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.
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.
Our good pal, music journalist Layne Weiss (LA Weekly, Wax Poetics, Mass Appeal) quickly spoke with Oh No and Tristate about their new project. For fans of their fuzzy, disjointed brand of stoner rap, take a look. – DM
3 Dimensional Prescriptions, the new album from beatsmith Oh No and MC TriState explores the concept that music is medicine. But as with most medicine, as with most drugs, not everyone is going to have the same reaction or experience listening to their brand of medication. For some, the duo’s latest may bring about inspiration, creativity, or joy; others may get angry, sad, a little crazy, or all at once. This isn’t a one-size fits all brand of treatment. It is up to the listener to choose your own adventure.
Produced entirely by Oh No, whos comes from the pedigree of Madlib-esque inventions, the album features collaborations from stalwarts Evidence, Westside Gunn, Planet Asia, Lyric Jones, and others. This project comes courtesy of Bay Area stronghold imprint, Hieroglyphics Emporium, and is out now.
What does the title Three Dimensional Prescriptions mean and represent?
TriState: The title is like Oh and I are both kinda on some techy shit. And you know, he does his thing in the world. Everybody knows that. And I get down with the tech shit too. I work with a corporation called Hunt AR. And we do AR (Augmented Reality) And anyway, you know. I just thought it would be a good way to tie in our relation into tech shit. He does VR (Virtual Reality). I do AR. That’s the Three Dimensional side of it.
So the “prescriptions” are each song. I look at each song like a prescription. Like you need to get your fix for your addiction. Listening to one of these songs might help you. Oh No is known as Dr No so that goes into the prescription thing as well. So the doctor prescribes you medication or prescription drugs for your issues. That’s another way you can look at these prescriptions.
The homie Layne Weiss–an emerging journalist whose bylines include LA Weekly, Mass Appeal and others– was gracious enough to pen this recent piece on jazz pianist/producer/fusionist, Robert Glasper. Read a bit of Ms. Weiss’ coverage on Glasper and his latest release, a Miles Davis remix project, Everything’s Beautiful. – DM
By Layne Weiss
When Robert Glasper was asked to remix Miles Davis’ music, he knew it’d be no easy feat. Other artists have remixed the jazz icon’s music in the past, but for him it was different. “I thought I could do it as long as I did it my way,” Glasper reflects. “I felt it was cool as long as I didn’t pattern it after anybody else.”
Everything’s Beautiful, Glasper’s tribute to Miles Davis, features a diverse and eclectic mix of artists– Phonte, Erykah Badu, Stevie Wonder and more whom, according to Glasper, all had a genuine love for Davis. “I didn’t wanna just get random artists just because they’re artists and they can sell albums or anything like that,” he explains. “I really wanted to make this a labor of love because he’s royal to the music world, he’s jazz royalty first. And so I really wanted it to be a real honest project.”
Glasper has spent the majority of his career fusing jazz, hip-hop and r&b together in a way that has made jazz relevant and enjoyable to hip-hop fans. “I’ve made jazz sound like it was made today,” he says. “Every other genre has a representative of today. R&B music right now, they’re not caught up on Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye, at all. They’re all about Rihanna and Chris Brown. But the jazz world is caught up on John Coltrane and Miles Davis. They’re not caught up on any new people out there right now. They’re not caught up on us, on me.”
(J-Zone is back! Last time, he touched on his favorite 45s for a pre-45 Sessions blowout; this time, he zeroes in on his all-time choice breaks. His new release, Lunch Breaks, a sample-palette of live drums performed entirely by Jay himself launched last week, primed for drum-less MPCs everywhere. We’re always stoked to have Jay swing through these parts.- DM)
Every hip-hop producer has their favorite drum breaks – until they start playing drums! I had this epiphany two years ago, when I picked up a pair of sticks and set out to learn a new instrument at the tender age of 34 and three quarters. When discovering the wide range of sounds a kit can make and the wide range of playing styles a drummer can use, you begin to hear breaks differently.
You also begin to realize how difficult some of these classics were to play. Nowadays, it’s no longer about which breaks are easiest to chop up, toss into the MPC and boom bap with, but which ones I like to emulate when I practice and mimic the recording of when I’m making my own breaks. So I’ve decided to mix it up and include both: a few choices from a production angle and a few from a (still learning to be a) drummer angle.
In celebration of the release of my ‘Lunch Breaks’ live drum package out now at The Drum Broker, I present my ten favorite drum breaks of all time.
10. Led Zepplin – “The Crunge”
Drummer: John Bonham
Ask anyone putting on a show in the drum section of a Guitar Center who they’d like to be for a day and the answer is probably John Bonham. The freakish Led Zepplin drummer has more Stans than any drummer in history, and although I have different heroes, I’d never front on Bonzo’s brilliance on the set. For fuck’s sake, the dude plays this groove in 9/8 with the pocket of a James Brown jam. And it was the driving force behind “The Magic Number.”
9. B.T. Express – “Energy Level”
Drummer: Leslie Ming
Although rap hasn’t been this fast in years, I’m shocked at how little this joint has been sampled (or if it’s been sampled at all). Leslie Ming is one of my favorite drummers. A session musician in New York throughout the ‘80s, Ming got his start with disco-funk outfit, B.T. Express, where he lit up the band’s Energy to Burn LP with rat-ta-tat-tat drumming from front to back. Accented, machine gun hi-hat marksmanship, syncopated kick-snare patterns and pure pocket make this a gem for b-boy circles and a dance floor smoker for those with soul.
8. Lonnie Smith – “Spinning Wheel”
Drummer: Joe Dukes
When Q-Tip de-virginized this record for sampling in 1990 for Tribe’s “Can I kick It?” he only scratched the surface. Organ trio jazz drummer, Joe Dukes, goes for his multiple times in the song, playing with grooves and giving producers a buffet of rudiments, licks and hits to fool with. One of the very first drum breaks I cut my sample chopping teeth to, there wasn’t one part I didn’t try to flip while learning to hook up drums. The classic Van Gelder Studios sound brings “Spinning Wheel” to life; it’s even more of a pleasure to listen to as an aspiring drummer.
7. Simtec & Wylie – “Socking Soul Power”
Those toms! The toms often play second fiddle in funk drumming and are tuned arbitrarily. But the way the drum set was miked, tuned and recorded gives the toms a bruising thump that nearly distorts the entire mix. This is just a raw, demo-like drum recording reminiscent of the great drum recordings of Chess Records.
6. Lee Moses – “Reach Out, I’ll Be There”
Sometimes it’s all about feel. I’m not sure who the drummer was on this twisted, mind-melting cover of the Motown classic, but it’s just the right mixture of a slightly ahead pocket, fills, jazz tuning and gritty recording gear that bring the song to life. The simple single stroke rolls on the toms for the breakdowns late in the song are gold. The feel and sound are insane enough on their own; the song doesn’t call for any fancy playing.
(One of our favorite sites to nerd out on is Flea Market Funk, ran by our dude Jamison Harvey, a collector who also goes by DJ Prestige. Stop by FMF for merch, cool features, funk-bombs, and posts like the one below. Glad to kick-off 2014 with this one. More stuff like this in the coming year. Without further ado, DJ Prestige. -DM )
Here’s a record that I scored at my go to “Spot” in New Jersey. I used to scour this place about three days a week. It took me many years to finally get in with the local, old-time vinyl dealer. He would piece meal me records every week. I had to buy stuff from “The Old Man” aka “Samurai Mike” even if he sold me the same record previously to keep him bringing more from his stash. Unfortunately we lost him a few years ago and his massive collection got stolen from his family by swindlers. This particular day I had bought my stash from Mike but saw another dealer, The Meatball, who was notorious for trying to make a quick buck. As I dug and found this record, he immediately told me it wasn’t for sale. Bullshit I said. I’ll give you $20. Now I don’t pay more than a few bucks for records but this Midwest burner was not slipping through my fingers. He agreed at $20 but said he wanted to do research. Whatever man, and the next week I saw him he tells me it’s not for sale. I don’t want to say I bullied him into selling it to me but I questioned his character as a record dealer, and he finally had to sell it because he knew I’d see him every week and give him shit until I finally got it off of him. I read about this record from an old Big Daddy article and knew it had to be in my 45 box.
Straight out of Rubbertown, Akron, OH, the Soul Tornados Heller Twins (not really twins) were destined to be entertainers. Their mother, who at any time had performers like Jimmy Smith or Brother Jack McDuff sleeping and eating her home cooked meals when they were performing at the local Hi Hat Club, might have given those boys the inspiration to play the B-3 and drum kit she bought them a little longer with those kinds of house guests around. In other words, these boys learned from the pros. They formed the Soul Tornadoes and soon were signed by Ernest Burt to Burt Records. Burt was responsible for labels like Magic City, Mello, and Sock-It among others. The Tornadoes dealt with a lot of adversity including a bad contract with Burt that locked them in, preventing a move to Motown,, a diss by James Brown on this very record as a rip off of “Cold Sweat”, and various other tragedies that prevented them from making it big. Some members found their way to LA where they were in the band Lakeside, but all in all this two-sided 7″ on Burt was their shining moment.
