I first heard about Los Angeles-based composer Adrian Younge on the Wax Poetics Magazine site. “Adrian Younge Presents Venice Dawn: Wax Poetics Records Releases Free EP from 2000”, read the headline. Maybe it was the word “free” that jumped out at me, but something prompted me to dig a little deeper. I downloaded the Venice Dawn EP, a 5 song soundtrack to a fictional film intended to, as the article stated, “[connect] the dots between Black Dynamite, Younge’s early work, and his newest album, Something About April.” There was one song in particular, “1969 Organ”, that caught my attention. I listened to it over and over and over again, fascinated by the eerie composition whose sounds I couldn’t quite describe. Futuristic, yet retro. Uncanny, yet lustful. Over the next few years, I continued listening to Younge. From Adrian Younge Presents the Delfonics to Something About April and Black Dynamite to 12 Reasons to Die, each album was unique from the last. Elongated vocal vibratos buzzed with liberated self-awareness. Psychedellic soundscapes bounced around unscathed sonic territory. Adrian Younge had both achieved and conceived of something formerly foreign to the ears. Stylistically vintage, Younge’s music is something of a progressive pastiche.
He has worked with artists like Ghostface Killah and Philadelphia soul group The Delfonics, composed the score for the Blaxploitation film and Adult Swim cartoon Black Dynamite, is a multi-instrumentalist, owns a record store in Los Angeles, and was an entertainment law professor (to name a few of his achievements). Oh, and did I mention he has an album with Souls of Mischief coming out in August? Needless to say, he is an accomplished artist. What makes Younge so meritorious though, is his understanding of what it means to create with Soul. Soul is the medium he uses within all he has done and all he will continue to do.
In my interview with Adrian Younge below, he expounds on the value of this very vital element as he makes what he likes to call his “arguably archaic art.”
Art Nouveau Magazine: What kind of music did you listen to as a kid? Was there a particular album or artist definitive to your upbringing?
Adrian Younge: My parents are from Guyana. In my house, it was r&b to reggae. As far as my musical core, what served to create my personal palette for music is literally hip hop. Hip hop showed me a source material to the music I love and strive to make. Hip hop culture is based on the recreation of old soul or actually the recreation of vinyl culture remixed with a modern day perspective. Hip hop went back to just vinyl and flipped it in a new way. Hip hop introduced me to all that good music back then, and that’s where I get my musical influences from. Hip hop was the door to the music that really changed my life.
AN: On Souls of Mischief’s 93 ti Infinity …
AY: That album represented me personally. There were crews like Wu Tang I loved to death, but I didn’t identify with Wu Tang like identified with Souls of Mischief. I wasn’t selling drugs. I wasn’t robbing fools. But I loved the music. With Souls of Mischief, everything they talked about as far as getting girls to wearing fly clothes – that was my upbringing as a west coast dude. That 93 til Infinity album introduced me to different forms of jazz music to how to really flip drums. I learned a lot from that album.
AN: How do you choose the artists you want to work with?
AY: I view myself as a composer, not a beat maker. A beat maker is the type of dude that can make ten beats in a day, because it doesn’t take as much time. With me, I could make one song every two or three days. When I’m putting that amount of labor and attention to somebody, it has to be somebody I’m passionate about. When I have artists that want me to do a track for them, it has to be something I really, really want to do. It’s so labor intensive because of the fact that I play so many of the instruments, I compose it, I mix it. It has to be worth it. When I determine whether someone or a group is worth it, I have to see how I feel when I hear their voice. Is it something that moves me and pushes me to try to be better? Do their vocals push me to be better? If it does, then I want to work with them, then that just means that I’m making music to try to make someone else better. I want them to try to make me better.
AN: Do you have relationships with these artists beforehand or do you meet with them, see if you vibe, and take it from there?
AY: Yes and no. More times than not, yes. I’ve wanted to work with Souls of Mischief all my life. We met on Twitter, and then we talked on the phone, and then out of nowhere we’re just brothers. I’ve known them so long with their music, they just haven’t known me as long. Even though they were fans of me for a year or two, I’ve been fans of theirs since ’93. I always tell people that as a musician, you communicate with people through your music, and when you meet people you feel like they know you. It’s kind of true to an extent, because you’ve communicated to them personally somehow. They’ve communicated with me since 93, and when we met, we vibed very quickly. And then we started immediately thereafter.
