The Story of Mantronix and Fresh/Sleeping Bag Records: Introduction by A&R Virgil Simms

By JR on 5:48 AM

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"EPMD‘s 1989 hit “Please Listen to My Demo” is one of rap’s great anthems of humility, our heroes Parrish Smith and Erick Sermon weathering sundry dramas to reach their dotted finish line. Neither an overheated car nor unforgiving labels dull the duo’s dreams of a recording contract. Manhattan is still “enchanting,” even as the sweat soaks through their fly gear. But their unflappable grins get them in the door at 1974 Broadway, home of Fresh Records, and as their “funky fresh demo” wafts through the system, the staff — ebullient A&R man Virgil Simms, legendary exec Juggy Gayles and his son Ron Resnick, all of whom are namechecked in the song — catch the vapors. “It felt good, as I remember,” Sermon raps in the last verse, “We signed the dotted line: now we Fresh Record members.”

Few record labels have been immortalized in song this way, but as the Fresh back catalogue attests, the 1980s were a very different time. Fresh was founded in 1985, a sub-label of New York’s famed Sleeping Bag Records, which had been started four years earlier by Gayles, Will Socolov and the avant-garde cellist, composer and disco artist Arthur Russell. Their intention was to create a label that defied genres and fixed instead on the bizarre eclecticism of New York dance clubs. Some of the best examples of the Sleeping Bag aesthetic can be found on 24-24 Music, a collection of Russell’s material as Dinosaur L, and Greatest Mixers Collection, a set of bubbling, electro-tinged dance-funk from the likes of Danny Krivit and Larry Levan.

Socolov started Fresh as a way to tap into the burgeoning rap scene. And one of his secret weapons was Kurtis Mantronik, who pulled double duty as Fresh A&R and one-half of the group Mantronix. Mantronik and MC Tee formed Mantronix (man + electronics = “mantronics,” if you couldn’t figure it out) in 1985 and their first two records constitute a seminal moment in the history of hip-hop — though few recognized it at the time. Borrowing a page from the electro-futurism of Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force, Jonzun Crew and Newcleus, Mantronik’s hope was to create a new hip-hop aesthetic drawing from the latest technology: drum machines and primitive samplers, mostly. While MC Tee was a fairly generic lyricist, he sounded absolutely beastly over Mantronik’s cascading waves of synth stabs and 808 taps. “Bassline,” “Needle to the Groove,” the loping “Fresh Is the Word” (all from 1985′s Mantronix: The Album) and “Who Is It” (off 1986′s Music Madness) still sound hard and imposing.

Mantronik’s rugged electronics were a better match for two Bronx legends: Just-Ice and T La Rock. His production style here was more frenetic, all choppy samples, blaring bells and guitar stabs. T La Rock is probably best known nowadays for his role in bringing together Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons. In 1984 Rubin and T La Rock had recorded and self-released “It’s Yours,” one of the first great modern hip-hop tracks, the blueprint for LL Cool J’s career (the good bits, at least) and a favorite of Simmons. Simmons sought out Rubin and the pair founded Def Jam, borrowing a phrase from the sleeve of the original “It’s Yours” 12-inch. “It’s Yours,” along with “Breakdown” (famously sampled by DJ Shadow) and the all-time classic exercise in drum programming, “Breaking Bells,” is included in the bonus features of Lyrical King, T La Rock and Mantronik’s classic 1987 album. (The album also features production from another of Fresh/Sleeping Bag’s marquee producers, house legend Todd Terry.) On the barkier side of things was Just-Ice, whose 1986 debut Back to the Old School was one of hip-hop’s first great albums, leaping out the gate with the snarling brag-fest “Cold Gettin ‘Dumb” and the booming beatbox cut “Latoya.” The following year, Just-Ice reappeared with the grim Kool & Deadly, KRS-One assuming beat duties from Mantronik. (In a related bit of trivia, one of the first singles on Fresh in the mid-1980s was “Success Is the Word” by 12:41, otherwise known as the pre-Boogie Down Productions incarnation of KRS-One and DJ Scott La Rock.)