This record absolutely moves me because I believe they weren’t trying to rip off JB per se, I’d like to think they were paying homage to the Godfather in their own Midwest way. It’s an all around Funk bomb and a record I dare anyone to sit still to. You just can’t. This was $20 well spent, as this kind of Funk never would turn up in any of my digging spots ever again.
I have never been a Latin expert so when I was digging through a 50 cent box with some other friends and someone said “This looks right up your alley”, it wasn’t long before I fired up the Fisher Price 825 and listened to this Latin Soul record through some headphones. Immediately this mellow side with Tito Ramos on vocals called to me. No sooner did I get into this record did I hear a shout of “Drum call” before this giant drum break which then went right back into the Latin flavored Soul pill I just ingested. 50 cents for this? I wish there were 10 of them. Now this particular digger had totally passed on records like the Funk Factory LP , Dave and Ansel Collins “Double Barrel” and a few other choice 45s in my collection, so I’ll tip my hat to Long Beard Neil for passing on those sides. This side quickly became one of my favorite 45s ever.
The Cotique label was short-lived (1968-1970), but initially was attempting to capture the “new Boogaloo sound” (already available since the 50’s known as guajira) coming out of New York City. Clearly trying to lure in the young Latin audience with liberal lyrics about illegal drugs and LSD to a Boogaloo rhythm, it would be bad business practices and gradual move to Disco that eventually crippled the label. However, this is just one of the gems released on this NYC label, and it found its way to a pile of 45s in some dirt farm in Central Jersey. I will take the mint copy with pleasure. I’d like to think that this side is equal parts Archie Bell & the Drells “Tighten Up” and a James Brown dance cut rolled into one all done in the TNT Band’s unique Latin style. Although both vocalists, Ramos and Tony Rojas were accomplished front me in their own right, it would be Ramos taking center stage on this record. 3 records and a few hits later, to me, “The Meditation” is of their all time best. Who would have thought that a mellow Latin Soul 7″ could also be so funky?
There’s a certain espirit de corps in the following posts, all of which stem from our basic love for Darondo and his music. He was also from the Bay and just sharing the same turf makes his eccentricities and songs personally more touching. The majestic “Didn’t I” struck a chord with all those who heard it– and all who did, all wanted more. That’s how a chance discovery of said single led to wonderful meetings with Darondo, culminating in songs resurfacing and him doing the splits onstage again at age 60. With Darondo, the more layers that peeled away, the more endearing he became.
Spry with a pompadour and belt buckle bearing his name, he was an actual former pimp who drove around Oakland with a mini-bar in his car. He sometimes wore a cape and sported huge, almost novelty jewelry. He had local cable access shows, one was called Darondo’s Penthouse After Dark. There are more lovable asterisks to his story but ultimately, what we adore is his music– the only thing tantamount would be his personality. After recording a few more in the ’60s, he did odd jobs and left the US during the ’80s before settling into the real estate business where he floated until the market slowed in the early 2000s.
Here’s where we pick up the story; Darondo’s songs are rediscovered by clued-in cats who were awestruck and moved, compelling them to share and officially release what was doable. All the funny, interesting lore aside, anyone who saw Darondo live was struck by his natural stage acumen and dirty humor. He radiated during those performances, energized though at times visibly old and shaky.
When word got out of Darondo’s passing, we tapped our Nerdtorious braintrust to cover a bit of the history behind his late but more than worthwhile ascent, including those who aided his career in its later stages. The stories here highlight Darondo’s pronounced persona. If only there were a time machine to relive the magic of hearing “Didn’t I” again for the first time. Rest in peace soul-master D. Thank god cats like you existed. – DM
Antwon has been a local standout for a minute now, amassing great press through fun videos and kiler mixtapes. His latest, In Dark Denim, was released a few months back and here he shares some choice cuts by way of words and youtube. Word Antwon!-DM
Spank Rock – “Chilly Will”
The perfect example of “club rap”. At one time it was the standard I guess. I saw so many copy cats between 2006-2009 but Spank Rock was my favorite. The focus was on being very cool and technicolor. Spank Rock releases spoke to me the most because I felt the roots; I could tell the influences that were being payed homage ’cause I very much did the same thing but defintely not at that caliber. Pay this nigga.
You only really grew up in the ’90s if you subconsiously were into house music. MTV’s The Grind had all the jams back then. If you thought Yo MTV Jams was where it was at you were sadly mistaken. I care what no says, if this doesn’t make you throw your hands up and say “ohhhh shiiit” we are not friends.
I love the formula of Goldie songs. They’re what I basically look for in most music; to be emotionally attached to it and for it to take me to another place. I know Goldie is still around and it would be a dream to work with him. – Antwon
(With the release of his LP Land of 1000 Chances, DJ Day has pretty much lived up to what friends and fans anticipated– a moody album with many change-ups anchored by a vast yet tempered sample pallet. And the album’s terrifc title video just happens to be thematically couched in all things Bay Area. So we thought the timing was apt for Day to pop by Nerdtorious with some of his favorite Bay Area joints, from LPs to specific tracks. Have a look/listen below and grab his fantastic full-length– it won’t disappoint. – DM)
Third Sight – “Rhymes Like a Scientist” [Darc Brothas Records, 1996]
I don’t remember where I bought this 12″, but I do remember bugging out on D-Styles scratches type heavy. San Francisco and Philly are truly the greatest cities when it comes to the history of DJing and this record is a prime example of one of – if not THE – best the bay has to offer. Jihad and D made a perfect team and the whole album is worth checking out.
Soft Touch – “Plenty Action” [Sundance, 1976]
I’m still trying to find a copy of this, but if we’re talking Bay Area funk records, this has gotta be in the top 5. I could hear that intro on a loop for days. Top quality every which way.
RBL Posse – “A Lesson To Be Learned” [In A Minute Records, 1992]
I got hip to this record in ’93 while in Job Corps in San Bernardino. Dudes used to blast this playing ball and “Bammer Weed” became the anthem. I still play this cut on the regular.
The Residents – George & James [Korova Records, 1984]
The Residents, for those who might not be up on them, are an experimental/performance art group originally from Louisiana, but didn’t get their start until moving to San Mateo. I was listening to them quite a bit while I was making Land Of 1000 Chances and some of that influence can be heard on “FML”. They’re weird and pretty fucked up all around, but I’m a fan. This particular album is a split LP with one side being George Gershwin covers and the other being their version of James Brown’s Live At The Apollo siphoned through a lot of hallucinogens and bad recording techniques. I love it.
Matthew Larkin Cassell – Pieces [N/A, 1977]
The first time I heard this was on a Kon & Amir comp and later found out a good friend of mine (what up Herm) in Tuscon was responsible for the record getting some publicity. “In My Life” and “You” are the jams. Wish the OG record was easier to come by.
Too Short – Life Is Too Short [Jive, 1988]
No Bay list would be complete without a Too Short or E-40 record. Trying to choose from Short’s first 5 albums was tough, but I think I played this one the most growing up. “I Ain’t Trippin” , “Don’t Fight the Feeling”, “Cusswords”… this one had all the classics.
Doobie Brothers – Livin’ On The Fault Line [Warner Bros., 1977]
My love of yacht rock is well known and, again, was probably apparent on some of Land Of 1000 Chances. This whole LP isn’t the greatest, but “You Belong To Me” is the joint. Reminds me of what a coke and wine fueled night strolling in a half unbuttoned shirt with your lady on Embarcadero in the 70’s would sound like. Or something like that.
Huey Lewis & The News – Sports [Chrysalis, 1983]
I don’t care what anybody says this is going on the list. – DJ Day
(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.
(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 times, 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.
[Our homie and frequent contributor DJ Platurn hit us with this, the 3rd and final installment of Breaking The Ice, a three-part series highlighting these immensely ill, not to mention very rare, Icelandic records Platurn grabbed when in the motherland. His brainchild The 45 Sessions (which I’ve been honored to be a part of) reaches its boiling point next month when famed producer Just Blaze headlines. Don’t miss it or Platurn’s ongoing works, including an official full-length release of Breaking The Ice with liner notes by yours truly. But for now, peep this terrific bookend to the series.– DM]
Trubrot: “Hr Hvit Skyrta Og Bindi b/w A Little Song of Love”
Although only one LP, an EP, and couple of 45s to their credit, I think it’s safe to say that Óðmenn (translated literally as ‘mad men’ or ‘crazy men’) is my favorite all time Icelandic band–with Trúbrot coming in a close second. Their sounds were similar and I believe they shared some sessions players — easily the finest groove based prog rock out of Iceland in the ’70s came from these two outfits.
This particular 7″ is especially interesting — as far as I know none of these songs appeared on any of their albums. On the b-side, ‘Hr. hvít skyrta of bindi´ (Mr. White Shirt & Tie) segue ways into ‘A Little Song of Love’, not something you commonly hear on a 45. When it’s two songs to a side then the tracks are usually seperate and it’s considered an EP. This particular record has a track entitled ‘Starlight’ on the back — not a bad song in itself but much more folky in comparison to the more, almost b-boy-esque feel of Mr. White Shirt.
