05/07/19 Articles

Ruby Andrews: Gem Among Giants

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Ruby Andrews 

The second time she walked by Stevie Wonder, he remembered her perfume from earlier. One night, she hid with the Funk Brothers in the middle of the night so Barry Gordy’s spies wouldn’t see them recording outside of Motown. In Milwaukee, where she met James Brown, he rented an entire hotel floor to be—in her words—a “stupid show-off.”

Born Ruby Stackhouse, later known as Ruby Andrews, her voice propelled her into a heyday rich with ridiculous stories and towering figures; a time when the greatest of the greats, the Marvins and the Arethas, were either in full stride or about to be. Ruby knew them all during her ascendance, and they also knew her as a performer, a dexterous singer who’d flutter over delicate arrangements or belt over drums with bombast. Her run on Zodiac Records—sixteen singles and two LPs—is a glowing marriage of catchy hooks and soul stompers.

 

Ruby was just a teenager at the start of it all, cutting a few records with the Vondells before moving onto to her solo career. Her scope of work at first was unfairly huge; in addition to performing each night, she was essentially also a tour manager, dealing with venues, accommodations, bookings, handled the money—all of it. “I was just a bit underpaid for everything I did on those early tours,” she says, laughing.

At one point in her career, she was called the “Female James Brown” for her onstage energy, after all she was a nightclub dancer for many years in between. And later, like Brown, she dabbled in disco and kept the industry side close to her even when performance work was paltry. She now owns Genuine Ruby Records, a pleasant and fitting bookend after decades of work on both sides of the music business.

She doesn’t sound as forceful these days as she did on “Casonova (Your Playing Days Are Over).” Nor is she punchy as she was on “You Made a Believer (Out of Me),” an elating single Q-Tip subsequently sampled for “Won’t Trade.” But the business acumen and fire behind the little girl who orchestrated full-on tours never waned. Says Ruby: “I never saw a penny from anybody for using that song. Cool, Q-Tip, but where’s my money?”

Now, 72, Ruby punctuates her sentences with light, warm laughs. A lifetime in the music game, a career that began in her teens, she eventually learned legalities behind music licensing in order to collect past-due funds rightfully owed to her. Here, Ruby Andrews walks us through her history and recalls stories from her incredibly charmed life and career.   

 

You originally debuted as your real name, Ruby Stackhouse. Why the name change?

It was just a professional thing. I was always teased about Stackhouse, and people would always get it wrong; Stuckhouse, Stickhouse, on and on. [laughs] I saw Julie Andrews on TV and really loved her and felt she had class and style. So I thought I’d take her last name.

Years later, I was in St. Louis and there was a journalist who came up to me and said, “Do you have an uncle named Houston Stackhouse from Mississippi?” I asked my mom and she said yeah. And his grandson years later met me at a music blues festival, and it was great. A simple name change can do so much.

How long had you been in Mississippi before moving to Chicago? How old were you then?

I guess, I was around four, because I think we got there before ’52. I was leading the senior choir at church at age three. My whole family sang except one sister; actually, she howls. [laughs] My mom sang in church; my brother joined the choir as soon as he left the air force.

You didn’t just sing but led the choir?

Yes. I must’ve been singing in the womb. It was ’61 or ’62, and I was singing in high school in a thing called “Senior Variety,” and I was in the choir with Minnie Riperton. People swam and did activities but we mostly sang. We were sort of the loners. [laughs]

Tell us about your relationship with Minnie.

I was the boisterous one, and she was the quiet one. There’s a place called the Southern Inn Lounge, and we used to sneak in there to see Curtis Mayfield and Redd Foxx. And we got to hang out with them too, which was very exciting for a couple of high school–aged girls.

Talk about your time working with the Vondells and how that all came about.

We were fantastic. A guy named Bill Cody took us on and taught us choreography, but I couldn’t sing and dance at the same time. [laughs] In fact, I talk to many members of the Vondells. But Bill was the one who introduced me to them.

 

Your first records were for the Kelmac label. What do you remember about “Please Tell Me,” and how old were you when you cut that record?

Oh you know how teenagers are. [laughs] I was actually dating the drummer! He came up with the music. I had a small band and doing things around Chicago to kind of get started.

Talk about your time at Zodiac, which probably produced your most popular material. How did that relationship start?

One of the DJs from WBON in Chicago was playing some of my records at a club called the Club De Lisa. They were still teaching me to be graceful onstage and showing me how to ballroom dance and stuff. My manager brought in a guy named Rick Williams, and it started there. Maybe a half a year later, we got with Jo Armstead. Jo also wrote for Ashford and Simpson. She sat down and wrote “Casanova” in about five minutes. From there, we went to Detroit and met Mike Terry, who was the arranger who got the Funk Brothers and the Brothers of Soul.

 

Ruby Andrews

 

One of your biggest hits was “Casanova.” Talk a bit about that and what went into the recording.

I still have the same feeling when I hear it. I hear remakes of it and think they should leave it alone! It’s a classic! But around here in Chicago, you can still hear it on the radio, and that makes me very happy.

Your voice has been described as “powerful” and “aggressive,” but you can also be soft and subtle. How did you initially find your range?

I always tried to put emotion into the song. If it’s a smooth track, I’ll be smooth; if it’s rough, I’ll be rough. And if it’s jazz, I’ll be a bit jazzy on it. So it’s about matching the track. I wouldn’t be all rough on top of a smooth track. I think that’s a good thing to be able to switch up your vocals like that. Sometimes, I don’t even think I sound like myself. [laughs] I love ballads. Before I started R&B, I sang jazz. But there wasn’t any money in it. [laughs]

What’s your personal preference, belting out vocals or singing softly?

It’s all about the gig or the track. I love Wes Montgomery and Coltrane and all those cats, so I love to sing jazz, although I don’t as much anymore. I also love blues, and singing at blues festivals is always fun.

 

Other memorable Zodiac recordings were “Everybody Saw You” and “You Made a Believer Out of Me.” What do you remember about the making of those songs?

“Everybody Saw You” was written by Robert [Eaton and Rick Williams], and they all portrayed a time in my life. My boyfriend at the time thought he was a little pimp, [laughs] and people would tell me all the time that they had saw him with other girls. What I remember most about the song was that I was stuck in Detroit because the Funk Brothers couldn’t leave town. So a bunch of us artists just stayed around the spot where I also stayed at. Mike Terry was there. Don Davis was there. George Clinton was there. This was the 20 Grand Hotel where the Motown cats would hang out at. Joe Tex, the Supremes, all those people. We just hung there and didn’t have to go anywhere.

