The second volume of “The New York Sound” continues our exploration into the post-disco, pre-house musical landscape of New York City, where we can hear the kernels of hip hop, house and techno, before such terms were commonplace. We start with a group that had provided some of the toughest funk and disco grooves throughout the 70s, and end with a hip hop crew that would go on to form one of the most crucial groups in the music’s history.
Five of the tracks on this CD are drawn from vaults of Vanguard Records. The label released a series of solid disco-orientated tunes in the 70s, as well as some early examples of electro, drum machine-driven funk initially linked with the burgeoning hip hop scene that would ultimately give way to techno from Detroit.
A key person in allowing Vanguard to keep up with the trends was DJ and producer Ray “Pinky” Velazquez. Velazquez was part of the first record pool in the city, originally set up by David Mancuso (who ran the legendary ‘Loft’ parties) as a liaison between the record companies and the city’s growing number of DJs. After working for the Dynamo label, he became Vanguard’s A&R man from 1979-1984, as well as being involved in production and mixing duties for some of the label’s most enduring tunes.
No One Can Do It by Carol Williams was released on Vanguard in 1981 and marked a return to the disco fold for the vocalist. After passing on the opportunity to voice the track Over Like A Fat Rat (which became a hit for Fonda Rae), Williams accepted the offer of No One Can Do It, which, though not having the impact of the latter, nevertheless did well.
Fonda Rae crops up again twice on this volume. Once under her own name and also singing lead vocals as a member of Rainbow Brown, the studio group put together by producer and arranger Patrick Adams. The classic I’m The One was mixed by Velazquez, and features the classy musical approach typical of so much of Adams’ work.
Another producer who made his name in the burgeoning electro/hip hop scene was Arthur Baker. Undoubtedly, one of his most significant records is the monumental Planet Rock by Afrika Bambaataa and The Soulsonic Force, but he had his hand in numerous others. One is I Wanna Get With You by Ritz, released on the Posse label.
Although some artists could be accused of jumping on the bandwagon as far as the new music is concerned, Millie Jackson can be seen as one of its pioneers. Tongue-in-cheek and humorous, Jackson has a decent crack at the emergent rap form on I Had To Say It, at a time when many ‘proper’ musicians wrote it off as a fad that wouldn’t last.
Our final recording ties together two figures who were highly influential in the 80s black music scene, but who today are remembered for distinctly different sorts of music. Michael Jonzun’s records as part of the Jonzun Crew such as Pack Jam and Space Cowboy are considered definitive examples of early electro. Maurice Starr on the other hand is now known as the producer/Svengali behind New Edition and New Kids On The Block – the former being discovered by Jonzun. The record they made together as Blaze was an early collaboration, listed on the tape box as being by Starr, though whether its appearance under a group name suggests a desire to remain behind the scenes is just speculation.
So concludes our second foray into key records of the early dance scene. Some are classics, some are curios, but all contributed to sounds and styles we now accept and in some ways take for granted. These are records whose main aim was simply to make people dance, unaware that they were plotting the course for the next phase of the continually evolving soundtrack to clubs the world over.
By Chris Menist