While some old school hip-hop fans never tire of arguing over who “created” hip-hop, there is no denying that it was Kool Herc’s jam thrown on August 11, 1973, was a pivotal party that helped get the aural revolution started. To celebrate the forty-fourth anniversary of that boogie-down night, Google celebrates with hip-hop-inspired Doodle (designed by Def Jam icon Cey Adams) that clicks through to feature an interactive turntable, iconic breakbeats, and hip-hop history content. Partnering with Mass Appeal, producer Prince Paul was commissioned to supply the project with three different beats constructed from records featured in the Doodle.
“The challenge was that all the beats had to be 110 bpm, which is a disco tempo, but I figured out how to make it funky,” Prince Paul says. “I tried to find a bridge between the original school and what I do. The end result, I think, came out pretty cool.” The respected producer began his career as DJ for Stetsasonic and later gained fame as the producer for De La Soul, 3rd Bass, Gravediggaz. and Vernon Reid; his solo albums include Psychoanalysis: What is It? and A Prince Among Thieves. “There are a lot of young rap fans who think the music started with G-Unit, so hopefully this project will give them a chance to learn a bit of history.”
Although Paul was only six years old when Herc stepped behind the turntables in August 1973, he has since become close to the pioneering turntablist. “The first time I met Herc, it was like shaking hands with Jesus,” Paul says. “One time, he took me to his family’s house in Long Island. He said, ‘Man, I got a bunch of 45s nobody has ever heard.’ I was amazed that Herc was even talking to me, and then we’re at his mom’s house looking through a chest of records. It was unreal. If it wasn’t for Herc, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have a job as Prince Paul. Every time I see him, I tell him thank you. Herc is the greatest dude ever.”
Still, having developed a love for the music, once the Long Island native got old enough to catch the train with his crew, he’d ride Bronx park jams to see Afrika Bambaataa and Jazzy Jay, and go to Brooklyn (where his grandma lived) to check out Grandmaster Flowers and Pete DJ Jones.
Prince Paul (in back with mic) and Red Alert at the Latin Quarter in 1987. From the book No Half Steppin’ (Wax Poetics Books), courtesy of Paradise Gray.
“I also spent a lot of time at Latin Quarter just watching the DJ spin and listening to the music,” Paul says. “When we went to the parties in the Bronx, a lot of time we just went to certain neighborhoods and listened for the bass and follow that sound down the block and hope nobody beat us up. It wasn’t as easy as pressing a button on the computer. We had to look for the music; there was journey to find the music.” Besides the talent behind the wheels of steel what made an old school jam special?
“It was all about power in them days. Who had the most speakers stacked, who could blow away everybody else.” Currently, Prince Paul is working on various projects while also planning an upcoming tour of Brazil with his group Brookzill!; their album Throwback to the Future was released last year. “To me, guys like Herc, Grandmaster Caz, and DJ Flowers were superheroes. Those were the guys that inspired me, and it’s time for them to get their accolades. Hopefully, this project will encourage young hip-hop fans to dig deeper.”
I remember falling in love so hard when I bought Mecca and the Soul Brother (shout out Rockaboom in Leicester, U.K.!) back when I was a teenager just like it was yesterday. Pete Rock’s production in tandem with CL Smooth’s rap style was perfection: the drums, the rolling rhyme flows, those sublime teasing interludes… Everything sounded so rich and smooth and cool, and every song on the album is stellar.
