John Morrison's Philly Top Five: Sampling, shoegaze, and soul stunners for the spring - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

I’ve said and written it before-maybe even in this column: but hip-hop has an interesting relationship with the past. Not only is rap as an art form tirelessly referential, given the nature of sampling, hip-hop is always utilizing the building blocks of the past to make itself anew. Having been raised up and trained in this culture, I tend to be oriented towards older music. Doing radio and writing this column incentivizes me to keep up with new releases, but inevitably, I always find myself looking backward.

Lately, I’ve been writing and researching a lot about Philly’s dance music history, particularly disco. As the music of my parents’ young adulthood, I have a sentimental connection with those great PIR / MFSB, Salsoul and Prelude songs that deeply informs the way I play live as a DJ or program shows for radio. Although the music of the past figures heavily in my work, I imagine that my curiosity will keep me at least somewhat tuned into new music as I get older, but who knows? Until then, here are five releases-both new and old-that have sparked my interest this month.

Double Exposure – “My Love Is Free”

To say that the city of Philadelphia doesn’t get due credit for its contributions to the formation of dance music is a gross understatement. In the past, I’ve written about how disco was the seed from which all club-based genres that followed it flowered, and it’s mind blowing to think that disco’s two great orchestras, MFSB and The Salsoul Orchestra, have their roots in Philly. Lately, I’ve been playing a lot of Salsoul in my DJ sets lately and a current favorite is Double Exposure’s “My Love Is Free”. Everything about the instrumental back is flawless, from the dramatic string and brass arrangement to the tight rhythm section. To top it all off, the vocal is positively euphoric, with singer Jimmy Williams leading an ode to a love that transcends finances and worldly trappings.

Double Exposure - My Love Is Free (Tom Moulton 12" Mix)

Sagat – “Why Is It? (Fuk Dat) (Philly Smooth Hip-Hop Mix)”

In the pantheon of great monologue songs of the 90s, (think Baz Luhrman’s “Everybody’s Free To Wear Sunscreen” or Nada Surf’s “Popular”), Sagat’s “Why Is It? (Fuk Dat)” is one of the all-time greats. Released in 1993, the song was an unlikely hit with Sagat playing the role of the perpetually angry curmudgeon complaining about everything from panhandlers to monotonous radio DJs. The Philly Smooth Hip-Hop version of this tune was mixed by local techno legend, Josh Wink. Flexing his hip-hop production acumen, Wink’s mix is a chilled-out take on a leftfield classic.

Sagat - Funk Dat (Philly Smooth Hip-Hop Edit)

Borbs – Motivic Consciouness

Recorded in December of 2023 at Headlong Dance Studio in South Philly, Borbs’ Motivic Consciousness is a spirited journey into the joys of freely improvised music. After a brief (and hilarious) intro in which composer/multiinstrumentalist  Aaron Pond introduces the band and promises that they will “play like maniacs,” Borbs gets right to business. The ensemble’s players communicate with each other at a high level whether they’re joining forces to create deeply meditative moments, screaming or wailing openly. The music being made on this recording cannot be easily fit into the confines of genre, but it is certainly brimming with curiosity and vitality.

Poptartpete – Free Jawns Vol. 2

Pro skater and beatmaker Poptartpete has been releasing heady tapes filled with soulful production for years. I’ve recently been bumping Free Jawns Vol. 2, a tape that still sounds fresh despite being nearly a decade old. The tape opens with “The Bust,” a dreamy jam based around pitched down drums and an electric piano motif. The beat starts and stops with sudden vacuums of silence that are then filled with the lush instrumentation. With tracks like “Skip-Bo” and the swinging waltz-timed, “Scabs,” Free Jawns Vol. 2 is a brief but tasty feast for the ears.

Mahogany – “A Scaffold”

“A Scaffold” is the brand new single from shoegaze-tinged post-punk duo, Mahogany. A driving, uptempo gem, Jaclyn Slimm and Andrew Prinz come out the gate swinging, building up a dense wall of sound around Slimm’s swooning vocal melody. It’s a beautiful tune that the band is releasing on vinyl on May 3rd. In celebration of the release, Mahogany’s throwing a party at Johnny Brenda’s on Wednesday, May 8th. They’ll be joined by Philly-born/San Francisco-based psych legends, The Asteroid No. 4, so you know it’s going to be a great time.

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