Now that I’ve sat with Marinero’s Trópico De Cáncer, his Needle to the Groove debut, I wanted to know more about what went into the songs, the person behind the music, other songs that inspired these ones.

Trópico… is spacey, sensitive, beatific, Los Freddy’s-esque, a little bossanova too. To shed light on the inner approach of Jess Sylvester, the songwriter behind Marinero, we asked Jess to share with us FIVE enormously impactful records that were foundational inspirations behind Trópico De Cáncer.

It’s eye-opening to have thoughtful artists narrow down prominent works that framed their own– and we’re always grateful when they take time to do so. Thanks Jess!

Antena – Camino del Sol (Numero, 2004)

This record is basically ’80s French-Belgian electro-bossa. It’s like ’80s outsider music made by Astrud Gilberto fans. There’s even a song called “The Boy From Ipanema”, which is basically a darker, synthier, and more monotonous version of the original. The title track “Camino del Sol” is one of my faves though. I’ve even sampled it and used it for my other band Francisco y Madero on a song. I can’t tell you the song title because Napster might sue me, but it’s a track I find myself playing during long car rides from The Bay to LA when I’m in the company of friends who might not yet know it. I chose this album because I admire how Antena reinterpreted bossanova and did their own thing with it by using drums machines, synths, guitars with chorus, and solid hooks and harmonies. Even though the singer is French, her vocal style is smooth enough for any Sausalito style jazz or bossa combo.

Eydie Gormé & Trío Los Panchos – Amor (Columbia, 1964)

This is kind of a supergroup. Kinda like when Batman and Robin or the Harlem Globetrotters joined forces with Shaggy and the gang on an episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You. On this album, American singer Eydie Gorme teams up with one of my favorite bolero groups Trío Los Panchos. This is one of those records that your mom and tias get drunk to and sing along with, or sometimes even making up their own lyrics too. There are so many classic tracks on this record but when I was writing “Trópico de Cáncer” the song “Nosotros” was on heavy rotation. At the time I was going through some heartbreak and the line “No es falta de cariño, te queiro con el alma” would destroy me! I would listen to it on repeat and just cry my ass off. At the time, I even considered covering it.

Los Ángeles Negros – Y Volveré (Odean, 1970)

People usually refer to this band when they hear “Siempre en La Clave de D”. Even when we were recorded it in Guadalajara and played demos for our homies they’d say “Guao! Suena como Los Ángeles Negros y Los Freddy’s!”. And they were right! I totally lifted their vibe lol! I even made a little nod to their title track “Y Volveré” in the chorus when I sing “Siempre me sentiré…”. I definitely ripped off their organ and guitar style. It sucks because I love their sound so much! To be honest, I don’t really care and I plan continuously bite off Los Angeles Negros and other gruperos like Los Terricolas, and Los Pasteles Verdes on my next album. Don’t quote me.

Chico Buarque – Construção (Phillips, 1971)

Basically this a masterpiece. Here we have Chico Buarque, who is on this Bob Dylan level as a lyricist and is also an amazing singer and composer. String and horn arrangements on this album are incredible! Like scary good. I definitely get an orchestrated Danny Elfman vibe from the first song “Dues Lhe Pague” which has such a dark theme that’s reprised on the album again and again, even on the title track “Construção”. He’s basically one of my favorite songwriters or composers from that era in Brasil. My compa Benjamin Zarate, who played classical guitar and keys on “Trópico” showed me this album a few years back. When we were younger we both played in sorta psych sounding bands, and then in our thirties we got heavily into Brazilian music. In “Trópico” I used the melody from “Flor de Jamaica” and reprised it instrumentally in the middle of the song “Distant Lover”. That’s one thing that “Construção” inspired at least. I also don’t speak portugues so this album has been a slow discovery as to how lyrically deep it gets socially/politiacally, but musically alone, it’s an inspiration to me, as the finest example of what you can do conceptually and with an orchestra.

