Wax Poetics Issue 59: Aaliyah / Kelela
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Veteran music journalist Michael A. Gonzales looks back twenty years on Aaliyah’s debut album, the controversy with R. Kelly, and the follow-up album with Timbaland that changed the landscape of R&B. Includes never-before-published photos of Aaliyah by photographer Jonathan Mannion. Novelist T. P. Carter interviews newcomer Kelela and runs down the L.A. electro-bass scene.
Producer, songwriter, and organist Edwin Birdsong is the anonymous genius behind some of jazz-funk’s most cosmic moments. Influenced by Larry Levan and the New York club scene, Birdsong’s left-field boogie anthem “Cola Bottle Baby” would become fodder for both Daft Punk and Kanye West, and his bare funk breakbeat track “Rapper Dapper Snapper” would nod hip-hop heads for years, bringing Birdsong’s grooves to a new global audience.
Rinder and Lewis had a knack for creating commercial, crossover disco, hiding behind various monikers like El Coco and Le Pamplemousse. Ultimately, they chose to reveal their true identities on a string of records that would allow them to realize a more artistic vision of disco that played to their strengths—stripped-down drum-and-synthesizer tracks that pioneered the cosmic dance.
Terry Reid passed on the opportunity to become the front man of Led Zeppelin, choosing to carry on as a solo act that never paid off with the heights of fame and fortune of his musical pals, yet he recorded two soulful folk-rock masterpieces and has become known as an artist’s artist.
The story of the notorious NYC bathhouse Continental Baths is the story of disco. The Baths would birth the careers of dance icons Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles, two young DJs who were soaking in the nascent disco scene of the early ’70s—and who soon got their own shot behind the decks, ultimately influencing the dance scene in immeasurable ways.
As one half of production duo Flyte Tyme Productions, Jimmy Jam, along with partner Terry Lewis, changed the landscape of popular music and the sound of radio forever. The duo’s attention to their craft and changing times saw an evolution in their sound through the latest technology, yet their secret to success was unique, tailor-made productions for each artist.