Following their 1991 EP All Souled Out, Mecca and the Soul Brother was released June 9th, 1992. Featuring classic singles “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.),” “Straighten It Out,” and “Lots of Lovin,” the album is considered by many to be one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the classic LP, our homie Chris Read has whipped up yet another fine mixtape of album tracks, alternative versions, remixes, and original sample material from the likes of the Ohio Players, 9th Creation, James Brown, and more…
Artwork : Leon Nockolds
1. Pete Rock & CL Smooth – ‘Straighten It Out’ (Remix Instrumental)
2. Chris Read – Theme #3 (Scratchapella)
3. Sister Nancy – ‘Bam Bam’ (sampled in ‘The Basement’)
4. Pete Rock & CL Smooth feat Heavy D, Deda, Grap Luva and Rob-O – ‘The Basement’
5. Ohio Players – ‘What’s Going On’ (sampled in ‘Lots of Lovin’)
6. Pete Rock & CL Smooth – ‘Lots of Lovin’
7. Les McCann – ‘North Carolina’ [Loop] (sampled in ‘Lots of Lovin’)
8. Dave Wintour & Pat Whitmore – ‘Where Do I Go?’ (sampled in ‘Can’t Front on Me’)
9. Pete Rock & CL Smooth – ‘Can’t Front On Me’
10. Biz Markie – ‘Just A Friend’ [Extract] (sampled in Can’t Front On Me’)
11. Mountain – ‘Long Red’ [Loop] (sampled in ‘Return of the Mecca’)
12. Pete Rock & CL Smooth – ‘Return of the Mecca’
13. Pete Rock & CL Smooth – ‘Ghettos of the Mind’
14. The Coasters – ‘Down Home Girl’ (sampled in ‘Skinz’)
15. Pete Rock & CL Smooth feat Grand Puba – ‘Skinz’
16. 9th Creation – ‘Bubble Gum’ (sampled in ‘Soul Brother #1)
17. The J.B’s – ‘The Grunt’ [Loop] (sampled in ‘Soul Brother #1)
18. Pete Rock & CL Smooth – Soul Brother #1
19. James Brown – ‘Funky President’ (sampled in ‘Anger in the Nation’)
20. Sly & The Family Stone – ‘Sing A Simple Song’ [Loop] (sampled in ‘Anger in the Nation’)
21. Pete Rock & CL Smooth – ‘Anger in the Nation’
22. O’Donel Levy – ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ (Sampled in ‘Mecca & The Soul Brother’)
23. Pete Rock & CL Smooth – ‘Mecca & The Soul Brother’
24. Heavy D & The Boyz – ‘Gyrlz, They Love Me’ [Extract] (Sampled in ‘Mecca & The Soul Brother’)
25. Mountain – ‘Long Red’ [Loop] (Sampled in ‘Mecca & The Soul Brother (Wig Out Mix)’)
26. ESG – ‘UFO’ [Loop] (Sampled in ‘Mecca & The Soul Brother (Wig Out Mix)’)
27. Pete Rock & CL Smooth – ‘Mecca & The Soul Brother (Wig Out Mix)
28. James Brown – ‘Blues & Pants’ [Loop] (sampled in ‘If It Ain’t Rough, It Ain’t Right’)
29. Pete Rock & CL Smooth – ‘If It Ain’t Rough It Ain’t Right’
30. Stetsasonic – ‘Go Stetsa I’ [Loop] (sampled in If It Ain’t Rough, It Ain’t Right’)
31. Freddie McCoy – ‘Gimmie Some’ (sampled in ‘For Pete’s Sake’)
32. Pete Rock & CL Smooth – ‘For Pete’s Sake’
33. Biz Markie – ‘The Do Do’ [Extract] (sampled in ‘For Pete’s Sake’)
34. EPMD – ‘It’s My Thing’ [Extract] (sampled in ‘For Pete’s Sake’)
35. Ernie Hines – ‘Our Generation’ (sampled in ‘Straighten It Out’)
36. Pete Rock & CL Smooth – ‘Straighten It Out’
37. Lou Donaldson – ‘Ode to Billie Joe’ [Loop] (sampled in ‘On and On’)
38. Jimmy Mc Griff – ‘The Bird’ (sampled in ‘On and On’)
39. Pete Rock & CL Smooth – ‘On and On’
40. Brand Nubian – ‘Step to the Rear’ [Extract] (sampled in ‘On and On’)
41. Eddy Senay – ‘Cameo’ (sampled in ‘Act Like You Know’)
42. Pete Rock & CL Smooth – ‘Act Like You Know’
43. Tom Scott and The California Dreamers – ‘Today’ (sampled in ‘T.R.O.Y’)
44. Pete Rock & CL Smooth – ‘T.R.O.Y’
45. Pete Rock & CL Smooth – ‘T.R.O.Y (Remix Instrumental)’
46. Pete Rock & CL Smooth – ‘T.R.O.Y (The Vibes Mix)’
47. Pete Rock & CL Smooth – ‘It’s Like That’
48. Lord Finesse & DJ Mike Smooth – ‘Strictly for the Ladies’ [Extract] (sampled in ‘It’s Like That’)
49. Georgie Fame – ‘Music Talk’ [Loop] (sampled in ‘Wig Out’)
50. Pete Rock & CL Smooth – ‘Wig Out’
51. Pete Rock & CL Smooth – ‘The Creator’ [Loop] (sampled in ‘Wig Out’)
52.Eddie Bo – ‘From This Day On’ (Sampled in ‘The Creator’)
53. Pete Rock & CL Smooth – ‘The Creator’
54. Pete Rock & CL Smooth – ‘The Creator (Slide to the Side Mix)‘
55. Pete Rock & CL Smooth – ‘The Creator (Surfboard Mix)’
Damian Marley marks his return with his latest album, Stony Hill, set to debut on July 21st. It’s his first solo album since Welcome to Jamrock in 2005. He’s been busy between solo albums, including guesting on Bruno Mars’ “Liquor Store Blues,” collaborating with Nas on the brilliant, slept-on Distant Relatives and collaborating on the album SuperHeavy in 2001, a short-lived grouping of Marley, Mick Jagger, Joss Stone, Dave Stewart, and A.R. Rahman intended to be a convergence of musical styles. In 2012, Marley released the groundbreaking track “Make It Bun Dem” with Skillrex, with a video that examines the fallout of eminent domain, gentrification, greedy developers, and cultural resistance. The single became an instant classic.
