With this past weekend, summer’s officially here—and while that may not mean dancing in the streets, you can certainly use some new protest and home listening energy. Here’s a roundup of things we’re spinning on our turntables.
RUN THE JEWELS, RTJ4 (BMG)
Run The Jewels, the duo of Killer Mike and El-P, released their new album June 3—two days ahead of its planned release date, as a free download across all digital platforms. Tired and disgusted of seeing Black people murdered by police, RTJ4 immediately became the voice to what WE all saw and heard in Minneapolis, the murder of George Floyd on May 25th, killed in daylight, by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down, begging for his life, calling out for his deceased mother, and repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe.”
Arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit bill.
“You so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me/Until my voice goes from a shriek to whisper—‘I’can’t breathe’/And you sit there in the house on couch and watch it on TV,” Killer Mike raps on “Walking in the Snow,” his voice tight. Speaking to the deaf ears of The White House.
This column is called “Out The Crate,” where we celebrate rare records, oddities, and re-issues on vinyl, cause records rule. But we’re breaking the rules today, specifically for RTJ4, as the world is different. The vinyl form will not be available until September, but since Jaime and Mike put one on massively “For The Culture,” we’re celebrating this record now.
In a note to their fans via social media the duo stated: “Fuck it, why wait? The world is infested with bullshit so here’s something raw to listen to while you deal with it all. We hope it brings you some joy. Stay safe and hopeful out there and thank you for giving 2 friends the chance to be heard and do what they love.”
RTJ4 bangs hard for 39 minutes, stockpiled with anger, drums, beats, horns, wordplay, and truth. Featuring collaborations with & contributions from Pharrell Williams, Zack de la Rocha, Mavis Staples, 2 Chainz, Josh Homme, DJ Premier, & more: It’s the real-time 12 steps to handling straight rage, our nation, devoid of order coming from the highest office in the land, needs. It’s Luther, our Obama Anger Translator, turned up way past 11, looking to slap the shit outta 45. Much like James Brown playing the Boston Garden, calming that city after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, Run The Jewels showed up, Big. Killer Mike and El-P became immediately present for a community tired of seeing that same game being replayed without accountability.
“For me this is the only way I really know how to contribute to the human struggle and experience beyond just trying to be kind and aware and grow,” El-P said of releasing RTJ4 “for FREE for ANYONE who wants some music” in Rolling Stone. “It’s the only weapon i’m truly trained in and i’m grateful to have it.”
Run The Jewels have provided a list of organizations on their website that are fighting for justice, change, and equity in America, including their longtime allies the National Lawyers Guild which, amongst other things, provides legal representation for lawful protesters. You can download the album from there as well.
CAROLINE ROSE, SUPERSTAR (NEW WEST)
Way back in February I wasn’t planning on writing about this album. I was up late one night. Seth Meyers was on the flat screen, cold beer was getting it done, then some random off-blonde in red shades, and a red outfit for that matter, starts dancing around on stage, shuffling around like a sheepish robot. Now iʻm locked. This was the Caroline Rose debut on “Late Night With Seth Meyers.”
Looking somewhat uncomfortable (which I found out later was a role commitment) with this commerce game, you know. Live TV. Young woman “shaking it” and all that poop emoji. But this got different. There was something quite charming about the way she was camping it up…making us partially believe: By the Power of Grayskull ”Becky” canʻt dance. With her backing band, donning questionable thrift shop hipster-chic pieces, aiming at some grade of funk. All of this extra-ness got to me. I bit at the selling point. That girl is playing my jam.
Itʻs called fuckery.
I reached out to the publicist: “Hey, I just happened to catch Caroline Rose, unplanned, last nite. She was the coolest dork I’ve seen on late-nite TV in a minute. Music was catchy, far better than I expected. Solid hang.” She responded on brand: “That’s her vibe!”
Now since, NBC, Seth Meyer or Rose had the video removed. There is a new one at a club where she kinda seriously speaks into the mic about performing on television the first time “the weirdest experience of my whole life, now we all live in a simulated reality and we can’t tell what’s real and what is not.”
Rose proceeds to rock her “Becky” funk with band members still wearing questionable thrift shop Bammer fashions.
“Superstar’ is a pop-synth lark, with electro grooves and gender-neutral stories written, recorded and produced by Rose in her 10 by 12-foot home studio, as well as on a portable rig she’d set up in green rooms while on tour. But there is a long con going on here, a dissertation on gender roles and how they are treated and perceived in pop music. And THAT is probably worth buying the record for. The tunes are cool, but the message is on point if your antenna is up to get it.
Superstar is her sonic moment wanting to be Prince, hoping to sound like Dâm-Funk but eventually delivering some type of Jay-Som/FKA Twigs funkified hybrid.
None too shabby. She wrote, played every damn instrument, and engineered this all by her lonesome. Do yourself a favor and go down a YouTube k-hole and seek out her Noise Ordinance Studio sessions. Sis got chops for days. Dial-up the vid “Money,” and you will see this young woman, who is trying to get over on Superstar being a schlub, is actually a ridiculously talented musician. And if you canʻt see that, bub, you’re the fool. Get the album here.
