Labels To Watch: First Word Records

first word records

The British label First Word Records was founded in 2003 and since then they’ve been making some interesting moves, steadily adding talented acts to their roster. Founded by Aly Gillani and DJ Andy H, the label released their first compilation, “Two Syllables”, in 2004 and since then a new one has been released every year. These compilations do a good job of showcasing where the label is at musically at the moment and are well worth checking out.

First Word releases cover a wide range of genres and styles, from afrobeat to instrumental hip hop, but according to the founders the common thread is the soulfulness of all their acts. I tend to agree and below is a sample of some of my favorite music on the label.

 

Tall Black Guy                                                                       

Tall Black Guy, whose real name is Terrel Wallace, is a talented, versatile and very prolific producer from Detroit, Michigan. Throughout the years he has been developing a signature sound which often involves very clever and original sample flips. The man simply has an amazing talent for flipping even the most well-worn samples in new and interesting ways. His work spans hip hop, soul and R&B and he also does a lot of remix work. Definitely one to watch!

 

Ariya Astrobeat Arkestra
This group from Leeds, England with the wicked name is equally inspired by Fela Kuti’s afrobeat, space jazz from the 1970’s and free jazz from the 1960´s. It’s a combination that makes for some very interesting music and they’ve explored their unique sound on two full length releases so far.

 

Souleance
Souleance is a French production duo formed in 2006.  They are DJ Soulist, who runs the “What The Funk”-nightclub in Paris, and Fulgeance who is a hip hop producer and remixer. They released their first full length in 2012 and have also released smaller projects. I’m not a massive fan of their music but they have very eclectic tastes and now and then they succeed in combining their influences in an interesting fashion. Among other things, they’ve explored hip hop, jazz, funk and Turkish music. They also recently journeyed into Brazilian music with some pretty satisfying results.

 

Riot Jazz Brass Band
This horn-heavy outfit from Manchester, England is clearly influenced by contemporary brass-fusion bands like the Hot 8 Brass Band and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, but they’ve also succeeded in carving out their own sound.  In the long run, all the horniness can get a bit too much for my tastes, but they certainly have their moments. I’m also told that they’re live shows are quite a sight to behold.

 

 

 

 

 

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Labels To Watch: Soulection

soulec

Now and then I will be highlighting some of the interesting record labels out there by doing a small profile on them. Hopefully this can serve as an entry point for those unfamiliar and as a guide to some of their important releases. First up is the Los Angeles-based label Soulection which has been putting out an impressive amount of quality music over the past few years.

Soulection is both a record label and an artist collective and they also broadcast their own excellent radio show. The company has been in existence since 2011 and the people behind it are Joe Kay, Guillaume Bonte and Andre Power.

A lot of the music released on Soulection is a product of the so called beats scene phenomenon which occurred in Los Angeles in the late 00’s. Around this time a group of electronic music producers started experimenting with new sounds in their bedrooms and in L.A. clubs like Low End Theory. A lot of the music made took cues from left field hip hop like J.Dilla and Stones Throw Records but also added things like electronica, 90’s RnB and jazz to the mix creating an innovative and forward thinking stew which soon caught fire and made stars out of people like Flying Lotus.

Soulection was established in the aftermath of the beats scene-hype when the sound started seeping out of L.A. and into the work of artists from other regions including many of those on the label. Just as the beats scene artists often differed quite a bit from each other, most of the artists on Soulection have their own sound, but also a certain aural aesthetic which binds them together. The music is producer driven, mainly instrumental and often reworks or references existing tracks from the world of urban music past or present.

Kay and co originally used Bandcamp to grow the label and managed to put out an impressive 28 releases during their first two years. Originally all releases were available for free but they’ve since started charging. The past few years have been successful ones. Apart from touring all over the world doing shows and attracting the attention of major players in the record industry, they recently entered a partnership with clothing brand Stussy. Big things are definitely in store for these guys.

Below are some of my favorite artists on the Soulection roster. There are many more artists on the label, so make sure to stop by their website or Soundcloud to check out more music if you like what you hear.