El Chicano – Viva Tirada (Kapp, 1970)

I sent Los Tíos de Oro, my backing band, tracks from this album to give them context for some of the sounds I envisioned before we recorded. This band has the “Brown Sound” similar to early Santana or Malo, but one characteristic of theirs that stuck with me was their jazzy guitar style where the guitarist uses octave chords to play melodies throughout the album. When we were in the studio recording Trópico… I made my lead guitarist Vicco copy this style hella. To the point where he thought it was a little too much and he basically told me to settle down. But if we had more time to record I would have added way more El Chicano inspired guitar parts. When I eventually played the album for my sister Sarita and she commented during the song “XPACHECX” saying it reminded her of El Chicano. Mission accomplished.


I recently spoke with E-40 who, besides being an absolute legend, also wears shirts that say ‘Eat Lumpia’ and gives back to local schools in Vallejo. I have a bottle of E. Cuarenta tequila sitting on the shelf as I write this. Despite this article not being as extensive as I would’ve liked, 40 was a great interview; present and pleasant, spastic, shared stories about Too Short, the Bay, Tupac and more. It’s also my first byline for Vibe Magazine (shouts to the editorial squad!). You can read it HERE.


I wrote the liner notes for Hiero’s recent 20th anniversary deluxe reissue of 3rd Eye Vision. The best part was just talking to Souls, Del, and Domino about them learning as young artists the realities of starting their own business– this record emerged from that era, a time in their lives starting an indie label and transitioning from majors. The reissue sold out but has been recently been restocked. It also has a pretty dope “lost cut” that I cannot link to because it’s exclusive to the wax, and so far I don’t see uploaded anywhere (but Del and Pep GO OFF). (COP THE RECORD HERE)


Huge honor to appear on Heat Rocks, the wonderful and expertly executed podcast hosted by Oliver Wang and Morgan Rhodes. I’ve listened to so many great episodes with so many incredible guests and to be a guest myself on the program was terrifyingly thrilling. Each guest chooses an album to deep dive into and mine was an easy choice, GZA’s Liquid Swords. I had a great time talking to Morgan and Oliver who are always such pros I still cannot believe I was at the table with them. Available HERE and pretty much any podcast outlet.


I first heard of Billy Woods through Dean Van Nguyen, music journalist and now author who’s a longtime friend of the site. He graciously sent us this Q&A with Billy in 2009. Earlier this year, Billy released Hiding Places, produced by Kenny Segal, has songs that have resonated with me most, and probably got the most listens too. “Red Dust” is Frantz Fanon with a megaphone over Fan Dam era EL-P.

Woods is really settling into his voice and delivery, comfortable with annunciation; he’s more sparse now but takes bigger chomps of the beat. He’s still no less a mystery now as he was in Dean’s 2009 interview, but I did my best to learn more about him as a writer, label chief, and mind behind 2019’s best rap project.

I spoke with Billy pretty in-depth for Okayplayer; Read it HERE.


Cold Diamond & Mink are absolutely killin’ it over at Timmion headquarters in Helsinki, Finland. I’ve been onboard since they blessed us with one of the most touching and barest songs ever, Little Ann’s “Deep Shadows.” Earlier this year, they’ve been on a roll with very solid releases, including 1634 Lexington Avenue by Carlton J. Smith (above, right, with MJ). It had some real rhapsodic moments and overall I felt the album was slept-on. Admittedly, the snappy drums and pronounced bass is what struck me most. But nevertheless I went onto have a great conversation with the project’s glowing vocalist, Carlton Smith, a lifelong student and enthusiast of soul who has in many respects, through a lifetime of work and travel, has become a global soulman himself. I spoke with Carlton about his career and new album HERE.


My column for POW continues with Freestyle Fellowship’s stunning classing, “Inner City Boundaries,” an earworm that’s stuck with me since first hearing it almost twenty tears ago. While I typically don’t always value virtuosity over punch-in-the-gut dynamics, FF has always been able to be both, teetering sometimes between unlistenable and confounding ingenuity. HERE’s how it was made.