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Monthly Mixtapes: The White Covers (March 2009)

March 2009 Mixtape: White Covers

Sometimes, friends come by and glance through my record collection. They see the various stacks of white covers, with type-written labels attached on the upper-left hand corners. Are these all promos? a DJ asked me once. No, I told him, those are records that got hit in the flood. His eyes got real big and under his breath he said something like, Oh…shit.

Probably around 1,200 records and their covers were damaged when my basement flooded in late 2005. A contractor working on the plumbing next door had broke open a pipe and never fixed it, leaving water seeping into my basement for several hours. I came home from work to find my records, which leaned against corners of the wall, sat in crates on the floor or along the bottom shelf, soaking up various amounts of muddy water.

It is somewhat painful to even write about these events. If you love your record collection, then you understand: this is your worst nightmare. I proceeded to move all the wet records upstairs into the kitchen, and over the next few days remove each from its cover, dry it, and place it in a crate. Some of my favorite, as well as some very rare records, were caught in the flood. As I’d inch through the stack and see another classic cover, sopping wet – don’t ever think cardboard can’t soak up hella water – I’d stare at it in disbelief.

There is no room to dry over a thousand covers in a small Brooklyn apartment, especially in the rainy fall. I tried, though. Ultimately, they were thrown out in huge garbage bags. The records themselves – the music – was mostly ok. Many still have a little bit of mud that I was unable to wash out of their grooves. Mint-condition copies – sealed copies even – are no longer in that pristine state. And while I am grateful, and lucky, to still have the music, losing the covers is painful. Not only does it totally wipe away the financial value of a record, it wipes away much of its identity. The cover – the artwork, the typeface, the liner notes, the photography – for collectors, crate diggers and music lovers, this is part of the record. It may have been how we originally became curious about an album, the reason we reached for it in among others in the stack. To me, the cover is tied directly to the music, and when I pull a record off a shelf, just looking at its cover I can recall when and where I found it.

But records must have some kind of cover. So several weeks after the flood, I ordered what I could afford – two huge boxes of plain, shiny, white record covers, 300 covers inside each, plus a box of 500 sleeves. Not nearly enough for all my vinyl, but a start. When they arrived, I shoved them through the door and into the middle of my kitchen, and just kind of looked at them. Then I turned and looked at the piles of naked, sleeveless vinyl sitting in crates against the walls and literally circling my bed.

It all probably could have been totally cleaned up and re-organized in a couple weeks, but the emotional toll of the whole ordeal slowed the re-organization process way down. (Not to mention my lawsuit against the contractor, a whole other story). Over the course of a year, almost all the vinyl made it into brand new covers, along with labels on each.

The music does live on. It’s just inside glossy, somewhat stale-looking white covers now. Below are a few cuts from some of my favorite records whose covers have been lost, with a few notes on each. I tend to play a lot of songs out on this mix, but for you break heads, there’s a nice one at the very end.

Nancy Sinatra “Bang Bang”
Always thought Rza made some nice selections for the Kill Bill soundtrack, this was just such an ill cut, I had to have a copy of the vinyl. I found it at a garage sale about a year later for a buck. The cover on this is classic – Nancy in almost a b-girl pose against a white background, in between the album title. Perfect composition.

Bobbi Humphrey “Jasper County Man”
One of my favorite albums. I was put on by Digable Planets’ “Blowout Comb,” which sampled heavily from the album. I remember my dude Alex pulling a copy at Salvation Army for two dollars like he’d found a pot of gold. Another original cover, Bobbi smiling on the front in black and white, and the album title written in a thin font in the corner. It looks kind of low-budget and gritty.

Leroy Hutson “Lucky Fellow”
Hutson always had smooth vocals, smooth production and smooth LP covers, usually wearing a smooth suit. Great cut.

Donny Hathaway “Valdez in the Country”
A classic.

Ballin Jack “Try to Relax”
Copped this in a dollar bin in Seattle. The whole band is on the cover, smiling.

Rufus Thomas “The Funky Bird”
“Keep digging, keep scratching…” The “Crown Prince of Dance” is standing on the cover, feet right in your face.

Funk, Inc. – “Message from the Meters”
Bought this at a flea market. You can’t miss the cover – the album is called “Superfunky,” in a big, 70s-style font. I’d been on the look out ever since DJ Center had checked a copy out from the county library (yes, the library) years ago.

