Lorraine Ali

Stories by Lorraine Ali

  • A Riddle Wrapped In A Mystery Inside A Song

    Songwriter Grant-Lee Phillips has always been a strange bird. In 1994 the honey-voiced singer, then fronting the band Grant Lee Buffalo, appeared in a video dressed as a canary swinging on a perch. On one of the group's albums, the Los Angeles-based artist sang with starry-eyed sincerity about a love affair between incarcerated characters named Jupiter and Teardrop, and used his most sensitive falsetto to compliment a lover with the words "you're so fuzzy." Now on the cover of his highly awaited solo album, "Mobilize," the cherubic-looking singer wears a doe-eyed expression, yet dons a Napoleonic hat and jacket. "I've always had the feeling of being an enigma," says Phillips, 37. "But I say to myself, 'Hell, there must be a tiny corner of the universe for what I do.' I always entertain the idea that there's enough fringe for me to occupy."Phillips has done more than simply dangle from the fringe. The film-school dropout is now a cult-music hero of sorts, packing clubs from L.A. to...
  • The Road Rave

    Here's a quick quiz to see if you're ready for a rave vacation. Does dancing in the blazing Mediterranean sun at high noon in a cotton-candy-pink wig, vinyl chaps and melting body paint sound appealing? Is a sleepless week filled with pounding house music and disco "foam rooms" your idea of a getaway? Do you like the idea of spending an intimate evening under swaying palms with a crowd of 5,000, sweating to the sounds spun by DJs Sasha and Digweed? If you answered yes to any of the above, you may be ready to join the estimated 1.5 million visitors who will flock to the Spanish island of Ibiza this year between June and September to hit all-night dance clubs and get roasted at booming beach parties to sets by such superstar DJs as Fatboy Slim, Paul Oakenfold and Moby. Or you could catch up with the 50,000 who will attend the Full Moon dance parties in Thailand this winter, or visit London's infamous Gatecrashers party on New Year's Eve. Then there are the year-round trance clubs in...
  • We Still Want Our Mtv

    A cacophony of teenage "wooohhhs!" fills the studio as MTV's most popular show, "Total Request Live" ("TRL"), begins rolling. Show host Carson Daly jumps to the task of entertaining like a boxer responds to the bell, while a producer eyes the studio audience for the next kid who will enthuse about his or her favorite track du jour. As each video plays back on the show, boxes called "mortises" periodically appear at the bottom of the screen and, inside, a screaming fan tells America why she loves the artist currently airing. It goes something like this: my name is Kendra, and I requested 'I Wanna Be Bad' by Willa Ford 'cause she's totally hot. Woooohh!!! During the next commercial break, the producer auditions a petite girl who looks younger than the show's required on-air age of 18. She starts off strong, but muffs the climactic howl. "OK, thanks," the producer says coolly, and moves on. After all, it's MTV's 20th anniversary year, and only the loudest wooohh will do.On Aug. 1, MTV...
  • The Glorious Rise Of Christian Pop

    With Big Best Sellers, New Movies And Religious Rock, The $3 Billion Christian Entertainment Industry Is Exploding. On Tour With Young Believers
  • Movie Soundtracks, Sizzling Sales

    It's the song of the summer. But it hardly comes from the biggest movie of the year."Lady Marmalade," a hit currently inescapable on pop radio, is only the first single off the "Moulin Rouge" soundtrack. It features Christina Aguilera, Missy Elliot, Pink, Lil' Kim and Mya-some of the biggest names on today's charts-and has already helped drive sales of the soundtrack to nearly the 1 million mark. At the same time, box office for the PG-13-rated movie hasn't been nearly as sizzling; after five weeks in theaters, it's only made $43 million. It's a good bet that a large portion of "Moulin Rouge" soundtrack buyers haven't even seen the film.The popularity of movie music has peaked this year, with the sales and abundance of quality soundtracks at its strongest point ever. The "Moulin Rouge" CD is just the latest example of a movie-compilation album that eventually outsells more traditional pop records. Earlier this year, soundtracks for "Save the Last Dance" and the raunchy "Coyote Ugly"...
  • Little Boy Blue