Talk about “You Made a Believer Out of Me.”

I was just too old to believe anyone at that point. [laughs] Just kidding. I had been with Robert [Eaton] for eight years by then. And at the end of this Palmolive dish detergent commercial, the lady would say, “You made a believer out of me,” and that’s where we got it from. I stayed in Detroit for a while because everyone was there, and we were having so much fun. Robert wrote that one for me while we hung around the piano.

It was later sampled, notably by Q-Tip. Have you heard his version?

Nobody told me, because when I was on MySpace, Q-Tip wrote “Thank You Ruby” on my page and I thought, “Who the hell is this?” His face wasn’t on MySpace, just a picture of his sampler. Then people started saying on MySpace that they wouldn’t have known about the song if it weren’t for Q-Tip. I haven’t seen a penny from anyone for using that song. When I saw it, I thought, “Okay, cool, Q-Tip, but where’s my money?”  

Did you eventually get any royalties?

Nothing. As a matter of fact, I ran into this website called WhoSampled and it said the song has been sampled like twenty times in various genres. I guess Q-Tip had told some industry cats that he thought I was dead. But I thought, why didn’t he just check it out beforehand? Because if I was dead, maybe I had an estate? C’mon, guy! 

Tell folks who the Funk Brothers were and your experience with them.

They played behind Marvin, the Supremes, everyone who was on Motown. They were the house band. But they would sneak out and do other things when Barry was asleep. [laughs] That’s why all of our sessions were at two in the morning! Barry didn’t want anyone taking his Motown sound, so a lot of the stuff I did with the Brothers was behind Barry’s back! Barry would send out spies to check on us, and the engineer would come to the door and tell them no one was there. We’d peak out the window and start up again as soon as he left. That was great. [laughs] I was about eighteen or nineteen at that time, and it was just so much fun.

Did you know how important what you were doing at the time was? Or were you just a kid having fun?

I was hanging with the guys all the time so I would sit there and listen to them speak about the industry, and I was the only girl. So I would sit and learn. I took all that in, and when I was on the road with the band, I worked with the booking agent and took care of all that business stuff on the road. It was hard work but it was also wonderful.

How was working for Zodiac? You made incredible recordings there that remain some of your most beloved stuff.

It was okay, but no one made any money. [laughs] They all brainwashed us and said, “You only made money on the road and not off the records,” and we believed them. Of course, that isn’t true. These labels all ran business like Barry, but no one really knew. Mel Collins was an owner who did the same thing with his Giant label. But Mel lost it all because he didn’t have the right licenses. And Rick Williams was the same way. We had hit records like Barry, but we didn’t make a single dime.

It’s like that when you’re young and don’t know better. And the people running it don’t even really know! We were just kids out of school who wanted to have fun. No one cared about cash from distributors or anything like that. I know all those things now. If you came out the womb knowing everything, that’d be great!

 

Talk about your LP Black Ruby and the track “Just Loving You,” which later became a “northern soul” favorite.

I trusted Robert Eaton on this record and ended up singing a lot of stuff I didn’t really like. I could relate to some of the music, just didn’t like it as much as the others. I think we did that record down in Memphis, and Jerry Butler was there. “Just Loving You” was a B-side, and I don’t even know what the record on the other side was! I was with Barbara Acklin there in Memphis, and the record was huge. I didn’t even have the lyrics memorized too well, and they put a mic in my hand and I just kind of sang it [live], and people went nuts! That was the first time I knew how big that record was.

 

Did you hear the dance version of “Casonova” by Coffee released in 1980 on De-Lite Records?

It’s an oversees group, if I remember correctly. I don’t know what I think of it. Lolita Halloway did a cover of it too. I think it was powerful, maybe too powerful for what the song stood for. The song is tailor-made for me, so you got to be careful what you’re covering. People don’t cover the Dells or Gene Chandler, so that just tells me, if you can’t cover it, and if you can’t do it better, don’t cover it. [laughs] These days, even I can’t do my old songs right, so I think it’s best if others leave ’em alone.

 

 

Talk about your post-Zodiac years and your brief stint with ABC Records.

Overall, ABC record was fine. It allowed me to work with Holland-Dozier-Holland again, so that was fun. It was great. I really found out through them what it was like to be a star again. They had a limo and a personal driver. I met the president and vice president of the company and was invited to all the ABC Records release parties. I also ended up working with Ronnie Dunbar, who wrote “Band of Gold” for Freda Payne.  

You eventually married a member of the Chi-lites, is that correct?

When the industry crashed, I was still looking for a decent deal. This was between 1992 and 2003 and I had two deals then. And, yes, during this time I ran into my husband, who was part of the Chi-Lites. And he said, “I’ve been stalking you for forty years.” We married in 2003, and we were together until his death. He was the light-skinned good-looking one. [laughs]

Tell people about Genuine Ruby Records. How did that start and how it is running a label these days.

It’s something I got while I was with ABC. There was an LP called Genuine Ruby, and this stemmed from that. With Tommy Hunt, we got a first single, and I produced it. I’m still getting the project together. So I’m waiting on publishing, the barcode, and all that stuff. I’m glad I learned all this stuff when I was younger; that’s why I know what I do now about making records.

Through the years, were there any incidents that you would say stalled your career? Any setbacks you can recall?

Rick blackballed me. No one knows about this, but the distributor here was one of the biggest in the Midwest. And a lot of stuff came through Chicago. Then one day, the IRS came looking for me, and I said, “Do you see how I’m living?” I started pointing fingers and told them exactly who they should go after—not me. I was able to close down some of these distributors, but a lot of companies blackballed me as a result.

What would you say is the highpoint of your career?

When “Casonova” was released and I heard it on the radio for the first time. I was lying on the floor half asleep and it came on. And from there I started working right away at the Howard Theatre in Washington. There, I met so many other artists and friends—James Brown, Aretha [Franklin], Joe Tex, Marvin Gaye, Stevie [Wonder]. That was the very highest and happiest point of my life.

 

Ruby Andrews and Stevie Wonder

Ruby Andrews and Stevie Wonder

 

Share with us some stories of what else was going on around this time in your life. 

There are so many! But I remember learning a lot from them. I would stand and watch. Aretha once said, “Are you watching?” and I said “Yep!” I worked with Stevie and Marvin too. The Madlads, Marvelletes, Gladys Knight, and Marvin was in the show with me too.

