I totally forgot to share this anecdote from the other month. I got an email from DJ Day – if you haven’t copped Land of 1000 Chances yet…what you waiting for? – and he wanted to share this:
I don’t think I ever told you, but the last song on the album (“W-E-L-O-V-E“) is directly related to you. The basis of the song was all from one you played at the Ace that Sunday by the pool many, many moons ago. I ended up tracking the record down because of it and here we are. Just wanted you to know I owe that one to you.
Suffice to say, that’s a really cool email to receive from an artist you respect. But the funny kicker? I couldn’t remember what song he was talking about. I finally just asked him and he reminded me but also asked I keep it under my hat. So if you know it, congrats! If you don’t, don’t worry: even I forgot it and I own the damn record.
My recent deluge of work means a drought in posts but I’m finally back. Pardon the kitchen sink but I got a lot to cover.
First off, my early runner for “album of the year” goes to Laura Mvula. I’ve been singing her praises for a while but had been looking forward to finally reviewing the U.S. release of her Sing to the Moon for NPR. I feel like any kind of superlatives I might throw her way will be woefully inadequate. Listen to this, the first song on the album. If you’re not awed…well, maybe you’ll want to skip to the next part of this post.
I mean…good god that’s incredible. And practically the whole album is like that. Stunning.
I’d actually recommend folks in the U.S. throw down extra for the deluxe version, which only came out in the UK> I should note: the British “deluxe” version of the CD because it comes with a bonus disc with extra songs, alt. versions and demo versions. That includes this beauty of a track that I wanted to include in my review before realizing it was only on the deluxe version.
And also, speaking of NPR, I recently contributed to their “1993″ series of important/intersting hip-hop albums from 20 years back, writing about Biz Markie’s All Samples Cleared. In particular, at the end, I mention how Biz and his production squad flip five different versions of “Get Out of My Life Woman” including one of my favorite versions, Grassella Oliphant’s:
I’m not claiming this is the best version – there’s a ton of competition at the very least – but it’s a combo of the drums/organ/bass that comes together so beautifully. Biz knew that too when he flipped that particular version for this:
Of course, they juice up the drums a bit but the basic loop is all there. I know other rappers have flipped this as well (Kurious and Cypress come to mind) but I’m rolling with Biz’s as my fave.
Lastly, I wanted to share this little “mini-mix” I put together last fall for a wedding I did in S.F. (and then used again, partially) for a wedding I just did (also in S.F., as it were, a few weeks back). These days, most of the tiny edits I do are to create party song segments but the thing about something so specialized is that I don’t want to abuse them by playing them out all the damn time. So I figured, this particular mini-mix was used at least twice but I don’t want to try to stretch it out further so I’ll just share it with everyone instead. Once you listen to it, some of you might just dump it right away (you’ll understand why in a moment) but if you have kids under the age of 10, I’d almost guarantee they’d dig it. Swear.
One of my best moments in a club came back in the ’00s when I was at APT during a night that Chairman Mao was spinning. I had never heard Lamont Dozier’s “Going Back To My Roots” before and I was just marveling at now just how good the song was, but that incredible change in the arrangement that drops around the 6:30 mark. It was so unexpected and sublime, one of those songs that really only could work as well as it does when you give it time to unfold on a dancefloor. Simply incredible.
Not surprisingly, it drew the attention of other artists. The best known cover is by Odyssey but…I don’t know…I think I found the vocals to be too disco-cliché. Richie Havens’ version however won me over with that intro piano (I’m a sucker for good piano intros) and though Havens has a rougher voice than Dozier’s it works well here. The “reprise” section is missing but otherwise, I find this almost as pleasing to play out.
Question from Damien: “I was wondering today…who introduced the RnB/Soul side to the hip hop? The one we can hear in Mos Def’s or The Pharcyde’s tracks? Was there any tension about this at the time, some kind of opposition between the aggressive tone of some early 90′s releases and the smoothness of some others?”
Answer: There’s two separate questions here so let me tackle the first.
First, it’s a bit odd to try to talk about how R&B was “introduced” into hip-hop insofar as rap music’s roots come out of soul via funk via disco. I mean, “Rapper’s Delight” was riffing on Chic. The DNA of R&B lies in hip-hop too even if the latter certainly took pains to separate itself from the former, around the time Run DMC was decimating their old school forefathers. But R&B/hip-hop crossovers existed across the ’80s, even in that area, none better (in my opinion) than this:
And of course, one of LL Cool J’s first big songs was basically a rap/R&B hybrid even though there’s no actual singing in it.
The point I’m making is that these lines were always intersecting, always blurred. There were, of course, songs that pushed this crossover point harder than others. I still remember people being madly disappointed by Nas’s “If I Ruled the World” (feat. Lauryn Hill) because they wanted “N.Y. State of Mind 2.0,” not some quasi-Fugees collabo. And that addresses your second question:
Hell yeah there was opposition.
“Real heads”, then and now, hated R&B/hip-hop crossovers if they felt that they were being done as pure commercial pandering. Of course, what one defines as pandering isn’t always easy to define. For example, what really separates this:
For the record, I ride for half those songs, the other half can miss me. But is it obvious which ones? It’s taste dependent.
To me, the key thing that happened by the early/mid 1990s was that hip-hop wasn’t trying to crossover into R&B but R&B, most certainly was trying to ride off of hip-hop’s success. That’s one reason why Mary J. Blige was embraced in a way that other, previous R&B singers did not; Blige sounded like she wanted to be down. Her and her team (lead by Puffy) understood how R&B could be made palatable to a hip-hop sensibility via the right production and the right collaborators. But the important point here is that it seemed like R&B was crossing over to hip-hop on hip-hop’s terms rather than songs that seemed more like hip-hop pandering to be down with R&B.
One thing I totally forgot to share with ya’ll on account of that was this…
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Jesse Thorn, a friend of SS, invited me to take part in his “Cannonball” series for Bullseye, which asks different folks to talk about their classic albums and for me, the LP that instantly came to mind is Al Green’s I’m Still In Love With You. It’s always been one of the “Top 5” and will never leave that spot. I wanted to quickly elaborate on the anecdote Jesse alludes to in the beginning. I’ve probably told this story sometime here before but it never gets old for me:
Sometime around 1993, I was at the Ashby Flea Market in Berkeley and there’s a guy (still there apparently) who sold cassette dubs of different soul artists/albums. I knew Al Green from “Let’s Stay Together” (like a billion other people) but that was about it. And the flea market dealer was playing a couple tracks from I’m Still In Love With You and for $10, sure, I’d cop.
That tape was revelatory. Completely opened me up to a whole new level of soul music appreciation. I started making dubs of my dub to give to friends; I just needed to share it.
The fun part about prepping this for Cannonball was to force myself to really think why the album had such an impact on me. It’s not that I need that kind of intellectual dissection to appreciate the album more; it just adds a dynamic and new layer that I find meaningful. Because it really is such an incredibly well crafted album and it does all these little things, rhythmically especially, that you don’t expect and that’s precisely what makes it work.
As I talk about in the segment, the fact that “Love and Happiness” does not have foot stomps after that long guitar intro always surprises me because my mind thinks there should be and so it turns a simple rim tap into something much more pumped. Willie Mitchell and the Hi Rhythm section were frickin’ genius. And Al Green – I mean, what else is there to say about how mind-blowingly good and seductive he was as a singer in the early ’70s? He kinged the game better than anyone – Marvin included.
Anyway, thanks to Jesse for a truly fun conversation.
Meanwhile, happy RSD to everyone tomorrow. If you’re anywhere near either LA or SF, hit up either the Record Jungle or Groove Merchant. Trust me.