    If you love listening to the sensitive singer-songwriter who taps your deepest feelings in so many heart-wrenching lines, Rufus Wainwright is not your man. The pouty-lipped son of folk royalty Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle is far too self-absorbed to care about reaching the inner you. Instead, he's the witty scenester spotted bantering with celebrities at the most fabulous parties. The foppish, tortured artist who looks like a Kenneth Cole model. Frankly, the dashing 27-year-old is not interested in speaking to you because he's busy looking over your shoulder for something, or someone, far grander.That's why his second album, "Poses," finds Wainwright in his element. Appropriating the spirit of a Broadway musical, he spins the tale of a creature very much like himself: a handsome gay man who comes to New York to be recognized as the star he knows he is. But the character soon becomes lost in his own desire and ego, his lofty aspirations melting into a swill of alcohol...
  • Lucinda Straight Up

    It bothers me that people think I'm so difficult," says Lucinda Williams, the singer-songwriter revered for her Marlboro-stained voice, vivid storytelling and stubborn unwillingness to just take things as they come. She refuses to fit in, instead carving out a niche somewhere between the converging worlds of rock, country and folk. She also refuses to settle for anything that seems less than perfect, releasing only five records in 22 years, going through band members and record labels like disposable razors and walking out of various photo and video shoots simply because "it didn't feel right."But anything less tumultuous would be disappointing. The 48-year-old's embattled persona and tough, weary demeanor is behind some of the most heart-wrenching, raw and beautiful songs in recent memory. Her last album, 1998's "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road," gave hope to those numbed by Nashville's modern, slick offerings and tired of rock's current creative sag. It was a breakthrough for a woman...
  • Music: It's In The 'Air': French Pop Never Sounde

    For the last half of the 20th century, one of the worst insults you could hurl at a rock or pop band was to say they had that "French" sound. The otherwise cultured nation was as synonymous with bad music as England once was with taste-free cuisine. The French cornered the market on embarrassing Eurotunes--from cut-rate disco to painfully self-conscious new wave to shockingly bad house music. But the past few years have brought about a French revolution of sorts. Ruling American and British DJs such as Moby and Fatboy Slim may now have to watch for the Parisian invasion. The city is the newest creative hotbed for electronic music, and home to such critically acclaimed artists as MTV's newest electronic darlings Daft Punk, Madonna's "Music" producer Mirwais and society DJ Stephane Pompougnac. And in a surprising turnabout, their hybrid of kitschy French pop and cutting-edge techno is now influencing the styles and studio techniques of British and American artists.At the forefront of...
  • A Date With Destiny

    Destiny's Child have just begun their daily four-hour makeover, an event that's become as commonplace as breakfast for this R&B supergroup. Primped and polished, Beyonce Knowles, Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland will scarcely resemble the young women who, earlier in the day, might have tried to upstage one another in burping contests. The Houston trio are marvels of self-transformation, looking as fabulous in animal-fur bikinis and Grammy gowns as they do in army fatigues. They are players in a seeming fairy tale: the story of a band that rose up from legions of faceless girl groups and "Star Search" contestants to amass a following of millions. ...
  • An Arab In America

    Sometimes I feel like part of a new experiment. I am an Arab-American, one of an estimated 2 million who are slowly becoming a recognized political and social force in the United States. Unlike many, I am not a new immigrant but rather the American-born daughter of an Iraqi father and American mother. In less cocky moments, I jokingly refer to myself as a fake Arab, one who knows little about my Middle Eastern heritage, or a half-American who's still oblivious to some basic U.S. customs. ...
  • Arts Extra: French Revolution

    Paris-city of high fashion, fine food and some of the worst pop music ever made. While America gave birth to rock and rap, and England offered up early punk, France contributed cheesy Europop and seemed to call it a day. But thanks to the electronica duo Daft Punk, as well as other like-minded DJs and producers such as Air and Mirwais (producer of Madonna's "Music"), the city on the Seine is now considered one of techno's hottest ports. ...
  • Operators Are Standing By

    Used to be that anyone who bought a television-marketed album of pop hits was considered a loser, pitied for his misguided musical taste. It was one thing to be suckered by the commercial's "groovy" K-TEL couple--the romantic beach strolls, the self-conscious dance moves--but another to dial the 800 number and order stale hits from Bread, Chicago or Eric Carmen. Today's direct-response music buyers can at least feel hipper thanks to the chart-topping compilation series "Now That's What I Call Music!" By featuring up-to-the-minute Billboard hits (the newest installment, "Now 6," includes songs by J-Lo, Destiny's Child, Britney and Coldplay) and marketing it with MTV-style, prime-time commercials, "Now" makes K-TEL's crude collections and ads seem like Americana kitsch. ...
  • Newsmakers