There was an afterparty one night in the hotel that the label put together. Some guys came down to me and said, “Stevie wants to meet you.” And I joked, “Have him come to me!” So I met him and he asked if I’m coming to the party; I said yeah. As I walked in, he was sitting at the bar, which was kind of by the door. I walked right pass and he said, “Ruby, come here!” I said, “How did you know?” And he said, “I smelled your perfume.” We always had banter. Those kinds of things is what I loved about that time—just great relationships.

I eventually went to California because I wanted to leave ABC and go to MCA. I found the lawyers and wanted to be released from my contract. I didn’t want to stay. Everyone, Bobby Bland, Chaka [Khan], and B.B. King went to MCA, and I didn’t want to be stuck there.

What do you remember most about James Brown? What were your interactions like?

We worked together in Milwaukee. Him being the stupid show-off he was, he rented the entire floor of the hotel! He sent his valet down to get me, and I remember being blown away that he did that. He said, “We gotta be comfortable while we workin’.” I learned a lot from James. I was actually called “The Female James Brown” by Billboard that year. I always liked to dance and was a dancer at one time. So when we met that day in Milwaukee, he said, “So you think you’re me, huh?” That’s how we communicated. Lots of jokes and banter. James was like a brother and mentor.  

How do you think you compare to your peers? Who else were you a fan of?

I’ve been asked that before, and I don’t think anyone needs to be comparing anything. We all had our own styles. You just go up there and do what you do. No one had to emulate anyone. The only thing I ever directly took from another artist was Nancy Wilson. She taught me how to take a bow. I guess she saw me take bow after a show and I was awkward or something. [laughs] Stuff like that we’d take and learn from each other, but stylistically, vocally, performance-wise, we were all our own.

What’s the most important thing you would say you learned through your career?

Business. What I learned then I use now. My work was with EMI one day, with Sony the next, and you don’t know what’s going on half the time. But I eventually knew exactly what was going on because of all the stuff I went through. It’s because I was young and having so much fun that I never had to look much into it. I always figured that as long as I could record, travel, sing, and bring back a couple hundred bucks, I was straight. I always took care of my brothers and sisters, so I always had phone bills, rent, and real life to work for. I guess, learning to be independent in this life is what I learned most.

05/06/19 News

New Wax Poetics reissues

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dilla

 

Our Issue One Special-Edition Redesigned Hardcover is on sale now at our webstore.

And now we’ve finally reissued Issue 17 (Dilla cover), on sale now.

Stay tuned for Issue 68, coming out this summer.

Idris Muhammad

04/18/19 Mixtape

Nas’s Illmatic 25th anniversary mixtape by Chris Read

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Nas Illmatic

April 19, 1994, saw the release of one of what would go on to be recognized as one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time, Nas‘s seminal debut, Illmatic. Following much-talked-about appearances on Main Source‘s “Live at the Barbecue,” MC Serch‘s “Back to the Grill,” and the release of the now classic soundtrack cut “Halftime,” Illmatic delivered on the hype with a compact ten-track offering helmed by the cream of mid-’90s hip-hop production talent: DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, and L.E.S.. Pairing crisp head-nod drums with an eclectic palate of jazz, funk, and soul samples, the all-star lineup of producers prepared a musical backdrop over which Nas delivers a no-holds-barred guided tour of life growing up in New York’s Queensbridge projects. Sampled cuts range from the timeless jazz of Ahmad Jamal and jazz-funk of Donald Byrd to the pop of Michael Jackson via well-sampled staples by the likes of Kool & the Gang.

 

 

Purchase Issue 17 Now

 

 

In celebration of the album’s twenty-fifth year, we’ve partnered once again with WhoSampled to present an exclusive mix of album cuts, remixes, interview snippets, and of course tracks sampled in the album’s making mixed by Chris Read. Listen below and check out the track listing with sample credits beneath:

 

 

Tracklist:

1. Introduction to the movie Wild Style (sampled in “Genesis”)
2. Chris Read – Theme #3 (Scratchapella)
3. Jimmy Gordon & His Jazzpops Band – Walter L (sampled in “One Time 4 Your Mind”)
4. Nas – One Time 4 Your Mind
5. Donald Byrd – Flight Time (sampled in “NY State of Mind”)
6. Joe Chambers – Mind Rain (sampled in “NY State of Mind”)
7. DJ Premier “Off the Record” Interview
8. Kool & The Gang – N.T [Loop] (sampled in “NY State of Mind”)
9. Nas – NY State of Mind
10. Eric B & Rakim – Mahogany [Extract] (sampled in “NY State of Mind”)
11. Ahmad Jamal Trio – I Love Music (sampled in “The World is Yours”)
12. T La Rock and Jazzy Jay – It’s Yours [Extract] (sampled in “The World Is Yours”)
13. Nas – The World Is Yours
14. Nas – The World Is Yours (Tip Mix)
15. Kool & The Gang – N.T (sampled in “The World Is Yours (Tip Mix)”)
16. Reuben Wilson – We’re in Love (sampled in “Memory Lane (Sittin’ in the Park)”)
17. Biz Markie – Pickin’ Boogers [Extract] (sampled in “Memory Lane (Sittin’ in the Park)”)
18. Marley Marl feat Craig G – Droppin’ Science [Extract] (sampled in “Memory Lane (Sittin’ in the Park)”)
19. Nas – Memory Lane (Sittin’ in the Park)
20. Clyde McPhetter – Mixed up Cup [Loop] (sampled in “One Love (One L Remix)“)
21. The Gap Band – Yearning for Your Love (sampled in “Life’s a Bitch”)
22. Nas feat AZ & Olu Dara – Life’s a Bitch
23. Stanley Clarke – Slow Dance (sampled in “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”)
24. Michael Jackson – Human Nature (sampled in “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”)
25. Mountain – Long Red [Extract] (sampled in “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”)
26. Extract from movie Time is Illmatic
27. Nas – It Ain’t Hard to Tell
28. Kool & The Gang – N.T [Extract] (sampled in “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”)
29. The Bue Jays – What Do You Want From Me Woman? (sampled in “It Ain’t Hard to Tell (Remix)”)
30 . Biz Markie feat TJ Swan – Nobody Beats the Biz [Extract] (sampled in “It Ain’t Hard to Tell (Remix)”)
31. Nas – It Ain’t Hard to Tell (Remix)
32. Heath Bros – Smilin Billie Suite Pt II (sampled in “One Love”)
33. Nas feat Q-Tip – One Love
34. Nas feat Sadat X – One Love (One L Remix)
35. Nas feat Q-Tip – One Love (LG Remix)
36. Lee Erwin – Theif of Bagdad (sampled in “Represent”)
37. Nas – Represent
38. Japanese Hair Cast – Dead End (sampled in “Halftime”)
39. Average White Band – School Boy Crush [Loop] (sampled in “Halftime”)
40. Gary Byrd – Soul Travelin’ Pt. 1 [Extract] (sampled in “Halftime”)
41. Nas – Halftime

