I was asked by my good friends at Gottwood Festival to mix the latest podcast of their series. So here it is! An hour of afterparty house music…
// CHICAGO MASTERS, DETROIT MASTERS
// DEEP TECHNO, LOCKED HOUSE
There’s italo disco, and then there’s italian disco. The former’s most popular gift to the world, albeit in a bastardised and commercial evolution, came in the shape of synth and europop (Eiffel 65 anyone?). Whilst italo disco and its offspring conquered the continent, there was a small contingent of pizza munching artists making traditional, american style disco and groove. It’s easy to imagine what these efforts sounded like… cheap, carbon copy sounds without any of the soul or passion of the originals. You would be wrong though! - some even broke in to american and british charts, and were heavily sessioned, and appreciated, in clubs, ballrooms and blocks all across the States.
Giorgio Moroder, all round legend and the face of italo disco
Italian disco production reached such levels of acclaim that Kashif, Luther Vandross, B B & Q Band - responsible for some of the genre’s most characteristic nuances, certainly very much involved in shaping its identity - worked extensively with italian writers, producers and composers. B B & Q Band was actually founded by 2 Italians, Jacques Fred Petrus and Mauro Malavasi. The two met in Bologna in the late 70s as the latter was enrolled in at the city’s prestigious music school, and together founded Goody Music productions in ‘78.
Change - Warm
Change was one of the many successful projects that came out of the Goody Music factory, and although Luther Vandross had left as lead singer by the time this track came out in ‘84, it is still one of my favourite Change cuts. The album (Change Of Heart) doesn’t perhaps live up to the standards of other 80s disco albums, but makes it for it in buckets of style with the most killer artwork.
Check out more of Greg Porto’s artwork here
B B & Q Band - Riccochet
Why, and how, did a small boot shaped piece of land miles away from the genre’s birthplace have such a seminal impact on postdisco/boogie? I’ve often considered the connection between the US and Italy as perplexing and hard to pinpoint, but nonetheless existant: from the obvious (the freeing of the country by American troups in WW2) down to the details (the vociferous and reactionary Italian character is parallelled in disco music, itself a avenue for the oppressed and the marginalised). Then there’s Italian design (from fashion to interior decorating, cars etc.) from the late 60s and 70s that is mirrored in much of 80s disco. Whatever it was, the impact and lasting legacy of Malavasi & co. was such that it would be impossible to talk about disco without mentioning the Italian connection at all.
Pronounced Jah-Nay:apart from being the name of Zhané’s first album, it was also meant as statement of intent - we are here now. Like many neo soul/commercial crossovers of the time however, this particular Rnb duo were victims of the record labels’ ruthlessly exploitative means of churning out urban music: signed on to a 1 album contract (that sold very well), they were given the chance to record a second, 1997’s Saturday Night. Both intelligent and musically talented, they clashed with the executives over the direction the album should take, and although it faired pretty well in the charts, they were dumped.
Zhané - Groove Thang
Although they were treated very unfairly, their first album is bursting with the attitude and self confidence inferred from the LP’s title. Groove Thang is a personal favourite of mine, andnot only because Nice N’ Ripe’s 24 Hour Experience sampled it so effectively. I consider it a straight up club number, and have played it numerous times to a great response.
De La Soul feat. Zhané - 4 More
Had to include this groover, off De La’s seminal ‘96 effort Stakes Is High. Such a buttery track, I love the duo’s vocals and interspersed harmonic flurries throughout the track. Smoother than Barry White wrapped in velvet!
AZ, Ray Buchanan & Scott Gailbraith feat. Zhané - When The Cheering Stops
Produced by The Ummah and Rick St. Hilaire, this track is off NFL Jams, an album that would be hilarious if it wasn’t so good. An official NFL product, it features everyone from Donell Jones to Ghostface dueting with some of the biggest football stars of the time. In this case, NFL big dogs Scott Gailbraith and Ray Buchanan deliver the goods to the fullest - and of course Zhané handle the chorus with consumate ease. Shouts out to CHOICE CUTS favourites AZ and D’Angelo, who’s Lady is subtly interpolated.
Sometimes I wonder what a 5th or 6th Zhané record would sound like, and what Rnb in generally would’ve become if groups like this one had been given time and faith by their labels. As it happened, it was cheaper and more effective to go from group to group, churn out an LP or two and then discard them, leaving behind a trail of shattered dreams, mismanaged careers and a toxic environment in which thought and musical integrity was cast aside in favour of cheap gimmicks and glossy appearances. Whilst many fell by the wayside, victims of their own manufactured dizzying, snapshot success, Zhané landed gracefully, going their separate ways and becoming involved in many other musical projects, including collaborations with Roy Hargrove’s RH Factor. Blessings.
A month or so ago I wrote a piece on Keith Sweat for a new online magazine… Here ya go
Last year, Keith Sweat celebrated his 50th birthday. Although this decade hasn’t matched the commercial success and relevance within the sphere of “urban music” enjoyed in years gone by, he remains one of modern R&B’s earliest and most influential pioneers. As we celebrate his career, and look back at some of the highlights, the intrinsic connection between one artist and the genre he propelled to the top of the charts is an intriguing one: what is Keith Sweat’s and New Jack Swing’s legacy on R&B and pop music?
