(Editor’s Note: I met Adam Mansbach through Jeff Chang, back when I was living in the Bay Area and Adam was moving to Berkeley. Besides mutual friends, Adam and I discovered all sorts of shared interests, from collecting funky blues LPs to arguing over race and the politics of hip-hop. We collaborated for the mix-CD for his Angry Black White Boy. Adam most recently published his latest novel, The End of the Jews. –O.W.)

Poor Righteous Teachers: Shakiyla
From Pure Poverty (Profile, 1991)

A smooth-with-the-roughness tribute to the black woman (remember when rappers did those?) from Trenton’s finest. I think it’s the hypnotic violin line – which PRT’s Jarobi/5 Foot Excellerator-esque do-little sideman (remember when rappers had those?) Culture Freedom pretends to play in the video – that makes this song so summery. It’s sort of reminiscent of the keyboard line to Kool & the Gang’s “Summer Madness,” and a perfect counterpoint to Wise Intelligent’s dense, medium-tempo chatting, almost Eek-A-Mouseian in its sing-jay stylings. This is the ideal song to play from huge speakers at an outdoor summer concert before A Tribe Called Quest comes on, as my man DJ Kebi did in 1995 at Columbia University; “Shakiyla” killed despite the fact that maybe fifteen of the ten thousand people listening knew the track. It was the highlight of the whole day, in fact – far more fulfilling that Quest’s “we’re contractually obligated to give you forty-five minutes, y’all, but we gonna show love and rock for forty-six” set.

Otis Redding: That’s a Good Idea
From Love Man (ATCO, 1969)

This exemplifies a musical category I think of as “songs that sound like they’re massive, classic, Burger King-commercial-status songs, but really aren’t,” which I mean as a compliment. This is an ideal song to play at a point in your all-day barbecue when energy seems to be waning due to prodigious and prolonged food/beer/weed consumption, the sun is beating down, and your cousin’s kids are pestering everybody to play whiffle ball. From the little RZA-ready breakbeat up front to the horn arrangement to the sweet, life-affirming lyrics, this is like Memphis in a bottle, a revivifying tonic that only takes about eight bars to make everybody perk up and decide yeah, what they hell, why not have another beer and pitch to a seven-year-old?

Mixmaster Spade and the Compton Posse: Genius is Back
From 12″ (LA Posse, 1988) Also available on The Ultimate Collection Vol. 1

One of my greatest regrets is that I never got to interview the dearly departed Spade, an elder statesman of LA hip hop who taught kids like King Tee and DJ Alladin how to rhyme and spin in his Compton garage. I’ve been obsessed with this dude since I heard this song on WERS in Boston in 1988, an obsession I share with such wise men as Jeff Chang and DJ Frane. Spade has one flow, a singsong baritone cadence that never varies whether he’s kicking cautionary tales (as on the equally-classic “Better Bring a Gun”) or murdering the “Genius of Love” beat. It doesn’t have to: it’s impossible to tire of. He’s loose, he’s charismatic, and if he’d been from the Bronx he would have been an old-school legend. This song works in any summer setting, but it may be best suited for pumping in the whip (top-down, if possible) while on the way to the liquor store or supermarket, pre-barbecue.

Grachan Moncur III: New Africa
From New Africa (BYG, 1969)

A long, mellow, sublime tune written by trombonist Moncur, who I wish had recorded more than he did. I forget who else is on this, and I’m 3000 miles away from my records right now, but this is a beautiful tune that might be categorized as ‘spiritual jazz,’ although I kind of hate that term (as opposed to what? Secular jazz?). It’s both propulsive and delicate, equally appropriate to listen to whether watching a purple-gold-pink sunset or basking in the first rays of a July morning.

Ahmad Jamal: Tranquility
From Tranquility (Impulse, 1968). Also on Complete Recordings.

It’s always pointed out that Jamal was highly regarded by Miles, and for good reason. He’s such a tasty composer and player that even the irascible egomaniac who never stopped insisting he bought Trane that soprano had to give up the love. You might think ten minutes is a long time to listen to a piano trio play one song, but this will change your mind. An irresistibly soulful tune that manages to be straight-ahead jazz, and yet so much more.

Faze-O: Riding High
From Riding High (She, 1977)

Super-obvious, but it might still be the joint you break your DJ rule for, and play twice in the course of that six-hour barbecue.

Smoothe The Hustler: Broken Language
From Once Upon a Time In America (Profile, 1966)

Summer in Brooklyn, when you’re grilling on a little-ass hibachi on your front steps, drinking a Heineken, and feeling simultaneously giddy and vaguely hostile. I still hold this down as perhaps the greatest hip hop song ever, as measured by pure lyrical energy and hungriness. You can’t fuck with the chemistry between Smoothe and his brother Trigga (whose Def Jam album never came out; anybody got that?), or the simple, dope, minor-key piano loop and snapneck drums provided by D/R Period. These guys invented a new diction on this song, most of their illest shit never came out, and they were so lyrically-focused that they thought this was a single! Sample line: “I run with/half a hundred/illegal funded/forty-five I gun with/five I run with.” Who’s fuckin’ with that? Special shout out to rugged-picture-poser Jon Caramanica on this one.

Melvin Van Peebles: I Remember
From As Serious as a Heart Attack (A&M, 1970)

Drunken politically-astute off-key warblings over a ridiculously dope six-minute-long drumbreak from the only guy who could get away with such things. This is one of those songs where everybody gets quiet when you throw it on, like ‘what’s that?’ And if you listen to the whole thing, you find Melvin getting truly heated about halfway through; he’s got some serious ish on his mind, and the band takes it up a notch too. This is for after the sun has gone down, on one of those days when, like Raekwon said: it feels hotter at night.”

Pharoah Sanders: Prince of Peace (a.k.a. “Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah”)
From Izipho Zam (Strata East, 1969)

Leon Thomas (RIP) is the vocalist on this gorgeous, searching excursion, one of many early-seventies recordings that show why Pharoah really was the inheritor of Coltrane’s meditative, exploratory aesthetic. Anthemic and inspiring, perfect at about eleven in the morning when you’re making coffee, thinking about showering, generally getting ready for a long say of hot fun in the summertime and feeling hopeful about the universe.

Brigadier Jerry: Three Blind Mice
From Jamaica Jamaica (RAS, 1985

I feel like I’m opening a whole new can or worms by even getting into reggae. I could happily fill a summer with nothing else – rub-a-dub deejays all day long, dancehall at the club, dub while I’m working, early-nineties hip-hop reggae mashups (Bounty Killer over the “C.R.E.A.M.” beat? What!) as aural Red Bull, and so on. It’s always summer in JA, seen? Brigadier Jerry – the great Sister Nancy’s older brother – didn’t record as much as a lot of his contemporaries (Yellowman, Welton Irie, Lone Ranger, etc) but he got massive respect, as evidenced by the fact that his name is always the final one mentioned in everybody’s requisite list-of-every-deejay-ever “connection” song (the reggae version of the ‘hip-bone’s-connected-to-the…’ joint). Here, his great voice and magnetic personality transform an old children’s song into a classic rub-a-dub workout. Great horn arrangement, too.

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