In a merging of his music, political and spiritual beliefs Marley formed a partnership with Colorado-based cannabis leader Tru Cannabis for his brand Stony Hill to create a full retail dispensary in Colorado. He also partnered with Ocean Growth Extracts, a local California cannabis company, to grow cannabis in a space that was once a 70,000 square foot prison in Coalinga, California. The facility will be used for medical marijuana cultivation and as a manufacturing and testing facility.
The new album, Stony Hill, named for his childhood neighborhood, is an amalgam of adventures from slow jams and reggaestep, to hip-hop and roots reggae with samples from Dennis Brown and Black Uhuru’s “Solidarity.” This album, he says, is the statement of his return.
And he makes necessary and timely statements throughout the album. For the video for the lead single, “Nail Pon Cross,” Marley is nailed to a cross alongside a black man, a Mexican, a Muslim man and a Los Angeles cop. Inspired by Nas’s “Hate Me Now” the song deals with judgments that people make and is meant to be a modern-day crucifixion.
Wax Poetics talked to Marley ahead of his album release.
The title of the album, Stony Hill, is also the title of the dispensary—is there a link between the business venture and the album? Did you look at it as an extension as your artistry?
Stony Hill is in Jamaica, it’s the neighborhood where I grew up and spent my childhood up to my early teenage years there. It has always been my intention to name the album Stony Hill. When the opportunity presented itself to get involved in the marijuana business we were looking for a name for our company, Stony Hill kind of lent itself just because of the use of the word stony and being stoned. It just worked out great that we get exposure for both platforms.
With the state of mass incarceration and the war on the drugs, there is an irony of taking over a former prison where people were incarcerated for marijuana to build this dispensary…
It is a time of awakening right now. With the intel right now everything is put out on the table, the lies the truth, everything is being exposed. With the legalization of marijuana I only see it as a positive. I always express a concern about cooperative entities coming in and taking over things and the original people who sacrificed to feed their families through the cultivation or selling herb or whatever the case may be we don’t want them to get muscled out. Regardless for young people to not have to worry about getting a criminal record for a few buds of herb, that’s definitely a plus.
There are different genres on this album: roots reggae, big band, gospel, why did you decide to do things differently for this album?
Prior to this I did the album with Nas. We also did an album called SuperHeavy, which was an album with us and four to five prominent musicians. I am trying to express a little bit more of myself on my own. I did some of the production, my brother Stephen Mc Gregor and Anju Blaxx who are popular producers in Jamaica and David Chee and King Jammy legendary producers from Jamaica. His son Baby Chee who I worked with also. So far as collaboration I only have my brother Steve and a young youth by the name of Major Minor who is Bounty Killer’s son.
On the single “Time Travel” you talked about a lot about the internet and space travel and where we are as a society…
Some of the lyrics on that song were from the year 2012. That was when they had the Mayan calendar. It was supposed to be another year 2000 when something was supposed to go wrong. That was the inspiration really on how I started to write that song. It was comparing ancient knowledge to modern technology and it led me on the journey for the rest of the song.
The song “Medication” I took as an analogy of a woman to weed or a love song about weed..
I can imagine what inspired that.
The song “Slave Mills” is talking about materialism and there’s a woman that speaks at the end, is that a clip from somewhere?
