Wax Poetics http://www.waxpoetics.com The Best Music Magazine on the Planet. Sat, 18 Jul 2015 00:17:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Kon’s Star Time label delivers stellar disco edits http://www.waxpoetics.com/features/articles/kons-star-time-label-delivers-stellar-disco-edits/ http://www.waxpoetics.com/features/articles/kons-star-time-label-delivers-stellar-disco-edits/#comments Sat, 18 Jul 2015 00:08:00 +0000 http://www.waxpoetics.com/?p=49292 “In 1978, my mother was pretty much a disco diva—a little queen—and would take me to the club on Saturdays,”...

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“In 1978, my mother was pretty much a disco diva—a little queen—and would take me to the club on Saturdays,” says DJ and producer Kon. “I’d be the only boy at this roller rink that was on Lansdowne—a famous street in Boston near Fenway Park. I was there when the Crusaders’ ‘Street Life’ and Michael Jackson’s ‘Off the Wall’ first dropped. That music resonated with me so much.”


Win a bundle of four remixes on vinyl!


Kon’s Star Time imprint is a new chapter in his storied musical career as a tastemaker, DJ, and edit maestro. With Star Time, Kon (from Kon and Amir fame) deconstructs and re-freaks ubiquitous blue-ribbon disco masterpieces like Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls,” Chaka Kahn’s “I’m Every Woman,” Chic’s “Everybody Dance,” and Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T.” These tracks are already unequivocal landmarks that need no introduction. With that said, Kon does it like most can’t and breathes new life into widely familiar sure-shots.


With the multi-track stems in hand, Kon applies a bulletproof re-touch formula. His massive edits are enhanced with extra drum breaks, extended instrumentals, blockbuster a cappellas, and colossal piano drops. The compositions are stripped down and stretched out—and an utterly ridiculous EQ job is the cherry on top. Boston’s Caserta and Philly’s Scott Stallone masterfully mix the tracks.

When asked about his overall approach, Kon explains, “To be honest, I don’t really think about it too much. It’s just instinct. There’s no real secret. I just do what I do. I try to keep the original intact as much as possible with my arrangements. I don’t overdo it, because essentially you are playing God with songs that are already damn near perfect. I always try to make a drum break, and I like to strip things down and expose elements that I feel should have been given a little bit more shine.”

Most of the Star Time releases have a B-side black-and-white headshot of the musician in sequined party attire. The aesthetic is clean and simple. Kon praises Star Time’s art director Freddy Anzures from Wax Poetics and San Francisco’s Sweater Funk crew: “Freddy is the man, dude. He’s got eclectic taste as a DJ too—he is the only other dude beside myself who plays Lenny Kravitz’s ‘What Goes Around Comes Around.’”

Kon explains the impetus behind his newfound label, “Star Time is a play on words from James Brown—you know, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, it’s star time!’ The theme thus far has been massive records by stars. I already covered the nerdy, unknown, rare, obscure stuff with Amir on the BBE comps and On Track stuff. I have matured enough where I don’t care so much about rarity. I don’t really give a shit about how rare a record is. It’s like, whatever, dude. A record is either good or bad. Not to sound bitter, but I’m just so over that. I just like good music. There are records that I grew up with that I have heard at least four to five thousand times. I could still listen to ‘Disco Nights’ by GQ a hundred thousand more times. I’ll never get tired of that record, because it connects me to my childhood.”


Kon’s name has become synonymous with stone-cold quality. His edits are instant dynamite for the discotheque, roller rink, or barbecue. Whether it’s MJ, Donna, or Chaka Khan, these edits make you happy, relaxed, and ready for some body movement.

Michael JacksonChaka Khan (Star Time) Kon

T.S. Monk (Star Time) Kon Re-EditDonna Summer (Star Time) Kon Re-edit

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In an arena where MCs seldom have longevity, Ghostface Killah has been a pillar of hip-hop since 1993’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) http://www.waxpoetics.com/features/articles/in-an-arena-where-mcs-seldom-have-longevity-ghostface-killah-has-been-a-pillar-of-hip-hop-since-1993s-enter-the-wu-tang-36-chambers/ http://www.waxpoetics.com/features/articles/in-an-arena-where-mcs-seldom-have-longevity-ghostface-killah-has-been-a-pillar-of-hip-hop-since-1993s-enter-the-wu-tang-36-chambers/#comments Sat, 18 Jul 2015 00:07:18 +0000 http://www.waxpoetics.com/?p=49308   See this rap shit?  Came at a time that  was accurate.  Twenty years later,  I mastered it. –“In tha...

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Ghostface Killah

All photography by Thomas Dagg


See this rap shit? 
Came at a time that 
was accurate. 
Twenty years later, 
I mastered it.

“In tha Park” (2010)


“Turn these fuckin’ lights down, turn them shits down,” says Ghostface, irritated and snarling, presumably at the guy manning stage lights. “Shit’s blinding a nigga’s eyeballs.”

Born Dennis Coles but known to the world as Ghostface Killah, aka Tony Starks, he grabs a water bottle as the stage dims. The dialogue intro from “The Champ” begins: “This guy is a bulldozer with a wrecking ball attached. He’ll leave a ring around your eye and tread marks on your back. He’s an animal. He’s hungry. You ain’t been hungry since Supreme Clientele,” it says. It’s a fitting encore choice, especially since “The Champ” (off 2006’s Fishscale) directly critiques Ghost’s previous outings in what was perceived as diminishing skills and vigor.


Originally published as “The Champ” in Wax Poetics Issue 61


Ghostface Killah (Wax Poetics Issue 61)Wiping his brow, tossing the handkerchief onto a pile of rumpled, sweat-soaked towels, Ghost dives in, obliterating the track with uncanny verbal ballistics: “Who wanna battle the Don? I’m James Bond in the Octagon with two razors…” he says, over a Melvin Bliss sample that’s never sounded as menacing before or since.

Still hyped yet breathing heavy as the song ends, he raises a fist. “Yo, thanks for lovin’ me through the years, means a lot to nigga. Peace!” he says and heads out, as management, security, and entourage immediately orbit his path. His voice and distinctiveness can be so thrilling, so electric, that you forget Ghost is now in his mid-forties.

A couple days later by phone, we reconnect to debrief. “I fuckin’ pray to God I don’t lose the gifts He’s given me. You can lose it, nah mean? I’ve seen it. I’ve seen my friends lose it,” says Ghost en route to Australia. “I just don’t have any C raps, you know? They’re all A-pluses, sometimes an A-minus here or there,” he laughs. “But I see and hear things different than other people, for real. It takes more time to do what I do. I love what I do. A lot MCs just take that shit for granted, but I haven’t stopped feeling this way since the ’90s, you know?”

Not including group efforts, Ghost is now twelve studio albums deep. With an opulent catalog that’s both aging well and standing strong, Ghost has emerged as Wu-Tang’s doyen of rap. He admits: “I don’t really look back too deep on all that shit, but when I do, I appreciate it. It’s like if Kobe or LeBron came out and only scored like ten points, nah mean? No one wants that. My career has all-star moments, lots of highlights, you know? Crossovers, dunks, some behind-the-backs.”

This year, his oeuvre grew by two more projects, both within months of each other. The first album was the narrative-driven 36 Seasons with Ghost as its vigilante protagonist along with AZ, Pharoahe Monch, and Kool G Rap as co-stars. The Revelations, a Brooklyn-based band/production team provided perfectly moody backdrops for Ghost to navigate over. “It’s a like a movie. G Rap plays a drug lord and AZ plays a cop. It’s a full-out story, you know? I wrote it like it was a movie script,” he says, calling it a “masterpiece” and adding that it’s one of best projects he’s ever been a part of.

Sour Soul, the other new release at the time of this writing, is couched in live instrumentation anchored by Toronto-based jazz trio BadBadNotGood, who was immensely proud to work with the esteemed Tony Starks. “His ability to go from clever, lyrical, or funny, to super serious all in one verse hooked us,” BBNG keyboardist Matthew Tavares says exuberantly. “He’s one of the most consistent entertainers of the last twenty years.” Indeed, not many rappers reach a second or third act in their career, but Ghost thrives due to his otherworldliness and a writing acumen noticed by many.

Ghostface Killah by Thomas Dagg


My pen’s illmatic, 
plush robes drag 
across the floor, 
gun hand is sore 
from choppin’ the raw.

“Return of the Theodore Unit” (2007)

MF DOOM, producer/MC and longtime creative, points out Ghost’s pen skills, likening him to American poet and writer Charles Bukowski. In an interview with Nerdtorious.com, said DOOM: “Ghost comes with some shit you don’t expect. He makes things relatable by being vivid and honest and real. His stories are just so damn interesting. Like Bukowski, he’s one of those dudes that just has a natural knack for this. It’s like he speaks in color.”

“C’mon, dog, we already know I can write,” says Ghost, loudly with hubris. It’s understandable, but for someone so seemingly extroverted, it’s his private moments that yield results. In fact, he insists on working solo, at least at the start anyways. “I sit by myself with a pen and paper. And quietness, nah mean? I need shit to be still. I like to sit with a CD of beats or sit right in front of a speaker and write to it. Depending where I’m at, sometimes I’ll record some shit on the spot into a mic. Sometimes, I use the headphones as my mic.”

His knack for imagery and storytelling, at this point, has provided a template for younger MCs. From Earl Sweatshirt (of Odd Future) to Action Bronson (whose delivery has at times been called derivative), to so many newcomers, all have cited Ghost as profoundly impactful. “These young dudes know about my story raps, and that’s cool, that’s respect, that’s love.”

This progeny of storytelling is something Ghost is proud to forge onward, he says. “My hero? It’s all about Slick Rick for me. He’s the Ruler. Don’t get me wrong, I love [Big Daddy] Kane, and [Kool] G Rap, and Rakim. I really love Shan and KRS too, you know? But dog, Rick was the freshest of all that shit. He had flavor too. He’s the only one that told stories in different voices and had all those visuals. I’ve always liked hearing stories in rap.”

Tangentially, the handle “Ghostface” was also lifted from one of his favorite stories, a 1979 kung-fu flick called Mystery of Chessboxing. He describes the movie as “an all-timer,” explaining: “It’s the one with the old dude on the cover with a white beard. People in it fronted on this character because he was out for revenge, but dude wasn’t really a master yet. They killed his family and shit. So he left for twenty years and came back and caught revenge on all of ’em. I loved it. The character’s name was the Ghost Faced Killer, so I took it as my identity.”

The film also inspired Wu-Tang’s “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’ ” on 36 Chambers, the track where ODB famously introduces “the Ghostface Killah.” “Because, back then, we was watching karate flicks, we’d get high and sometimes act shit out. Walking down the block, you’d karate chop your brother real quick, strike a pose,” he laughs. “I put a lot of those elements into my own songs.”

Mystery of Chessboxing’s presence looms large on Ghost’s Twelve Reasons to Die, a 2013 concept album told over cinematic production provided by composer/producer Adrian Younge. While Younge’s camp crafted the story’s outline—a revenge tale bound with cartoonish gore, disguises, and plot twists—by taking influence from classic Italian horror films, Ghost, in contrast, returned to his favorite Hong Kong flick for his own lyrical inspiration. It’s also a prime instance of Ghost artfully reconstituting ideas into fully realized recordings—one of these occurrences was, of course, his 1996 debut, Ironman.

Ghostface Killah by Thomas Dagg


Last night I wrote three rhymes. 
I woke up to see the sun shine.

“The Sun” (2001)

After the success of Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx—where Ghost was featured on the majority of songs—anticipation for Ironman only heightened. The fact that its predecessor, GZA’s Liquid Swords, was considered an instant masterwork only added to the heavy tension. Amid this blur of success, Ghost got a phone call that proved life altering, and urgent. “I had been to doctors the week before, and the doctor called with some test results saying I had diabetes. Dog, it was rough, you know? I mean, I was only twenty-something then,” he recalls solemnly. “All kinds of other shit was going on too, like my best friend got locked up. Everything started to change. I had to live different, you know? That’s why the album’s like that. It’s dark-sounding.”

He continues: “I remember hearing the beat for ‘All That I Got Is You’ in Iowa, because RZA rented a spot out there. The weather was real cold and shit. And we’d sit and just go through all these RZA joints. He had ’em all in a box, ’cause we was still going off of tapes then. So I’d put on a tape and I’d go off by myself.” Ironman would go on to debut at number two on the Billboard charts, selling over 100,000 units in its first week, eventually going gold. Despite the warm response, Ghost, to this day, doesn’t consider it a proper debut. “Everything calmed down, and I sat and re-listened to it and was mad disappointed. Lyrically, it just isn’t there for me; I’m better than that shit,” he says. It continued to sell nonetheless and achieved platinum status by the Recording Industry Association of America in early 2004.

The creative process, in this case, was also a learning one, says Ghost: “The other thing was that I was always on a deadline around then. I had to write and write, and keep writing. Fuck all that. That’s why I no longer have deadlines, you know? When it comes, it comes.” It wasn’t until 2000, four years after Ironman and perhaps in part due to a lack of deadline, that Supreme Clientele came out. Even with limited RZA involvement, it’s a cohesive listen, featuring transitional skits and Ghost at his most unhinged and fiery (“Lyin’ with the snakes, tongue kissin’ cobras…” off “Malcolm”) and at points even nostalgic (“Those were the days, made faces, school plays…” off “Child’s Play”).

“I was in a better place, nah mean? Happier. So that was just the vibe. Whatever I’m doing at that time in my life comes into the studio all the way into the booth with me. There’s some darkness, but it’s not throughout the whole record,” he says, adding that this was how he’d imagine his debut to sound like. “The skits on here were nice decorations, nah mean? It’s like you buy a house, but eventually you wanna put some paintings up. It was also the order of the music. Sequencing is important, and a lot of niggas don’t really do it. This record is like a twelve-round fight, dog. If you think it stumbles in the seventh, it’ll come out in the ninth round swingin’. I changed this album around like twelve fucking times, dog. Just to get the mood right and shit.” In an interview with Rolling Stone, comedian Chris Rock said Supreme Clientele “will go down as the last great Wu-Tang album. ‘Stroke of Death’ is so gangster,” he said, “it makes you wanna stab your babysitter.”

Clientele set a new precedent which future works were measured against. Despite this, the new millennium began with Ghost adding romance and R&B on next two albums, Bulletproof Wallets (2001) and The Pretty Toney Album (2004). “I wasn’t too happy with Bulletproof, because RZA forgot to clear some samples on there and shit became a real distraction for me and everyone around,” he says. “But I liked Pretty Toney. It had smooth verses on there, nah mean? Maybe cats don’t like that romance shit, but there’s some good shit on there.” Its cover has Ghost onstage wearing an enormous medallion that dangles almost to his waistline. “Yeah, [Slick] Rick gave that to me before I hit the stage that day. It’s an honor when your hero does something like that.”

Ghostface Killah by Thomas Dagg


The specialist who eyeballed the mistress’s necklace.
Perpetuous, this curly-head kid’s treacherous.

“Black Jesus” (1996)

Two thousand six marked ten years since Ironman, and his next release, Fishscale, was to follow. With the tepid response to his previous departures still prevalent, this was promoted as back-to-basics rap—spastic rhymes over boom-bap and bass licks; more humor and attitude with minimal hooks—perfect for listeners put off by recent thematic changes. Fishscale delivered and is now a watershed moment, at once a return-to-form and display of maturation. Picture a 2015 Jay Z delivering dense cadences as if it were Reasonable Doubt. Ghostface returned in top form, famished and eager to awe with explosiveness not seen in years.

The success of Fishscale, according to Ghost, was in part due to a rolled-ankle and broken leg: “That was the first time in my life where I had no choice but to sit and create. We was on vacation and I slipped on some ice. Broke my leg. Ice be slippery as fuck. So I couldn’t leave the house, you know? I sat and just wrote by myself. Fucked up my ankle too, so that was it, nah mean?” If his next release, More Fish, sounds similarly inspired as Fishscale, it’s because it was from the same sessions: “Def Jam wanted another record for the fourth quarter, so I just dropped what we had already recorded. That was on some contract shit, nah mean? It just proves to me I was really focused then.”

Ghost would go on to average an album a year for the remainder of the decade; Big Doe Rehab in 2007, Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City in 2009, and Apollo Kids in 2010. All three relied on throbbing soul samples and break loops as its foundational sound—Ghostdini was the lone exception, with more vocals and love-themed songs. “So I took off my paisley pajamas I got from St. Thomas / Yo, I love you so much, so let me pay homage / And if you do, yo, I promise never break a promise,” he says on the track “Forever.”

“I’m an artist; you have to keep growing like a baby does, nah mean? There were those incredibly long verses on Wu-Tang Forever that I like. Clientele is just me killin’ shit, nah mean? I like ‘Shakey Dog’ from Fishscale too. I appreciate a lot of it; but I’m on to the next, always. I ain’t one of those niggas who just lay flat all the time.”


Chocolate, light-skinned, meet Mr. Excitement. 
Got my D.D.L. on me, that’s my dick-’em-down license.

“Supa GFK” (2007)

“I know so many niggas that haven’t been as fortunate, you know? Now I know I got skills, nah mean? But I’ve been truly blessed in many ways too,” he says, speaking rather effusively. “I get to keep doing this. I get to keep my niggas around me and be fucking creative for older cats and new ones too. Dirty said, ‘Wu-Tang is for the children.’ And he’s right.”

ODB passed in 2004 and never got to see Ghost run away from the pack. The two were close and Ghost keeps it that way through memories rich with joie de vivre. “Dirty the best. I learned a lot of shit from him. We did a lot of dumb shit together. He was just a different breed. Even within Wu, he was a different breed. He was the loudest nigga. You know how crazy shit sometimes cross your mind, but then you might be embarrassed actually doing it? Dirty that nigga who did it. And he wasn’t being fake either.”

“One night, we’re in Philly, and it was like three o’clock in the morning, we was on tour. And this nigga came back to the room with fifty fucking women! They didn’t even all fit,” says Ghost, laughing loudly as never before during our interview. “And he’d be walking around telling and asking niggas, ‘I got that pussy. You good? You good? Pussy’s waitin’, you good?’ The power he had with women was incredible; the nigga never got smacked! He’d be rude too, walking up and be like, ‘I swear on my mother, I’ll fuck you right now,’ and bitches be flattered! If I did it, they’d hit me with their purse.” Ghost stops, seemingly contemplative, and posits: “Lots of memories when I think of Dirty. Lots of memories in my career. Lots of memories in this life so far, man.”