    The 73d Annual Academy Awards featured something Oscar's audience hasn't seen in years: credits. Taking a frills-free approach to speeches and dance numbers alike, the Academy pulled off one of the biggest surprises in recent Oscar history by ending three minutes early. But without any one-handed push-ups or a "Saving Private Ryan" tap number, the evening was short on shock as well. Julia Roberts and "Gladiator" both won as expected. Original-song winner Bob Dylan's lyrics were predictably indecipherable. Jennifer Lopez in her sheer Chanel top had the fashion police groaning with pleasure again, while pop's reigning risk taker, Bjork, had them howling at her ugly duckling of a dress. But if there weren't too many moments with teeth, at least there were some good ones involving them. Danny DeVito--apparently filling in for Jack Nicholson as the unofficial host's sidekick--spent so much of the evening munching on carrots and celery that host Steve Martin stopped the show to deliver...
  • Diamond In The Ruff

    Suite 420 at the tony St. Regis Hotel in L.A.'s Century City looks like the scene of a dastardly crime: draped across the satin couch are crisp white towels splattered with violent red streaks. The urgent rings and annoying beeps of a mobile phone, house phone and pager go unanswered. A silver Fendi bag lies open on the table, its contents spilled onto the marble surface. Other pricey designer items--pairs of Chanel and Gucci shoes, a fur jacket--are strewn about, as if rifled through then rejected for something even more valuable. Then Eve walks out of the bathroom with a piece of torn, red-stained cloth tied around her head. In a movie this would be the moment the leading man would beg Eve to hang on, "for the fans' sake!"But all drama is dispelled when the barefoot rapper casually adjusts her stretch jeans and plunks down on the couch. "I gotta dye my hair like twice a month," says Eve Jihan Jeffers, crimson liquid running down her temple, hairdresser hovering behind her with a...
  • The New Invasion

    While critics are busy deconstructing exactly what it means to have Eminem and Elton perform a duet at this year's Grammys, they are also secretly thanking some higher power for the distraction. It does, after all, keep them from focusing on the scant musical offerings of the past year--a dismal period in terms of new creative genius, or even mildly original schlock. The billion-dollar success of plastic pop, clumsy metal and predictable, playa-style rap has left little to rave about, and caused parents to shake their heads in disgust, stupefied at the bland or even bad taste of their very own kids.So who would have thought it'd be the Beatles, a band 30 years gone, who'd come to the rescue? The undeniable force of the Fab Four, a musical constant in the ever-changing sea of carefully marketed trends and controversy, is once again in play. Since "The Beatles 1," a collection of 27 chart-topping British and American hits, was released last November, it has sold more than 7 million...
  • Mood Music: Instrumental Rock For The Drinking An

    The last time indie hipsters decided to drop the singer and go instrumental, it meant resurrecting cheesy lounge music and culture: vibraphone, tiki lamps and rash-inducing polyester slacks. Itch no more, as the new instrumental underground offers an array of bands that prefer artful moodiness to quirky kitsch. Godspeed You Black Emperor is at the forefront of the heady-music pack, offering dreamy then belligerent melodies with complex instrumentation--violins, horns, bells, etc. Japancakes specializes in melancholy slide guitar over woozy tunes, while Tortoise melds guitar reverb with synthesizer acrobatics. Then, of course, there's Drums & Tuba (as bizarre as the name suggests). Singers, beware: you're as passe as a soggy drink umbrella.
  • Can't Stop The Monotony

    While the big question leading up to the 43rd Grammy Awards was "Will Eminem win for Best Album?," the one going out of L.A.'s Staples Center was, "Steely Dan put out a CD this year?"The veteran band's victory for Best Album was an anticlimax that wrapped up an already intensely dull ceremony that had been predicted to be the most exciting in years. Many attendees may still have no idea if Steely Dan even made an acceptance speech, there were so many people fleeing early to get a jump on the best hors d'oeuvres at the ensuing Grammy parties.There were no heckles from the audience, no ODB rushing the stage, no cries of "D'Angelo was robbed" (unless you count the ones in my head) as they read the nominee list for Best New Artist and Best Album. Just a politely interested audience fidgeting in their once-a-year dress-up clothes, and Macy Gray struggling with the cumbersome likes of a full-length, white fur jacket.Defiantly old school and stubbornly out of touch, the Grammys once again...
  • Nowhere To Hide From Lopez

