On the Legacy of J Dilla with Jordan Ferguson

J Dilla Donuts album cover

In 2003, Stones Throw Records flew photographer Brian “B+” Cross out to Detroit to snap some promotional photos of J Dilla, who was then working on the Jaylib project. If you follow this sort of thing, you know these photos: the blue and orange ensemble, a pinwheel cap for the Detroit Stars, the city’s Negro League baseball team, cocked on the side of his head. Classic material. In one of these photos, Dilla’s flipping the bins at Car City Records. Now closed, Car City then was an institution in St Clair Shores on Detroit’s East side, just south of Clinton Township, where Dilla was living at the time.

The Continued Relevance of Mano Brown

Guest post by Derek Pardue Sobrevivendo no Inferno was a landmark recording and influenced hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Brazilian youth to speak up, to record music and minimally to be engaged with the world around them. After Sobrevivendo, the group recorded several live performances and a couple of more albums, the most recent in 2014, Cores e Valores (Colors and Values). Musically, the production remains faithful to the minimalist approach of Sobrevivendo but with more contemporary sound qualities, including occasional flutters of trap-influenced deep bass lines and…

“Surviving in Hell”: Right, but where is hell located?

Guest post by Derek Pardue In my recent book for the 33 1/3 series on the iconic 1997 recording of the rap group Racionais MCs, I mention several places in the city of São Paulo, Brazil. I include little maps for reference, as I weave together short stories inspired by the album and my experience in the city. Clearly, “hell” for Racionais is located in the precarious urban periphery and that “surviving” requires storytelling and making noise. It is also clear that the survival stories spread out across the city…

Sounding Okinawa

Guest post by Henry Johnson The Okinawan soundscape is distinct from other parts of Japan in many ways. Blending the sounds of its cultural heritage and popular culture, and often foregrounded within a touristic gaze, urban centres such as Naha and Koza sound Okinawa through live and mediated performance, as well as through much imagery that helps show the importance of music for the prefecture. Okinawa’s characteristic live houses mix food and music to offer an entertainment setting that produces emblematic Okinawan sounds to an audience eager to consume local…

Nenes to Nenez 30 Years On

In 2021, Nenez (using their recent romanized name with a “z” instead of a “s”) celebrated their 30th anniversary with the release of the indies album, Gajumaru. Founded in 1991, the group has seen a number of line-up changes, with three of the current quartet joining in 2019. The ever changing line-ups are comparable with groups such as the American all-women trio, The Three Degrees, which dates from 1963 and is a brand that continues to this day. Indeed,
brand Nenez (or Nēnēzu, to use the transliteration of their Okinawan name) has gone through several phases that have transitioned from a world music act of the 1990s to live-house entertainment in their most recent guise.

Unconventional research and writing with Sam Cooke

People who write often think there are rules that you more or less have to follow. Or should follow. I see a lot made of how much time people spent on their book, and their heaps and heaps of research. I guess maybe I should start by saying that the time in which I wrote the book probably didn’t much resemble the time frames of most other writers.

Sam Cooke, singing and what it means to be a singer-writer

Let’s talk about Sam Cooke and singing and what it means to be a singer-writer. Or a writer-singer.

What does it mean to sing?

I know, I know—you sounded sublime this morning in the shower, when you channeled your inner Robert Plant and delivered a knockout “When the Levee Breaks,” or maybe you were Billie Holiday, with a soul-pasting version of “Lover Man.”

The Drum Machine That Helped Open Paul’s Boutique

When you talk about drum machines and Paul’s Boutique, there are two things that even casual listeners can probably hear. The first is that you don’t hear a lot of drum machines on the album. A big part of the record’s legacy is its sampled beats, assembled into intricate, polyrhythmic collages by The Dust Brothers and Matt Dike.

But Matt Dike thought it was less a song than an opportunity. “When I heard it,” he told me, back in 2005, “I knew they were in trouble.”

Sam Cooke In Action: Don’t get caught in the oldies trap!

Macbeth, of course, is a literary oldie. It’s an oldie that still informs our world. Vaulting ambition and all. I mention Macbeth and the idea of relevant oldies for a reason. Sam Cooke is often dogged by the oldies label. Oldies are a genre, right? You hear “Wooly Bully” and “At the Hop” and, yes, Cooke’s “You Send Me,” on the oldies station in the car, and all seems right with the world. These songs are where they should be. You’re having a nice Sunday drive with the windows down in early autumn.