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http://www.waxpoetics.com/features/articles/in-an-arena-where-mcs-seldom-have-longevity-ghostface-killah-has-been-a-pillar-of-hip-hop-since-1993s-enter-the-wu-tang-36-chambers/feed/ 0
Win four Star Time 12-inch records of masterful remixes from Kon http://www.waxpoetics.com/news/contests/win-four-star-time-12-inch-records-of-masterful-remixes-from-kon/ http://www.waxpoetics.com/news/contests/win-four-star-time-12-inch-records-of-masterful-remixes-from-kon/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 01:14:45 +0000 http://www.waxpoetics.com/?p=49294 Thanks to Kon and Star Time Records, we’re giving away a bundle of four great remixes on vinyl: 1. KONNA...

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Michael Jackson

Thanks to Kon and Star Time Records, we’re giving away a bundle of four great remixes on vinyl:

1. KONNA SUMMER: Donna’s Winter (Caserta’s Groove)

2. PYT (Reflex Revision) / Get Kon the Floor

3. Chaka Kon: Every Woman (Keep It Movin’ Mix) / The Reflex / Every Woman



Read the interview with Kon


Whatcha gotta do, you wondering?

Email contest[at]waxpoetics.com with the subject line REMIX VINYL KON-TEST.

Contest is open to worldwide participants, but be sure to include your full name and mailing address in the email.

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Win a copy of Truth & Soul’s The Best of the Fabulous Three LP http://www.waxpoetics.com/news/contests/win-a-copy-of-truth-souls-the-best-of-the-fabulous-three-lp/ http://www.waxpoetics.com/news/contests/win-a-copy-of-truth-souls-the-best-of-the-fabulous-three-lp/#comments Thu, 16 Jul 2015 08:45:39 +0000 http://www.waxpoetics.com/?p=49223 The Best Of by the Fabulous Three has been available for several years on CD, and it seemed rather odd...

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The Fabulous Three

The Best Of by the Fabulous Three has been available for several years on CD, and it seemed rather odd that this collection of the mysterious Fabulous Three had not been made available on vinyl given how much Truth & Soul prizes its LP output. That situation was rectified in March 2015 when the label gave it is long overdue release. (Consequently, the CD version is listed as out of stock on their website and on backorder on several other online outlets.)

We caught up with Leon Michels to discuss a short bit of the band’s history in honor of this magnificent LP. “Answer Me Softly” was the group’s first release way back in 2002 on Psycho Records. Other tracks recorded by the group, which had a number of configurations, were mostly found on compilations like the T&S Fallin’ Off the Reel series before the CD best-of collected them.

On this compilation, thirteen tracks explore instrumental soul inspired by the likes of Tribe Records out of Detroit. Says Michel, “The first 45, ‘Answer Me Softly,’ was recorded during the Soul Fire days by myself, Jeff Silverman, and Quincy Bright. At the time Jeff and Phillip Lehman were bringing around a lot of records by Phil Ranelin, Wendell Harrison, and that kind of spiritual jazz, Tribe Records vibe. We were doing our best impression of that stuff, and the Fabulous Three sort of became the name for the style of music we created during that period. People like Homer Steinweiss and Nick Movshon from the Mighty Imperials used to come around a lot. Todd Simon, who was playing with Antibalas, and Michael Leonhart would could around. It was less about the crew playing on the record and more about the sound that made it a Fabulous Three record.”

Beyond the tracks on The Best Of, you’ll find a handful more like “Vibes” and “The Nightbird (Bonus Beat) on The Soul Fire Box Set Collection. Michels says the majority of the Fabulous Three recordings have made it out to the world, and there aren’t any more plans of recording.

As for the delay of seeing the collection on vinyl, he simply states, “It was always on the back burner because there was no real band or image that went along with the record. The music is kinda left-field, so we always knew it would be a harder sell than, say, El Michels Affair or Lee Fields.”

He acknowledges that the shroud of mystery of the Fabulous Three was intentional. “Back then, for better or worse, we weren’t really as interested as we should have been with actually selling records. That was an attitude we sort of inherited from Phillip Lehman during the Soul Fire days. It was fun to make up fake bands and confuse the people buying our records.” Shedding some light on the album cover, Michels recalls, “Jeff Silverman, who did all the cover art back then, was messing around amade that cover as a joke. I think we had the cover before most of the music. When it was time to release the record, that’s all we had, so we went with it.”

“Answer Me Softly” is the one he still favors of their output: “We recorded that when Soul Fire Records was on 82nd Street. Back then it was like a clubhouse, and we would record every day for the sake of recording, with no particular projects in mind. The arrangement and the sounds we got are some of my favorite from the Soul Fire days”

Wax Poetics is proud to partner with Truth & Soul to give away one copy of The Best Of LP by the Fabulous Three to one lucky winner. For a chance to win The Best Of, visit our Facebook page and tell us what it is you love about the Fabulous Three or Truth & Soul Records.

Track list:

1. Answer Me Softly, Pt. 1
2. Answer Me Softly, Pt. 2
3. Nightbird
4. White Sands, Pt. 1
5. White Sands, Pt. 2
6. Django’s Soul
7. Sweetback
8. No Name Bar
9. Pep’s
10. Recording 82
11. Odyssey Revised
12. Hand Cramp
13. Fly By End

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Wax Poetics Records introduces Bones & Beeker, premieres debut song http://www.waxpoetics.com/music/tracks/wax-poetics-records-introduces-bones-beeker-premieres-debut-song/ http://www.waxpoetics.com/music/tracks/wax-poetics-records-introduces-bones-beeker-premieres-debut-song/#comments Thu, 16 Jul 2015 08:44:20 +0000 http://www.waxpoetics.com/?p=49277 Wax Poetics Records has signed Minneapolis duo Bones & Beeker, a band that combines hip-hop-production sensibilities with classic, harmony-focused singer-songwriter...

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Bones & Beeker (Wax Poetics Records). Photo by Jules Ameel.

Wax Poetics Records has signed Minneapolis duo Bones & Beeker, a band that combines hip-hop-production sensibilities with classic, harmony-focused singer-songwriter musicianship, creating catchy yet complex tunes.

Their debut plug-side, “Lupine,” perfectly marries the two worlds, combining a crunchy beat with a well-honed vocal—Golden Era hip-hop crossing FM radio signals with late-’70s blue-eyed soul, capturing the Zeitgeist.

The Beach Boys, Bee Gees, Boz Scaggs, and Broken Bells walk into the Latin Quarter… 

Bones & Beeker features singer/guitarist Anthony Newes and producer Brendan Kelly aka BK-One (both multi-instrumentalists), flanked by bassist Chris Bierden (Poliça and Pony Trash) and guitarist Nate Collis (Atmosphere and Attracted to Gods).

Their self-titled long player will be released late 2015 on Wax Poetics Records, distributed by Sony RED.

[Credit: Bones & Beeker photo by Jules Ameel.]

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Brooklyn-based septet People’s Champs premiere new single “Hostages” http://www.waxpoetics.com/music/tracks/brooklyn-based-septet-peoples-champs-premiere-new-single-hostages/ http://www.waxpoetics.com/music/tracks/brooklyn-based-septet-peoples-champs-premiere-new-single-hostages/#comments Wed, 08 Jul 2015 17:03:13 +0000 http://www.waxpoetics.com/?p=49228 Combining dance rhythms from West Africa and South America with retro-futurist synth tones, People’s Champs’ original sound is equal parts...

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People's Champs

Combining dance rhythms from West Africa and South America with retro-futurist synth tones, People’s Champs’ original sound is equal parts Sharon Jones, tUnE-yArDs, Os Mutantes, William Onyeabor, and Prince. With feet placed equally in Brooklyn’s thriving indie rock community and it’s funk & soul scene, bandleader Alex Asher founded People’s Champs inspired by the idea that music is for everyone: They creatively deliver a unique blend of powerful lyrics and danceable rhythms that relate to people from all walks of life.

People’s Champs is an all-star collective featuring vocalist Cole Williams (Pimps of Joytime, That’s My Cole) and Haitian-American singer/flutist Melanie Charles (Rat Habitat), both born and raised in Brooklyn. The group also features members of the Superpower Horns, the recording studio horn section for Beyoncé Knowles. They arranged the horn lines on two of Beyoncé’s top albums, her 2013 surprise album Beyoncé and her 2011 effort 4. The song “Love on Top,” featuring the horns prominently, won a Grammy Award.

After rocking big events at the Guggenheim Museum and the MoMA, countless NYC underground parties, and a multiple-year monthly residency at Brooklyn’s Barbès, People’s Champs is now gearing up to release their first full-length album in 2015. Recorded half at Converse Rubber Tracks Studio in Williamsburg and half in bedrooms, living rooms and basements all over Brooklyn, has been in the works for over two years.

We’re happy to premiere “Hostages,” the first single off the new album. Written by bassist Jordan Scannella, in collaboration with trombonist/bandleader Alex Asher and vocalist Cole Williams, “Hostages” starts small, but sneakily unravels into something really huge. The band adds, “In thinking about the larger shape of the tune, we found it best to embrace an unconventional song structure—depending on your point of view, this tune might not have a verse or a chorus.  Also, lyrically, we were very inspired and influenced by Persian poet Hafez’s work ‘We Have Not Come to Take Prisoners.’ We riffed on his words to suit our melodic ideas while staying true to his message. We hope Hafez digs it, wherever he is.”

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Melody Maestros: As Ratatat, Mike Stroud and Evan Mast have a penchant for making catchy yet cerebral instrumentals, featuring smart interplay between guitar, synthesizers, and crisp beats http://www.waxpoetics.com/features/melody-maestros-ratatat/ http://www.waxpoetics.com/features/melody-maestros-ratatat/#comments Wed, 08 Jul 2015 17:02:39 +0000 http://www.waxpoetics.com/?p=49234 “I was so into [Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass]. I had all of his records,” says multi-instrumentalist/producer Evan Mast,...

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“I was so into [Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass]. I had all of his records,” says multi-instrumentalist/producer Evan Mast, one half of Ratatat, explaining his high school sonic explorations. “There is definitely something a little bit funny about a lot of those songs, but there are certain ones that have awesome melodies.” It’s nearly impossible to imagine a sound further from Ratatat’s futuristic beat/guitar fusion than Herb Alpert’s ersatz-Latin, easy-listening pop instrumentals like “The Lonely Bull” or “Spanish Flea,” but Mast and his partner, guitarist Mike Stroud, are conscious of their place in this tradition of instrumental pop music. And the dudes do like to blur the lines between homage and parody, but the commonality is really quite obvious: memorable melodies married to a good beat.


“Grazing in the Grass” by Hugh Masekela, “Green Onions” by Booker T. and the M.G.’s, “The Peter Gunn Theme” by Henry Mancini, “Theme from S.W.A.T.” by Rhythm Heritage, and George Benson’s version of “Breezin’ ” are just a few instrumental pop hits that have become ubiquitous. Even in the 1960s, when vocal-dominant rock and roll began to change the overall sonic landscape of pop music, 103 instrumentals cracked the Billboard Top 20, nine going to number one.The popularity of easy-listening albums and other instrumental music began to wane in the ’70s, but soul, funk, and disco kept the tradition alive with some notable hits and instrumental bands. And jazz kept it going too; the success of CTI Records, Grover Washington Jr., and Bob James’s “Angela” planted the seeds for Kenny G’s smash hit “Songbird” and countless clones as “smooth jazz” dominated CD sales and traditional radio for a decade. But despite this, the day of the true crossover instrumental pop hit ended in the ’80s with “Oh Yeah” by Yello and “Axel F” by Harold Faltermeyer, both songs made popular as a result of their inclusion in blockbuster films. Instrumentals don’t quite capture the general public’s attention like they used to, but they aren’t going away any time soon.


Wax Poetics Issue 62 RatatatPurchase Wax Poetics Issue 62


“I think maybe we’d be bigger if we had a singer or something,” says Evan after a bit of prodding. “If we found the right person to do it. But I don’t think the songs would have the same staying power. I think there’s something pure about it being instrumental. It’s just good melodies… You get tired of lyrics. Melodies have more staying power.” Nearly fifteen years on, Ratatat’s staying power as a purely instrumental act is unparalleled, with an expanding fan base ranging from teens to adventurous OG hippies, not to mention stoners, hip-hop heads, art school kids, Urban Outfitters managers, and NPR interlude selectors.

This summer, Mike and Evan release their fifth studio album as Ratatat; the last one dropped in 2010. Magnifique is a synthesis of the duo’s previous four albums, returning to the guitar-helmed attack of Ratatat and Classics while retaining the creativity and production polish of LP3 and LP4. “I think we were pretty hard on ourselves with songwriting stuff,” Evan says about working on Magnifique. “I think production is important, but I think on this record, it was more like we wouldn’t let ourselves slide, like if the song had really good production but the melodies weren’t amazing, we’d just scrap it. The songwriting had to be totally solid.”

For some reason, I can’t get Wyld Stallyns out of my head. You know…the fictional buddy band from the 1989 film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure whose music healed humanity with its epic guitar solos and radical rocking. Ratatat is everything Wyld Stallyns’ music promised to be: futuristic, universal, guitar-heavy, epic, humorous, and human. Despite a backstory that’s more Rushmore than Holy Mountain, as Mike and Evan would prefer you to believe, these two skinny, White, thirty-something art-school kids are producing melody-rich, genre-twisting songs that are shaping and influencing contemporary pop music from Björk to Jay Z—and some would say Kanye. Anyone can be influential for a minute, but Ratatat basically invented (or revived) a genre and continues to own this lane of accessible, forward-thinking instrumental pop music.

Ratatat by Timothy Saccenti

All photography by Tim Saccenti for Wax Poetics. Photo illustrations by Tim Saccenti. Style advisors: Christopher Nakayama and Jean Marie Martineau. Ratatat’s wardrobe by V.K. Negrani. Grooming by Yuki Nakamara. Prop sylist: Andréa Huelse. Wings of Steel chair designed by Laurie Beckerman.
Boombox provided by Lyle Owerko.


The character of instrumental music…lets the emotions radiate and shine in their own character without presuming to display them as real or imaginary representations.
–Franz Liszt, classical composer and pianist


Mike and Evan grew up in suburban Connecticut and Cleveland, respectively, in typical middle-class communities where, as Evan remembered, “there was an NWA tape that made its way around school, and kids would share it, and you’d have to hide it from your parents.” Evan, who handles most of the percussion and beatmaking for Ratatat, as well as keyboards and bass, got his start playing the guitar at age eleven. He learned improvisation from an old blues guitarist, then in high school saved up to buy a four-track recorder, spending his time “recording terrible pop songs in my bedroom.” Mike, who is generally known as the guitarist in the band but also shares synthesizer and percussion duties, took to music early with piano and classical guitar lessons by ten. Mike and Evan share a special guilty pleasure in the Red Hot Chili Peppers. “I listened to ‘Funky Monks’ today!” Mike exclaims. “Man, the guitar is so good!”

They both graduated to hip-hop and went to college, not necessarily in that order. They met at Skidmore College, a heavy-on-the-arts liberal arts college in upstate New York. Mike honed his chops on guitar as a music major, eventually leaving early to pursue music full-time. Evan studied painting and visual arts. Only one year in age but two grades apart, Mike and Evan ran in the same circles. They separately tried to form bands with the same drummer, but never really connected musically or socially; that is, until 2001, a year after Evan graduated and moved to Brooklyn, New York.

“We ran into each other at Bedford Station in the subway, and Evan invited me over to record,” Mike recalls. He took Evan up on his offer and toted his guitar to his Crown Heights apartment to jam. “We made a funny song, loosely based on [Sisqo’s] ‘Thong Song’ on the first day, and it was super fun so we just kept doing it.” They connected musically, but also, “one of the things that clicked,” Mikes says, is “that we have the same sense of humor.” Evan illustrates the fine nuance in a musical context: “When you play a keyboard a certain way, it’s a joke. Some people don’t know that. I think we both influenced each other’s sense of humor a whole lot since we started hanging out. The Chili Peppers are always funny.” Their aesthetic chemistry was instant and deep. “Without even talking about it,” Mike agrees. “We just naturally have the same taste, across the board.”

Mike was already a studied and in-demand session guitarist, and Evan—under the alias E*Vax—had already released 2001’s Parking Lot Music, a brilliant solo instrumental album of moody, melodic, and ambient beats, so when they finished one of their earliest tunes, “Seventeen Years,” they both knew they were on to something special. “Definitely,” Evan says. “Pretty much right away.” Mike says, “First day.” Evan remembers: “After making ‘Seventeen Years,’ it felt like, ‘Whoa.’ It felt like ‘a hit,’ whatever that means. It felt like a serious song. The music I had been making before that, I never felt that way about. They were cool little songs and whatever, but that was one where I was like, ‘People are gonna wanna hear this.’ ” Mike wasn’t as confident at first. “I think you knew more than me,” Mike says, clarifying, “because Evan had more experience with labels and had already put a record out. I was really psyched about it, but he was always saying, ‘Dude, this is gonna work.’ Like, ‘We can put this out.’ ”

“Our A&R guy knew about E*Vax and found out about us through some links, because we had a little webpage up with a song or two on it,” Evan explains about how quickly they went from fucking around in his Crown Heights apartment to having a record contract. For their first couple local shows, they performed as Cherry. When asked why they changed their name, Mike explains, “I think it was the pressure of when we got our first tour opening for Interpol, because we needed an actual name now, because Cherry was already taken, thank God.”

“[It was] right after [Interpol’s] first record came out, and that was super fun,” Evan remembers. “We didn’t even have an album out yet, we didn’t have anything out. We were playing to, like, two to three thousand–people rooms to people who had never heard about us or heard our music, and we had this tiny little setup. We definitely weren’t universally loved, but I think we made a lot of fans.


All photography by Timothy Saccenti for Wax Poetics.


With instrumental music, it is traditionally hard to get exposure.


“Seventeen Years” immediately set Ratatat apart from virtually everything out in the early 2000s. Their elemental fusion of the core elements of rock and hip-hop is the thinking-man’s Kid Rock or Limp Bizkit, scratching every conflicted White male youth’s itch to hear lacerating guitar solos over block-rocking beats. Their sound also diverged from the trends in instrumental hip-hop and ambient genres, and it wasn’t just the guitars. “I don’t think we’d really be into that, making a really repetitive [song], even though people would probably like that,” Mike says, “we always like to have movements.” While Mike and Evan would certainly cite Brian May of Queen before the Beach Boys, the classical music influence in their songcraft is more reminiscent of Brian Wilson’s approach to writing his “teenage symphony to God.” It’s unclear which deity Ratatat rides for, but Evan certainly sets a high bar for their songs: “There’s something really satisfying about a song that makes you feel like you’ve gone somewhere.”