    Jennifer Lopez is about to upstage oxygen in the everywhere-all-the-time department. The next few weeks mark the release of her album "J. Lo"; the opening of "The Wedding Planner," in which she has a leading role, and her possible testimony in boyfriend Sean (Puffy) Combs's trial on gun-possession and bribery charges. Add this to MTV's perennial Lopez worship and all those million-dollar-butt jokes (no joke: it's insured), and she wins this month's Most Ubiquitous Celebrity award.What's left? Perhaps she can marry a British film director to one-up Madonna, or simply stick by her album's "TRL" -tailored tunes and see just how high J. Lo can go.Jennifer Lopez'J. Lo' Epic Records
  • Slim Shady In The Sun

    Did divisive, dirty-mouthed rapper Eminem actually deliver one of the best albums of the year? Yes, according to the Recording Academy. That's right, the most mainstream of music organizations rewarded 2000's most controversial music figure with a nomination for Album of the Year. The 27-year-old, debated widely for his album's murderous, homophobic lyrics, received three other nods as well.Of course, the academy still leaned toward established artists such as Paul Simon, U2 and Paul McCartney. But the people behind the Grammys continued their longtime effort--not an entirely subconscious one--to reflect what "the kids" are buying. There were nods toward Destiny's Child (whose "Say My Name" is up for Best Record) and Britney Spears (Best Female Pop Vocal Performance). Up for Album of the Year against Eminem's controversial "Marshal Mathers LP": Radiohead's experimental "Kid A" and Beck's quirky "Midnite Vultures." (Paul Simon's "You're the One" and Steely The nomination choices...
  • Lone Star Rap

    The car-hopping contest is in full bounce at the Low-rider show in San Antonio, Texas's Alamo Dome. Tricked out Chrysler LeBarons and Toyota mini-trucks with bionic hydraulic systems compete to see whose front end can hop the highest, or shimmy the most erratically from tire to tire without busting an axle. The audience--lots of women in dark lip liner and tight skirts and men with tattoos in white tank tops--watch from behind the safety of thin plastic cordoning tape, while in the back of the venue, crowds browse through a vast showroom of prize-winning lowrider cars. Texas rapper South Park Mexican (who copped his name from the Houston area he grew up in) and his posse arrive just in time to catch the tail end of the hopping contest. The rap collective will hit the venue's center stage after the bruised cars are towed away and the odd bits of bumper and grille are swept off the main floor. "That s--t's crazy," says SPM (a.k.a. Carlos Coy), smiling and nodding at a lunging Cadillac...
  • Coming To A Gym Near You

    The petite actress Zhang Ziyi in Ang Lee's new movie "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" slays several men twice her size while drinking a cup of tea. In "Charlie's Angels," Drew Barrymore manages to pulverize her captors with her feet bound to a chair. And then there's "The Matrix's" Carrie-Anne Moss, who, even in a skintight bodysuit, manages to flip her enemy like a flimsy omelet.Across the country female moviegoers no longer dream of being saved by Jean-Claude Van Damme, but of kicking and chopping the bad guys till they cry for mercy. Since the release of "Charlie's Angels" in October, martial-arts schools from New York to Missouri to L.A. have seen attendance by female students jump as much as 50 percent; their phones, they say, are ringing off the hook. "These movies are giving positive role models to women--you're not the damsel in distress anymore, you're the hero," says Master Paul Koh, who runs the Bo Law Kung Fu Association in New York City. Today, his class is at least...
  • Torn Between Two Worlds

    It's time for the third prayer of the day at the Muslim Youth Center, a boxy building in the Chicago suburb of Bridgeview: "Shoulder to shoulder, foot to foot," instructs the center's youth director, Basman Dahleh, as a line of young men take their places. These first-generation, American-born Palestinians kneel and pray, but when they rise, furrowed brows and smudged tears indicate that there's an underlying problem here even prayer can't soothe.The failed Middle East peace process and ensuing violence has not only taken the lives of more than two dozen Israelis and some 200 Palestinians (many of whom are in the same age group as these Chicago teens), it's also taken its emotional toll on this largely Muslim community. Like many of America's 300,000 Palestinians--most of whom live in Chicago and Detroit--they mourn the death of compatriots, worry about the safety of relatives on the West Bank and remain frustrated by what they see as slanted American coverage of the conflict. But...
  • Living La Vida Loaded

