DJ Akalepse launches new venture, Big Crown Records
If you visit Danny Akalepse at his Brooklyn apartment, you’ll first be greeted by his dog Hank, then an orange couch, and finally thousands of records that outline his living room.
“Having a record label is kinda like DJing,” he says, settling into a chair. “The stuff you go for makes you the DJ you are. It’s the same for record labels—the stuff you go for is going to make you the record label that you are.”
An instrumental figure in building Truth & Soul Records, known for reviving the popularity of a rich soul sound in the early 2000s with Daptone Records), the DJ reps a wide range of music in his vinyl collection. The only thing each record has in common is that they all are, in his humble opinion, good.
Akalepse and producer/Truth & Soul co-founder Leon Michels are applying this same approach to their new venture, Big Crown Records. With years of experience behind them and a fresh path ahead, the pair is freeing themselves from any kind of expectations carrying over from their former label days—sound included. “I don’t want Big Crown to be known for anything except for putting out dope shit,” he says.
The label’s catalog has already swelled to around forty-six records, ranging from 45s to full lengths, all ready to be deployed this year. The forthcoming records comprise of both originals (virtually all Truth & Soul artists are shifting over to Big Crown for forthcoming releases) as well as reissues. One such release comes from Texan outfit Sunny & the Sunliners—of which Akalepse describes lead singer Sunny as “a god in the lowrider scene.” Initially making their record debut back in the early ’60s with a collection of sweet soul ballads, Big Crown picked up the group just in time to introduce them to a new audience, only some fifty-odd years later.
“We’re an independent record label, so it’s a matter of being,” Akalepse pauses to find the right word, “innovative.” This freedom may not equal the luxury of a lot money to throw around, but it does represent their desire to do things a new, agile way. ”You gotta have a shit ton of smarts,” he says, “and a shit ton of taste. And we’re good on that.”
Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band
55 (Big Crown) 2016
First I heard their “P.I.M.P.” cover, and then I met Bjorn [Wagner, Bacao’s bandleader] while I was on tour in Europe. We went to a few cities together and started making plans to do a full length with BRSB in the van. I sent him some tunes that I thought would be fresh to do, and he sent back some originals they came up with. Bjorn is a really cool and talented guy, I’m proud of the way this came out. It was a while in the making and I think it was well worth the wait.
“Do It Again” (Big Crown) 2016
There is an earlier version of this tune that I have been playing almost every time I DJ for the last three years. I’ve played this at prime time on many nights, right next to Jay Z records; right next to Dilla records, and I can honestly say it is one of the most asked-about songs that I have. When Nicole [Wray] came back to the studio to do the new Queen Alone LP, they recut this with a new twist. It’s such a banger. I am very excited for everyone to hear this. Such great songwriting—I’m totally in love with it.
Grief Pedigree (Iron Works) 2012
I listened to the Underground Railroad radio show religiously growing up, and KA’s group Natural Elements were all over it. I remember they had a tune where they sampled Guru: “I am a genius, I mean this.” I didn’t think it was the same KA as the guy from back then, but turns out it is. This whole record is so beautiful and ugly—it’s so NY. I’m pretty sure he produced the whole thing, shot videos for most of the songs himself, and distributes the vinyl himself.
Link Up & Suede (Stones Throw) 2015
J Rocc passed by the house the other night, and he put me on to “Suede.” The shit is incredible. I hadn’t heard Anderson .Paak before that—the guy is a breath of fresh air. I reached out to [Peanut Butter] Wolf and he sent me the Link Up & Suede EP. I must have played “Droogs” a thousand times in a row; it’s hilarious and fly as hell. I played “Suede” the other night at [my Brooklyn residency] PROPS, and a bunch of New York hip-hop royalty were there (Smif N Wessun, Brand Nubian, etc.) all asking about the tune.
El Michels Affair feat. the Shacks
“Strange Boy” (Big Crown) 2016
Outside of being friends and business partners, I’m a fan of Leon [Michels]. He’s a really talented and good person. I remember we were driving around Manhattan in his car like a year ago, and he played me this new stuff he had just recorded. It was the demos for these Shacks tunes. Really killer stuff—super tough, yet super sweet. I played this tune at a block party in Bushwick, and a bunch of people came up to ask about what it was. The Shacks have a full length that’s going to come out on Big Crown later this year.
“Fantasy” (Big Crown) 2016
I had bought a Mattison 45 a few years back and it kinda got lost in the piles. I didn’t really get to listening to it until a few months ago and fell totally in love with the B-side tune, “Watch Out.” I reached out to Kate [Mattison] to see what she was doing now, and she told me about her new band, 79.5. She sent me some demos and invited me to come see them live. I was really impressed. I’m very into tunes that string you along and wind up with a twist—and what a twist on this one.
Karl Bryan and Count Ossie
“Black Up” (Coxsone Records)
I was very happy to come up on this 45, and a clean copy at that. I stay looking for reggae records, but this one is really unique to me. Feels like a jazz record in some ways—such an intense vibe, really sets a mood. This is definitely in that class of record where if you get a chance to play it and it is well received, you know you are in a good place. Sometimes it bugs me out that a record is quiet until you put the needle on it, meanwhile something like this is laying in wait.
“The Saga Begins” (Universal) 1998
I’m on a Rakim kick for the manyeth time right now. People are always saying that the R was way ahead of his time and all that—I get it and I agree, I’m amazed by the early records. But lately I’ve been revisiting some of the later ones, this tune in particular. From the intro this one gets me, with Rakim on a heavy Pete Rock production. Two of my favorite artists together, I wish there was an album of this team. I wonder whose idea it was to do the stripped-down version on the 12-inch. Now that people aren’t making hip-hop twelves much anymore, I’m not seeing all that alternate mix stuff that used to go on. It’s too bad; they are really good to DJ with.
Paul & the Tall Trees
“The Little Bit of Sunshine” (Big Crown Records) 2016
This is a killer tune; it really captures a raw emotion, and outside of the music and the production being super tight, it’s Paul’s lyrics that really get me. I can relate to pouring energy into something that isn’t going anywhere in the long run, and it taking a long time to realize that. So there I was really into this tune and how it resonated with some of my past, only to find out the whole thing is about how he was done with music… heavy tune. I’m really excited for everyone to hear this record, I just got the demos for his next album from him too, it’s really good music.
Depths of Love
“I Just Can’t Find a Love” (Sage)
I got this one at Big City Records (RIP). It’s a real unique tune, sounds really lo-fi, but then it has parts that make it seem more modern. I’m not really the guy that knows the backstory on records; where they are from, when they were recorded, etc. But it’s pretty cool to know a lot of records and see how different eras have different aesthetics, then to see that the same aesthetic that happened in one part of the world maybe happened somewhere else ten years later. A time before the internet, when things moved at the speed of people.
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