Keeping a toe knee-deep in hip-hop, Ratatat released their first volume of hip-hop remixes just about a year after their first album was released. Evan crafted original music, Ratatat style, and Mike contributed some choice riffs creating radically original, and equal if not superior, backdrops for the likes of Kanye, Common, Biggie, ODB, and Missy Elliot. “It was a fun thing to do,” Evan says. “There wasn’t a whole lot of that going on at that time, so it was kind of like, let’s see what rap a capellas we can get ahold of and then make a new thing under it. The idea of producing rap records is really appealing, and this was a way of doing that without having to actually know these rappers that you wanted to work with.”

Their second album, 2006’s Classics, took a couple years to complete between tours, the remixes, and other projects. On the eve of releasing the album, featuring the one-two punch of “Wildcat” and “Loud Pipes,” Evan prepared the second (and likely final) volume of remixes. “The second one I did all on my own. We put the Ratatat name on it because it was coming out right about the same time as Classics. And the first one, Mike played on, but it was really more my thing.”



Instrumental music can spread the international language.
–Herb Alpert


Bolstered by critical, indie, and hip-hop enthusiasm, in late 2007, Ratatat made their first brave step away from indie-rock DIY asceticism and holed-up in an actual recording studio in Catskill, New York, for an epic forty days and forty nights. “We felt momentum because Classics took so long for us,” Mike says. “As soon as we got on a roll with LP3, we were just so psyched, we kept going.” In isolation, with lots of time and new toys, Mike and Evan experienced unprecedented writing flow. “I think it was, we were in a studio for the first time,” Evan explains. “There were all these new instruments around. We thought of a lot of new stuff all at once, and we got excited and it kind of just snowballed. The first day there, we wrote a song we liked.” Mike jumps in: “We get into habits writing melodies and stuff, but we would play something that would normally be on a guitar [on a new instrument], and it was a totally new sound; it was just more exciting. Once we found out there was a harpsichord, we were like, ‘This is it.’ ”

The free flow of creativity reveals itself on the two resulting albums, LP3 and LP4, released respectively in 2008 and 2010, with their elaborate rhythm arrangements, more ethnic than boom-bap, and the expanded arsenal of sounds. Mike’s parakeet, Fellini, joined the band in the studio—“always flying around and hanging out, and kind of crept into a lot of songs,” he says. “So we put him in the videos”—most notably “Neckbrace.” “We had his cage next to the piano, so every time we recorded a piano part, we’d get chirps in the mix,” Evan recalls.

After the first recording session, they had over thirty songs completed. The first thirteen songs were mixed, mastered, and released as LP3. “LP4, we did a lot more tweaking and adding strings and another song or two,” Evan says. The title LP4 would have made more sense if the album was released six months after LP3, which was the plan. “It would’ve made more sense as these really close brothers,” Evan explains, “but after two years… I think because we were touring so much, it was hard to get the last little bits done.”



I realized a long time ago that instrumental music speaks a lot more clearly than English, Spanish, Yiddish, Swahili, any other language. Pure melody goes outside time.
–Carlos Santana


After the success of the first two albums and the hip-hop remixes, many assumed that Ratatat would be the next big “it” producers. There were rumors of Mike and Evan being tapped to be the “understudies to the Neptunes.” There were also rumors of Kid Cudi using them exclusively for an entire album, but that collaboration, while the height of Ratatat’s fame to date, only resulted in two songs on Cudi’s Man on the Moon debut album, among them the stoner anthem “Pursuit of Happiness.”

“I think that at some point, I really wanted to get into hip-hop production around the time of the mixtapes,” Evan says. “I’ve loved hip-hop for so long, it would be fun to be involved in that for real, but the offers just haven’t come in, or the ones that have just haven’t really felt like the right fit.” They admit they’ve turned down more than half of the projects that make it to them, and “fit” is only part of the trouble. “I like to work on stuff all the time,” Evan continues, “and probably spend more time in the studio than Mike does. I like to work on stuff on my own. Since our last record, I’ve made so much material on my own. I came so really close to releasing a couple projects, and then decided against it.” This includes an entire album as the duo Abuela with Justin Roelofs, formerly of indie-rock band the Anniversary, and a hip-hop album with Definitive Jux rapper Despot, whom Evan had collaborated with previously on the 2009 track “Look Alive.”

When asked who would be his first choice of MCs to work with, Evan says, “It would have been Jay Z.” But he already checked that off his list when he collaborated on “100$ Bill” for The Great Gatsby soundtrack, released in 2013. Evidently, someone had played the second remix album for Jay Z during a video shoot, and the next thing you know, Mike and Evan are meeting Hova. “Meeting Jay Z for the first time…it was a big deal for me,” Evans says. “He puts on one of the beats that we sent him, and he had this whole song—and he rapped it at me,” Evan says. “I’m like, ‘This is a crazy moment.’ I couldn’t even listen to what he was saying!”

But just like the rumored album with Kid Cudi, a Jay Z/Ratatat project never fully materialized other than the one track. Evan got an email one morning asking him to drop by the studio, where Jay was finishing up his and Beyoncé’s tracks for The Great Gatsby soundtrack.When it came time for Jay Z to do the vocals for “100$ Bill,” Evan recalls, “He basically just sat in the corner and mumbled to himself while the beat was playing on the speakers really loud. And every once in a while, he’d say a line to the room to see the reaction, and everyone would be like, ‘Ooh.’ And then way sooner than you’d expect, he was like, ‘Let’s do it,’ and he’d go in the room and put and verse down. He might have done one or two takes, and it was, like, perfect.” In the end, Evan says, “I don’t love the song. It was super last-minute. They put in samples of Leonardo DiCaprio instead of a chorus, and I wasn’t involved in that part, and I don’t like that part at all. I haven’t seen the movie.”



We just started doing really funny baroque dance songs in my apartment, just for fun.
–Evan Mast

This summer, five years after LP4 dropped, Ratatat releases their fifth studio album, modestly titled Magnifique. Started back in 2011, the album is the product of writing and recording sessions in Brooklyn, Long Island, upstate New York, and Jamaica, the country. “We might work for a month, and then not really work for six months. It was kind of off and on,” Evan says. “Mike was moving upstate. We were taking a break. We had toured for almost ten years, pretty nonstop.” Mike says, “We were a little burned out for a minute.” Their intense touring schedule combined with an inherently sensitive interpersonal dynamic nearly broke the band in the intervening years. “We used to fight more than we do these days,” Mike says. “When songwriting is not going well, the tension builds and we end up fighting, because it’s only the two of us.”

“Ever since we started working on this record, we’ve been talking about how we wanted it to be back to tons of guitars,” Mike says. “I think we learned so much about songwriting doing the last two records,” Evan says. “Once we knew what we knew, having done LP3 and LP4, we went back to our old sound, and we could do so much more with that same palette. We wanted to do some more aggressive stuff, stuff that would be really fun to play live. I love those records, but some of those songs are just a pain in the ass to play live and not that fun, because there are so many different instruments and you’re running back and forth around the stage.”

The first single, “Cream on Chrome,” builds on a pocket 4/4 beat and walking bass line with a hypnotic guitar figure before getting crushed under wave after wave of guitars and ultimately synth washes. “Nightclub Amnesia” sounds like its title with piercing guitar jabs and distorted beats alongside handclaps and a touch of acid synth lead.

What really sets this album apart are the slower tunes that showcase Mike and Evan’s most recent obsession, the pedal steel guitar. “Magnifique” sounds like Phil Spector after smoking a doobie in Hawaii, and “Drift” conjures up a 5:00 AM Santo & Johnny outtake from that one time they recorded at Lee Perry’s Black Ark studio in the ’70s.

“We both like Santo & Johnny since forever, but we got into some other slide players when we were working on the record,” Evan says, explaining how while looking for talk-box videos they stumbled upon a video of “Stringy,” a talking guitar invented and played by pedal steel innovator Alvino Rey. “He invented the talking steel guitar,” Mike explains. “Basically, an early talk box. He would play and a tube would come out of a guitar and his wife would be behind the curtain with the tube in her mouth mouthing the words.” The duo went deep, acquiring the original instruments and even Alvino Rey’s instructional book. Evan says, “His expectations for the students reading his book are so astronomically high.”

“I Will Return,” an unlikely cover tune from 1971, is another vehicle for their pedal steel guitar obsession.While friends and fans often suggest a band or song with an alleged similarity to Ratatat’s sound, most of the time, the duo are either insulted or confused by the comparison. English one-man-band Phil Cordell, who recorded as Springwater, was an exception; his music is uncannily similar to Ratatat’s guitar-driven, languid, and melodic style. “There’s a handful of songs that we’ve found over the years that really feel like our style and our songs that we really like,” Evan says about this first experimentation covering other people’s songs. “It would be pretty cool to collect them in one place.”


With no vocals, it’s all about making interesting sounds and interesting tones, something that’s memorable.
–Mike Stroud

As I’m completing this draft, I received a text that the album art for Magnifique has been cleared. It’s a collage of dozens of black-and-white portraits made by Mike and Evan while writing and recording at the Long Island beach house, similar in style to the hand-drawn covers for the two remix albums, which Evan drew. In order to approve the proposed cover, XL had to identify and clear the likenesses of all of these drawings inspired by photos from newspapers, memories, and family members, the largest and most immediately recognizable being Roy Orbison.

“We both love pop music,” Mike says, “music with singing so much, like the Kinks or something like that, and I feel like we have that sensibility of that kind of songwriting, because we try to think of a vocal element as an instrument instead of a voice.” The pop-culture contrarians that they are, making the music the way everyone else does just doesn’t appeal to them. “When sounds are too normal for us, we get really bored, because that’s our palette,” Mike explains.

In today’s vocal-dominated pop landscape, to attempt a sustainable music career without vocals is akin to starting a tape-only record label, novel at best. “It seems like a really obvious thing to do for me,” Evan says. “If you’re not a singer, make songs that are fun and instrumental. It seems like every instrumental band does these long, boring, soundtracky songs, and if you look back at the history of music, there’s a lot more pop-instrumental groups like the Ventures, Herb Alpert. I think probably a lot of people like the song we did with Kid Cudi better than everything we’ve done as an instrumental, and that’s too bad. There’s a lot of people who aren’t really willing to give instrumental music a chance, but in that context, they can get into Ratatat because there’s a guy singing on it. It is what it is, but I don’t feel like we need to chase that. I think our music is stronger as instrumental music, and there are enough people who agree that we can make it viable.”

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The Brazilian compactos of Bruno Morais, 2010–2015 http://www.waxpoetics.com/music/tracks/the-brazilian-compactos-of-bruno-morais-2010-2015/ http://www.waxpoetics.com/music/tracks/the-brazilian-compactos-of-bruno-morais-2010-2015/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 17:49:16 +0000 http://www.waxpoetics.com/?p=49214 Bruno Morais is a record collector as well as singer, songwriter, producer, documentarian, and musical host extraordinaire (somebody had to...

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Bruno Morais

Bruno Morais is a record collector as well as singer, songwriter, producer, documentarian, and musical host extraordinaire (somebody had to go bowling with Flava Flav in São Paulo). It’s this collision of artistic visions and media that makes Bruno’s music interesting, dense, and conceptual, but also very visceral. “I like to think that my albums are like feature films, and the compactos [singles] are like short films,” Bruno shares via chat. He’s wrapping up recording and production on his next “feature” and sophomore album, to be released in early 2016 on Black Brown & White Records out of the U.K., but the meantime, he’d like to share some of the musical “short films” he’s released since his first album in 2009. The recordings feature special guests such as Mauricio Fleury, Kiko Dinucci (Metá Metá), Guilherme Kastrup, Lucas Santtana, 3 Cruzeiros, Guizado, Victor Rice, and Bixiga 70. Bruno is considering compiling them all into one release with a proposed title of Short Films 2010–2015, “but for now, I love them as singles like they are,” he says.


“Bichinho do Sono” b/w “Cidade Baixa”

The A-side on Bruno’s first release after his debut album, “Bichinho do Sono” simmers with nervous excitement, bubbling over in waves of searching, spacy keyboards and percolating percussion. Building on the subtlety of his debut, A Vontade Superstar, Bruno Morais no Estúdio A, this shows an evolution in arranging and songwriting for Bruno.


“Ela e os Raios” b/w “Sorriso Dela” (ft. Bixiga 70)

An original, “Ela E Os Raios,” and a heavenly cover of Erasmo Carlos’s little-known song “Sorriso Dela” make up Bruno’s second “compacto” from 2012. Bruno’s vocal on the song channels Erasmo’s understated intensity and vulnerability while Bixiga’s arrangement breathes new life into this beautiful tune by marrying the jazz sophistication of Brazilian master Moacir Santos with Fela Kuti’s horns and polyrhythms. While recording the track, Bruno met Erasmo himself, who gave him his blessing for the version, telling him it was one of his own favorite tracks, as it was inspired by the lovely smile of his late partner and mother of his kids, Narinha. Bruno was also invited to recreate Erasmo’s classic 1972 album Sonhos & Memórias where this song comes from in its entirety, accompanied by Bixiga 70’s rhythm section, with concerts in São Paulo in 2013 and 2014.


“O Mundo Vai me Convencer” b/w “Ela Não Sabe Calar”

From later in 2012, Bruno offers up this slice of fascinating Brazilian pop; “O Mundo Vai Me Convencer” mixes elements of rocksteady, Brill Building pop, and moody Bertolt Brecht cadences with Bruno’s signature sensual whisper central in the mix. The B-side, “Ela Não Sabe Calar,” starts off mild-mannered, if not a bit antsy, and then builds to an Os Mutantes–worthy freak-out.


“Insomnio y Palabreria” b/w “O Pé” + “O Pé Dub”

The most recent compacto from 2014 finds our hero in a Caribbean mood, swinging loosely on “Insomnio y Palabreria” with pronounced percussion and echo-laden guitars alternately soaring and scratching out a lazy and loping melody. The B-side’s “O Pé” is presented in an original, shimmering guitar-driven version and a dub version, with the echo turned to eleven, and the drums and bass taking more of the weight while the guitar dances in and out of the track.


These four releases pave the way for Bruno’s forthcoming sophomore album, scheduled for release in early 2016 on Black Brown & White, a London-based label that works with hand-picked artists. The album will feature an impressive guest list, including a new track written and performed by Leon Ware and Bruno Morais. Bixiga 70, Victor Rice, Rebecca Jordan, and Toby Laing (member from Fat Freddy’s Drop) are also confirmed to participate, and the final recording sessions are booked for August at Red Bull Studios in São Paulo on analog gear and instruments, produced by Mauricio Fleury (Bixiga 70) and Guilherme Kastrup (producer of A Vontade Superstar). While you wait for this movie to come to your turntable, enjoy a few musical short films to get a taste of what’s to come from Brazil’s soft-spoken singing superstar.

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Moroccan filmmaker uses VHS vibes to capture the Jack Moves’ 2011 track “Time & Enemy” http://www.waxpoetics.com/music/videos/moroccan-filmmaker-uses-vhs-vibes-to-capture-the-jack-moves-2011-track-time-enemy/ http://www.waxpoetics.com/music/videos/moroccan-filmmaker-uses-vhs-vibes-to-capture-the-jack-moves-2011-track-time-enemy/#comments Fri, 03 Jul 2015 19:37:33 +0000 http://www.waxpoetics.com/?p=49207   “Time & Enemy” by the Jack Moves is a blast from the past, “recorded in 2011 on a four-track...

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“Time & Enemy” by the Jack Moves is a blast from the past, “recorded in 2011 on a four-track tape machine my mom’s garage,” explains singer Zee Desmondes. The song “is a story about a person that’s had their heart broken,” he continues, “and finds themselves falling for someone new but aren’t sure if they should be vulnerable ’cause they want to know if this new love is gonna do them dirty like the last one.”

The video, shot in 2015, was directed by Mohamed Chakiri, a Moroccan photographer based in Norway that met the Jack Moves through skateboarder Quim Cardona. After hearing their new songs, Mohamed felt inspired to make a video for “Time & Enemy” using his old VHS camera and applying his photography approach to the filming style by simply freestyle-shooting his subjects in their natural settings and letting inspiration be the guide. Being a real gritty and old-school-style song, Chakiri thought the VHS quality would be a perfect marriage, not only for its own old-school quality, but because, like the track, there is a timeless beauty to the abstraction that the lower quality of older mediums and production provide.

“I like the fact that it gives you a very close feeling,” Chakiri notes. “It’s too real. The rugged quality and fast frames gives it a dirty look. It’s like your mom’s home-video recordings; they often feel awkward. This quality reminds me about the true awkward realness.”

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Lo Phi of (iN)Sect Records spins an eclectic set featuring Janet Jackson, Young-Holt Unlimited, De La Soul, and Devin the Dude http://www.waxpoetics.com/music/mixtape/lo-phi-of-insect-records-spins-an-eclectic-set-featuring-janet-jackson-young-holt-unlimited-de-la-soul-and-devin-the-dude/ http://www.waxpoetics.com/music/mixtape/lo-phi-of-insect-records-spins-an-eclectic-set-featuring-janet-jackson-young-holt-unlimited-de-la-soul-and-devin-the-dude/#comments Thu, 02 Jul 2015 18:43:51 +0000 http://www.waxpoetics.com/?p=49202 Lo Phi of (iN)Sect Records is dropping his new album For the Kids on July 10. Listen to the track “Accidental Axis.”...

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Lo Phi Mixtape

Lo Phi of (iN)Sect Records is dropping his new album For the Kids on July 10. Listen to the track “Accidental Axis.”

Lo Phi has put together an eclectic set for Wax Poetics. Check it:

Track list:
Horoscope – Young-Holt Unlimited
Program Greetings
Intro – Mojoe
Program: Gratitude
What Have You Done For Me Lately – Janet Jackson
Turnkey Tyranny Anti-Turn-up – Busdriver
Program: Still Moving
Do What The Fuck You Wanna Do – Devin the Dude
Side One – Kent & Durand
Evolution of Man – Binary Star
Program: a Carpenters Interlude
Forest Nativity – Francis Bebey
Breakaway – Big Pig
post hoc ergo propter hoc (for Schopenhauer) – Milo
Dead (Serious) – Chief and TheDoomsdayDevice
Trying People – De La Soul



Read more:

Justin Kent Ford aka Lo Phi was born in Pasadena, TX, lived in Houston for awhile (as evidenced by the purple cassette) and now resides in Austin, TX.  He’s a member of the collective, Exploded Drawing and he is connected to the universe like no other. The other side where you feel the music running through your blood, head knocking out of control, having just molded two sounds together to form something new, but once heard, seems like it has always needed to be there. That’s the hardest part to nail down with this LP.