The lyrics are also poignant, touching on subdued hints of being a mindless drone who doesn’t know who he/she is while trudging through life with little meaning, other than wearing a suit and tie and pleasing Mr. Boss Man. The lyrics of ‘Little Song’ are a simple ode to the joys of innocent love, with a fresh flute intro that could have easily been flipped by one of DITC’s finest in the mid ’90s.
This single is a true gem, a rare piece of bad ass music from one of Iceland’s finest and is incredibly hard to find.I first heard this 45 from my cousin Sveimhugi, the other half of my excavating journey through Iceland’s lesser known wax history. Still trying to find my own, but in the meantime the motherland based half of the duo currently claims the only copy I have access too (him and I are the ones who initially began the ‘Breaking The Ice’ journey). This will be the last post until the whole compilation actually drops, brought to you in part by Nerdtorious dot com and with even more extensive insight, liner notes, and stories of diggin’ thru Middle Earth. Enjoy! – DJ Platurn
(This is hands down our favorite mix of the year. Alex LaRotta is a friend to the blog (and to the most excellent Musica Del Alma whose new mix is bonkers). He’s also co-founder of the Alamo City Soul Club and is completing his thesis at Texas State on San Antonio’s “West Side Sound” (i.e. Chicano Soul) of the late ’50s and ‘60s, tracing the narrative history of the local music industry and the introduction of artists like Sunny and the Sunliners, Royal Jesters, Spot Barnett, The Webs, etc. Hopefully we’ll hear from him as he ascends into academia. Immense thanks to Alex for unleashing this exclusive, utterly awesome mix of Cumbia cuts! – DM)
(Editor’s Note: Cosmo Baker is one of our favorite DJs. Widely considered one of the top party-rocking DJs on the planet, the Philly native cut his chops alongside contemporaries like ?uestlove and Rich Medina, and helped found the internationally known DJ / remix collective The Rub. Now as a solo performer, Cosmo is bringing his show to larger audiences around the globe. Dude’s a rare breed of DJ that bridges the gap between new and old and does so with impeccable taste. We’re glad to have caught him for this fine guest post. Peep game. – DM)
As a teenager growing up in Philadelphia, jazz was this omnipresent force that weaved its way through all of my musical experiences. Some of my earlier memories are of my mom playing Coltrane records on Thanksgiving and me having this unreal magnetic attraction to his version of Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue.” When kids my age were packing West Philly basements to see underground hardcore shows, I was heading out by myself to see lions like Sonny Rollins or Elvin Jones play their souls out. At some of my first DJ gigs, I would be quick to throw some Gary Bartz or Herbie Hancock into my sets, trying to draw some obviously (to me) direct correlation between jazz and the boom-bap that I was a part of. Let’s put it this way: with every visit to the record store, the jazz section was always the first destination. It was on one of these visits that I discovered Norman Connors “Love From The Sun.”
With the death of John Coltrane in 1967, there was a shockwave that reverberated throughout the jazz world and, amidst the rise of the Vietnam War and the faltering civil rights movement, the groups of artists set forth to redefine their community. What came about post 67 was a new sound – more importantly a new feel – within the music that was more contemplative. Fitting right within those confines comes Norman Connors’ third album “Love From The Sun” in 1973. The North Philadelphia born and raised drummer penned the title track, a smooth ballad featuring a sublime vocals by Dee Dee Bridgewater, accompanying an atmospheric treatment of bells, percussion and flute, and although it seems the song is about solar worship the subtext is much deeper. It was one of those songs that I would listen to incessantly, during the summer of a new love that held so much promise through the following fall, when that love had crashed and burned and I was left to make sense of it all. But even today, I listen to this song and it causes a wave of tranquility to was over me.
Norman Connors “Love From The Sun”
In the mid 90s I worked at Eightball Records in New York City and the shop became an oasis of some of the biggest house DJs in the city (and vicariously the world.) We were tasked to help pick out records for some of the scene’s top guys, who in turn went on to play these records and turn them into monster hits, launching the careers of many artists and remixers. We always got the big records and the exclusives first and one of these records was from Tribal America, one of the biggest domestic house labels at the time. It was the first single off the debut Danny Tenaglia album. Now I always considered Danny Tenaglia one of my favorite DJs, and he was also one of the nicest people as well. But as a DJ he successfully bridged the gap between his Paradise Garage influence and the dark, futuristic soulful sound of New York of the mid to late 90s. The song was “Look Ahead” a romping, driving vocal with messages of empowerment and a bright future. It instantly became a favorite of mine. Not 2 weeks later, and old DJ came into the store to sell his old vinyl collection. One of the records I grabbed was by Norman Connors Aquarian Dream. Aquarian Dream was a soul and funk outfit that Connors took under his wing to produce their first album for Buddah Records. They failed to score any hits big, and went on eventually to a sleeker disco sound (and it’s worth to note their one-time lead singer was none other than Sylvia Striplin.) But back to their first record, in listening to it I discovered that the original version of “Look Ahead” was on it. I became so enamored of this song and started to play it in my sets incessantly, always getting a great response. Still to this day, it remains in my “Finishing Off Strong” crate as a wonderful song to end a night with.
Norman Connors Presents Aquarian Dream “Look Ahead”
Much like many jazz artists of the 60s and early 70s, like Roy Ayers or the Mizell Brothers, Connors branched out in the latter half of the 70s in a more smooth R&B direction, resulting in his biggest hit – the 1976 slow jam anthem “You Are My Starship.” Now I don’t know what made him blast off into the intergalactic dimension with his prose, but likening a woman to an interstellar spacecraft never sounded so sexy. Perhaps it’s Michael Henderson’s silky vocals instructing the object of his desire to not be too late, “but not to come too soon” or perhaps it’s the smooth sweeping keyboard introduction, that ended up becoming the backbone to many a rap record. But either way, this late night Quiet Storm staple has aged well, standing the test of time and still inducing many panties to drop when it’s played at the right place and time.
Norman Connors “You Are My Starship” feat. Michael Henderson
* Take a look & listen HERE for more of Cosmo’s work.
(Editor’s note: This comes to us from veteran music writer Michael A. Gonzales whose work appears in XXL, Spin, The Village Voice, Wax Poetics, Vibe, The Source and Stop Smiling. Gonzales writes about visual arts for HYCIDE, co-edits the erotica journal Open, and publishes crime fiction. You can also catch him on his blog, Blackadelic Pop. He lives in Brooklyn where, according to him, the ghost of Biggie Small haunts him constantly. We’re very excited and honored to have Michael get down with us. – DM)
“Love & Happiness” by Al Green [Hi-Records 1972]
I’ve had a long with relationship with the buttery hot grits southern soul of Al Green. When I was a boy growing-up in Harlem, my lanky next-door-neighbor Betty had a crush on the brother Green so hard that she bought a replica of the white peacock chair he was sitting on the cover of I’m Still in Love With You .
Convinced Al Green was going to be her husband, I guess she grew tired of waiting and got hooked on angel dust instead.
Ten years later, having moved downtown to 24th Street, across the street from the School for Deaf Children, my next-door neighbor played Al’s repertoire every Sunday morning as though his voice was the equivalent of a Baptist Church service.
Still, it wasn’t until I began living with publicist Lesley Pitts in 1991 that I finally understood the power of soul. Returning home from interviewing Method Man for an Ego Trip cover story in 1994, I was feeling kind of rowdy. Since most of the day was spent watching homie Chi Modu shoot shots for the album packaging while the ill Rza produced tracks played in the background, I was determined to keep that same energy when I got back home.
Opening the front door, Lesley was cooking a soul food dinner that smelled delicious while also blasting Al Green’s laidback mack attack “Love and Happiness.” After kissing her hello, I went across the room and began searching for a rock song I desperately wanted to hear. “What are you doing?” she asked. “I was going to play Led Zeppelin’s song ‘Dazed and Confused,” I answered. After puffing L’s with Meth all day, that was exactly how I felt.
Lesley looked at me, turned to the stove where she was fixing fried chicken, macaroni & cheese and greens, and then glared at me again. “Well, I believe that music affects the cooking, so do you want the food to taste like Al Green or Led Zeppelin?” Needless to say, the velvet funk of Memphis’ main man Al Green stayed on until those pots were turned off.
“Keep on Truckin’” by Eddie Kenricks [Tamla Records 1973]
It was a few weeks after my tenth birthday and the regular sitter where me and baby brother went every morning was sick. With nowhere to go while mom dukes worked, she decided that we would be shipped go the heart of Harlem to daddy’s apartment on 123rd and 7th Avenue. Daddy was a short Puerto Rican nightbird who hung tough until the break of dawn and slept through the day. I suppose mom had no choice, but babysitting wasn’t really his thing.
Around noon, when we got a little too loud, he gave me and Carlos some money and instructed us to, “…go to the Apollo, watch a movie and call him from a pay phone when we were finished.” Luckily, for my music loving self, the feature that day was Wattstax.