 

Lakim                                                                                                                                                                    The Lynchburg, Virginia-bred Lakim is a man comfortable with many different styles and sounds. According to himself he originated the term “Future Bounce” which has since become a musical movement in its own right. It’s a fitting description, but one too limited for Lakim’s diverse sound. His debut full length “This is Her” effortlessly blended downtempo and broken beats with RnB, soul and more, but he also creates boom bap hip hop and occasionally dips his toes in deep house waters.

 

Sango                                                                                                                                                                     The young, Michigan-based producer Sango calls his music “spiritual bass music”. He’s part of a wave of heavily RnB-influenced underground dance music producers which also includes people like Kaytranada and Schlomo. Sango first gained attention by remixing artists like The Weeknd and Aahliyah, but he really revealed his musical chops on his acclaimed debut LP “North” from 2012.

 

Iamnobodi                                                                                                                                                         This rising producer from Hamburg, Germany is a skilled musical craftsman who’s music embraces influences from jazz, house, hip hop and electronica. He’s shown his versatility on a number of releases which convey a wide range of moods and atmospheres as well as a consistent ability to keep heads nodding.

 

Mr Carmack                                                                                                                                                           A master at blurring genre distinctions, Honolulu’s Mr Carmack blends hip hop, trap, soul and RnB into cocktails that are often captivating. The producer/remixer/dj’s career really got a boost when his “Bang, Vol 3” and “Life Death” EP  became best sellers on Bandcamp.

 

 

 

 

 

5 Modern Funk Artists To Watch

dam funk

Funk isn’t really a style associated with black mainstream music much anymore. Back in the 70s funk artists like James Brown, The Ohio Players and Kool and The Gang were the sound of the streets and in the 80s artists like Rick James, Prince and Cameo made sure real funk was never far from the airwaves. And for a large part of the 90s, of course, hip hop was driven by funk samples, but after that it seemed things slowly started to change.

Nowadays, it seems that funk has long been taking a backseat to other styles of music and isn’t the creative force it once was in black pop. That’s how it is, things go in cycles, but thankfully The Funk never really goes away. Across the globe many artists and record labels are keeping The Funk alive and exploring new and interesting ways of approaching it.

In the past few years, especially, a musical movement inspired by 80s synth funk and boogie has started to take shape. It’s been labeled Modern Funk and in this article I will spotlight a few of the artists associated with it. I will also be posting a Modern Funk mix very soon, so stay tuned for that.

 

Dam Funk

One of the first artists to really drag The Funk out of it’s hibernation was Dam Funk from Pasadena, Califorinia. The musician, vocalist and producer signed to Stones Throw Records in 2007 and released the well received Toeachizown in 2009.  Around this time he also started getting airplay from several influential DJs and his synth funk/boogie influenced sound became very influential in shaping the Modern Funk movement.

 

Reggie B

The multi talented Reggie B from Topeca, Kansas comes from a family background steeped in jazz, gospel and funk. Which might explain why he’s been making musical power moves since an early age. Reggie is a musician, singer, producer, arranger and label owner who has released five solo albums and collaborated with artists like DJ Spinna and Onra. He describes his work as “future music”. A fitting title for his intergalactic funk n soul.

 

Brian Ellis

Multi-instrumentalist, producer and remixer Brian Ellis har worked with everyone from electro pioneer Egyptian Lover  to veteran house/techno producer Moodyman. His music knows no boundaries and over a number of solo albums he has explored many different genres including free jazz, psychedelic and world music. He is, however, also very at home with The Funk.

 

XL Middleton

California hip hop in the 90´s was ruled by G-funk. Nowadays that sound isn’t very common, but Japanese-American producer XL Middleton keeps funkin’ on. The Pasadena-based artist went from being a hip hop artist who sampled funk records to a modern funk musician who cooks everything up from scratch. So far his sound has benefited artists like Crooked I, Mistah Fab and Cashis.