“For The Kids” is a positive journey through the mind, with Lo Phi as your guide. With one MC featured, 7layeroscillator, as well as one singer, Tone of Rarity, this LP can be played as a meditation, a lesson, a heartbreaking group of self-realization, an LP full of heat or even a message. We just have a hard time nailing down, what we are listening to. Amazing samples flipped through a 404, a 303 and a 555, and what comes out is truly a joyful noise.

The elders will be very happy.


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Ottawa producer Memetic weaves a sonic tale based on record stores that dot the local bus route http://www.waxpoetics.com/news/contests/ottawa-producer-memetic-weaves-a-sonic-tale-based-on-record-stores-that-dot-the-local-bus-route/ http://www.waxpoetics.com/news/contests/ottawa-producer-memetic-weaves-a-sonic-tale-based-on-record-stores-that-dot-the-local-bus-route/#comments Wed, 01 Jul 2015 23:27:52 +0000 http://www.waxpoetics.com/?p=49167 DJ and producer Memetic (real name Kwende Kefentse) is a Canadian urban theorist, a Cultural Planner for Ottawa, and a...

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'Rideau 2 Richmond' Memetic

DJ and producer Memetic (real name Kwende Kefentse) is a Canadian urban theorist, a Cultural Planner for Ottawa, and a cofounder of TIMEKODE, the capital’s most popular dance-floor event.

In 2014, technology-based art collective Artengine commissioned local musicians to craft soundtracks for a handful of Ottawa bus routes.

After realizing that the majority of Ottawa’s used record stores are dotted along the number two bus route in downtown, Memetic decided to go digging for records in these eight stores and create an album based on his finds.

RIDEAU2RICHMOND (so named for the streets that start and end the route) is a Dilla-like excursion with twenty-eight stream-of-consciousness tracks that at times include bass and synth played on top of the myriad samples.

You can purchase the download, LP, and T-shirt, as well as streaming the album below.

To add visual context to Ottawa’s number two bus route and its record stores, Memetic and friend Colin White shot a short video, premiering here:


Wax Poetics is giving away a copy of the LP and a T-shirt to one lucky winner. Simply email contest[at]waxpoetics.com with the subject line OTTAWA BEATS. Be sure to include your full name and mailing address. The winner will be chosen at random on July 20 and notified by email.



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Blondie rose to stardom out of New York City’s burgeoning downtown scene of punk rock and new wave http://www.waxpoetics.com/features/articles/blondie-rose-to-stardom-out-of-new-york-citys-burgeoning-downtown-scene-of-punk-rock-and-new-wave/ http://www.waxpoetics.com/features/articles/blondie-rose-to-stardom-out-of-new-york-citys-burgeoning-downtown-scene-of-punk-rock-and-new-wave/#comments Wed, 01 Jul 2015 23:26:31 +0000 http://www.waxpoetics.com/?p=49176 In 1970s New York City, photography student Chris Stein found his muse in singer Deborah Harry. The two became romantically...

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In 1970s New York City, photography student Chris Stein found his muse in singer Deborah Harry. The two became romantically involved, and Stein joined her band as a guitarist. In 1974, they would form the band Blondie, coming out of the burgeoning downtown scene with other punk rock and new wave acts like Television, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, and the Ramones, all orbiting around the clubs CBGB and Max’s Kansas City. As a photographer, Stein would capture Harry in intimate moments throughout the band’s history. Blondie deftly fused this power of image with punk’s do-it-yourself mentality to present themselves with savvy and style. They also constantly experimented with new sounds and never shied away from popular music, scoring hits with a couple of disco singles, 1978’s “Heart of Glass” and 1980’s Giorgio Moroder–produced “Call Me.” After meeting “Fab 5” Freddy, who took them uptown to witness hip-hop, Blondie would record “Rapture”—the first pop song to incorporate a rap—and help bring the then nascent artform to a larger global audience.

It’s a curious era to celebrate, New York City in the 1970s. Drug-fueled crime was surging and uncollected garbage perfumed the streets. In many parts of town, abandoned buildings seemed to outnumber occupied ones, and the moneyed class rarely ventured below the demarcation line of Fourteenth Street. But these grim circumstances, and more specifically the dirt-cheap rent that ensued, were what allowed a bohemian scene to flourish. In the sparsely patrolled streets of the Lower East Side, there was ample time to experiment with life and art.


Originally published as “Sound Image” in Wax Poetics Issue 60



It’s not stretching things too much to say that Chris Stein was a rebel from birth. Born to lefty parents in the staid Brooklyn of the 1950s, he dropped out of Midwood High School and soon began navigating downtown Manhattan as a student at the School of Visual Arts. Turned off by popular conceptual art, he rekindled a childhood interest in photography with the encouragement of a friend who apprenticed with Diane Arbus, and would soon be almost inseparable from his Nikon.

In 1973, Stein’s lens found its enduring focal point and muse at a nondescript bar called the Bobern Tavern (named after its owners Bob and Ernie), where a band called the Stilettos was playing. An admittedly shambolic affair that was equal parts Shangri-Las and Warholian performance piece, the Stilettos nevertheless possessed something that caught Stein’s eye, in the person of one of their singers. “She had short brown hair, like a boy’s haircut,” he recalled of his first meeting with Deborah Harry, who he would soon join as a guitarist in the band. “A few months later she dyed it blonde.”1 The redefined tresses not only marked the start of a lifelong partnership but would inspire the moniker of a new musical project that the collaborators would debut in the fall of 1974.


All photos from Chris Stein’s Negative, courtesy of Rizzoli Books


Blondie was not an immediate hit. “Hardly anyone took Blondie seriously,” Richard Hell wrote in his memoir I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp. “They had a bland, occasionally quirky urban girl-group style but were primarily an excuse to look at their stunningly pretty singer.” Hell, a veritable architect of punk who had been in landmark groups Neon Boys, the Heartbreakers, and Television before penning the anthem “Blank Generation” with his own band the Voidoids, was not too far off in his assessment.

Debbie Harry by Chris Stein

After an electrical fire in Debbie Harry and Chris Stein’s apartment on 17th Street off Sixth Avenue, NYC, the two posed shots of Harry “cooking” in a burned dress that had been previously loaned to her, thought to have been worn by Marilyn Monroe. Circa 1977–’78. Photo by Chris Stein from the book Negative, courtesy of Rizzoli.


From the beginning, Stein and Harry were aware of the power of the image and were canny about using it to get exposure however they could. “Sending around pictures of Debbie that we thought would get published was a good idea,” Stein recalls thinking. Indeed, Harry’s arresting visage coupled with cutting-edge style (literally—the New Yorkers were among the first to purposely slice their clothes) meant that many fans were sold on the image before the band. “Some of those images were out in Creem magazine before anybody heard the music,” Stein says, downplaying any Machiavellian agenda and explaining, “People ask us to define punk, and the thing that I always say first is the do-it-yourself mentality. That’s what was going on; there wasn’t a hell of a lot of preplanning involved.”

Nevertheless, it’s impossible to see Stein’s photos from that era and not be struck at how self-aware and adventurous their approach to image was. A big part of “cool” is effortlessness, not looking forced, being hurried or worried. Their fashion took radical concepts (shockingly ripped and safety-pinned shirts) and presented them with a New York attitude that perfectly blended Fuck You! with Who Cares? Debbie’s savvy styling meshed immaculately with Chris’s eye for composition and presentation, quickly becoming one of the great complementary duos, a punk Bogie and Bacall whose individual strengths perfectly dovetailed.

Musically, the band was still evolving. As the main songwriters, Stein and Harry did have their early influences. “When Debbie and me started working on the band, I got really fascinated with the Shangri-Las and all that girl-group stuff,” Stein says. “When I was a kid, I didn’t take any of that seriously; it all seemed ridiculous. Then when we started working, I realized how awesome it was. I saw it in a completely different light.” The Blondie catalog has gone on to prove their eclectic and wide-ranging tastes, but in the early days, their ambition would often outstrip their abilities. David Byrne recalled that Blondie “had a voracious appetite for pop music of all different genres…but didn’t have the chops to pull it off.”2 Apprised of this quote today, Debbie Harry laughs. “Perfectly right, actually. That’s really true. It took us a while to move into all these things that we were interested in and influenced by. I think that’s part of the reason we’ve had some longevity, because it took us longer to pull the focus.” Her use of the cinematic term neatly underlines the band’s intimate connection of sound and image.

Debbie Harry by Chris Stein

Debbie in a jean jacket, circa 1978. Photo by Chris Stein from Negative, courtesy of Rizzoli Books.


“It took me a while to learn how to work within our limitations,” Stein says, as Harry voices her agreement. “The early Talking Heads were a great example of knowing what your limits are and working within those parameters,” he says, then continues the short roll call of some of Blondie’s downtown contemporaries. “The Neon Boys and Television, I think those guys had a lot more of a formula in mind. And certainly the Ramones had a very specific focus about what they were doing.” As for Blondie? “I think we were just all over the place, trying different styles, stuff that we liked.”

“All those groups are so diverse in what they were doing, it’s funny that they wound up all being lumped together,” Chris Stein says of the so-called downtown scene, before allowing, “I think everybody was influencing each other, certainly. There was a lot of back-and-forth. Towards the end, before everything moved on to the next phase, it was a little more competitive than it was before, but there were a couple of years where everybody was really close. It was nice. It was like a workshop situation, like going to school with all these people.”

Debbie Harry elaborates: “There was a lot of convergence. It was intimate, in terms of painters, writers, musicians, actors all kind of overlapping, hanging out together.”

Stein agrees. “I had forgotten how much of that poetic scene was going on in the midst of all the rock-and-roll mania. There were a lot of different camps that encompassed a lot of different mentalities.”

The insularity afforded by a time before social media’s ravenous hunger for a new trends meant that the lower Manhattan milieu was able to grow at its own organic pace. “I often say that the scenes like [grunge] Seattle, [’60s] Liverpool, [’70s] New York couldn’t happen now, because everything gets such immediate attention,” Stein muses. “All those different scenes got to ferment for a while; that’s what happened at CBGBs. There was a four-year period [of incubation], maybe even longer if you count coming out of the [New York] Dolls era.” Then, slowly at first, came the attention.

Clem Burke and Debbie Harry by Chris Stein

Clem Burke and Debbie Harry on 14th Street, Manhattan, circa 1976. Photo by Chris Stein from the book Negative, courtesy of Rizzoli.


One Monday morning in January of 1977, the New York Times wedged a tiny review into the corner of page seventeen. Blondie, it proclaimed, “graduated into full membership in the upper reaches of the New York underground/punk rock circuit this weekend at Max’s Kansas City.” Contrasting the show with the previous spring, when it “appeared that Blondie was more of a nice idea than a successful band,” Harry is described as “an exact visual counterpart of her band’s eclecticism.” A month later, in a more thorough report on “that complex of ‘underground’ rock bands spawned in a few lower Manhattan clubs,” the same writer praised the leading groups on the downtown scene, including Patti Smith, the Ramones, and Talking Heads, with Television getting special attention. But “of all the New York bands, the one that might win commercial success the soonest is Blondie,” the writer states, citing the one-two punch of Harry’s “happy willingness” to use her “striking punk-sexpot good looks” and the band’s “clever, half-parodistic, half-affectionate” approach to their music.3

Debbie Harry by Chris Stein

Debbie Harry on the set of Blondie’s video for “Picture This,” 1978. Photo by Chris Stein from the book Negative, courtesy of Rizzoli.


Exactly one year later, he would be describing Blondie as “the most photographed ‘punk’ rock band in the world.”4

Although Blondie had always been popular in England, probably their first bona fide worldwide smash came late in 1978 via a drum machine and a “weird R&B song” with the working title “Once I Had a Love.”

Mike Chapman was a peripatetic Australian producer who emigrated to the U.K. in the late ’60s where he became a pillar of the glam-rock temple, landing a staggering number of hits for the Sweet and Suzi Quatro among others. As that style lost its luster, he relocated to Los Angeles, and it was there, less than two weeks after the Times’ review of their Max’s Kansas City show, that he saw Blondie, out West for a some dates set up by influential L.A. DJ Rodney Bingenheimer at the Whisky a Go Go.

Chapman bonded with Blondie’s then manager at the shows, who extended an off-the-record promise that if the band ever got out of their current label situation, he would be the producer of choice. As it turned out, things moved rather quickly, and by June of 1978, the band was in the studio with Chapman.

It was an entirely new experience for the group, as the seasoned hitmaker had very clear ideas of how the sessions should go and was strict about enforcing them. “When we got in with Mike Chapman, he held us to this very high standard of precision and perfection that we hadn’t dealt with previously,” Stein confirms.

“I wasn’t being used as a songwriter, but as a song manipulator and song construction consultant/technician,” Chapman said in a 2008 interview. “There was a lot of stuff that needed to be put together, because as loose as the band were, their songs were even looser.”5 One demo was something Stein describes as sounding like the Hues Corporation hit “Rock the Boat,” “sort of sing-songy. Chapman describes it as reggae-ish, but I never thought of it like that. It was just a weird R&B song.” Stein often used a rhythm box at home for demos, but now Chapman suggested actually making it a starting point for the new song.

Debbie Harry by Chris Stein

Photoshoot for Creem magazine, 1976. Photo by Chris Stein from the book Negative, courtesy of Rizzoli.


“They had it in a lot of different versions,” Chapman recalled, “but it wasn’t right in any form.”6 The turning point came when it was decided that this would be a disco song. “I was never anti-disco,” Stein says. “All the early disco stuff just came out of R&B, to me. It was all part of it.” Harry for her part consciously channeled Donna Summer for the vocals, and as the band and the producer painstakingly layered on keyboards, guitars, and effects, “trying to incorporate that Donna Summer vibe,” as Chapman put it, an anthem began to come together. “Having made hit records for the past seven years, I had a handle on what I was trying to accomplish,” Chapman stated, “and I knew that with each piece that we added we were getting closer and closer to our goal—which was to have this incredible track that didn’t sound like anything else.”7 Stein confirms that “Heart of Glass,” as it was now renamed, “was done just like that, all in real time. Nowadays you could put that song together in an afternoon probably, arranging all those parts, but before the days of cut and paste, it took us days to do it, putting all those parts together.” He has aptly called “Heart of Glass” a “digital song in analog world.”

When the song shot to dizzying heights in the pop charts and became a de rigeur part of every DJ’s playlist, it had the unintended effect of placing Blondie in apparent opposition to their downtown confederates. “There was a really big split between this disco world, which was very working class, and the rock world at the time, which was kind of more intelligentsia,” Stein says. “It was weird having us be thrust into the disco scene, because it was a very different audience than what we were dealing with.

“I remember Joey [Ramone] saying we sold out or something like that,” he continues, “but I always took that as tongue-in-cheek. I didn’t feel any change in our relationships with anybody.”

The following year, the band solidified their disco credentials when they were tapped to provide the theme song for the film American Gigolo. In a neat turn of events, the soundtrack was overseen by Giorgio Moroder, whose productions featuring Donna Summer had inspired “Heart of Glass.” “Initially,” Stein recalls, “he’d given us a demo that was called ‘Man Machine.’ ‘I’m a man machine, I talk to girls.’ Debbie said scrap that, and we started over.” After the band laid down their version of the song, renamed “Call Me” after Harry’s new lyrics, Moroder took the session and “tweaked it,” in Stein’s words. “He based all his parts on the things we came up with. He was very unlike Mike Chapman, who was willing to work for hours and hours on a single part. Giorgio was very quick. I thought it was great!”

Harry agrees, bringing up the excitement she felt collaborating with the film’s director and the Italian superproducer: “The idea of working with Paul Schrader and Giorgio Moroder was totally intoxicating and irresistible. It was also the advent of Giorgio Armani’s big leap into fame and notoriety,” she elaborates, her eye for the killer combination of visuals and music acute as always. “He created the whole color palette and designed the clothes in that film. The combination of those three major elements is pretty fantastic.”

By 1980, Harry and Stein were jet-setting superstars. But the irrepressible eclecticism that drove their search for new musical avenues had been piqued by a very homegrown, New York phenomenon: hip-hop.

Photo by Charlie Ahearn

Debbie Harry, Fab 5 Freddy, Grandmaster Flash, Tracy Wormworth, and Chris Stein in 1981. Photo by Charlie Ahearn from the book Wild Style: The Sampler.


“Fab 5” Freddy Brathwaite was a Brooklyn-bred New Yorker who was instrumental in bridging the uptown (read Black and Latino) and downtown (mostly White) art and music environs. He met Stein and Harry in the late ’70s at that nexus of the downtown scene, CBGB, and soon was in regular contact with Stein on the set of the ultra-low-budget cable show TV Party, where Brathwaite was a cameraman and Chris often hosted.

As disco and R&B enthusiasts, it was only a matter of time before Chris and Debbie caught the emerging sound of rap music. Brathwaite offered to escort the duo to witness the action firsthand. “So we went uptown to this party; it was in a Police Athletic League facility in the Bronx,” Stein remembers. “It was kind of a big event, three or four hundred people there, maybe even more. It was exciting. There were a lot of different DJs and acts: Funky Four, maybe Cold Crush, Grandmaster Flash, Grand Wizard Theodore. A lot of the guys who were later involved with Wild Style.” Harry enthusiastically concurs: “Yeah, it was great. A lot of it was freestyle, people who were just getting up and doing it.”

As Blondie grew in stature, the bandleaders did their part to repay the favor and promote the burgeoning hip-hop movement.

“We were on Saturday Night Live,” Stein says, “and they let us pick a musical guest to be on with us.” He and Harry chose the Funky Four Plus One. “The people on the show were so nervous about them doing it,” he recalls. “I remember trying to explain to them how scratching worked. Trying to verbalize what that is for someone who has no idea, it’s really difficult.” Ultimately, “they wound up going on with a tape.” It was the first time a rap group appeared on national television.

Stein also attempted to interest record labels in the new music. “In the early days, I talked to a lot of guys in the record industry about rap, and pretty much one hundred percent of them told me that rap was a fad that was going to go away.” A predictably retrograde attitude that sounds suspiciously like what was trotted out when punk started. “It was, you’re absolutely right,” Harry agrees. “That was one of the major statements from different A&R people in the industry—that if punk became successful, they were going to quit.”