Yes, she says something like I can remember when the slavery days..
My brother Steve found that clip. That’s actually a recording of a lady that was actually alive during the time of slavery. That’s her voice.
And “Nail Pon Cross” is the lead single..
Yes, the song itself is inspired off of people who judge others even to some day to day relationships in your own household and translate to world affairs like we are judging other countries and other religions. I think the feel and sound of the track was articulated by the beat itself is from a popular Jamaican song from long ago named “Solidarity” from legendary group named Black Uhuru. They were the first winners of a reggae Grammy. That track was on the album. The track itself in terms of music has a historical significance as far as Jamaican music. We could hear it being played in the dancehalls in Jamaica.
What inspired the ballad “Autumn Leaves”?
I am a fan of music from Nat King Cole and Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra. I started off I was vibing with my keyboardist, one of my musicians. I had been listening to some Stevie Wonder earlier on that day too, and I was kind of in the mood of singing. The track didn’t start off really so seriously, it was just like a jam. The more the people heard the jam they was like yo this is a really great song and you should build on it. Because of all of the encouragement we ended up taking their advice and went to cut the song properly. This song shows a growth in that I never tried to do a ballad of this nature before, so it’s something new for me.
What are the misconceptions about the dispensary industry? People have been having issues around licensing. I don’t know if having you as a celebrity will help because a lot of people have been having trouble getting licensing.
That is the only trouble. Weed is becoming legal, cooperative entities and people who ten years ago who wouldn’t put their name beside anything having to do with marijuana are now investing money in it because now it is profitable and business is opening up. What we are concerned about is the small man who hasn’t been able to provide for himself over the years, doesn’t get muscled out. Knowledge of how to get yourself a permit..they’re not lawyers, they’re farmers and not all of them are equipped to know about getting a permit, let alone be eligible to get one. That’s a concern, but it’s good that people like myself are getting involved so we can be a voice on behalf of those.
What would it do morally for the U.S. for it to have every state legalize marijuana?
I just think it’s not morally right to be locking up kids for a few joints and they get criminal records and you ruin a good start for them with a joint. Morally I think it’s the right thing to do. I don’t think man should have the power to legalize plants in the first place, it’s a bit presumptuous. I myself am not a criminal but we always have to keep an eye out if we smoke herb. You don’t disrespect the law of a country or you don’t disrespect an officer. That freedom is a stress off your shoulder.
I read a Guardian article where your father said herb is the healing of the nation.
This is true. I think the healing properties that researchers will now be able to take time and discover and learn about it. I think that will open up a lot of opportunities and benefits for humanity in general. They talk about CBD now, which has been doing wonders when it comes to, for example, cases of epilepsy. And that’s only one chemical in a plant that has hundreds of chemicals that we haven’t been able to research just yet because it has been illegal. If it’s legal we can find out what kind of powers and medicines and magic that’s in store for us. That’s what I’m really excited about.
We love Nanna.B : the striking Scandi babe who pens such beautiful yet relatable songs, and has been steadily collaborating with some of L.A.s finest musicians right now. Over a fresh beat from the likes of Mndsgn or Anderson Paak, her honeyed voice effortlessly links up spiritual concepts with modern day afflictions.
On last year’s self-produced “Where Is the $$$?” for instance, quips about the pressure to build a substantial pension and the refrain “God send me a dollar sign” root the song’s wider theme of karmic principles, intention and result, into modern society and everyday existence. And of the Anderson Paak-produced track “Golden,” featuring Odd Future’s Hodgy, Nanna describes it as “a reminder to all the women out there, including myself, to protect their power, their womb, their gold. You’re divine, be aware who you share your energy and body with but also allow yourself to open up when you do meet that king that sees you. Navigating that is the main theme of this song. There’s layers to this song really, but let’s just say that this guy I recently rejected hit me back with a “you must think the pussy is golden or something” text, so as of now this song is for him.”
Nanna.B’s ability as a songwriter to touch on lofty ideas while maintaining a sense of humour, honesty, and humility in her expression is itself golden, with the power to stir up untapped wisdom within her listeners. I feel like if I had daughter one day I might leave a Nanna.B record outside her bedroom door.