Although for the duration of the film I was exposed to the grit and grime of the Memphis soul folks The Bar-Kays, Isaac Hayes, Rufus Thomas, The Staple Singers and others, afterwards I was still thinking about my then favorite song, the slick pre-disco dance track “Keep on Truckin’” by former Temptations singer Eddie Kendricks.
Having heard the song blaring on pop station WABC and the soul heavy WWRL, its irresistible groove put a mojo on me. Earlier that day, the gangster swagger of the rhythm track was blaring from one of the colorful hogs the players parked outside the Shalimar Barbershop and stayed stuck in my head.
With a couple of dollars burning a hole in my pocket, as grand-ma used to say, after we left the movie I split the cash with baby bro, who went directly to the pinball machine cluttered game room down the block.
Me, well I darted down a few doors to the Harlem Record Shack and bought the 7” of “Keep on Truckin’ (Part 1).” Although I could barely understand the lyrics, one could just tell the brother was saying some cool shit as the conga drums and sly guitar work swagger in the background.
To paraphrase Eddie Kendricks, nothing could hold me back. Returning home that night, I played that jam a million times.
“Tell Me Something Good” by Rufus featuring Chaka Khan [ABC Records 1974]
Back in the 1970s, while little girls had the Jackson 5, The Sylvers and other dance-step coordinated boy bands to drool over, young boys like myself didn’t have any age appropriate sex symbols to call our own. Most of my puppy love was limited to the refined pop of Diana Ross, Marilyn McCoo (please don’t get me started on the wonders of the 5th Dimension), Dionne Warwick and Shirley Bassey.
However, in 1974 when I first heard “Tell Me Something Good” blaring from the radio, the twenty-one-year-old wild child named Chaka Khan became the first carnal pop crush of my wet dreams. Unlike the sequined darlings mentioned above, Chaka Khan wasn’t trying to be a lady as she sang on the Soul Train stage wearing a midriff top and dancing passionately as Rufus threw down with the perfect rock-funk hybrid.
All of twenty-one at the time, Khan’s vocals on this Stevie Wonder penned single was sexier than Pam Grier’s photo spread in Players magazine the year before. I wasn’t quite certain of the sexual innuendos, but I so badly wanted Chaka Khan (even her name sounded mythological and raw) to make me wish there was “48-hours in each day.”
While I was content listening to the song on the radio, in August of that ‘74, I found out that my country cousin Dawn was coming to visit from Hagerstown, Maryland, so I strolled down to Mr. Freddy’s Record store and bought the 7’’ single of “Tell Me Something Good.”
From the open guitar riffs to the talk-box thing speaking in strings two years before Frampton came alive, this was my eleven-year-old way of trying to tell my cousin Dawn that I was cool and had great taste in music.
(Editor’s Note: Our next guest post comes from Paul Cheever, aka The Cheebacabra, whose new solo joint and past work (as part of The Makrosoft) gets plenty of play around here. An arranger and multi-instrumentalist who’s been dubbed a ‘synth maestro’, Paul just returned from a whirlwind tour of Japan and hit us with these Tokyo inspired choice cuts. Keep up to date with his work HERE. Thanks Cheeba! – DM)
“Balancer” b/w “Stone and Fruits”
I just returned from my first DJ tour of Japan a few weeks ago. I had the time of my life there. And the fact that I had the opportunity to go pretty much traces back to this 45. Back in 2007, I was killing time on MySpace, adding friends, connecting with other bands. I clicked on a page and was instantly hit with the dope sounds of 9dw. I started an email friendship with the Tokyo-based bandleader Kensuke Saito. I sent him some of my music and he mailed me this 45. All three of these tracks are sick instrumental grooves with crisp drums and catchy melodies. “Black Coffee” and “Balancer” are loaded with juicy analog synth and “Stone and Fruits” showcases Kensuke’s thoughtful guitar playing. I helped put him in touch with Wax Poetics and they went on to release a 9dw double LP in 2009. Kensuke and the label he manages, Catune, released my latest album in Japan and also arranged the tour. It was amazing to finally meet in person after a five year internet friendship. I’m so grateful for the ways that music can connect.
UCND [NNNF, 2012]
“Morondava b/w DJ Shinya “SK. High”
Keeping on the Japanese tip, this is a 45 I picked up while in Kyoto. UCND is a duo: Masato Ucon on upright bass and KND on beats/samples. I saw them perform live and they were hyped, relentless with their groove. There’s not much that satisfies me more musically than some tight drums combined with a funky bassline and that’s what this track delivers (there’s also a lot of percussion, rhodes and didgeridoo). On the B-Side, DJ Shinya presents a nice reworking of the Nat Adderley track “K. High”, slowing it down, beefing up the drums and really bringing the clavinet and best sax parts to the forefront. DJ Shinya seems to preside over the funk scene in Kyoto. Not only is he the buyer at a local record store called Japonica, he also organizes a live event called Butter which brings together the dopest DJ’s, funk bands and visual artists (when I was there, there was an artist painting a massive Gil Scott-Heron portrait). Both of these tracks are solely available on this 45 which is limited to 200 copies.
[Editor’s note: This comes to us from Michael Barnes who runs one of my favorite audioblogs, Melting Pot. Catch Michael on his weekly radio program, Melting Pot Radio every Sunday from 4-6pm on KPFK (90.7 FM Los Angeles / 98.7 FM Santa Barbara / Worldwide @ KPFK.ORG). Starting this week, for Southern California folk, Michael DJs every Tuesday night at the Virgil in Los Angeles. Per usual, he comes correct with choice cuts and great info. And congrats to Melting Pot for 3 years of keeping things consistent; definite two thumbs up!- DM]
“Daglar Dagladi Beni” by Edip Akbayram & Dolstar
At some point as I was buzzing through youtube videos looking for a track that was stuck in my head, I came across this video promising “Crazy Turkish Heavy Psych Funk Breaks.” The link did not disappoint, fuzzy guitars, heavy drums, cool singing in Turkish and, strangely, stills from Team America: World Police of turban wearing puppets. What was not shown or mentioned in the video was the name of the artist or the song. Having been led to youtube in an attempt to solve one riddle I had been led into another one and after hearing all those fuzzy guitars I was determined to figure it all out. Through some deductive reasoning (starting with the label, cross checking Ebay, moving to 1970s artists on that label and then back to youtube) I finally discovered that the artist was Edip Akbayram along with his group Dostlar.
The video featured excerpts from both sides of a 45 the band released in the early 1970s, “Daglar Dagladi Beni” on one side and the equally heavy “Ince Ince Bir Kar Yagar” on the flipside (each of these tracks are also featured on Edip’s super rare debut LP though they’ve also been compiled together by Shadoks, but even that collection is tough to find these days). As luck would have it the 45 was just waiting for me to get it on Ebay and I was more than happy to snatch it up. Whenever I hear the opening first minute of “Daglar” I immediately envision it being used in the soundtrack of a Quentin Tarantino film, as two characters are about to face off. It just has THAT kind of sound.
“Toe Jam” by Mount Rushmore
Recently ran into this at the Pasadena Flea Market/Record Swap. Having heard the Handsome Boy Modeling School’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll (Could Never Hip-Hop Like This)” I knew that “Toe Jam,” from the band’s second LP, had served as the primary sample. Mount Rushmore were more of a blues-oriented Frisco band and fans of that sound would dig most of the other cuts on the album. For me it all comes back to those drums and the fuzzy guitar and bass. It’s a super heavy sound, almost Black Sabbath heavy once the unsampled melody kicks in. The first three minutes are so good I don’t even hold it against them for speeding things up and losing the funk for the last half of the song.
“LaçoNegro” by União Black
One of the few exceptions to my “never buy a record recorded after 1976” quality assurance rule, at least as it applies to funk, are records out of Brazil. Things just didn’t seem to get quite so heavily disco-fied in Brazil as quickly as they did here in the US, so you can often find very heavy funk records from 1977 and even 1978. União Black’s self-titled debut from that year is a record that I bet a lot of people pass up just because of the cheesy graphics on the cover. This would be a total mistake because it’s also one of the funkier bits of Brazilian wax ever released. In addition to the funk, the influence of the burgeoning Brazilian Black consciousness movement is also clear in this music, with half of the album’s songs having either “Black,” “Negro” or “Africana” in the title. Of those (which are also the best tracks on the album), LaçoNegro is the one I chose to share with you, just because I love mid-tempo funky struttin’ quality of the beat and I’m a well known sucker for soul claps.
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The “Black Label” collection (BLC) is nearly 250 MP3s that my old editor Tommy Tompkins hit me with back in 2004 or so. I forget where he got them from but whoever originally compiled the collection did a bang-up job: superb taste in R&B that range from the early 1960s through early ’70s. My original plan was to create a series of posts based on songs in the collection – I even created a custom image to go with such posts – but in the end, the momentum of writing on other songs ended up leaving the Black Label series ideas by the wayside.
