Lorraine Ali

Stories by Lorraine Ali

  • 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 ...
  • 'A Horrible Nightmare'

    Rain-soaked fans pressed hard toward the stage as Pearl Jam cranked out tunes last Friday night at the Roskilde festival just outside Copenhagen. Between songs, concerned band members urged the audience to stop pushing, but thousands continued to shove forward. Finally, a barrier between the stage and the crowd snapped; fans in front lost their footing on the slippery mud and disappeared under the crush of the crowd. The toll: eight dead and dozens injured in one of Europe's worst concert tragedies. "There were scenes of pushing, panic, shouts," said concertgoer Lars Nielsen, one of 90,000 people at the four-day European equivalent of Woodstock. "Then the music stopped, [and it was] replaced by howls and screams. It was unbearable."The Seattle quintet expressed its grief in a statement on Sony Music's Web site: "I think we are all waiting for someone to wake us up and say it was just a horrible nightmare." It isn't the first time rock fans have been trampled to death at a concert-...
  • There's A New Kid In Town

    Messy hair, a small nose ring and a worn, hooded sweater hardly make P. J. Olsson a standout figure among the schmoozy players and surgically altered starlets who grace the patio of L.A.'s pricey, high-profile Chateau Marmont hotel. The 29-year-old looks more like a busboy, fresh off the Greyhound from Michigan, chasing some vague notion of Hollywood fame. Still, people stare: he's too comfortable, too easygoing, and if he's brave enough to walk in here in that outfit, he must be someone.But they don't know P. J. Olsson--yet. Before today, Olsson's debut album, "Words for Living," wasn't even out, and he was busy honing his pleasant bastardization of pop for niche audiences across the country. They simply pay attention because the eccentric composer does not fit in--a distinction that's finally working for P. J. Olsson. "People always used to say, 'Well, he hasn't really found his thing, found who he is yet'," says Olsson, who baffled audiences for years with a melange of breezy...
  • Wilco Wilco & Bragg Sing Woody

    The teaming of alternative country band Wilco and British folk singer Billy Bragg spawned one of 1998's most critically acclaimed albums, "Mermaid Avenue." The disc was an ode of sorts to salt-of-the-earth folk artist Woody Guthrie--Wilco and Bragg writing music to accompany never-before-recorded lyrics by the late protest singer. But "Mermaid II" is less a tribute to Guthrie or our vanishing past than a testament to how much things haven't changed.The midcentury lyrics are eerily relevant on songs such as "Feed the Man." Here Wilco's humming organ and reverberating guitar back singer Jeff Tweedy as he brings Guthrie's commentary on the rat race to life: "I'll help you fix and squeeze yourself up a new kind of God, one that tells you fertilize and multiply, outsow and outblow, outplant and outgrow, outdo and outrun." Though Guthrie wrote this decades before the advent of Nasdaq-made millionaires, it feels like a direct re-buttal to our bloated, greedy times. Bragg's numbers are more...
  • Sizzling Sounds

    Mambo king Tito Puente, 77, rose to fame in the 1950s performing for cha-cha-cha-crazed American audiences, while his later work with Afro-Cuban rhythms helped spawn the burgeoning style of salsa. The Puerto Rican bandleader and timbales player recorded more than 100 albums in his 60-year career, though Carlos Santana's rendition of "Oye Como Va" proved Puente's biggest U.S. hit. He died last week from complications following heart surgery.William E. Simon was Treasury secretary under Nixon and Ford. He is widely credited with calming the nation's economic fears during the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s. He died at 72.
  • The Tiger Beat Goes On

    You can cuss in front of me," says Isaac Hanson to a photographer who nearly blurted the F word in front of the eldest member of the effervescent pop trio Hanson. "I'm not a kid, ya know. I'm 19," says the skinny singer-guitarist, who only recently had his braces removed. This small exchange in a Manhattan photo studio is just one of the many ways this wholesome-looking band of brothers is fighting for their right to adulthood. After all, when Isaac, Taylor, 17, and Zac, 14, burst on the scene three years ago with the debut single "MMMBop," they were not only a good 10 years younger than chart-topper Puff Daddy, but played a style of upbeat, kid-pop not heard since the Jackson 5. Hanson became premier pinup boys, while their debut "Middle of Nowhere" was deemed one of the decade's "Essential Albums" by Rolling Stone.Hanson was an anomaly, to say the least--a patch of blue sky in the otherwise murky fallout of mopey grunge, grinding industrial rock and roughneck rap. Major record...
  • Move Over, Sandra Dee

    I'm not that innocent," claims Britney Spears on the title track of her sophomore album and follow-up to last year's omnipresent "... Baby One More Time." The 18-year-old queen of bubble-gum pop could be commenting on the toll fame has taken on her young soul, or even the perils of coming of age, but it's more likely that the writers on the Britney Team (like the many workers that gave rise to the great and powerful Oz) turned to market research and decided each word was precisely what grade-school girls--the sparkly-nail-polish buyers of the world--wanted to hear.In the fashion of her 12-times platinum debut, "Oops!... I Did It Again" is a slick creation that has nothing to do with the girl behind the music. Not a beat here is left to chance: no one line can be interpreted as "telling" or any particular intonation as revealing. It's all in fun, at least for the listener who doesn't have to sing of prepubescent crushes while on the verge of turning 20.The new, improved Britney is a...
  • Still Young At Heart

    This isn't exactly my scene," says Neil Young, pulling his baseball hat low and slouching to avoid recognition as he shuffles through the ostentatious halls of the swanky Four Seasons Hotel in Austin, Texas. In a T shirt so old that the faded logo looks like a stain, Young slips into the elevator, causing fellow passengers to gawk in silent awe. When Young exits on the wrong floor, a college-age rider gasps: "Whoa, that was The Man!"Remarkably, Young has remained The Man for three decades now. In all his ragged glory--craggy face, hair the same wispy mess it's been since his '69 solo debut--the eccentric composer is one of the few rock legends that haven't slipped down the inevitable slope of numbing mediocrity. The intensely private 54-year-old instead chose to team up with Pearl Jam on his last album rather than succumb to a "mature," easy-listening record. Even the recent reunion of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (whose 1999 album is approaching gold, and whose tour sold out)...