Hailing from Aarhus in Denmark, Nanna grew up surrounded by her craft. Attending a school that specialised in music, with an emphasis on West African music, samba, and funk, she began to sing and play both keys and percussion at the tender age of six. She started creating her own music too at an early age, “writing little songs when I was around seven about ducks and shit.” But her songwriting “for real” began when she was 16: “I would get melody ideas and then find the chords on the Rhodes for it. [That’s] still one of my processes.”
Nanna is now based in L.A., after first visiting and connecting with like-minded artists back in 2013. “The only person I knew out here was Teebs who I had met in Copenhagen on tour. I had contacted Shafiq Husayn and he invited me to the studio and later into his band [Dove Society.] That’s pretty much how I met everyone.” Finding appreciation for her work and her musical tribe as it were on the West Coast, she adds: “the family here is still growing.”
Last month saw the release of her EP Golden—an ode to the changing shades and seasons of love. She explains: “It’s inspired by different relationships but could pretty much describe one from the meeting and establishment of common grounds on “Golden” to the all-consuming passion on “Apocalyptic Love,” the ‘now I need my space and I got shit to do’ vibes on “Steady Line,” to the call for universal love energy on “Antidote.””
We asked Nanna to select 10 records that have played a role in her journal thus far to find out more about her musical inspirations and influences …
D’Angelo Brown Sugar (EMI) 1995
I first heard this album on a school bus when I was maybe 12 and I instantly fell in love. I had never heard anyone that sounded like that and D’s voice just mesmerized me. His smooth silky voice over those grooves, the way he arranges and stacks his harmonies, the space he allows in between his crooning, all of those things inspire me to this day. Throughout high school I was pretty depressed and I used to wake up to Voodoo and fall asleep to Bjork’s Vespertine as my medicine.
Prince Love Symbol (Paisley Park/Warner Bros.) 1992
I grew up listening to a lot of Prince. It’s hard for me to pick one album, but this was on repeat through some very defining years and some of my favorites of his are on there, like “The Morning Papers.” He touches so many genres on here and his melodies and lyrics are always inspiring, and him and New Power Generation just sounds amazing.
Joni Mitchell Hejira (Asylum) 1976
I was late on Joni, but when I finally got on it, it was like opening a door into a strangely familiar world. To me Joni is the personification of free flow and when I listen to it I feel like she’s leading me down paths of imagination with her stories. It’s always a very visual experience for me. Hejira speaks to my restless nature and my search and growth as a woman and artist, and is my favorite of hers. Her lyrical universe, her chords, those blue notes she hits and her ways of using her voice are a constant inspiration to me as a artist and a human being. Joni makes me more brave.
Lauryn Hill The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (Ruffhouse/Columbia) 1998
Growing up in Denmark I couldn’t really reflect myself in the female artists that were being exposed to me through the mainstream media like Britney Spears and the Spice Girls, it was fun but I wasn’t feeling it. So when I found Lauryn, and also Erykah and India and Bjork, I found the role models I was in need of, and they became my therapists, my healers. The vulnerability and strength and honesty they shared through their artistry inspired me and really gave me a home when I was in that awkward space in life where you go from being a girl to a woman and you got all these emotions you don’t know what the fuck to do with. This album in particular showed me how powerful being a woman is.
Donny Hathaway Live (Atlantic) 1972
I remember hearing this in a car after gospel rehearsals and it gave me chills, still does to this day. I had to go get it and was completely absorbed in it for days, just glued to my speakers. The way the band grooves, the way he sings live, oh my god! It’s just so brilliant and it touches me deeply every time I listen. Gives me a warm sensation of love and hope and his version of “Jealous Guy” is one of the best things that happened in the history of mankind. He’s always amazing but I don’t feel him with the same intensity and presence on his studio recordings.
Stevie Wonder Fulfillingness’ First Finale (Tamla) 1974
This was the first Stevie Winder album I ever owned and my piano teacher Maria got it for me. She would teach me a lot of Stevie songs and generally at my school he was the most loved and played. I think “Please Don’t Go” was one of the first tunes I could play. From the first to the last song, this album is just so good, and “Creepin’” and “Bird Of Beauty” are some of my favourite songs. His musicality and genius continuously inspires me. He’s in my DNA. Doesn’t hurt that the Jackson 5, Deniece Williams and Minnie Riperton are on backing vocals here.
