Sleepy’s Theme – Still Smokin
from The Vinyl Room (Bang II, 1998)

Joi – I Believe
from Amoeba Cleansing Syndrome (EMI, 1996 – Unreleased)

Curtis Mayfield – Here But I’m Gone
from New World Order (Warner, 1996)

I was a little apprehensive about this whole thing. The prospect of turning a well oiled machine like soul sides into a group blog free-for-all is a bit frightening. Dub’s done a great job so far with this site, but what he does is also very straight forward, serious, professional and uniform. I know some of us are a little more chaotic with our approach, so we’ll see how it works. Everything’s been going well so far (just spray yourself with sucka repellent and shake hatuurs, exo), let’s see if i fuck it up or not…

While I don’t think anybody would deny classics like Goodie MOb’s Soul Food or Outkast’s ATLiens position in the rankings of most soulful hip hop albums ever recorded, Dungeon Family production team of Organized Noize (Sleepy Brown, Ray Murray and Rico Wade) rarely get their props as some of the most successful modern soul producers of this generation (critically speaking at least, although they are responsible for mega hits from TLC and En Vogue).

Patrick “Sleepy” Brown had genetics as well as soul on his side, as the son of Jimmy Brown, of ATL funk legends Brick. It’s been said that his loosely assembled group, Sleepy’s Theme put together The Vinyl Room as a favor to Brick’s label Bang Records, who were attempting to bring the label back as Bang II. It doesn’t seem like the record did much to get the label back off the ground, as it’s a cut out bin standard, but it was pretty damn dope. “Still Smokin'” appropriates an Andre 3000 couplet from “Cell Therapy” “Thought Process” for the hook, but otherwise not much would distinguish it as a 1998 record and not one from twenty five years earlier. And I think that’s why ONP are so much more successful than many of their neo-soul contemporaries – their records aren’t quite so self consciously retro. It seems like a natural affair.

Joi debuted in ’94 with The Pendulum Vibe. The Dallas Austin project was on some post-soul 2 soul shit and produced the minor hit “Sunshine & Rain” . It was a good record and definetly established Joi as a significant vocalist, but I think it gets more props in some circles than it might deserve.

Her never released follow up, Amoeba Cleansing Syndrome, on the other hand, was damn near a masterpiece. Positioning Joi as a full on nasty gal, sort of modern day Betty Davis (complete with a cover of “I Might Just Get Picked Up”). Austin was back on the boards, but now added to the roster was Organized Noize (by the way, not having production credits makes it possible that onp were even involved at all in this particular track, which would only tangentially link that song to this post, oh well) and black rock legends turned studio sessioners, Fishbone. The record was a seemless and sexy (i don’t think at any point in my life i’ve ever described anything as “sexy” before right now) blend of hard rock, psychedelia and throw back soul. I guess none of that was marketable enough for the EMI heads, which is somewhat absurd considering the success that would shortly follow for the “neo soul” market. Tracks like “Time To Smile” put Macy Gray’s lame happy soul for gap ads to shame and you can be damn sure Erykah was taking notes from some of Joi’s harder cuts (see: Mama’s Gun).

And lastly, a man who really shouldn’t need an introduction (although I’m not so sure he’s ever been featured on soul sides, which, if that is the case, is downright appalling), Curtis Mayfield. Without a doubt my favorite vocalist of all time, Curtis has the rare ability to make grown men cry.

New World Order, which would be his last studio outing, was recorded line by line in the studio, with a paralyzed Mayfield on and on his back, mic hanging over his head. Although it was vocally stunning, as one would assume, the album fell victim to the common pitfalls of classic soul artists trying to sustain relevance in a modern world (the canned synthy remake of “Darker Than Blue” should have NEVER happened!). But lumped on there are two perfectly orchestrated Organized Noize productions – “Ms. Martha” and “Here But I’m Gone”, which are about as mind numbingly beautiful as any of his work from the late 60’s and 70’s was.

Someone somewhere might have once said that great minds think alike. As such, I wasn’t the only one that immediately thought to highlight these very soulful dudes when the opportunity to post on this site came up. Be on the lookout for a follow up/complementary post from one of my esteemed colleagues later this week.