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Jun 22, 2010

HANSON

Amidst Riot News, New Albums from Drake and Hanson Rock On

by Kristi York Wooten

When nearly 20,000 concertgoers descended upon New York City's South Street Seaport last Tuesday to see a free show by hip-hop newcomer Drake and pop band Hanson, police were prepared for an audience half that size. Reports say chairs and bottles were thrown from a restaurant balcony into a sea of unsuspecting fans below; restless attendees climbed the venue's kiosks; and seven people were injured. When NYPD finally dispersed the crowd and canned the performances, mass disappointment ensued. Hours afterward, Twitter conversations bristled with hashmarked tweets about "#Drake / #Hanson."

That Drake and Hanson, similar in age and celebrity (all were child stars -- the former as an actor on the long-running Canadian high school drama "Degrassi: The Next Generation," the latter as young songwriters who penned the 1997 smash "MMMBop") would play the same stage isn't unusual: both released new albums within the week, and both had a sizable number of fans represented in the throngs that showed up for the Seaport gig organized by Paper magazine. Yet, in spite of the media frenzy that a video of the June 15 Seaport rowdiness has garnered, drawing the conclusion that friction between the crowd's hip-hop fans (i.e. assumed to be mostly male, with the majority African-American) and pop fans (i.e. assumed to be mostly female, with the majority white) is what caused the "riot" that shut the event down only perpetuates the unfair stereotypes that have dogged both Drake and Hanson throughout their careers.

The son of a white Jewish mom and an African-American dad, Drake has publicly grappled with his heritage and his fame. In last Sunday's New York Times, the writer John Caramanica lauded Drake (aka Aubrey Graham) as "The New Face of Hip-Hop," chronicling the 23 year-old multiracial Toronto rapper's relatively quick rise on a path that has not only linked him to some of the scene's biggest and most notorious names (Eminem, T.I., Young Jeezy, et al), but also has left him vulnerable and distrusting in a society that auto-assigns thug status to hip-hoppers, even if far more than an agreeable demeanor and thoughtful lyrics separate Drake from his primary champion, Lil' Wayne (who's currently serving a one-year sentence at Rikers Island for a gun charge). In the Times story, Drake, fresh from his turn as Jimmy Brooks on "Degrassi," a role he began at 14, struggles to find his place in the real world as he parks his Rolls-Royce Phantom outside his apartment building and then feels "unsafe" when others resent his success. He examines the predicament in his new song, "Over," which currently sits at number one on the Billboard rap singles chart:

So they tell me that they love me
I know better than that, it's just game
It's just what comes with the fame
And I'm ready for that, I'm just sayin'
I really can't complain, everything is kosher
Two thumbs up, Ebert & Roper
I really can't see the end getting any closer
But I'll prob'ly still be the man when everything is over

My guess is that the accolades he's already received for his first full-length studio album (Thank Me Later, released the same day as the canceled NY South Street Seaport show) will help Drake carve his own niche in hop-hop -- and develop a fan base less concerned about who he's hanging with and more interested in the vibe of his sound.

Hanson, on the other hand, has been sure of its place in the music world since the day its major-label debut album, Middle of Nowhere, dropped more than thirteen years ago. The three brothers from Oklahoma who first exercised their chops in catchy singles such as "Where's the Love" and "If Only" helped transform the late-1990s radio landscape from grunge-filled to melody-friendly -- and their classic pop-rock formula, although now more layered and mature, hasn't changed much since. In the wake of its "MMMBop" success, Hanson was often lumped in with teen stars and dismissed as a one-hit wonder. But serious music fans know Hanson was never a "boy band." While Isaac, Taylor and Zac (now 29, 27, and 24, respectively) spent the past decade proving their abilities in acclaimed live performances and solid songwriting, the record-buying public hasn't come around to the idea that these guys aren't interested in chasing trends or abandoning the audience that grew up with them.

Instead, Hanson has remained focused on finding new and innovative ways to foster its relationship with its fans on the road and the internet, and -- among other noteworthy endeavors, such as pursuing philanthropic fundraising projects -- making darn good music. Hanson's eighth studio album, Shout It Out (released June 8), may very well be its best yet. With piano front-and-center and the brothers' trademark harmonies adorning nearly every track, Shout It Out is like a mash-up of rock history (from 1960s soul to 1970s singer-songwriter, 1980s arena rock, and 1990s/2000s indie melancholy). One listen to the exuberant piano in "Voice in the Chorus" (teamed with an infectious refrain and brilliant chord changes) or the fun horns in "Thinking 'Bout Somethin'" (with its accompanying Blues Brothers-inspired music video) or the groovy rhythm guitar riffs in "Give a Little," and you can't help but pull for these songs.

Here's hoping Hanson joins Drake at the top of the charts this summer -- and that stereotypes don't keep great music from playing ...

To follow Drake and Hanson up the charts, visit Billboard.com.

For the latest on Hanson's music, tours, and more, visit Hanson.net.

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