Bjork Vespertine (One Little Indian) 2001
This sonic landscape is so intimate, raw and hauntingly beautiful that it still brings me to tears. One of my best friends introduced me to this album when it came out and it’s been with me ever since. It feels like a brush of a feather, a mother’s lullaby, an iced lake about to crack and that prickling sensation in your every cell when you’re in love. It sounds ancient and comforting to me and I think that’s why I used to listen to it as I would fall asleep, as it brought me peace and release. The use of field recordings, the celestial strings and harps and the vocal layerings are so divine.
Andre 3000 The Love Below (LaFace/Arista) 2003
To me this is one of the best albums of all times! It just feels so free and playful and honest, like a necessary explosion of creativity. It inspires me to let go when I hear an artist really digging deep and letting it all out without limitations. Heart expression without fear. Listening to it feels like entering his world and vision and it’s a strange and beautiful and colorful trip through all his different styles and experiments. Timeless really.
My first hip-hop love was this album and Snoop. I was super young so my English was still very new and understanding the codes of LBC slang was a challenge, but didn’t stop me from rapping along in my broken language. “Gz & Hustlas” was the hardest thing I had ever heard and I remember we used to jam it on the piano in between classes, that bass line! Wasn’t ’til years later that I heard “Haboglabotribin’” and made that connection, but I grew up with funk so G-funk naturally just felt good, Bernie Worrell’s synth lines making it feel like home, and the combination of Dre’s beats and Snoop’s flow (and voice) and Ricky Harris’ hilarious interludes had me hooked. This album allowed for me to connect with my more savage side and it gave me a sense of confidence that I hadn’t felt before. My parents weren’t particularly crazy about me walking around saying fuck and bitch and me putting Snoop’s face on the outside of my door, but they let me do my thing. “Ain’t No Fun” is one the most misogynist songs in the world, but it’s so hard to not sing along to that shit.
Sly and the Family Stone There’s a Riot Goin’ On (Epic) 1971
This is another one of those albums where I feel like you get to step into the world of the artist, an uncompromisable one, and it’s painful, it’s beautiful, it’s haunting, and it’s honest and raw. This is just one of the best sounding records ever made, I mean just listen to “Family Affair”! The way Sly layered everything and mixed it just sends me into a psychedelic underwater space every time I listen. I feel it’s a deeply personal and political album, and I vibe with the more introvert sound he’s exploring on this project.
Nanna’s next EP LAPIS will be dropping later this month, and in the meantime you can listen to Goldenhere and buy it here.
A conversation with Art Record Covers author Francesco Spampinato
For decades, Taschen has had a reputation for publishing stellar art books, including some really great album cover books; a few years back, they put out Funk & Soul Covers, which a few Wax Poetics writers contributed to. Their recent release, Art Record Covers by Francesco Spampinato and edited by Julius Wiedemann, takes the concept of the album art book to another level, focusing on the visual artists. The hardback, nearly twelve inches by twelve inches and over 400 pages long, is a massive art reference book, with countless write-ups on modern artists as well as interviews with Tauba Auerbach, Shepard Fairey, Kim Gordon, Christian Marclay, Albert Oehlen, and Raymond Pettibon. It is available now.
I spoke with its author, Francesco, about what makes this book different.
Wax Poetics: I really want to know why you chose to do this particular book. For example, many of us think album covers as art, but it seems you are choosing very specific types of covers. Can you explain this further?
Francesco Spampinato: Ten years ago, I started noticing that some records in my collection had a cover made by an artist. I hadn’t bought them for the cover but for the music. Yet, all of a sudden, these records started to signify something more for me than for the music recorded therein. The reason is that although officially I’m a contemporary art historian, I’ve always been fascinated by the convergences between art and daily life such as art and music, art and design, art and advertising, art and politics—that is when art becomes so inextricably linked to the everyday that you can no longer distinguish it as something separate.
art: Andy Warhol / music: The Velvet Underground and Nico / record: The Velvet Underground and Nico / year: 1967 / label: Verve Records / format: Album 12-inch / artwork: Screen print / special: Vinyl released with three variations of front cover with banana sticker to peel off
As a passionate music lover and collector, I’ve always considered records and some covers as art too, but in this case, my intention was to focus on those covers realized by modern and contemporary artists. The main question I wanted to pose with this book is: when an artist like Salvador Dalí, Jean-Michel Basquiat, or Damien Hirst realizes the artwork for a record cover, can we still consider it the same as his other artworks that we see in museums and galleries? So I started looking for more, and over the years, I collected data for about 3,000 records, and bought some of them.