Stein would later put his money where his mouth was when he arranged for the theme song from Charlie Ahearn’s landmark film Wild Style to be released on his Animal label, distributed via the Chrysalis Records network. Along with his TV Party cohorts, Stein also participated in the creation of the infamous breakbeats used in the film, adding a layer of atmospherics with a very early guitar synth.

Regarding the use of breakbeats, Stein says, “We were aware of everybody using ‘Good Times’ as a foundation for their raps—we really loved Chic.” It should be no surprise, then, that he and Harry would come up with their own Chic-inspired take on a rap breakbeat. Debbie Harry traces the origins of their concept. “I distinctly remember sitting and watching wrestling on TV one day and Chris saying, ‘I think I’m going to do a rap song, called “Rapture.” ’ And I said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s great, let’s do that.’ ”

“We were into writing pop songs,” she explains, “and the idea of incorporating a rap inside of a song was a new concept at the time. It was just usually rapping to a DJ scratching. This was a little break from that strictness of that way of doing it, but it also made it so [rap] was available on radio and put it into a genre that made it more understandable to a general public.”

The video for “Rapture” featured Harry bopping through a stylized downtown street populated by a fabulous assortment of real-life characters: Brathwaite, graffiti legend Lee Quinones, and Jean-Michel Basquiat among them, all who helped paint the backdrop. A downtown fantasy come to life, it was both an homage to the place that birthed them and a master class in the blending of style and sound that Harry and Stein had been working on for years.

In retrospect, this high-water mark was also the beginning of the end, as not long after, Stein was struck by pemphigus, a debilitating autoimmune disease. This brought a de facto end to the group, although tensions in the band might’ve brought the splintering on inevitably.

In time, both Stein’s health and the relations between band members improved. The band reunited, recorded new music, and toured. Deborah Harry did a solo album with the Chic Organization. Chris Stein continued stoking his passion for photography. The second act still continues. And the couple of arty punk rockers who founded Blondie can still be seen around Manhattan, downtown cool to the end.

Debbie with The Sun. Photo by Chris Stein from the book Negative, courtesy of Rizzoli.

Debbie with The Sun. Photo by Chris Stein from the book Negative, courtesy of Rizzoli.


Chris Stein’s book of photography, Negative (Rizzoli Books), is out now.


1. Cathay Che, Deborah Harry (Fromm Int’l, 2000).
2. Ibid.
3. John Rockwell, various articles, New York Times, Jan. 24, 1977; Feb. 20, 1977; Feb. 24, 1978.
4. Ibid.
5. Richard Buskin, “Blondie: ‘Hanging on the Telephone’: Classic Tracks,” Sound on Sound Magazine, June 2008.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.

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Brandee Younger drops funky tribute to fellow harpist Dorothy Ashby http://www.waxpoetics.com/music/tracks/brandee-younger-releases-funky-tribute-to-fellow-harpist-dorothy-ashby/ http://www.waxpoetics.com/music/tracks/brandee-younger-releases-funky-tribute-to-fellow-harpist-dorothy-ashby/#comments Tue, 30 Jun 2015 21:08:21 +0000 http://www.waxpoetics.com/?p=49144 On August 7, Blue Note/REVIVE is releasing the compilation Supreme Sonacy Vol. 1. The first single is “Dorothy Jeanne,” a tribute to Dorothy...

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Supreme Sonacy

On August 7, Blue Note/REVIVE is releasing the compilation Supreme Sonacy Vol. 1. The first single is “Dorothy Jeanne,” a tribute to Dorothy Ashby by fellow harpist Brandee Younger.

Produced by multi-instrumentalist (namely sax and synth) Casey Benjamin from the Robert Glasper Experiment, the track captures the beauty of the harp and that funky, crossover appeal that Ashby’s late-’60s Cadet albums had.

“I really wanted to touch upon the aspects that influenced me early on,” says Younger, “from The Jazz Harpist [1957] to the later records like Afro-Harping [1968] and The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby [1970]. Ashby was responsible for putting the harp on the map outside of classical music, and those records showed me that the harp had no musical limitations.”

Younger cites saxophonist and flutist Frank Wess and his role in Ashby’s career as a primary source of inspiration for the band. “When I met Wess,” she says, “he told me that he was responsible for getting Ashby her first deal to record The Jazz Harpist.” Anne Drummond provides the flute work on “Dorothy Jeanne,” while Chelsea Baratz plays tenor sax, Dezron Douglas plays bass, and Dana Hawkins keeps funky time.

“The lush orchestration and arrangements of Dorothy’s music reminded me of the CTI releases from the ’70s,” says producer Casey Benjamin. “I wanted to stay true to that feeling and capture the true essence of Dorothy’s music, but make it a bit more accessible to the masses in present time. I want people to pick up on the subtle nature of her music. She is saying more with less. It’s not super complex but the emotion is strong.”

Pre-order the Supreme Sonacy Vol. 1. Follow Brandee Younger on Twitter.

Casey Benjamin and Brandee Younger. Photo by Deneka Peniston.

Casey Benjamin and Brandee Younger. Photo by Deneka Peniston.


Read more about the album:

Revive Music Presents: Supreme Sonacy (Vol. 1)

“Sonacy” is the undefined, unexplained derivative of sound ­ a melodic experience without conformity or the neat packaging of category. Much too expansive to explain, it just is. Born from a collision of sound and matter, it is the place where musical performance elevates to a transformative spiritual experience. Pushing past earthly conventions and into the unknown, sonacy alludes to the supreme, transcendent power that exists at the intersection of every musical tradition.

It is this sound and its creators that have been the heart of REVIVE’s mission for almost a decade. Captained by founder M​eghan Stabile,​the organization has been the nucleus of one of the most important artistic advocacy initiatives of this era. Stabile’s distinct skills as a concert producer and promoter, coupled with the artistic purview of trusted musicians have birthed a brand of unique, genre­bending experiences. These events have positioned REVIVE as the fearless champion of virtuosity and allowed Stabile to shape a movement. Now, at the brink of the ten­year mark, Revive Music captures the spirit of its trademark on wax with S​upreme Sonacy Volume 1.​

Wearing the hat of executive producer, Stabile enlisted a stellar roster of broad­ranged musicians including

Igmar Thomas, Marc Cary, Marcus Strickland, Raydar Ellis, Christie Dashiell, Casey Benjamin, Terry Slingbaum, Brandee Younger, Keyon Harrold, Maurice Brown, Jaleel Shaw, Ray Angry, Chris Potter, James Genus, Kris Bowers and Ben Williams (​courtesy of Concord Records)​a​nd the
l e g e n d a r y ​J e f f “ T a i n ” W a t t s . T​h e l i n e u p r e p r e s e n t s t h e R e v i v e n a r r a t i v e , w h i c h i s s t e e p e d i n t h e importance of community, inclusiveness, mentorship, and innovation. “I think Revive has a keen understanding of the basic nature of the music, which is that it’s got to keep moving forward,” says Blue Note President, Don Was. “Not decade­by­decade, or year­by­year, but every day.” That daily trench work has fostered a solid coalition of artists who embody the unconventional and uniquely challenge the status quo.

As Revive Music sets to celebrate ten successful years, Stabile’s expectations going into these uncharted waters are tempered by what she has known for a long time: “We can no longer constrict ourselves by giving music one title, or even three for that matter. No amount of terms or categories will ever be adequate enough to define what one feels. Music is a universal language ­­ a syndicate of sound energy that is not seen but felt by all. The foundation of everything we do is in creating the live experience, which nothing can ever replace. Some people develop a love for the sound as accidental listeners, first absorbing the beautiful complexities of sound through the art of sampling with little knowledge of the degree to which jazz has influenced every popular genre. The increased presence of jazz in the mainstream has signaled the rise of the next generation of great musicians. In this world of music there are masses of listeners eager to be informed and inspired. It has been my pleasure and duty to create new ways for the not­so­average listener and the average listener to re­discover jazz together, through unique curatorial presentations and premiere collaborations involving legendary musicians from diverse genres who are well known for their hybrid sensibilities.”

Emerging from the same scene, REVIVE and HighBreedMusic developed a partnership derived from parallel missions and a mutual love for the music. A self­funded grassroots music and live video production company operating out of Brooklyn, HBM prides itself on presenting a final product with the energy of a live

performance and the quality of a professional studio product. The sister platforms have worked diligently from their home base at The Breeding Ground NYC to record S​upreme Sonacy​under the guidance of HBM’s founder T​ariq Khan.​

“Trane Thang”​from trumpeter I​gmar Thomas​is a nod to the modal style developed by John Coltrane. The song was handpicked by Stabile, whose fondness for the tune goes back to the days of Berklee. “It started out as just an interlude,” says Thomas, of the song’s genesis. “It was something we did with this band we used to have, and everybody started liking it, and the more we did it, I heard different ways to incorporate it, and I even have other songs that I incorporate it with.” One of those songs includes the
W a y n e S h o r t e r c l a s s i c , “​P i n o c c h i o . ” ​T h e s a v v y l e a d e r ­ a r r a n g e r o f t h e R​e v i v e B i g B a n d ,​T h o m a s ’ t u n e runs the gamut seamlessly, from hip hop to Headhunters, honoring two tenor titans in the process.

“I like challenges, I guess,” says saxophonist M​arcus Strickland,​whose extensive body of work has positioned him as one of the most prolific composers of his time. Rising to the occasion came naturally when Stabile suggested Strickland remake the Janet Jackson classic, “​Let’s Wait Awhile”.​The
m i d ­ t e m p o , s e x y ­ s o u l r e n d i t i o n f e a t u r e s v o c a l i s t C​h r i s t i e D a s h i e l l ,​w h o s e p e r f o r m a n c e g o t t h e g r e e n l i g h t from Jackson. Strickland, who captains the elaborate arrangement, also doubles on bass clarinet.

The compelling influence of jazz on the French historically reached pianist, composer, and conductor
M a u r i c e R a v e l i n t h e e a r l y t w e n t i e t h c e n t u r y . M i a m i n a t i v e a n d c o m p o s e r ­ p r o d u c e r T​e r r y S l i n g b a u m explains his transformative arrangement of Ravel’s alluring solo piano piece, “Jeux d’eau” (translated as “Water Games”)​, is rooted in the Romantic era aesthetic that easily interchanges with the emotional evocation of jazz. Slingbaum sniffs out a progression from Ravel which is reminiscent of the Native Tongues era of hip hop samples, using it as the melodic springboard for the second half of the arrangement, while saxophonists C​asey Benjamin​and T​roy Roberts​each offer rousing solos.

The album takes a starkly beautiful turn with a poignant rendition of “​The Procrastinator” b​y trumpet icon Lee Morgan.​K​eyon Harrold,​M​aurice Brown​and J​aleel Shaw​co­pilot the homage, which features stunning trumpet solos and stands as an extension of previous tributes to Morgan. This take on the Lee
M o r g a n t r a c k w a s a r r a n g e d b y G R A M M Y ­ a w a r d w i n n i n g b a s s i s t B​e n W i l l i a m s . ​“ W h e n I c a m e a c r o s s t h e original version of ‘The Procrastinator’, there are these sections, and it starts really somber​…a​lmost like a funeral dirge or something,” says Williams. “It has this really dark melody that doesn’t really have any rhythm to it; it’s just melody. When I’m trying to arrange music, that’s the thing I’m looking for. Just a melody that speaks to me that I feel like I could kind of mold and shift into a different shape.

Harpist B​randee Younger’s​mixture of virtuosity and creative dexterity has gained her well­deserved notoriety over the last several years, performing with a variety of artists from Ravi Coltrane to Drake. “Dorothy Jeanne”​elucidates the gravity of unsung harp hero Dorothy Ashby, whose innovative A​fro Harping​album laid the groundwork for diversifying the role of the harp, and ushering the instrument into the realm of popular music. “[Dorothy] took the songs of the time and applied them,” says Younger, who takes cues from Ashby’s legacy when deciding her own creative licenses. “She wasn’t recording a ton of music from a hundred years prior. She did some, but she really had no qualms about pushing forward.​”​

Stepping out as front man, veteran keyboardist and prolific writer and producer R​ay Angry​displays another sideofhisartistrywithanelaborate“​CelebrationofLife”s​uite. FeaturingvocalistN​adiaWashington,​ the suite traverses through sections of “Awareness”, “Revolution/Revelation”, and finally, “The Awakening”, with a powerhouse ensemble of C​hris Potter,​J​ames Genus​and J​eff “Tain” Watts.​

The vibrant sound captured in each interlude from producer R​aydar Ellis​offers a peek at the beauty and possibility at the intersection of hip­hop and jazz. Ellis’ presence is the evolutionary result of a movement that began with the advent of big band and bebop and evolved with the onset of sampling and the hybridized jazz funk that encouraged hip­hop’s second golden era. Metastasizing between the rise and untimely departure of J Dilla, the music and practically every musician that cut their teeth on the sounds of the Native Tongues has grown to spread the drunken swing at the core of each Dilla joint across the landscape of modern music. A Berklee alum that got the bug for producing as a youth, Ellis contributes six standout interludes between each song, drawing inspiration from his personal hip­hop heroes. Combining an encyclopedic knowledge of both the b­boy tradition and the impossibly rich legacy of the trad, Ellis has helped to conceive of and create something that much more beautiful.

Thomas and Ellis, who Stabile credits as two­thirds of the creative force behind Revive, have also been her biggest supporters. “She’s going to be, like, the ambassador and the liaison to make the opposing sides come together,” says Thomas of his friend’s future legacy in a sometimes­divided community on the matters of the periphery of jazz. “Revive is now the hub that all angles can come to and disperse.”

Bringing the narrative full circle, Stabile takes it back to the Boston institution and musical proving ground where REVIVE gestated, closing the project out at Wally’s Cafe. Bearing the distinction of the oldest running jazz club in the United States, Wally’s has played an integral role in the development of hundreds of musicians that have gone on to become stars and sometimes legends. It is only fitting, then, that Paul (from Wally’s) closes the record as he closes out each night at the bar with “A Wally’s Good Night.”

Born from a giant leap of faith, the S​upreme Sonacy Vol. 1​compilation is the first release of it’s kind from Blue Note Records. Following the label’s first “revival” in the early 80’s during the tenure of Bruce Lundvall to its latest revolution under the leadership of Don Was, Blue Note stands at the 75­year mark poised to make history yet again. In partnership with REVIVE, Blue Note has placed a finger on the pulse of yet another sonic rebellion and positioned itself at the front line in the fight to ensure the survival of quality music and the people who have dedicated their lives to making it. While REVIVE looks to the past for inspiration, Blue Note and Don Was look to REVIVE for the future. “Revive is positioned at the heart of this decade’s progressive music. I can think of no better way to honor the tradition of Blue Note Records than to associate ourselves with such a forward­looking, activist organization.” With love and reverence for the rebels that came before us, we present S​upreme Sonacy Vol. 1​­­ the first chapter of a new sonic tradition that revives the spirit, dares music to stand for something and stands to outlive us all.

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Obscure, jazzy R&B band Nu Shooz took a cue from Portland’s local new-wave scene and morphed into synth-pop stars http://www.waxpoetics.com/features/articles/obscure-jazzy-rb-band-nu-shooz-took-a-cue-from-portlands-local-new-wave-scene-and-morphed-into-synth-pop-stars/ http://www.waxpoetics.com/features/articles/obscure-jazzy-rb-band-nu-shooz-took-a-cue-from-portlands-local-new-wave-scene-and-morphed-into-synth-pop-stars/#comments Tue, 30 Jun 2015 21:07:20 +0000 http://www.waxpoetics.com/?p=49150 Obscure, jazzy R&B band Nu Shooz took a cue from Portland’s local new-wave scene and morphed into a successful synth-pop outfit, crafting the mega-hit “I Can’t Wait” in the process.

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Nu Shooz

It’s 1975 as John Smith thumbs a ride somewhere along the I-5 corridor. Adrift in Washington State, the nineteen-year-old hitchhiker waits as the hum of the freeway presents music to his ears. His wayward journey began in his hometown of Los Angeles, and despite a few starts and stops (including a lift by Bachmann-Turner Overdrive’s equipment van), he’s now backtracking en route to Portland, Oregon. As an aspiring guitarist with no set agenda, Smith’s story up until this point reads like the lyric sheet to “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Little does he know what Portland has in store for him.


Originally published as “Modern Movement” in Wax Poetics Issue 62


Upon arriving in the Rose City, he meets his match. Valerie Day, a fifteen-year-old ballet-dancer-cum-percussionist, makes his acquaintance at the “Cosmic Bank”—a local commune opening its doors to the penniless traveler. The couple’s romance and creative partnership would quickly blossom. They have since married, raised a family, made a gold record and—throughout a succession of musical accolades—minted a legacy that remains eminent in Portland and beyond.

In the latter half of the ’70s, Smith and Day’s musical relationship incubated through an eclectic range of activities. Their interest in what is now referred to in the West as “world music” evolved during this period. They tried their hand gigging in Latin, African, calypso, and big band ensembles. Day worked as a percussionist in modern dance classes as well as Ghanaian master drummer Obo Addy’s group, Kukrudu. According to Day, “I received an incredible world-music education in Portland.”

With a yearning to grace the national stage, Smith left for New York. “I went to New York and thought I was this hot jazz guitarist,” he claims. “But there were fifteen-year-old kids there that played better than I would ever play in my life!” Smith’s stint in the Big Apple was short-lived, but all was not lost. His discovery of a Motown songbook in an empty loft would change his approach to songwriting and arranging indefinitely.

Back in Portland during the summer of 1979, Smith was ready to start a band. His intent was to assemble a quintessentially American soul act. The band was called Nu Shooz. In the six years to follow, the group’s work ethic was insatiable. Pulling covers from the Motown book as well as composing countless originals, they worked five nights a week playing four-hour sets to crowds throughout the Northwest. Nights off were spent writing and rehearsing. At their peak, Nu Shooz gigged over three hundred nights per year.

Nu Shooz

Nu Shooz at the Neighborfair, Portland, Oregon, 1985. All photos courtesy of Nu Shooz.


Throughout the early part of the ’80s, Portland’s downtown was bustling with nightlife. It is often described by locals as a golden era in the city’s R&B landscape with groups such as Pleasure, Shock, Cool’r, Dan Reed, Crazy 8s, and Nu Shooz paving the way. According to Day, “We made a living playing music with a nine-piece band—a miracle by modern standards.”