Laura Lee – “Since I Fell for You”
I’m a big fan of Laura Lee, once I found one of her 45s a few years ago I was hooked. As usual, Laura is chillin on the cover, lookin right at you with some “Don’t even try it”-type look. Off the LP “Women’s Love Rights.”

Monk Higgins – “Feelin You Feelin Me”
One of the funkiest records out there. I check for anything Higgins produces, and am always after his solo joints. This was such a prized piece that I actually hung the warped and peeling cover on my kitchen wall for awhile. Still, the music lives on. Just a snip on the mixtape but the whole album is bass-heavy funk.

Sadat X – “The Interview”
My copy was signed by Sadat, though not to me. Bought it in a classic mom and pop spot on Girard Avenue in Philly. The cowboy theme was kind of hilarious but came off dope. And this track was a classic conceptually. Vintage 90s production with Sadat’s classic voice.

Ramp – “Daylight”
Crate heads know this one. The cover of this album is so ill – the neon-style font on “RAMP” and the floating “brain,” a kind of throwback hologram image, its bright colors contrasted against the black background. My copy was in near-mint condition. You can imagine how I felt when I realized this was among those soaked full of mud water.

Large Professor ft. Q-Tip – “In the Sun”
My favorite track on his solo LP (Extra P didn’t produce it though). Really soulful cut, often looked-over cut.

Ahmad Jamal – “Death and Resurrection”
About half my Ahmad Jamal collection got caught up in the flood. This is one of my favorite Jamal records, all the cuts are very deep, with a lot of soulful strings perfectly placed and not over-dramatic.

JG – “????”
Can’t fully reveal this one. But I found it, sealed, at a flea market for two bucks. Beautiful record by a classic studio musician. It has the kind of feel that groups like 4hero and others seem to be emulating today, some real upbeat soul.

— DJ Ian Head

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MIXES & PODCASTS

Monthly Mixtapes: Dilla Favorites (February 2009)

DJ Ian Head: February 2009 Monthly Mixtape 

Let me be up front – I know a tape based around Jay Dee (Dilla)’s music is cliché at this point. J. Rocc of the Beat Junkies has already done several definitive mixes, Rev. Shinez has dug deep into original Dilla breaks, and Houseshoes just put out what may be the most complete mix of the samples Jay Dee used.

So I understand if you pass up my tape.

But hopefully you won’t. I really dug Dilla, his choice of records, his lush filtered samples, his basslines, and the fact he loved to eat donuts (Cuz I LOVE me some donuts). I was introduced to his genius by Jumbo of the Lifesavas, otherwise known as my high school janitor. He hit me with a dub of the early Slum Village album before it dropped, and told me to dub it and give it back to him the next day, cuz that was his only copy. And even rocking a dub of a dub, the beats were just so ill. I’d bump the shit til I couldn’t take the rhmyes anymore, but I never got tired of the beats.

I’d wanted to do this tape for awhile, and felt I should put something together dedicated to Dilla, as I was a fan of his music. Not every beat or 12 inch, but the feel of his production – he just had a great ear for great records. This tape is a mixture of some of my favorite Dilla-related records (that I own on wax) from well-known to more obscure, from rock to classic hip-hop tracks. It is by no means any kind of compendium, and isn’t meant to be. It’s just a brief sampling of music I dig, music that represents the inspiration I took from Jay Dee.

I’ll run through a few of the tracks I included on the tape:

“When I Die”
This was sampled for one of my favorite joints off of “Donuts.” The more you listen to Donuts and the samples he used creating it, the more you see how carefully he planned it as his last record. It’s sad yet beautiful. Anyway, I just loved what he did with this, but I also thought it’s a great little song in itself.

“Long Red” by Mountain
Everyone knows this classic breakbeat. I remember copping a few copies in the dollabin years ago. As my dude Alex says, Dilla made these drums part of his signature sound. No one used these drums like Dilla except for Rick Rubin. They are so hard, so raw, and plus you got the singer’s “Louder!” that just peaks the energy level even more.

“Let’s Ride” by Q-Tip
Hard drums (crazy programming), sick guitar sample, and Tip killing it. It’s one of my favorite Tip songs ever. The feel of the joint is so ill, and so much of it is the combination of the snap of those drums and the light feel of the guitar.

