Nina Simone / Theophilus London / Shock G / Billy Cox / Yabby You / Dom Salvador / Neu! / Hudson Mohawke
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.
Setting the contemporary archetype for a breakthrough artist, Theophilus London dropped three mixtapes before releasing any product for sale. Utilizing a mix of ’80s downtown art/music aesthetics and postmodern viral freedom, he put art ahead of commerce and gained fame without the help of a major label or marketing push. This hustle has put him with a group of emerging artists defying categorization and the preconceived notions of what a rapper is supposed to be.
The Long Road
Known for the clowning antics of his alter ego, Digital Underground’s Humpty Hump, rapper Shock G was actually very serious about music. Living in Queens at a pivotal point in history, Shock became a scholar of old-school New York hip-hop. After moving to Tampa and running the local rap scene, he quit hip-hop and studied piano at college. But a move to the Bay Area and a job selling audio gear landed him in the middle of a bubbling West Coast rap culture, and Shock G’s destiny was finally to be realized.
Billy Cox gigged with Jimi Hendrix in the Army, worked the chitlin circuit in the South, played bass as an R&B session man in Nashville, and backed countless stars on television. When the guitar god called on him to join his new band with Buddy Miles on drums, Cox brought gritty Southern ammunition to the Band of Gypsys.
Yabby You was a bit of an enigma. An anomaly within the dreadlock culture, he embraced Christianity and rejected the Rastafari doctrine. Serious and spiritual, his roots reggae nevertheless found its way to a wider audience. And to many people’s surprise, Yabby would play an instrumental role in the careers of several early dancehall pioneers.
Right at Home
As part of Brazil’s mid-’60s bossa jazz scene and a session player in Rio’s numerous studios, pianist Dom Salvador played with that country’s best. He played a crucial, early role in the Brazilian soul movement and put together a group of players that would go on to blaze a trail in the Black Rio funk scene. But Dom put it all behind him when he moved to New York to pursue a jazz career. After initially struggling to find his footing, Salvador ultimately carved out a rare sweet spot for a working musician.
Neu! helped turn Krautrock in a hypermodern direction, influencing peers like Kraftwerk along the way. As one half of the band, Michael Rother helped create what he called “forever music,” his spacy guitars and synths floating ever forward, with Klaus Dinger’s unrelenting drums keeping space-time. After nearly two decades of creating unique music together while being at odds personally, the duo’s differences finally caught up to them, and they reached the point of no return.
Embracing the synth aesthetics of the greats—from Bernie Worrell to Thomas Dolby to Timbaland— Glasgow’s Hudson Mohawke crafts melodically intricate instrumental pop songs that have other artists salivating. He is quietly creating the future sound of hip-hop and R&B.
Count C’s small but proud sound system resonated for blocks. Artists from all over West Kingston congregated in his yard, which became a breeding ground and sounding board for local talent. While few know his name outside the island, Count C was a neighborhood hero.
Gil Scott-Heron 1949–2011
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