Mantronik’s production style was a bit too spaced-out and stripped-down for hardcore rap audiences, who preferred the shirt-ripping macho of LL Cool J or the brash toughness of Run-DMC. But it’s arguable that Mantronik’s sound was the more influential, especially as hip-hop’s romance with sampling came to an end in the late-1990s. You can hear traces of Mantronix still today, in the twists-and-swerves of Timbaland and the bouncy plinks of Mannie Fresh. One of the year’s best records, Turf Talk’s West Coast Vaccine, is highlighted by “Sick Wid It Is the Crew,” an update of Mantronix’s “Fresh Is the Word.”

The Fresh/Sleeping Bag aesthetic was a foundational touchstone for Fool’s Gold, a new label started by A-Trak (best known as Kanye West’s DJ or the youngest-ever DMC DJ champ, depending on what moves you) and Nick Catchdubs. The label’s first few releases all strive for this middle-space between genres, and it’s best displayed on Kid Sister’s first two singles: the aggro dancefloor glam of “Pro Nails” (featuring a fittingly vain guest verse from Kanye West) and the distorted, Justice-isms of the Control EP. “To me, Fool’s Gold is the modern version of what labels like Sleeping Bag and Nervous were doing in the ’80s and early ’90s,” Catchdubs explains. “They would put out house records and freestyle records at the same time as Black Moon or some experimental Arthur Russell, and it all made sense.”" -

Afro-Beats, Jazz Notions and Soul Visions: The Music Of Singer/Songwriter Emeson

"Frontman, singer-songwriter, lyricist, vocalist (Lifesize, Birth of Mankind, The One, Saturn’s Children) Emeson sets a solo path on this, his fourth EP entitled ‘Bespoke’
Refueling on soul, electronica, nu-step, afrobeats and jazzdub fusion, Emeson blasts off in a souped up craft of sound elegance.

Incorporating jazzdub, soul vibes and electronic sound waves, Bespoke is the story of individuality, stylish musical patterns and independent visions.

Emeson’s ‘Bespoke EP’ fuses Afro-beats, jazz notions and soul visions.

What a deftly fitting descriptor for the collaborative project between K15 and Emeson.

When the duo are not wowing audiences with their slew of solo releases, K15 with the highly infectious steppers anthem ‘Bordeaux’ and Emeson with his colourful ‘Bespoke' EP, they have made time to join alliances in pursuit of all things soulful and “Flying” is their first offering.

Emeson, a singer/songwriter of lofty quality and conjurer of sizzling tones, delivers a wondrously heartfelt vocal, while K15’s hypnotising production is the perfect accompaniment to Emeson’s ode to love.

The outcome? A soul classic that serves as an overture to the forthcoming album."

Music composed and produced by K15
Lyrics and vocals by Emeson

"Where's My Money" by Sister Cookie and The Soulful Orchestra

Sister Cookie and The Soulful Orchestra bring good times to the idea of dire financial circumstances with the swinging Soul of "Where's My Money". Party down with this groovy Soul sister as she presents her debut 45 release on Soulful Torino Records, now available here at Juno.

"This Bright Before" by Nicole Berke

NICOLE BERKE's full-length album THIS BRIGHT BEFORE is the long awaited follow-up to the pianist/vocalist's acclaimed debut EP FRONDESCENCE, which was released in 2008. The new record dynamically chronicles the last five years of her life with genuine power, originality and soul. Recorded by Portland favorites Dave Friedlander, Steve Watkins and Tanner Cundy, the album also features a talented slew of local musicians: Josh Lava (who also played an integral role in producing and engineering the record), Nathaniel Daniel, Arcellus Sykes, Bill Marsh, Jarrod Lawson, Max Ribner, Mary-Sue Tobin, and many more. Hailing influence from artists such as Stevie Wonder, Fiona Apple and Erykah Badu, Berke's music is a fresh and well-crafted take on what soul-pop-jazz can be.

released 25 January 2013

(c) 2013 Nicole Berke Music/ASCAP. All Rights Reserved.