03/21/19 Mixtape

De La Soul 3 Feet High and Rising 30th Anniversary Mixtape mixed by Chris Read

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De La Soul

Write-up via WhoSampled:

On March 3rd 1989, De La Soul released their critically acclaimed debut album 3 Feet High and Rising and hip-hop music changed forever. At a time when samples of James Brown and various other breakbeat staples ruled supreme, De La Soul and long time production partner Prince Paul cast the net far wider, snatching up snippets of vintage soul, rock and roll, disco, spoken word albums and children’s records to create a collage the likes of which had not been heard before and would not be heard again until the release of Beastie Boys‘ similarly eclectic Paul’s Boutique several months later. Lyrically, the album married zany humor, honest observations of real life and occasional social commentary. Released less than a year after N.W.A‘s ground breaking Straight Outta Compton and Public Enemy‘s politically charged opus It Takes a Nation of Millions…, 3 Feet High and Rising offered a light hearted counterpoint to the harder edged sounds emerging on both coasts and would set the scene for revered Long Players of comparable stature from groups including A Tribe Called Quest and the Pharcyde in the years that followed.

With its iconic artwork and strong visual identity complimenting the album’s unique sonics, the LP is rightly considered not only one of the greatest Hip Hop albums of all time, but one of the greatest albums of all time, period. The album is predictably a regular appearance on prominent Greatest Albums lists published by the likes of Rolling Stone, Spin and Ego Trip.

 

 

Purchase Issue 17 Now

 

 

In celebration of the 30th Anniversary of this classic album, we’ve teamed up with WhoSampled once again to present an exclusive mixtape of album tracks, original sample material, alt versions, interview snippets and more, mixed by Chris Read. Listen to the mix below and check out the track list with sample credits beneath:

 

 

Track list:

1. Kermit Schafer – Side 3 [Extract] (sampled in ‘Buddy (Native Tongue Decision)’)
2. Steve Miller Band – Take the Money and Run [Loop] (sampled in ‘Jenifa Taught Me’)
3. Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band – Hard Times [Loop] (sampled in ‘Ain’t Hip to Be Labelled a Hippie’)
4. Chris Read – Theme #3 (Scratchapella)
5. Liberace – Chopticks Live at Carnegie Hall (Sampled in ‘Plug Tunin’)
6. De La Soul – Intro
7. The Turtles – You Showed Me (sampled in ‘Transmitting Live From Mars’)
8. De La Soul TV Feature 1989 [Extract]
9. Wilson Pickett – Hey Jude (sampled in ‘Transmiting Live From Mars’)
10. De La Soul TV Interview 1989 [Extract]
11. De La Soul – Transmitting Live From Mars
12. Barry White – I’m Gonna Love You A Little Bit More (sampled in ‘De La Orgee’)
13. De La Soul – De La Orgee
14. Manzel – Midnight Theme [Loop] (sampled in ‘Description’)
15. Sly & The Family Stone – Poet (sampled in ‘Description’)
16. De La Soul – Description
17. The Invitations – Written On The Wall (sampled in ‘Plug Tunin’)
18. Bar Kays – Son of Shaft (Live) [Extract] (sampled in ‘Plug Tunin’)
19. De La Soul – Plug Tunin’
20. Billy Joel – Stiletto (sampled in Plug Tunin’)
21. Melvin Bliss – Synthetic Substitution (sampled in ‘Pothles in My Lawn’)
22. Eric Burdon & War – Magic Mountain (sampled in ‘Potholes in My Lawn’)
23. Brother Soul – Cookies [Extract] (sampled in ‘Potholes in My Lawn’)
24. Parliament – Little Old Country Boy (sampled in ‘Potholes in My Lawn’)
25. De La Soul – Potholes In My Lawn
25. Average White Band – School Boy Crush (sampled in ‘D.A.I.S.Y Age’)
36. De La Soul – D.A.I.S.Y Age
37. The Rascals – My World (sampled in ‘D.A.I.S.Y Age’)
38. Bo Diddley – Hit or Miss (sampled in ‘Buddy’)
39. The Commodores – Girl I Think the World About You (sampled in ‘Buddy’)
40. De La Soul feat Jungle Brothers & Q-Tip – Buddy
41. Taana Gardner – Heartbeat (sampled in ‘Buddy (Native Tongue Decision)’)
42. Freedom – Get Up and Dance [Extract] (sampled in ‘Buddy (Native Tongue Decision)’)
43. Bob James – Take Me To The Mardi Gras [Extract] (sampled in ‘Buddy (Native Tongue Decision)’)
44. De La Soul feat Jungle Brothers, Q-Tip, Queen Latifah and Monie Love – Buddy (Native Tongue Decision)
45. Headhunters feat Pointer Sisters – God Made Me Funky [Loop] (sampled in ‘Take It Off’)
46. De La Soul – Take It Off
47. The Sequence – Funk You Up [Loop] (sampled in ‘This Is A Recording 4 Living In A Full Time Era’)
48. The New Birth – Got to Get a Knutt [Extract] (sampled in ‘This Is A Recording 4 Living In A Full Time Era’)
49. De La Soul – ‘This Is A Recording 4 Living In a Full Time Era
50. James Brown – Funky President [Extract] (sampled in ‘Ghetto Thang’)
51. The Blackbyrds – Dreaming About You [Loop] (sampled in ‘Ghetto Thang’)
52. The Blackbyrds – Rock Creek Park (sampled in ‘Ghetto Thang’)
53. De La Soul – Ghetto Thang
54. The Monkees – Mary, Mary [Loop] (sampled in ‘Change in Speak‘)
55. The Mad Lads – No Strings Attached (sampled in ‘Change in Speak‘)
56. De La Soul – Change in Speak
57. Cymande – Bra (sampled in ‘Change in Speak‘)
58. Lee Dorsey – Get Out My Life Woman [Loop] (sampled in ‘Eye Know‘)
59. The Mad Lads – Make This Young Lady Mine (sampled in ‘Eye Know’)
60. De La Soul – Eye Know
61. Steely Dan – Peg (sampled in ‘Eye Know’)
62. Otis Redding – (Sittin’ On) The Dock of a Bay [Extract] (sampled in ‘Eye Know’)
63. Sly & The Family Stone – Sing a Simple Song [Loop] (sampled in ‘Eye Know’)
64. Sly Stone – Crossword Puzzle [Extract] (sampled in ‘Say No Go’)
65. The Emotions – Best of my Love [Extract] (sampled in ‘Say No Go’)
66. Hall & Oates – I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do) (sampled in ‘Say No Go’)
67. De La Soul – Say No Go
68. People’s Choice – I Like To Do It (sampled in ‘Tread Water’)
69. De La Soul – Tread Water
70. Funkadelic – (Not Just) Knee Deep (sampled in ‘Me Myself and I’)
71. Ohio Players – Funky Worm [Extract] (sampled in ‘Me Myself and I’)
72. De La Soul – Me Myself and I
73. Edwin Birdsong – Rapper Dapper Snapper (sampled in ‘Me Myself and I’)
74. Ben E King – Don’t Play That Song (You Lied) (sampled in ‘A Little Bit of Soap’)
75. De La Soul – A Little Bit of Soap
76. Lyn Collins – Think (About It) [Loop] (sampled in ‘Jenifa Taught Me’)
77. De La Soul – Jenifa Taught Me
78. Double Dee & Steniksi – Lesson 3 [Loop] (sampled in ‘Magic Number’)
79. Eddie Murphy – Hit By A Car [Extract] (sampled in ‘Magic Number’)
80. Bob Dorough – Three Is A Magic Number (sampled in ‘Magic Number’)
81. De La Soul – Magic Number
82. De La Soul – Magic Number (1-2-3 Mix)