Yet, I would be reminded of the BLC every so often because I’d learn about a new single, cop it, and when I’d go to digitize it, realize: oh wait, this was already in the collection. I’m slightly embarrassed how often this happens to me if only because I should really just sit down with the damn thing and go through it, song-by-song. But really, it speaks to the quality of the collection that over the last 8 years, I still am discovering the gems it holds, even if inadvertently. Here’s three 7″ singles that appear in the Black Label collection.
1) The Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band: A Dance, a Kiss, and a Song (Warner Bros. 1968)
My original interests in Watts 103rd St. (pictured above) off of the Together album tended to gravitate more to the straight up funk instrumentals, especially “Giggin’ Down 103rd St.” (straight fiyah!) but I didn’t really catch wind to how incredibly great ” A Dance, a Kiss, and a Song” was until I started combing through the BLC. The songs features drummer James Gadson on vocals rather than Charles Wright and as I discovered the other month, not only is it on the flip side of “Do Your Thing” (one of their biggest hits before “Express Yourself”) but it has a cool European pic sleeve version which I was only too happy to drop a few bucks for.
2) Mike & The Censations: Victim of Circumstance (Highland, 1966)
This is one of those cases where I really appreciated how deep the BLC went, despite also having clearly slept on going through it to have discovered this single earlier than I did (which was 1-2 years ago). Mike & The Censations were lead by L.A.’s Mike James Kirkland who’d go onto bigger fame in the early 1970s with “Hang On In There” but this is back during his early career. Mike was actually a contemporary of a lot of the guys in the Watts 103rd, several of whom worked studio gigs for the Censations (and Wright went to the same high school as Mike’s brother). “Victim of Circumstance” is one of several superior singles the group recorded (and licensed through the Highland label). The horns are awesome here – what an opening! – and the song itself is on some classic, late night dedication, firm rola tip.
3) Jackie Ross: Selfish One (Chess, 1963)
While Jackie Ross didn’t have a massive career, this was her biggest hit and should have been a single I was up on years ago. Instead, I only copped it a few weeks back, only to learn – once again – that it had been in the BLC all along. Great Northern tune (that borrows heavily, arguably shamelessly, from the Motown sound). Am I crazy in thinking it also briefly borrows from the jazz standard, “Tenderly,” before Ross swings in? Either way, hand-clapping soul at its finest.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be rolling out guest spots from some of my favorite music lovers. These dudes (all of whom usually come correct in their respective fields) typically get us geeked so the prompt was simple: grab a few of your favorite records, talk about them and share. I’m flattered by the response but also eager to unleash these thoughtful and funny, top-notch submissions.
First up is one of our favorite personalities, J-Zone. You might know him by 2001’s Pimps Don’t Pay Taxes LP, his work with Ego Trip, or his stellar musings for Dante Ross’ blog. He penned this post for us shortly after obliterating one of the Bay Area’s best parties, The 45 Sessions. His new book, Root For The Villain, is available now. Thanks J! -DM
Soul Suspects’ “Handle It” [Black Prince, year unknown]
This was one of many 45s I got off an ex-DJ turned drug addict in 1994. I worked in Vance Wright’s (Slick Rick’s DJ) studio in high school; one day the dude rolled up in there trying to sell his entire 45 collection. He wanted like $100 but Vance and I talked him down to $50 and split the bill. There was all types of good shit in there, like rare good shit. Pazant Bros.’ Chick-A-Boom,” Ricky Williams’ “Discotheque Soul,” some General Crook, Ramrods, Joe Quarterman, JB and early Kool and the Gang 45s…it was a nice box of shit. I got all the joints with mean breaks and this was one of the meanest. It’s got the same song structure as Sly & the Family Stone’s “Dance to the Music,” as did most funk 45s from about ’68 through the early ’70s. There’d be a groove, then each instrument would get called out for solos. Then they’d groove to the outro.
It was a popular format for early funk shit, but this one was always particularly funky and I always liked really fast funk records because they’re good for the dance floor (as opposed to just being used for sampling) and remind me of shit that Big Daddy Kane would rhyme on. This one really builds at the end with the horns and special effects – it always stuck out to me. And when I found out that it was pretty rare, I began treating it better than other human beings. One time after a gig I put the 45 on the passenger seat and made the girl I was dating ride in the trunk.
Sam and the Soul Walkers’ “Soul Walk” [Transcontinental, 1968]
There was a rap song from 1990 that sampled this. (Don’t wanna snitch; these past-the-statute-of-limitations lawsuits are getting out of control.) Anyway, I loved the beat and it drove me crazy that for 20+ years I never knew what the original was. Nobody I asked knew either. It’s rare that I don’t find out the original sample of something I want to know, especially in the internet era and with all the diggers and producers I know. But this one stumped me. Earlier this year I was in Big City Records (NYC) listening to 45s and pulled this out not knowing what was on it. It’s a dope, uptempo joint and I was gonna buy it to spin out anyway, but then the fuckin’ break came in!
Solving the mystery by surprise like that was like touching a live wire. That was just a diggin’ throwback from the ’90s because that’s how you discovered samples back then. I’m learning to play drums now and I practice to this one a lot, too. I love that raggedy, late ’60s-era, four piece Slingerland drum kit with one mic on it sound. Then the female singers and piano twinkles add this subtle touch that make it a little less predictable than the average funk 45. It’s a multi-purpose funk / soul 45 and the b-side is a decent straight ahead soul joint.
(This one on Rob Swift of the X-ecutioners comes to us from Kyle Eustice, a music journalist from Omaha, Nebraska whose work appears in IQ Magazine, Thrasher Skateboarding Magazine, and Kansas City Pitch. She also contributed an article on the new Killer Mike / EL-P collab, R.A.P. Music, for the upcoming Wax Poetics’s Hip-Hop Issue. On the birthday of Roc Raida (RIP), here’s a quick q&a with DJ extraordinaire, Rob Swift. Thanks Kyle! – DM)
“Raida’s Theme (snippet)” by X-ecutioners, 12″ [Asphodel, 1997]
In the realm of DJ crews, it doesn’t get better (or bigger) than the legendary X-ecutioners from New York City. Originally comprised of 11 turntablists, the X-ecutioners were whittled down to four integral members including the late Roc Raida, Rob Swift, Total Eclipse and Mista Sinista. Their beat juggling was unprecedented and style, supreme. After leaving the X-ecutioners in 2005 to pursue more personal endeavors, Swift remained close to his former crewmates, especially Roc Raida. Following a freak Mixed Martial Arts accident, sadly, Raida passed away on September 19th 2009. Since then, Swift has made it his mission to honor his fallen crewmember’s memory. Here, on Roc Raida’s birthday, Swift takes a minute to talk about Raida, the art of turntablism and his Scion radio show, “Dope On Plastic.”
What have you been working on since your 2010 groundbreaking album, The Architect?
I’ve dropped a follow-up EP called Sketches Of The Architect. I’ve also been collaborating with Large Professor on material for his new album, which drops this June and of course, my Roc For Raida project is my latest work.
(Ed. note: I did a recent piece on ‘Cool’ Chris Veltri for Wax Poetics Issue #47, touching on the shop and having Chris list rare, top shelf records from his collection. It was in part to celebrate Groove Merchant's 20 years in business but also meant to hype its coinciding release, Groove Merchant Turns 20. Besides operating the shop and keeping it afloat through rigid times, Chris is one of the most tempered–and knowledgable–dudes around. Here’s a few more goodies from his stacks– including a strange (and admittedly “guilty pleasure”) acapella version of the Go Gos’ “Our Lips Are Sealed”. Haha. Thanks Chris!)
1) Maceo Smith Concert Jazz Band 1983-84 “A Very Good Year” (Century Private)
Hands down one of the best high school records that has ever passed through my hands. This is a Texas high school lab record with a Bay Area connection; The band leader is none other than Willie Hoskins, the man behind the coveted Boola Boola record label and producer of heaps of classic Bay soul and funk. The music is bananas, with covers of “Thriller”, Dennis Edwards “Don’t look any further”, an off the chart version of “Another One Bites The Dust” called “Let’s Do It” and loads more. I wonder if these kids ever went head to head with the Kashmere Stage band? Thanks to Will from Rehash for this one.
“Let’s Do It (Another One Bite’s The Dust cover)”
“Don’t Look Any Further”
2) Perilhettes 1982 “Our Lips Are Sealed” (Mark)
Guilty pleasures. We all got ’em. Without hesitation, the Go Go’s definitely rate in my cannon of fave ’80s pop. The Go Gos’ classic “Our Lips Are Sealed” was co-written by Terry Hall of The Specials and Jane Wiedlin, and went on to hit the top 20 on the American pop charts. This version was done acapella style by a group of Connecticut boarding school sisters called the Perilhettes. Released on the Mark label custom press 1982. Super Fresh.
3) Hi-Way Que C’s “The Lord is Sweet” (Peacock)
Beautiful record by the legendary 5 piece vocal group on the equally legendary Peacock gospel imprint. This records sounds like the church you could only wish you would discover on an early morning Sunday stroll. Deeply spiritual and highly soulful, this is a really good introduction to gospel for the soul fan.