AN: How is the album [with Souls of Mischief] coming along?
AY: The album is done. I think it’s their best work ever. It’s just something that I’ve never really heard in hip hop. It’s like if Bob James and Herbie Hancock got together with A Tribe Called Quest to make an album for Souls of Mischief in the 90’s but produced it in the late 60’s/ early 70’s. That’s what this album is…With this unique sonic perspective and many core changes and composition for hip hop itself. With them as vocalists, I have them acting like horns as if we’re making a jazz album instead of just a monotone vocal run throughout the album, and they’re helping me to be a better composer. We’re just making each other better. I just, honestly, can’t wait for the world to hear this album
AN: How do you maintain your signature sound while focusing in on what they’re about?
AY: I need to be able to go over to their side, and they need to be able to come over to mine. If their side is something of garbage to me, I don’t even want to do it. If it’s something that really inspires me, I want to see how we can make each other better.
AN: What are your thoughts on hip hop in 2014?
AY: Hip hop in 2014 is different in a way that has pros and cons. Musically, do I like it as much? No, I don’t. As far as the subcultures, do I like it as much? No, I don’t. Do I like the fact that I hear rap music on NBA TV and the Grammys? I love it. The argument is a little deeper than do I like it now better than I like it then. There are two sides. As far as music, I don’t like current hip hop music as much as I did back then because of the fact hip hop has become popular music in a way that it never has been. Because of that, a lot of hip hop and rap acts have to succumb to what it takes to what it takes to make popular music. There was a time when hip hop was predominantly underground, so people were experimenting all the time. New albums are generally experimental albums. They are the love of a subculture that was not popular to the world, so it had a different edge to it. Now, a lot of that edge is just lost. A lot of it is just music to make money. Not that they weren’t trying to make money then, but it’s just different. I love music with an edge, and there is still that. There is still that around the world. It’s just not as prevalent as it once was.
AN: Are there any artists today that you find yourself drawn to?
AY: I have a record store and all I do is listen to old records. The only new music I listen to is if I have friends or MCs that are doing new stuff…It’s not because new music is horrible, but I’m inspired by analog recording. I’m inspired by vinyl. So that’s what I use as my fuel to make music. When I listen to a lot of modern stuff, it’s just derivative of music that’s even not as good as the music that I love from back in the day…There is a lot of great stuff [today]; it’s just that I’m not educated enough to know what’s out there, because I’m kind of in my own world.
AN: Why do you choose to stick with the analog production process as opposed to digital?
AY: To me, the best music ever made was made without computers. Computers make the production of music easier, and the drawback of that is that it’s music based on the concept of emulation. A gourmet restaurant uses organic materials to create food for their consumers. I want to have the same artisan approach with the music I create. When you have computers, you cannot have that artisan approach. There is a loss of quality, a loss of production value, a loss of seriousness when it comes to making that kind of music. And there’s also a loss of compelling-ness in the performance. When you’re recording digitally, you can do a million takes. When you’re recording analog, you only have one take. You’ve got to get it right the first time. And it makes a big difference. That’s why I make it arguably archaic art.
AN: On Soul…
AY: I’m a lover of soul music. Any music that has soul, it could be a country music that sings soul. Lionel Richie is a country singer, but he has soul. I look at hip hop as a category of soul music. My boundaries are whether the song has soul or not. I love classic rock albums, but the classic rock albums I love have soul in them…whether it’s r&b, whether it’s hip hop, whether it’s psychedelic rock, that’s what I’m into.
AN: Do you have any words of wisdom to your listeners out there?
AY: Don’t close yourself off to music that is made right now, because timeless music is always timeless. To me, timeless music is something from a long time ago. I think artists need to look back to move forward as far as just creating art and look at what people did and try to determine what you can do as an artist to try and make what they did better now. A lot of people aren’t looking back, and when you don’t look back, your foundation isn’t as strong. You’re just starting all over. It’s best to look back and see what people have done and try to build on top of that.