Each One Teach One: Record Rundown With Philly’s Small Professor

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Small Professor (Coalmine)  

86 Witness is enormously important to Jamil Marshall, whose Small Pro nom de guerre is an endearingly self-deprecating nod to production hero Large Professor. A posthumous Sean Price release, 86 Witness is a pastiche of nostalgia, soul, horn stabs, and well-placed Mike Tyson sound bites—a glowing elegy helmed with Jamil’s clear commitment to sonorous boom-bap in mind. Typical of Price, his presence is brash and uncanny, his punchlines relentless. The majority of the project was fortunately completed prior to Price’s passing in 2015. “I feel really lucky that he was able to hear most of it before he left us,” says Jamil. 

Jamil’s musical kindling came from his brother, and around 2005, Jamil went public as Small Professor. “Most of the music I was really into growing up was through my older brother’s tapes. Lots of Tribe and DJ Premier beats,” says the Philly native. “In high school, I listened to the Roots a lot too. They gave me a lot of pride about my city when I was younger.”

After hearing 9th Wonder as a college freshman, Jamil felt he could improve on the flat snares and loops that struck him. “Let me be clear! I think 9th Wonder is a legend!” says Jamil. “But cocky eighteen-year-old me wanted to download the same program onto my laptop, and do the same things. Before doing beats, I even rapped for a while, but after hearing a playback of myself, l decided I would no longer do that,” he laughs.

Tenets of Pete Rock and Preemo spiral through Small Pro’s Bandcamp and various work for Coalmine Records, like his longplayer with Guilty Simpson. “Microwaved Vendettas,” a track off Zilla Rocca’s Future Former Rapper, lifts a Jimmy Ruffin sample to haunting effect; as does posse cut “Jon Gotti,” where the song’s reliance on changeups and dark echo prove incredibly compelling. Hyperaware of the sonic progeny that came before, Small Pro proves that truly great teachers remain lifelong students. Here are ten records that immensely impacted his own learning and subsequent ascendance.

 

The Ahmad Jamal Trio Awakening (Impulse) 1970

I heard this in the 2000s. I was put on to it because I was just looking up samples and digging for sounds, and of course the sample for Nas’s “The World Is Yours” is on here—on the track “I Love Music,” the end of the song, if I’m not mistaken. Amhad Jamal in general is a virtuoso pianist, and the whole album is incredible to me. The first track alone, “The Awakening,” is a perfect example of what an intro needs to sound like. As far as the rest of the album goes, just listening to Ahmad play around with the same phrases but put different spins on them were always amazing to me.

 

Waka Flocka Flame Flockavelli (1017 Brick Squad/Warner Bros) 2010

This was a time when I was listening to a lot more Southern music, and it influenced my production in a lot of ways—but mostly because of Lex Luger and how he was able to modulate one melody up and down with his beats. I always liked that, and thought he did it so well. So I tried doing that too with samples I’d find. I got into hip-hop a unique way; I kind of listened to albums a bit later than when they were released, so my timeline when things came out was different. For the most part, I was listening to a lot of ’90s hip-hop up until 2008. I didn’t even start listening to rap until 1996 and didn’t start buying my own music until 1999. Up to that point, I was listening to whatever my older brother had on cassette. So he had ’90s stuff—that’s what I listen to.

 

Big Punisher Capital Punishment (Loud) 1998

This record influenced me on the beat-making side of things a lot; there’s tons of strings samples on there. I forgot who did what because there are a lot of different producers on here, but the drums are mostly chopped, and I love that. This was ’98, so it wasn’t break loops as much. Everybody had solid drum programming, and it was a very great display of gritty, cinematic, dark, hip-hop production. I based 86 Witness completely off of that aesthetic, and I would say a lot of my output is based on this sound.

 

Soul Position 8 Million Stories (Rhymesayers) 2003

This album to me is a great example of what I try to do with my group Career Crooks (with Zilla Rocca) in that you’re working with a rapper that does beats too, and they approach songwriting and flows a little bit better than a rapper who doesn’t. Not to say one is better than the other, but that’s the kind of sound dynamic I try to go for, especially with group projects. And this to me is a perfect example of that.

 

DJ Shadow Endtroducing… (Mo Wax) 1996

To me, it was amazing that Shadow was able to find all this material that went naturally together. Not that he didn’t do anything to samples in order to make them fit or help the cause, but it all sounded like one person created this rather than it being pulled from several sources. I was always very drawn to his arrangements too. His songs are sometimes long, but there’s always some movement happening or about to happen. Shadow always had a knack for bringing your attention back to what he was doing, which is something I also pay a lot of attention to.