 

Tryezz

Like most African American music forms funk originated in the south. So it’s no surprise it’s still alive and well down there. Tryezz is a modern funk producer from Tenessee who has been around for a while but doesn’t get quite as much exposure as he should if you ask me. Hopefully that will change in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marvin Gaye Retrospective – “Got To Give It Up”

This classic track has been receiving quite a bit of attention lately, due to the controversial lawsuit by Robin Thicke against the Marvin Gaye-estate. As you may know, Thicke is preemptively suing the Gaye-estate because relatives of Gaye have suggested that Thicke’s summer smash hit, “Blurred Lines”, incorporates elements of “Got To Give it Up”. Now, apparently, the Gaye-family is also counter suing Thicke. However you might feel about that whole situation, we figured it was a good excuse to take a look at the original track and how it has influenced other artists in less controversial ways over the years.

Besides being one of Gaye’s biggest hit records, the song has also been quite influential. It was written by Gaye and produced by Art Stewart and released in March of 1977. This was at quite a late point in Gaye’s career, as he had been putting out records as a solo artist since the early sixties . In 1977 he was a soul superstar, with many hit records under his belt as well as having released one of the most important soul albums of all time “Whats Going On” from 1971.

In the mid seventies, however, the music industry was rapidly entering the age of disco and many soul and funk acts who had been successful in the late sixties/early seventies were having big trouble adjusting to this new musical climate. Many were unable to adjust and their careers floundered because of it.

Marvin himself wasn’t very fond of disco as he thought it lacked substance. However, Motown, Marvin’s record label for many years, were anxious to cash in on the new dance rhythms popularized by disco and wanted him to put out something similar. Though initially unwilling, he finally agreed and the resulting track was “Got To Give It Up”.

And it’s a good thing he did, as it turned out to be one of the all time classics of the era. Upon it’s release, it immediately shot up several US charts and also did very well in the UK. It became his biggest hit in several years and helped him weather the disco storm.

Though it has since attained status as a disco classic, technically speaking it isn’t actually disco, but more of a funk track with jazz-funk elements. The solid groove and Marvin’s smooth falsetto did, however, make it extremely dance floor friendly and gave the dance hungry disco crowd something to get down to. Since then many others have done the same.

Over the years quite a few artists have been inspired by the track and have responded to it in different ways. Check out the list below for some examples.

The Jacksons – Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)

The song was an inspiration for Michael Jackson, who at  the time was trying to write a hit for his family group The Jacksons. Along with his brother Randy, Michael later wrote “Shake Your Body (Down to Ground)”, whose title and hook were inspired by the chant in Marvin’s song, “let’s dance, let’s shout, get funky what it’s all about”. The brothers altered the phrase slightly and applied it to one of the group’s best ever dance tracks.

Michael Jackson – Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough

In 1979 Michael released, “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough”, the first single from his classic album “Off The Wall”. According to some the song was also influenced by “Got To Give It Up. True or not, there are certain similarities, namely the falsetto vocals and the funky approach to disco. Both songs have of course gone on to become massive classics in their own right.

Pharoah Sanders – Got To Give It Up

Jazz saxophonist, Pharoah Sanders, covered the song in 1977 on his album “Love Will Find A Way”. He kept it funky.

Aaliyah – Got To Give It Up ft Slick Rick

R&B princess of the 1990s, Aaliyah, covered “Got To Give It Up” on her album “One in a Million” in 1996. This version actually samples Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and features Slick Rick the Ruler. Aaliyah’s version doesn’t stray too far from the original, but it’s a decent update of the song. It didn’t fare too well commercially though failing to chart in the US and finding only minor success in the UK.

Mayer Hawthorne – Henny and Ginger Ale

Like “Blurred Lines”, Mayer Hawthorne’s funky party jam also incorporated elements of “Got To Give it Up”. It was one of the best songs from his “How Do You Do” album from 2011.

Marvin Gaye – Got To Give It Up (James Sison Remix)

Earlier this year British house producer, James Sison, lifted Marvin’s vocals out of their funky surroundings gently placing them onto a bed of deep house. The result was a wonderful, atmospheric track.