(One of our favorite dudes DJ O-Dub will be dropping by tomorrow at one of our favorite parties, The 45 Sessions— founded by non other than the homie, DJ Platurn. It was an honor to be a past participant in an event where partygoers care about the music as much as the DJs– plus, 45s just sound so damn good and loud! We asked O-Dub to give us a peek into his crates for tomorrow’s not-to-be-missed affair and here’s what he came up with (hit it!). – DM)
It’s been ages since I’ve spun a “vinyl only” party, let alone “45s only” and truth be told…as great and convenient as the infinite digital crate is, I find far more creative pleasure in working within limits. Sometimes having access to everything makes a challenge banal; it’s like playing a video game in “god” mode. That said, I knew, going into this 45 Sessions set, I was certainly going to bring along a few go-to favorites on one hand as well as some “yeah, I got this” flossalistic singles. But I also want to use this as an opportunity to play out a few 7″s that have always almost made it to the turntables yet, for whatever reason, never quite made my party playlists. To start:
The Springers – (I Want You) Every Night and Day
My friend Hua Hsu put me up on this many years ago and I immediately fell in love with those hard, hammering piano strokes at the beginning. Great vocal touches and harmonies too. It’s not quite as slick – dancing-wise – as other Northern tracks but it has such a distinctive feel and punch to it. Maybe I’ll finally give this one a spin.
Los Amaya – Que Mala Suerte la Mia
I do love me some rumba catalan and Los Amaya’s “Caramelos” has usually been the track I most frequently play out. But this time, I’m planning to play the flip side – “Que Mala Suerte la Mia” – instead. It’s not as obviously “funky” as “Caramelos” but listening to it, I appreciate the slinky soulfulness that infuses the energy of the singing and guitar. I hope the dance floor can get with it too!
Samson and Delilah – Will You Be Ready
Never played this out before but that’s mostly because I only picked it up last fall and haven’t had a gig where it would have made sense to drop it. If ever there was a rhythm that could be described as “irresistible,” this is it. It’s no great songwriting accomplishment, lyrically, but as a groover, I don’t know if I’ve heard anything quite as propulsive in a while.
Released in 1968, this here is a choice 45, one that I play out whenever I can. It’s a hard, driving love number with irresistible doo-wop touches and the beginning alone thumps, sounding like something Prince Paul would’ve used. But it’s the vocals (and harmonies) that drive this, along with a lively arrangement anchored by sharp horn stabs. I picked this up a while back in Chicago but can only gather that its origin is Detroit due to the label. Though certainly not a rare record, it’s a favorite with seemingly no information available anywhere (hit us with any info!).
I recently interviewed Benjy Melendez of the Ghetto Bros. on his incredible story and the music that accompanies the Ghetto Brothers’ legacy. It’s a record that’s not only considered a ‘holy grail’ for collectors but it also serves as a juxtaposed soundtrack for the violent, fiery Bronx where it was made. I say juxtaposed because you figure an album made by gruff street gang members from the ’70’s Bronx wouldn’t be as sugary as it is. But the GB’s lone output turned out to be a mix of Latin garage-rock, Santana, and The Beatles, some of which were anthemic in a political sense but most were just wide-eyed love songs.
I could do without the Santana nods but above are my favorite joints from the album which FINALLY got the proper reissue treatment from Truth & Soul Records. You can read my story with Benjy in the upcoming Wax Poetics and in the meantime check out a recent review HERE.
(A friend to blog, my collaborator, music journalist and author, Stacy Gueraseva was an obvious pick for this year’s guest spot series. Here, she covers two classics through her own immersion in ’90s rap prior to her renowned work, Def Jam Inc. Like her book, these picks have a timeless quality to them and best believe we’re stoked to have her back. – DM)
Back in the late ’90s when I fancied myself a bedroom DJ with my Numark mixer and Technics tables, I made a monthly pilgrimage to a record store in Brooklyn’s Fulton Mall called Beat Street. I say pilgrimage because when you lived in Manhattan, like I did, late 90s Brooklyn was still a bit of another country. Pre-Barclays Center’s Times Square-style descent upon downtown Brooklyn, the Fulton Mall, a bustling outdoor shopping strip filled with jewelry and discount clothing stores, was the true essence of Brooklyn. There was simply no other place like it on the planet.
I may have looked like a bit of an anomaly at Beat Street, but it didn’t matter. I fit right in, because everyone at Beat Street was there for the same reason; man, woman, black, white, we were all united in our passion for hip hop. As soon as you descended into the basement store, you were greeted by eye candy unlike any other: row upon row of records, vintage and new, way below Manhattan prices. My pulse would quicken; it was shopping time. I knew I would be walking out of there with a nice stack—instrumentals, vocals only, remixes, promo releases—without breaking the bank.
More than half of my record collection came from Beat Street. Reading the liner notes of these is like thumbing through pages out of hip hop history books: names of places and labels that no longer exist. Loud Records…. D&D Studios…the Hit Factory (which was converted into condominiums in 2005). The following two vinyl cuts, for artistic and sentimental reasons, remain some of my most treasured.
To me, this single off Tribe’s fourth studio album, “Beats, Rhymes and Life,” is one of the best showcases of the unique vocal dynamic between Q-Tip and Phife Dawg, a perfect example of how their respective flows differ yet compliment each other perfectly. The song is affirmative, almost soothing, with the kind of soulful, laid-back vibe that could only be crafted by the hands of Raphael Saadiq. He, along with Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jay Dee comprised the production crew The Ummah, which produced the album.