 

A Tribe Called Quest Midnight Marauders (Jive) 1993

This is an easy one. [laughs] For one, there are some really interesting [things] Q-Tip did in terms of meter. I always liked “Lyrics to Go” for that reason. “Electric Relaxation” is another one, depending on how you count the beats as it goes, it’s a six-bar loop. But neither of those particularly sound like there’s anything different about them, so you’d rap to them the same as you would a four-four beat. But once you count along, you’re like, “Oh snap! I’m off!” I always liked that anytime Q-Tip did that to his production. The sample flips on this album as well and how Tip can extend notes and rap over it and for it to be in an odd meter was amazing. There’s a lot of things going on at once. I had to be when I was in seventh or eighth grade. It was one of the albums my brother had on tape.

 

Black to Comm Alphabet 1968 (Type) 2009

It’s an album I must have heard around when I started listening to ambient music, around 2015. It always stuck in my head, and I saved it and I think about it a lot. He plays piano and manipulates field recordings and other weird sounds. And that’s pretty much what I do too, so I feel a kinship with ambient producers in that way. That project stuck out to me because of all the dark-sounding piano parts. Without drums, you have to find other ways to include percussion in your music, but not in an obvious way—like static in the background or a wind chime or something like that. It was an album that made me think about everything in the background much more.

 

J Dilla Ruff Draft (Stones Throw) 2003

In general, Dilla was just someone who did a lot of things in his own way, and he definitely had his own sound, which always sounded right. And he knew exactly what he wanted his beats to sound like. I know that sounds simple when you’re using other people’s material to make your own, but sometimes it’s harder than it seems. But Dilla always got what he wanted from his sounds. There’s rock samples, breakbeats, and all the same stuff he’d always use, but it sounded different too. It’s nice to be able to step off and do something leftfield just because you can. So I try to test myself to be as good as a producer as I can be. So to me, being able to experiment is huge.

 

The Roots Illadelph Halflife (Geffen) 1996

Gotta represent the hometown! Questlove is his own entity, and Black Thought is simply amazing. This album in particular is what I wanted to do in terms of my own musical life. The Roots were influenced by the New York sound, and I always loved their take on it. They were always musically very different because they’re obviously a live band, so they always did more than what you could with just samples. I came to this later than my first Roots experience with Things Fall Apart. So I came to Illadelph backwards, when I was a little older, so I definitely appreciate what they were doing at that point in their career.

 

Gang Starr Moment of Truth (Virgin/Noo Trybe Records) 1998

I haven’t said a Gang Starr album on here and I don’t know which one. [laughsDaily Operation is my favorite because it’s not perfect. They were not yet who either of them would become but, I just liked the simplicity of that Preemo era. Guru as well, of course. But Moment of Truth is the perfect balance of both artists at the top of their respective crafts. They both improved. Like they said on the album, “We update our formulas.” Guru was at his best here. And this seemed like an evolution of Preemo. He always had a particular skillset but here the entire repertoire is on display.

02/05/19 Articles

Cosmic Reverb: Edwin Birdsong

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Edwin Birdsong

Producer, songwriter, and organist Edwin Birdsong is the anonymous genius behind some of jazz-funk’s most cosmic moments. The Los Angeles native reconnected with high school acquaintance Roy Ayers in New York, and the two began work on a series of records that would change the course of jazz and popular music at large. The relationship would give birth to a funky jazz with commercial leanings that worked both live and on the dance floor. Birdsong remained committed to a solo career, releasing a string of records, including two highly influential albums—one on Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International and one on Salsoul—whose effects are still reverberating. Influenced by Larry Levan and the New York club scene, Birdsong’s left-field boogie anthem “Cola Bottle Baby” would become fodder for both Daft Punk and Kanye West, and his bare funk breakbeat track “Rapper Dapper Snapper” would nod hip-hop heads for years, bringing Birdsong’s grooves to a new global audience.

 

 

Edwin Birdsong What It Is 

When I first saw the credits on those mid-’70s Roy Ayers Ubiquity LPs like Vibrations and Lifeline, I wondered who Edwin Birdsong was. Here was a left-field keyboardist and songwriter who not only worked as coproducer on those pivotal Ubiquity LPs but also had writing credits on classics like “Running Away” and “Red, Black & Green.” Deeper digging revealed a series of his own experimental cosmic-soul LPs that began in 1971 with the Polydor debut What It Is and ended with his Salsoul outing, Funtaztik, in 1981. Despite his prescient and unique music being heavily sampled (De La Soul, Gang Starr, Daft Punk, Chemical Brothers, et al.), Edwin Birdsong remains a cultish figure whose genius is shrouded by anonymity.

Born in Los Angeles in 1951, Edwin Birdsong was raised in a religious household where his pastor father, who sang in a church quartet, instilled a love of the spirituals. “I started playing piano in Sunday school when I was about eight or nine, playing simple things like ‘Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross,’ ” he tells me over the phone from L.A. “So that’s really where I got started at the Solid Rock Baptist Church, although I didn’t realize at the time how influential it was going to be.” Following his father’s path, he also started singing at the church and as a teenager joined the Los Angeles Community Choir, meeting such luminaries as Merry Clayton and Billy Preston.

An equally important formative experience for Birdsong came from outside of the church. “I started studying classical music when I was about six years of age through a piano teacher who lived a few doors away,” he recalls. At the same time as he was developing his classical piano techniques, he was also beginning his first attempts at composition: “I would improvise and make things up while I was playing at the church. I always had that urge to try different things on the piano around the songs I was learning.” While the church would provide his foundation, young Edwin’s ears were opened further to secular music through local radio: “I would hear boogie-woogie tunes, and I noticed that they all had that left-hand movement. And because I was left-handed, it was never really difficult for me to play.” At junior high school, he formed his first small band playing piano with a group of friends. “It was a very rough thing,” he says, “just a group of kids getting together and trying to imitate other people.” But through one of those kids, he was soon to discover a new instrument that would change his creative path: “A friend had taught me how to play a twelve-bar blues in the Jimmy Smith style, on an old Hammond. So from there, I learned to play jazz organ.”

Birdsong earned his spurs on the organ when he moved to Germany as an army serviceman in his late teens during the Vietnam War. “When I got there, I was already playing the blues, so I would sit in with the band and play the popular songs. And the bartenders, who were the guys in those days who would hire the musicians, would ask me if I had a band. So I put together a group, and that group was called Birdsong and the Sounds.” Stationed in Baltimore for his last six months of service, he put together various bands in the clubs down the famous jazz hub of Pennsylvania Avenue. “Most clubs there at the time had a Hammond organ, which was perfect for me,” he says.