(Collector Allen Johnson aka Overflo is a Chicago native who produced for Rhymesayers, EV Productions, and Chocolate Industries and he’ll be bringing us funky contributions of rare, random tracks from his crates. Though he leans towards old funk, hip-hop and electro, he also mingles with Jazz, garage, soul, Latin and boogaloo. He also founded and manages Birthwrite Records; get at him and his storefront at email@example.com. Below are some 45s from his stacks. – DM)
Frank Armstrong & the Stingers “I Feel Like I Want to Holler” on Modern. I dug this out of a garage in San Jose this past year, and I don’t know much about it. I skipped by it at first, but when I listened I knew I had to have it. It starts with a swanky guitar riff joined by some drums and a fast-paced bassline. It’s got some swing but stays funky. The rhythm section is arranged perfectly, and Armstrongs’ scruffy vocals make the entire song an enjoyable seemless tablespoon of how it’s done! As a bonus, the flipside “Humpin’” is a pretty groovy instrumental track.
Bill Coday “I Got A Thing” on Galaxy, year unknown. This is by no means Coday’s biggest hit, for me it’s an obvious pick! Coday worked with producer, Willie Mitchell (Hi Records) for years recording for Denise LaSalle’s Crajon label. LaSalle also wrote the song, which could just as easily have been composed by Fred Wesley & Maceo Parker. Many were funky but came off as imitators. Codays’ screams are the real thing.
The Leaves “Get Out My Life Woman” on Mira 1966. The Leaves were a southern Cali based garage rock outfit who successfully interpreted this Toussaint classic! I remember being introduced to this break years back (the Lee Dorsey version) and instantly I was drawn to the drums; always the drums. To top it off the whole song is killer. The vocals bring a psychedelic vibe with nice harmonies. The song develops well with a slammin’ horn arrangement at the end. Ah, the ’60s rarely did they disappoint.
Z.Z. Hill “What More” Kent. Okay, of course when I think of Z.Z. Hill immediately the blues comes to mind. He didn’t have much success until the ’70s & ’80s recording the blues. However, he started recording in the ’50s and this hard to come by ’60s ballad on the legendary Kent label is smooth and downright soulful! The back-up singers lay some nice harmonies on the chorus as well! If you see this floating around somewhere grab it.
(Shouts to Aja West for this great post; a look at the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider” and its many incarnations. Joe Cocker’s take especially kills but all versions highlight different traits of the original. Really, they’re all great. Word Aja! -DM)
The Allman Brothers Band: “Midnight Rider” off Idlewild South 
I love these blue-eyed soul men for their harmonizing voices on this escape and chase caper. The simple guitar pattern that grows in strength with the low end throughout this country funk song works well as hell. For all those riding dirty this ones for you!
Stephen Stills: Thoroughfare Gap 
Still’s guitar lick led version rolls “smooth as strawberry ice cream” down the side of a waffle cone. Stephen loads his falsetto crossbow carefully palming his high-pitched “ace in the hole” arrows, guarding the audience against how he’s about to funk them up.
Joe Cocker: Classics Vol. 4 
Smoking. A slow opening with Cocker testifying then: congas, bass, drums and a mean Bruce Lee cymbal pattern. The Female backline rocks the Kasbah. I have subtle memories of a “Doobie Brothers” style break beat on this track but I was riding dirty at the time so who knows?
The Wood Brothers: Up Above My Head 
The Wood Brothers version carries a unique jazzy arrangement. I especially like the upright bass changing the whole groove significantly and not just the low end. This is the poorest recording of the pile, at times verging on distortion and I simply don’t want these fools to fix it.
Gregg Allman: Laid Back 
The original inspired voice renders a rock version featuring beautiful Rhodes electric piano work that keeps with the deep good old boys root feeling of the original track.
(Here’s another great find by one of the hardest working dudes I know, DJ Platurn . Check some newer work of his available at Turntable Lab. And if you’re in the Austin area, peep his outrageous schedule at this year’s SXSW. Stay tuned for future installments of our ‘Breaking The Ice’ series which, as far as I know, is the only venue for Icelandic gems such as this.– DM)
Wuddup beat nerds, back once again with another from the cold Icelandic crates of Sveimhugi and DJ Platurn. If you read the last installment then you’re somewhat familiar with this series– basically these tracks were songs myself and my cousin unearthed in the motherland years ago; joints off Icelandic LPs and 45s that lie on the groovy side of things. We put them all on an unreleased comp called ‘Breaking The Ice V.1’ that never saw the light of day, until now.
‘Syrpa II’ Leikur Vinsæl Islensk Lög [SG Hljómplötur, 1970]
So ‘Syrpa II’ translates to ‘Medley Two’, a track off of an LP that literally means ‘Plays Popular Icelandic Songs’ by recording artist, producer, arranger and groovy Hammond player Þórir Baldursson. This LP is composed entirely of medleys of relatively well known Icelandic songs, none that would sound familiar to anyone outside of the indigenous population and primarily the generations before the last two or so. Continue reading “Breaking The Ice”→
(Writer/editor of Wax Poetics, AOL Boombox, Rolling Stone.com and Stones Throw copywriter Ronnie Reese hit us with this synthy gem. Dude knows his stuff and we’re glad he’s in a sharing mood; peep his take on this jheri curl jam, “Covergirl” by Network. Ronnie’s fine work can be found in the many publications he contributes to. Thanks Double R. Looking forward to more smooth random joints -DM)
“Cover Girl” by Network [Ram’s Horn, 1984]
One of the homeboys put this on a mix for me, but wouldn’t tell me who the artist was—he can be an ass sometimes—so I had to do some digging.
I love the vocals, especially on the bridge (“Cover giiiirl, a picture-perfect face that a thousand words or more could never explain…”). I’m a sucker for those velvety Steve Arrington/Melvin Riley voices. The kind you hear and think, “This dude probably has a jheri curl,” because they usually do. In fact, producer Jake One once told me that’s exactly how he refers to this sound, as “jheri curl music…that feel-good, uptempo, clap-type shit.”
“Cover Girl” has all the right elements—blocks, swirly synths, stabby synths, stretchy synths. It’s just a delicious track, all around, and the beauty is that there are countless songs like this out there if you know where to look. –Ronnie Reese
(Editor’s Intro: DJ Monk One, Wax Poetics’ writer, mixtape specialist, collector, and all around nice dude, hit us with Milt Matthews’ ‘It Ain’t Your Fault’, comparing it to Thai food for its tempered approach. Read more on Monk to see how consistent and tasteful his output is. Thanks Mr. Mason!– DM)
Milt Matthews Inc. – ‘It Ain’t Your Fault’ (Commonwealth United, 1970)
The curious genre of Folk Funk is sort of like Thai food. If the delicate balance of disparate flavors isn’t correct, you’re left with an unpalatable mess. ‘It Ain’t Your Fault’ gets the ingredients just right, combining strummy guitar, honky-tonk piano and organ that could’ve come straight off a Band-era Dylan record with a hard hitting rhythm and a Otis Redding worthy vocal. A little sweet, a little sour, and addictively tasty.
Milt Matthews Inc. was a DC-area band who put out two LPs in 1970 and ’71. Though psych and rock collectors pay big money for their second record, I find the concoction a little heavy on the fuzz guitar and prefer the understated flavor of their first, from which this song is taken. – Andrew Mason
(Alex LaRotta who runs the audioblog I’m Shakin’ gave us this to share. It’s been in queue for a while but there’s never a bad time for something so timeless. Hats off to Alex for the nice contribution. -DM)
‘Black Gal’ by Roy Gaines
Houston native Roy Gaines and his take on the classic Americana folk dirge, ‘Black Gal’, features a spread of sweet organ soul with a country blues foundation. ‘Black Gal’, also known as ‘In The Pines’ and ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night?’ in various renditions, was made popular in the early ’90s by Seattle’s most well-known crusty grunge trio, Nirvana, on their lauded MTV Unplugged series. Though largely credited in origin to the various recordings by blues folk pioneer Lead Belly, this song dates back to the late 19th century and has since gone through an evolution of genres and interpretations. Continue reading “Roy Gaines’ Black Gal”→
(Dan Ubick, serious musician from Rhythm Roots All Stars, Connie Price and the Keystones and The Lions, has played with Ghostface and Slick Rick among so many others, recording for Blue Note, Ubiquity, Tru Thoughts, and Stones Throw along the way. In his spare time he also writes (I worked with him on this Richard Evans piece) but he’s a music head above all things. A guitarist who transitions between different genres, he’s apparently, at heart, a bluesman. Here’s his thoughts on Little Willie John’s ‘I Need Your Love So Bad’. – DM)
‘I Need Your Love So Bad’ by Little Willie John
“I Need Your Love So Bad” by Little Willie John is to my ears absolutely the most perfect song ever (a huge claim I realize… but true.). This recording contains the most heart wrenching and captivating vocal take I personally have ever heard committed to tape (and I’ve listened to a couple records at this point like most of you reading I’m sure!).