Portland-based label Nebula Circle released the band’s debut LP, 1982’s Can’t Turn It Off, an R&B and disco outing polished with soulful hooks, complex changes, funky guitar vamps, and extended horn solos, like on the six-and-a-half-minute “Minor Yours.” The record never made it to radio; new wave had begun to take the city by storm. Factions arose between new-wave and funk proponents within the group, and the band underwent a sea change in its roster. A mass exodus transpired, and Smith set to work steering Nu Shooz back to the horn-based funk he loved deeply.

In 1985, a 7-inch single called “I Can’t Wait” was released on the band’s own Poolside Records imprint. “It took six months in the studio to make it work,” says Smith. “For a long time, it was this long, plodding song. I was ready to pull the plug on it. Then one day, I listened to ‘Jungle Love’ by the Time. There was this bottle part—percussion played on wine bottles. We appropriated that, and then the track started to move.”

As local reviews of the single cropped up, DJ Gary Bryan of Portland’s Z100 read on-air one critic’s assessment of the track that praised the song with the caveat that Top 40 radio would never play it. Right then, Bryan announced to the band, “If you’re out there, come on down!” The group’s manager, Rick Waritz, immediately hopped on his Vespa, tape in hand, and within an hour, “I Can’t Wait” was broadcast. The phones lit up. Before long, stations in Seattle and Boise were playing the track as well.

Suddenly, the group had a hit, albeit regionally. Nu Shooz had no luck shopping their wares to a major label. No one was interested. As the buzz surrounding them began to subside, so did the group’s hopes in breaking out of the regional beat they’d been limited to for six years.

Nu Shooz

Meanwhile in Holland, twenty-one-year-old Peter Slaghuis picked up a 12-inch version of “I Can’t Wait” in a record bin. Though unsuccessful in inking a contract with the majors, the group had managed to license the single to a record pool called Hot Trax. The Hot Trax records were mostly distributed to DJs with limited international export.

There were only a thousand copies pressed.

Slaguis was taken by the record and tried his hand at a remix. “The first time I heard the remix,” Smith recalls, “we were on the road. Rick called us and played it over the phone. I said, ‘I like this mix because I never would have thought of it in a million years.’” The “Dutch Mix” (as it would later be referred to) made its way back to the States as an import on Injection Records, lighting up the discos of New York City and initially selling ten thousand copies per week. “Larry Levan probably made our career,” Smith affirms. “He was playing the heck out of our record at the Garage.”

Atlantic Records quickly signed the band. Nu Shooz bounced between recording studios, mixed with legends such as Shep Pettibone, Mantronix, and John Morales, and performed live at iconic New York venues the Paradise Garage, the Palladium, and the Roseland. Smith had made it back to New York—this time riding high off the work he and his group accomplished back home in Portland.

As “I Can’t Wait” began its ascent up the Billboard charts, Atlantic initially chose not to expose the identity of the band via photos or press-release material. “Everyone thought we were either Dutch or Black,” recalls Valerie Day. “I remember taking the stage to an all-Black crowd in New Jersey, and these women in front just gave me the finger! “Then I took a conga solo.”

Nu Shooz embarked on a rigorous international tour schedule in 1986. Invitations to appear on Top of the Pops, American Bandstand, and Soul Train began to pour in. By the year’s end, “I Can’t Wait” was at number three on the Billboard chart, and the band was nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist. Thirty years later, the song has been sampled by artists ranging from Spyder D and Naughty by Nature to Brian McKnight, Vanessa Williams, and 50 Cent.

“I Can’t Wait” still plays somewhere on Earth every eleven minutes.

Nu Shooz

After another record with Atlantic and enduring the forgettable pop music culture of the late ’80s, Nu Shooz called it quits in 1992. “It wasn’t fun anymore,” Smith says. “The original idea was to have a band where we learned just enough [dance music] to play gigs, but it would be a front organization for an avant-garde jazz group. It didn’t turn out that way.”

Smith and Day soon went back to the drawing board, back to the eclecticism of their early endeavors. John has since scored for film, dance, and commercials. Valerie teaches Jazz Vocal Studies at Portland State University and is an advocate for arts education locally. With their son out of the house, the pair have recently reunited with former members of Nu Shooz. The band is once again playing shows. There is even talk of a new record.

“Funk is coming back to Portland,” declares Smith. “There’s all these new young soul bands happening right now. I feel like I’m home again.”

Nu Shooz

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Synth-pop and jazz-funk mixtape featuring Portland’s Nu Shooz http://www.waxpoetics.com/music/mixtape/synth-pop-and-jazz-funk-mixtape-featuring-portlands-nu-shooz/ http://www.waxpoetics.com/music/mixtape/synth-pop-and-jazz-funk-mixtape-featuring-portlands-nu-shooz/#comments Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:42:26 +0000 http://www.waxpoetics.com/?p=49128 As a record digger and DJ, I’m often deconstructing what makes a hit. Whether it’s needle-dropping in a record shop’s...

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Nu Shooz

As a record digger and DJ, I’m often deconstructing what makes a hit. Whether it’s needle-dropping in a record shop’s listening booth or pulling stacks for the club, I’m perpetually sorting out rare and hit-worthy songs that will prevent me from relying on the actual hits to keep the dance floor alive. Every selector is different in this way. This is just how I am. I’d rather not tap into the Billboard song book if I don’t have to.

That said, when I do play the hits, there are only so many I’m apt to play. “I Can’t Wait” by Nu Shooz is one. The track made the band’s career and this was no accident. The Portland, Oregon, group was wowing listeners for nearly seven years before the single’s release and continues to do so thirty-six years since their first rehearsal. Nu Shooz’ catalog of under-played “hits” is impressive, with myriad aesthetic choices made and styles represented—from blue-eyed soul arrangements to new-wave rocker steez, balearic house, G-funk, and more. The fifty-minute mix below is a listening guide to my story for Wax Poetics Issue 62, an alternate history of the band’s output, as well as an homage to the offbeat gems that remain hits in my book.

Read the full Nu Shooz story.

Track List

1. “Someone Is Calling” [Unreleased] 1983
2. “Don’t Turn Back” B-side to “I Can’t Wait” 7-inch (Poolside Records) 1985
3. “Minor Yours” Can’t Turn It Off (Nebula Circle Records) 1982
4. “Caught in the Wheels” Can’t Turn It Off (Nebula Circle) 1982
5. “Free to Be” Can’t Turn It Off (Nebula Circle) 1982
6. “Make Your Mind Up” B-side to “Goin’ Too Far” 7-inch (Poolside) 1985
7. “I Can’t Wait (Original Extended Mix)” Pride of Portland compilation LP (Z100 Radio) 1985
8. “Should I Say Yes? (Mantronik Bassapella Remix)” 12-inch (Atlantic Records) 1988
9. “Time Will Tell (Frankie Knuckles Late Night Club Remix)” 12-inch (Atlantic) 1992
10. “Don’t Let Me Be the One” Poolside (Atlantic) 1986
11. “The Truth (ft. Maceo Parker)” B-side to “Are Your Looking For Somebody Nu” 12-inch (Atlantic) 1988
12. “Anytime (Instrumental) (Bobby D Edit)” [Unreleased] 2015
13. “Stop Pretending” Kung Pao Kitchen [self-released] 1991/2012

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New Arabic music mixtape Habibi Funk 003 by Jannis of Jakarta Records http://www.waxpoetics.com/music/mixtape/new-arabic-music-mixtape-habibi-funk-003-by-jannis-of-jakarta-records/ http://www.waxpoetics.com/music/mixtape/new-arabic-music-mixtape-habibi-funk-003-by-jannis-of-jakarta-records/#comments Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:05:28 +0000 http://www.waxpoetics.com/?p=49130 “Earlier this month, I was in North Africa for another digging trip and ended up finding quite some records I...

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“Earlier this month, I was in North Africa for another digging trip and ended up finding quite some records I didn’t know before or I had no copy of, so I felt it was time for another mix,” says Jakarta Records’ Jannis Stürtz of his June 2015 excursion. He has previously laid down some Arabic heat for those of us who obsess about finding previously unheard tunes. Thus, Jannis drops Habibi Funk 003 Mix, with music from Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Lebanon.

“After every mix I make, I feel like, ‘Uhh, getting enough records I like for the next one will be tough,'” he continues. “But every time, I end up getting proven wrong by the rich musical heritage of Arabic musicians that worked on combining local influences with Western musical traditions. Just like Dalton, the Tunisian band we just re-released on our new Habibi Funk label, who are also prominently featured on this mix.”

Apart from the Dalton re-release, Habibi Funk will be rereleasing music by Fadoul, Morocco’s answer to James Brown, who was also featured on the first two mixes.

Track list:

1. Carthago – Alech – Tunisia
2. Dalton – Alech – Tunisia (As re-released by Habibi Funk)
3. Ishan Al Munzer – Jamileh – Lebanon
4. Abd El Azim Abdallah – Ayam Ma Tayebouh – Sudan (Habibi EDIT)
5. Hamad Elrebh – Shahr Shareen – Sudan
6. Ousmane – Telass – Morocco
7. Dalton – Soul Brother – Tunisia (As re-released by Habibi Funk)
8. Golden Hands – Country Scenes – Morocco
9. Ammar Sheriyi – Gabar – Egypt
10. Naima Samih & Abdou El Omari – Zifaf Filada – Morocco
11. Ammar Sheriyi – Shagalouni – Egypt

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A Tribe Called Quest perform “Check the Rhime” with Paul Shaffer’s band on Late Night with David Letterman http://www.waxpoetics.com/music/videos/a-tribe-called-quest-perform-check-the-rhime-with-paul-shaffers-band-on-late-night-with-david-letterman/ http://www.waxpoetics.com/music/videos/a-tribe-called-quest-perform-check-the-rhime-with-paul-shaffers-band-on-late-night-with-david-letterman/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 18:36:11 +0000 http://www.waxpoetics.com/?p=49122   In the 1990s, “King of the Rappers” David Letterman supported golden-era hip-hop, despite Arsenio being the main spot where MCs...

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In the 1990s, “King of the Rappers” David Letterman supported golden-era hip-hop, despite Arsenio being the main spot where MCs got down. As we saw when Paul Shaffer and the World’s Most Dangerous Band backed the legendary James Brown, Paul is at it again, and as hip as ever, as his band plays with A Tribe Called Quest on “Check the Rhime,” interpolating the sampled parts—from the main bass line and keyboards from Minnie Riperton’s “Baby, This Love I Have,” as well as the horn line from Average White Band’s classic “Love Your Life.”

After watching this clip, it kinda makes you want to fall down a musical time-warp for the day. Who needs to work…?

Notes: Original broadcast on January 28, 1993. Letterman mentions that The Low End Theory had sold half a million copies to date; it was released in September 1991, so it had been over a year. Midnight Marauders would come out later that year in November 1993. In this performance, Phife is showing symptoms of diabetes.

Thanks to DJ Zeph for hipping us to this video.

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[LISTEN] Pat Van Dyke drops remix EP, Technicolor HI-FI Remixes, and 7-inch with DJ Spinna remix http://www.waxpoetics.com/music/new-releases/pat-van-dyke-drops-remix-ep-technicolor-hi-fi-remixes-and-7-inch-with-dj-spinna-remix/ http://www.waxpoetics.com/music/new-releases/pat-van-dyke-drops-remix-ep-technicolor-hi-fi-remixes-and-7-inch-with-dj-spinna-remix/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 17:05:32 +0000 http://www.waxpoetics.com/?p=49116 Drummer, composer, and producer Pat Van Dyke revisits his 2013 release, the Fender Rhodes–rich Technicolor HI-FI, with a new ten-track digital remix...

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Pat Van Dyke

Drummer, composer, and producer Pat Van Dyke revisits his 2013 release, the Fender Rhodes–rich Technicolor HI-FI, with a new ten-track digital remix EP and a 7-inch that includes the DJ Spinna remix of “Two Sides.” Cop the 45 and get the EP digital download for free.

Other remixers include Van Dyke himself, Buscrates 16 Bit Ensemble (ATL) , Moods (Netherlands), Fancy Colors (NYC), John Robinson, Lux DeVille, and Melinda Camille.

Listen below to the album before it drops tomorrow, June 30.

About Pat Van Dyke:

PVD is a drummer, composer, producer, & band leader. Equally comfortable behind the drums as he is writing songs at the Fender Rhodes, PVD balances the rhythmic intensity of true-school hip-hop with the rich harmony & refreshing subtlety of jazz. Live instrumentation & analog synths, alongside vintage keys & lush horns, all combine to straddle the boundaries of electronic music, jazz, & hip-hop. 

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A farewell to Blue Note’s Bruce Lundvall, Sept. 13, 1935–May 19, 2015 http://www.waxpoetics.com/news/in-memoriam/a-farewell-to-blue-notes-bruce-lundvall-sept-13-1935-may-19-2015/ http://www.waxpoetics.com/news/in-memoriam/a-farewell-to-blue-notes-bruce-lundvall-sept-13-1935-may-19-2015/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 20:32:32 +0000 http://www.waxpoetics.com/?p=49109 Bruce Lundvall’s passing was a sad occasion and a great loss to jazz and the music community as a whole....

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Bruce Lundvall

Bruce Lundvall’s passing was a sad occasion and a great loss to jazz and the music community as a whole. In fond remembrance, I’d like to share a “New York minute” I experienced one night when I had the pleasure of picking up his tab.

In the spring of 2004, the great Jackie McLean and Bobby Hutcherson performed at the Iridium jazz club with the their old Blue Note colleague Grachan Moncur III. Mosiac Records had recently released Moncur’s entire Blue Note catalog, and this performance marked the occasion, and Lundvall, being the head of Blue Note Records, was in attendence, as well as Michael Cuscuna, the man behind Mosaic.

I just began my tenure with Moncur at the time of this concert and the Mosaic box set project in the eleventh hour. One of the perks of the job were front-row seats plus one, including comped dinner and drinks, all the trimmings for a great cultural evening.

To my surprise, sitting next to my table less than three inches away was Michael Cuscuna and Bruce Lundvall. Both titans in keeping jazz alive and relevant and with a body of work that is awe inspiring. I soaked in the moment and smiled and thought, “Only in New York.”

The show was magnificent and the band stormed through an avalanche of the classic tunes they created together during their Blue Note years. Beautiful, cerebral, and swinging numbers like “Blue Rondo,” “Riff Raff,” and “Air Raid” filled the Iridium. It was an occasion to behold for any serious lover of jazz.

After the show, the waiters came around to settle the tabs. Due to some mixup, Lundvall’s house account couldn’t be accessed and he and Cuscuna didn’t have their wallets on them. After a brief discussion between Lundvall and the waiter, I interjected and gave the waiter my card and said I’d pick up the tab. It was the least I could do to give something back after a no-cost night of music, food, and spirits—and legends.

At first, he declined, and then I told him it would be an honor, especially for all the work he’d done for the cause—from one jazz fan to another. He smiled and expressed his gratitude, and then opened up with a conversation that went on for about an hour between us and my guest. A wonderful experience.

Later, when Grachan came around, Lundvall congratulated him on the performance, and we all had another round. When Lundvall made his exit, he thanked me again, we shook hands and traded business cards.

Grachan asked me what the thanks was all about and I told him what happened, in which Grachan began laughing and pointed his finger at me in mock ridicule. His response was, “You paid the tab for someone like Bruce Lundvall! He should’ve paid yours!” I reminded him, I didn’t have one and that I felt it was a wonderful karmic moment to pay it forward. An improvised gesture….something jazz musician’s do.


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Australian salsa group Quarter Street release single, video, free download http://www.waxpoetics.com/music/tracks/australian-salsa-group-quarter-street-release-single-video-free-download/ http://www.waxpoetics.com/music/tracks/australian-salsa-group-quarter-street-release-single-video-free-download/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 19:09:21 +0000 http://www.waxpoetics.com/?p=49104   In the 1970s and ’80s, many Latin Americans fled their home countries during the tumultuous times of coups, revolutions, and...

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In the 1970s and ’80s, many Latin Americans fled their home countries during the tumultuous times of coups, revolutions, and civil wars. Some of these refugees and migrants ended up in Australia, where they raised their families with knowledge of their homeland, as well as the salsa dura that was so prevalent in New York City and exported the world over.

With such solid influences as Willie Colón, Eddie Palmieri, and Hector Lavoe, the guys from Melbourne’s Quarter Street create authentic music, with vocalist Sergio Botero helming the ship and Cuban brass virtuoso Lazaro Numa adding a taste of Havana to the underlying mix of classic Puerto Rican/New York styles.

The core group has been doing their thing for a couple years, but this is their first release, and one of Australia’s first salsa dura records.

Their newest single, “Fantasía,” can be downloaded for free.

Quarter Street’s self-titled LP will be available worldwide through HopeStreet Recordings, FatBeats, Kudos, and Rocket distribution on Friday, August 14, 2015.

Quarter Street

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Kerbside Collection spins jazz-funk mixtape of influences http://www.waxpoetics.com/music/mixtape/kerbside-collection-spins-jazz-funk-mixtape-of-influences/ http://www.waxpoetics.com/music/mixtape/kerbside-collection-spins-jazz-funk-mixtape-of-influences/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 23:08:48 +0000 http://www.waxpoetics.com/?p=49099 Aussie jazz-funk crew Kerbside Collection have created a nice mixtape that features the music that influences their new album Trash...

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Aussie jazz-funk crew Kerbside Collection have created a nice mixtape that features the music that influences their new album Trash or Treasure.

Spun by their drummer Paprika (real name, just kidding), you’ll hear our Belgian heros, Marc Moulin and his group Placebo, as well as the Stance Brothers, the Whitefield Brothers, fellow Aussies the Bamboos, Unity Sextet, Bobby Hughes, and some U.K. library music.

Jazz-funk lives.

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Vinyl Me, Please reissues Lee “Scratch” Perry and the Upsetters’ Super Ape http://www.waxpoetics.com/news/vinyl-me-please-reissues-lee-scratch-perry-and-the-upsetters-super-ape/ http://www.waxpoetics.com/news/vinyl-me-please-reissues-lee-scratch-perry-and-the-upsetters-super-ape/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 20:56:07 +0000 http://www.waxpoetics.com/?p=49088 Perhaps one of the most misunderstood records in Lee “Scratch” Perry’s catalog and the reggae genre, Super Ape was slept on by...

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Lee "Scratch" Perry 'Super Ape' (Vinyl Me, Please)

Perhaps one of the most misunderstood records in Lee “Scratch” Perry’s catalog and the reggae genre, Super Ape was slept on by fans for years but now considered to be Perry’s masterpiece. Often thought of as a dub album, it doesn’t quite sound like what one thinks of when you say dub. Perry did indeed take his own popular riddims and deconstructed them, but he so subtly twisted knobs and slid faders to create new versions instead of heavy echoes and isolations. In fact, the recording is very dense and layered, and dark. Perry took two of his Max Romeo hits—“Chase the Devil” (the original being famously sampled by Jay Z for “Lucifer”) and “War ina Babylon”—and flipped them, with “Black Vest” (the latter’s flip) being an album highlight.