With his horizons opened by his trips abroad, Edwin moved to New York after he left the army in the late ’60s. “I was going to a music store called Manny’s where I could get hold of the ‘fake books’ that had all the popular jazz classics. So it was through going to Manny’s that I really started to want to learn more about serious jazz. I would go to the clubs up in Harlem and say to the guys, ‘Hey, how do you play over these changes?’ ” He was soon sitting in on jam sessions around the city and started to make some influential contacts: “George Benson was playing in one of the clubs uptown, so I sat in with that session. There was always a jam session like that in the week, and I would learn a lot from that.”

His serious musical intentions were furthered when he attended both Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard. “People at Manhattan School of Music were more hippy-like, but those at Juilliard were much too serious for me, because I was running around smoking marijuana and having fun with all these different musicians,” he says. “But when I left Manhattan School of Music to study at Juilliard, I did become much more serious in my own studies, because they really challenged you. All the students there studied really hard. I didn’t want to be Bach though, and I certainly didn’t want my music to be so stuffy that it couldn’t be commercial at the same time.”

Through his wife, Michelle, who was working as a stewardess on American Airlines, Birdsong was introduced to Wes Farrell, cowriter of the hit song “Hang on Sloopy.” “Wes had his own publishing company, and I let him hear some of the songs I had written,” he recalls. “I didn’t know until then I could just get paid as a writer for other people, but that’s what I started to do. I was also playing at a club in the East Village called Pee Wee’s, and Wes came to hear me and invited Jerry Schoenbaum, the President of Polydor. So Jerry heard me play, and it went from there.”

Edwin Birdsong’s debut LP, What It Is, was released on Polydor in 1971. The album was recorded at the Fame Recording Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, with executive producer Ted Cooper and engineers like Jerry Masters. It would prove to be an LP of great depth and maturity for a young man who had just turned twenty. “It was nothing for me to write those songs, really; it came very easy to me,” he says. “Ted Cooper really knew his way around the studio, and I also became very interested in that. I had studied technical illustration in college, so I always embraced that kind of stuff, because I was something of a nerd. I was very technical in my approach to music.”

Drawing heavily on the social and political issues of the time, it sat comfortably next to LPs like Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On and Gil Scott-Heron’s Pieces of a Man. “This was just after the ’60s at the time of the protest songs and stuff like that, and so I came up with numbers like ‘It Ain’t No Fun Being a Welfare Recipient’ and ‘Mr. Money Man.’ ” These were just two of the songs written with his wife, with whom he’d set up the Michelle-Bird publishing company, and who went on to write songs with both Edwin and Roy Ayers.

Alongside other socially conscious numbers like “Pretty Brown Skin” (cowritten with Michelle Birdsong and Roy Ayers, who also recorded the track the same year) and “The Uncle Tom Game” was the gospel-influenced “My Father Preaches That God Is the Father.” Despite his new connections with the hip jazz world of New York, this dedication showed the respect Edwin would always have for the church. “Coming from a religious background, I didn’t want to go back to California and be playing in the clubs because of my father being a pastor,” he says. “So that prompted me even more to stay in New York.” Perhaps the standout track on the LP and certainly the most progressive was “The Spirit of Do…Do,” which was later slowed down into a woozy jazz-funk cut on the Roy Ayers Ubiquity LP Mystic Voyage.

Edwin’s relationship with Roy Ayers went right back to their high school days in Los Angeles: “Roy went to Jefferson High School, and I went to Freeman High, which were rival schools. At the time, I was a member of this group of guys called the Continental Gents. We would put on parties and stuff, and Roy was in one of the groups that we had hired to play for us out at the beach.” The pair’s friendship would be rekindled when both relocated to New York: “I lived on Eighteenth Street, and he moved just around the corner on Seventh Avenue between Eighteenth and Nineteenth Streets. So he and I became friends. This would have been around 1969.” Roy Ayers was already making his name in the city’s jazz scene as Edwin recalls: “He was playing with Herbie Mann at the time.” Ayers and Mann’s relationship had been cemented on the 1969 heavyweight LP Memphis Underground. “I really liked Herbie’s music but hadn’t realized Roy played in the band. Anyway, I was introduced to him by Roy, and I actually did my first recording session for Herbie at Atlantic Studios.” Birdsong and Ayers soon entered the studio together, beginning a long creative partnership. “I think my main influence on Roy at that time was getting him to move from being a purely jazz musician to become more bluesy and commercial,” he says. “I also took him from just playing jazz into singing more.”

Roy Ayers’s 1970 LP, Ubiquity, would be a milestone recording both for Ayers and Birdsong. “That was the start of our publishing company, Ayer-Bird Music,” says Edwin. The exploratory sound of “Pretty Brown Skin” and “Hummin’ ” (most recently sampled by Kendrick Lamar on “Celebration”) worked like a template for the pair’s future explorations into cosmic jazz-funk. It was a sound founded as much on Birdsong’s complex organ arrangements as the elegant, shifting vibraphone work of Ayers.

Edwin Birdsong Super Natural

In 1973, Birdsong furthered his musical partnership with Ayers, penning the classic title track of the Red, Black & Green album. The same year, Edwin returned with his second LP, Super Natural. “How that (album) differed from What It Is was that I wanted to do a more rock-influenced album,” he says. “I had used Eddie Kramer on the first album to mix the LP, and on Super Natural, I brought him in as a producer and engineer. I had a young guitarist by the name of Ronnie Drayton. He was such a great guitarist in that Hendrix tradition that it blew Eddie’s mind.” The LP was recorded at Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studio in New York. “When we were there, Jimi’s stuff was in the hallway—his amps and stuff were scattered about—so his spirit was really all over that album,” says Birdsong.

Edwin Birdsong Dance of Survival

However, Polydor’s lack of promotion for the LP left Birdsong frustrated. “I had met these two DJs from WDAS Radio in Philadelphia, Sonny Hopson and Perry Johnson, and we set up our own label, Bam-Boo,” he says. Free from the constraints of the majors, Birdsong went deep: “Whereas with a major label, you had to get approval for this and get approval for that, now I could just do my own thing. And that’s what I did.” Released on Bam-Boo in 1975, Dance of Survival found Birdsong at his most individual on an LP that became a cornerstone of astral soul. “We were never following in the trail of other things that were out there,” he says. “That was the jazz thing in me; you know, just doing your own thing without copying someone’s style or concept.” There was one figure whose ideas particularly inspired him though. “Sun Ra was playing at a club called Slug’s [Saloon] on the Lower East Side, and Michelle and I would go there and listen to him a lot. He was very exploratory, and his approach led me down a tunnel of freedom.” This new freedom can be heard on the tripped-out soul of “Your Smile Gave Birth to My Idea,” perhaps the LP’s masterpiece. “I recorded the LP in a studio where Kool and the Gang had been, and they had left their Mellotron. So I used that to produce the sound,” he says. Another killer track on the LP is “Night of the Full Moon,” one of Birdsong’s most unearthly productions. “From studying music, I always liked secondo harmony, using seconds and minor seconds; so that’s how I created that strange feeling,” he explains.

