Dukes is a beatsmith, historian and mailman hailing from the south of The Netherlands. He knows more about politics than you and is as nuanced as a brick through your car’s front window. This is his exclusive column for TRU. (the opinions expressed by Dukes are solely those of Dukes and do not represent the TRU board of editors).
After listening to hip-hop for a good fourteen years I know which kind of hiphop I prefer: pretty much every track where subjects such as anti social behaviour, misogyny, drug dealing, hood drama, hating on whitey, never talking to the popo and acts of random violence are being rapped about on top of decent East Coast beats. Therefore I don’t feel the urge anymore to peep every new release the same day it drops. My friends still do that and since they know my taste they keep me more or less up to date. The sad reality is that hiphop just doesn’t challenge me like it used to do anymore. The discovery of soul music has been a revelation to me, it’s a new genre to delve into and discover the who, what, where and how of it. It’s exciting. I feel like a twelve year old kid again, going to the library and browsing the web searching for more information on such and such label, this and that record producer and some recording studios. While P’s Infamous Life was the dumbest shit I read in a long time, Soulsville USA was the best book I read last year.
Black music was never played that much back in the days in the Dukes residence – my parents are into rock music. My mom had some Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder and Roberta Flack vinyl, but I don’t remember those ever being played when I was a kid. The only black musician I remember being played when I was a kid was Jimi Hendrix. And my granddad bumped his jazz classics at his spot in the concrete jungle of Tilburg Noord. The only time we really heard soul was when we watched the Blues Brothers, but apart from that and the occasional Al Green or Marvin Gaye track on daytime radio, soul music remained a mystery for me for years. Most people over here probably only know Curtis Mayfield due to a comedian doing a fistfuck routine with Superfly as the musical backdrop. And I was no exception to that rule.
But that all changed a couple of years ago when I met my musical partner Reggy. He always played soul classics during our beer drinkin’ and politickin’ sessions at his place, all while being watched over by Jesus and a framed Ghostface Killah. Although I didn’t know much of the artists he bumped, I really liked the music. Some of them I knew of from hip-hop tracks that sampled them – mostly Wu-Tang – while others didn’t ring a bell. He gave me the names of some artists to look into. I found Shaolin Soul which I played for days on end. Started to pick up soul reissues from the budget-bin at my local record shop. Slowly but surely I really got into soul. For the first times in years I felt the same excitement that I used to get when I heard a hip-hop record that I hadn’t heard before. When I went to the Lee Fields and Charles Bradley double bill in town I was sold. This shit was definitely meant for me.
What’s so refreshing to me about soul music to me are its heartfelt yet simple lyrics. Other musicians try to come up with all kinds of metaphors and try to sound like intellectuals, but that shit just doesn’t grab me. O.V. Wright expressing the way he feels for his wifey does. Al Green wondering about how one can mend a broken heart does. Curtis Mayfield’s album dealing with prison life does. ‘Break It Down‘ offers a great visualization of the loneliness and sense of hopelessness while doing a bid in the bing: “But my minds still free, I don’t plan to give that up, I can’t give that up for no one. Through this uncertainty, I feel I’m going insane but it isn’t sho’wng.” He doesn’t use any fancy word or bizarre metaphors; he just uses his voice and his honesty to send chills down your spine. Bukowski said it best: “an intellectual is a man who says a simple thing in a difficult way; an artist is a man who says a difficult thing in a simple way.”
In a time when all female vocalists scream like they got a dildo stuffed in every orifice it’s nice to play some vintage Ann Peebles and Aretha Franklin tracks where the female vocalist’s voice remains steady and doesn’t shoot all over the place like she’s giving birth to triplets. When I wake up and have to face a serious hangover I’ll bump some Hot Buttered Soul. Later on the day when the worst symptoms are gone I’ll vibe to some War Report. While I remain a hip-hop head I’m becoming more and more of a soul man. I guess O.V. Wright was wrong; a fool can see the light. The name is Dukes, but you can call me Soul Brabo no. 1.