All Songs Written by Nicole Berke

Produced & Arranged by Josh Lava and Nicole Berke
Production Consultant: Denise Marsa

Nicole Berke: Vocals, Backup Vocals, Acoustic Piano, Wurlitzer, Rhodes, Clavinet, Organ, Additional Percussion
Josh Lava: Drums, Percussion, Synths, Effects, Organ, Rhodes, Clavinet, Acoustic Piano (Black Moon, Those Days), Backup Vocals (Palindrome, Another World, This Bright Before), Additional Acoustic & Electric Guitars
Bill Marsh: Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Effects
Nathaniel Daniel: Electric Bass (Subconscious Heart, Wait It Out, Black Moon, That Ain’t Me, Heartbeat)
Arcellus Sykes: Electric & Acoustic Bass (Palindrome, Another World, Set Me Free, This Bright Before)
Jarrod Lawson: Backup Vocals (Wait It Out, Black Moon, That Ain’t Me, Set Me Free)

Max Ribner: Flugelhorn, Trumpet (Wait It Out, Black Moon, Set Me Free)
Mary-Sue Tobin: Tenor and Baritone Sax (Black Moon, Set Me Free)

Lucia Conrad: Violin (Subconscious Heart, Palindrome)
Ben Landsverk: Viola (Subconscious Heart, Palindrome)
Tony Rogers: Cello (Subconscious Heart, Palindrome, That Ain’t Me)

RECORDED by Dave Friedlander at Kung Fu Bakery, Tanner Cundy at Klickitat Band Camp, Steve Watkins at Excellent Gentlemen Studio & Josh Lava at LavaLand

MIXED by Sean O’Keefe
MASTERED by Greg Rierson at Rareform Mastering

PHOTOS by Amy Rollo (Front & Back) and Nicole Berke (Inside & Disc, Album Design)

SUBCONSCIOUS HEART inspired by the poem “The Hollow Men” by T.S. Eliot

"Latin Jazz PASAJE - From There To Here" by Kidd Karrim

By JR on 6:18 AM

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"Pasaje is a tapestry woven with the fibres of Funk, Jazz, Latin, Brazilian and Afro-Cuban music to unfold a powerful FUSION, celebrating our inherent need to dance.
"No matter the style, you groove!!! "

Kidd Karrim shows that she is fully in touch with her powers of musical expression, on the new Pasaje C.U.B.A. released album, KIDD KARRIM Latin Jazz PASAJE - From There To Here creating an astounding blend and delicate balance of the high-energy powerhouse and intensity of Latin-Jazz-Fusion, in combination with deep soulful smooth-groove funk, taking us on a musical journey of diversity of styles, with the one poignant constant, "the groove"."

Kidd Karrim's PASAJE - From There To Here takes her audience on a journey from the dynamic, latin textures of Chucho Valdez's "Mambo Influenciado", Haakon Graf's "Que Paso" to Brazilian flavoured "O Morro Nao Tem Vez" and nu-jazz almost classical stylings of compositions like "Concepcion"; melting next to slow funk grooves of some memorable songs and many more. Her crew of amazing musicians create ripping grooves, and exciting, magnetic solos, weaving a tapestry with the fibres of Funk, Jazz, Latin, Brazilian and Afro-Cuban music to unfold a powerful FUSION, celebrating our inherent need to dance. PASAJE - FROM THERE TO HERE will ignite your desire to "Turn On The Groove - Get Your Body To Move", and keeps your interest with its fusion of Cuban timba, latin jazz, rhythmic pockets, floating Brazilian feels, and its locked- in deep, smooth funk that give a hypnotic release from its pulsing, dynamic Afro-Cuban numbers.


Preview "Back To The Beat" by K-Def & The 45 King

Press release by

"When K-Def mentioned to his friends at Redef that he knew pioneering producer 45 King, it led to two questions: "What is he up to and when can we work with him?" The 45 King was only a phone call and a 10 minute drive away. After initiating the recording session, K immediately went into A&R mode to complete "Back to the Beat," an instrumental exhibition that features the two producers trading ideas.

During the last several years, K-Def has arguably proven to be the hardest working man in the production business, consistently releasing at least 4 albums of brand new conceptual material annually. From working under Marley Marl in the early 90's to producing for P. Diddy in the late 2000's, K-Def's career has eclipsed two decades, but it was a man by the name of DJ Mark the 45 King who inspired K years before his professional career began. The 45 King has been behind some the biggest names in hip-hop and beyond, from Gangstarr, Eric B & Rakim, to Jay-Z, Eminem and even Madonna.

Conceptually, it is not the first release of it's kind as some may remember 45 King collabs with Louie Louie or the T.C.S. in the late 80's/ early 90's. Sonically, the album is composed of 2 personalities that communicate, compliment and compete while the audience is engaged. 45 King leads the show while K-Def is his lead soloist. In pure form, both identities are on display showcasing the technicality in simplicity taking a "crawl before you walk" approach. In the immortal words of T. La Rock, Redefinition Records is proud to present "Back to the Beat". There's more than enough hard drums and catchy samples to live up to the title. Thank you K-Def for making history in 2014 with the 45 King."

Video: DJ Rob Swift, Kevin Powell, Ralph McDaniels & Wes Jackson Discuss Hip Hop & Brooklyn's History

By JR on 7:48 AM

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Enjoy insight into life & Hip Hop history as greats of the culture come together to talk about past and present life in the borough known as Brooklyn. Wes Jackson, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival, brings Ralph McDaniels (a.k.a. Uncle Ralph) and DJ Rob Swift to the stage to talk about their work in Hip Hop in Brooklyn and beyond as part of the series, Told It First Hand: Conversations with Hip Hop's "Do-ers." Wes Jackson, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival, moderates a discussion between Kevin Powell, Founder of BK Nation, and Scott Stedman, Founder of Northside Media Group, on gentrification and an ever-changing Brooklyn.

Sunshine Is Waiting For You On "Sweet Communication" by The Soulnaturals

The Soulnaturals give messages of hope within a distinctive sound of UK Soul as the 70's essence of Isaac Hayes blend with modern production ideas for an uplifting vibe Neo-Soul. Each song provides a solution to life's obstacles driven by songwriting which is filled with compassion and generosity toward human kind in a sound that soothes and grooves. Turn this album on to provide a resource of faith that empowers as The Soulnaturals drive your heart, strength and desire to party through soulful music.

Banda Black Rio - "Maria Fumaça" (Limited 180 Gram Vinyl Reissue & LP Stream)

This band from Brazil bring a mix of Tower of Power and Kool & The Gang's energy and funky sounds sprinkled with Latin musical influences throughout for a great party time in music. If you don't already have this outstanding album of Funk fusion released in '77, grab the 2014 limited 180 gram vinyl reissue here at Amazon and enjoy the album stream!

Eric Lau - "Without A Doubt" with Gwen Bunn & "What I Do" with Kid Fonque & Nia Andrews

UK producer Eric Lau sets of Fall of 2014 with a couple of soulful grooves featuring the lovely voices of female vocalists Gwen Bunn and Nia Andrews, a joyful soundtrack for the season. "What I Do" shows Eric Lau tapping into the heartbeat of Nia Andrews with an upbeat bounce to tell a story of what people do when caught up in love.

"Without A Doubt" thumps with a Dilla-inspired rhythm as Gwen Bunn draws from the back of her mind to project her visions of love using her soothing vocal tone and storytelling ability. The dreamy arrangement of lead and background vocals which flow smoothly against Lau's guitar groove on "Without" creates an ear-opening union of Soul and Hip Hop while "What I Do" serves as an uptempo dancefloor groove of progressive Soul.

2Pac - "N.I.G.G.A." (Astronote - Unreleased 2009 RMX)

By JR on 12:00 PM

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Never ignorant gettin' goals accomplished, Astronote adds his futuristic bounce to breathe new life into the rebellious words of 2Pac and his crew. "N.I.G.G.A." thumps with an inspirational vibe as Astro combines uplifting piano chords with spacey synths against a neck snapping groove for a unique and astrological sound of Hip Hop. For an progressive approach to beatmaking, the French producer creates a great union of rawness on the drums with a more futuristic vibe in his keyboard arrangements.

Future Flavas Radio 2014: Marley Marl Dips In The Archives For Rare Freestyles, Remixes & Demos

Enjoy a couple hours of treats as DJ Marley Marl takes a trip back to his Future Flavas Radio program, a an outstanding example of Hip Hop to bless the tri-state NYC airwaves during the 90's. Includes promos specially-made for the show which featured Hip Hop greats rhyming over Pete Rock and Marley's beats, freestyles and song selections by the legendary duo. Audio Ripped from Ustream by Stieflkater of PhilaFlava

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