From the first moment I started this research, I had the goal in mind of reconstructing modern and contemporary art history through record covers, in such a way that each movement, tendency, and style of the twentieth and twenty-first century was well represented, from Modernism to Pop Art to Conceptual art up to the various tendencies and styles emerged in the past thirty years. More than an anthology, I hope that with its almost 600 covers by over 250 artists, Art Record Covers could become a reference. For the moment, it is certainly the only book on the market that presents and explores in depth this transversal phenomenon.
art: Takashi Murakami / music: Kanye West / record: Graduation / year: 2007 / label: Roc-A-Fella Records / format: Album 2×12-inch, CD / artwork: Digital compositing
In the book, do you not consider graphic designers as visual artists? Or are there times when these two crafts overlap? And can a graphic designer “become” an artist with a piece they create?
A graphic designer is a peculiar type of artist who normally works on commission and is asked to provide his/her clients functional solutions. But designers have always longed for ways to free themselves from the obligations to which they are normally subjected when accepting a work on commission, and record covers have offered them a particular freedom in doing so. However, even when graphic designers and illustrators are free to express themselves, making record covers is not something unusual for them; it is part of their production. Their work could be considered art but always within some paradigms of the context for which it was conceived.
art: Robert Mapplethorpe / music: Patti Smith / record: Horses / year: 1975 / label: Arista / format: Album 12-inch / artwork: Photograph
With this book, instead, I wanted to understand what happens when it is a so-called “fine artist”—who normally makes paintings, installations, videos, or performances and so on destined to museums and galleries—to realize a cover artwork. Does the change of the context impact the definition of art? Is it art less valuable in intellectual terms when it is conceived for a record cover? In this sense, I think that Art Record Covers offers a paradigmatic example not only of the fact that art stays art despite the context in which it circulates, but also of how art, music, and visual communication converge in creating a new hybrid art genre in its own right.
art: Guyton Walker / music: Blondes / record: Touched / year: 2010 / label: Merok Records / format: EP 12-inch, CD / artwork: Digital compositing
Art and design overlap quite often and record covers are a recurring area where this happens. It is known how art history has influenced design and illustration. Elements of Dada, Futurism, and Surrealism, for example, resonate in the record covers made by major graphic designers and illustrators like Roger Dean, Hipgnosis, and Peter Saville. But the opposite is also true; indeed, there are several “fine” artists whose work is inspired by record covers. Someone like Shepard Fairey, one of the six figures I interviewed, is paradigmatic to understand how the distinctions between art and design are increasingly obsolete and that decontextualization is a proper tactic employed by both artists and designers to make a bigger impact on society, no matter how we call what they do.
art: Raymond Pettibon / music: Black Flag / record: Nervous Breakdown / year: 1980 / label: SST Records / format: EP 7-inch, 10-inch / artwork: Drawing
art: Gerhard Richter / music: Sonic Youth / record: Daydream Nation / year: 1988 / label: Enigma Records/Blast First / format: Album 2×12-inch, CD / artwork: Painting, Kerze, 1983
art: Ed Ruscha / music: Mason Williams / record: Music by Mason Williams / year: 1969 / label: Warner Bros. Records / format: Album 12-inch / artwork: Painting
art: Gregory Crewdson / music: Yo La Tengo / record: And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out / year: 2000 / label: Matador / format: Album 2×12-inch, CD / artwork: Photograph, Untitled, 1998 (from the series Twilight)
art: Albert Oehlen / music: Gastr del Sol / record: Mirror Repair / year: 1994 / label: Drag City / format: EP 12-inch, CD / artwork: Painting, Untitled, 1992
art: Jeff Koons / music: Lady Gaga / record: Artpop / year: 2013 / label: Interscope Records / format: Album 2×12-inch, CD / artwork: Digital compositing / special: Limited-edition vinyl and CD. Initial copies in colored foil cover (hot pink, silver metallic)
art: Albert Oehlen / music: The Red Crayola / record: 4 teen / year: 1994 / label: Drag City / format: 7-inch / artwork: Painting
art: Steven Parrino / music: Melvins / record: Sludge Glamorous / year: 2010 / label: From the Nursery / format: EP 12-inch / special: Limited edition of 2,000 (silver/gray marble)
