DJ Spinna and BBE Back At It

DJ Spinna - Strange Games Vol 5 DJ Spinna & BBE Soundsystem
Strange Games & Funky Things Volume 5 – Smoking ’70s Soul and Rare Grooves
(BBE) 2010

Purchase: Amazon

Back on the hunt for the forgotten gems of 1970s soul, DJ Spinna and BBE craft another compelling exploration of hip-hop and R&B’s roots.

Best known for the Beat Generation LPs by J Dilla, Pete Rock, and DJ Jazzy Jeff, boutique British label BBE is firmly established as a premium purveyor of instrumental releases and breaks compilations for crate diggers everywhere. Their Strange Games series of 1970s soul compilations dates back to 1997.  Volume 5 is the first to feature DJ Spinna since 2001’s critically acclaimed Strange Games and Things, and it is a worthy successor.  Times may have changed, but Spinna and BBE’s common focus on the forgotten gems of ’70s soul has not, and this consistency keeps them from being forgotten gems themselves.

According to BBE, Strange Games “represents the blueprint for modern R&B and rap music” and “joins the dots between ’70s soul, ’80s rare groove, and ’90s mass market hip hop.” A few beats will be instantly recognizable to the average rap fan, namely “Faded Lady,” famously sampled by Diamond D and Busta Rhymes, but most of this will be virgin territory for all but soul, disco, and world music experts, and of course hip-hop producers. Other than the notable exception of War, details on many of these songs and artists are frustratingly scant on the web, making this an excellent jump off for your own explorations of these genres.

The first highlight of many is the opener, “Get It Up for Love” by Ned Doheny. A blue-eyed soul singer-songwriter who developed a following in Japan, Doheny is barely remembered stateside.  For fans of Philadelphia soul, the subject of many quality compilations in its own right, check out “I Ain’t Got the Love (Of One Girl on my Mind)” by The Ambassadors, a long out-of-print tune that’s 1998 re-release went largely unnoticed (update: I recently became aware of Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s “I Ain’t Got the Love”, which makes excellent use of this sample).  Other highlights like sampling favorites “For The Love Of Money” by the Philly Armada Orchestra and “Ashley’s Roach Clip”  by the Soul Searchers  are much funkier and feature no vocals at all. The juxtaposition of these two styles, and often the combination of them, is indicative of the overall sound of the Strange Games series.

The Strange Games vibe is laid back but fun, and as one might guess, this is an ideal mix for an after party. DJ Spinna does a great job of highlighting the best grooves and keeping the vibe steady, and his cuts are remarkably unobtrusive. If you would like the tracks in their entirety, there is also a second, unmixed disc included, a common practice by BBE that has further endeared them to beat junkies. The additional disc is perfect for the shuffle-heavy habits of digital music listeners but does have five fewer tracks.  Unfortunately, Merry Clayton’s stellar cover of “Gimme Shelter” does not make the cut.  You are not likely to run out and buy the entire discography of any artist featured here.  In fact that would be rather difficult to do.   Yet this is a solid compilation from front to back, an excellent addition to late-night playlists, and a worthy entry in this series and the BBE catalogue as a whole.

Rating: 7/10

(This review was originally published on PopMatters on October 29, 2010)