    It's no fun being a one-hit wonder. just ask Starland Vocal Band, Kajagoogoo or Ugly Kid Joe--if you can find them. That's why last year's Latin rock poster boy Ricky Martin is working extra hard to establish himself as more than just a bonbon-shaking phenom with his second English-language album, "Sound Loaded." It's no easy task, since Martin's 1999 release went seven-times platinum in the United States, sold 15 million copies worldwide and, as his record company Columbia boasts, "detonated the Latin rock explosion." But Martin is a master of career and persona changes. He started as a teen in the Puerto Rican boy band Menudo and went on to become a Latin soap-opera star, a successful solo singer and a Broadway performer--and that's all before the Puerto Rican native tapped America's newfound need to cha-cha-cha."I'm not the same Ricky that recorded 'Livin' la Vida Loca' two years ago," says the new Martin, who's going for a more relaxed look this time round. Stretched out on a...
  • Hey, Mister Dj!

    Whether or not you know it, you've probably hummed, or at least heard, a Fatboy Slim tune over the past two years. The British DJ's last album, 1998's "You've Come a Long Way, Baby," wasn't a radio blockbuster, but crept through the back door of America's conscience disguised as the groovy backing music to countless car commercials, action-packed sports segments and otherwise lame MTV shows. He became the first underground dance-music DJ to crack the mainstream's fear of rave culture, partly fulfilling a prophecy that electronica was the going to be "the next big thing," partly quantifying underground fears that fame surely meant selling out.But Fatboy never played that enigmatic DJ game. He instead rummaged through decidedly uncool genres most of his peers wouldn't touch--touristy calypso, goofy surf rock--and pitted them against computerized beats and effects to concoct the most slamming dance tunes around. The result: "You've Come a Long Way" went platinum, and paved the way for...
  • So Superfunkyfragelistic!

    A crowd of shoppers gawks at the rap duo OutKast as they sort through CD bins at Harlem's HMV record store. The avid interest is not because Dre (Andre Benjamin) and Big Boi (Antwan Patton) are being filmed by BET for an upcoming music segment for their new album, "Stankonia," or that they made a name for themselves with the 1998 hit "Rosa Parks," or even that OutKast is to rap what Dennis Rodman was to basketball: a freakish anomaly. It's Dre's outfit: plaid pants, vintage, green Army jacket, black T shirt emblazoned with Jimi Hendrix's image and a floral head scarf that pushes his hair into a cresting wave a la early Little Richard. A middle-aged woman stares at the curious figure, then whispers to an adjacent gawker: "He's a creative type, I can tell, but he looks so nice." She considers him again: "He's weird, but I like him."It's this combo of eclecticism and accessibility that's made OutKast one of hip-hop's most unique forces. The Atlanta duo mixes old and new musical styles-...
  • He's Singing In The Ring

    It's not enough that Oscar De La Hoya won the world welterweight championship six times and an Olympic gold medal in 1992. Or that the dairy industry's cutest milk-mustache model was the only presenter at last month's Latin Grammys to inspire louder girlie screams from the audience than 'N Sync. De La Hoya, 27, wants more. His newest persona: Oscar the Swoon-Inducing Singer.De La Hoya's self-titled debut album is a collection of love ballads in English and Spanish that feature the boxer's sweet falsetto over starry-eyed songs like "Mi Amor" and "Tu Me Completas." The album is produced and largely written by Rudy Perez (of Ricky Martin fame), but De La Hoya chose his own heartfelt version of the Bee Gees' "I Run to You" as the first single. The song, like the rest of the CD, feels smoother than silk sheets on freshly Jacuzzied skin. But under all the lovelorn melodrama and often saccharine sentiments, De La Hoya can actually sing. His harmonies are compelling and warm, his delivery...
  • Bonjour. Parlez-Vous Dj?