This remix is mellower than the original version, more layered, and also more emotional. “So nowadays I go see wifey just to keep from stress / lay my head on her breast / Sugar dumpling knows best / Explaining all my problems to her / Getting things off my chest…,” Phife raps, in a departure from his typical braggadocious rhymes. Q-Tip, meanwhile, is philosophical as ever, examining the human condition in a way only he can—”Your whole being comes from greatness”—as Faith Evans sings in her warm tone, as though giving the listener a big vocal embrace: “I really know how it feels to be stressed out… We’re gonna make this thing work out eventually.” It’s kind of like a big bowl of hot soup on a rainy day; it hits the spot, when you need it most.
Mos Def: Ms. Fat Booty [Rawkus, 1999]
While on the subject of Tip, I’d like to take it back to the night of December 2nd, 1999. The scene: Kit Kat Klub on Manhattan’s theater district, filled to the brim with everyone who was anyone in the hip hop industry, gathered to celebrate the release of Q-Tip’s first solo album, “Amplified.” The mood was high, everyone was dancing, girls rocking Baby Phat, guys in Northface jackets and Phat Farm parkas, the air was filled with anticipation of the impending new decade and all of its futuristic promise.
Jay-Z was there too, and so was producer Lance “Un” Rivera. At some point, there was a momentary scuffle, but it was cleared out quickly. No one quite knew what happened, until later, when we learned that Jay-Z had in fact stabbed Rivera. Ah, rappers…The party continued, and so did the head-bangers. The DJ dropped all the best songs at the time, like “Still Dre” by Dr. Dre with Snoop Dog. There were so many juicy cuts of hip hop that it would have been hard to blast through them and come out with something truly remarkable. And then, just as I observed, in disbelief, Prince—decked out in a white suit, flanked by three bodyguards—walking in and sitting down a mere few feet away from me, I heard it: Mos Def’s “Ms. Fat Booty,” clocking me upside the head with its beat, fatter than any beat I heard that night. It was vintage and new, sexy and hard, quintessentially New York, with lyrics that were at the Slick Rick-level kind of storytelling, but with a dash of dry wit. (“Ass so fat that you could see it from the front.”)
Soon enough, I was going down to Beat Street to buy my own copy, and then listening to the instrumental over and over, examining the complexity of the layering and sample use (***courtesy of Aretha Franklin’s “One Step Ahead”) on this unique song. It is an underrated but genius track, and will forever live in my mind as the finest example of the great potential and promise of 20th century hip hop music.
** Aretha Franklin : “One Step Ahead” (Columbia, 1965)
I recently wrote a piece for One More Robot, a Dublin-based Culture Magazine (part artbook, part DIY zine) that puts out terrific issues offering wide-ranging perspectives on mainly art, music, film, and at time politics. Its editor, Dean Van Nguyen, has an affection for ’90s rap history which is displayed prominently throughout his work (read Dean’s piece on Mac Dre HERE). I interviewed Chuck D for OMR’s latest issue and Dean returned the favor with the following Q&A; a piece on Billy Woods, an at times enigmatic artist, whom he calls “the most slept-on rapper in the world right now.” – DM)
Making music for well over a decade now, Billy Woods learned his trade as a perennial figure in New York’s alt-rap scene, associating with Cannibal Ox’s Vordul Mega and various other members of his sizable crew The Atoms Family. Embarking on his own career as one-half of the double act, Super Chron Flight Brothers – alongside collaborator Priviledge – the duo crafted a series of records in the ilk of Cannibal Ox and other Definitive Jux signees, cutting the kind of discography that should have elevated Woods to the status of Underground King several times over.Instead, he is probably the most slept on rapper in the world right now.
Dealing with the break up of Super Chron, and frustrated with his inability to find a sizeable audience for his music, earlier this year the DC-based MC threw everything he had into what would potentially be his final record, the solo joint History Will Absolve Me. Reaching deep within himself, Woods produced one hip-hop’s standout releases of the year – a long, smart and brilliant piece of work that rounded several corners of human existence, all of which drew from it’s author’s own experiences.
Having only recently discovered Woods, I reached out to him in the hope of telling his story and unearthing the man behind History Will Absolve Me. I was not left disappointed. Like his lyrical style, Woods is upfront and thoughtful in an interview setting. Opening up about his family’s remarkable history, the satisfactions and frustrations of his career, and the creation History Will Absolve Me in length, Woods offers up the same bluntness that has makes his music so essential.
I came across History Will Absolve Me and I wanted to find out more information, but I found there wasn’t actually a whole lot out there. To start, can you tell us who you are, where you’re from, and how you got involved in music.
I was born in the United States. My mother was from Jamaica and my father, who is deceased now, was from Zimbabwe in Southern Africa. At the time they met, Zimbabwe was still called Rhodesia. You know, I’ve never really considered if when they met was before or after Rhodesia declared – basically the white population of Rhodesia declared independence from the crown, in part because they had no intention of allowing black people to vote. There was like an apartheid. Obviously its right next to South Africa; it was like a less codified version of apartheid I guess. My father was in the US getting his PHD when they met.
I was born here and when I was very young my father was active in the liberation movement in Zimbabwe, and so when they won the war and reached a negotiated settlement, he went back for the elections and we followed soon after. I lived there for the most of the 1980s although I would come to Jamaica and the United States to visit my family and my mother’s side of my family on a regular basis. Then I moved back to the DC area when I was a teenager. I moved back to Maryland right outside of DC.
Roc’s debut, Marcberg (which you can stream here), was an eye-opener for fans of gritty NY rap. The producer/rapper also made guest spots on seemingly every rappers’ album in 2012 based on the strength of Marcberg and subsequent releases (i.e. Greneberg). His new one, Reloaded, is more of the same inverted rhyme-schemes and dark production that marked his past work.
I spoke with Roc recently for Ego Trip’s “5 Records That Changed My Life”. Check out Roc’s rather rap-centric picks HERE.