“We Must Be in Love”
I don’t know when or where I got this 45 but I was going through my collection before I moved and put this on the deck, and was like, oh shit. A great song already, Dilla takes it, transforms it into his own soul record (with the help of Monch).

“Inside My Love” by Minnie Riperton
Another classic of the “Dilla sound.” He must have used this record a dozen times – I hear this sample (even though I first heard it on Tribe’s “Lyrics to Go”) and I immediately think Dilla.

“Track” by J. Dilla
I remember buying this 12 inch and playing it literally 10 times straight when I got home. Mostly just the instrumental (sorry Phat Kat). That bassline is just so ridiculous. I love how he keeps that kind of white noise-record sound play throughout as well. Genius.

“Love Junkie (remix)” DJ Cam / Cameo ft. Dilla
Fuckin CAMEO and Dilla goin back and forth?? “You can’t fight the feelin / Cam and Dilla Dog / enough to have me illin’”

“Asiko” by Tony Allen
If you don’t have Tony Allen’s “Black Voices,” make that your next purchase. Fela’s drummer as a master, and this is one of my favorite albums of any genre. The fact that Dilla sampled this just puts a bigger smile on my face.

“Fuck the Police” by Jay Dee
This is definitely an original I’m still after. Regardless, I love that Dilla made a raw, political track like this. A classic.

“Get a Hold” by Tribe Called Quest
I remember fronting on a lot of “Beats, Rhymes and Life” when it came out, but I couldn’t deny this cut. This was kind of a prelude to the style he flipped on “Players.” Classic verses from Tip just take it to that other level.

“Runnin (Jay Dee Remix)” by Pharcyde
Don’t sleep on those classic Pharcyde / Dilla tracks.

“You’re Gonna Want Me Back” by Dionne Warwick
Had to have this record once I heard the original. Just a great song. This album actually has a couple joints with Dionne getting funky. But just the way Holland / Dozier structured the song is sick, similar to how Dilla re-structured the cut on “Donuts.”

“Nag Champa” by Common
Instantly my favorite off the album when I heard it. “Word to my mother like my last record cover.” Common’s flow is so perfect with the subtle Ummah beat…that bass? That fusion sample? Crazy.

RIP James Yancey.

– DJ Ian Head

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Monthly Mixtapes: Dolla or Less (January 2009)

DJ Ian Head: Dolla or Less Mixtape, January 2009 

I remember ignoring the dollar or fifty-cent bins the first few times I went digging. I assumed that there wasn’t any way to find the records I was searching for there, that those bins held only grinning pictures of Neil Diamond, Herb Albert and Barbara Streisand. Then one day I spotted two Funkadelic records sitting in what is known at one store as the “green tag” section, and, reaching further in the stack, were two original copies of Grover Washington, Jr’s “Feel So Good,” and not that beat up either. And beyond that…

Dollar bins are haystacks that we know can always contain diamonds and pearls, and are truly the essence of “digging.” But it takes effort. It takes looking at a lot of really wack, boring, painful records. It takes bending in awful positions, sitting on floors, blocking the way of other customers, your feet falling asleep. It makes your fingers dirty. And on a bad day, one can spend hours flipping through the cheap stacks and discover nothing. But on those days, buried between two copies of the Annie soundtrack and the Fleetwood Mac catalogue, you come across the one record you’d been after for a year, there is nothing like it.

And this isn’t necessarily a rare occurance – after dwelling in the lower realms of records stores across the country, I’ve found that, like much other art, one person’s jewel is another’s garbage. At stores dealing in high-end jazz, the stack of CTI records minus covers stuck in the crate by the door is just what you need. I remember leaving a Brooklyn store that was going out of business, and there was a stack of sleeveless 45s sitting on the floor. “How much?” I asked. “Eh, ten for a buck,” the owner said, “Those records are in awful condition, I just want to get rid of them.” I had never heard of most of the names on the labels. But I grabbed a stack, and when I got home, they were all very playable, including a few hard-to-find pieces Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow had used on their “Brainfreeze” mix.

Because what dollar bins also allow for is risk. Since many of us are self-taught music lovers, we need to experiment in the dollar crates. They’re like our laboratory. We can pick up a few records that we’ve never seen before, and won’t be burnt if we find out Gary Toms Empire is just really bad disco, or that the later Joe Farrell records aren’t quite as raw as “Upon this Rock.” It was only a dollar (or less) right? But when we grab that cheesy fusion record for fifty cents, and it turns out there’s a gigantic drum break two tracks in, it was more than worth it.