Super Ape by Lemi GhariokwuA clean, original version of the record is quite hard to find, and be prepared to pay $50 and up if you’re lucky enough to find one. However, the record club Vinyl Me, Please is reissuing the album on green 150g vinyl for their July release. For music fans who love to be introduced to new music, as well as obsessives who love custom reissues, Vinyl Me, Please is pretty stellar. They ship their records in a custom heavy-duty mailer (and email you when it’s shipping), and every release comes with a treat. Just as the Dilla Donuts release came with a color print from Ready2Rumbl, the Super Ape release comes with its own art print: a 12 x 12 print by Nigerian artist Lemi Ghariokwu (of Fela Kuti fame), as well as a sweet ape stencil!

Sign up today to ensure your limited-edition copy.

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Natural Fact: The Nina Simone Story http://www.waxpoetics.com/features/articles/natural-fact-the-nina-simone-story/ http://www.waxpoetics.com/features/articles/natural-fact-the-nina-simone-story/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 06:40:36 +0000 http://www.waxpoetics.com/?p=49022 Nina Simone had no filter. She spoke with candor about civil rights when many in her position didn’t dare. She sang about uncomfortable subjects and made sure her audiences understood what those songs were really about. Whether due to the demons that haunted her or the overpowering desire for social justice that burned deep in her heart, Simone always told the goddam truth.

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“White people had Judy Garland. We had Nina.”  –Richard Pryor

It was a humid summer evening in Philadelphia in 2000 when I met the legendary singer, pianist, and activist Nina Simone. At sixty-seven years old, the squat Simone, who began her musical journey as a child playing gentle classical music and gospel hymns in her hometown church, Old St. Luke’s CME in Tryon, North Carolina, was back in “the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection” to be honored for her contributions to Black music.


Since leaving the country in 1970, Simone lived in Barbados, Liberia, Switzerland, and England; in 1993, she finally settled in the South of France. However, thirty years after becoming what her friend LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) once dubbed “the classic Black exile,” Nina was back in her adopted hometown.

With its cracked bell and cheesesteak sandwiches, Sigma Sound Studio and Rocky movies, Philadelphia was where a teenaged girl named Eunice Waymon changed her name to Nina Simone and launched a successful career after throwing away a rejection letter from the city’s prestigious Curtis Institute of Music.

Based in the same city where Nina once faced many disappointments and challenges, the International Association of African American Music (IAAAM) was elated when “the Black poetess of protest” accepted their invitation to be honored at their tenth annual Diamond Award for Excellence. Previous honorees of the award included Nancy Wilson, Little Jimmy Scott, Gladys Knight, Teddy Pendergrass, and Billy Eckstine.

Held in the grand ballroom of the landmark Bellevue Hotel on Broad and Walnut Streets, the event was a sit-down black-tie dinner for a thousand people. Although warned the star could be tough and demanding, eleven years after the event, IAAAM cofounder Dyana Williams describes the Simone experience as “satisfying and rewarding.”

Nina Simone

Courtesy of ninasimone.com


With a guest list that included soul, jazz, and rap luminaries Kenny Gamble, Eve, Freddie Hubbard, Eddie and Gerald Levert, McCoy Tyner, Nicholas Payton, Queen Latifah, and others, there was also a moving tribute to Simone performed by then divas-in-training Jill Scott, Angie Stone, Jaguar Wright, and N’Dambi Blue. “I was already a fan when I was first asked to be part of the tribute, but out of respect, I was nervous about doing Nina’s material,” N’Dambi says. A year later, she recorded “Ode 2 Nina” on her second album Tunin Up & Cosignin.

Talking via telephone from Los Angeles, N’Dambi continues, “I performed ‘Four Women’ with the other singers, but by myself I sang ‘Mississippi Goddam.’ With that song, she gave a voice to so many people who would’ve been otherwise ignored. She gave awareness to the entire world of what it means to be us.”

Following the performance, Simone gave a speech. “Nina talked about how hard it was to come back to Philly,” explains Dyana Williams, who was instrumental in getting Simone to the city. Williams remembers, “She always believed racism kept her out of that school. But the night of the gala, it was obvious, as she said in her speech from the stage, ‘Success is the best revenge.’ ”

Standing next to the exit door as Dyana escorted Simone out of the ballroom, I was introduced to the grande dame and became a bit flustered. Shaking her soft hand, I mumbled nervously about how touching her speech was. Having heard about Simone’s strange behavior and wicked tongue more than I ever listened to her music, I was prepared for the worst.

Instead, she was very generous and kind. With a pleasant expression, she smiled with red-painted lips. As she stared into my eyes, something about her stately presence connected to my soul. “Thank you,” Simone said, her rich, hearty accent as majestic as the woman herself.

Nina Simone

Writer and Soulmusic.com co-owner David Nathan, an old friend of Simone’s from the days when he was president of her British fan club in the ’60s, also stood next to her. “Believe it or not,” he says, “that was the first time Nina had ever been honored in America, and she loved it.”

Former Philadelphia Daily News entertainment reporter Mister Mann Frisby, who also attended the IAAAM event, says, “I wasn’t that much into Nina Simone before that night, but I left the Bellevue Hotel one of her biggest fans. When I heard Jill Scott and the rest of the girls singing the lyrics to ‘Four Women,’ I realized I had been missing something special and had a lot of catching up to do. Prior to that night, I felt like I was too young to really appreciate Nina Simone, but afterwards, it all connected.”

When the then twenty-five-year-old writer met Simone, he was surprised by her sly sense of humor. “After telling me how much she liked my name, she said, ‘Can I ask you a question?’ ” Frisby recalls leaning in to hear what Nina Simone could possibility want. “She said, ‘Could you please move over, you’re blocking my bodyguard.’ And we both started laughing.”

Nina Simone Silk & Soul

Like Frisby, I too entered the ornately decorated ballroom a Nina novice. Having grown up with a mom who preferred the pop of Sinatra over the gritty protests of Nina Simone’s classics, my knowledge of her was limited to 1993’s Point of No Return soundtrack and Lauryn Hill proclaiming on the Fugees’ “Ready or Not” in 1996, “So while you imitatin’ Al Capone, I be Nina Simone and defecating on your microphone.”

More than a few artists I’d interviewed—including Tricky, Joi, Q-Tip, Fiona Apple, Massive Attack, Mary J. Blige, DJ Premier, and Erykah Badu—raved about Simone, referring to her as a genius, but I was baffled by her brooding brilliance. Yet after diving deep into her discography, listening continuously to her mesmerizing (some say unconventional) voice, it finally clicked. “No fear!” Nina blurted once when asked to define her idea of freedom. “No fear.”

Listening to her music, especially the revolutionary sides recorded from 1963 to 1970, it is obvious that the one place Simone felt free was in the studio. Be it the haunting romanticism of “Wild Is the Wind,” the Molotov cocktail of “Mississippi Goddam,” the whimsy of “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” the enticing strut of “Feels Good,” or the joy of “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” one can hear the freedom in her voice.

While her world could be heavy or dark, she never sounded fearful when singing into the microphone. As Mister Mann Frisby says, “Nina Simone didn’t give a fuck.”

Nina Simone. Photo by Tony Gale

Photo by Tony Gale


“She was Black before it was fashionable to be Black.”  –Gil Scott-Heron


In the beginning, she was just a simple Southern girl blessed with the talent to play piano. Born Eunice Waymon, the precocious child began playing in church, where her mother was a preacher. Later, she furthered her musical education under the guidance of local White teachers who schooled her in Bach and Beethoven. “I started off as a child prodigy,” Simone explained to New Music Express’s Gavin Martin in 1984. “You know what that is? A child prodigy plays anything they hear. I didn’t start playing gospel; I started playing bop, gospel, jazz, blues, and hymns…anything I heard.”

Simone strived and practiced with the desire to be a classical pianist and began setting her goals on playing onstage in symphony halls, not on the floors of sawdusted saloons. Graduating from high school in 1950, young Eunice relocated to Harlem for the summer and began studying at Julliard. With her musical sights set on attending Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where the Waymon family relocated that same year, she used her time at Julliard to prepare for the arduous audition.

Yet, while confident in her abilities, when Eunice finally performed for the judges at Curtis, she was rejected.

“The Curtis Institute refused to consider my scholarship application because I was black,” Simone told writer Lloyd Bradley in 1991. “I knew I was much better than many of the students who had passed it. That rejection left me hurt and bitter for many years, because although I was aware of the racial divisions from growing up in the South, up until then the white people I’d come into contact with through my music—at home and in the schools—had always been very supportive.

“Going to the Curtis Institute was something I’d practiced for six hours every day and I don’t think I’ve ever quite recovered from that disappointment.” Nevertheless, it was that rejection that set into motion her career as a recording artist when she began performing popular songs in bars and supper clubs. In order not to bring shame on her family, Eunice changed her name to Nina Simone.

Nina Simone I Put a Spell On You

In the biography Princess Noire: The Tumultuous Reign of Nina Simone (Pantheon, 2010), author Nadine Cohodas points out the contradicting statements Simone offered about her stage name: “ ‘I chose the name Nina because I had always been called Nina—meaning little one—as a child,’ she told the Philadelphia Sunday Bulletin in 1960, though…her older siblings had [no] recollection of the nickname. In a different interview the same year with the magazine Rogue she said ‘Nina’ was adapted from a boyfriend who called her Niña. ‘I don’t know where the hell I got Simone from.’ When she published her memoir [I Put a Spell on You (cowritten with Stephen Cleary)] in 1991, Nina said that ‘Simone’ came from her appreciation of the French film star Simone Signoret.” Whatever the truth was, as a Southern girl attempting to reinvent herself as a worldly show-business star, “Nina Simone” had the perfect ring.

Playing piano in Atlantic City and Philadelphia, Simone became a singer when some club owners insisted. While she didn’t think that being a singer was “any big thing,” she began covering show tunes and pop songs in her sets. With a voice that could be haunting or haughty, spellbinding or savage, virginal or seductive, Nina discovered that people loved her singing.

While her newly adopted hometown had disappointed her with the Curtis Institute rejection, Philadelphia had a lot to offer the budding artist. In addition to studying with Vladimir Sokoloff, a noted teacher from Curtis, Nina played at the New Hope Playhouse Inn where she met guitarist Al Schackman, who would become her band director, as well as being her good friend for fifty years.

Signing with Bethlehem Records, which was owned by King Records honcho Syd Nathan, she released her debut album Jazz as Played in an Exclusive Side Street Club (aka Little Girl Blue) in 1958. “We recorded the whole session in fourteen hours and the last song we did was ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me,’ ” Nina recalled in her autobiography. The only reason her new friend Al Schackman didn’t play on the session was because of a prior commitment with Burt Bacharach on the West Coast.

Nina_Simone_-_Little_Girl_BlueOriginally titled Central Park Blues, after a song on the album, the charming cover photograph was shot in the Manhattan park by jazz lensman Chuck Stewart. In the liner notes, Joseph Muranyi writes, “A rare commodity in jazz is a new singer who has something to say and sufficient technique and voice with which to express it. It’s always pleasant to hear a good voice and hers, with its strong individuality, assuredly commands your attention while the aural reward for listening is bountiful.”

When Philly radio personality Sid Mark played Simone’s cover of George Gershwin’s “I Loves You, Porgy” on his program The Mark of Jazz, the local singer began generating a little heat.

According to a 1993 article by Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Karl Stark, “Mark liked the tune so much that he would play it on the radio three or four times in a row. Within six months, it had spread up and down the East Coast. Because of the demand created by Little Girl Blue, Simone was signed to play a concert at New York’s Town Hall on September 12, 1959, and the performance—later released as the now out-of-print Nina Simone at Town Hall—turned her into a celebrity.”

In 2007, Sid Mark told Victor L. Schermer of the All About Jazz website, “Nina was something else. We had hours of discussions on the numerous radio and TV shows we did together. When I discovered her, she was just playing piano at a little joint in Philly at 22nd and Chestnut. It was a bar, and she wasn’t singing, just playing the piano.

“At the time,” Mark continued, “I was working at a jazz room called the Red Hill Inn in Pennsauken, New Jersey. I brought her in, she started singing, and for some strange reason people objected and wanted her to just play the piano! Boy, they were proven wrong.”

In Simone’s autobiography, she wrote: “To cast the spell over an audience I would start with a song to create a certain mood which I carried into the next song and then on through into the third, until I created a certain climax of feeling and by then they would be hypnotized.”

Years later, her daughter, Lisa Celeste Kelly—who had a sometimes stormy relationship with Simone—says, “I don’t ever recall Mom singing around the house. I often wonder if she even liked her voice.”

Nina Simone


“If art moves us—touches our spirit—it is not easily forgotten.”  –Bell Hooks


Like many brilliant artists, including her friend Richard Pryor who used to open for her at the Village Gate in New York City, Nina Simone began her career playing it safe in terms of material. However, listening to her live, one could hear what set her apart from her contemporaries. “When I saw her at the Village Vanguard in the early ’60s, I was in awe,” jazz aficionado and record collector Carl Campbell recalls. “Nina was a deep musician, and it was obvious even then that she was ahead of her time.”

While both fans and critics initially thought of Nina Simone as a mere jazz singer, it became apparent that she was much more. “Nina broke new ground, made new shapes of sounds we thought we knew, but didn’t really know before her,” says memoirist/journalist Asha Bandele. “She refused confinement, classification, or even to be commodified.”

Moving to New York City in 1959, Nina began breaking out of her shell at a time when “If you’re Black, step back” was the vibe of the country. When Jim Crow soared over the South, Simone was one of the few “Negro” pop idols with the courage to speak out against America’s social injustices.

Inspired by her literary friendships with novelist James Baldwin, author LeRoi Jones, poet Langston Hughes, and playwright Lorraine Hansberry—the author of A Raisin in the Sun whom critic Harold Cruse sarcastically dubbed the “great mentor”—Simone transformed from supper-club vocalist to militant musician whose tunes became the soundtrack of an angry generation. “Nina sang songs directly aimed at the civil rights movement and Black liberation movement,” remembers Baraka. “She was very vocal on her own struggle against racism.”


While Simone came from a humble background, her new friend Hansberry was reared upper-middle class in Chicago. Hansberry’s father, Carl, was a real estate broker who was sued by racist Whites when he dared to move to then segregated Hyde Park. Forced to vacate his home when he violated a law prohibiting Negroes from buying homes in certain neighborhoods, he took the case to the Supreme Court and won a landmark decision in 1940.

Moving to New York City in 1950, Hansberry lived in Greenwich Village and took classes in writing at the New School for Social Research. As evidence of Hansberry’s motivational skills, she delivered a speech in 1959 declaring, “Let no Negro artist who thinks himself deserving of the title take pen to paper—or, for that matter, body to dance or voice to speech or song—if in doing so the content of that which he presents or performs suggests to the nations of the world that our people do not yet languish under privation and hatred and brutality and political oppression in every state… The truth demands its own equals.”

The friendship with Hansberry played a major role in Nina’s conversion from pop pacifist to rhythmic revolutionary. According to her biographer Nadine Cohodas, “Nina knew she needed prodding to get more involved [politically], and her good friend Lorraine Hansberry turned out to be the catalyst.”

Nina Simone

Courtesy of ninasimone.com


Nina married Andrew (Andy) Stroud in 1961 in her uptown apartment, and a year later her only daughter, Lisa Celeste Stroud, was born on September 12, 1962. A professional singer and actress, Lisa performed in Aida on Broadway and often does tributes to her mother under the stage name Simone. In 2010, along with Laura Izibor, Ledisi, and her mother’s voice, Lisa appeared on the For Colored Girls soundtrack version of “Four Women.”

“My father was Mommy’s manager, and they both were extremely aggressive, ambitious, strong people,” she says. “When you have two personalities like that, sparks can fly. I do believe he’s the one who should be thanked for the world knowing who she is, because he took his retirement money from the NYPD to put her up at Carnegie Hall as a top-billed act, which was her dream. He told me that the show broke even, but then he did it again, and that’s when promoters started calling wanting to book her. Europe started calling, and it went from there.”

Blues & Soul writer David Nathan first met Nina in 1968 when he greeted her at the airport in England. “Some people, when they’re very sensitive, they cover it up,” he theorizes. “Nina expressed her sensitivity through her music. When you got to know her, you had to let her know that you weren’t scared, but I was sixteen when I met her, so I was terrified.

Nina Simone

“When Nina came to the U.K., it blew her mind that all these young White Brit kids were asking for her autograph. It was so not the world that she was used to, and she loved it. We did a signing at the record store [Soul City] where I worked, and we asked her if she wanted any LPs, and she picked up a Sam & Dave album. ‘I like them,’ Nina said. ‘They’re cool.’ ”

With Andy by her side, David got a chance to talk to them both. “I think her husband’s desire for Nina’s success was greater than her own. He thought of her as the best-kept secret and was aggressive in making sure that Nina was marketed well. He made her deals with Philips and RCA, but that kind of popularity comes at a price. It was exciting and a conflict.”

Seven months after being born, baby Lisa was christened at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Harlem, and Hansberry was named her godmother. In a picture published in Jet magazine, a tired Nina holds her crying baby while the minister, Andy, and Hansberry smile brightly. “Through [Hansberry], I started thinking about myself as a black person in a country run by white people and a woman in a world run by men,” Simone said of her friend in her autobiography.

“All the truths that I had denied to myself for so long rose up and slapped me in the face. The [1963] bombing of the little girls in Alabama and the murder of Medgar Evers were like the final pieces of a jigsaw that made no sense until you fitted the whole thing together. I suddenly realized what it was to be black in America in 1963, but it wasn’t an intellectual connection of the type Lorraine had been repeating to me over and over—it came as a rush of fury, hatred and determination.”

Sharing an intellectual and artistic sisterhood, their passions soon fed the creativity of other Black female painters, poets, political prisoners, playwrights, and other artistic souls including Angela Davis, Ntozake Shange, Faith Ringgold, Michelle Wallace, Toni Cade Bambara, Toni Morrison, Julie Dash, Tamar-kali, Wangechi Mutu, and countless others.

After hearing about the bombing at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham on September 15, 1963, Simone claims that she tried to make a gun in the house. When her husband/manager Andrew Stroud saw her on the kitchen floor, the former NYPD detective said, “Nina, you don’t know anything about killing. The only thing you’ve got is music.”