The lyrics, apparently written by Willie John’s brother Mertis John Jr, (their sister was Stax and Motown artist Mable John) are the kind of lyrics that you never forget. Willie John’s well-worn and perfectly loose delivery draw you in like a good friend sharing his troubles with you personally. A voice of wisdom, longing and truth we can all relate to.
(Editor’s Note: Adrian Younge, producer, collector, composer, and musician currently touring as Adrian Younge and The Black Dynamite Sound Orchestra recenly gave us details on his creative processes. Jeff Brummett, musician and now occasional contributor, interviewed Adrian a few months back. Stay tuned for his extensive, upcoming interview with Soul Cinema icon, Jamaa Fanaka. -DM)
By Jeff Brummett
Adrian Younge is the composer, producer and songwriter for the amazingly righteous Black Dynamite soundtrack. An homage to classic blaxploitation films, the movie and especially the soundtrack are pitch perfect. He went to severe lengths to perfect and duplicate the analog sounds of classic era Soul Cinema creating a very distinct flavor mirroring the original intentions and grooves of those groundbreaking works. The attention to detail and painstaking long hours really bring this project an authenticity that is tremendously impressive. Adrian was also the editor for the film Black Dynamite, so this was very much a passion project for him. We look forward to hearing more from this multi-talented artist.
Were you given the freedom to completely create the tracks or were you and the director working together to come up with the sound?
The producers and the director gave me the freedom to do anything for the score; we collaborated ideas on most of the songs and this was a very joyous experience. The director, Scott Sanders, actually wrote the lyrics to “Cleaning up the Streets.”
How did the tracking aspect go? Was it usually starting a groove with the drummer, then overdubs?
I rarely wrote any of the music with drums first. On the song, “Black they Back,” my drummer, Jack Waterson, composed a drum sequence and I just basically followed his progressions; other than that, songs were either written on organ, bass, or guitar; I would record my instruments into my mpc 2000 for arrangement purposes; after the song was arranged, the band and I would play every instrument onto tape sequentially (do a youtube search for the black dynamite score documentary, it shows the entire process). Continue reading “DYNAMITE SOUNDS: ADRIAN YOUNGE INTERVIEW”→
(Editor’s note: Recently, I stopped by Soul-Sides to talk about one of my favorite summer jams which you can peep here— as did Adam del Alma. Adam’s on a summer song rampage and we’re glad given his past record. Here are choice cuts he sent us for this late June 2010 (peep the Beto Villeno joint!). Finally, summer’s here. Let the sunshine in. –DM)
I don’t know much about Ramona Gonzalez, the woman behind the sort of solo act/sort of band called Nite Jewel, and I kind of like it that way. The most appealing thing about her music is the mystery of it. Nite Jewel songs are kind of like looking into a foggy window: There’s clearly something worth seeing but, as an outsider, you’re never privy to the full picture, thanks to a seductively muffled sound which keeps the listener at a distance even as it reels you in with catchy grooves and gorgeous singing. Gonzalez is not coy or secretive in this interview — she’s not too cool for school — but she doesn’t give too much away, either. Perfect.
Where are you from? Introduce yourself to our readers.
I’m Nite Jewel. I was born in Oakland, CA.
You make your own beats mostly on keyboards, right?
My music making process has changed drastically over the past two years. For my first album I recorded everything on 8-track cassette and shared beat making duties with Cole M. Greif-Neill, though most everything was written and recorded on my own. On that album, I used old drum machines, samples, one microphone, a few old synths, and an SP404. It sounds pretty degraded because I also shared production duties with Cole. Now I have more equipment and am recording in a professional yet unconventional studio in Berkeley, CA on 2-inch tape. On the current recordings, Cole and I are writing and performing in tandem. Continue reading “Ramona Come Closer: Interview with Nite Jewel”→
“Please Don’t Stop The Music” by Jorge Darden is the B-side to a record currently posted on over at Soul-Sides. Head over there to hear and read more; below is the equally nice flip O-Dub graciously sent us:
Darden’s “Please Don’t Stop the Music” is the B-side to an equally good (though more uptempo track “All Alone” ) and the first I heard it, it reminded me of something J.R. Bailey might have recorded if he was fronting a lounge act. There’s something just ever-so-slightly unpolished here but that’s precisely what holds your attention, the subtle “off”-ness of his vocals, the ways in which he’s trying just a little too hard to nail that intimate “breathy” style. Yet, like the song says, once he starts, you don’t want to stop listening. –Oliver Wang
(Editor’s note: I recently reached out to some of my favorite music dudes to see if they’d drop some expertise. Through the years, I’ve been able meet and work with some of these cats and, through their generosity, we’ll be rolling out some great posts in the coming months. The concept was straightforward: Have a great song or record you’d want to share? The responses and selections are top-notch. First up is THAT DUDE, Matthew Africa–his mixes, his blog, a lot of his output is straight up educational. We’re delighted to have him. –DM)
A quick listen to the Identities’ “Hey Brother” shows it’s a thinly-masked rewrite of the Billy Roberts composition “Hey Joe”. Although Jimi Hendrix’s recording of “Hey Joe” is perhaps justifiably the best-known version, it seems to be one of those rare tunes that’s impossible to mess up– of the dozens of versions I’ve heard, I have yet to hear a bad one. The lyrics here get recast as a peace and brotherhood bromide so vague Hendrix himself might have winced.
As far as I can tell this is the only record credited to the Identities. The vocal is almost certainly by producer Walter Whisenhunt’s wife, Gloria Taylor. The duo recorded far and wide throughout the seventies before a split which, according to legend, drove a vengeful Whisenhunt to wild out on her masters, giving birth to this left-field disco grail:
(Editor’s note: The voice of the Dap-Kings, Binky Griptite, graciously gave us the scoop on I Learned The Hard Way, the fourth studio album by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. For this this interview, we got miss Sharon herself to introduce Binky, which is somewhat of a role reversal, as he explains his duty as a King of Dap. Thanks Sharon. Big ups Binky! –DM)
I first met Binky at a session for Lee Fields, it was on 42nd Street in Manhattan. He still had on big dreads he’d wear under a beanie that looked liked a turban. I think he was still playing with Antibalas at the time. I remember thinking how so laid back he was. The Dap Kings hadn’t really formed yet, and Binky would just show up and do his thing. At the time, I was actually real afraid he’d leave our band and just stick with Antibalas full-time!
For the new one, he’s been working so hard. Some nights he’d come to the studio late and just lay down his parts; other times he’s playing the guitar half asleep with his eyes closed. He’s a stubborn perfectionist, really. He had me re-record a song over and over again because he said it ‘wasn’t soulful’ enough. It ended up taking four days! And I don’t take four days to record anything.
Really, I love what Binky does with the Dap Kings and his own Mellomatic stuff is great too. As an announcer, his voice gets people hyped. He’s like Bobby Bland. He’s a master. I really notice when he’s not at one of our performances. He’s that good.
You’re essentially the master of ceremonies at all the shows. Where do you draw your influences from?
BG: Well of course there’s Danny Ray, James Brown’s longtime emcee, as well as some gospel preacher. I come from a family of preachers so it’s not that much of a stretch. There’s also a real strong circus ringmaster influence there too. You know why people call the Ringling Bros. Circus the “Greatest Show on Earth”? Because the emcee told them to, that’s why.
My job is to prepare the audience for what they are about to see and hear, and to let them know what’s expected of them. We are not a ‘sit down and pay attention’ show, we’re a ‘get up and dance’ show. You’d be amazed at how many audiences still need to be told that they are a part of the show and that it is not meant to be a passive experience. Continue reading “Speaker of the House: Binky Griptite Interview”→
(Editor’s note:Adam D. who runs Musica del Alma, an audio blog that explores rare Latin funk, soul, and rock, kindly contributed this quick guest post. He’s been a constant source for Latin grooves and we’re glad to have him finally on board. Gracias por el calor!)
Leonello y sus Palos Nuevos
“Paso Al Gigolo”
From Calenturas De LP (Caliente, Colombia, 1973)
Mega props go to David Ma and the wonderful thing that is NERDTORIOUS! Thought I’d discuss an excellent LP from Colombia that features two funk tracks for my guest post.
Don’t know much about Leonello except that he was a Colombian guitarist who played cumbia and porro. On his Calenturas De LP, he branches out, covering the Manu Dibango classic “Soul Makossa” in a hot Afro Latin way. Also on the album, a strange funk track called “Paso Al Gigolo” has fat horns and a blazing keyboard. This may be the one and only Colombian funk track with a slide guitar (a haunting one at that!). It almost sounds like one of those musical saws.
Thanks, Jet Blue. Not only for your extra leg room and getting me home alive during that one emergency landing, but for introducing me to Neon Indian. The in-flight playlist of a budget airline can be a good place to discover cutting-edge, new music. Who knew?
It was late summer of ’09, and by then, the buzz around this enigmatic Austin/Brooklyn duo had reached fever pitch. Though just a few months old, Neon Indian was already being touted by bloggers as the next big indie thing (many called them the “new MGMT”), their then-undisclosed identities igniting rabid curiosity. Somehow, the buzz had passed right by me, and unaware of their rep, I listened to these enchanting, synthy soundscapes while descending over the hyperactive night glow of my destination city, Las Vegas. The effect of the music, set against the backdrop, was deeply cerebral.
