July 11, 2007

Pharoahe Monch - Body Baby Remixes

200712"HouseR & B

90’s Rawkus hip-hop hero Pharoahe Monch has returned, and he’s unexpectedly packed a whole lot of rugged organic house into his trunk for his first single. “Body Baby” is begging so hard for uptempo remixes that it practically provided them itself, centered on a 21st-century gospel-dance pomp that Pharoahe rides exceedingly well over. “Body Baby,” bouncy as it is, demands an aggressive but not overzealous reworking, so the kid-sized gloves are somewhat in order. Count of Monte Cristal and Sindin seem to have missed the point, however, treating Monch’s slight vocal as SP-1200 fodder, flanging phrases ad infinitum to sculpt something more fitting of a Beyonce trance voyage than an underground hip-hop remix.

Optimo, typically, have a much more cogent take, bringing out the gospel and deep-house elements of the source material. Escalating the bass kick, piano fills, and chorus vox, they build up the original into a dancier, more upbeat track that still retains the hip-hop feel of the original, albeit pumped-up to a more D&B tempo. The Optimo Dub take goes classic dub, running the rap through filters to achieve ultimate freak-house action. Lastly, the Vicious Circle remix gets a bit over-ambitious, attempting to cram the best of both worlds. Playing the hard-house breakdowns of the Cristal remix against the gospel-ized organic grooves of the Optimo remix, it’s laudable in terms of intent, but leaves something to be desired in the end result, making you wonder who exactly would dance to it. This single is a mixed bag to be sure, but one worth investigating, especially for those in search of rap / house crossovers that take chances, rather than skating to the easy route.

Island Records / 1736972
[Mallory O’Donnell]

February 9, 2007

Beatzcast #18: Michael F. Gill

Mixes2007DiscoR & B

I recently picked up a bizarre, very bootleg-ish compilation of 80s Canadian funk and dancefloor R&B called Funk & Boogie from the Great White North. Unfortunately, most of it, filled with clunky synthetic drums/bass and primitive Fairlight/DX7-style synthesizers, has not dated well at all. Yet there is something endearingly weird about these tracks, as they were trying to follow the poppier footsteps of Jam & Lewis while still having a foot in the post-disco club scene, all on a very minimal budget. I decided to make a mini-mix to showcase some of these oddities, the majority of which I could find nothing about (not even a Discogs listing).

I do know that all of the tracks come from the Musicworks and Street Level imprints, two labels in the early 80s that were based in Montreal, although did a lot of recording in Philadelphia with prolific disco engineer/producer Herb Powers. As for the artists, James Carmichael is likely the same singer who once headed the group Instant Funk (of I Got My Mind Made Up fame), Kim Covington was a New Jersey soul/theater singer who now lives and records in Paris, and the Little Dabs were the two children (aged 4 and 6) of the drummer from the group Gypsy Lane, who did all the music for the Village People. Speaking of the Dabs, their Spielberg-inspired single E.T. (Every Time) was a big enough hit in Canada that it got European distribution through the Belgium label BMC. I sadly know little about Jahmilla, Tara Laine, Jacki, or Dee Dee T, but the Jahmilla record did get European distribution through the Dutch label Rams Horns. To close this mix off, theres Mac Macs male answer/response track to Lisa Lisas freestyle hit I Wonder If I Take You Home, produced by someone called Grandmaster Cash. Hope you enjoy
[Michael F. Gill]

Montreal Misfits
01: James Carmichael - All Of My Love [Expansion/Musicworks]
02: Jahmilla - Pillow Talk [Street Level, 1985]
03: Tara Laine - You Made Me Believe [Street Level]
04: The Little Dabs - E.T. (Every Time) [Musicworks, 1982]
05: Kim Covington - All Of My Love [Street Level, 1983]
06: Dee Dee T - We’ve Got All Night [Unknown]
07: Jacki - Don’t Break My Heart [Unknown]
08: Mac Mac & Jamalot Kingdom - Let Me Take You Home (Lisa Lisa) [Musicworks, 1985]

January 27, 2006

Universal Robot Band - Barely Breaking Even

Reanimation1980s12"DiscoR & B

The rare conjunction of two of the finest producers in the underground disco scene, Leroy Burgess (Logg/Aleem/Black Ivory) and Patrick Adams (P & P Records, Cloud One,) “Barely Breaking Even” is an underground anthem still so resonant today that a label was named for it (the influential BBE Records.) Built around a propulsive walking bass, polyrhythmic hand-percussion, Chic-like guitar and one of Adams’ infamous wonky synthesizer lines, it’s alternately throbbing and shuddering, exploding itself into a vibrant groove that seems almost too strange to dance to, yet cannot be resisted. Mercilessly funky during the instrumental intro alone, by the time Leroy Burgess breaks into his opening “Well, well, well” you feel struck by a lightning bolt. What carries it across a staggering eleven-plus minutes is the conjunction of Burgess’ impassioned vocals and the insistent, wobbly funk of the instrumental.

The story that unfolds is one of economic hardship (”well, I just got my paycheck, and I’m on my way home/ between the rent and phone bills, it’s nearly gone”) and the desire to escape it (”Just barely breaking even/ I’ve got to get some for myself”)—hardly unfamiliar territory in black music. But where we might hear the likes of a Young Jeezy casting about for reasons to justify their own avarice, “Barely Breaking Even” finds joy in the face of adversity: the struggle as evidence of life, rather than the struggle as means to the end of monetary gain (”but I just try to make it into another day / Long as the Lord is with me, I’ll find a way.”) Coupled with a groove that is uplifting to a spiritual degree, this is the kind of song that endures because it acknowledges and addresses the ever-present material difficulties of our lives with optimism and hope rather than blitheness, blame or despair.

Combining elements of disco, latin, boogie and R&B, “Barely Breaking Even” is a great dance song, pure and simple. Musically, it’s a perfect fit for today’s DJs and artists exploring that fertile early 80’s crossover period. Lyrically, it is wholly timeless—a gospel feel and a spirit of struggle in the face of economic challenges that surely haven’t vanished in the two decades since it was first released. Currently still available (mixed and unmixed) on Dimitri from Paris’ stellar Disco Forever set, Moonglow Records have also reissued it on vinyl, featuring the full original version and a slightly shorter instrumental edit.

Moonglow / 103
[Mallory O’Donnell]