Cuerators is pleased to present the latest installment into its ever growing archive of guest playlists. For the latest compilation we turned to author, historian, DJ, MC, friend, soul-survivor, and all-around renaissance man, Ronnie Reese. Press play on that player and discover one of the many reasons why you really should know this guy. Enjoy!
I don’t really “look for” anything in music, but different things in different genres stand out. In jazz and other improvisational music, it’s phrasing and swing; in funk and R&B, it’s bounce (and by bounce I mean whether it makes me bounce my head); in pop, it’s melody; and in hip-hop, it’s pretty much everything. And the elements cross genres, of course; hip-hop swings, just as jazz has bounce. But these are the things I’m a constant sucker for, along with bass and harmony.
What type of music is your favorite? Some of the songs on this playlist were a surprise to me.
Hard to say. This is kind of like picking my favorite record, or if I had children, my favorite child. (NOTE: It would be my first-born daughter.) There aren’t too many types of music I haven’t been into over the years.
For the list, I wanted every clip to be a performance because I’m really into live music. I chose shows that I would have loved to see in person, like Wattstax or early Funkadelic. Some of the songs might be a surprise because my tastes vary. Seeing Teddy Pendergrass sweat the relaxer out of his hair while singing “I Miss You” would have blown my mind, as would seeing Black Uhuru do “Sponji Reggae” at Glastonbury, or the Foo Fighters cover Pink Floyd’s “In the Flesh.” Taylor Hawkins is a monster on the drums, by the way. And that Common performance of “The Food” on Chappelle’s Show…that was like the first thing anyone had heard from him since Electric Circus. And for him to come back like that, in the kitchen with Dave, Kanye and DJ Dummy…at the time, it was just a joy to see.
What music are you into now?
Same as always – everything – although I’ve been picking up a lot of boogie and electro-funk singles as of late.
When can a person catch Ron Mahogany [that's Ronnie's name as a DJ here in Chicago] spinning records?
Only once in a while. I’m not really a DJ – I’m just a guy who collects records and knows how to match beats. So if you do get wind of me playing anywhere, you have to come out because who knows when it will happen again.
How did you link up with Stones Throw and Wax Poetics?
I’d been reading Wax Poetics since the first issue. It was a magazine that felt like it was created just for me because it featured content that only record and jazz/funk/hip-hop/soul heads like myself thought was cool, like stories on Bobbito, Madlib and Charles Mingus, and Dante Carfagna writing about albums no one else but him and the artists who made them knew existed. I had only been writing for a few years at the time, but as the magazine grew and I grew, things eventually aligned to the point where I had the confidence to pitch them an idea. The Meters are family and I knew I could get access, so I reached out to Wax Poetics and they were down. They ran it on the cover, cut a nice check and were even nicer people. I knew it was a well I could go back to and be comfortable with because the music and the vibe of the magazine would have been a part of our lives – mine, editors, readers - whether the magazine existed or not. Wax Poetics just connected us all.
With Stones Throw, I was working on a J Dilla story for Wax Poetics…I think Egon had seen the Meters piece or something. Anyway, I was gearing up for that when J passed away, so we had to switch gears. I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it with Dilla gone and none of his own words until Questlove suggested writing an oral history. With all the interviews I had, it made perfect sense. It was like putting together a Dilla puzzle.
I got the piece done and continued working with Stones Throw on artist biographies and liner note projects. Both they and the Wax Poetics camp have meant a lot to me over the years. Two coasts – all love.
Aside from Stones Throw and Wax Poetics, are there any other labels you are working for? You recently did some liner notes for BBE, right?
I did – for their Newban and Newban 2 reissues. And I wrote the liner notes for Amir’s Kenny Cox Clap Clap! (The Joyful Noise) reissue on his 180 Proof Records label. There are some things in the works with some of the Stones Throw camp, too.
In which publications can we read more of your writing?
I’m not really doing much music writing these days. As the music industry changed, music journalism changed along with it, and with the shift to digital and blogging, there were many magazines I was writing for that ended their paper run. Wax Poetics is one of the few that remain in print, which is a testament to their perseverance and dedication.But I’ll always be a music writer. As I got older, though, my priorities changed, I found it hard to care about what Wayne and Young Money or Odd Future were doing when I live in a city (Chicago), where there are youth going wild on the streets every day. And I mean wild, for real. I’d rather keep up with that than the next hottest release, so I shifted my focus to greater issues and concerns – poverty, education, class warfare, crime. But I still keep an ear on what’s going on in the music biz, and that includes Odd Future, because I like Earl and Hodgy a lot. Those kids can rap. And of course, Frank Ocean. I can’t praise him enough.
Plus, music is by and large a young person’s game. It’s like Wooderson said in Dazed and Confused, ”I get older, they stay the same age.” He was talking about high school girls, but you know what I mean. My tastes are more for past places and times, which is why the Wax Poetics relationship has been so strong, or when I DJ, I often don’t play a song recorded after 1989 unless it’s some Dilla or one of my favorite hip-hop nuggets. But I’ve been thinking about getting back into the writing game at some point – just on a fresher platform and my own terms.
What was the most memorable interview or article that you have done?
My instinct is to say the Teddy Pendergrass interview because it was rather contentious, but that’s not really fair to the other artists I’ve been fortunate to work with. Thinking in terms of articles and what I’ve done on a whole, nearly everything has been memorable. I interviewed a woman in Gary, Indiana, for a Michael Jackson story in 2009 who still sends me Christmas cards; the Dilla story established relationships that last to this day; the Mizell brothers – arguably my favorite production team next to the Bomb Squad – welcomed me into their home in Altadena, California; I talked to Shuggie Otis when no one had talked to Shuggie Otis in years, and have five hours of a Junie Morrison interview that will probably never be published. Just having the opportunity to do this kind of work is memorable for me.
Why won’t that Junie Morrison interview see the light of day? Too freaky? What did you guys talk about?
No! Well, maybe at one time, but Junie is one of the sweetest cats I’ve ever worked with. It’s just a personal thing with him, I think, which I respect. Sometimes artists don’t want their stories out there for whatever reason, and sometimes these emotions don’t surface until they’re in the course of actually telling their story. But we talked about a lot…meeting Prince, his hometown of Dayton, Ohio, the early Ohio Players days and who the bald lady was on their album covers, the P-Funk days and working with George and Bootsy, and most importantly to him, how the world needs to know that Bernie Worrell did NOT write “(Not Just) Knee Deep.” Junie’s a special artist, though. Not too many people can say they had a hand in not just one, but two of the top funk crews of all time.