Psychic Chasms, Neon Indian’s debut album, is like a gadget that was taken apart by the nimble hands of a tech nerd and then reassembled—with a few pieces pleasantly out of place. Or like a random ‘70s movie on a dusty VHS tape that you dug out of a storage box in your parents’ basement and then ran through the latest editing software, preserving some of the vintage quality while adding modern bells and whistles. It sounds like the future—the kind of future imagined in a decidedly ’80s film like Blade Runner. It’s upbeat, it’s mellow; introspective and carefree.
It all came from the mind of Alan Palomo, a 21-year-old Mexico native who grew up in Denton, Texas and moved to Austin in 2007. It was there that Palomo, during a kind of self-imposed creative isolation sometime around the winter of 2008, pumped out a series of short tracks in his bedroom, using a small yet sufficient set of tools. When he found that they didn’t fit the style of his other outfit, the more poppier-sounding band Vega, he filed them under a new project with collaborator Leanne Macomber, the project now known as Neon Indian.
Recently back from a worldwide tour—including three sold-out shows in New York City—Palomo shared the story behind the buzz with NERDTORIOUS.
What was it like for you, moving to the States from Mexico at age six?
Definite culture shock. It was a complete immersion process. I have these vivid memories of being in all-English classrooms and having these really specific moments where I didn’t know how to say a certain word. I remember this kid had accidentally spit on me and I was trying to tell the teacher, and all I could come up with was, “His mouth water was on me!” Because I didn’t know how to say saliva. At the same time, as a result of that, I got assimilated pretty quickly. I think I learned English in maybe 8 months to a year. It’s nuts how, when you’re little, you pick up a language like it’s a video game or something. Continue reading “Q&A with Neon Indian’s Alan Palomo”→
*Studio musician Todd Simon (of Antibalas, Breakestra, The Dap Kings, and El Michels Affair fame) wrote this on Willie Mitchell’s recent passing. Willie was a big influence on Todd, and studio musicians like him, so here are some of his thoughts. RIP Mr. Mitchell.
To find out one of your biggest heroes has passed away via Twitter is not fun. Five days into a brand-spanking new decade, I stumble upon a tweet from the east coast vinyl-digging monster DJ Small Change: “RIP Willie Mitchell. Can’t fuck with Hi Records real schitt.” My heart sank 20 floors.
Willie Mitchell is solely responsible for creating one of the most unique sounds from the R&B Soul movement of the ’60s and ’70s. Mitchell, who died at the age of 81 due to a heart-attack on January 5th, 2010, developed something fresh in R&B while Soul radio stations were flooded with James Brown, the Motown sound of Detroit, Philly Soul, and of course, his neighbors over at Stax in Memphis.
As in-house producer for Hi Records, “Papa Willie” produced and arranged hit after hit with Soul legends Al Green, Ann Peebles, Syl Johnson, O.V. Wright, and Bobby Bland. Mitchell also led his own band as a trumpeter and released many hits under his own name, including “Soul Serenade” and “30-60-90“. Eventually, he gained ownership of Hi Records in 1970 and continued the label’s legacy until the late ’70s.
The first time I heard Willie’s sound was on Al Green’s “Love and Happiness” on an oldies radio station around the age of nine. I had already started studying the trumpet and was blown away by the powerful and intense horns throughout the entire song. Soon to find out, my mother had two Al Green LP’s in her wonderful vinyl collection: I’m Still In Love With You and Let’s Stay Together. Little did I know that these records would go on to shape my musical life for years to come. It’s these recordings that served as reference for my first ever horn arrangements in addition to the majority of albums I’ve worked on since. Continue reading “Farewell Willie”→
*This is the first of our “Breaking The Ice” series featuring friend and fellow music nerd, DJ Platurn. In addition to his mixtapes and ongoing DJ work, dude’s a collector who has made efforts to gather and document (funky) records from his country of Iceland. “Breaking The Ice” will feature the music and stories from these experiences. All vinyl rips from ultra-rare, Icelandic funk and boogie records from the ’70s. Peep the post (and others to come!) courtesy of Platurn.
Way back in the year 2006 in my motherland, Iceland, my cousin Sveimhugi and I began compiling what we considered some of the best groove-based music from the annals of our little island’s rich musical history. We had no idea what we would come across. The following is a breakdown of one of the bands and one of their songs (note: all vinyl rips).
I am making a fairly safe assumption that this will be the first that time that all you digger nerds will hear some Icelandic funk. So for now, enjoy! Continue reading “Breaking The Ice”→
Perhaps it’s all the winters and blazing hot summers that I spent near the windy city throughout my life that makes me feel such a strong bond with the sound of Chicago soul. Traits that records from the city by the lake have in common are grit, incredible voices, lyrics that are deep direct and heartfelt, and music that always rhythmically compels (no matter the tempo).
This record epitomizes everything I love about Chicago soul, and with its’ unusual chord progression, takes a hint from the psychedelic music that was also in full bloom at this time. From the incredible guitar and horn hooks on the intro followed by the powerful drum fill, it’s obvious from the first few seconds that this record is full of confidence, swagger and emotion. Lead singer (and songwriter) Bobby Newsome comes out swinging with his vocal which frames the record to keep shooting higher until the declaration of undying love in the chorus.
Things let up a little bit in the bridge (there was nowhere else to go but take it down a bit), exploding once again for a final chorus. And when that final chorus ends, all I wanna do is hear this song again. And again. The beauty of a perfect 45 RPM record. From 1967.
*Derek See is a DJ, musician, and writer who runs one of my favorite audio-blogs, Derek’s Daily 45. Please visit his band’s website for more info on him, his music, and whereabouts. Subscribe to his blog and dude will email you a track from his collection (almost) EVERY SINGLE DAY!
I was sitting in the Soho offices of Interview Magazine on a hot July day in 1996, working on one of the most challenging album reviews of my life, MC Lyte’s Bad As I Wanna Be. Its sheer mediocrity was giving me a bad case of writer’s block. A dose of inspiration was required, so I began rummaging through the piles of unopened jiffy envelopes with various promo CDs that were strewn all over the tiny office of my boss, the Music Editor. I was his intern.
I’ve been asked a few times how I “got into” dancehall. It’s pretty simple: I’m from New York. (Anyone asking me this is usually not from here). Jamaican music has been a familiar soundtrack for nearly as long as I can remember. I think it was around 1990, when I was 11, that it first left an impression. New York’s twin Black radio stations WRKS (“KISS FM”) and WBLS were playing records by Shabba Ranks and Mad Cobra. Chaka Demus & Pliers’ “Murder She Wrote” first came out around then, beginning its steady rise to Bar Mitzvah/White Folk Wedding-level ubiquity.
Truthfully, I didn’t like the stuff at first. Not knowing too many Caribbean folk at the time, the lyrics, particularly from gruff deejays like Shabba, were initially tough to decipher. And the rhythms, made more for the dancefloor than passive consumption, didn’t grab me the way hip-hop beats did then. My gateway drug came in the form of Shabba Ranks’ “The Jam,” a collaboration with the reggae-absorbent KRS-ONE, and Bobby Konders and Mikey Jarrett’s “Mack Daddy.” This was dancehall, but with a hip-hop beat, and I was hooked. I’d heard rappers like KRS toss around patois in their own songs, but the sound of Shabba and Jarrett’s full-throttle toasting over the familiar thrust of a hard-hitting breakbeat grabbed me in a way I can’t quite explain so many years later. Continue reading “Jesse Serwer on NYC Badmen”→
Curtis Mayfield’s SuperFly is an album that moved me when I was a teenager and excites me as a grown ass man. The arrangements are complex, the rhythms thick, the melodies infectious, the lyrics streetwise, sexy & sad, and Mayfield projects a wide range of emotion from a rather limited vocal range. Prior to SuperFly Mayfield has been best known as a singer-songwriter of heartfelf civil rights anthems for The Impressions and himself. With SuperFly he joined the ranks of soul producer-writers like Isaac Hayes, Willie Hutch and Marvin Gaye, who used blaxploitation soundtracks to expand the range of their work.
I saw this movie in Times Square back when it was still down & dirty, and this tale of a New York coke dealer Priest was influential in storytelling, style and score. Listening to it recently, years after hip-hop has used SuperFly‘s themes and sampled it liberally, Mayfield’s masterpiece holds up.
“Give Me Your Love” still makes me wanna get with a girl in a bathtub. The hook on “No Thing On Me (Cocaine Song)” is as addictive as doing lines in a nightclub restroom. The title song has one of the great intros and rhythm arrangements in black pop history. With the legendary Johhny Pate helping with arrangements and a all-star team of Chicago session cats holding Mayfield down, SuperFly stands up next to Shaft and What’s Going On? as one of the greatest albums of the early ’70s, a period which was a high point in soul/funk.- Nelson George