art: Ai Weiwei / music: Day & Taxi / record: Live in Shenzhen, Shanghai and Taipei / year: 2005 / label: Percaso Production / format: Live, 12-inch / artwork: Photograph, Untitled, 2005
art: Mark Ryden / music: Tyler, The Creator / record: Wolf / year: 2014 / label: Odd Future Records / format: Album 2×12-inch, CD / artwork: Painting / special: Limited-edition double vinyl (pink)
art: David Shrigley / music: Deerhoof / record: Friend Opportunity / year: 2006 / label: Kill Rock Stars/Tomlab / format: Album 12-inch, CD / artwork: Painting / special: Vinyl release includes 6×12-inch inlays. CD release features 12 different covers
art: Ryan McGinley / music: Sigur Rós / record: Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust / year: 2008 / label: Krúnk/EMI/XL Recordings / format: Album 2×12-inch, CD / artwork: Photograph, Highway, 2007 / special: Special Edition, CD, DVD, 196-page hardcover cloth-bound book of photographs shot by Eva Vermandel, numbered
art: Keith Haring / music: Emanon / record: The Baby Beat Box / year: 1986 / label: Pow Wow Records / format: Album 12-inch / artwork: Painting
art: Urs Fischer / music: Yeah Yeah Yeahs / record: It’s Blitz! / year: 2009 / label: Interscope Records / format: Album 12-inch, CD / artwork: Photograph
The Darling Dears’ only release, 1972’s “I Don’t Think I’ll Ever Love Another” b/w “And I Love You,” is the archetypal sweet-with-a-beat: a lo-fi mix of delicate soul vocals, funky guitars, and heavy drums that are not simply the back-beat, but the main event.
Consisting of high school friends, Kim McFadden, Helen McGowen, and sisters Beverly and Salena Howard, the group originated in Rochester, New York. They took their name from the B-side to the Jackson 5’s Top 5 hit single “Mama’s Pearl,” and throughout James Madison High School they were well known for their synchronized dance routines. “Everybody used to love our choreography,” beams Helen, fondly remembering her high school days. They eventually paired up with local R&B group Funky Heavy Productions.
They were “discovered” by Kim’s older sister, Mary Ann Bradford. She introduced them to Alvin Lofton, a Rochester resident and record promoter who was working for Cap City Records, the D.C.-based label that released a handful of 7-inch singles in the late ’60s, the funkiest undoubtedly being “Crazy Thing” by the enigmatic funk group the Jaguars.
One of Cap City’s producers was Joe Tate, and following moderate success producing the short-lived female soul trio the Fuzz, in 1970, he wrote “I Don’t Think I’ll Ever Love Another” for the relatively unknown Rock Candy, which was recorded and released in 1971. As Rock Candy’s version of “I Don’t Think” struggled, however, to obtain much airplay, Tate offered the song to Alvin to cut with his new discovery, the Darling Dears.
The resultant 7-inch single, which backed Tate’s “I Don’t Think” with a song written by Alvin and Funky Heavy, was released on the Fine Records offshoot, Flower City Records. Alvin recalls that a thousand copies were pressed, some of which made their way into the racks of Rochester record stores; some into the hands of those reliable champions of regional talent, local and college radio DJs.
“The only real station which played the record was WCMF,” remembers Alvin, referring to the Rochester-based broadcaster. “I think we got a little airplay from the college stations.”
“[At school] they were amazed that we’d cut a hit record,” recalls Helen with a smile. “[Our peers] had always looked at us like, [adopts mocking tone] ‘Oh, they’re just doing the Jackson 5,’ but when we came out with the record we had our own name.”
When quizzed about the record’s main attraction, Alvin takes a second to think back to the recording session: “I actually wanted to turn [the drums] down but we couldn’t,” he reveals. “We had an eight-track [tape machine], so there wasn’t too much we could do. [The singers] had one or two mics; the band had their mics; the drummer had a mic; and that was it.”
“I just played what I felt,” remembers Funky Heavy’s drummer, Bruce Pitts. “I was sixteen years old, and I was just trying to be dynamic and forceful. That’s all.”
Following the release of the record, Alvin carried on promoting soul artists until the late ’80s—the Montclairs, Curtis Mayfield, and Black Ivory being just some of the acts he worked with. Bruce Pitts and Funky Heavy played the Rochester club circuit for a number of years before leaving the city and evolving into the successful disco-jazz-funk outfit the Voltage Brothers.
Helen, Beverly, Salena, and Kim, who still proudly, from time to time, go by the name the Darling Dears, continue to live in Rochester.