    Hey Mr. DJ, put a record on, I wanna dance with my baby," demands Madonna on the title track of her newest album, "Music." Her call to the guy behind the decks drives the bouncy, addictive single, just as it has driven her career of late. Pairing up with cutting-edge DJs and producers has kept Madonna just ahead of the club-culture curve: electronic-music mastermind William Orbit created the frenetic and flowing "Ray of Light" in 1998, while "Music" relies on the talents of French producer Mirwais Ahmadzai to bring Miss M to the next level. As a result, Madonna goes from the lush, after-hours spiritualism of her last album to the metallic, mechanized and coolly detached feel of French club music on her eighth and newest record. The single yields the most successful moments of Madonna meets electronica, with its old-school disco beat, vapid buzzing effects and punctuated blips and bleeps (the core sound of French dance music right now) complementing her gum-cracking attitude.But like...
  • Emmy Hits Red Dirt

    Emmylou Harris has sung with Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and Tammy Wynette, bridged the gap between country and rock for three decades and managed to remain a relevant and critically acclaimed artist. Now all she has to do is find a restaurant in New York City that will let her smoke. "I'm not sure if the cigarettes are hurting my voice," says Harris outside one smoke-free cafe. "I don't want to know either. My ignorance often saves me. Sometimes, I think it's got me to where I am today." It's true there was no strategic plan for her long-term success. A woman who topped the country charts in the late '70s and remained a symbol of integrity in the consumer-driven '90s, her voice, beauty and passion for pure music have rendered Harris a lasting force. Amazingly, she's struck this balance between widespread adoration and cult-figure status by singing the songs of other artists--until now. Of her 29 solo albums, her new recording, "Red Dirt Girl," is only the second written by her. "I...
  • The Price Of Prejudice

    I'm Arab-American, though you might not know it. I have no accent other than Valley Girl, I wear Levis and tank tops instead of an abaya, and I am a pale shade of olive rather than a swarthy brown. I am not full-blooded either, but the product of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed mom who was raised in Los Angeles and an Iraqi father who immigrated to the United States from Baghdad in the 1950s. Sliding between cultures, I attended both mosque and Sunday school and packed dolma in my "Sigmund and the Sea Monster" lunch box.I also grew up watching action movies like "True Lies," where Arabs were consistently portrayed as blood-thirsty terrorists, willing to kill for some petty cause that would have been resolved by a more rational race. My Shiite dad cringed as he read newspaper articles during the Iranian hostage crisis about Muslims and their "fanatical" and "extremist" ways. I sat in traffic behind bumper stickers that read "Kick their ass, take their gas" during the Gulf War. Then, of...
  • Meow! Kittie's Got Claws

    The Ozzfest 2000 is no place for a nice girl, and that's exactly why the teenage band Kittie is one of the heavy-metal tour's most curious attractions. Cute yet caustic, it is the only female band to play on this very male tour founded by Ozzy Osbourne, and the only formidable gal presence in the current resurgence of testosterone-fueled hard rock. The former basement band of London, Ontario, teens (they met in gymnastics class four years ago) has sold 500,000 copies of its debut, "Spit," since January, and is now deemed "Buzzworthy" by MTV for the single "Charlotte." Its vicious, guttural sound will grab a whole new slew of fans (approximately 18,000 per stop) as it plays the second stage of the 29-city Ozzfest tour--and win the black hearts of main-stage acts like Pantera and Ozzy himself. So what does a day in the life of a road Kittie entail? Step onto the tour bus, if you dare, and don't forget your favorite lipstick.It's around 5 p.m. on the Clarkston, Mich., stop of the tour,...
  • And The Beatz Don't Stop

    Rap producer Swizz Beatz is maneuvering his S500 Benz 2000 through Manhattan's rush-hour traffic, blasting his newest masterpiece, the Ruff Ryders' "Ryde or Die Vol. II," and negotiating his next project via mobile phone. His 4-year-old stepbrother P.J. sits in the back seat, mimicking every word by the collective of infamous and fresh-faced rappers on the family-run Ruff Ryders label. The rhymes of Eve, DMX and Snoop Dogg bounce around in the car as Swizz closes his phone deal: "It don't matter," says the self-made producer and songwriter. "The rest is gravy. All gravy." There's a lot of extra sauce here: from the brand-new Benz, to a state-of-the-art CD player with steering-wheel touch control, to a diamond-encrusted Techno Marina dive watch ("I don't scuba, but just in case"). It's all because this 21-year-old from the Bronx started making his own music on keyboards rather than sampling other artists, and had a knack for creating no-frills anthems with deadly hooks (take Jay-Z's ...