Nina Simone In Concert

Dragging herself from the floor to the piano, she began playing and singing, “Alabama’s got me so upset / Tennessee made me lose my rest / And everybody knows about Mississippi—Goddam!” Soon after, the song was finished. It appeared on her first Philips Records release, Nina Simone in Concert, recorded at Carnegie Hall in 1964.

“ ‘Mississippi Goddam’ I wrote in about an hour,” Simone told NME in 1984. “ ‘Four Women’ was written overnight, but it took me four months before I had the nerve to play it to somebody, because I thought it would be rejected. I played it for my husband on an airplane one day; I thought he wasn’t going to like it because it was so direct and blatant.”

Growing out her permed hair in favor of a natural, and shedding her stage gowns for African dresses, the jazzy soul singer who looked so genteel in her pretty dress on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1960 began frightening folks with her appearance and lyrics. “Nina was very intense,” Amiri Baraka says, “both on and offstage.”

“With the Civil Rights movement, though, I saw that by singing protest songs and appearing on platforms for the various organizations, I could use my interpretations of popular music to speak out to and for black people all over the world,” Nina told Q magazine in 1991. “I was desperate to be accepted by the Civil Rights leaders, and when I was, I gave them ten years of singing protest songs. In turn, it was the only time when I’ve been truly inspired by anything other than the music of composers like Mozart, Czerny, Liszt, and Rachmaninov.”

Sadly, less than two years after Simone recorded “Mississippi Goddam,” Lorraine Hansberry died from cancer at the age of thirty-four. Hansberry’s husband and literary executor, Robert Nemiroff, described his wife as “passionate about everything in life. She loved a good argument and would forcefully defend ideas she cared about.”

Still mourning her friend’s death while also celebrating Hansberry’s teachings and legacy, Nina marched with Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery and also performed for the crowd from a rickety stage. “A number of stars came down to perform, but I think Nina Simone stole the show,” Andrew Young told a news reporter. “Her music so reflected the soul and the feelings of the people there.”

Five years later, Nina borrowed the title of a Hansberry collection of short plays, articles, and essays, and cowrote with Weldon Irvine the seminal song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.” In 2004, a year after Nina’s death, her daughter, Lisa, says, “One of the first things I remember as a child was being in the studio when she and Weldon Irvine were working on ‘Young, Gifted and Black.’ Weldon was very laid-back and talented. He and my mother got along well. A personality like my mother’s was offset very well by his laid-back personality. The first things I think about were his eyes, which were very big. He was the man when it came to organ and piano.”


In 2000, Irvine told music journalist Oliver Wang, “I saw Nina Simone when I was second year at Hampton [University]. She was such a perfectionist. I said, I’d give anything to just play one gig with Nina Simone. But I didn’t think it would come to pass because she was a pianist and I was a pianist. In 1968, she decided that she wanted to be liberated from the piano. She wanted to hire an organist. She auditioned for two weeks, hadn’t come up with anyone. On the last day of the second week, I was maybe the last person that she saw. I came in [and] she said, ‘Look, turn that thing up, I don’t want to hear any lip, turn that thing up so I can hear.’ I went in, played one chord. She said, ‘You have perfect pitch. You’re hired.’ ”

Nina Simone High Priestess of SoulSoon after getting the job, Nina gave Irvine the title and asked him to write the lyrics for “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.” Playing him the song’s melody, Simone told him she wanted lyrics that “will make black children all over the world feel good about themselves forever.” Two weeks later, he finally delivered. “It was the only time in my life that I wrestled with creating,” Irvine told Wang. “Usually, I just open the door and it comes. I was in my Ford Galaxie on my way to the bus station to pick up a girlfriend from down South. I was stopped at a red light at Forty-First Street and Eighth Avenue when all the words came to me at once.

“I tied up traffic at that red light for fifteen minutes, as I scribbled on three napkins and a matchbook cover. A whole bunch of irate taxi drivers were leaning on their horns. I wrote it, put it in the glove compartment, picked up the girl, and didn’t look at it until she got back on the bus to go home.” When he finally read it, he was blown away. “I didn’t write this,” he thought. “God wrote it through me.”

The song was placed on the best-selling album Black Gold and became an instant classic. For Weldon Irvine, the gig with Simone lasted two and a half years. “She is temperamental,” he told Wang. “I’m not going to say anything bad about you, Nina, not on this interview, but we had a long run.” After leaving Simone, he released a handful of classic solo sides in the 1970s, mentored many Queens musicians, and later collaborated with Q-Tip, Common, and Mos Def before tragically committing suicide in 2002.

“Mommy wanted ‘To Be Young, Gifted and Black’ to be the next Black national anthem,” says Lisa. “She wasn’t a fan of ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ and thought ‘To Be Young, Gifted and Black’ was more revolutionary. I can remember her telling me, ‘You need to know where you come from, and you need to know these words.’ ”

Nina Simone

While the song was covered by Donny Hathaway on 1970’s Everything Is Everything and Bob and Marcia in the U.K., it was Aretha Franklin’s 1972 version that proved the most popular. “When Aretha Franklin was planning to cover ‘To Be Young, Gifted and Black,’ she came and asked permission,” Lisa says. “We were in Barbados, and Aretha also came down, and we all spent time together. She was one of the sweetest people in the world. I thought Aretha did a great job with the song. I never heard Mom complain, so I think she thought the same.”

According to David Nathan, “Nina really liked Aretha Franklin a lot. She mentioned her a few times. Nina was considered a jazz singer, but Franklin was really hip. When she covered ‘To Be Young, Gifted and Black,’ which was also the name of Franklin’s album, the record went gold. Since Nina was the co-writer of that song, Franklin’s cover generated money for her. The first time I met Nina, when she was signed to Philips Records, Dusty Springfield was one of her labelmates. Nina told me she thought Dusty Springfield was nothing but an Aretha Franklin imitator.”

Simone’s startling tracks “Mississippi Goddam,” “Old Jim Crow,” “Four Women,” “(You’ll) Go to Hell”—which was nominated for a Grammy in 1968—and “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” made her a controversial artist on par with Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez. “An artist’s duty is to reflect the times and the situations in which I find myself,” she once told a television interviewer. “How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?”

Nina Simone It Is Finished

Still, her mood swings and bad behavior were unpredictable. She was diagnosed in the mid-1960s with what is now called bipolar disorder, and later in life diagnosed with schizophrenia, according to Cohodas. Nina began getting a reputation as being volatile, angry, and unapproachable. Singer/producer Alicia Keys, who cites Simone as an influence, says, “Sometimes when a person is too real, it can be a little scary. When you’re telling the truth, sometimes people don’t want to think about it.”

Lisa, once estranged from her mother for ten years, agrees. “Mommy scared a lot of people, but that’s who she was,” she says. “Imagine her being that way being born in Tryon, North Carolina, living on the other side of the tracks, being told she was ugly, that her skin color was ugly. You know, that scars you. But, underneath her hard exterior was actually a very funny, loving, warm person. When she felt safe enough to let her guard down, she’d laugh and have a good time.

“Mommy could intimidate people by not even opening her mouth. I told her once, ‘The warrior in you, that’s Nina. But put down your buckler and spear and let Eunice come forth for a little while.’ She looked at me like she was considering it. She didn’t curse me out. It was the one time I gave her some advice and left with my head on my shoulders.”

In 1970, Life magazine hack Albert Goldman wrote “The Return of the Queen of Shebang” for Life, slandering Simone with his venom. “She still pollutes the atmosphere with a hostility that owes less to her color than to the rasping edge on her pride,” he scribbled. Although I’ve never been a fan of Goldman, who liked to throw around racist terms like “SuperSpade” when describing Jimi Hendrix and classist terms when dissecting Elvis, I must give him props for describing Simone as “the toughest, funkiest, most hand-clappin’ ’n’ finger-poppin’ of soul sisters.”

Yet, while she could be amazing in front of an audience, behind the scenes was a different story. “Mommy would be extremely nervous before she went onstage,” says Lisa. “The older she got, the more nervous she became. Her fingers weren’t as nimble, her voice wasn’t like it was, and she had to work harder. She was extremely difficult to be around, but once she got onstage, she was in her element. Every show that I know of went off without a hitch, so why there was all this drama beforehand is still a mystery to me. Mommy proved that sometimes it took really dark moments for us to reach our highest heights.”

Nina Simone Baltimore

On songs ranging from “Mississippi Goddam” and “Four Women” to “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and “Strange Fruit,” one can hear the revolutionary spirit of a modern woman unafraid of confrontation. “When she recorded ‘Mississippi Goddam’ in 1964,” David Nathan says, “Nina was revolutionary, because entertainers of ’50s and ’60s weren’t militant; they didn’t speak out. People were intrigued by her, because there was no one like her. Nina was Afrocentric long before it was fashionable.”

Nathan also saw Nina live numerous times. “I can remember concerts where she would berate the audience and tell them to be quiet,” he says. “I never saw her do it in England, but in the States was a different story. If she felt as though she wasn’t being respected, Nina slammed down the piano and walked off. Once, in the late ’70s or early ’80s, one of the most memorable performances I can think of, was at Avery Fisher Hall. Nina was an hour late, and when she finally came onstage, she was dressed in a gold Egyptian kind of outfit. There were only a few claps, then in a deadpan voice, Nina said, ‘You been waiting for me, huh? Well, I’m here now.’ She went to the piano and kicked ass. She just sang and played, and the audience was mesmerized. She knew she had that power, and once she had you, that was it.”

In 1969, at the height of singing out for civil rights and confronting her audience about racism, Ebony magazine writer Phyl Garland, who later became the first African American and first woman to earn tenure at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, described Nina as “a wily sorceress” who “casts her spell with the fluid but frequently complex patterns of notes she etches on her piano and with the distinctive sound of her richly reedy voice.” That same year, in Garland’s book The Sound of Soul, she quoted Simone as saying, “Now that my people have decided to take over the world…I’m going to have to do my part.”


Says Lisa, “It wasn’t about strength; it was about ‘Fuck you.’ Mom told me when she first recorded ‘Mississippi Goddam’ that she was so angry and strained her voice so much that it dropped a bit. Her voice was never the same after that album. I used to love that song. I went to a Montessori school when I was five years old, and I would run around the school singing it loud,” she remembers. “Mommy would tell the truth from the stage, and people would stand up and applaud with tears running down their faces. She told me how radio stations used to send back boxes of broken 45s, because they refused to play that song.”

In 1969, Nina Simone was one of the top-billing acts at the uptown festival billed as the Harlem Cultural Festival 1969 or, to some folks, as the Black Woodstock. Held in Mount Morris Park (aka Marcus Garvey Park) over six consecutive Sunday afternoons, the festival featured Sly and the Family Stone, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Staple Singers, David Ruffin, Mongo Santamaria, Ray Barretto, Cal Tjader, Herbie Mann, B. B. King, Hugh Masakela, Max Roach, Chuck Jackson, Abbey Lincoln, the 5th Dimension, B.B. King, and Stevie Wonder.

“When she was coming up in the civil rights movement, she told me she had finally found something she really believed in and could sink her teeth into,” explains Lisa. “She didn’t care about the rewards or accolades that most people might do it for. She had a podium to voice her feelings. She was extremely let down when the civil rights movement kind of deflated, because certain things didn’t end; it just got a glossier finish.”

By mid-1970, at least for Nina Simone, the revolution was dead. The marches were over, the benefit concerts were finished, and Tom Wolfe was sharpening his carving knife with copies of Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, which ridiculed the entire movement.

If this was what her friends Lorraine Hansberry, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King died for, then Nina couldn’t see the point of staying in the country. When she saw how the revolution had been squandered, she realized it was over. “I don’t like [America],” she told journalist Gavin Martin in 1984. “I get really physically sick every time I’m there.”

Nina Simone in bed

Simone’s last album, 1993’s A Single Woman, was recorded for Elektra Records. While critics dissed the disc, most noticeably Rolling Stone who accused the label of presenting a saccharine Simone, British singer Mica Paris believed it “was as powerful as anything she had put out in her earlier career.” The last time her daughter saw Nina Simone alive was when she came to see Aida on Broadway in 2002. “Mommy sacrificed a lot in order to stay true to her music, in terms of the message, in terms of being unafraid,” Lisa says, holding back the tears.

On April 21, 2003, seventy-year-old Nina Simone died at her home in Carry-le-Rouet, France, near Marseille. Dedicated to preserving the memory of her mother, Lisa launched a new website, ninasimone.com, featuring music and vintage photos.

Eight years after her death, Nina Simone’s material is often heard in film, rap songs, television commercials, cocktail lounges, and stylish boutiques. In addition, Lions Gate Films is currently in production with a biopic starring Mary J. Blige.

“The most that I want is for people to not let her memory die,” says Lisa. “It’s a wonderful thing to hear her voice everywhere, see her image everywhere. Sometimes, as her child, I had mixed emotions, and it could be a little hard, but she would be pleased to know how much she has moved up in the ratings.”

Without a doubt, the so-called “high priestess of soul,” who rarely felt loved or appreciated in America, has become a posthumous icon in her own country. As Amiri Baraka concludes, “Nina’s material is still right on it; it is American classical music.”


Originally published in Wax Poetics Issue 48, 2011


 Wax Poetics Issue 48

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Dam-Funk returns with new solo album, Invite the Light, first in six years http://www.waxpoetics.com/music/new-releases/dam-funk-returns-with-new-solo-album-invite-the-light-first-in-six-years/ http://www.waxpoetics.com/music/new-releases/dam-funk-returns-with-new-solo-album-invite-the-light-first-in-six-years/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 20:10:11 +0000 http://www.waxpoetics.com/?p=49003 Listen to the new single "We Continue."

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Dma-Funk 'Invite the Light'

After releasing albums with Snoop Dogg and Steve Arrington, Dam-Funk finally returns with a new solo record, the first in nearly six years. Titled Invite the Light, with album cover design by Wax Poetics Creative Director Freddy Anzures, the album drops September 4 on Stones Throw Records.

Dam feels this project is his first fully-realized effort with “concise, beginning-to-end vision,” a loosely autobiographical concept album inspired by the trials and tribulations of his personal and professional life of the last six years.

The album features high-profile guests like Q-Tip and Snoop, as well as synth maestro Junie Morrison, Ariel Pink, and Leon Sylvers III and Leon Sylvers IV.

Listen to the first single, “We Continue.”

Read more:

Today, Dam-Funk returns with the announcement of his first solo album in nearly 6 years, Invite the Light, out September 4th via Stones Throw. He also shares the first cut from the album, lead single “We Continue.”

As always, Dam flexes his multi-instrumentalist talents by handling all the production, but still makes time for guests including rapper Q-Tip, pop surrealist Ariel Pink, 7 Days of Funk collaborator Snoop Dogg, the father-son duo of Leon Sylvers III & IV, and funk giant Junie Morrison of the Ohio Players, who opens and closes the album with dire warnings of what could happen in a world without funk. Rest assured, Dam is here to make sure that never comes to pass. As he puts it, “funk is the underdog, the black sheep of black music,” and if that’s true, Dam-Funk is its shepherd.

Ever since debuting with Stones Throw in 2008, he has become one of the genres most passionate proselytizers, out to save it from devilish depictions of cartoonish caricature. To Dam, funk is a way of living, “a feeling of struggle and staying cool through it all.” Dam’s partnership with the label has now included everything from his 2009 LP Toeachizown, to an anthology of early productions, Adolescent Funk (2010), to 2013’s collaboration with funk pioneer Steve Arrington on Higher, and celebrated partnership with hip-hop’s Snoop Dogg titled 7 Days of Funk

Growing up in the Los Angeles city/suburb of Pasadena, Dam-Funk is a ’70s baby who came of age in the era of the Uncle Jamm’s Army parties, of electro-pharaoh Egyptian Lover, of Prince’s purple reign. His parents nurtured his musical talents as a child and by his teens, he mastered the drums, then the drum machine. A chance encounter led to an apprenticeship under funk songwriter/producer Leon Sylvers III (SOLAR Records) and by the mid-90s G-Funk era in hip-hop, Dam found his musical skills in high demand by rappers such as Mack 10 and MC Eiht. “Everybody was trying to do the live instrumentation thing, so then you got cats like me playing on records,” Dam explains.

Sideman status wasn’t enough though. Dam remembers “watching gold plaques hitting the wall” for everyone but him and he decided to go “full-funk” and make a do-or-die try to become an artist on his own terms. In 2006, Dam-Funk and a few friends launched the popular Funkmosphere party in L.A., bringing the boogie back. It’s around then that Dam drew the attention of Stones Throw and both label and artist related to Dam’s insistence that “funk is not just a Jheri Curl. There was more than that.”

Pre-order Invite the Light on iTunes and receive a free download for “We Continue” or pre-order vinyl via the Stones Throw website.

Dam-Funk Live Band Tour Dates

Fri 9/04 || San Diego, CA || The Casbah
Sat 9/05 || Los Angeles, CA || Teragram Ballroom
Sun 9/06 || San Francisco, CA || The Independent
Tues 9/08 || Portland, OR || Doug Fir Lounge
Thurs 9/10 || Vancouver, BC || Venue
Sat 9/12 || Jackson, WY || Pink Garter Theatre
Sun 9/13 || Salt Lake City, UT || Urban Lounge
Tues 9/15 || Denver, CO || Cervantes
Wed 9/16 || Albuquerque, NM || Sister
Fri 9/18 || Las Vegas, NV || Bunkhouse Saloon

Dam-Funk – Invite the Light

1. Junie’s Transmission [Feat. Junie Morrison]
2. We Continue
3. Somewhere, Someday
4. I’m Just Tryna’ Survive (In The Big City) [Feat. Q-Tip]
5. Surveilliance Escape
6. Floating On Air
7. HowUGonFu*kAroundAndChooseABusta’?
8. The Hunt & Murder of Lucifer
9. It Didn’t Have To End This Way
10. Missung U
11. Acting [Feat. Ariel Pink]
12. O.B.E.
13. Glyde 2nyte [Feat. Leon Sylvers III & IV
14. Just Ease Your Mind From All Negativity [Feat. Snoop Dogg]
15. Virtuous Progression [Feat. JimiJames, Kid Sister, Nite Jewel, Novena Carmel & Jody Watly]
16. Scatin’ (Toward The Lgiht)
17. Junie’s Re-Transmission [Feat. Junie Morrison]
18. I’m Just Tryna’ Survive (In The Big City) Party Version [Feat. Q-TIp]
19. ‘Kaint Let ‘Em Change Me
20. The Acceptance

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