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Small Records Big Sound
01/17/2013, 3:13 PM
Filed under: Guest Spots, Random, Tunes | Tags: , ,

(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)

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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.

DJ O-Dub will be spinning at 45 Sessions in Oakland on Friday, January 18.

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Guest Spot: Stacy Gueraseva
01/14/2013, 1:14 PM
Filed under: Guest Spots, Tunes | Tags: ,

(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)

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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.

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ATCQ feat. Faith Evans: Stressed Out (Raphael Saadiq Remix) [Jive, 1996]

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.

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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)



Time Goes By: Interview with Billy Woods
01/09/2013, 9:02 PM
Filed under: Guest Spots, Interviews | Tags: , ,

(I recently wrote for One More Robot, a Dublin-based Art Culture Magazine that for the past few years has put out terrific issues with rather wide-ranging themes. Its editor, Dean Van Nguyen, whose apparent affection for ’90s rap history is displayed prominently throughout his work as well as his publication(read his recent piece on Mac Dre HERE). I covered Chuck D for OMR’s latest issue and Dean returned the favor with the following Q&A, a piece on Billy Woods whom he calls “the most slept-on rapper in the world right now”. – DM)

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By Dean Van Nguyen

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.

And how did you get involved in making music? Continue reading



Breaking The Ice pt. 3
11/28/2012, 10:41 PM
Filed under: Guest Spots, Tunes | Tags: , ,

[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



CUMBIA MONSTER MIX = ¡GUEPA CARAMBA!
10/23/2012, 9:47 AM
Filed under: Guest Spots, Tunes | Tags:

(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)

——————> LINK TO DOWNLOAD ¡GUEPA CARAMBA!



Norman Connors Revisited by Cosmo Baker
10/02/2012, 3:33 PM
Filed under: Guest Spots | Tags: , ,

(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)

By Cosmo Baker

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.



Guest Spot: Fun Soul Three by Michael A. Gonzales
09/28/2012, 12:41 PM
Filed under: Guest Spots | Tags: , , ,

(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.