Hey everyone! How’s it going?
It’s Thursday and time to throw words together in the hope of forming proper sentences that express my love for music, records and working here at Sorry State. I’ll give it a go.
This week I would like to mention a fellow record label whose artist roster I have been following for several years and one that I have a huge amount of respect for. It’s Big Crown Records out of Brooklyn, New York.
Big Crown was formed by Leon Michels and Danny Akalepse in 2016 after the demise of their previous label Truth & Soul. That label had been around for about a dozen years and came out of the ashes of another New York based label, Soul Fire. Soul Fire records was founded in 1999 and run by Phillip Lehman, a French American who back in the 1980s as a graffiti artist helped introduce graffiti culture and particularly tagging to France. A huge record collector, particularly old school soul and funk, he compiled volumes of obscure funk 45s on his Pure label. Before Soul Fire, he ran Desco records with Gabriel Roth aka Bosco Mann who went on to form Daptone Records and the Dap-Kings with Sharon Jones. The late 1990s and early 2000s were such an exciting time in New York, and these gentlemen all played a huge part in laying the foundations for the burgeoning retro soul and funk scene that has developed since. I feel very blessed to have been living in the city back then and in whatever small way helping to support the scene. Be it through buying the records and spinning them out, stocking them at the store I worked at, going to shows, etc. It was a lot of fun. I did meet Phillip Lehman a couple of times, although he won’t remember, and it was cool getting to talk music with him.
Leon Michels is not only a shrewd businessman but one hell of a musician, song writer and producer too. As a musician, he fronts his own band, El Michels Affair, and was also a founding member of The Dap-Kings with the aforementioned Gabriel Roth in addition to The Menahan Street Band and The Expressions with Lee Fields. He has played with Charles Bradley, The Wu-Tang Clan and The Black Keys to name three and produces most of the records the label releases.
I really like the records that have come out under the El Michels Affair name. One project that always hits the spot is their 2009 album of Wu-Tang Clan covers and samples called Enter The 37th Chamber, originally released by Fat Beats. If you haven’t heard this record yet hit the link and get on it. More recently, Big Crown released a second album titled Return To The 37th Chamber, which is just as dope and highly recommended. It has taken up a good amount of turntable time at home and at the store since I got myself a copy. Mostly instrumental, but some of the cuts feature vocals, including those of Lee Fields and Lady Wray, recreating elements of the original samples. It’s a super cool mix of hip-hop and soul. We have this one and other Big Crown releases in stock for your next order. I have written about the awesome Lady Wray in the newsletter before, and both of her Big Crown records are excellent. Another one that we stock here at the shop is the collaboration with Liam Bailey titled Ekundayo Inversions, a nice reggae inspired album that features the legend Lee “Scratch” Perry on a cut. The instrumental version of this album is worth seeking out if you end up digging it.
One thing that unites Big Crown with other similar labels such as Colemine and Daptone is the love of old school soul and funk and particularly the medium that most of it was pressed onto, the 7” single. This fondness for the 45 is something that music lovers of all stripes share. Whether it’s soul, funk, punk, reggae, psych, garage or whatever else, the 45 it might be argued, is where the real meat and potatoes of any genre is to be found. It’s great to see so much new and old music getting out there in the form of a single and that there is still a section of the listening public that prefers it that way.
Talking of old music, Big Crown shines the spotlight on artists and records that deserve modern day attention too. They have released several singles and albums compiling the (mostly) 60s recordings of Sunny & The Sunliners, a Chicano group from Texas. If you like doo-wop, r & b and low rider sweet soul, this group is for you. Check out the song Should I Take You Home for a good example of their sound. The group was formed and fronted by Sunny Ozuna and achieved a modicum of success locally and nationally during the early 1960s. I personally wasn’t well versed in their material and so was grateful for the two volumes of music titled Mr. Brown Eyed Soul that Big Crown released. Highly recommended.
There’s plenty more to explore from El Michels Affair, not least their most recent release Adult Themes and plenty to explore on the label. We’ll be doing our best to keep some key titles in stock for you. As an independent label ourselves, we want to support as many others out there as possible and those that perhaps don’t fit into the punk and metal tag but are still releasing good music that we think you would like. That’s something that we are looking to explore more of in the future, and we’ll be letting you know all about it in these pages.
Until next time, that’s all from me. Thanks for reading and keep on having fun with records.