer.

The former was more my parents' speed, although my teenaged cousins who lived downstairs played the Fab Four plenty, too. But for me, my sister and my cousins, Donna was omnipresent. More than a disco queen, Summer was a deity we could call our own, a Boston native who recorded with Italians, married a Brooklyn paesano and fronted a group called Brooklyn Dreams. With that powerful, breathy-to-guttural-to-rafter-shaking mezzo-soprano, she recorded music of both florid grandeur and hard precision, the very essence of urban life in the 1970s.

She was, in short, an honorary New Yorker. Which I imagine is how hundreds of born-and-bred New Yorkers unconsciously regard the news today of her untimely death at age 63 from (reportedly) lung cancer. Regardless of where her upbringing and musical training had taken her—a childhood and adolescence singing in churches in Dorchester, salad days in Germany in the musical Hair before she met her Berlin-based studio collaborator Giorgio Moroder—Donna, to the end, belonged to all of us: outerborough ethnics; Manhattan velvet-rope aesthetes (and those who pretended); the gay, black and Latino communities.

Of course, if you're reading this in Detroit or Las Vegas or Minneapolis or Atlanta or Los Angeles or London, Donna spoke to you, too. Considering her lifelong association with a communal, hedonistic pop-culture moment, it's remarkable when one plays back her oeuvre how intimate, almost solitary her great works really were. Call her the Wanderer, for her ability to stretch, adapt and transmogrify dance music until it embraced everyone and everything.

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Adam Yauch, R.I.P.

Adam Yauch, better known as MCA and one of the founding Beastie Boys, died today after being diagnosed with cancer in 2009. He was 47.

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Kiss-FM, R.I.P.

Categories: Obituaries

On Thursday Kiss-FM announced that after 30 years, it would stop broadcasting on 98.7 FM and join forces with WBLS, its longtime rival in the "adult urban contemporary" radio format in New York City. The stations will merge under the motto "One Family, One Station, Our Voice," with several Kiss-FM personalities migrating to WBLS's roster of hosts.

Although all the talk of "merging" and "coming together" sounds nice, here's what's really happening: Kiss-FM is dead. Parent company Emmis Communications, who also owns Hot 97 and 18 other stations around the country, sold leased Kiss-FM's frequency to ESPN in a deal worth $96 million. Emmis executives say that the ratings show there simply isn't room in the market anymore for two "adult urban" stations. As of Monday, there will be only one spot on the dial for fans of old-school soul and R&B slow jams: 107.5 WBLS.

In recent years, Kiss-FM was the kind of station that played O'Jays "For The Love of Money," Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody", and a new Beyoncé track, back to back. It was a mix of soul, funk, R&B and disco catered primarily to older Black listeners, and a welcome respite from canned pop playlists during a long commute. But Kiss-FM's importance in radio history goes beyond today's throwback programming. Once upon a time, it was the very first station in the US to give fringe genre known as hip-hop a chance on primetime radio, helping to change the flavor of American pop culture forever.

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Levon Helm, R.I.P.

Levon Helm died yesterday, at 71, from cancer. You didn't have to know him (as I did, faintly, fondly), to know that along with possessing one of the most moving voices and wickedest backbeats American music will ever know, that he had one of the most incredible, most surprising lives imaginable. Born into sharecropper poverty in Arkansas, he not only witnessed the birth of rock and roll, but helped to preside over its re—birth, when he (briefly) played drums behind the wild, discordant, drug—driven rawk created by one of his bosses, Bob Dylan. That group, his group, The Hawks, went from five years of godawful, you-need-speed-to-get-through-'em gigs at every roadhouse and bar in the U.S., to being The Band, the biggest, most fawned-over Musical Ensemble this country had ever seen. By 1969, there were elegant concert halls, stadiums, tons of dough, more ink than any rock and roll band had gotten since The Beatles. Then, for Levon and several of the others, came near-poverty and very hard times. Forget Faulkner or Steinbeck; his life could've been scripted by Fitzgerald.

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Dick Clark, R.I.P.