And beyond the hip-hop producer and beat collector, what dollar bins allow for is a way to expand our library of great music for cheap (at least before the reign of the mp3). But still, how would I have afforded my Stevie Wonder, Ramsey Lewis, Led Zeppelin, Marvin Gaye or Michael Jackson catalogues if I was paying $10 or more per title? Sure there Uncle Rob might have written his phone number on the inside sleeve, or DJ FunkMaxwell might have taken a marker to the song names on that Kool and the Gang LP, but the music still sounds great. This isn’t to say those artists don’t deserve their money in full. But many of us would never know the beauty of Ahmad Jamal’s piano without gambling on a couple of his joints in the dollar crate.

This mixtape is kind of a compilation of all these various dolla bin experiences – some commonplace but beautiful songs, some breaks, some obscure jazz, and a little 90s hip-hop with that green tag on the front. Hope you enjoy.

– DJ Ian Head

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Monthly Mixtapes: Covers Vol. 1 (December 2008)

DJ Ian Head: December Mixtape “Covers Vol. 1”

The second record I play on this mix is Ramsey Lewis’s cover of “Maiden Voyage,” from the record of the same name. It’s a great version of Herbie Hancock’s original, but I’m not gonna lie and say it’s the reason I bought the record. Like a typical hip-hop head delving into the abyss of crate digging, I wanted that piano loop Black Sheep used on the flipside from “Les Fleurs” (not to mention those raw drums that Pharcyde used for “Officer” elsewhere on the record). I had just started collecting records, and pulled this out of the fifty-cent bin. And the number one question back then, when I sticking my head in a crate, was “How can I find those joints they sampled for my favorite songs?”

That question hasn’t gone away. But when you pull a record like “Maiden Voyage” from the stacks, it’s too good to not listen to all the way through. This record made me fall in love with the music of Lewis (and the production of Stepney). Today I own almost every one of his records, and this is the only one I bought because someone sampled it. When I pulled records for this tape, it was hard not to pull most of his catalogue – I could probably make a few mixes using just his cover versions of soul and jazz standards. It was hard to pick just one song for this mix – I was tempted to add his version of “People Make the World Go ‘Round” but I’ll save that for Vol. 2.

Another record I’ll highlight on here is Eddie Senay’s instrumental version of “Ain’t No Sunshine.” This isn’t too hard of a 45 to find, but it’s funky as hell. I remember I came up on my first copy at a flea market in Philly back in 2000, when I bought a box of about 100 45s from some guy parting with his record collection. His sign read “Two for a $1.00” but after pulling out about 20, he walked over to me and said “How bout the whole box for $20?” I spent the next hour hauling them around the rest of the flea market with joyous triumph, the occasional fellow record fiend eyeing my box jealously. Shit, I woulda done the same thing.

Collecting records teaches you music in a different way than studying music – when you start to memorize song titles, musicians, producers and labels, you begin to notice what the jazz standards and rock classics, among others, are – who did them first, who covered them best. While “Ain’t No Sunshine” is a tune I grew up hearing and knowing, other classics like “Maiden Voyage” or “The Thrill is Gone” I would never know about without studying and obsessing over old vinyl. Which makes it even more enjoyable to hear (good) covers of songs that are still classics but less frequently covered – cuts like Sly’s “Smilin” or the Beatles “Rocky Raccoon” (make sure to check out this Lena Horne cover if nothing else on this mixtape). These are often the most interesting – covers of the slightly obscure. Sometimes they don’t work (I’ve heard an awful easy listening version of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”) but other times they’re incredible, like Dilla’s reworking of Donald Byrd’s “Think Twice.”

Anyway, there’s of course so many great covers of great songs, and this is just a small sampling of some that I dig, while trying to keep it rollin’ (ATCQ-style). I’m not going to give up every record I play on here, but I will run through the songs that are covered (a few get multiple versions):

California Dreamin’ / Maiden Voyage / Yes We Can / Ain’t No Sunshine / Mercy, Mercy / What’s Goin’ On / Inner City Blues / Feel Like Makin’ Love / The Thrill is Gone / I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little Bit More / Smilin’ / Son of a Preacher Man / Signed, Sealed, Delivered / Think Twice / Rocky Raccoon / Song For My Father

DJ Ian Head