Back To Black

I was watching CNN on Saturday afternoon when it was announced that Amy Winehouse had been found dead in her Camden, London home. She joined Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain et al in the “27 Club”, ie musicians who met their untimely demise at the age of 27. As sad as her death was, I don’t think it came as a surprise to anyone. Although she had just joined her god-daughter on stage three days before her death, anyone who saw her last performance knew Winehouse wasn’t doing well. Although no drugs were found at the scene and a check up the night before her death showed that she was apparently healthy, we all know that she wasn’t.

The first time I heard Amy Winehouse’s music was around the end of 2006. It was my Senior year of college, and “Rehab” was everywhere. I couldn’t escape a music conversation without hearing her name, so I felt compelled to do some research. I was never a huge fan of “Rehab”, and I liked “You Know I’m No Good” better when Ghostface jumped on it, but I was impressed with the rest of the album. With Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi splitting production duties, Back To Black had a ’60’s sound that I was really in to. Shit, I still play nothing but oldies on Sunday evenings because that’s what I heard as a child. Furthermore, Winehouse could write and sing. Back To Black is a beautifully melancholy album, with Winehouse’s pain evident on each track. Even “Me & Mr. Jones”, which made it clear that Winehouse was a Nas fan, which made me like the album even more. Through Back To Black, I discovered her true debut, 2003’s Frank. I remember the first time I saw the video for “Take The Box”, and how amazed I was that she actually looked….healthy. I enjoyed both albums so much, that they made their way into constant Sunday afternoon/evening rotation, despite the latter being so depressing. I’m aware that amazing art can come from pain, but even at what was supposed to be her high point, you could see she was already on the path to demise.

Critics and fans were in agreement over Back In Black. The album won five Grammy’s, including Record of the Year and Song of the Year for “Rehab”, while also being nominated for Album of the Year. With her five wins, she joined Lauryn Hill, Beyonce, Norah Jones, Alicia Keys and Alison Krauss for the second-most awards won by any female artist at one ceremony. Winehouse also took home the Grammy for Best New Artist, which has long been considered the kiss of death (no pun intended, I promise) for whoever wins it. Several publications-Time Magazine, The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly and Blender-named Back To Black among the top ten albums of 2006, while Rolling Stone placed it at number forty on it’s Top 50 Albums of 2007 list. From here, it was all downhill for Winehouse. She spent most of 2008 struggling with addiction and her short-lived marriage to Blake Fielder-Civil was rocky, to say the least. It was obvious that she had a lot of issues, but in my eyes, the dissolution of their marriage was the beginning of the end for her.

Amy Winehouse’s music was heavily influenced by jazz and old soul, two things that I grew up on, which probably explains why I was such a fan. I can vividly remember being into the Mark Ronson sound the summer after I graduated from college (right when Version came out), listening to everything from Winehouse to Lily Allen, Daniel Merriweather and Wale of course. Plus, she was into hip-hop, and hip-hop was conversely into her. There was an immediate response to her death from the hip-hop community, with everyone from Big Boi leaking a previously unreleased Organized Noise remix of “Tears Dry on Their Own” to Jay-Z himself revealing that the OG version of the same track was his favorite Amy Winehouse song. Though her music was candid, and at times even funny, you could feel the pain in her lyrics. When she told you love was a losing game, she wasn’t just trying to appeal to all of the other broken-hearted twentysomethings out there, she was dead serious. The lone upside here is that music lives on. If you don’t believe me, check the fact that Back To Black has hustled its way back up to #9 on the Billboard charts since her passing, and it’s currently numero uno on iTunes. Below is an excerpt from Vibe’s piece on her, where Salaam Remi the last time he saw her.

I’m in London now. I’m out here because [Amy and I] were supposed to go to a wedding today. And before I could get to her yesterday she passed. We were going to the wedding of Nick Symansky, who is the person who really found her. He found her when he was a scout at 19. And he was the manager before they got the Universal deal.

They went ahead with the wedding. All I could do was sit there and imagine how many jokes she would have been cracking with me. We were in the middle of working on the album. She finished writing the record. We just hadn’t recorded.

For the last couple of weeks we were video chatting regularly. I was just talking to Nas. Both her and Nas were born on September 14, so we were going to Barbados with all of them for her birthday. She really doesn’t look forward to her birthday, you know what I’m saying?

RIP Amy Winehouse 1983-2011.

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