Categories: Obituaries

Dick Clark was cool—as in unflappable, not hip. That was key in an American 1950s where, for much of the nation, the latter condition was basically synonymous with "longhaired Commie fag degenerate." But Dick Clark—that nice boy? No way was he any of those things, not in 1950s America, not for six decades as a TV presence as fixed and permanent as late-night infomericals, still to this day, thanks to GSN.

Clark's a game-show titan second only to Merv Griffin, but that's TV. Clark's role in musical history is both more and less ambiguous. Make no mistake—American Bandstand, which Clark hosted from 1956 to 1989, did as much to legitimize rock & roll for Ma & Pa America as anybody before the arrival of the Beatles' "Aeolian cadences." Though the show existed for four years on local TV in Philadelphia before Clark became host, it was under him that it went into national syndication, and under him that it became one of the most copied programming formats ever devised—the direct model for everything from local record hops real (e.g. this Idaho TV show, Seventeen, featuring a line dance to the Diamonds' "The Stroll") and imagined (The Corny Collins Show, from John Waters' classic 1988 film Hairspray). And, of course, it was the basis of Don Cornelius's Soul Train, which promptly began beating Bandstand's ratings in major cities around the U.S.

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Davy Jones, R.I.P.

Davy Jones, the British singer who was a member of the sitcom-spawned band The Monkees, died of a heart attack this morning, according to TMZ. Jones was already a Tony-nominated actor when he auditioned for the group, having been honored for playing the Artful Dodger in a run of Oliver! that moved from London to New York. But it was as a member of the band known as the Prefab Four that he became famous; he served as the group's teen-idol archetype in most episodes of the kooky, slapstick-filled series, and he eventually guest-starred on an episode of The Brady Bunch that had a plot centered on his popularity among the youth. ("I used to be a heartthrob; now I'm a coronary," he once told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2010.) He was one of the last Monkees standing during the group's initial run, sticking with it until he and Micky Dolenz lost the rights to use the group's name in 1971; he was also involved in all the reunions the group would embark on over the years since the initial disbanding. The band, sans Michael Nesmith, last toured in 2011 (a second leg, which would have brought the group to the Theater at Westbury last August, was canceled).

Jones sang lead on "Daydream Believer," which became one of the band's most indelible hits, but he also fronted a slew of other memorable tracks. Six of them below.

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Whitney Houston, R.I.P.

Whitney Houston, the big-voiced belter who dominated radio in the 1980s and '90s and whose cover of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" spent 14 weeks at the top of the Hot 100, passed away tonight at the Beverly Hilton, where Clive Davis's annual pre-Grammy party was about to take place. (Her cause of death has not been declared yet.) Houston's catalog is spangled with chart-topping hits (seven of her singles went to No. 1 in a row) and awards that included six Grammys; her commanding presence on the pop landscape was attributable not just to her voice, with its roots in the gospel world and undeniable ability to hit high, glorious notes while also conveying emotion with a single beat, but to her songs' melding of pop's glossy aesthetics with R&B, soul, gospel, and disco elements.

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Don Cornelius, R.I.P.

What must it have been like to be under the sway of Don Cornelius back when he was a salesman? Damn hard to resist, most likely. Cornelius was a salesman before he was a DJ, a DJ before he was a TV host, a TV host before he was a mogul—a series of roles that require incredible patience and a knack for holding your cards close. Cornelius, with his miles-deep megawatt voice, wild sartorial tastes, and definitively unhurried manner, could have been a card sharp in a different era. Instead, he became the greatest Saturday-morning television host in American history and one of black music's ambassadors to the world.

Cornelius, who was found this morning dead of an apparent suicide at age 75, was the creator, producer, and star of Soul Train, though he'd likely have disavowed the last honor—the show's stars were the kids who danced every week. But his presence lent the show a weight unlike that of any other show of its kind. On American Bandstand, the model of the teen-dance show, Dick Clark played the eternal teenager, a slightly older ideal of a cool Philadelphia 16-year-old with some moves. First in Chicago, then L.A. once things got rolling for real, Cornelius was maybe Zeus's idea of a teenager, but nobody else's. He never raised his voice, you knew, because he never had to. Yet that gravitas worked in Soul Train's favor: This stuff was OK for your kids to like because a Very Responsible Adult was overseeing things—a super-fly bedrock for a troubled time.

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