SYLVESTER, MIGHTY REAL: GREATEST DANCE HITS (CRAFT RECORDINGS)
It was the damn boogie heads. About 10 years ago, there were various parties around San Francisco one way or another loosely affiliated with the Mothership we like to refer to as Sweater Funk. From anyone of those assorted vinyl junkies—even the patrons who began stockpiling records from Rooky’s on Haight Street because of the boogie phenomenon—I started to hear this moonlit instrumental played in the deepest moments, the peak, of an event.
Or, after midnite at some Mission bar, equipped with a curmudgeonly DJ, where nobody was getting laid. Finally, at a happy hour I did with my buddy Mitch, he played the six-plus minute epic vocal jam “I Need Somebody To Love Tonight” by Sylvester to a packed dance floor on a Friday eve just past seven. Blown away, not even suspecting it was Sylvester, I took it all in. People broke off from their dance partners and just started moving in their own space. Magical, with that looming dark sparkle innit.
Produced by synth sorcerer and under-celebrated mastermind Patrick Cowley, the track’s insistent bass pattern, elusive drums, and solar system ephemera keep the half-time tempo feeling quicker than it is. Through this foggy rhapsody of interstellar drifting, Sylvester’s plea refuses to hide an ounce of pain.
Even the Sonar Kollectiv rework from 2007, with the dub emphasis pushed to the front of the mix, can’t shake that hurt, minus the vocals. That moody spirit shouldn’t move a crowd, but it does. The cold post-disco groove coupled with a melancholy Sylvester cooing those transparent blues, drives ffolk deeper, under the spell of isolation. And that’s just one of the brilliant tracks here. Get the album here.
JPQ, QUINTESSENCE, (TIDAL WAVES MUSIC)
With phasers squarely set on Funk-Funk, JPQ (Jimmy Person Quintet) was a short-lived soul & funk band from the Greensboro, North Carolina area who put out their only full-length release, Quintessence, in 1983 on Jam-A-Ditty Records. It became a sought-after private pressed Holy Grail within the record collecting community.
The entire album is filled with sexy, yet strong, vocals, groovy bass lines, and even cosmic/bluesy guitar touches. Those influences, George Benson, The Crusaders, as well as Marvin Gaye softly hover over the album. But as you witness on the drum-machine earworm ‘E-Jam Sammich’ this group had an ear toward the electro sounds emerging from outfits such as Newcleus and Kraftwerk. Quintessence is a rare odd duck of a forgotten treasure, deserving of new followers. Get the album here.
ALBERT AYLER, NEW GRASS (THIRD MAN RECORDS)
When avant-garde jazz meets soul by way of musician Albert Ayler it arrives in a jagged, daredevil brand of Black music, giving zero fucks… New Grass, the 1968 album by Ayler, originally released by Impulse!, mixed his vocals and tenor sax playing with elements from R&B and other genres, including a soul horn section, backing singers, rock electric bass, and boogaloo drumming. This avant-jazz experimentation of soul music was “misunderstood’ at the time of its release, meeting a hostile reception from fans and critics alike, who accused Ayler of “selling out.” When in fact the record finds Ayler digging back into his R&B roots: He started his career playing saxophone with Chicago bluesman Little Walter.
Only years later, way after the wrangle, did historians and fans come to enjoy the tuff veneer of this free-spirited music disrupting the structure of soul and then putting those elements back into some approximation of pop. As stated by Third Man Records: “New Grass deserves reconsideration, if not for the heavy grooves and surprising arrangements, then for its bravery in challenging norms of the time; by the ’60s, jazz was well-accepted as a uniquely American art form, while soul as a genre was very much still seen as primitive. Ayler melds them together and creates something novel, adventurous, and completely his own.” Get the album here.
EUGENE MCDANIELS, OUTLAW (REAL GONE MUSIC)
Among a certain set, Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse by singer-songwriter Eugene “Gene” McDaniels is a much-desired collector’s item. Running the table on soul, funk, jazz, and even folk led to hip-hop artists Pete Rock, Q-Tip, and Earl Sweatshirt and numerous others sampling the project, making it a greater pluck between rare-groove heads. His previous record Outlaw, an addictive blend of soul, jazz, folk, and rock grooves played by Ron Carter, Eric Weissberg, and Hugh McCracken, featuring production handled by Joel Dorn, runs a close second.
The writer of soul and jazz staples “Compared to What” and Roberta Flacks “Feel Like Making Love,”
McDaniels first broke through in the early ‘60s with pop-soul hits like “A Hundred Pounds of Clay.”
Then by the time McDaniels recorded his 1970’s Outlaw and rechristened himself “the left rev mc d”, the radicalized performer emerged. As stated in the liner notes: “One sees Middle America’s worst nightmare coming to life. There’s the badass Reverend Lee himself holding a bible. Righteous Susan Jane in a jean jacket and black French resistance turtleneck is wielding a machine gun, and McDaniels’ then-wife Ramona appears as a soul sister with cross your heart Viva Zapata! Ammo belts. At the forefront is a large human skull, just in case you didn’t already get the message.”
The Nixon White House got offended by the lyrics to “Silent Majority” (“Silent Majority is calling out loud to you and me from Arlington Cemetery”) that either Spiro Agnew or Nixon’s Chief of Staff personally called Atlantic records, asking them to stop working with McDaniels. One quick listen to “Cherrystones,” you understand that Mc Daniels is all about sparking that needed revolution and fighting the power. Get the album here.