John Morrison's Philly Top Five: Celebrating the masters, pushing back at the gatekeepers, and more September sounds - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

For many of us, September is a transitional month for many obvious reasons. September marks the return of students’ back-to-school sessions, the weather breaks (hopefully), and we get to physically feel the summer’s slow transition into fall. Personally, September usually marks the beginning of a decline in outdoor DJ gigs and more time spent in the house writing, listening to, and making music. As always, this month’s wrap up is kinda scattershot, representing a few things that he piqued my interest at some point over the last 30 days. Each of these entries has a connection to where I am musically at the moment. The Philly hip-hop panel is of interest because of a book I’m writing, while the O’Jays album speaks to some broader thoughts I’ve had about rock criticism, white ethnocentricity and Black creativity in popular music. So, as the weather gets colder and the focus of my work shifts, my hope is that I can continue to engage with all of this music with sincerity and intention and navigate the changes smoothly.

Xtra Lovely Blog

One of the things that has given me an endless feelings of joy and excitement recently is the Xtra Lovely Blog on YouTube. Curated by MC / producer / DJ Brian “Stainless” Steele, the channel is a rich resource of hip-hop, DJ mixes and archival mixtapes sourced from Steele’s personal collection. Upon digging into the page, it’s easy to find yourself losing hours streaming uploads of 90s cassette mixes from legendary NYC street DJs like S&S, Mister Cee and Clue, or Steele’s own colorful genre mixes covering dub, jazz, rare rap and beyond. Much like the releases on Steele’s fantastic Xtra Lovely label, the selections on this page are inspired and reflective of Steele’s impeccable taste.

Cool Cats Vol.5 - All Vinyl 90s Jazzy Hip Hop Mix

Vaughn Smith – Livest Spot In The City

Vaughn Smith’s 1997 full-length, The Livest in the City, is a raw and accurate document of the sound of Philly hip-hop at the tail end of the millennium. Originally, the album was only pressed to cassette and CD and collectors around the world have been on the hunt for it ever since. Recently, German imprint 90s Tapes has reissued the album, marking the first time the record has been available on vinyl and streaming. Recorded in one week and backed by DJ Groove Da Moast’s jazzy, bass-heavy beats, the album is perfect headphone fodder. It’s a joy to revisit this record and bump anthems like “Top Celebrity” and “When I Come Thru.”

Philly Hip Hop Panel and Block Party at Parkway Central Library

On Saturday, September 30th, The Free Library of Philadelphia is hosting a panel discussion and block party celebrating Philly’s innumerable contributions to hip-hop culture. The writer, Solomon Jones is moderating and the lineup of panelists reads like a who’s who of Philly pioneers like Lady B, Schoolly D, Malika Love, Bahamadia, Woody Wood, E-Vette Money, and more. Starting at 1 p.m., the event is free but a ticket is required; RSVP here.

Koof & Alyssa – Greatest Hits Vol. 1: Live at Abyssinia

Recorded in August at beloved West Philly bar and restaurant Abyssinia, Live at Abyssinia is a gorgeous live set from trumpeter Koof Ibi and cellist alyssa almeida. The album opens with “One,” a slow-building piece in which Ibi and almeida play together in patient, meditative dance. Straddling the line between free-imrpovisation and ambient music, songs like “Two (Blue Moon)”, “Six,” and the 14-minute epic “Nine (In 3 Parts)” are perfect examples of the duo’s ability to communicate deeply through spontaneous playing. If you missed this performance like I did, don’t worry, Koof has a residency at Abyssinia were he’ll be performing on the first Sunday of every month (next one is this Sunday, 10/1; Abyssinia is located at 45th and Locust).

The O Jays – Ship Ahoy

In the week following Jann Wenner’s nut ass NYT comments questioning the genius of Black and Women pop musicians, I couldn’t help but think that Wenner’s perspective-one that erroneously posits white male musicians as the creative engines and intellectuals of popular music was not only false, but that it robs the popular music cannon of some of the most ambitious and profound masterworks. That week, I also came across a Twitter/X post about The O’Jays by @JRWorldofSoul, who co-hosts a FANTASTIC podcast with Naturally Alise called The R&B Representers. JR’s tweet praised the O’ Jays album run from 1972-1979, which got me thinking about one of the groups most ambitious and profound records: 1973’s Ship Ahoy. In enduring addition to hits like “For The Love of Money” and “Now That We Found Love,” the album includes not one, but two 9-minute epics in which the R&B legends speak to social and historical issues at large. The title track “Ship Ahoy” is a harrowing account of the middle passage that finds the group narrating the brutal journey enslaved Africans made across the Atlantic Ocean while “Don’t Call Me Brother” is a plea for Black intragroup solidarity. What is a cannon or an assessment of pop music that doesn’t account for or even consider albums like this or the works of Marvin Gaye, Roberta Flack or Public Enemy? If Jann Wenner’s vision of “mastery” in rock and pop music doesn’t include the O’ Jays, then that vision is poorer for it.

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