New Jack Swing is a genre whose sonic journey, from raw to bastardised, niche to chart, mirrored its rapid ascent and spectacular fall from grace. It lifted grooves and syncopations from hip-hop and coalesced them with the vocal rhythms and harmonisations found in R&B. It proved so popular that nearly all turn of the millenium R&B is in one form or another a take on the genre. The accentuated hip-hop beat driving the sweeter, more melodic vocal, as found in Ashanti’s ‘Foolish’ or Ne-Yo’s ‘Sexy Love’, are two good contemporary examples.
Back in 1987 however, when Keith Sweat’s debut, Make It Last Forever, first hit the shelves, the boundaries between hip-hop and R&B were still distant. The album was an instant hit, selling over 3 million copies and receiving generally favourable reviews. Whilst the lyrical tone and content of the record was nothing groundbreaking, it was the production, handled by Sweat and Teddy Riley, that really stood out. Every track had a bump and kick to it that revolutionised the “slow jam” - R&B and and Keith Sweat’s most iconic style. Track 7, ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ is my personal favourite on the album, and when broken down perfectly illustrates how the first incarnations of New Jack Swing resonated in popular urban music culture. Although the song’s content - a pretty conventional tale about the uncertain nature of love - does nothing but follow the R&B slow jam norm, it is fused, almost forced on top of a grinding, hard hitting beat, with a growling bassline and a solitary, accentuated sonic ‘boom' on the 3rd beat of every bar. The production of ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ illustrates how New Jack added depth, style and commercial possibilities to the much plundered R&B ballad. No longer the domain of feminine crooners and starlets, the genre thrusted the figure of the masculine, urban singer into the limelight.
Keith Sweat’s career reached its peak in 1997, if not in sales, but in popular recognition, as he won the American Music Award for Best Male R&B/Soul Artist. His eponymous album Keith Sweat, released the previous year, was his 5th platinum selling album in a row and is, without doubt, my favourite. It spawned two chart topping singles, ‘Nobody’ and ‘Twisted’. By this point, New Jack Swing had become a permanent fixture in the charts and minds of R&B and hip-hop heads. 1996 alone saw the release of two of the genre’s most memorable efforts. First up wasReturn Of The Mack by english singer Mark Morrison, a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic and the first time a black solo male act reached number 1 (in the UK). In Morrison, New Jack perhaps found it’s embodied apotheosis - rougher around the edges than Keith Sweat but with the same coarse voice, he had handcuffs on one hand and held flowers in the other. His tunes flowed nicely whether dancing or kicking back. In essence, his personality appealed to all demographics. In July, Return Of The Mack was followed by No Diggity by Blackstreet (of which Teddy Riley was a member). The track, a US number 1, featured a guest rhyme by Dr. Dre, in a classic example of how rap and R&B had successfully permeated into one another’s universes by this point.
Criticised by some factions in the rap world as a commercial, genre-mashing venture with no soul, and adopted by a flurry of producers in search of the next big hit, New Jack Swing in the mid 90s was an altogether different proposition to the slow, hard style of Make It Last Forever. Although it had become a staple of urban music, its rapid commercialisation had ironed out some its clunkier sounding characteristics. Keith Sweat’s release was sandwiched betweenReturn Of The Mack and No Diggity, once again positioning Sweat, literally and symbolically, at the heart of New Jack Swing’s transformation.
As New Jack Swing slid back into the murky depths of chart obscurity, so did Keith Sweat. Popular urban music at the turn of the century turned its attention toward electronica, leaving its raw, stripped back legacy behind. R&B’s increasing fascination with dance music was a transition too far for him. What he and New Jack leave us with, though, is a musical style full of texture and groove, bounce and rhythm, a pleasure to listen to at home, in the car, in the club. So happy birthday Keith Sweat, and thank you!
Before becoming every housewife’s favourite crooner and studiously sculpting embarrassing facial hair/curly mullet combos (actually scrap that last statement), Lionel Richie was behind some of the best soul albums with the Commodores, and disco records when he embarked on a solo career in the early 80s. His second album, Can’t Slow Down, released in ‘83, encompasses the smooth disco sound he was so good at producing.
- Someone please find me this notebook
Can’t Slow Down's 5th track, Love Will Find A Way, is not only a great track in its own right, but also offers solid evidence when exploring the ways urban music feeds on its ancestry and tradition when crafting new genres. Lionel's track has given birth to two great cuts, one hip hop and one house.
Although The Dogg Pound’s track only samples the initial drum loop, it is nonetheless a fascinating insight into the science of sampling: who would of thought that the duo, infamous for its thug lyrics and general gangster demeanour, were Lionel Richie fans? It’s funny thinking of them head nodding in the studio to the original, sippin on a 40 in a Raiders hat. Miguel Migs’ track is truer to Lionel’s: he keeps it real simple, adding a nice bassline and little else. The result is a killer house number, reaffirming the intrinsic connection that house and disco share. Enjoy!