By David Evans, Regal Radio
This week marked the release of producer Tall Black Guy’s first solo Long Play, 8 Miles to Moenart, his first full release on London’s First Word Records and his second overall after 2011’s Dance Forever/Return of Here and Now 7”.
Tall Black Guy, or Terrel Wallace, is the producer half of the Chicago-based rap duo, Eighties Babies and much of the underground hip-hop scene in Chicago coalesced around his soulful and inventive sampling sound dating back several years. The album’s title, however, is a reference to the northeast side Detroit street Wallace grew up on.
As a cohesive piece of work, 8 Miles to Moenart is a complex compilation of drums, electric sounds, vocals, movie and television clip samples that are used to tell the history of Detroit as seen through Tall Black’s life, a living thing that has aged one way he as grown in another. It was only recently that Tall Black has moved virtually a world away, to Norwich, England, the better for his status as an international beatmaker and DJ star, but Tall Black’s respect for his Motown roots are reflected deeply in this album.
The artwork for the cover is representative of many themes on the album — a number 8 is at center, created out of a collage of images — a house, a car, a tree, and faces interconnected. This scene represents what Detroit means to Tall Black, its his home, a powerful manufacturer (the Mo, Motown, Motor City) and the people of the city of Detroit themselves, those who he knows best and some of whom appear to be crying (possibly due to the poor socioeconomic state of the city) in the artwork. As a fellow former Detroiter, I found 8 Miles to Moenart an excellent ode to a city who once was the heart of the heart of the nation’s auto industry and who’s current identity isn’t so obvious.
“You Look Like a Tall Black Guy Intro”
The intro on 8MTM is a dexterous example of Tall Black’s sample chopping skills, built around a vocal sample from a scene from an episode of The Cosby Show, specifically a scene where Theo and his friends crack on a friend in the locker room about being tall and black and not being able to play ball, despite being a “tall black guy.” In an interview with BBC radio host Giles Peterson last month, Tall Black shared that he used to play basketball both in high school and in college. This intro is possibly a telling reference to his past as a basketball player and how he received his moniker.
Leading into this track is a scene from the film School Daze, a scene where Julian, leader of the Gamma Phi Gamma fraternity (Giancarlo Esposito) rebuffs Dap Dunlap (Lawrence Fishburne) questioning his awareness of his black roots.
“I am from Detroit, Motown!,” Julian proclaims at the beginning of the track. Tall Black uses the School Daze sample to affirm his pride in his Detroit roots.
“Dark Streets” is a mellow electronic track, laced with drum- and clap-laden beats, spliced with vocal snippets letting the listener know where he is now — Motown! — and sped up commentary of Detroit citizens speaking on the problems that plague the city. I took the title as a reference to the large residential sections of the city that are without streetlights.
“Funeral Biz/Welcome to Detroit Interlude”
Starting with a knocking drum and snaps, and followed by the playing of a string, harp-like guitar, “Funeral Biz” is relaxed mediation music in an ironic way, the aforementioned elements are repeated throughout the song for its duration. “Welcome to Detroit Interlude” comes on at the end, maybe the most straight-ahead example of R&B on the album, it is lifted up with the vocals interlude of married singing duo Malice and Mario Sweet harmonizing about an impromptu visit to Detroit from their native Seattle.
“From Home, to Work, and Back”
The title of “From Home, to Work, and Back” is a seeming reference to the daily activities of Tall Black Guy’s life as a working man and musician. In a March interview with the blog Grooves Loves Melody, Tall Black described his average day as waking up near dawn for work, traveling an hour to get to work in the morning and only after he gets off in the afternoon does he do the things that he likes to do — work out, eat, mess around on the computer, watch the NBA online… and, oh yeah, make music.
The harp guitar makes another appearance here, followed by drums and claps and spliced with a vocal sample, blended into the track to the extent it is impossible to discern if it is a vocal sample or a sound effect. The harp guitar repeats throughout the track, as do the vocal samples. At the end the vocal sample comes in at is clearest, a male’s voice saying, “Where is the love?”
“Mon Amie De’Troit” feat. Ozay Moore
At first it seems that Tall Black went with a pared-down version compared to the instrumental he released with this track only last month on Soundcloud, which knocks with Hip-Hop drums and a recognizable sample (check the Gilles Peterson link) that is likely the reason why the album version is different.
The first single off 8MTM, this is an outright tribute to Detroit, which invokes Common’s “I Used to Love H.E.R.” as Detroit rapper Ozay Moore tells an allegorical tale of a woman who symbolizes the city, over finger snaps, drums and news clips on the decline of Detroit’s auto industry. Compared to the first release, this beat is comprised of a simple bottom drum, infused with claps and string instrument.
“The Motor is Running”
The beat comes on with the playing of an instrument that sounds like a guiro shaker, followed by an African drum beat, similar to the one used in Shelly Manne’s “Infinity” (sampled in Jeru the Damaja’s “Come Clean“) and complimented by an electronic piano. The beat, which starts off slow, fastens up into a dance beat, with all the influences and elements becoming more nuanced as the song progresses. Chants of “Hey, Hey” are incorporated in the beat, giving more vocals that are not obvious but allow you to get into the track more. As the song continues, Tall Black adds layer of layer of sounds, creating an infectious aural melange. A splice of two music intellectuals reviewing the social significance of the work of Berry Gordy and his Motown Movement plays at the end of the song.
“There’s No More Soul” feat. Diggs Duke
“There’s No More Soul” begins with the a beat similar to that of Marvin Gaye’s “After the Dance” inter-spliced with the voices of several men and women, which appear to be engaged in a countdown. A simple beat comprised of bass and electronic piano follows and male singer Diggs Duke harmoniously moans on the track, followed by horns. Duke’s voice and the horns are briefly manipulated to appear to be in competition with the other. Another brass instrument follows, accompanied by the male and female voices re-engaging in the countdown.
“Rain into the Nite Outro”
A uptempo song, which begins with the sounds of guiro shaker, bass and claps, and the manipulation of a sample of a possible brazillian singer, in alto fills this contemplative track, the strumming of a harp guitar is blended into the beat, “Rain in the Nite” is excellent relaxation music. A snippet from the movie “Dumb and Dumber” follows along with a couple others I couldn’t figure out but in Tall Black’s hands he uses the vocals to tell the story of a listless individual who on a whim and in search of a new purpose in life decides to leave one place for another, possibly even Detroit to England.
A hidden beat follows after a pause in the action, a small masterpiece which deserves its one place on the tracklist. The hidden beat can only be described as a combining of J Dilla’s ethereal samples and 9th Wonder’s sped up drums, its replete with manipulated voices as well as the sound of a noise tube. Tall Black made sure to empty the clip on his listeners as they left his version of the Dark Streets of Motown.
Follow David Evans on Twitter @davidevans9
Take a trip through the evolution of the Tall Black Guy: