Category: neo-soul

Live Footage: Nick Hakim Performs “QADIR” on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”

I’ve written quite a bit about the Washington, DC-born, Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter, guitarist Nick Hakim over the past handful of years. Hakim’s critically applauded full-length debut, 2017’s Green Twins can trace its origins back to when he finished his two critically applauded EPs Where Will We Go Part 1 and Where We Will Go Part 2. Armed with the masters for those efforts, Hakim relocated from Boston, where he was then based to Brooklyn.

As soon as he got himself settled, he quickly went to work, spending his spare time writing and recording sketches using his phone’s voice memo app and a four-track cassette recorder, fleshing the material out whenever possible. He then took his new demo’d material to various studios in NYC, Philadelphia and London, where he built up the material with a number of engineers, including frequent collaborator Andrew Sarlo (bass, engineering and production), who were tasked with keeping the original spirit and essence of the material intact as much as humanly possible.

Thematically, the album’s material focused on specific experiences, feeling and thoughts he had during the time he was writing and composing it, making the album feel like a series of different self-portraits. Much like Vincent Van Gogh’s famed self-portraits, the material sometimes captures its creator in broad strokes, with subtle gradations in mood, tone and feeling. Sonically, Green Twins drew from a broad array of influences including Robert Wyatt, Marvin Gaye, Shuggie Otis and My Bloody Valentine and others. “We wanted to imagine what it would have sounded like if RZA had produced a Portishead album. We experimented with engineering techniques from Phil Spector and Al Green’s Back Up Train, drum programming from RZA and Outkast, and we were listening to a lot of The Impressions, John Lennon, Wu-Tang, Madlib and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins,” Hakim said in press notes at the time.

Since the release of Green Twins, Hakim developed a reputation as a highly sought-after, go-to collaborator working with Lianna La Havas, Anderson .Paak, Onyx Collective, Sporting Life, IGBO, Nappy Nina, Ambrose Akinmusire, Slingbaum, FKA Twins and Oumou Sangare.

The JOVM mainstay released his highly-anticipated sophomore album WILL THIS MAKE ME SOUND GOOD earlier this year through ATO Records. Interestingly, the album’s material manages to be distinctly Hakim while being a tonal shift from its predecessor: his sophomore album reflects the ideas with which he grappled with while writing and recording the album. To prepare listeners for the experience, Hakim shared the following statement about the record:

“I feel the people simmering, on our way to the boiling point. There’s a lot of madness going on around us and this world can feel so cold. It can get hard to remember what makes it worth it. The people around me and the music I love helps.

For a while, I couldn’t write. I worked on new music but couldn’t find the right words. But that time was just a build-up to the three months of expression that led to this album. I hope this music will raise awareness about where we are right now. About how we are living on this planet. About how we treat our neighbors. About community. About depression. About what can heal us and what can’t. About overmedication, overstimulation and manipulation. About respecting and loving the people around us, because one day they won’t be here-or you won’t.

But it’s also true that I’m still trying to figure this record out. People have told me that it’s confusing or that it’s messy-that’s fine. There’s so much pressure on artists to commit to being one thing, or to restrict an album to exploring just one subject or sound. But my life isn’t like that, and so my music can’t be like that either. I’m not thinking about this music as a product to be bought and sold, or how I’ll buy your interest. This is my world; a lot of friends touched this record, and that makes me feel lucky and proud. These songs are glimpses into my community. I’m exploring, but I’m not alone. It’s a journey in progress; it’s an experiment, every day.”

“QADIR” is a slow-burning and atmospheric single, centered around a repetitive and hypnotic arrangement featuring shimmering and reverb-drenched guitar, a sinuous baseline fluttering flute, stuttering beats and Hakim’s expressive and  plaintive vocals — and as a result, the track is a fever dream full of ache and longing, partially written as an ode to a late friend and an urgent reminder to check in on your loved ones before it’s too late. ”If I really sink into a recording, I don’t want it to end,” Hakim says. “[‘QADIR’] is repetitive and hypnotizing, like a trance — that’s intentional. The song is my ode to him. It’s my attempt to relate to how he must have been feeling.”

Recently Hakim and his backing band performed a socially distant rendition of “QADIR” on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, which features Hakim singing the song on a cartoon-background that’s one part hood, one part Sesame Street. 

New Video: Los Angeles-based Phenom Angela Munoz Reveals Her True Self in Visuals for “I Don’t Care”

Founded and led by A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge, a Los Angeles-based composer, multi-instrumentalist, arranger, producer and Linear Labs founder, The Midnight Hour is a 10 member ensemble that also prominently singer/songwriter and guitarist Jack Waterson, singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Loren Oden — and , singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and 18 year old Los Angeles-born and-based phenom, Angela Munoz. 

The Midnight Hour released their self-titled debut back in 2018, an effort that established their sound: jazz and orchestral inspired soul and hip-hop heavily influenced by  David Axelrod, Quincy Jones, Curtis Mayfield, Barry White and Jazzmatazz-era Gang Starr. Now, as you may recall, since the release of  the ensemble’s full-length debut, Muhammad, Younge and and the Linear Labs crew have been extremely busy: last year saw the release of Jack Waterson’s psych rock, solo debut Adrian Younge Presents JackWaterson, and a lengthy tour that included a Brooklyn Bowl stop last September. This year will see the release of the ensemble’s highly-anticipated sophomore album, as well as solo efforts from Loren Oden and Angela Munoz.

The young, Los Angeles-born and-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist phenom has a beguiling voice and mature presence that belie her relative youth. Munoz recalls Guns ‘N’ Roses’ “Welcome to The Jungle” as the catalyst that sparked her desire to play music and to become a star. As a girl, she learned to play guitar and piano — and with practice, she began to dominate singing competitions, leaving unexpected audiences in a trance. Interestingly, a few years ago Munoz’s brother Brandon introduced her to the Adrian Younge-produced Something About April. Munoz was intrigued by the quality of the music, and as a result, she found herself thinking about how it would be interesting to create music that encompassed various perspectives — similar to how Younge does so with his analog recordings.

Shortly after being introduced to Something About April, the Los Angeles-born and-based phenom serendipitously found self working with The Midnight Hour, who recorded her song “Bitches Do Voodoo” on their full-length debut. They’ve since took Munoz on tour, where she’s blown away audiences with her self-assured stage presence, a maturity that belies her age, some dexterous musicianship and her soulful vocals. 

Munoz’s debut single “I Don’t Care” features the Los Angeles-born and-based phenom’s remarkably self-assured and effortlessly soulful vocals over a gorgeous arrangement of twinkling keys and harp, soaring strings, a sinuous bass line, wah wah pedaled guitar and an enormous hook.  And while the material is deceptively anachronistic sonically with the song drawing from classic Quiet Storm soul and 90s neo soul, there’s an underlying youthful brashness that’s beguiling and infectious. Munoz wrote “I Don’t Care” about how difficult staying true to who you are can be, especially as an artist, and ultimately realizing that she doesn’t need to fit into a mold — or be something that she never wanted to be. Unsurprisingly, she’s been told since she was a child that, in order to succeed as a musician she needed to change herself to look like a “superstar.” 

Directed by Adrian Younge, the recently released, gorgeously cinematic video sees Munoz peeling back the layers of the glamorous look that is expected of her to reveal her true self — and by doing so, we wind up seeing how truly beguiling the young artist really is.  “I knew that my purpose in life isn’t to be anyone’s object, it’s to share my experiences and impact people in the most positive way,” Munoz says in press notes. “I hope the song and video helps people realize that they don’t need to change the way they are to feel accepted.” 

New Audio: Introducing Los Angeles-based Phenom Angela Munoz

Founded and led by A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge, a Los Angeles-based composer, multi-instrumentalist, arranger, producer and Linear Labs founder, The Midnight Hour is a 10 member ensemble that also prominently singer/songwriter and guitarist Jack Waterson, singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Loren Oden — and , singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and 18 year old Los Angeles-born and-based phenom, Angela Munoz. 

The Midnight Hour released their self-titled debut back in 2018, an effort that established their sound: jazz and orchestral inspired soul and hip-hop heavily influenced by  David Axelrod, Quincy Jones, Curtis Mayfield, Barry White and Jazzmatazz-era Gang Starr. Now, as you may recall, since the release of  the ensemble’s full-length debut, Muhammad, Younge and and the Linear Labs crew have been extremely busy: last year saw the release of Jack Waterson’s psych rock, solo debut Adrian Younge Presents Jack Waterson, and a lengthy tour that included a Brooklyn Bowl stop last September. This year will see the release of the ensemble’s highly-anticipated sophomore album, as well as solo efforts from Loren Oden and Angela Munoz. 

The young, Los Angeles-born and-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist phenom has a beguiling voice and mature presence that belie her relative youth. Munoz recalls Guns ‘N’ Roses’ “Welcome to The Jungle” as the catalyst that sparked her desire to play music and to become a star. As a girl, she learned to play guitar and piano — and with practice, she began to dominate singing competitions, leaving unexpected audiences in a trance. Interestingly, a few years ago Munoz’s brother Brandon introduced her to the Adrian Younge-produced Something About April. Munoz was intrigued by the quality of the music, and as a result, she found herself thinking about how it would be interesting to create music that encompassed various perspectives — similar to how Younge does so with his analog recordings. 

Shortly after being introduced to Something About April, the Los Angeles-born and-based phenom serendipitously found self working with The Midnight Hour, who recorded her song “Bitches Do Voodoo” on their full-length debut. They’ve since took Munoz on tour. where she’s blown audiences. 

Munoz’s debut single “I Don’t Care” features the Los Angeles-born and-based phenom’s remarkably self-assured and effortlessly soulful vocals over a gorgeous arrangement of twinkling keys and harp, soaring strings, a sinuous bass line, wah wah pedaled guitar and an enormous hook.  And while the material is deceptively anachronistic sonically with the song drawing from classic Quiet Storm soul and 90s neo soul, there’s an underlying youthful brashness that’s beguiling and infectious. 

Ben Williams is an acclaimed Washington DC-born and-based singer/songwriter, bassist, composer, bandleader and highly sought-after collaborator. Williams graduated from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Michigan State University and The Juilliard School, winning the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition(now known as the Herbie Hancock  International Jazz Competition) back in 2009 and a Grammy Award as a member of Pat Metheny‘s Unity Band. He has collaborated with an impressive and remarkably diverse array of artists including Wynton Marsalis, George Benson, Maxwell, Robert Glasper, Pharrell and a long list of others. (He also appeared in Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis biopic Miles Ahead.)

As a bandleader and composer, Williams has released two albums through renowned jazz label Concord Records — 2011’s State of Art and 2015’s Coming of Age. Slated for a February 7, 2020 release through Jose James‘, Talia Billig‘s and Brian Bender’s Rainbow Blonde Records, Williams third album I AM A MAN references Memphis‘ historic 1968 sanitation workers’ strike, during which African American men marched through the streets with picket signs that read “I Am A Man” in a boldface type. “The image of this long line of men, holding the picket signs, all saying the same thing — there’s something powerful about seeing this message over and over again,” Williams explains, before saying that the messaging reminded him of how we use hashtags today to help ignite and inspire activism today, such as the Black Lives Matter and MeToo movements. But there’s multiple subtle meanings to the album’s title: as Williams said during his performance at the Rainbow Blonde Records NYC Winter Jazz Fest last week the album wasn’t a typical protest album; that it was thematically an exploration of the black male psyche.

Sonically, the album reportedly meshes past, present and future, as it seemingly draws from The Roots, Erykah Badu, Bilal, D’Angelo, Common, Roy Hargrove‘s RH Factor as well as Marvin Gaye‘s What’s Going On, Curtis Mayfield and others.

Williams plays both double bass and electric bass throughout the album’s material, singing lead vocals on almost every single song on the album. He’s joined by an accomplished backing band of collaborators that includes Kris Bowers (keys), David Rosenthal (guitar), Marcus Strickland (tenor sax, bass clarinet), Bendji Allonce (percussion), Keyon Harrold (trumpet), Anne Drummond (flute), Jamire Williams (drums) and Justin Brown (drums). The album also features a handful of songs with  string arrangements performed by a string quartet — Justina Sullivan (cello), Celia Hatton  (viola), Maria Im (violin) and Chiara Fasi (violin), and vocals from Kendra Foster, Muhsimah, Wes Felton and Niles.

The album’s first single is the cinematic “If You Hear Me.” Centered around an spacious and cinematic arrangement featuring a shimmering and soaring string arrangement, African polyrhythm, Williams’ plaintive and soulful vocals, the track manages brings to Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield and Landing on a Hundred-era Cody Chesnutt to mind. The album’s second single, fittingly released today is an atmospheric rendition of the civil rights-era classic “We Shall Overcome” that places the song’s timeless struggle and hope for a far better, more just world into a contemporary context:  reminding the listener that the struggle of MLK, Malcolm X,  The Black Panthers and others,  is the same struggle as Black Lives Matter and other movements.

Williams will be embarking on a handful of live dates that includes a February 8, 2020 album release show at Nublu 151. Check out the live dates below.

 

Tour Dates
2/8: New York, NY @ Nublu 151 (Album Release Show)
3/19: Washington, DC @ City Winery

Live Footage: H.E.R. Performs “Slide” for Vevo

Born Gabriella Wilson, the Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter and guitarist, best known as H.E.R. (an acronym for Having Everything Revealed). Wilson first gained attention when she participated in Radio Disney’s Next Big Thing contest in 2009. By 2014, she had signed with RCA Records and released her debut single “Something to Prove” under her birth name. 

Back in 2016, Wilson re-emerged with her current solo project, H.E.R., releasing her debut EP H.E.R. Volume 1, a seven song collection of slow-burning, post-breakup material, which managed to sound both vulnerable and self-assured. RCA Records initially released the effort that September to limited promotion — but the album effort eventually landed at #28 on Billboard’s R&B/hip-hop charts thanks in part to social media co-signs from Alicia Keys and Bryson Tiller, as well as an attention grabbing cover of Drake’s “Jungle.” Wilson followed-up with 2017’s  similarly styled H.E.R. Volume 2, which debuted at #22 on Billboard’s R&B/hip-hop charts. 

Continuing the rapidly growing buzz surrounding her, the EPs were soon combined and released as H.E.R. with six additional tracks, including “Best Part,” a #32 R&B/hip-hop hit, previously heard on Daniel Caesar’s Freudian. 

Last year H.E.R. teamed up with pop superstar Khalid for “This Way,” which appeared on the Superfly Soundtrack. That August, Wilson released her third EP, I Used to Know Her: The Prelude, which landed at the top of R&B/hip-hop charts, thanks to the success of “Could’ve Been,” a duet with Bryson Tiller. By the end of the year, Wilson received five Grammy nominations — Album of the year and Best R&B album for H.E.R., Best R&B Performance for “Best Part,” Best R&B Song for “Focus,” and Best New Artist, winning Grammies for Best R&B Album and Performance. 

Since the Grammy Awards, she has collaborated with a diverse and eclectic array of artists including Chris Brown on “Come Together,” Jess Glynne on “Thursday,” Ed Sheehan on “I Don’t Want Your Money” and YBN Cordae on “Racks,” “21” and “Slide.” Some of that material was released on the compilation album I Used to Know Her while others were released as stand-alone singles or the albums of her collaborators. She’s also been nominated for five more Grammy Awards at the forthcoming 62nd Annual Grammy Awards, including Best Album and and Record with I Used to Know Her and Song of the Year for “Hard Place.”  

Recently Vevo invited the Grammy Award singer/songwriter and guitarist for a live session that included the two-step inducing “Slide” Featuring a shimmering and strutting neo-soul/classic soul arrangement and an infectious hook, the song is a perfect vehicle for Wilson’s sultry and self-assured vocals and some ambitious yet accessible songwriting. 

New Video: The Midnight Hour Releases a Late Night Lounge-Inspired Visual for Shimmering Ballad “Harmony”

Led by A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge, a Los Angeles-based composer, arranger and producer, the team behind the score for the acclaimed Netflix series Luke Cage, the 10 member ensemble The Midnight Hour also features multi-instrumentalists and vocalists Loren Oden and Angela Munoz and guitarist Jack Waterson.

Last year, the ensemble released their self-titled debut, which established their sound: jazz and orchestral inspired soul and hip-hop heavily inspired by David Axelrod, Quincy Jones and Jazzmatazz-era Gang Starr. Since the release of their full-length debut, the ensemble has been rather busy: Linear Labs released Jack Waterson’s psych rock solo album Adrian Younge Presents Jack Waterson earlier this year with full-lengths from the ensemble’s Oden and Munoz slated for release in the coming months. And The Midnight Hour’s highly-anticipated — and long-awaited — sophomore album is slated for release early next year. 

Midnight Hour 2‘s first single “Harmony” is a gorgeous and mesmerizing song that’s one part classic, Quiet Storm-era soul, one part neo-soul and one part J. Dilla and Flying Louts breakbeats, centered around a lush Barry White/Curtis Mayfield-era arrangement, featuring twinkling keys, shimmering and soaring strings, a sinuous bass line and propulsive drumming. But by far, the superstar of the show is Loren Oden’s soulful and plaintive vocals, which express an aching vulnerability and yearning — the sort that comes from being madly, desperately, passionately in love. As Muhammad and Younge explain in press notes, the song “is a song for those that have felt a special spark of love, in the moment.”

Directed by Adrian Younge and filmed at his Highland Park-based Linear Labs studio, the recently released video evokes the late night lounge vibes of the single — while reminding the viewer and listener that it’s possible to fall in love in just one night. “The video represents the spirit of The Midnight Hour: A visceral feeling of expression in those late night moments that is difficult to define, but impossible to deny,” Adrian Younge says in press notes. 

