June is Black Music Month and Juneteenth! Although we try to celebrate the richness and power of Black music year round, it’s cool to see everyone focus their efforts, share and support good music. Personally, I’m doing what I’ve always done, digging for records, writing and doing radio. Despite some things being business as usual, a few curveballs have emerged in my workflow this summer. I’m working on a new record and writing a book. The record has been in the works for about a year and I just started writing the book this month. Those two major projects have taken up a lot of my time, focus and energy but I wouldn’t have it any other way. To give a sense of what June has looked and sounded like for me, here are 5 things that really caught my ear recently.

Boyz II Men – “Motownphilly”

This month, I made the announcement that I have signed a deal to write a book about Boyz II Men for the publishing company Quarto/Epic Ink. Growing up in Philly in the 90s, Boyz II Men’s music is deeply interwoven with my childhood and I’m kinda salivating at the chance to dig into the group’s story and contextualize it against the backdrop of hip-hop and Philly soul history. I’ve already started work on the book and the first chapter is shaping up to be a detailed exploration of the group’s debut single “Motownphilly.” With its frenetic, drum-heavy production and the group’s slick harmonies, “Motownphilly” dominated radio, block parties and car stereos in the summer of 1991. I have vivid memories attached to that song and its ubiquity at the time and revisiting it as a launching point for this book has reminded me of why the song was so beloved. My litmus test for a lot of music is how well it would do in a party/DJ context and I’m certain that I’ll be playing “Motownphilly” at some function to an enthusiastic crowd before summer ends.

Boyz II Men - Motownphilly (Official Music Video)

Be Reel Black Cinema Club: A Band Called Death screening

On the evening of June 7th, Be Reel Black Cinema Club hosted a screening of the 2012 documentary, A Band Called Death at the Philadelphia Film Society. My friends DuiJi 13 of Vinyl Tap 215, David MCullough and Brizzo were in the lobby selling records and I got to pick through some rock, soul and hip-hop gems as well as some nice copies of Death’s …For The World To See, courtesy of Drag City. The documentary itself is a beloved classic at this point, detailing the unlikely story of 3 brothers from Detroit whose pioneering proto-punk sound was largely ignored in its day but would later be discovered decades later.

A Band Called Death Official Trailer 1 (2013) - Documentary HD

SunRisers – “Real Off The Block”

It’s not an overstatement or hyperbole to say that for many of us, collecting records is a never-ending practice. After decades of buying, selling and digging for records, there are still a handful of joints that have eluded me for years. One of my self-described “white whales” was SunRisers’ 1995 single “Real Off The Block.” I taped this tune off the radio back when it came out and could never find a copy online or in stores, basements or the myriad of sketchy spots I’ve been to in the last 30 years searching for vinyl. After years of unsuccessfully trying to find this record, you could imagine my shock when a sealed copy popped up for sale on Discogs (shout out to A Beautiful World Syndicate in South Philly). I bought it immediately and made my never-to-be-complete collection a little more whole. With its lowkey, jazzy sample, titanic bass and anthemic “yes yes y’all” hook, “Real Off The Block” sounds just as good as it did when I taped it off the radio all those years back.

Sun Risers – ( Real Off The Block ) 1995

SOOK Vinyl & Vintage – 7169 Germantown Ave. Philadelphia

Earlier this month, I made a trip uptown to Germantown and checked out Sook Vinyl & Vintage, a vintage store focusing on Black music, and artifacts of culture. Curated and operated by Rashied Amon, this spot was absolutely packed with vintage clothes and books, but I was on the hunt for records. I made my way to the back room and was met with a treasure trove of LPs and 45s. After flipping through the stacks, I came home with a few goodies like Doug Carn’s 1974 jazz epic, Adam’s Apple, Archie Shepp’s Things Have Got To Change, Elijah’s Muhammad’s The Judgement of The World Is Now! and more. Highly recommended if you’re looking to spend that day looking for some gems. // @sook.vinyl

Culture Cypher Radio two-hour Juneteenth episode

On June 19th, I celebrated Juneteenth with a special two-hour episode of Culture Cypher Radio. Sonically and chronologically, the episode played out like a loose and informal trip through decades of Black American musical history. Philosophically, CCR is a hip-hop show with a pretty broad approach to genre. Through sampling and DJing, hip-hop tends to absorb and repurpose a variety of genres, and this allows me the room to include lots of non-hip-hop music into this hip-hop show. The Juneteenth show is even broader than most stylistically. The show opened with John “Black Sampson” Gibson’s “Steel-Laying Holler” before launching into a set of blues, bluegrass and folk music. From there we journey through some jazz, R&B and the final set of the show lands in the first generation of recorded rap music (1979-). Despite my best efforts, this episode doesn’t even come close to telling the story of Black American music (XPN would have to give me a straight 24 hour block to really get cooking), but I’m proud of how it turned out. Black American music is the foundation of popular music as we know it and I’m honored that my life’s work has been dedicated to celebrating it.

Culture Cypher - 06.19.2024