Saturday, June 30, 2012


Day two of sadly-less-than-timely posts, this was supposed to be geared to last Wednesday's solstice but I didn't have either of these records handy.

According to this, there are over 33,000 recorded versions of George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward's "Summertime". Although it was written as an aria for the opera Porgy & Bess, it long ago entered the popular songbook. I first encountered it through jazz versions (Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis), then jazz-funk versions (Walter Bishop) and later soul versions (Billy Stewart's crazily over-the-top scat version) and rock versions. (For a fun survey of several, there's this from Diplo and Tripledouble's AEIOU 2.)

These are newer to me, but might be my favorites:

Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton: "Summertime" (Soto Play, 196?)

Big Mama Thornton was a legendary blues singer who, among other things, was the first to record "Hound Dog" and wrote some standards like "Ball and Chain". In the 1960s she was living in the Bay Area and cut this with the great Ray Shanklin.

The Malibus: "Summertime" (Sure Shot, 1968)

The Malibus were from Houston and cut a bunch of records on Don Robey's Sure Shot label. Willie Mitchell produced this. Although he's mainly known for his 70s-era Memphis productions on Hi, in the late 1960s he produced a handful of artists for Robey's Texas-based labels, including the Malibus, O.V. Wright and Buddy Ace.


Friday, June 29, 2012


So this is weeks late and kind of a jumbled mess but I meant to post this on or around Father's Day. Unfortunately, after looking around the house for a few days I figured out that I probably didn't actually have this record anymore and then after tracking it down online I got distracted.

When rappers talk about big real-life things like fatherhood, they usually seem out of their depth. Partly it's a failure of craft, a tendency to sink into platitudes or extreme pathos, but also I think maybe rap and earnestness are fundamentally incompatible things.

Circle of Power: "Daddy" (Rumble, 1993)

This is kind of an exception. I don't know if any of this is autobiographical, but even though it's didactic it feels more personal than patronizing.

Circle of Power was an L.A. (I think) act that came out shortly after the Pharcyde and shared a similar jazz-rap sound. (The fact that both sampled Quincy Jones's "Summer In the City" makes the comparison almost too easy.) Although they only released one album, according to Discogs the two members, Wiz1 and Mone, worked together in two other groups, 24-7 Posse and Blak Forest. Despite some cool production (e.g., the Latin "Blak Beanz", which anticipates and reminds me of Juvenile's "Follow Me Now" in a good way), I think I might have forgotten about the record entirely if not for this song:

Circle of Power: "Unseen Offspring" (Rumble, 1993)

In keeping with the nominal theme of this post, it's a song about fatherhood, sort of-- it's about abortion and feeling haunted by the consequences afterward. Rap songs about abortion tend to be really reductive, whether anti- or pro-, but this talks about the issue in a really unique way, focusing on the ambiguity and agony that surround the decision rather than some sort of political argument. The layers of personal detail seem really real and the line "I wonder if my kid would have had my eyes" has been stuck in my head for about 20 years.