New Audio: Midnight Hour Releases a Quiet Storm-Inspired New Single

Led by A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge, a Los Angeles-based composer, arranger and producer, the team behind the score for the acclaimed Netflix series Luke Cage, the 10 member ensemble The Midnight Hour also features multi-instrumentalists and vocalists Loren Oden and Angela Munoz and guitarist Jack Waterson. Last year, the ensemble released their self-titled debut, which established their sound: jazz and orchestral inspired soul and hip-hop heavily inspired by David Axelrod, Quincy Jones and Jazzmatazz-era Gang Starr.

Since the release of their full-length debut, the ensemble has been rather busy: Linear Labs has released Jack Waterson’s psych rock solo album Adrian Younge Presents Jack Waterson earlier this year with full-lengths from the ensemble’s Oden and Munoz slated for release in the coming months. And as you may recall, the ensemble’s long-awaited sophomore album is also slated for release early next year. 

Midnight Hour 2’s first single is a mesmerizing and gorgeous, Quiet Storm meets neo-like bit of soul, centered around an enormous sounding Barry White/Curtis Mayfield-era arrangement, complete with shimmering strings and the like. And yet, the star of the show is Oden’s plaintive vocals, which express an aching vulnerability and yearning — the sort that comes from being madly and passionately in love. As Muhammad and Younge note, the song “is a song for those that have felt a special spark of love, in the moment.” 

Earlier this year, I wrote about the commercially and critically successful London-based soul and funk act The Brand New Heavies. And as you may recall, the act which is led by founding members, primary songwriters and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Levy and Simon Bartholomew was at the forefront of Britain’s late 80s and early 90s Acid Jazz movement, alongside the likes of Young Disciples and Grammy Award-winning and multi-BRIT Award-winning act Jamiorquai.

With the release of their debut single, the celebrated club classic “Got To Give,” through Chrysalis Records, the members of The Brand New Heavies began to make waves in their native UK. Eventually, the band signed to Acid Jazz Records, who released their applauded self-titled debut album in 1990 across Europe and elsewhere, while the album was picked up in the US by renowned hip-hop label Delicious Vinyl. Now, if you were around and conscious back in 1990, you’d likely recall their debut album’s Top Three R&B smash hit, “Never Stop,” which led to the album being on the R&B Album charts for the better part of year — and to the act winning a MTV award for the track. As a result of the wild success of “Never Stop,” the album went on to becoming arguably the most commercially successful of their career, as it went Gold in the UK.

Interestingly, the London-based funk and foul act’s full-length debut proved to be both popular and influential within hip-hop circles. In fact, the members of the band have wound up collaborating with an impressive array of the genre’s luminaries including A Tribe Called Quest, and Kool G. Rap, Gang Starr and Main Source for Heavy Rhyme Experience.

The London-based neo-soul act’s follow-up two immediate efforts — 1994’s Brother Sister and 1997’s Shelter — went Platinum, with the act eventually scoring 16 Top 40 hits including “Dream Come True,” “Stay This Way,” “Midnight At The Oasis,” “Sometimes,” and “Dream On Dreamer.

Coincidentally, the acclaimed London-based funk and foul act have been a major influence on the equally acclaimed, smash-hit multi-instrumentalist, producer, DJ and singer/songwriter Mark Ronson, who caught their first lineup and first show in New York in 1991. Ronson invited the members of the band to play at his 40th birthday party — and later began collaborating with the band on the first batch of new material in over five years, the disco-like groove “Getaway” which featured a horn line that hinted at Cheryl Lynn‘s 1978 disco smash hit “Got To Be Real,” and the soulfully sultry vocals of longtime vocalist N’Dea Davenport, with whom they’ve earned their biggest charting, best-selling work.

Slated for a September 6, 2019 release through their longtime label home Acid Jazz, the band’s forthcoming Sir Tristan Longworth-produced album TBNH finds The Brand New Heavies carefully refining and reimagining the sound that won them international acclaim while featuring a variety of vocalists throughout the album — including longtime vocalists N’Dea Davenport and Siedah Garret along with Beverly Knight, Angie Stone, current vocalist Angela Ricci and labelmate Laville. TBNH‘s latest single is a breezy, 70s soul-tinged cover of Kendrick Lamar‘s “These Walls” that features longtime vocalist N’Dea Davenport, a warm, Quincy Jones-like horn arrangement, twinkling Rhodes and a sultry hook — and while retaining the soulfulness and swagger of the original, The Brand New Heavies gently push the street banger into the lounge and into the club.