The 1976 Roy Ayers Ubiquity LP Vibrations would see Birdsong join Ayers as co-arranger and producer as well as writer of “The Memory” on what was Birdsong’s biggest involvement on a Ubiquity LP. “I would take Roy’s songs that were instrumentals and I would give it lyrical and melodic content. So when you hear things like ‘The Memory,’ those were all my vocal arrangements.” While disco was about to transcend its underground roots, Birdsong and Ayers had been working on a more upbeat dance-floor sound that would reach its zenith on the 1977 LP Lifeline. The LP included “Running Away,” Roy Ayers’s most famous song apart from “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.” Not only cowritten by Birdsong, the track also featured his vocals up front in the mix. “You can actually hear my voice on ‘Running Away’ more than Roy’s,” he says. “Running Away” would become an anthem at clubs from the Loft in New York to Crackers in London. Another Ayers and Birdsong collaboration that tore up dance floors worldwide was “Freaky Deaky,” which would appear on Ayers’s Let’s Do It LP.

Discovered by Roy Ayers at a showcase in 1976, Cincinnati group Saturday Night Special were propelled into rare-groove folklore when they were renamed RAMP (after Roy Ayers’s production company) and invited into the studio with Ayers and Birdsong. “We couldn’t believe what was happening. It was like a dream come true,” the band’s John Manuel told Wax Poetics back in 2007. Come into Knowledge was one of Birdsong and Ayers’s most serious collaborations as writers and producers. If there was one track that captured the space-soul sound that would inspire so many for years to come, it was “Daylight,” sampled most famously by A Tribe Called Quest on “Bonita Applebum.” “We were told that that sound was what impressed A Tribe Called Quest,” recalled John Manuel. It was a sound built around Birdsong’s vocal arrangements of the band’s two singers, Sharon Matthews and Sibel Thrasher. “He was marvelous with the vocals,” Matthews explained. “He had us doing things we didn’t even know we could do.” The LP also included the biting soul-jazz of “The American Promise” (later reworked by Erykah Badu as “Amerykahn Promise” with Edwin on coproduction duties with Roy Ayers).

While the RAMP LP was avidly devoured by beat seekers in the years to come, Birdsong’s most heavily sampled LP was his self-titled 1979 solo return and his only LP on Philadelphia International. 

Edwin Birdsong

“I had already recorded the LP and played it for Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, and they offered me a deal,” he says. “So as a result, that was different to what people like Teddy Pendergrass and other artists were doing with Philadelphia. I was one of the first to come in with my own songs and own production; I didn’t use Kenny or Leon to write anything. So they just let me do my own thing, which I loved.” The LP was recorded at the New York branch of the legendary Sigma Sound Studio. Around this time, Edwin was a regular at the city’s underground clubs: “I went to Paradise Garage all the time, and Larry Levan and I became friends; and of course before that, there was Tee Scott at Better Days. That was a very free place, and I always observed closely what was going on.” Those nights inspired the hazy, cosmic boogie of “Cola Bottle Baby,” a wonderfully left-field track that still sounds progressive today. Sampled by Daft Punk on “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” in 2001, it most recently provided the hook for Kanye West’s “Stronger.” Birdsong also includes the electro-funk of “Goldmine” and the out-there disco of “Phiss Phizz.” Referring to the 12-inch promo-only flip to “Goldmine,” Birdsong says, “Tee and I did a mix of ‘Phiss Phizz,’ and we gave it to Larry [Levan], and he loved it,” says Birdsong.

In 1980, Birdsong and Ayers collaborated once more on another future cult classic, Ladies of the Eighties by Eighties Ladies. “I found most of the girls that sang on that, and named the group,” says Edwin. An underground club hit that reached new ears when it opened the influential compilation Classic Rare Groove Mastercuts, Volume 1, “Turned On to You” is another example of Birdsong’s beautiful vocal arrangements on an LP packed with soulful gems.

Edwin Birdsong Funtaztik LP

A year later, he was to return on another legendary label. Released on Salsoul in 1981, the LP Funtaztik saw Birdsong in the studio with the great engineer Bob Blank and a band that included bassist Marcus Miller. With touches of François Kevorkian’s mix of Dinosaur L’s “Go Bang,” the opener, “Win Tonight,” is a gloriously off-key slab of mutant disco. But it was “Rapper Snapper Dapper” that made the biggest mark on the underground clubs of New York. “I took that to Larry at the Garage, and he loved it. He played the shit out of it, and that crowd loved it.” Later sampled most famously by De La Soul for “Me Myself and I,” the track was actually inspired by visits to another pivotal New York club. “I went to the [Disco] Fever in the Bronx a lot and listened to DJs like Grandmaster Flash. I’ve always been a student of music and would take notes of what was going [on]. The Fever was like the spot at the time. It was a very special place like the Paradise Garage.”

Nights at Disco Fever inspired Edwin’s next commercial venture with the label Singh Records. His 1984 production of “Break ’N Spin” was the first in a series of electro classics tailor-made for the street crowd at clubs like Disco Fever and the Funhouse. The label saw him work with an old friend he had first met in the 1970s. “Marley Marl was spinning at a club in Queensbridge, and I just happened to come by there and had a copy of ‘Rapper Dapper Snapper’ and was trying to get it out there. I gave him a copy, and he was about the first one to play it. He was only about fifteen or sixteen at the time. So it was great to work with him on [the 1987 12-inch ‘On a Mission’ from hip-hop duo] Too Nice for Singh.” As well as mixing other tracks for Too Nice’s 1989 LP, Cold Facts, on Arista (an album that Birdsong coproduced with the Aleem Brothers), Marley Marl also coproduced Birdsong’s “Too Good to Go (When You Get It Right)” alongside Patrick Adams. 

It’s a partnership that continues to this day. “Marley Marl had a great influence on what I did with my music later on,” Edwin says. “In fact, he and I just cut something in the studio about two months ago when I was in New York.” Whether cutting tracks with Marley Marl, being sampled by Daft Punk, or mentoring cats like Funkghost, Edwin Birdsong continues to exert his influence in his own unassuming way: “I have been truly blessed to have met and been with all these different people,” he concludes modestly.